PRC Manchu studies at a turning point?
Two news items from the past year, linked below, suggest that with the oft-reported demise of the last “native speakers” of Manchu in Heilongjiang, new attention is being brought to the problem of training a new generation of Manchu specialists in China. In one article, senior figures in the field such as Wu Yuanfeng 吴元丰 and Guan Jialu 关嘉禄 are quoted as saying that there is a serious shortage of younger people being groomed to take over the work of collating, organizing, and publishing Manchu-language archives from the Qing, which number at least 2 million items – or perhaps as many as 3 million, according to Wu.
Guan observes that to be “fluent” in Manchu,
One must be able to read Manchu documents with familiarity and on this basis carry out scholarly research. But to do research on Manchu-related subjects, it is not enough just to know the Manchu language. You also must understand Qing history, linguistics, classical Chinese and modern Chinese. This requires people with multiple talents who can suffer loneliness and reject impulsiveness.
With only twenty or so individuals in the entire country meeting this standard, however, he says that “the prospects for Manchu studies are not bright.”
Politicians also are voicing concern. Jia Baolan 贾宝兰, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference who claims Manchu ancestry on her mother’s side, spoke out in March 2012 for the need to keep up with advances in the field made in Japan, Germany, the United States, and elsewhere.
On the bright side, a new Center for Manchu Studies was established last May at the Qing History Institute 清史所 at People’s University 人民大学. To get it started is Oyunbilig 乌云毕力格, a well-respected Mongolian scholar of the Qing who earned his degree at the Seminar für Zentralasiatischestudien at the University of Bonn. It is to be hoped that it is not too late to train a new generation of Chinese Manjurists!