Design a site like this with
Get started

Ten Reasons to stop Gambling

Ten reasons to stop gambling, jiha efire be targabure juwan haqin, 戒賭十條

The Manchu established Qing Empire lasted from 1636 to 1911. They entered China proper in 1644, within a century or so they controlled large swaths of East Asia and Inner-Asia, spanning from the Eastern extremes of modern day Kazakhstan to Vladivostok. The Manchus prided themselves on their martial prowess, frugality, and bravery, certainly, in the early days of their conquest, this might have been true. However, the first generation of Manchus who hunted in forests and braved the frigid cold of Northeastern China and Southern Siberia acclimated to a sedentary, government-subsidised life in the Gemun Heqen (capital city, ergo, Beijing). They forgot how to shoot arrows and neglected the hunt. Instead, they took up new pursuits, they frequented Chinese theatres, brothels, and gambling dens.

Note: This post contains a number of Manchu terms, which I have highlighted in bold font. The definitions are given behind each highlighted word in brackets. Whenever a Manchu phrase appears between quotation marks, I have used square brackets to denote the translation of the Manchu phrase.

The widespread degeneracy of the Manchu bannermen’s frugal qualities and martial prowess seems to have started by the second half of the eighteenth century (Elliott, 282). Toward the late Qing, the battle-readiness of the Manchus had all but disappeared; melted like the ice cubes they brought from Manchuria. In light of this development, some Manchus became worried. The government had already passed laws that made gambling illegal, but they had limited effect. As Gionai wrote in his preface: “uttu bime hafan data fafulaha seme ilibume muterakv” [Moreover, the government chieftains prohibited it, but it could not be stopped]. They made extra efforts to prevent debauchery from spreading among the bannermen. An example from 1728 shows that garrison general Unaha was instructed to prevent bannermen from wearing fine-clothing, killing cows, copper tools and weapons, and gambling (Elliott, 289). The Manchu Great Khans of the Qing, especially Elhe Taifin (Kangxi) and Hvwaliyasun Tob (Yongzheng) orchestrated extensive campaigns to rid the common folk of the vice of gambling (Chan et al., 40). Abkai Wehiyehe (Qianlong) even went as far as to call gambling one of four evil practises—the others being theft, fighting, and prostitution (Chan et al., 41). The following is an example of an essay written in the same spirit to put a halt to gambling.

afakv - shows gambling
Some gamblers in the late Qing.

Gionai was a gvsai da (Regiment Colonel) and in charge of alban taqikvi baita (official education affairs). He published his essay jiha efire be targabure juwan haqin (ten reasons to stop gambling) in the third year of Saiqvngga Fengxen (Jiaqing, the third year is 1798). He mentions that he found an essay titled “ten precepts to stop gambling”, and thought it “as a treasured raft for the lost and as a panacea for the ill”. In the introduction to this essay, he says the reason for translating it into Manchu is that the people in his kvwaran (barracks) aren’t as proficient in Chinese as they are in Manchu. He remains humble by referring to himself as someone superficial and simple and that scholars would certainly laugh at his attempt to publish his ramblings. He hoped that the “enlighted future generations” could improve upon his writings.

Now, I am not enlightened by any stretch of the imagination, but I am of a future generation. In addition to translating (somewhat freely and inadequately) his essay, I also wanted to add some of my own inane ramblings by comparing this essay with arguments we know from other cultural backgrounds and eras to see how they compare. I also have my own axe to grind against gambling, so, I’m not so secretly hoping that all of these arguments will be convincing to at least some readers. I also wanted to seek to explain some aspects of Chinese or Manchu culture through the points mentioned in his text. A few of the works consulted are Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s Mafatih al-Ghayb and Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica.

It is important, as with any discussion, to denote what we mean with the term gambling. The word Gionai uses is “jiha efimbi”, literally, to play with money. As to what exactly he defines as “jiha efimbi”, he does not say. However, we can safely assume he equates it to the Chinese term “du” 賭 because Gionai himself uses jiha efimbi to translate this Chinese word. It roughly refers to the act of tying monetary exchange to a certain game or happening. It is a rather broad definition, but from the context in Gionai is translating, it probably refers to typical Qing dynasty activities such as páijiǔ 牌九, mǎdiào 馬吊, yābǎo 押寶, and other popular games of the era. It probably also refers to betting games, which took the form of cockfighting and cricket fighting. Also, Gionai published before the restrictions on gambling were lifted during the end of the Qing, this means that legal gambling houses were not part of Qing life yet.

A final point on the commentary. Since this is a work of translation, the arguments made in the essay can hardly be considered Gionai’s own. For ease of reference, I do just say things like “Gionai wrote” and “Gionai argues”, knowing fully that he is actually the translator. Admittedly, since he thinks highly of the original text, we can assume he agreed with them. Since he was a Manchu fluent in his own language and the people around him lacked Chinese language skills, I assume that he viewed the world with a Manchu lens (whatever that might mean). As such, for the commentary I provide, I try to provide a plausible explanation for the concepts mentioned in the text from a Manchu vantage point first and foremost. When it is clearly a Chinese concept, I don’t shy from also providing the Chinese cultural context (as was probably initially intended anyway). Though, since it is essentially a Chinese work, I think we should be aware that this text doesn’t reflect how much or how little Manchus like Gionai sinicised.

jiha efire baita, niyalma de ebderen ojorongge, muke tuwa hvlha holo qi hono nimequke. boo boigon garjame efujerakvngge akv.

The matter of gambling is that which destroys people, it is even worse than water, fire, robbers, or thieves. There are none who do not destroy their family fortune.


  1. Destruction of mentality
  2. Impropriety
  3. Harming of health
  4. Disgracing ancestors
  5. Forsaking upbringing
  6. Squandering family property
  7. Creating emergencies
  8. Distancing from kin
  9. Violating the law of the land
  10. Violating the law of God
  11. Closing remarks

1. Destruction of mentality

The first problem of gambling that Gionai identifies is that it “gvnin mujilen be ebderebumbi” [causes destruction of mentality]. The following will be a translation of this subsection:

From the moment one enters a gambling den, a place where one plays with money, you are there for one purpose alone: to make money. One will try to make money by any means necessary; pure greed is what is in their minds. They only care about winning money, it is the origin of all kinds of evil mentalities. How many closest kin face off against each other, secretly planning for each other’s loss? Even when they gamble with good friends, the moment the gambling starts, they will treat each other like enemies. They think of nothing but their own profits, and care not about others losing their family fortune. So, how can this not cause the destruction of one’s mentality?

Here we see that Gionai sees gambling as evil because it stems from greed. He also emphasises kith and kin will treat each other as enemies. He regards this as evil. As such, it remains a central theme throughout the rest of his essay that gambling ruins interpersonal bonds. He argues clearly that one’s wish for their own success means that they wish for others to fail, this is selfishness in practise. The gambler rejoices as his friends lose, Gionai surmises “urunakv dorgidere arga jali be baitalambi” [they certainly plan against each other secretly]. Of course, this is precisely how gambling works, one can only gain money if others lose. Gamblers do not strive together for a common goal, but instead fight amongst themselves for personal gain while the sum of the wealth remains equal. This is why gambling is a useless activity. It can only ever redistribute wealth, but not create it.

When we look at Gionai’s argument, one can’t help but notice the similarity with the Qur’an. Consider the following ayah:

Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: will ye not then abstain?

An interpretation of The Holy Qur’an 5:91

Abdul-Rahman al-Sa’di explains this by saying that when one gambler defeats the other, the loser gives up his wealth for nothing in return, this is a source for “great enmity and resentment” (al-Sa’di, 27).

