SOAS University of London

SOAS China Institute

Educating Nurhaci's descendants: Manchu language training in Qing China

Lars Laaman
Dr Lars Laamann (SOAS, University of London)

Date: 5 February 2018Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 5 February 2018Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G3

Type of Event: Seminar


Manchu language learning and socio-linguistic identity in 19th-century China – the Tanggū Meyen revisited

We usually equate the introduction of compulsory school education with the republican ideals of Jules Ferry (France, 1880s) – and therefore with the onset of social modernity. By the same token, the Manchus of the Banner communities (qi 旗, gūsa ᡤᡡᠰᠠ) were “modern”, if not republican, since the seventeenth century. Universal schooling in Manchu language and culture was introduced by both imperial and communal coercion rather than by binding legislation, but proved an effective means of keeping the Manchus’ ancestral language alive.

This paper will introduce aspects of my research into conversational Manchu language primers, as a key instrument for gaining insight into the role of the Manchus in late Qing society, as well as their everyday preoccupations, but also into their specific ethnic sensitivities. In their majority conceived during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, these primers were continuously edited and reprinted for the benefit of the increasingly “Sinified” Manchu garrison communities in order to retain at least passive knowledge of their ancestral language. Manchu primers thus constituted part of a veritable nation-building exercise, both for the multi-ethnic state as well as for the Manchu community, in the second half of the Qing period. This presentation has its focus on one of the best-known text books, namely the Tanggū Meyen (清話百條, “One hundred pieces”). It was so popular that, following the demise of the Qing in 1911, it was translated into English. Passages from the Tanggū Meyen will be used in order to illustrate the methods of language instruction, the cultural messages conveyed and what we can learn of life in urban China prior to the onset of the twentieth century.


Lars Laamann is Senior Lecturer at the History Department of SOAS, University of London, where he convenes courses on Qing and Republican China, as well as eastern and central Asian history. Dr Laamann also teaches Manchu language to speakers of all levels. His research interests include

  • Manchu culture within the Qing empire 
  • Popular religion in late imperial China, (emphasis: Christianity), as well as
  • the confluence of Healing and Religion in early modern China: Opium, drug culture and medicine

Lars Laamann is also the editor of the Central Asiatic Journal (ISSN 0008–9192)

This event is free to attend, no registration required. Admission is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Organiser: SOAS China Institute

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