The Islamic world's first guide to the Silk Road

Ali Akbar Khitai. [Ketay-Nama]. Tercüme-i târih-i nevâdir-i Çin Mâçîn [Translation of the rare history and descriptions of China].

Istanbul, Tophâne-i Âmire Litografya Destigâhi, [1854 CE =] 1270 H.

8vo (145 x 215 mm). 70 pp. In Ottoman script within rules, lithographed throughout. The heading (serlevha) and borders of the first double page are printed in gilt. Bound in contemporary wrappers, taken from a volume, and stored loosely within protective giltstamped cloth boards (modern spine).


First and only printed edition of one of the earliest Islamic travel accounts of China and the first description of the Silk Road in the Islamic world, pre-dating even Ibn Battuta's Rihla.

The present work, one of the most complete descriptions of Ming Dynasty China in the 16th century, was originally written in Persian in 1516. Completed and issued soon after Khitai reached Istanbul in 1520, it was later translated into Turkish by Hezârfen Huseyin (d. 1691) and became influential also in the Turkish-speaking Muslim world. According to the colophon, the book was finished on the last day or days of Rabî I 922 (3 May 1516), while the preface contains a panegyric on Suleiman the Magnificent (ruled 1520-66).

Based on the author's personal observations, the book's 20 chapters discuss roads, cities and castles, stores, brothels and prostitutes, eunuchs, legislation, administration, jails, law and law-abidance, the military, agriculture, magazines, the imperial throne, the various religions, celebrations, entertainments, wonderful arts and strange cures, schools, persons from the West, Qalmaqs, gold, silver and currency, as well as Chinese temples and other matters. Thus Ali Akbar's book conveyed to a reader of the 16th century a fair impression of China: as a guidebook it could serve as a companion especially for Muslim merchants travelling along the Silk Road.

The Chinese scholar Lin Yih-Min describes Ali Akbar as a "Turkish businessman" (58) who probably journeyed only to Central Asia, where he gathered the information for his book before returning then to Turkey. The book was dedicated to Sultan Suleiman, and as the author's name suggests a Shi'ite background, it is possible that Ali Akbar may have wished to impress on the Ottoman court the difficult conditions of the Shi'ite community living in Istanbul, among a dominant Sunnite community.

Also known as the "Khataynameh" ("Book on China"), the work aroused considerable interest not only in the Ottoman Empire but also in Europe in the 19th century. The book's immediate impact is difficult to estimate, but astonishingly the Ottoman Empire, here referred to as "Lumi", would figure quite prominently in Chinese sources after a first embassy arrived in Beijing in 1524, four years after the book was first issued; other embassies followed until 1618. Thus, it is entirely possible that Ali Akbar's book had a direct influence on Ottoman diplomacy and commerce in China and Central Asia.

A few holes in the last leaf (minor loss of a few letters); some browning. A few contemporary pencil marginalia and calligraphic examples on the last blank page. Overall a good copy.


Özege 20686. Cf. Ralph Kauz, "One of the Last Documents of the Silk Road: The Khataynameh of Ali Akbar", The Silk Road 1 (2005), p. 59f. Lin Yih-Min, "A comparative and critical study of Ali Akbar’s Khitây-nâma with reference to Chinese sources", Central Asiatic Journal 27 (1983), pp. 58-78.