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Historical Studies of the Jurchen in Russia

From: Journal of Song-Yuan Studies
Volume 40, 2010
pp. 103-126 | 10.1353/sys.2011.0001

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The history of Jurchen studies in Russia is more than a century and a half old. Over the course of that time, Russian scholars have produced a number of interesting and valuable publications. Combining the use of written sources with the study of archeological evidence, Russian scholars have promoted an approach that is logistically impossible for students of the Jurchen either in the Republic of Korea or in Japan, because of their lack of access to geographical sites containing physical artifacts, to pursue. At the same time, Jurchen studies in Russia are now relatively free from the manifold political influences and pressures that impinge on research to such a great degree in North Korea and China. Nevertheless, despite its longevity and maturity as a discipline, largely because most of its scholars do not publish in English, the products and achievements of the Russian study of the Jurchen remain practically unknown to comparable scholarly communities in the Western academic world.

Jurchen studies outside the West are characterized by a great diversity of ideological premises, which has given rise to and reinforced divergent approaches to the subject. North Korean scholars tend to regard the Jurchen negatively, in part because the medieval Korean state Koryo (Goryeo) had been forced to pay tribute to the Jurchen Jin dynasty (1115–1234) and because the Jurchen had destroyed the Great Bohai (Balhae) state. They nonetheless grudgingly acknowledge the historical reality of Jurchen political influence in the northern part of the Korean peninsula. Being more positive than their counterparts to the north, South Korean specialists have tended either to consign the Jurchen to Manchurian history or to incorporate into Korean history (Han Gju-cheol 2001; Kim Wi-hon 1999). Although many Japanese scholars working on the Jurchen have achieved impressive results, they have done so without the availability of archeological materials. Almost all Chinese historians have followed the traditionalist model that situates the Jin state and the Jurchen (Ruzhen or, alternatively pronounced, Nüzhen 女真; 女真) tribes under the rubric of Chinese history.

The primary goal of this article is to make the history of Jurchen studies in Russia more broadly known than is currently the case. I hope to accomplish by tracing the historical development of the discipline and by identifying certain theoretical commonalities and methodological specifics of the Russian approach to the subject. A secondary concern of mine is highlighting and underscoring the main differences between Jurchen studies as pursued in Russia and as conducted in Korea and China. Finally, I have sought to isolate and define what have emerged as the principal problems dominating Jurchen studies in the former Soviet Union and in present-day Russia, with the intention of analyzing how they have been confronted and surmounted. But, nonetheless, to express my overall purpose in the most basic terms possible, I hope through this article not only to inform a largely unacquainted audience of contemporary Western scholars of the very existence of Russian Jurchen studies but also to foster within it an appreciation for its estimable contributions.

A Historical and Historiographical Overview

The Jurchen tribes inhabited one or another part of North China and its contiguous central territories, North Korea, or what has become known as the Russian Far East from the eleventh century through the sixteenth. These tribes, with varying degrees of success, established several states. However, by far the most powerful and therefore best known of these was the Jin (Golden) empire, though its cohesion as a dynastic entity spanned only from the twelfth to the thirteenth century.

Just as is the case in China, Korea, and Japan, the study of Jurchen in Russia has concentrated on the history of the Jin. This almost exclusive focus began in the 1850s when Nikita Y. Bichurin (Archimandrite Iakinf), Viacheslav Gorskij, and Vasilii P. Vasil’ev translated several Manchurian, Chinese, and Korean texts about the Jin empire. Nikita Y. Bichurin considered the problem of understanding Chinese culture for Russian readers and he therefore translated many historical manuscripts,1 supplementing them with commentary and explanations of the activities and outlooks of East Asian peoples.2

This tradition of relying on translated texts for explication was continued by Grigorii M. Rozov, a specialist in Manchurian studies, who...

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