DONGJIA, Mingduo.

Nikan hergen i ubailiyambuha manju gisun i buleku bithe. (A Translator's Chinese-Manchu Dictionary.)

China: Konggu jushi, 1869 Stock Code: 149935
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Described by Laaman as a "seminal" work of Qing dynasty lexicography

A very scarce and attractive edition of a Manchu-Chinese dictionary published for the use of officials and scholars in the plurilingual Qing empire. After Manchu was transformed into a language of state by the Qing invasion of China, texts such as this dictionary became vital tools for upwardly-aspirational individuals to navigate between the two very different languages.

In contrast to the Ming emperors who preceded them, China's Qing dynasty rulers heralded from the Manchu clans of north China. Beginning in the 16th century, these clans had opposed Ming rule, and the 1640s saw their armies sweep down through China and the capture of the imperial capital, Beijing, in 1644. The Manchus brought their own distinct language, culture and customs, but once in power the successive Qing emperors were caught between a desire to maintain their original Manchu identity and a need to "sinicize" in order to effectively govern the huge swathes of East Asia under their control. This melding of Manchu and Han Chinese identity permeated all levels of society, especially among the literate classes, with officials, intellectuals, proofreaders and clerks now requiring a knowledge of both languages in order to read and compose government documents. At the highest levels of the Qing bureaucracy, documents were routinely issued in both Manchu and Chinese, and those who aspired to reach the top of Chinese officialdom found themselves in need of an entirely new set of linguistic skills.

Dongjia Mingduo, a member of a Manchu clan, first published his dictionary in 1735 to meet demand for lexicographical works accurately synthesising the Manchu and Chinese languages. Words are categorised by theme such as pronouns and vocabulary for the weather, and each page has two rows of Chinese characters with their Manchu equivalent printed underneath. In addition to serving as a reference work for scholars, dictionaries like Dongjia's were also important for standardising translations, ensuring that officials followed preset guidelines when reading and writing high-stakes government documents rather than introducing creative license into their work. Following the release of his dictionary, Dongjia published an additional Manchu-Chinese dictionary of Buddhist idioms in 1737. He is now viewed by historians as one of the most influential linguists of his day.

Dongjia's work remained in print for an extended amount of time, although copies of any edition are scarce institutionally and in commerce. The appearance of the present edition in 1869, at a time when Qing power was waning, is perhaps connected to fears over the decline of Manchu language and culture. By 1800, the descendants of the 17th century invading tribes had become increasingly absorbed into Chinese culture at the expense of their linguistic and cultural heritage. In its last hundred years of existence, the Qing court made periodic attempts to revive studies of the language, and reference books such as Dongjia's would have remained extremely useful.

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10 volumes, octavo (202 x 132 mm). Original stitched (xianzhuang) binding, original cream paper wrappers with block-printed title labels. Housed in a contemporary cloth folding case with horn ties, block-printed title label to front board, internal faces lined with paper.


A little creasing and marking to wrappers, contents lightly foxed, else clean and bright. A fine set of this fragile publication.


Lars Peter Laamann, "Review of 'A Comprehensive Manchu-English Dictionary'". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies vol. 77, no. 2, 2014, pp. 402-4.


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