When we look at Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, we can detect a similar disdain towards gambling, approached from a similar angle. Gambling, according to Aquinas, is a species of covetousness rather than a daughter as claimed by Aristotle (Aquinas, 160). Covetousness renders one insensitive to mercy, and it makes one want to receive in excess. So, wishing to acquire and keep immodestly, which is what covetousness entails, this is what Aquinas considers an evident sin (145). Indeed, he even considers it a capital vice (157). At the same time, this covetousness leads one to “disgraceful means” with which one tries to acquire wealth (160). One of these means is indeed by “preying on one’s friends, as gamblers do” (160). This argument is almost identical to the argument in Gionai’s text and seems to agree with the Qur’an as well.

To elaborate on covetousness, Gionai says gamblers have a “yooni doosi gvnin” [pure mentality of greed]. In Confucian thought, it is regarded as appalling to love wealth more than virtue. This is illustrated by a passage in “Liren” section of Confucius’ Analects, which reads:


The Master said, The gentleman is alert to what is right.
The petty man is alert to what is profitable.

Burton Watson, tran., The Analects of Confucius (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2007), 34.

Greed leads to many other problems. This, in turn, is also reminiscent of why covetousness is regarded by Aquinas as one of the worst states of being, or “habitus”. While one might interpret greed purely in terms of love for money or wealth, the concept is actually broader. Covetousness (greed, or avarice by another name) exacerbates other vices. It moves one to desire and acquire beyond what one needs. This extends to love, leisure, hunger, honour, righteous indignation, and admiration, which, once greed corrupts, grows into lust, sloth, gluttony, pride, wrath and envy, respectively (Ogilvy, 87). Ogilvy argues that justice is to virtue what greed is to vice. Without justice, the other virtues become empty, without greed, the other vices aren’t vices because greed is the very thing that drives us into excess.

Of course, it is impossible that either Gionai or the original author studied Ogilvy’s writing. Even so, the concept itself was likely familiar to the original author and Gionai. That is because in Buddhism, the idea of greed, more accurately attachment or desire, doesn’t just refer to money. Māhāyana Buddhism (the dominant school of Buddhism in China) calls this concept the triviṣa, three poisons. The triviṣa are what prevent a person from reaching enlightenment, they are also the root of all other kleśa, afflictions. The three poisons are rāga (desire, attachment; 貪 tān), dveṣa (anger; 嗔 chēn), and moha (delusion, ignorance; 癡 chī). Rāga does not just refer to desire for money, but all manners of desire. The Chinese translation of the Dharmaskandha by Xuanzhuang defines it as follows:


What is rāga? To have all manners of desires in a situation of plenty is rāga. To gain without giving, to be mired in amusements, to be inclined towards indulgences, to be shackled by yearning, to abandon oneself to heavy drinking, collecting hardships, to care for nothing but saving one’s life, that is altogether called rāga.

Chapter 16 “Zashipin” in Fascicle 9 of Apidamo fayunzulun 《阿毘達磨法蘊足論》卷9〈16 雜事品〉. Book. From CBETA, T26, no. 1537. p. 494c20-22. Web, http:// (accessed February 19, 2022).

Greed stands at the root of many other afflictions. The original text seems to understand well that gambling is an expression of greed, of covetousness, and that this desire leads to other “ehe gvnin” [evil mentalities]. Not surprisingly, the Chinese characters used that are used in the text is tānxīn 貪心 (the same character as rāga), which Gionai translates as “doosi mujilen” [greed]. Therefore, I think it’s a distinct possibility that the author of the text was influenced by Buddhist thought.

Additionally, the way the text describes gambling as “hala haqin i ehe gvnin deribure de isinambi” [gives rise to all manner of evil mentalities] is reminiscent of the following passage from “The Pardoner’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales:

And now that I have spoken of glotonye,
Now wol I yow deffenden hasardrye.
Hasard is verray mooder of lesynges,
And of deceite, and cursed forswerynges,
Blaspheme of Crist, manslaughtre, and wast also
Of catel and of tyme; and forthermo,
It is repreeve and contrarie of honour
For to ben holde a commune hasardour.

[Now that I have spoken enough about gluttony,
here’s what I have to say about gambling.
Gambling is the true mother of lies,
deceit, and false swearing.
It causes blasphemy and manslaughter,
and it’s a complete waste of time and money.
Furthermore, it’s shameful and dishounorable
to be regarded as a habitual gambler.]

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Dean Benson (Oxford University Press, 2008), 198.

The similarity is most striking when Chaucer mentions that “hasard is verray mooder of lesynges”, which means that gambling is the true mother of lies. He continues to say also deceit and blasphemy stem from “hasard” [gambling]. In other words, the Pardoner in Canterbury Tales also claims that gambling specifically (and not greed, as Ogilvy argued) gives rise to all manner of evil mentalities. The similarities do not end there, almost all points of critique mentioned by the Pardoner Gionai’s text also discusses. We will go over them in the subsequent headings.

2. Impropriety

The second point mentioned is “beyei yabun efunebumbi” [destruction of one’s proper conduct]. The passage is as follows:

Every person, no matter revered or humble, high or low, has their own designated place. At gambling dens, all that is considered is how many or few coins one has. Who will distinguish one’s reveredness or humbleness? Since no difference is made in the seating according to the proper rites, servants and attendants immediately become friends and companions, equals. Therefore, no consideration is given to high or low status. Slaves and bondservants become equal and call people brothers. They say whatever they want and make merry together, then they speak casually and vulgarly, calling each other familiarly. What decorum is this? What proper conduct is this?

A note on the translation: it is not immediately clear from the text itself whether those servants, attendants, slaves, and bondservants immediately become equals with each other, or someone else of a freeman status that Gionai expresses disgust at. I think it is implied that they are addressing freemen or even masters or people of higher status as equals, and this is what breaks decorum. If not, then what breaks decorum is that slaves are addressing other kinds of slaves familiarly. This strikes me as unlikely to have been a concern for Gionai. Additionally, For ease of reading, I translated dangkan as bondservant, but this actually refers to a slave who is hereditarily bound to a household. A dahalji is translated as attendant and refers to a servant who receives pay but is under a lifetime contract.

To modern eyes, this does not seem a convincing argument against gambling. Indeed, the fraternisation among different social classes might even seem a good thing. This is a result of many societies no longer have slavery or feudalism. What Gionai says here is rooted in the Qing Empire’s society and the difference between nobles and commoners, and masters and slaves. The Manchus conquered China and created an apartheid that separated the conquerors from the conquered. Elliott calls May 27, 1644 China’s Hastings (Elliot, i). It is an apt comparison, because like the Norman conquest that subjugated Britain and the Anglo-Saxons, the Manchus put the Chinese underneath the “tatar yoke” once more. The clear separation of classes and its accompanying sentiments are what are visible in this passage through repeated use of “wesihun fusihvn” [exalted and common] as well as “dele wala” [high and low].

Slaves were very much a part of the Qing system. Originally, before the Jurchens (ethnic Manchus before they called themselves Manchu) founded the amaga aisin gurun (latter Jin), the aha (slaves) were taken from captive Koreans, Chinese, other Jurchens and Mongols. Later, such booi bondservants (note that this is different from the word dangkan used in the text) were put into banners and were still regarded as property. The bondservants were also ethnically diverse, the bondservant companies contained Jurchen company leaders also with a slave status (Elliott, 84).

Consider the sentence: “jiha efire falan de damu jiha i labdu komso be bodoro dabala” [at the gambling den, only how much or how little money one has is considered]. He thinks it is not proper to consider status by amount of wealth. While in some societies today this has indeed become the case, to not take heed of noble or common birth is improper. Gionai implies that nobles, whether poor or rich, should still be treated with the proper rites, by virtue of their status as nobles.

