Trivia and Study Guide for
The Years of Rice and Salt
by Kim Stanley Robinson

I'm finally updating this again as I read the book for the third time! (Most recent update: October 13, 2006, covering Books I, II, and VII-VIII.)

Some preliminary notes: If you have Windows XP or Mac System X or later, you should be able to view Chinese, Arabic, and Greek characters. Make sure your browser is set to Unicode (or Japanese Auto-Detect), and you'll be able to see all the characters correctly.

This book uses the Islamic calendar for the most part, and you can convert dates between the Hegira and Christian calendars at At other times, the Chinese imperial calendar is used, and while the emperors seem to reign at the same times that they do in our world, we can't be entirely sure that that's the case.

Also, while KSR usually uses Pinyin romanization for Chinese, he occasionally uses the older Wade-Giles system as well (E. g. Guangxu in Pinyin; Kuang-Hsu in Wade-Giles), and he leaves tone marks off. This makes it somewhat more difficult to identify Chinese words, and since your chronicler is woefully deficient at this language, corrections and additions are most welcome. In general, I'll use the traditional forms of the characters rather than the simplified versions.

As for pronouncing Pinyin, the most important differences from English that you should keep in mind are: the vowel e is like a schwa, and the a in ia is like English e (so "ian" sounds like "yen"). C is like English ts; j is close to English ch; x is like English sh; zh is like English j. These are very rough equivalents; get a proper Chinese textbook if you want do do more than mouth the words to yourself while reading the book.

Note on page numbering: I've used the page numbers from the North American paperback, which ends at page 763. The British paperback has 773 pages, so it might occur to those of you who have it to simply subtract the chapter number from your page number to convert, and that would be a good approximation. Here is a list of which pages chapters begin on in each version:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
North America 1 89 189 237 357 395 477 549 583 707
Great Britain 1 91 193 243 347 389 473 547 585 715

Book 1: Awake to Emptiness

3 Monkey and Tripitaka : Monkey, or Sūn Wùkōng (see p. 11 note), is the hero of the Journey to the West (西遊記). Sent on the journey with priest Xuanzang 三蔵 ("Tripitaka" in Sanskrit, meaning "three baskets" as in Chinese) as punishment by the Buddha, safely brings Buddhist scriptures back to China from India.

3 Temur : Tamerlane in English literature, corrupted from Temur-i-Leng; 鐵木兒 in Chinese approximation; the first character provides the "iron" mentioned in the story; was a legendary conqueror whose campaigns led him throughout the Middle East, India, and Mongolia. In real history, he died of a fever in 1405 at the age of 69, while on the way to an attempt at conquering China. In this story, a coin flip send him and his army eastward instead of westward.

10 Moravian Gate : (In Czech, Moravska brana) The valley in eastern Moravia, which is itself in the eastern part of the modern Czech Republic. It contains the Bečva and Odra rivers and serves as a border between the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

11 Sun Wu-Kong : (孫悟空 the second and third characters mean "awaken" and "emptiness", respectively)

20 "three smaller temples flanked a large one" : This is probably the Parthenon in Athens.

21 Issyk Kul : A large mountain lake in Kyrgyzstan.

21 Lake Qinghai : Means "blue lake" (青海).

27 Mamluks : Also "Mamelukes". Slave soldiers for the Abbasid caliphs, who eventually rose to their own positions of power. By the 14th century, Mamluks were ruling Egypt, and maintained their hold until Muhammad Ali Pasha's ambush revolt in 1811.

28 Zanj : A generic word for East African black slaves of the Abbasid caliphate in Basra.

33 Zheng He : 鄭和 in Chinese (1371-1435). Made many voyages to various parts of the world in the early 15th century in his immense fleet under the sponsorship of the Yongle Emperor. His family was Muslim, thus KSR's comment that he was a western "hui". This story seems to merge several of his voyages, with the one involving rival kings of Java occurring in 1407-1409.

33 Hui : One of China's many ethnic minorities, the Hui practice Islam and have historically been the victims of discrimination, but not so in, say, Zheng He's case. The word can also be used for Chinese Muslims in general. The Chinese character for hui is 回, which usually means a round or instance or time or rotation with a number before it, and is also used for innings in baseball. I don't know why it's used for these people; it may have been chosen for its phonetic value. According to the 1990 census, there are approximately 8.6 million Hui in China.

35 the Yongle Emperor : 永樂 or 永楽 in simplified characters; his personal name Zhu Di is 朱棣. The third emperor in the Ming dynasty (ruled 1403-1424). He attempted to have his nephew, the previous Jiangwen 健文 emperor, killed (supposedly in a palace fire, though Jiangwen may have survived to live in obscurity as a recluse), and stole the throne. The sponsor of Zheng He's treasure fleets, he did indeed move the capital from Nanjing north to Beijing.

37 Bön : A pre-Buddhist religion in Tibet. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the idea of the Bardo, are thought to have been influenced by Bön.

37 Tara : A Tibetan Buddhist goddess. There are 21 Taras, in multiple colors, and like Guanyin mentioned in later chapters, Tara is said to hear the cries of people being reincarnated.

38 Dalada : The sacred tooth of Buddha. In our world, this is enshrined in the Temple of the Tooth, known as the Dalada Maligawa, located in the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka.

39 Japanese wakou : 倭寇 Pirates in the Sea of Japan who avoided rules against shipbuilding and overseas voyages by conducting raids from small boats.

40 Tianfei : 天姫 The characters mean "heavenly princess"; a goddess who protected sea travelers.

43 Shen : In Chinese, 沈 meaning "sink".

47 "eighth day of the fourth month" : Whatever patron deity is being celebrated by the Hangzhou guilds, this is also the date of the conception of the Buddha (see p. 568).

