Zheng Tianting on Manchu
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.”
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？