What is noteworthy is his emphasis on proper conduct. It is unbecoming of a nobleman to behave vulgarly with people beneath his station. As illustrated by “anggai iqi balai tukiyeme hvlara” [called each other casually and vulgarly]. He proceeds to call for proper decorum befitting of people of their status. This is shown through the following: “yaya niyalma wesihun fusihvn dele wala de gemu meni meni teisu bi” [Every person, no matter revered or humble, high or low, has their own designated place]. The argument is that gambling dens, since no proper regard is held for the noble’s status, is not a suitable place for a noble to spend his time.

The notion that a gambling is not a fitting activity for a noble is also present in the Pardoner’s Tale. It speaks of what is proper conduct for rulers, in which gambling is not an activity befitting his status, precisely because he is of “estaat”. The Pardoner in Chaucer’s tale does emphasise how harmful it is for a ruler to be regarded as a gambler because his reputation as a ruler will suffer. He also raises a few historical examples through which he illustrates his point in the following paragraphs, which are not quoted here.

And ever the hyer he is of estaat,
The moore he is holden desolaat.
If that a prynce useth hasardrye,
In alle governaunce and policye
He is, as by commune opinioun,
Yholde the lasse in reputacioun.

[And ever the higher he is of estate,
The more he is considered abandoned (to shame).
If a prince plays at gambling,
In all governance and policy
He is, by common opinion,
Held the less in reputation.]

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Dean Benson (Oxford University Press, 2008), 198.

Indeed, while both Gionai and Chaucer write of reasons why it is inadvisable for a noble to be a gambler, they argue the point from differing perspectives. Chaucer’s Pardoner thinks of the untrustworthy reputation of the gambler, while Gionai thinks of the breaking of proper conduct in light of Qing society’s strict division of classes.

3. Harming of health

The third point Gionai states is “ergen beyebe kokirabumbi” [causes harm to life and body]. This passage is as follows:

After a win, excitement increases after which they will play until the sun sets, all the way through the night. After a loss, they will neglect hunger and cold, they will go at it again without regard to their lives. Since this causes harm to one’s life essence and vigor, it will certainly lead to death. Some cannot repay their owed sum after putting themselves in a debt. After which, reputation loss will make meeting difficult, feeling stifled and ashamed inside. All manners of illness come to violate the body. After plans are exhausted, the situation is dire. However, such matters will be over immediately after death. They depart on the road to the city of the wronged dead. So, this is the final destination of the people of the gambling den. Is this not the destruction of the spirit?

This passage has a few cultural elements that need explaining. If one subscribes to the Platonic concept of separation of body and mind, it might not be immediately clear what the link is between feeling stifled and ashamed as a cause for illnesses to violate the body. It seems strange why Gionai would incorporate not being able to repay debts in a passage about health. It is true enough that being a debtor to a loan shark might be bad for one’s health for more violent reasons. Yet, he does not make that connection in this passage. Instead, he puts a causal relation between feeling stifled and ashamed and having illnesses violate the body. This requires further elaboration.

Manchu medicine cannot just be equated to Chinese medicine, nevertheless, there are certainly some areas of overlap. In Chinese medical theory, organ systems house emotions. Emotions can therefore impact physical organs and vice versa. An example would be that excessive anger can spike the fire of the heart, which can lead to imbalances that can deregulate the body. A deregulated body, according Chinese medicine and Galen’s theory, is weakened. A weakened body is more susceptible to pathogens. In this way, feeling stifled and ashamed might be detrimental to physical health. This connection of mind and body is further reinforced at the end of the passage when he mentions “gvnin” [mind, spirit] in a passage about physical wellbeing. It is evident that physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing are not separated.

Another point that should be discussed is the concept of “oori simen” [life essence and vigour]. In Chinese medicine, a part of your life essence (精 jīng) is a nonrenewable resource that defines one’s constitution and is given to a child by the parents at birth, so-called prenatal essence. Once this resource runs out, the person dies. The quintessential book in traditional Chinese medicine puts it as follows:

They drink wine as though it were water, indulge excessively in destructive activities, drain their jing—the body’s essence that is stored in the kidneys—and deplete their qi. They do not know the secret of conserving their energy and vitality. Seeking emotional excitement and momentary pleasures, people disregard the natural rhythm and order of the universe. They fail to regulate their lifestyle and diet, and sleep improperly. So it is not surprising that they look old at fifty and die soon after.

Maoshing Ni, The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine: A New Translation of the Neijing Suwen with Commentary (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1995), 1.

Steps can be taken in one’s life to preserve prenatal essence or to limit its expenditure. Sleeping well, eating well, and staying warm can build up postnatal essence which act as a buffer before one starts to consume prenatal essence (Maciocia, 45). As one can see, the original author rooted his essay in Chinese medicinal theory. Staying up late, from dawn to dusk, not caring about food or cold will deplete life essence, leading one to an early grave, just as is written in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine.

Note: To ascertain whether the perspective of Manchu medicine would have been the same on this issue, I would have liked to be able to peruse the Manchu manuscript Yanshou Geyan《延壽格言》(Maxims on Prolonging Life), published in 1779. Not only is it contemporary to Gionai, Manchus also had a unique look on medicine owing to their contact with frontier peoples and their own medical heritage, this book might have been a way to peer into that outlook. Regrettably, this source is not available online. Admittedly, this manuscript was translated from Chinese as well and therefore likely does not depart from Chinese medical theory.

He also mentions that people will end up in “sui mangga buqehe ursei hoton” [city of the wronged dead]. This is a concept that refers to a hellish destination in the underworld of souls who died an unjust death, and a popular occurrence in folk tales from the Ming and Qing (Chen, 28). This includes all manners of death that are deemed unnatural, such as accidents, murder and definitely suicide. It is implied that, once they are driven to desperation, will seek to end their own lives, because death is an end to all their worldly problems. This is made clear by the phrase “damu emgeri buqehe de uthai baita wajiha de obumbi” [However, matters are all caused to be over immediately after death]. Of course, being murdered by a loan shark is also not off the table.

Do keep in mind that Gionai did not use the word na i loo (literally: earth’s prison; hell, the underworld), reserved for wrongdoers. Hell in Dante’s conception and na i loo sound like similar concepts, but differ in implication. In Tungusic Shamanism (Manchus were a Tungusic people) there was a belief in the immortality of the soul, so the soul exists beyond the death of the body. Where they differ from Dante’s hell is that their funeral rites emphasise reincarnation (Ma et al., 385). Moreover, Buddhist deities are often in Manchu Shamanistic prayers (Vovin). Buddhism famously argues for the existence of reincarnation, it follows that this strong presence of Buddhism within Shamanism is another factor that reinforces the doctrine of reincarnation. With the concept of reincarnation so strongly present, it follows that suffering in hell cannot be eternal, for eventually these souls must be reborn. Moreover, Buddhists, Daoists, and Chinese culture in general conceived that hell is not eternal (Katz, 27).

Interestingly, Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy writes that those who wantonly spend their money or are avaricious may end up in Hell. The following passage focuses on those who waste their money.

‘Without exception, all of these,’ he said,
‘when first they lived, had such strabismic minds
they’d bear no check or measure on expense.’

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, trans. Robin Kirkpatrick (Penguin Books, 2012), 31. (Inferno, Canto 7, 40-42)

Of course, the traditional Christian view that suicide is a sin is also reflected in the Divine Comedy. In Canto 13 it is written:

When any soul abandons savagely
its body, rending self by self away,
Minos consigns it to the seventh gulf.

