Aladdin And The Wonderful Lamp
Known along with Ali Baba as one of the "orphan tales", the story was not part of the original Nights collection and has no authentic Arabic textual source, but was incorporated into the book "Les Mille Et Une Nuits" (One Thousand And One Nights) by its French translator, Antoine Galland.
John Payne quotes passages from Galland's unpublished diary: recording Galland's encounter with a Maronite storyteller from Aleppo, Hanna Diyab. According to Galland's diary, he met with Hanna, who had traveled from Aleppo to Paris with celebrated French traveler Paul Lucas, on March 25, 1709. Galland's diary further reports that his transcription of "Aladdin" for publication occurred in the winter of 1709–10. It was included in his volumes 9 and 10 of the Nights, published in 1710, without any mention or published acknowledgment of Hanna's contribution. Paulo Lemos Horta, in the introduction to his translation of Aladdin, speculates that Diyab might even be the original author of at least some of the "orphan" tales, including Aladdin.
To return to Payne, he also records the discovery in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris of two Arabic manuscripts containing Aladdin (with two more of the "interpolated" tales). One was written by a Syrian Christian priest living in Paris, named Dionysios Shawish, alias Dom Denis Chavis. The other is supposed to be a copy Mikhail Sabbagh made of a manuscript written in Baghdad in 1703. It was purchased by the Bibliothèque Nationale at the end of the nineteenth century. As part of his work on the first critical edition of the Nights, Iraq's Muhsin Mahdi has shown that both these manuscripts are "back-translations" of Galland's text into Arabic.
The opening sentences of the story, in both the Galland and the Burton versions, set it in "one of the cities of China". On the other hand, there is practically nothing in the rest of the story that is inconsistent with a Middle Eastern setting. For instance, the ruler is referred to as "Sultan" rather than being called the "Emperor", as in some re-tellings, and the people in the story are Muslims and their conversation is larded with devout Muslim platitudes. A Jewish merchant buys Aladdin's wares (and incidentally cheats him), but there is no mention of Buddhists or Confucians (or other distinctively Chinese people).
Notably, ethnic groups in Chinese history have long included Muslim groups, including large populations of Uighurs, and the Hui people whose origins go back to Silk Road travelers. Islamic communities have been known to exist in the region since the Tang Dynasty. Some have suggested that the intended setting may be Turkestan (encompassing Central Asia and the modern Chinese province of Xinjiang in Western China).
For all this, speculation about a "real" Chinese setting depends on a knowledge of China that the teller of a folk tale (as opposed to a geographic expert) might well not possess. In early Arabic usage, China is known to have been used in an abstract sense to designate an exotic, faraway land.
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