48 the Four Emperors : Sanskrit catur-mahārāja; Chinese 四天王. Indra's four deva guardians who protect the world from the asuras. They are: East Dhrtarsastra (in Chinese and Japanese, 持國天), South Virūdhaka 增長天, West Virūpāksa 廣目天, and North 多聞天 Vaiśravana, bearing the colors white, blue, red, and yellow respectively. You can see a statue of them at the Horyuji 法隆寺 in Nara, Japan, which is the world's oldest wooden building, dating from 607.

48 Twenty-Eight Constellations : 二十八宿 Marking off the fixed stars, these 28 are split into four groups of seven, each associated with one of the animals that guard the four directions: the Blue Dragon, the White Tiger, the Red Phoenix and the Black Warrior. (Note that these are different from the Four Emperors.)

48 The Twelve Horary Branches : This is the familiar Chinese zodiac (生肖 shengxiao; in Japanese 干支 eto or 十二支 jūni-shi). In order, the animals are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. There are special characters used for the signs which are different from the ones used when talking about the animals. The year 2006 is the dog.

55 the Three-Jewel Eunuch : "Three Jewel" is the literal meaning of Zheng He's given name ?n?O?󠍡 Sanbao. The "ma" surname means "horse".

63 Temurid : The empire built by Timur (see p. 3); it later became the Mughal empire.

66 Beijing : 北京 Běijīng; the new capital of China whose construction was begun by the Yongle emperor in 1406. I'm not too sure, but supposedly the modern pronunciation Běijīng came about in the Qing dynasty (17th to 19th centuries, roughly), and that in the 1400s, the historical pronunciation of Peking might be more accurate.

67 pao : Presumably 宝 meaning 'precious' or 'treasure'. This is the same word, with a different romanization, as in Zheng He's given name Sanbao.

67 quillin : Properly spelled qilin 麒麟 ; this is a mythical antlered creature from Chinese legend. The word also refers to giraffes, two of which were indeed beought back from Zheng He on one of his voyages,

77 Chao Kao : 趙高 (Zhao Gao in pinyin; died c. 207 BC) The chief eunuch of the first Chin (Qin) dynasty emperor. When the emperor died suddenly, Chao concealed his death and made up a fake imperial decree ordering a rival official to commit suicide; he followed this by killing several other officials. Eventually the heir of one of the people he killed retaliated, killing Chao and ending the Qin dynasty.

78 the Hongxi Emperor : 洪熙 (1378-1425). He succeeded the Yongle Emperor and did indeed end the voyages of fleets such as Zheng He's. Born in 1378, he was no longer a young mane when he took the throne. Died in 1425, just one year after becoming emperor.

85 "We were a village, that time in Tibet" : A reference to a previous incarnation; this life of the jati will be mentioned several more times in the story as future incarnations recall it, allowing the reader to piece together the story of their deaths.

Book 2: The Haj in the Heart

96 Lakshmi : The Hindu goddess of good fortune, and the wife of Vishnu.

96 Saraswati : Also spelled Sarasvati. The Hindu goddess of knowledge.

103 Siva and Parvati : Also spelled Shiva; the Hindu god of destruction. Shiva is considered to be benevolent despite being the destroyer. Parvati is his wife.

118 Akbar and Fatepur Sikri : Jellaladin Muhammad Akbar (the Great) (lived 1542-1605, reigned 1556-1605) ruled the Mughal Empire from his capital, Fatehpur Sikri, in Agra. Its wonders, still visited today, include the five-storied Panch Mahal ("panch" mans "five" in Sanskrit) and the Pachisi Court, which is laid out like the familiar board game. Akbar was Muslim, but was influenced by many other religions, and this shows in the designs in his capital.

118 Shaikh Salim Chishti : (1418-1572) A revered Sufi in India and worshipped in particular by Akbar the Great; his tomb is indeed in Fatehpur Sikri. Akbar's son Salim was named for him.

124 Dhoulkarnain : Meaning 'two-horned' in Arabic, this is possibly another name for Alexander the Great, though scholars are in doubt as to who the name actually refers to. Alexander lived in the 4th century BC and conquered lands from Greece to the present Uzbekistan.

125 Adham Khan : One of Akbar's generals; Akbar, enraged at his murderous ways, did indeed kill him by throwing him from a high balcony.

127 ibn Khaldun : Abu Zayd 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Khaldun al-Hadrami (عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي in Arabic; 1332-1406) was one of the world's first great historians. His Muqaddimah, written in 1377, was highly regarded at the time and is still quoted today. Incidentally, he also served as a qadi in Egypt; the same office to which Bistami is appointed in India in the novel.

128 Raja Todor Mal : Akbar's finance minister.

133 the tenth day of Moharram : Moharram is the first month in Islam. Imam Hosain, grandson of Muhammad, died on this day in AD 680. This is a day of mourning for Shi'ites.

133 had once been a village girl, another time a horseman on the steppes, another time the servant of the Twelfth Imam : Here Bistami remembers his life as Bihari, Bold, and another person whose story is not told here. Serving the Twelfth Imam, al-Mahdi, would mean that he lived around AH 260 or AD 874.

134 Abul Fazl : Another of Akbar's viziers. Like the other advisors of Akbar mentioned here, Abu'l Fazl ibn Mubarak also existed in our world. His Akbar-namah, a book in Persian, told the life of Akbar.

140 Ibn Sina : Abu Ali al-Husain ibn Abdullah ibn Sina (AD 980-1037). Writer on philosophy and medicine; he's also known in the West by his Latinized name Avicenna. A list of his works can be found here :

148 Suleiman : "Suleyman I, the Magnificent" (1494-1566); Turkish-born ruler of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until his death in 1566. He conquered much of northern Africa and Europe during his lifetime, and was also famous for rewriting the laws of the empire.

148 "Khaldunian state of late dynastic corruption" : From ibn Khaldun's commentary on history. Much later (p. 616-17), Budur reads from this text.