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, trans. Robin Kirkpatrick (Penguin Books, 2012), 58. (Inferno, Canto 13, 94-96)

He also specifically mentions violence against oneself or one’s belongings through gambling that is punished in the seventh ring of Hell. Alighieri writes:

In violence, too, we turn against ourselves
or else our own belongings. And thus
in Sub-ring Two are those (regret now vain)
who by their own free will strips off your world
or gambles all their competence away,
and weeps where, properly, they should rejoice.

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, trans. Robin Kirkpatrick (Penguin Books, 2012), 48. (Inferno, Canto 11, 40-43)

There is a similarity between Gionai’s argument and Alighieri’s, no less, since Gionai is bringing up the city of the wrongful dead in a section he headed “ergen beyebe kokirabumbi” [causes harm to life and body]. It should be noted that the word “beye” can be translated both as body and as self (this is also the case in Chinese, where ‘shēn 身’ can mean either ‘body’ or ‘self’). As such, the heading might also be translated as causing harm to life and self. In this manner, the assumption is identical, causing harm to oneself through gambling or suicide will land you in this form of purgatory. Though Dante also asserts that avarice (for gambling is motivated by a desire to gain), violence against the self (through gambling), and suicide by themselves can be enough to land one in Hell. Gionai does not make this explicit argument. For Gionai, gambling leads to premature death, in this case through suicide, that will lead to the city of the wronged dead.

The city of the wronged dead is not the same as na i loo. Indeed, the city of the wronged dead is reserved for those who died unjust deaths, including suicide. However, since suicide is deemed as largely caused by oneself, the Judge of the Underworld has ruled that no one who died by suicide will be reincarnated (Chen, 29). People who are murdered also end up in this city, but only as a temporary place of residence until their own or their murderer’s natural lifespan expires, after which they can move on to be judged. If they are deemed sinful, they will be sentenced to be suffered in na i loo, and after their sentence they can be reincarnated.

The city of the wronged dead is also not explicitly a place of suffering. It doesn’t appear that any sentences of the punishments are carried out there, but it also can’t be considered a pleasant destination. The city is ruled by Mara, the same Mara as the devil in Buddhist canon. Its guards and gaolers are demonic figures with ox heads and horse faces. Its permanent inhabitants are those who died by suicide, and all who reside there keep their wounds that killed them. Those who go there are doomed to wander its streets and alleys, maimed, bruised, and mangled, besmirched with their own blood, for an eternity. It is said that the city emanates an air of grief and anguish (Chen, 29). This is similar to the “grief-wracked city” and everlasting nature of Dante’s Hell, illustrated by the phrase written on the gates of Hell:

Through me you go to the grief-wracked city.
Through me to everlasting pain you go.
Through me you go and pass among lost souls.
Justice inspired my exalted Creator.
I am a creature of the Holiest Power,
of Wisdom in the Highest and of Primal Love.
Nothing till I was made was made, only
eternal beings. And I endure eternally.
Surrender as you enter every hope you have.

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, trans. Robin Kirkpatrick (Penguin Books, 2012), 12. (Inferno, Canto 3, 1-9)

Dante’s conception of Hell’s eternity is relevant because it aligns with traditional Christian views of hell that were argued by Augustine of Hippo in his De civitate Dei.

In short, in this passage Gionai makes two arguments. The first argument is that the gamblers become addicted to gambling, regardless of win or loss. This addiction leads to them neglecting their own health, harming their bodies and minds, resulting in premature death. The second point he mentions is the fact that gamblers will go into debt. They will be driven to desperation if they cannot pay off their debts, then they will meet an unnatural end to their lives by suicide, or perhaps murder. Since he mentions the city of the wrongful dead, he is saying, in short, that gamblers end up in a destination in the afterlife in which the soul is punished, albeit temporarily.

4. Disgracing ancestors

[When] silver and coins are taken by someone, they will still ridicule by calling one a foolish decadent child, ruining and destroying your family fortune. It causes the foolish son’s sins to be discussed. Not only can this not bring glory to the ancestors, it can, on the contrary, bring ruin and shame to the family. Then, they discuss among each other and accuse that the clansmen are all like their forebear. The forefathers died, but they certainly hate this still.

One must therefore also not make the mistake that if one loses money to others, that they will like you for giving them money. Instead, the loser will still be seen as a wasteful lout, which in turn reflects badly on the ancestor.

In this passage, Gionai argues that the actions of the descendant reflect upon the ancestor. Indeed, if a descendant acts in a reprehensible manner, Gionai argues that it is assumed they have learned that behaviour from the ancestor. In Confucian thought, it is assumed that if a child is fed but not taught properly, it is the fault of the father. The following passage from the Sanzijing illustrates this concisely: “养不教,父之过” [to feed without teaching is the father’s fault]. This manner of thinking is reflected strongly in this passage by the segment “ede gaxan falga gemu inu nenehe niyalma be wakaxame leoleqere be dahame” [Then, they discuss among each other and accuse that the clansmen all follow their forebear].

This point about disgracing ancestors probably resonated with Gionai because ancestors are important in Manchu culture, just as in Chinese culture. The hala (surname/clan) among the Manchus denoted a common ancestry from a few male progenitors. An example of the importance the Manchus placed on these forebears is the mythical origin of the Aisin Gioro hala (surname/clan). The Imperial family is said to be descended from a mythical founding ancestor by the name of Bukvri Yongxon. His immaculate conception from the maiden Fekulen and the enduri saksaha (sacred magpie) gave legitimacy to the reign of the Aisin Gioro line (Di Cosmo, 368). Clearly, the Manchus prided themselves on illustrious ancestors, disgracing them would certainly be taboo.

In fact, in Manchu shamanism, it is believed that the spirits they offer sacrifices to are ancestral spirits. Among the Manchus, people with the same hala (surname/clan) offered to the same spirit (Ma et al., 381). In fact, important members of the clan are believed to become protective ancestral spirits for the entire clan (Ma et al., 385). If such ancestors are disgraced, ancestors who also serve as protective deities called weqeku (household deity), then destroying their reputation might have certain tangible negative effects to the Manchus who believed in their power.

Moreover, the Confucian culture that the original writings seem to have come from probably also influenced Gionai’s thinking. It is widely known that Confucians worship their ancestors. To take it a step further, since Gionai is clearly familiar with popular Chinese conceptions of the afterlife, he likely also believed in the concept of ancestors that were conscious of what happened among the living. For example, they believe there is a place known as the terrace of gazing upon home (wàngxiāngtái 望乡台) in the underworld, where the deceased souls can gaze upon their living relatives and what they’ve been up to. This means that his final sentence “the forefathers died, but they certainly hate this still” should be taken quite literally.

5. Forsaking upbringing

This matter of gambling, people are very easily enticed by it. Within a family unit, it is quite easy to observe [each other]. Children and juniors are taught through day-to-day affairs. It is commonly said that there must be a good behaviour to be imitated. They watch their elders play from the sides on the spot. It is also said that they learn to play from this example. Fathers and sons play with each other, brothers play with each other, slaves and bondservants play among each other. These are only the rules of the game, where are the rules of the house? They play at daytime, they play at midnight, they play in the inner chambers. This is the start of the arrival of the wicked doctrine of playing cards and tiles, and the wicked doctrine of dissoluteness. Then, the family upbringing is greatly forsaken. The heart is indeed able to become bitterly disappointed.

