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Names from Jorge Luis Borges Novel - the garden of forking paths


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Hi everybody !


I was reading the novel 小径分岔的花园 in english and in the spanish original. The inside story is perfumed with chinese culture And there are chinese names, written in Pinyin.

I wonder whether these names: a)  have a meaning, b) how they are written in Chinese

and c) ... maybe there are chinese stories with these names. 



 Here are the names found in the story:

1) Yu Tsun - the hero

2)Ts'ui Pên - his ancestor

3) Fang - the hero in the inside story

3)  Hai Feng - a name of a garden

4) Hsi Pêng - a diplomat 


Also, i will be happy to discuss the story with people who read it in Chinese.


thank you ! 






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Thank you.  This is a frequent mistake about Borges:   Borges invents plots and imagine of course heroes but the names provided for poeple, places and events , as far as my search goes, show a profound knowledge, and none ( excpet for those I had asked ) is invented.  For exmaple when he says that Yu Tsun was an english teacher in a german 'hochschule' ( college in German ) in the chinese city of Tsingtao,.. the reader, and even researchers take it usually to be an irony, but the fact is Tsingtao was a German colony before WW1 exactly when Yu Tsun said he worked there as a professor and was even known in China for its educational sytem :-)). 

Indeed all the names of places, events and people are fully documented. The interesting thing is that Borges, writing this in 1941, should have been aware that most of his readers could not know it was true, So in a way he played with them, letting them feel in a maze where walls are made of this flood of unverifiable details...

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Fair point, I guess I should have said that Borges often mixes fact with fiction.


Since you mentioned Qingdao I did a quick search and came across a place called 海风花园 (hǎifēng huāyuán "Sea Breeze Garden") which could plausibly be the place he was talking about, although it seems to just be a housing complex. The problem with names is that without characters you don't have a lot to go on. Maybe someone else will recognise them though.

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Here is a Chinese translation of the story (the names used in the translation are probably just the translator's own interpretation).  Since the people mentioned in the story are not famous, it is anyone's guess whether they are fictional or real.  




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I think what is especially difficult with this endeavour is that the possible range of names in the East Asian tradition goes much further than naming in Western traditions, and certainly beyond what can be deduced from the toneless romanisation. It is almost a truism that "all" Chinese names have "some" kind of meaning. From Borges' original text it is also difficult to discern surname from given name, though one can make a guess.



But from the above translation by 王央乐:

俞宸 Yú Chēn

崔朋 Cuī Péng

范 Fàn (suffixed with -生 as an equivalent for Mr.)

海奉 Hǎi Fèng

郗本 Chī Běn




I have to say, this really goes against my gut instinct for the Pinyin; I would have normalised Borges' spellings to:

Yu Cun

Cui Pen


Hai Feng

Xi Peng



The use of that spelling for 1) (as well as the reference within Borges's work itself) then cannot fail to be recognised by anyone who has read 红楼梦: it is of course a transcription of the 贾雨村.

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Thank you all, 


It seems that at time of publication (1941) PinYin was not yest established. Another system, accessible for western too was in use

Wade–Giles.  From wikipedia: 

" ( sometimes abbreviated Wade)  It developed from a system produced by Thomas Wade during the mid-19th century, and was given completed form with Herbert Giles's ChineseEnglish Dictionary of 1892".


Indeed in this system we find the symbols Borges used in his story:  ê,  ên, 

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  • 1 year later...

Hi, ilanetam, could you please send me the evidence and research that you got? i am analysing the precedence of the name Yu Tsun if he was someone real and also the same for His peng, was he a real diplomatic from chia or someone that Borges invented? i need the links to prove my research.

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  • 3 years later...
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I am an Argentine writer with a Master in Oriental Studies from the Universidad del Salvador, in Buenos Aires. I have been attending a Seminar on Borges for the past 4 years and next week I am presenting a paper on the Chinese references on El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths). I have been drawn nuts with the same problem: Borges did not know Chinese, but he was a thorough researcher. Not one of his literary decisions was random, so "What's in a name?". I find it hard to accept the Chinese characters for Yü Tsun and Ts'ui Pen Chinese translators have attempted. Instead, what if Yü Ch'üen were 愚蠢 meaning silly, imbecile? That would be more like Borges, always playing tricks with us, mortal readers. And again, what if Ts'ui Pen were 嘴笨, meaning Clumsy at Words? Wouldn't it be wonderful that  such a great writer, one who has surpassed Ts'ao Hsüeh-chin himself (the author of the mentioned Hung Lu Meng), were clumsy with words? 

The remaining names in this emblematical short story are real, but we are given the choice to laugh with dear Georgie, as Victoria Ocampo and Bioy (Casares), his dear friends, used to call him. What do you think?

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