General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 14 Dec 2017/3 Rain
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Taiwanese student Stanly consults Mexicolore over his Aztec themed novel

The Aztecs in Taiwan!

We were delighted when out of the blue, in April 2012, an 18-year-old Taiwanese student, Chen Keng-Ching (Stanly) telephoned us from Taiwan’s third largest city Taichung to ask if he could visit Mexicolore in London to expand his knowledge of the Aztecs! Stanly had already contacted us by email with several questions (one of them, on the calpulli, we answered in our ‘Ask Us’ section): it turns out that for two years Stanly had been planning and writing a romantic novel - about a Tlaxcalteca girl whose family is killed by the Mexica and whose plans for revenge are upset when she falls in love with a spy-priest... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Some of the notes Stanly took while at Mexicolore. Notice his interest in the Voladores (Flyers) ceremony and in snake-shaped rainsticks...
Some of the notes Stanly took while at Mexicolore. Notice his interest in the Voladores (Flyers) ceremony and in snake-shaped rainsticks... (Click on image to enlarge)

Stanly, who plans to study archaeology abroad, had never before left China and whose trip was paid for by his dad, is up against a unique set of problems. Quite apart from the paucity of research materials (he has only found one book on the Aztecs available in Taiwan - Richard Townsend’s The Aztecs) there’s a formidable language barrier: Náhuatl is a famously agglutinative language (in which it is common to join extra words to the beginning and end of a root word, thus forming multi-syllabic words), the opposite of Chinese (in Taiwan they speak Mandarin with a Taiwanese accent). In Chinese each syllable is represented by a separate word-sound, and three syllables are usually ‘plenty’. Try to imagine writing Huitzilopochtli in Chinese word symbols!

‘Trans-Pacific Resonances’: Aztec fire serpent from the Sunstone (top L), Maya carving from Altar A at Copán, Honduras (bottom L), ‘Makara’ dragon from the ruins of Borobodur, India (R)
‘Trans-Pacific Resonances’: Aztec fire serpent from the Sunstone (top L), Maya carving from Altar A at Copán, Honduras (bottom L), ‘Makara’ dragon from the ruins of Borobodur, India (R) (Click on image to enlarge)

Inevitably, our conversations kept returning to some of the intriguing similarities, parallels and coincidences between ancient Mexico and ancient China. How strange, Stanly pointed out, that the numbers 4 and 13 (unlucky in the East and the West respectively) should combine to form that all-important number 52, sacred in ancient Mesoamerican religion and cosmology. Then came:-
• The rabbit in the moon - a parallel myth
• Olmec giant heads and traditional Japanese dolls
• The pole-climbing competition (part of the ‘ghost’ month festival in China)
• Tying of tunics together to symbolize marriage
• Aztec fire serpents and Asian dragons (see picture)
• Fortune tellers divining ‘good’ days for getting married
• Duality and complementary opposites (yin-yang)
And so on...

Stanly spotted the Chinese symbol for tongue drum (‘mu yü’) in notes made by Joseph Needham on the ‘teponaztli’ in his copy of Herbert J. Spinden’s ‘Ancient Civilisations of Mexico and Central America’
Stanly spotted the Chinese symbol for tongue drum (‘mu yü’) in notes made by Joseph Needham on the ‘teponaztli’ in his copy of Herbert J. Spinden’s ‘Ancient Civilisations of Mexico and Central America’ (Click on image to enlarge)

We showed Stanly notes we had taken during a visit to the Needham Institute Library in Cambridge in 2007: the Institute is the home of the Science and Civilisation in China Project, and houses a unique collection of research materials gathered by Dr. Joseph Needham (1900-1995), ‘probably the British historian best-known on a world scale’. During a two-month visit to Mexico in 1947 Needham was struck by a whole series of ‘echoes and resonances’ between ancient Mexico and China. One of these days we’ll do a serious feature on these...!

Of course the topic of human sacrifice was never far away. Stanly is fascinated by the whole problem of human emotions experienced by those in direct contact with sacrifices in pre-Hispanic times. He struck us as a sensitive, intelligent and committed young man, and it will be most interesting to see how he tackles the issue of emotions in his novel...

Mexicolore Director Graciela Sánchez giving Stanly a hand-illustrated sheet based on a codex page of bark made by Mexican scribe Dinorah Lejarazú
Mexicolore Director Graciela Sánchez giving Stanly a hand-illustrated sheet based on a codex page of bark made by Mexican scribe Dinorah Lejarazú (Click on image to enlarge)

Picture sources:-
• Photos by Phillip and Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Fire serpent/dragon illustrations by Miguel Covarrubias, scanned from our copy of his book The Eagle, the Jaguar and the Serpent: Indian Art of the Americas, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1954.

Stanly’s original question: ‘What exactly was a ‘calpulli’?

The Needham Research Institute website
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Mexicolore replies: Thank you, Mahesa, for correcting us on this. We’ve left the error in place for others to learn from, thanks to your feedback.