'Ali Akbar Khata'i

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ʿAli Akbar Khata'i (modern Turkish: Ali Ekber Hıtai; fl. ca. 1500-1516) was an early 16th-century Middle Eastern or Central Asian traveler and writer. Although there is no certainty about his origin, we know that by 1515 he came to (or returned to) Istanbul, where he wrote Ḵeṭāy-nāma, which likely was the first ever book about the Ming China written on the European continent. His work, originally written in Persian, was later translated into Turkish, and became influential in the Turkish- and Persian-speaking Muslim world.

As with other Middle Eastern personages, there are a great number of ways to transcribe 'Ali Akbar's name, for example, Encyclopedia Iranica uses the spelling ʿAlī Akbar Ḵeṭāʾī.[1]

Life[edit]

Nothing much is known for sure about 'Ali Akbar's origin and early life. While he created his book in Istanbul, he may have been born elsewhere in the Islamic World - perhaps, as Aly Mazahéri suggested, based on textual references, even as far as in Transoxania (Bukhara).[2]

Some researchers think that ʿAlī Akbar's name may indicate his Shi'ite origin. However, his text praises the Four Righteous Caliphs (venerated by the Sunnis), so even if born and raised a Shi'ite, he must have changed his religious affiliation due to the changing political situation.[2]

ʿAlī Akbar is thought to have been a merchant by some authors.[3] He refers to himself as a qalandar (dervish) a few times in his book; however, this may be just a figurative expression, emphasizing his humbleness, rather than a literal description of a membership in a dervish order.[2]

The epithet "Khata'i" in ʿAli Akbar's name means "of China", presumably referring to him having traveled to and lived in China. While it is usually thought that at least some of the material in Khataynameh is based on the author's first hand experiences in China, at least one scholar of Khataynameh - Lin Yih-Min, who translated the book into modern Turkish - believes that ʿAlī Akbar (much like Juan González de Mendoza and perhaps Marco Polo) did not actually travel to China, and his work is thus completely based on others' reports.[2]

The Khataynameh[edit]

ʿAlī Akbar's Khataynameh ("The Book of China"), written in Persian, was completed in 1516 in Istanbul, and issued[clarification needed] in 1520.[4]

ʿAlī Akbar's work, also known as Kanun-name, was translated into Ottoman Turkish in 1582. His work was used by later Turkish authors; in particular, it was one of the main source of information on China used by Katip Çelebi in his Jihān-numā, along with an earlier work by a Ghiyāth al-dīn Naqqāsh. As modern researchers note, Ghiyāth al-dīn's and 'Ali Akbar's accounts, in a way, complemented each other, as the two authors saw the Ming China from different aspects: Ghiyāth al-dīn came to the court of the Ming Yongle Emperor as a member of an official delegation from the Timurid ruler Shah Rukh, and much of his report is focused on court and diplomatic events; on the other hand, 'Ali Akbar, who, as Ildikó Bellér-Hann surmises, may have been a merchant, gives a much better view of the country's everyday life.[5]

Modern study and translations[edit]

Three chapters of the Khataynameh were translated into French by Charles Schefer and published in 1883, along with the Persian original.[6]

Notes[edit]

Literature[edit]