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Manchu Language  

Mårten Söderblom Saarela

The Manchu language was the language of state in the Qing empire, which ruled China and large parts of Inner Asia from 1644 to 1911. For much of its history, it was used by communities in which Chinese was also spoken and written, but Manchu is a Tungusic language that is unrelated to Chinese. Its implementation in China and maintenance as the administrative language of core elements of the Qing imperial bureaucracy prompted the development of a Manchu education system and a tradition of bilingual Manchu-Chinese language pedagogy. Long before upwardly mobile individuals in China from the late 19th century onward committed to the study of the languages of the industrialized West and Japan, numerous Chinese-speaking servants of the Qing throne applied themselves to the study of Manchu. Over time, not only a voluminous government archive accrued in Manchu but also a literature in several genres that consisted largely of translations from Chinese. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Manchu ceased to be a vernacular language in many areas where it had been previously spoken. It remained in use longest on parts of the imperial periphery, even beyond the fall of the Qing empire itself. Both as an administrative language and as a vernacular, Manchu survived into the tumultuous new century. Over time, however, it was supplanted by Chinese in most places. Yet dialects of Manchu remain spoken by small communities as of the early 21st century.