Playing in the inner chambers, with cards and tiles, most likely refers to games like mǎdiào 馬吊 and májiàng 麻將. Though, no distinction appears to be made in terminology concerning gambling done in inner chambers or gambling done in gambling dens. The term “dorgi boo” can also refer to bedrooms or women’s quarters. It is possible that it is alluded to the idea that women also become addicted to the vice. It was considered improper for women to go out, especially to places like gambling dens. If they gambled, it would have been within the privacy of their own estates or indeed inner chambers. Of course, this is speculation based on the use of “dorgi boo”. The text itself makes no reference to women gambling.

afakv - supports the arguments in the text regarding informality
Probably a photograph during the very late Qing. On the table is a set of májiàng tiles. Notice how informally they are seated, men and women intermingle freely, there appears to be no regard for proper social decorum.

The main point Gionai is making is the fact that gambling is so time-consuming that children of the family will be overly exposed to it. As such, it is easy for these children to pick up the vice of gambling. After all, children will follow the example of their elders. If the elders are gambling all day, it is only natural the children will adopt this behaviour too. However, listing the fact that children might learn gambling as a reason that gambling is bad seems a tad circular. The fact that children might learn to gamble from their elders is only bad if gambling is shown to be bad. Though, the circularity of the argument is somewhat mitigated by mentioning the time-consuming nature of gambling displacing time for raising children. He shows this through “ere efin i taqihiyan oho dabala, booi taqihiyan aba” [These are only the rules of the game, where are the rules of the house?]

Certainly, the idea that gambling is an intense waste of time also shines through in the passage. It is illustrated in “inenggi xun de efire, xumin dobori de efire” [they play at daytime, they play at midnight]. Gionai then argues that gambling and wasting time result in dissoluteness. We begin to see the core of his arguments in each of his points: gambling is and will lead to breaching of proper behaviour.

Also, as promised, this is the point that is corroborated in the Pardoner’s tale. Indeed, gambling is a complete waste of time. The next section will illustrate the other point the Pardoner made, that it is a complete waste of money as well.

6. Squandering family property

Because in the beginning one is impetuous, money and family fortune are wasted alike. In the end, the heart is burdened. Family fortune will be disposed like discarded objects. After the forefathers toiled a lifetime, they painstakingly established a family. Because the descendants have suddenly lavishly wasted money, the reputation of the family is destroyed. After the clothes are all pawned off, after all that is left is yourself, which of your friends and family is going to cherish you? After all your lands and properties are sold, and after you go into debt again, there will not be a resting place for you on the in the margins of the sky. Having thought of this, it is quite pitiful indeed.

To me, this is where Gionai makes a very compelling argument. He presupposes that nothing can be gained from gambling. It is always a loss. This inevitable losing makes gambling equal to heedlessly throwing money away and lavishly wasting it. He uses the words “mamgiyame fayafi” [to have lavishly wasted money]. He also assumes that the gambler will be forced to sell all of his possessions, even the clothes on his back, his house and lands, until there is no resting place in the “abkai buten” [margins of the sky, ergo: the farthest reaches of the earth]. In other words, you shall possess nothing and will have no place to call home anywhere on earth: you will become homeless and penniless. Such is the fate of gamblers.

It is also important how much he brings the family into this argument. He does this thrice. The first is when he mentions how difficult it was for the forefathers to establish generational wealth. Illustrated by this phrase: “mafa ama emu jalan jobome suilambi, arkan i duka uqe ilibuha bime” [After the forefathers toiled a lifetime, they painstakingly established a family]. The second is when he mentions the destruction of “booi alga” [family reputation]. The third is when he mentions that no friends or family will cherish you after you ruin yourself. This is shown by the phrase “niyaman guqu we simbe hairambi” [which of your friends and family is going to cherish you?]. It is obvious that to Gionai, family and its reputation was a very important point of consideration. It also seems that he assumes that friends and family will only cherish you, provided you did not squander your family fortune. Perhaps this is a rather cynical view of humans in general, nevertheless, it might be an accurate one in his time.

Nonetheless, the point is clear: if you gamble, you will squander generational wealth, you will be destroyed as you will have no house, clothes, or friends to care for you, your family reputation will be destroyed and still you will languish in debt.

7. Creating emergencies

After they go out, they gamble until the sun comes out. The people who play in the gambling den all night do not close their doors. This makes it so that robbers and thieves have much opportunity to take a peek. The fire of the lamps is never extinguished, (so) the house could even be burned down. After they have been excessive again, the good-for-nothing children begin to continuously plot for ways (to make money). Base people spy in order to do evil. *After the fires are put out, they knock on the door, as if things are normal. It is impossible to tell anyone apart. Tassels on the hat removed, underwear taken off, all things are the same. Even doing immoral matters between man and woman. Such origins of disaster, it cannot be left unconsidered.

*Note on the translation: there is a phrase “endan be” which I have been unable to translate, so I have left it untranslated. In fact, I had trouble with the grammar of this section. Please forgive my shoddy translation.

In this passage, one argument is made, but it is illustrated with two or three examples. The argument is that gamblers are too preoccupied during the night and away from home, so anything can happen while the man of the house is away. He sketches two or three scenarios of what might potentially happen.

The first example of a calamity that might befall someone is that the house might be burgled. Indeed, he says that “hvlha holo” [thieves and robbers] might sneak peek into the house.

The second example is that the house might burn down because the lamps are never put out during the night. It is not exactly certain what is meant with this. Presumably, if the gambler is away at the gambling den, he would have no need to light the lamps in his house. Unless he has family waiting for him at home, however, if this is the case, why would burglars have more opportunities? On the other hand, if he is merely gambling at home, there is indeed an opportunity for the building to burn down. Yet, if one is gambling at home, then why would the burglars have ample opportunity for observing the house? Maybe a house is more easily visible from the outside when lamps are lit and the windows are open. Although, the section starts with “tuqifi geretele jiha efire” [after they go out, they gamble until the sun comes out], so, he clearly isn’t talking about gamblers at home. A final possibility is that he is actually referring to the lamps used by the burglars, which also seems strange, since burglars would probably prefer to remain hidden, and a lamp would be counterproductive. Nevertheless, I am not familiar with how burglars operated during Gionai’s or the original author’s time, so I won’t draw any conclusions.

In the final example, Gionai appeals to a very primal emotion within men, the very natural feeling of protectiveness felt over the women of the family. The idea that one’s wife or female family members are unsafe from potential bad men because one is too preoccupied during the night, trying to make money in a gambling den, seems plausible. Gionai does not mention violation by name. The situation he sketches can certainly refer to a number of things, such as adultery or fornication. But, he writes that the bad men enter the house under cover of darkness, in which nobody can tell anybody apart. This means that the woman thinks the ruffian is her husband. The Manchu word he uses to describe the base person that is looking to do immoral things is “ehelinggu”. This is a word that can be translated as inferior, low grade or mediocre. With this mild language in mind, rather than the stronger words for criminals he used elsewhere, it seems he could also be referring to a potential adulterer. He stops short from accusing the gambler’s womenfolk from immoral behaviour directly this way, but of course, we can all see that the gambler’s absence would realistically allow for voluntary adultery as well. Perhaps this point would be understood between the lines.

Taken together, this section is rather straightforward. Gambling causes one to stay home late or to be away from home unnecessarily. This gives rise to the possibility of calamities to occur.

8. Distancing from kin

The people of the book, the men of the farmlands, the working artisans, and the merchants. If each of them exerts themselves in their assigned roles, then fathers, mothers, children, and wives are happy together. This is bliss of God’s law. It is also the normal way of human life. Actually, after one enters the gambling den, it is as if one immediately sinks into an ocean of suffering. After the jewels and trinkets are pawned off, while bearing hatred within the hearts of the children and wife, they also dare not to express it. After the lands and houses are sold, the eyes of the parents are wide awake and their eyebrows are furrowed. One but only acts in order to attain one’s own pleasure and enjoyment. But if one does not desire to consider the hatred and anguish of the entire family, if the heart turns, how can you obtain peace?

