Zheng Tianting on Manchu

Zheng Tianting on Manchu

Zheng Tianting 关于学习满文的一封信

Zheng Tianting 关于学习满文的一封信

Zheng Tianting 鄭天挺 (1899-1981), one of the great 20th-c. historians of the Qing, was the author of a number of important early works on early Qing history, of which 《探微集》is probably the most famous.   Shown here is a letter he wrote in 1962 to a colleague in the Nankai History Department, Xia Jiajun 夏家駿, who had written to ask about the utility of Manchu for research.  He writes in part,

“Before, when I was at Peking U. teaching Qing history [between 1930 and 1937], everyone was supposed to study Manchu at the same time as the main course, because knowing Manchu was very helpful in studying Qing history.  Even after the conquest, Manchu words continued to be used for a long time in Chinese-language documents; if you relied only on footnotes (of which there were not very many) you would not be able to understand them.  Knowing Manchu makes things much clearer.  Since I myself don’t know Manchu, there are some questions I’ve never been able to get straight.  I didn’t figure this out before I was forty, and after I was forty, though I had figured it out, I had no teacher and no books.  Once I turned fifty, I had all the necessary conditions [for learning it], but I did not apply myself.  Even now I regret it.”

过去我在北大讲清史专题,凡选习的同时要学满文,是为了懂满文对学清史有很大帮助,入关以后还长期在汉文中加上满洲名词,只靠注解(而且很少)不能明白,懂满文就清楚多了。我因为不懂满文,所以有些问题搞不清。这一点,我四十岁以前不晓得,十岁晓得了又无师元书,到了五十岁时各种条件都具备了自己又没有努力,至今后悔。

The rest of the letter (published in Beifang wenwu《北方文物》1983.4 — thanks to Dong Yue for bringing this to my attention) offers some suggestions for learning Manchu on one’s own (there is no indication Xia ever followed up on this).

One question Zheng’s letter raises is, Who was teaching the Manchu language at Beida in the 1930s?

Mark Elliott


1 Comment

  1. Maybe some Sibe people I guess?

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