156 Ship of Fools : This phrase seems to come from the Christian Bible.

170 Bayonne and Bordeaux : Two cities in France; Bayonne is at the Nive and Adour river crossing.

186 Lawiyya : This is the Loire River in France, meaning that the city of Nsara is roughly where Nantes is in our world. I'm not sure if this is what the river is actually called in Arabic or Persian.

Book 3: Ocean Continents

189 Yingzhou and Fangzhang : 瀛洲 and 方丈. In China, there was the legend of the Eight Immortals crossing the ocean to find three sacred mountains, named Penglai, Yingzhou, and Fangzhang.

191 Hideyoshi : Japanese shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉, 1536-1598). He joined the Oda clan (Oda Nobunaga being the most famous member) at a young age and eventually rose to the post of kanpaku, or adviser to the emperor. He made two attempts to attack Korea and China, in 1592 and 1596, and both times his soldiers were forced to retreat. However, his influence on the government of the nation was significant in its increased totalitarianism -- he made it illegal for commoners to own weapons, forbade them from leaving their home provinces, and ruthlessly murdered and expelled Christians from Japan.

191 Wanli Emperor : (萬歴 1563-1620; ruled 1572-1620) Hideyoshi's second invasion of Korea and China would be the one that occurred in the 25th year of the Wanli's reign.

191 Ieyasu : Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康 1542-1616), the general who successfully united Japan by defeating the army of rival Ishida Mitsunari at the Battle of Sekigahara (present-day Gifu prefecture, near the border with Shiga) in 1600. Three years after this, assuming the title of Shogun, he made the eastern city of Edo (now Tokyo) his power base, leaving the Emperor behind in Kyoto.

192 tozama daimyo : 外様大名 As KSR describes, these were the daimyo who were not previously allied with Ieyasu when he defeated Ishida's forces at Sekigahara. Ieyasu's allies, in contrast, were called fudai daimyo. It might be easy to misinterpret "the Tozama Daimyo" as being a single person's name; in fact this is a name for a group of daimyo.

193 Omura : Lord Omura Sumitada (In Japanese 大村; Christian name Bartolomeu; lived 1533-1587) was the first of the few Christian daimyo in Japan. He actively traded with other countries, opening ports in Yokoseura and Nagasaki to Portuguese ships. Considering that in KSR's history most of the Christians have been wiped out, one can imagine that while much of Asian history will remain unchanged, Omura's life will be significantly different. He would still be around seventy years old when he makes the treaty with the Wanli to open his ports to the Chinese.

194 Hokkaido : 北海道 The northernmost of Japan's four main islands. This name was actually given to the island in the early Meiji period (1868-), and it would have been called Ezo 蝦夷 (home of the Emishi, or Ainu) at the time of this chapter. However, as we'll see later, this many not be a mistake; the Japanese may have taken the island from the native Ainu sooner in KSR's world and renamed it sooner.

194 Dahai : 太海 Chinese "great ocean".

194 Annam : 安南 An area in central Vietnam; known by this name when Annam was a Chinese province during the Han period.

195 Kublai Khan's two attempts at invading Nippon : The Mongol warlord attempted to conquer Japan in the 1270s, but his fleet was turned back by high winds. The Japanese came to call these gusts kamikaze, or "divine winds".

198 Hsing Ho : This could be an alternate romanization of the name of Zheng He, explorer from the first chapter.

199 Fulan : This comes from the Chinese word for France (佛蘭西) and is used to refer to depopulated western Europe as a whole.

200 wild people on Taiwan : Many of the roughly 25 aboriginal Taiwanese tribes practiced headhunting and were fearsome warriors. In our world, the Dutch built settlements on Taiwan and traded with the natives; here, China seems to have already conquered it (see p. 193). One famous legend about these headhunters states that in ancient times a war party travelled by boat to the neighboring island of Yonaguni (now part of Okinawa) and murdered many islanders, taking their heads. The Yonagunians succeeded in scaring away any future invasions by tossing immense straw sandals into the ocean, which would later wash up on Taiwan and make the 'wild people' throroughly frightened of the giants across the water.

202 Tamalpi : This mountain, which indeed has the 'sleeping maiden' shape that the Miwok describe, is called Tamalpais in our world and lies north of San Francisco. It is 784 meters tall.

203 Miwok : The Coast Miwok traditionally lived on the land north of San Francisco; "Miwok" means "people" in their language.

218 super-Fujis : Mt. Fuji 富士山 is Japan's tallest mountain, at 3776 meters.

227 wu ya : In Chinese, 五鴨. I don't know if the Miwok words for this and the next one are correct or not.

227 Peng-zu : A Shang Dynasty official who is said to have lived for 800 years. China's equivalent of Methuselah,

232 qi : 気. In this case, "spirit". Later this word's meaning will expand to include electricity.

Book 4: The Alchemist

Setting and character names: Bahram is Persian for "Mars" and is undoubtedly a reference to KSR's Mars trilogy. Sayyed Abdul Aziz and Nadir Divanbegi really did exist in Bukhara around this time, though the story seems to begin in 1641 and end in 1644, and Abdul Aziz Khan seems to have been at the height of his power somewhat after this. I've no idea if he really had the temperament given to him here.

240 Al-Razi : Abu Bekr Mohammed ibn Zakhariya ar-Razi (c. 850-932), called "Rhazes" in Latin. Another major scholar of medicine in the Islamic world who continued the work of the ancient Greeks. As did ibn Sina, he wrote a huge number of texts on medicine, philosophy, and science in general.

241 Jildaki : Aidamir al-Jildaki (?-1342). Another writer on alchemy. In his commentary End of the Search, he discusses Qasdim, Khalid, Jabir, and Razi.

241 Jabir : The father of modern chemistry. Lived in the late 8th century AD. Occasionally known by his Latinized name of Geber, his rational investigations transformed alchemy into the modern science of chemistry. His Kitab al-Kimya "Book of Chemistry", in particular, was translated into Latin and used frequently in Europe in later centuries.

241 "The Secret of Secrets" : One of the most famous of Razi's books. This one discusses alchemy and chemistry.