Gionai appeals to the family men in this section. Clearly, his text is revealed to be targetted at a male audience. As in the previous section and the current section, he assumes the reader is a man because he talks about their wives. While the previous section talks about eventual calamities forming within the family because of outsiders, in this section the distancing from family is entirely a result of the gambling.

In this section, Gionai also does something he doesn’t do in any of the other sections. Instead of focusing merely on what might go wrong and awry, he contrasts it with a beautiful vision of an ideal family life as envisioned by Confucians. He paints a canvas of a harmonious society, where everyone does as is expected and bliss befalls upon all the adherents, as humans should do. In the “Yanyuan” section of the Analects the following ideal is provided that illustrates how a proper country should look:


Confucius replied, Let the ruler be a ruler; the subject, a subject; the father, a father; the son, a son.

Burton Watson, tran., The Analects of Confucius (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2007), 82.

He then brutally disturbs that idyllic Confucian dreamscape the moment gambling enters the frame. Gionai juxtaposes the beautifully phrased “abkai qiktan i sebjen” [bliss of God’s law] with the abject horrors of the sinking into a “gosihon namu” [ocean of suffering; lit. ocean of bitterness]. With this technique, he entices and warns the reader with two possible lives, the sweet bliss of heavenly order, or the sinking bitterness of suffering.

In the final few lines of this section, he also mentions how selfish it is to forego the needs of the entire family for the pleasure of one. It appeals to the sense of duty that befalls upon a man. It also tells us that Gionai believed that the fate of a family could be decided by the actions of a single person. In this case, the decision of a man who chooses to gamble or to abstain can be the difference between suffering or bliss, but also that the pleasure of one is subservient to the needs of the collective.

In the final line, he appeals to the conscience of the man. He appeals to the sense of righteousness and the guilt that is felt knowing that he destroyed his family’s happiness for a temporary feeling of contentment. Gionai is asking the gambler how he can sleep at night. Gionai’s writing reminds me of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in which a potential bad future is presented in order to shock and shame the Manchu version of Ebenezer Scrooge onto the right path.

9. Violating the law of the land

Gambling is forbidden. The established new laws are most strict, because for a light (punishment), after receiving a hundred lashes from the stick, one is forced to wear a cangue for two months, until it gains distance on skin and flesh. As for a heavy (punishment), one is to be sentenced to hard labour for three years, and exiled to a place three thousand ba away. Forever to depart from village and tribe. Fifty idle officials were removed from office precisely because of the accordance of this law. What face do they have to meet with others? Because they were employees of the government office, the severity of the crime was to be increased immediately. If one should continuously protect one’s family and oneself, after this happens, then it is not only impossible to chase regret, one wonders how it would be if one abstained (from gambling) before the fact.

In the Qing Empire and during the time of Gionai, gambling was against the law. The punishments he mentions here are corroborated in the Great Qing Legal Code. In the version of Ijishvn Dasan‘s era from 1644-1661, the punishments described are similar to what Gionai describes. Flogging seems to be the standard punishment for gamblers. The following excerpt is from the Legal Code itself:


All who gamble for wealth and property (receive) eighty lashes with the stick.

The section on gambling under Xinglü – Zafan 刑律-杂犯 in Daqing Lüli 大清律例, by Xu Ben 徐本 and San Tai 三泰, 1646,, n.d, n.d, Universal Library, China-America Digital Academic Library, Zhejiang University Library 浙江大学图书馆, Yuhangtang Road, Hangzhou, Zhejiang.

Gamblers, especially those who hold official positions, are subject to increased punishment, such as being relieved from office. They are also bid to wear the cangue, a mobile stockade that is carried by the prisoner. This is illustrated by the following excerpt:


Officials who violate (this law) are relieved from office and (subjected to) cangue punishment (which) may not be broken.

The section on gambling under Xinglü – Zafan 刑律-杂犯 in Daqing Lüli 大清律例, by Xu Ben 徐本 and San Tai 三泰, 1646,, n.d, n.d, Universal Library, China-America Digital Academic Library, Zhejiang University Library 浙江大学图书馆, Yuhangtang Road, Hangzhou, Zhejiang.

The precise punishments vary according to the nature of the gamble and the status of the gambler, such as whether he is a first time offender or not. Nevertheless, the range of punishments vary from hard labour for a few years, to transportation from two thousand ba (a unit of distance equivalent to half a kilometer during the Qing) to three thousand ba or flogging.

afakv - shows a cangue
Universal Photo Art Co. Feeding a prisoner in the cangue, China. China, ca. 1902. Phila., U.S.A.: C.H. Graves, publisher. Photograph.

Gionai does mention the new laws. It is true that after Ijishvn Dasan (Shunzhi), Elhe Taifin (Kangxi), Hvwaliyasun Tob (Yongzheng), and Abkai Wehiyehe (Qianlong) all endeavoured to root out gambling and completely criminalised the vice. Gionai published in the third year of Saiqungga Fengxen, which followed shortly after Abkai Wehiyehe. One can imagine that the policies pushed by Abkai Wehiyehe could still be referred to as the new laws which Gionai deems “umesi qira” [most strict]. Indeed, the laws from Ijishvn Dasan’s era seem comparatively lenient, there are, on the whole, fewer lashes and shorter sentences as compared to what Gionai writes.

It is also true that Gionai translated this text from an earlier period. This might mean that when this text was written, the laws by Elhe Taifin or some other early Manchu khan might have been newly implemented. Alternatively, if this original text was written during the Ming era, it might be referring to the strict anti-gambling laws implemented by Zhu Yuanzhang (Chan et al., 37). Though, the punishments described in this text line up with the punishments that appear in the Great Qing Legal Code (which, admittedly, were inspired by the Ming’s Legal Code). Or, it might mean that Gionai adapted this particular section of text toward the era he is writing in. After all, he is using this text as a way to instil moral behaviour into his contemporaries, and not to provide a faithful translation.

So, the question of why anyone would still be gambling, if such heavy punishments were the price to be paid, remains to be answered. This would probably be a valid question if the sentences were actually carried out. The Qing government suffered from corruption, gambling was so widespread that the officials sentencing people to life transportation or other harsh punishments did not want to carry out the sentences, or they were bribed. Moreover, the vice of gambling was so widespread, it proved impossible to spare all the extra manpower to monitor every potential gambler (Chan et al., 44).

Concerning Gionai’s writing in this section, he touches and expands upon themes mentioned in the previous section. Indeed, he says “gaxan falga qi enteheme aljambi” [forever to depart from village and tribe], contrasting and reinforcing the notion that not gambling can not only cause emotional distance, but also physical distance between one and one’s family. It is also an example of distancing from kin, but quite literal in the sense that a sentenced gambler will not see them again.

Secondly, In the very last sentence Gionai again invokes the idea of how beautiful life could have been, if only one never chose to gamble. This is similar to how he sketched an ideal life previously, but this time he leaves the sketching to the reader himself. He allows the reader to fill in his own version of what life could have been if it hadn’t been ruined by gambling. While such advice is hardly useful for one already slaving away at a prison, it does serve as a warning to any contemplating to gamble. Gionai is obviously aware, this is shown through the phrase “amqame aqiyara” [to regret while chasing]. Freely translated, it means something like crying over spilt milk. It is therefore no use to cry over spilt milk, much better to never spill the milk in the first place.

