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This article argues for rethinking the significance of state-run Manchu language education in the Qing, suggesting that Manchu schools were designed not to maintain Manchu ethnic identity, but to produce a cohort of competent translators from all three of the major ethnic constituencies of the Eight Banners. Official efforts to improve Manchu knowledge in the banners, which took off in the Yongzheng period, were initially directed primarily at Hanjun. Han bannermen would continue to study Manchu, achieving their fair share of success in translation examinations, through the end of the dynasty. In addition, the article argues that Manchu was only one of several languages, albeit the most important, in which bannermen were intended to provide expertise. The official schools for foreign languages that opened in the second half of the nineteenth century, particularly the Guangzhou Tongwen Guan, were not new innovations. Rather, they were directly based on the model of Manchu language schools, and most of the students enrolled in them were bannermen. The article concludes that translation work, not just military service, was one of the core functions of bannermen, and that language learning, even of Manchu, was thus tied far more to banner status than to ethnic background.