251 Mary the Jewess : Said to be the founder of Greek alchemy; lived in the third century AD.

267 two thousand li an hour : Modern science measures the speed of sound in air to be 330 m/s; their measurement, given that an ancient Chinese li 里 is 576 meters, would work out to 320 m/s. For reference, modern China has standardized a li at exactly 500 meters, or half a kilometer, and a Japanese li (or "ri" 里) is about 3900 meters.

278 Sher Dor madressa : Located in the Registan, in Samarkand. It, along with the Ulug Bek observatory and Tilla Kari mosque, are three of the area's most famous buildings. Ulugh Beg, the grandson of Temur (see note on p. 1), had an observatory built there in the mid-15th century AD, where many astronomical calculations were made, including the most accurate measurement of the solar year, until Copernicus improved on it a century later.

284 Zosimos : Zosimos of Panopolis lived in Egypt around the 3rd century AD, writing about alchemy as well as physics. It may have been printed two years before Khalid reads it, but the original is much older.

284 "Sum of Perfection" : Another work by Jabir; this one was translated in our world by Richard Russel of England in 1678.

284 Apollonius : Said to have discovered the Emerald Tablet in a cave in Tyana around the time of Christ, though Khalid's explanation may be as right as any other. Hermes the Thrice-Great, or Hermes Trimestigus, is supposedly a descendant of the Egyptian god Thoth. More here :

285 Bartholomew the Englishman, "On the Properties of Things" : In Latin, "Liber de proprietatibus rerum"; written around 1230-1240 in nineteen volumes (presumably Bahram is buying a summary of some kind). The story on page 287 is taken directly from the book and can be found online here : . Bartholomew (Bartholomaeus Anglicus in Latin) was a Franciscan monk.

285 "Epistle of the Sun to the Crescent Moon" : An alchemical poem by Mohammed ibn Umail. In Arabic, Risalat as-gams ild l-hilal.

300 two lis of air : Using the traditional Chinese distance, this would be about 1152 meters.

300 "or gold!" : The khan's exclamation sounds somewhat foolish when one realizes that, lead, with an atomic mass of 206, is quite a bit heavier than gold.

303 Jundi-Shapur : Could refer to an academy founded in AD 555 by Nestorians who translated Greek works on medicine.

306 Sogdian kings : The province of Sogdiana, corresponding to modern Bukhara and Samarqand, was conquered by Alexander the Great during his excursions east of Persia after 330 BC.

312 Jupiter's four moons : The four discovered during the Italian renaissance by Galileo (beginning in 1610) are are Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, which surely correspond to the ones Khalid and company saw. Khalid names them for the Khan's wives, and similarly in our world, when Domenico Cassini discovered four moons of Saturn (Tethys, Dione, Rhea and Iapetus), he honored king Louis XIV by calling them Lodicea Sidera ("the stars of Louis" in Latin).

317 subtle mathematician : In our world, this is a famous quote from Albert Einstein.

318 rakshi : An alcoholic drink made from millet. Originates in Nepal.

321 wan-jen-ti, the killer of myriads : The first two Chinese characters would presumably be 萬 (myriad) and 人 (person). I can't guess the third one.

323 Ansari : 'Abd Allah Ansari's "Hundred Fields and Resting Places of the Wayfarers" is a classic Sufi text.

324 Rumi : Molana Jalal-e-Din Mohammad Molavi Rumi (AD 1207-1273; AH 604-672), author of many poems, including the Mathnavi, in Arabic and Farsi.

326 Ulug Bek Madressa : See Tilla Kari note (p. 278) above.

329 "Same above, same below" : This seems to be in the above-mentioned Emerald Tablet. See Robertino Solarion's translation here :

329 "Multiply the two masses attracting each other" : This is the gravity equation in every physics textbook, GM1M2/r2.

332 7th century plagues : It's unclear whether these are the first plagues that struck Europe from about 1347-51 (in real history as well as in the novel), or the mutated, more deadly plague which KSR posits for his story, which strikes around 1380 or 1400. Both of these dates lie firmly in the 8th century AH, not the seventh.

336 kharsini, paitung : In Chinese characters 白銅 "white copper". A copper-nickel mixture; also called Chinese bronze.

344 Dar-al-Islam : "The House of Islam"; refers to the collected Islamic states.

Book 5: Warp and Weft

359 Floating Bridge : KSR is probably referring to the one at Owasco in the Finger Lakes in New York.

359 fifty sachems : An Algonquian word meaning a chief of a North American tribe or confederation. I don't yet know how many the Iroquois confederacy actually had.

359 Doorkeepers : The Seneca tribe. See the Haudenosaunee entry below.

359 Hodenosaunee : Also spelled Haudenosaunee; it means "people of the long house" and refers to the Five Nations that formed the Iroquois league in upstate New York. These five nations are the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk. In the real world, encroachments on the east coast of the North American continent by European settlers led the Tuscarora to join this league in 1720-22, becoming the sixth nation, but in KSR's story, many other tribes have already joined the confederacy.

368 the big bay at the mouth of the East River : While there is indeed an East River off Manhattan in New York City, it's more likely that the Hodeonsaunee are using this word to refer to the larger Hudson River, which serves as a natural border for over a hundred miles.

372 born on the island Hokkaido : In the early 18th century, Hokkaido (still called Ezo then) was mainly populated by the Ainu, who are now almost completely assimilated into Japanese culture. From 1603 until the 1870s, Ezo was controlled by the Matsumae clan, who did indeed treat the natives cruelly.

373 ronin : 浪人. A samurai with no master; literally "a person [tossed by] the waves".

373 kamikaze storm wind : Technically, the "divine wind" had protected Japan from previous invasions by the Mongols, not the Chinese, though the distinction may have been unimportant to Busho.