For us, since the Qing empire and its laws are gone, the specific punishments mentioned are irrelevant to us. Yet, the general idea still applies because many countries do have stringent anti-gambling laws, and hopefully it remains so. These include but are not limited to China (except Macau), Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, North-Korea, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Saudi-Arabia, Sudan, Mauritania, Mali, Eritrea, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Qatar, UAE and Yemen.

10. Violating the law of God

If we observe those who frequent the gambling den in order, while disaster frequently befalls them, contrary (to what one would assume), many of those who win money become especially impoverished. In any case, after someone else’s silver and coin are gained through schemes, after one’s own greed caused someone else’s loathing and torment, after one acted only for one’s own delight and satisfaction, then one has incurred the wrath of demons and deities; while one receives retribution, not one bit of mercy is shown. After determined retribution is given cause to arrive through God’s law, (you will) mutually be left with nothing at all. Observing from beginning to end, what benefit is there even to speak of?

“Abkai doro”, God’s law. To the author of this text, gambling is a deed that angers the divine and invites divine retribution to be visited upon the transgressor. Of the monotheistic religions, gambling is frowned upon, but not forbidden in Catholicism and Judaism. It is true that legal gambling is often opposed by Protestant denominations, but while the Bible itself has many verses that condemn the love of money—1 Timothy 6:10, Matthew 6:21, and Hebrews 13:5—there is no explicit command regarding gambling itself. There is only one religion I know of that explicitly bans gambling. It is Islam. Islam prohibits maisir—that is, gambling or games of chance—unanimously because Allah ﷻ says so, for the Qur’an is the literal word of Allah ﷻ. Consider the following ayah:

O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.

An interpretation of The Holy Qur’an 5:90

Muhammad Shafi’ writes in his Quranic exegesis Ma’ariful-Qur’an that maisir is classified as harām, forbidden (Shafi’, 248). As for what maisir means, Yusuf Ali used the English word gambling, but maisir can be used to refer to all kinds of games of chance (it is actually the translation that Pickthall uses in his Qur’an translation). Ibn Kathir mentioned that even chess can be regarded as a type of maisir. Nevertheless, the scriptures are clear. Gambling is of the devil and should be avoided. So, yes, in this sense, the Manchu text is right, gamblers are in violation of God’s law, but the Manchus and Chinese usually weren’t Muslims, and it seems unlikely that the author of this text was one. So why did he even mention the law of God, then?

Manchus believed in a supreme deity that ruled above all else. In the Tangse (a temple complex in Beijing) in the Gemun Heqen (Beijing), they worship a deity they call Abkai Enduri (God of Heaven), also called Xangsi. There has been some debate over the meaning of this name Xangsi, but Stary argues that it is this name is equivalent to the Chinese Shàngshén 上神, meaning supreme deity. For Manchus living in the Gemun Heqen, but not in more remote places in Manchuria, it appears the word Xangsi gradually replaced Abka (Stary, The Manchu Imperial Shamanic Complex Tangse, 174). One wonder what the conception is of this God, whether he is like the Abrahamic God at all.

afakv - illustrates argument in text
How the pentaglot dictionary should be read is from top to bottom, from left to right. The rows presented are Manchu on top, Tibetan second, a row of Manchu transcription of the Tibetan, Mongolian, Chagatai (ancestor of modern Uyghur), a Manchu transcription of the Chagatai underneath, and then Chinese. The leftmost column is the entry for “abka”. From top to bottom it reads “abka”, “gnam”, “tengri”, “asman”, and “tian”.

In brief, we can say the Shamanist Manchus were not monotheists, they ascribed many partners onto their supreme deity while at the same time recognising that this Abkai Enduri stands supreme. This might sound familiar, since other polytheists, such as the pre-Islamic Arabs, had similar ideas. Also, the Manchus shared a crucial cultural trait with other Inner-Asian peoples, namely, they venerate a Sky-God or Heaven akin to Tengri/Tanrı among the Mongols and Turks. In the pentaglot dictionary of Abkai Wehiyehe, we do see this corroborated, as the translation of the Manchu word “abka” is “tengri” in Mongolian. I should take care here not to equate the concept of the pagan Tengri to Abkai Enduri entirely, but there do seem to be strong overlaps.

Incidentally, in Turkish, tanrı—with a lower case t—can be seen as the equivalent of the Arabic word ilah إله, a general word for god (Alida). When capitalised, it is used to refer to Allah ﷻ, the Abrahamic God. As for the Manchus, their name for the God of Musa, Ibrahim, Isa, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all) is Abkai Enduri, but more prominently Abkai Ejen (equivalent to the Chinese tiānzhǔ 天主, all coined by Christian missionaries). We know this because the Manchu Bibles use Abkai Enduri alongside the term Abkai Ejen (Lord of Heaven) (Stary, Christian Literature in Manchu, 307). Abkai Enduri more literally means God of Heaven.

Both the term “abka” [heaven, sky, or God] and “enduri” [God, deity, or spirit] are mentioned in this section. “Abka” occurs in the phrase “abkai doro”, which means more literally “law of God” or “law of heaven”. In English, heaven is not the same as God. To the medieval Turkic scholar Mahmud al-Kashgari, from modern day Xinjiang, those who called the sky Tengri and worshipped it were infidels (Dankoff, 70). But, to the Manchus, Heaven and the God of Moses seemed to be synonymous. In an indictment of Manchu nobles who converted to Christianity, the Manchu khan Abkai Wehiyehe said the following: “The Lord of Heaven is Heaven itself… In the empire we have a temple for honouring Heaven and sacrificing to Him” (Elliott, 241). The khan is referring to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, which is remarkably also entirely free of idols. Furthermore, the etymological roots of the Manchu word “doro” [doctrine, way, law, precept] lie in the Mongol word “dörö”, which in turn is argued to come from the Hebrew Torah by some scholars. All of this could mean that the Manchus believed ultimately in the same God as the Muslims, Jews and Christians, but that polytheism entered the fold later. At any rate, it is not likely that Gionai is interpreting this to mean the actual Pentateuch when he writes “abkai doro”. It is much more likely he is referring to some primordial law, or way of God that is just and also seeks to impose justice.

afakv - dergi abkai han 皇天上帝
A building inside the Temple of Heaven complex in Beijing. Not only does the interior contain no statues or images of idols, the blue plaque at the back of the room reads “dergi abkai han” meaning the sovereign of heaven above. Image taken from:

When Gionai mentions “hutu enduri” [demons and deities], one should note that “hutu” has a broad meaning that can mean ghost, demon, or spirit, likewise, “enduri” also has multiple meanings as noted above. Neither “hutu” nor “enduri” are written in the explicit plural form, but when put together in a construction like this, it doesn’t need to have the plural ending to denote plurality. It seems more fitting to say that one has “incurred the wrath of demons and deities”, certainly more fitting than “the wrath of a demon and God”. This is because the Manchus of the Court sacrificed to multiple deities such as fucihi (Buddha), guwan in pusa (Avalokiteśvara), and guwan mafa (Guandi) and certainly a multitude of “hutu”.

So, what constitutes this primordial Godly law according to this essay? From the text, we can infer that it deems selfish greed and harming others to be crimes worthy of being set straight. We can also see that whoever is exacting the punishment will not show mercy. The reason that no mercy is shown is rooted in the fundamental belief in Chinese justice that every wrong must necessarily be paid back. All wrongdoers must eventually suffer some form of punishment, in this life, or the next (Katz, 4).

