An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Manwen laodang 滿文老檔

Jul 12, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Manwen laodang 滿文老檔 "Old Manchu archive" (fe dangse in Manchurian) is a collection of documents of the early phase of the Manchu empire before the conquest of Beijing in 1644, written in Manchu language.

The documents in the Manwen laodang 滿文老檔 were been collected and edited in a 180-juan shape. The content of these files covers the years from the earliest activities of Nurhaci (Qing Taizu 清太祖, r. 1616-1626), the founder of the Manchu dynasty (later Qing dynasty 清), until 1636, a few years before the Manchus were able to occupy Beijing.

Only very few files are lost, among those some of the beginning of the Nurhaci's campaigns. The language is still very course, with short sentences, partially in old Manchu script without diacritic dots (the writing reform was only effected in 1632), and in some places even written in Mongolian. For this reason the "Old archive" is not only valuable for the early social and military history of the Manchu people and the people and states they interacted with, like the Mongols, Koreans, and the Chinese in the region of Liaodong 遼東, but also for linguistic studies of early Manchurian.

The files were first kept in the Chongmo Hall 崇墨閣 in the old capital Mukden (Shenyang 瀋陽, Liaoning) and were later transferred to the archive of the Grand Secretariat (neige daku 內閣大庫) in the Forbidden City. The Qianlong emperor finally ordered the eminent dignitary Ortai 鄂爾泰 (1677-1745) and Xu Yuanmeng 徐元夢 (1655-1741) to modernize the oldest, non-diacritical part (Manchu: tongki fuka akū hergen, Chinese: wu juandian 無圈點, in contrast to jia juandian 加圈點), to compile a specialized dictionary for the old Manchu script, and to arrange the whole material in a lined-box edition in Chinese style, to be kept in the imperial library.

This book is today stored in the library of the National Palace Museum 故宮博物院 in Taipeh. The Museum also houses three volumes of old Manchu files from the years Tianming 天命 9 (1624), Tiancong 天聰 6 (1632) and Tiancong 9 (1635) which had probably been overlooked during the finishing process and were only rediscovered in 1935.

In 1741, Šuhede 舒赫德 (1710-1777) suggested revising the archive, eredicating errors and transcribing the text in modern Manchu script. This was done, and a version was created containing both the original hand-written Manchu version in a copy, plus a transcription into the new Manchu script and contemporary language. This version is today stored in the First Historical Archive 中國第一歷史檔案館 in Beijing, and a second copy in the Archive of the Province of Liaoning 遼寧省檔案館 which was originally stored in Mukden.

In 1918, a team under Jin Liang 金梁 (1878-1962) started translating the copy from Mukden into modern Chinese and published an abridged version with the title Manzhou laodang milu 滿洲老檔秘錄 "The secret records of the old Manchu files". The quality of this translation was not sufficient, for which reason in 1964 a team under the Taiwanese scholar Li Xuezhi 李學智 (XXX) began with a new translation from the original, non-diacritical version which was published with the title Qing Taizu chao lao Manwen yuandang 清太祖朝老滿文原檔 "The original old Manchu files from the time of Emperor Qing Taizu", in several volumes.

A joint team from several research institutions in mainland China is currently still working on a translation of the non-diacritical copies available. Between 1955 and 1963 the Japanese Manbun rōtō kenkyūkai 満文老档研究会 (Research society for the Old Manchu archive) published a translation into Japanese.

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