373 Allah worshipers who had taken over [the] southernmost islands : Perhaps KSR is paralleling the rise of Christianity in Kyushu in the 16th and 17th centuries of our world with a comparable flowering of Islam. Whether the "southernmost islands" refers to Kyushu and its satellites or to the Ryukyu islands (Okinawa; annexed by Japan in our world) is not clear.

373 a fort protecting a long peninsula : This is probably the Noto peninsula in present-day Ishikawa prefecture.

374 legendary fifty-three ronin : In reality, there is a legendary story of forty-seven ronin who, after their master had been insulted by another official and forced to commit suicide, avenged him by killing the official after lulling him into complacency by living lives of debauchery instead of honorable suicide. After their revenge, of course, they themselves were forced to commit seppuku, and their story has been acted and filmed dozens of times. The real incident occurred in 1702-1704, and the number may not be too divergent from reality, as there in fact may have been additional ronin who didn't participate in the murder.

374 Turtle Island : The name for the North American continent in a Native American mythology. I'm not sure which tribe, though.

383 shaman tobacco : Could be peyote.

383 'Sakura' : 桜 A traditional Japanese song about cherry blossoms. It's a bit too slow-paced to dance to.

384 Daganoweda : One of the original founders of the Iroquois League, along with Hiawatha (a man) and Jingosaseh (a woman). His name has many alternative spellings, including Daganaweda and Dakahnawida. It's not clear at all when the league was founded, though it seems to have been after a solar eclipse, and various explanations give it as 1142, 1090, and 1451. In any case, it's surely earlier than when KSR has it happening, which would be somewhat after Kheim's fleet reaches North America in 1620.

Book 6: Widow Kang

397 Kang Tongbi : Kang is probably 康, which means "health", and her name was probably inspired by Chinese feminist author Kang Tongbi 康同壁(1880-1969), daughter of Kang Youwei (see note for p. 455).

397 wei-wang-ren : 未亡人 Indeed "not-yet dead person"; refers to someone whose spouse has died. In Japanese, mibojin.

397 Qianlong emperor : 乾隆; (1711-1799, ruled 1735-1796) was the fifth emperor of the Manchu Qing dynasty, and the fourth Qing emperor to rule over China. The fourth son of the Yongzheng Emperor.

398 Guanyin Bodhisattva : 観音 (菩薩) A bodhisattva of compassion and kindness; called Kannon or Kwannon in Japan. One version of his/her story (this bodhisattva contains both sexes) is as given on pages 399-400. Note that Guanyin appears in the Journey to the West mentioned in the introduction.

401 Bao Ssu, fourth son : "Ssu" 四 is the number four. It is unclear why B, having accomplished so much in his last life, is punished so harshly this time in comparison to K and I, who participated equally in the shenanigans in the bardo.

402 Ge Hong : Chinese philosopher (AD 283-343) who preached the importance of morality and rational thought while searching for ways for humans to attain immortality by nourishing their qi.

408 Zunli : 尊理 in Chinese; characters meaning "respect" and "reason".

419 in challa... um mana pada hum : Kang, unfamiliar with Arabic and Tibetan, is mis-hearing "insh'allah" and "om mane padme hum".

419 "the little goddess died despite all" : Here Kang is remembering her previous life as Kheim, where he and his expedition were unable to save Butterfly's life on their return to China from Inka.

433 square fathom : 方丈 This is the meaning of the Chinese "Fangzhang".

434 Lanzhou : 蘭州 A city of close to 2.5 million in Gansu province, in China. This character "zhou" means "state" and is different from the one in Yingzhou, etc., which has the connotation of "island". The "lan" character means "orchid".

438 the Salars : In Chinese, 撒拉族, Sālāzú. One of the fifty-odd ethnic minorities in China; the Salars were exiled from Samarkand and created a new homeland in Xunhua in China.

438 Ma Laichi : (1673-1753) About 1730, he went on the haj before passing through Bukhara and Yemen. A Hui, he did indeed convert them to Khafiya Islam in 1750 after his travels in the Middle East. He also instituted the principle of eating before evening prayers rather than after.

438 Ma Mingxin : 馬明心 (1719-1781; his surname means "horse" and his given name means "bright heart".) A more fundamentalist Sufi, he brought the traditional Jahriya teaching back from Yemen and the Middle East in 1761 as the leader of his Naqshabandi sect. His zikr, or dhikr, refers to vocal prayer as opposed to the silent prayer espoused by Laichi.

445 Dogen (1200-1253) : A Japanese monk, often called Dogen Zenji (道元禅師, Zen master Dogen). He studied at Hiei-zan on the Kyoto-Shiga border for several years before going to China in 1524, and then establishing his own monastery, Eiheiji, in present-day Fukui. The full quote from his Gabyo is as follows : "If there is no painted rice-cake, there is no remedy to satisfy hunger. Without painted hunger you can never become a true person. There is no understanding other than painted satisfaction. Furthermore, satisfying hunger, satisfying no-hunger, not satisfying hunger, and not satisfying no-hunger can be neither attained nor expressed without painted hunger."

446 Wang Daiyu : A Chinese scholar of Islam. He wrote the Zhengjiao Zhenquan (Righteous Commentary on True Religion) during the 13th century.

446 ren, yi, li : In Chinese these are 仁、義、禮. Confucius' three major precepts.

446 Tiando, rendao : 天道、人道 There's probably a typographical error here, as "tiando" should be "tiandao" in Chinese.

447 the prophet Nanak : (1469-1539) Founder of the Sikh faith. He traveled widely in India, Tibet, and the Middle East.

451 Su Forty-three : 蘇四十三 A Salar chief who did indeed have the Gansu government officials killed in the process of his revolt. Baizhuangzi, where they met, is in Hebei. In the real world, this incident occurred in the Qianlong's 46th year, or 1781, and not the 43rd.

455 Dong Zhongshu : (c. 179-104 BC) His philosophical work Chunqiu fanlu 春秋豊露 is what is referred to in the novel.

455 Kang Yuwei : 康有薇; Also romanized as Kang Youwei (1858-1927). Does indeed speak of the Three Ages in his Commentary on the Evolution of Rites, and attempts to reconcile Western social history with Confucian descriptions of "the age of universal peace", "the age of approaching peace" and "the age of disorder". Kang Tongwei is his daughter. Note that in the real world, he lived and wrote far too late for Ibrahim, who writes around 1800, to have read him. (This is where KSR gnashes his teeth and mutters, "how did they find that!?")

467 Guanyin, She Who Hears Cries : This is the literal meaning of the characters in "Guanyin" (観音).

Book 7: The Age of Great Progress

479 Selim III : There really was a sultan by this name (ruled 1789 to 1807), a reformist who defended the city from the British in 1807, but given the fact that a ruler's name may be ceremonial, and given the extreme difference in personality, we might conclude that this Selim is not the one from our world.

479 Konstantiniyye : This is the Turkish pronunciation of the city called Constantinople in English; the city was once Byzantium and is now known as Istanbul.

481 Kerala : A state in western India, which contains Travancore. Trade has supposedly been conducted there for over three millennia.

489 Trebizond : An empire descended from a Greek colony, located on the southeast coast of the Black Sea. Constantinople was attacked during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, and the Empire of Trebizond was an independent successor state before being incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1400s.

497 the Master of Henly : Walter of Henley wrote a treatise on husbandry and farming during the 1270s. Originally in French and translated into English by Elizabeth Lamond in 1890, the document is in the public domain and can be seen here :

499 Galen : (AD 131-201) A doctor in Greece and Rome, serving under Marcus Aurelius. One of the first modern experimental anatomists.

501 about year 390 in Islam, [they] dissected forty-six rebels : I'm unable to find evidence of this, but an important anatomical book 存真圖 was published in China around this time. This would be around the year AD 1000.

503 Peng Roshi : Roshi 老師 is a Japanese word for "elder"/"master". Peng 彭 is not a Japanese name, so one can presume that this previous lama had a Chinese surname because of China's conquest of Japan (see p. 496).

516 Wasco : His name could refer to the Floating Bridge at the Finger Lakes in New York; see the note for page 359.

517 Long Island : An island extending to the east from New York City; Brooklyn and Queens are at its western end.

523 Xianfeng Emperor : 咸豐 Reigned 1850-1861, making his twelfth year his last.

523 "it never stopped raining until..." : There was indeed a devastating flood in California (though in our world, it was further south) in the 1861-62 winter. Details are here :

523 Peng-lai Islands : 蓬莱 The third mythical island, along with Yingzhou and Fangzhang, from the story of the Eight Immortals (see Chapter 3); in this story these islands are probably the Farallon Islands, about 40 km west of San Francisco. In China in 1061, a real Penglai Pavilion was built in Shandong Province, and it is said to be the home of the gods.

524 Yung Cheng dynasty : (雍正, spelled "Yongzheng" in Pinyin) More properly the Yung Cheng emperor's reign; emperor of China from 1722 to 1735.

524 nisei and sansei : 二世、三世 Second and third-generation immigrants from Japan.

525 Kiyoaki : 清明 Means "pure and bright" in Japanese.

532 the fluid calligraphy of Japanese as common as the blockier Chinese ideograms : This refers to the fact that while Japanese writing makes use of Chinese characters, they are interspersed by connected (when handwritten) phonetic kana, which have a much more flowing appearance. Chinese writing contains only the "blocky" square characters.

533 Kyoto blue : This is probably the indigo color used in dyeing fabrics. The Nishijin area of Kyoto is famous for it, but most people associate this color with Tokushima fabric dye. Perhaps Kiyoaki is the son of immigrants from Kyoto who value the old country.

533 Gen : Probably 元, meaning "origin".

535 Tagomi-san : This isn't a normal Japanese surname (perhaps 田込 in Japanese kanji), though Gomi ("five flavors") is, and many names contain "ta" ("rice field"), so it sounds plausible enough. It's probably a homage to the character of the same name in Philip K. Dick's "The Man in the High Castle".

537 Hu Die : In Chinese, 蝴蝶. The Japanese word is 蝶 (chô) or 蝶々 (chôchô), using the second Chinese character, so it's not surprising that a Japanese speaker like Kiyoaki would know it.

546 Transoxiana : An archaic word for central Asia.

546 twenty-first year of the Kuang Hsu emperor : This would be 1891; the Guangxu (Pinyin romanization; Chinese 光緒) Emperor began his rule in 1871.

Book 8 : War of the Asuras

Character names: Kuo 郭 is the most common; Bai 白 means "white" or 柏 "oak tree", and Iwa 岩 is a Japanese reading of the character for "rock" (though Iwa here is supposedly Tibetan, so this might not be his name). Iwa by itself is a rare name in Japan in our world, though it's often combined with other things as in "Iwata" (rock field), "Iwase" (rock shallows), etc., perhaps we can imagine Japanese people taking Chinese-style surnames when China conquered Japan in KSR's universe.

553 water zero degrees : Presumably the Chinese have developed a temperature scale in which water's freezing point is zero, as it is in the Celsius scale.

553 qisphere : The novel uses qi (Chinese 気; pronounced "ki" in Japanese) to mean electricity.

559 Peng-zu : The same Peng-zu who supposedly lived eight hundred years, described by I-Chin to Butterfly in the Ocean Continents chapter.

565 Chomolungma : The Tibetan name for what we call Mount Everest, which at 8848 meters (29,030 feet) is the tallest mountain in the world.

565 second tallest, which is a peak in Afghanistan : This is K2 of the Karakoram range (thus the initial letter), 8611 meters high.

566 Nangpa La : A pass through the Himalayas, near Cho Oyu (see below).

568 Cho Oyu : Another huge mountain in the Himalayas; 8201 meters (26,906 feet) tall. Also spelled Cho Oyo; this is the mountain on the right at the center of the picture.