Gionai does mention that the transgressors incur the wrath of demons and deities, it follows then that those who act to punish the transgressor are also those demons and deities. Where Chinese religion differs from an Islamic or Christian conception of a demon is that the demons punish evil souls in hell. Ergo, demons are servants of the Godly order, and not transgressors like Iblīs (Satan) and his fallen brethren are. This is why, to Gionai, transgression incurs the wrath and not the joy of demons.

Then, the phrase “ishunde gemu untuhun ojoro de isinambikai” [mutually be left with nothing at all] requires some explanation. The word “ishunde” [each other, mutual] refers to the winner and the loser. It should not be interpreted as the demons and deities punishing even the loser. Rather, the loser has nothing because the winner took all his belongings, and the winner will also have nothing because he is punished for his ill-gotten gains by God. Therefore, Gionai argues, both will be left with nothing.

Finally, Gionai closes his essay and the current section with a single rhetorical question:

erebe daqi dubede isitala tuwaha de geli ai tusa sere be bini

Observing from beginning to end, what benefit is there even to speak of?

Closing Remarks

When all the arguments are observed, I notice that they are very similar to arguments brought forth by other cultures and other eras. I am no theologian, but I have to cover these religious texts anyway because it seems these admonitions against gambling usually come from religious minds. That is why we have seen the character of the Pardoner from Chaucer speak on this, why Alighieri wrote on it and indeed why Thomas Aquinas mentioned it. I wanted to close with Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s exegesis of the Qur’an, which will serve as doubly as a means to review the arguments presented and as a final reminder of why we shouldn’t gamble. Abdullah summarises Al-Razi’s views as follows:

… among the consequences of maysir and qimar are, hostility, cursing and disagreement among the participants, harmful to economic growth besides distracting people from remembering Allah and performing prayers. He added that betting in qimar and maysir also gave rise to the desire to try to win, especially after losing until all the property was finally used to gambling so much that he was able to neglect his wife and children. Surely the loser of this gambling will fall poorly. This will cause a lot of social malaise and destroy the socio-economic fabric of a society.

Atikullah Abdullah, “Islamic Law on Gambling and Some Modern Business Practices,” International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences 7, no. 11 (2017),, 739.

The similarities I notice are the hostility argument which is mentioned in section 1, when people plot against each other for gain. Cursing and disagreement might be found in the section about decorum and propriety, this is section 2, where casual addressing and speaking vulgarly are criticised. Also, the idea that gambling gives rise to the desire of winning, after which one will neglect his family, are reflected in sections 3 and 8 respectively. Finally, distracting from remembrance of Allah ﷻ and prayer are not mentioned in the Manchu text, but wasting time can be seen as distraction from important matters like worship and is mentioned in 5. Angering the supreme deity by violating his law is considered in section 10.

None of the texts I perused speak in favour of gambling, and they aren’t peripheral texts by any definition. Each of the texts I selected were and are extremely influential and almost foundational to civilisations. Their arguments against gambling are firmly rooted in reasons I trust anyone can understand, regardless of creed or culture. As for what I think, I put Al-Razi’s Quranic exegesis last, since it think it aligns with my own views. It pains my heart knowing that there are still people who gamble away their trust, friendships, spouses, wealth and ultimately, perhaps even their good standing with their Creator. I just hope that Gionai’s efforts managed to sway some hearts two centuries post-publication.


  1. Abdullah, Atikullah. “Islamic Law on Gambling and Some Modern Business Practices.” International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences 7, no. 11 (2017).
  2. Ali, Abdullah Yusuf, trans. The Holy Qur’an. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions, 2000.
  3. as-Sa‘di, Abdur-Rahman Nasir, Nasiruddin al-Khattab, and Huda Khattab. Tafseer as-Saʻdi = tafsīr Al-Saʻdī: Taysīr Al-Karīm Al-raḥmān fī tafsīr Al-Qurʼān. 3. Vol. 3. 10 vols. Riyadh: International Islamic Publishing House, 2018.
  4. Alida. “Tanrı vs. Allah: The Clash of Gods in Turkish.” AVAMPESENT, April 8, 2020.
  5. Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. Translated by Robin Kirkpatrick. Penguin Books, 2012.
  6. Aquinas, Thomas. The “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. 12. Vol. 12. 22 vols. London: Burns Oates & Washbourne LTD, 1911.
  7. Chan, Chi Chuen, William Wai Li, and Amy Sau Chiu. “A Cultural History of Chinese Gambling II (from Ming Dynasty to Qing Dynasty).” The Psychology of Chinese Gambling, 2019, 35–55.
  8. Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Riverside Chaucer. Edited by Larry Dean Benson. Oxford University Press, 2008.
  9. Chen, Jing 陈静. “mingqing baihua xiaoshuo zhong de ‘wangsi cheng’ tanxi 明清白话小说中的“枉死城”探析.” Lanzhou jiaoyu xueyuan xuebao 兰州教育学院学报 34, no. 9 (September 2018): 28–30.
  10. Dankoff, Robert. “Kāšġarī on the Beliefs and Superstitions of the Turks.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 95, no. 1 (1975): 68-80.
  11. Daqing Lüli 大清律例, by Xu Ben 徐本 and San Tai 三泰, 1646,, n.d, n.d, Universal Library, China-America Digital Academic Library, Zhejiang University Library 浙江大学图书馆, Yuhangtang Road, Hangzhou, Zhejiang.
  12. Di Cosmo, Nicola. “Manchu Shamanic Ceremonies at the Qing Court.” Essay. In State and Court Ritual in China, edited by Joseph P. McDermott, 352–98. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  13. Gionai 九鼐. jiha efire be targabure juwan haqin 戒賭十條. Printed book. From Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, SSG 6,25: Digitalisierung des Sondersammelgebiets Ost- und Südostasien der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – ostasiatischer Bestand. (accessed January 23, 2022).
  14. ibn Kathīr, Abū l-Fidāʾ Ismāʿīl ibn ‘Umar. “Tafsir Ibn Kathir – 5:90 – English.” The Noble Quran. Accessed February 20, 2022.
  15. Katz, Paul R. Divine Justice: Religion and the Development of Chinese Legal Culture. London: Routledge, 2009.
  16. Ma, Xisha, Huiying Meng, Huiying Meng, Cheryl Cornwell, Anne Henochowicz, Timothy Thurston, Yang Qiong, and Zhuo Hao. “Characteristics of Shamanism of the Tungusic Speaking People.” Essay. In Popular Religion and Shamanism. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011.
  17. Maciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists. 2nd ed. London: Elsevier Churchill Livingston, 2005.
  18. Ni, Maoshing. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine: A New Translation of the Neijing Suwen with Commentary. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1995.
  19. Ogilvy, James. “Greed.” Essay. In Wicked Pleasures: Meditations on the Seven “Deadly” Sins, edited by Robert C. Solomon, 87–116. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001.
  20. Shafīʻ Muḥammad, and ʻUs̲mānī Muḥammad Taqī. Maʻariful-Quran. Translated by Shamīm Muḥammad. 3. Vol. 3. 8 vols. Karachi: Maktaba-e-Darul-Uloom, 2017.
  21. Stary, Giovanni. “Christian Literature in Manchu.” Central Asiatic Journal 44, no. 2 (2000): 305–16.
  22. ———. “The Manchu Imperial Shamanic Complex Tangse.” Shaman 17, no. 1-2 (2009): 171–80.
  23. Vovin, Alexander. “Manchu Shamanistic Prayers From Sergei Polevoi’s Manuscript.” Acta Via Serica 5, no. 1 (June 2020): 87–120. 10.22679/avs.2020.5.1.004.
  24. Watson, Burton, trans. The Analects of Confucius. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2007.

Published by Afakv

Keeping the memories of those who went before us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: