Chapter on Late-Qing and Republican Manchu Studies



"A Guangxu Renaissance? Manchu Language Studies in the Late Qing and Their Republican Afterlife," in Time and Language: New Sinology and Chinese History, edited by Ori Sela, Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, and Joshua A. Fogel (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2023), 180–203.


This chapter treats the study of Manchu language and Manchu documents as one part of the new Chinese humanities—that is, the disciplines that abroad were called Sinology—in this period of momentous scholarly developments, stretching from the 1890s to the 1930s. During the last decades of Qing rule, even though members of the imperial government and the provincial administration worked to overcome domestic unrest and foreign pressure through reforms that departed radically from earlier Manchu institutions and practice, the written Manchu language, one of the oldest emblems of the dynasty, remained as a subject worthy of study. The generation of scholars who, either in their own scholarly work or through their expressed opinion, contributed to transforming Manchu studies into the academic discipline we know today grew up during these last decades of the empire.

Suggesting a continuous engagement with the Manchu written language across the 1911 divide, I show that modern Manchu studies has a genealogy within China that I think is underappreciated. Manchu studies in fact had a place in some of the major historiographical and bibliographical undertakings of the Republican period. Whereas the Manchu language as late as 1911 was touted as a foundational institution of the empire, it was by the end of the same decade described as being in need of urgent philological attention, which some scholars indeed accorded it. Throughout the period, there was a continuous but changing engagement with Manchu.