569 Dudh Kosi : A river in the Himalayas.

577 Bodhi Tree : The tree where the first Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was enlightened around 600 BC. It has been damaged and burned many times, but its descendants live on as saplings were taken to Sri Lanka in the third century BC (Anuradhapura), and later brought back to Bodh Gaya, where it stands today. Much earlier, Bold and Kyu visit Lanka and talk about this tree (p. 38).

Book 9: Nsara

583 Nsara : Comes from the Arabic for "Christian" and has the same root as "Nazareth". The adjective "Nsarene" used here is etymologically the same word as the English "Nazarene".

586 Turi : Probably Zürich in Switzerland, based on the local pronunciation "Zuri". (I originally thought that Turi referred to Turin in northern Italy, but that's probably mistaken.)

588 heartknot, yang, yin : The nucleus of an atom. Protons and electrons really are called yang and yin particles in Chinese and Japanese.

588 "strong, but very local" : This is the strong nuclear force, which is overwhelmed by the force of gravity and electromagnetic forces at human scales.

588 alactin : Uranium, the 92nd element. Bombarding U-235 with neutrons causes it to become U-236 (the additional unit of atomic mass is the neutron), which releases energy plus more neutrons, which can interact with other U-235 atoms. This chain reaction is explosive!

592 djellaba : This should more accurately be "djebella"; it's spelled correctly several times later on.

593 the speed of light, half a million li per second : In metric, the speed of light is 300,000 km/sec. A li would be about 600 meters.

605 frequently falsified authorities of personal transmission : Note that Bistami fudged these things for just the opposite reason almost 500 years earlier.

607 Haroun al-Rashid : Abbasid Caliph of the 8th century AD.

607 a white tomb in the jungle : Here Budur sees her past lives as Butterfly and Bistami.

612 standing stones : Could be the Carnac megaliths in Brittany, northern France; 10,000 stones which are more than 4000 years old. Like Stonehenge, we're not sure what their purpose is, though it's likely that they were used to measure star positions. A legend says that Roman soldiers were turned to stone to form these megaliths.

613 the Orkneys : Islands at the northern end of Great Britain.

614 caves in the south, filled with wall paintings : These would be the Lascaux caves, where paintings thirty to forty thousand years old have been discovered.

623 circular mandala : It's hard to imagine the periodic table of the elements arranged in a circle. Perhaps it's a spiral with each group arranged on the same spoke.

626 lifegas : Oxygen.

631 Aozhou : 澳洲 Australia. Usually written 澳大利亞 today, a more phonetic representation. This may be an anachronism, since the Chinese "ao" character is based on the first syllable "au" in Latin, which may not be given to the continent in this world.

631 Kwinana : A town in Western Australia in our world, with a population of around 20,000.

634 Dinei : Usually spelled "Dene"; Native Canadians from the Great Slave Lake area and the Northwest Territories.

639 Zainab Shah : There is a peace activist from Pakistan with this name; it's not clear if KSR specifically named the character after her, though.

640 "Hell is other people." : In our world, this line comes from Jean-Paul Sartre.

644 five-trillion-drachma bills from Roma : After Germany lost WWI in our world, heavy reparations payments forced the government to devalue the currency in 1923, and the resulting hyperinflation had people spending banknotes worth billions of marks and carrying wheelbarrows full of bills just to buy household items. See a list of the 1923 banknotes here :

645 "Come fill the cup..." : From the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (AD 1048-1123; Nishapur, Persia), quatrain 7; English translation by Edward FitzGerald.

649 "Kirana's mouth opened round as a zero..." : This would be somewhat of a challenge given that an Arabic zero is a dot. It might be more accurate to say that her mouth opened round as a five, since in Arabic, five is an oval.

659 Hosain's martyrdom : The grandson of Mohammed, who was murdered. See Bistami's tale for more details.

667 Moroccan lost fleet of 924 : If KSR is using the Persian calendar (as he does later in this chapter), this would be AD 1555. Perhaps they are considering the idea that this lost fleet, which set out before the Nsara's founding, would have advanced Andalusi culture and changed the Barakan hegira of Book II which led to the settlement of Nsara.

671 "During this time I did not sleep..." : This quote comes directly from ibn Sina's autobiography, describing the period when he "dedicated [him]self to learning and reading ... logic and all the parts of philosophy".

675 lifering fourteens : Atoms of carbon-14, a radioactive isotope which decays regularly (this is the "qileak" mentioned above), allowing an observer to measure the age of an object by finding the ratio of C-14 to the normal C-12. The inclusion of "ring" in the name presumably refers to its atomic structure.

677 Ganono : New York in our world. Ganono is the Mohawk name for the Manhattan area, and means "reeds". It was eventually supplanted by the Delaware word "Manhattos", which means "hills".

679 Cyrus : (580-529 BC) Became king of Anshan in 559 BC (thus the comment by the Cyruses that this year is his 2561st), and later conquered many parts of Persia. He was a benevolent conqueror who didn't force religion on people, and is said to have written the first declaration of human rights. Incidentally, the year is given in the North American version (corrected in the British paperback) as AH 1381, but though 1381 solar years have passed since Mohammed's Hegira, that calendar uses lunar years, and the spring of AD 2002 should be AH 1423 (as given in the Chronology in the beginning of the book). A system of counting solar years since the Hegira has been used in Iran, but KSR seems to have all his characters, Iranian or not, using it.

679 Ferdowsi : the correct spelling (not 'Ferdowsi') of this Persian literary giant. (935-1020) His Shahnamah, or Book of Kings, is one of Iran's greatest literary works (if not the greatest) and has had a lasting impact on the Persian language It can be found online here: .

683 the years around 777 : If KSR's Iranian reckoning from page 679 is continued here, this would be around AD 1399.

686 Caves in the Nsaran south : These are the Lascaux caves mentioned earlier.

688 An Inka capital, set high in the mountains... skeletons of people in Firanja... stone rings of Britain : Macchu Picchu, the Neanderthals, and Stonehenge, respectively. The lined figures on the Inkan plains mentioned later are the famous Nazca lines.

