Code switching in The Tibet Code

The whole world wanted the rights to this book

The whole world wanted the rights

The story that drives the five volumes (so far) of The Tibet Code (藏地密码) revolves around a grand quest for the wonders of Tibet’s legendary past: the treasures of a lost temple, the race of mystics who guarded it, and a massive, ferocious variety of Tibetan Mastiff, known in the historical records as the Purple Qilin.

Although the mythology in Volume I is dispensed with a regularity that keeps the story moving at a decent pace, the plot is really nothing more than a wild goose chase: after traipsing back and forth across Tibet in search of clues that won’t be revealed until later volumes, our heroes assemble their elite adventure team and, in the final pages of the book, are finally prepared for the true quest to begin. Unfortunately, judging from the table of contents for Volume II, that appears to be a trip to the Amazon, a plot twist for which Volume I laid absolutely no groundwork.

Mandarin is the dominant language of conversation for the characters in The Tibet Code, and when they switch to Tibetan it’s noted in the narration but not marked in their speech, with one interesting exception. Early on, Tibetan mastiff breeder Chomo Jampa is telling his mentor, professor Fang Xin, about the legend of the Purple Qilin. He begins by translating the texts into Mandarin. This reads perfectly well, but his pauses frustrate the professor, who asks him to continue in Tibetan.

So he switches to Tibetan (which for some reason the author chooses to describe as “fluent,” even though that should go without saying for an ethnic Tibetan born and raised in the region). Tibetan conversations in the rest of the book are rendered in straightforward Mandarin, but in this case, the character is reciting an ancient text, presumably in classical Tibetan of some sort. To convey this, the author uses classical Chinese for this portion:


The emperor Langdarma loved hunting and delighted in chasing wolves across the wilderness. When he ascended the throne he declared Buddhism abolished, dismissed the monks and forced them to go hunting, destroyed images, and did not submit to the will of heaven.

The Tibet Code was originally published online and appears to actually have been edited somewhat before appearing in print, at least judging by the polished and expanded classical Chinese passages. I’m not all that eager to read any more of it again, however.

One thought on “Code switching in The Tibet Code

  1. a reader

    Do you have a recommendation for a better thriller? While the series is disappointing at times, this series is still the best thriller I’ve read in chinese. Perhaps my standards are too low. I’m almost done reading the second book in the series, and the trip to South America has been quite randem. It makes me wonder at what point an editor got involved. It seems like 40% of the material could have easily been cut, but then maybe the author is getting paid by the character.

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