The Discovery of the Khitan Small Script Inscriptions in 1922: On Fr Kervyn’s Report

Pierre Marsone

The Discovery of the Khitan Small Script Inscriptions in 1922:
On Fr Kervyn’s Report

(64th Meeting Budapest, 2022)

Scholars specializing in Khitan scripts know that the discovery of the first funerary inscriptions in Khitan small script happened exactly 100 years ago, in June 1922, and was announced by the Belgian missionary Louis Kervyn in the June 1923 issue of the Bulletin catholique de Pékin. Several months later, the same article was published in T’oung Pao by Paul Pelliot with some historical and orthographical corrections, and the deletion of several passages that he considered useless in a scientific context. The original article in the Bulletin catholique is difficult to find in libraries or on the internet. The present communication aims to give a full presentation of this founding document of Khitan studies: Kervyn’s basic and sometimes slightly inexact historical knowledge; his solid Classical culture that led him to compare Qingzhou’s mausoleum to famous concepts from Greek mythology; his pertinent and vivid description of the hard labour and the motivations of the local peasants and of all the efforts they made before the discovery of the steles. From a comparison between Kervyn’s original text and the version edited by Pelliot, we can see that indeed some of the sentences deleted by the great master of sinological studies did not fit in an article published in the T’oung Pao. Others, stressing the scientific significance of the discovery, could, and perhaps should, have been kept in the article, and one can wonder whether Pelliot in fact did not want to let the missionary act as a judge in scientific matters, or if perhaps this behaviour only reflects Pelliot’s intriguing lack of interest for the question of the Khitan.