688 Ta Shu : A Chinese poet who visits Antarctica in KSR's novel of the same name. I don't know what characters you might write this name with.

Book 10: The First Years

709 Dahongmen : 大紅門 "Big Red Gate". This is the resting place of the Yongle Emperor, who began building Beijing at the beginning of our story.

709 sanwu : 三無. The "wu", meaning "not"/"without", is the same as the "mu" in Zen.

710 the Year 29 : Based on the calendar initiated at the Isfahan Conference, this would be AD 2030.

710 the emperor, aged six or seven : Probably a reference to Pu Yi 溥儀, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty in our world and indeed the end of the long line of emperors in China. Pu Yi was six when forced to abdicate in China's 1911 Revolution.

711 Zhu Tuanjie-kexue : 朱 統結科学, probably, and with the meaning that KSR gives. "Zhu" means "deep red/vermilion". His Japanese name, Isao (勇、勲、功 among others) can mean "brave", "merit", "achievement", etc. Note that this is the same Zhu as in the Yongle Emperor's personal name.

712 Bao Xinhua and Kung Jianguo, etc. : The characters for "New China" and "Construct the Nation" are 新華 and 建国. "Oppose Islam" is 回敵 (this is the same "hui" we've seen before to mean Islam, by the way); "Do Battle" might be 戦斗; the girls' names below might be 香兵、慧軍、公香、愛国蘭. Xinhua, with the same meaning, incidentally, is a Chinese news agency.

712 Repayment, retribution : Presumably Bao's name is 褒 or 報, though 包 is a much more common surname with the same pronunciation, meaning "wrapping". Kung is probably 孔 (Kong in pinyin), which is the name of Confucius.

717 Shi Fandi ("Oppose Imperialism") : The "di" is 敵, meaning enemy or opponent; I'm not sure about the "fan".

725 Pan Xichun : 潘 is a common Chinese surname. Xichun might mean 喜春 'happy spring'.

726 Pyinkayaing, the capital of Burma : In our world, Pyinkayaing (also spelled Pyinkhayaing) is a small village of less than 5000 people; it is indeed at the mouth of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River.

735 Cao Xueqin : 曹雪芹 (c.1715 - c.1763). Author of a famous 18th century Chinese novel, Honglou Meng, or The Dream of the Red Chamber. It concerns the wealthy Jia family and is considered one of the masterpieces of Chinese literature. An online version of the novel is here :

735 Murasaki : Murasaki Shikibu 紫式部 (973 - c. 1025), Japanese author of The Tale of Genji. This work, which revolves around the amorous hero Genji, the Shining Prince, is perhaps Japan's greatest work of literature; it and her own diary are still well-read today. Her given name is unknown; Murasaki is a nickname taken from one of her novel's characters, and Shikibu is a title ('Department of Ceremonies') her father held. Arthur Waley's translation of Genji can be read here :

735 Purana Kassapa : A sixth-century Indian religious leader, contemporary of Buddha, who taught akriyavada, or "inaction". He believed that nothing could affect the human soul, and that no guilt was felt after sins, nor was any satisfaction to be had from good deeds. This is in complete opposition to the idea of dharma.

738 Padmasambhava : A Tibetan guru who was/is the "essence of Buddha Amitabha". This guru has uncountable manifestations, as he appears to each person in all the worlds.

738 Gyatso Rimpoche, Lives One Through Nineteen : This is the Dalai Lama. "Gyatso" means "ocean" in Tibetan; Tibetans sometimes call the Dalai Lama "gyawa rimpoche", meaning "great protector". In our world there have so far been only fourteen Dalai Lamas; the present incarnation being Tenzin Gyatso (1935- ). Note that Gyatso Rimpoche is also the name of the nineteenth Dalai Lama in KSR's Blue Mars.

738 Plutarch : (Πλουταρχου, c. AD 40-120) A Greek writer from the era of Rome's conquest of Greece. He discussed the lives of 15 people from former ages. Despite its length, his "Lives" enjoyed enormous popularity during the European Renaissance. "Lives" can be found online at :

738 Liu Xiang : (c. 77-6 BC) A Han bibliographer who edited the Book of Xunzi. His Lie Nu Zhuan tells the stories of various admirable women, and cautions readers against using their beauty to cause chaos.

738 the Wandering Jew : Legend has it that a man who mocked Jesus as he was on the cross was condemned to wander the earth until Christ's second coming. I've never seen an autobiography of this person, however.

742 Where did all the Roman gold end up? : Considering that the people of the Byzantine Empire thought of themselves as "Roman", this could be implying that the stash of treasure that Selim III left behind when fleeing Constantinople hasn't yet been found.

742 Sami people : The Saami are a small ethnic minority living mainly in Norway and Russia. Their reindeer-herding in particular is well-known and popular with tourists.

745 "the scene blurred before his eyes..." : Here Bao is seeing an image from his past life as Butterfly, daughter of Peng-ti, after the flood of Fangzhang.

747 Kalidasa's "Sakuntala" : This translation comes from W. S. Mervin and J. S. Masson's Sanskrit Love Poetry, as mentioned on the copyright page.

748 Old Dragonfish : This is the coelacanth, a 400-million year old fish, contemporary of the dinosaurs, that was thought to be extinct before one was found off South Africa in 1938. Another was later discovered off Africa's eastern coast.

749 Putatoi : The Patwin tribe, native to Davis, California (where KSR now lives). The Putah Creek runs through the area.

752 Gao Qingnian : Gao 高 is a Chinese surname meaning "high".

763 Kali : The Hindu goddess of destruction. While the B and I characters have lived long, happy lives of fulfillment -- a nirvana on earth, almost --, it seems that the K character has returned to continue the struggle.

This is a work in progress and is perpetually unfinished! Last update: October 27, 2006.
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