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“Spelling like a State”: Some Thoughts on the Manchu Origins of the Wade-Giles System

Pages 37 - 47


Today, hanyu pinyin reigns supreme as the system of Romanising Mandarin Chinese, and the hegemony of the system is so great that sometimes even educated readers now think that alternative ways of transcribing Chinese are erroneous. This article is not an attempt to rescue Wade-Giles from oblivion, but to raise the question about to what extent the Wade-Giles system was the product of Manchu knowledge of Chinese. I shall tentatively argue that the Wade-Giles system was a product of two imperialisms, and try to show how the Manchu language provided an interface for those imperialisms.

今日之漢語拼音是全世界最普遍的漢語發音寫法,反正最近一百五十年間有許 多拼音法,多大部分用拉丁語字母的韋德–賈爾斯制度。目前國學專家以及學 習中文的外國人少用韋賈拼寫法,不但因受了不同西方關於亞州的文化歧視的 印象而且也因其發音好像不準確。此篇就要說理韋賈拼寫法受了清朝滿語的大 印象,而且也是清、西兩種帝國主義之間的一種現象。

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

1 “When romanized, Captain Leang should be spelled Liang”, John Y. Wong, Deadly Dreams: Opium, Imperialism, and the Arrow War (1856–1860) (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 48, n. 23.

2 Tani E. Barlow, “Colonialism's Career in Postwar China Studies” in Formations of Colonial Modernity in East Asia, edited by Tani E. Barlow (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), pp. 373–411.

3 See for instance the entry on Thomas Wade (威妥瑪) in Xia Zhengnong (ed.), Cihai 辭海, 1989 edition (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe, 1993), p. 1868.

4 For an excellent survey on the topic, see Endymion Wilkinson, Chinese History: A New Manual, rev. ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2012), pp. 58–61.

5 Tansen Sen, Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600–1400 (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2003), p. 9; Mark Edward Lewis, China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), p. 220; Victor H. Mair, “Buddhism and the Rise of the Written Vernacular in East Asia: The Making of National Languages”, The Journal of Asian Studies 53, no. 3 (1994), pp. 707–751.

6 James L. Hevia, English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), p. 135.

7 One welcome addition is W. South Coblin, A Handbook of 'Phags-Pa Chinese (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2007).

8 Matthew Mosca has observed that “[t]he idea of using the Manchu language specifically in the service of phonology seems to date back to the compilation of the Yinyun chanwei”. Matthew W. Mosca, From Frontier Policy to Foreign Policy: The Question of India and the Transformation of Geopolitics in Qing China (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013), p. 72.

9 Zou Ailian et al., eds., Aomen lishi ditu jingxuan 澳門歷史地圖精選 (Beijing: Huawen chubanshe, 2000), p. 56f.

10 But it should be pointed out that this use of katakana is of more recent origin than the Qing practice of using Manchu to transcribe Western names.

11 As quoted in Erich Hauer, “Why the Sinologue Should Study Manchu”, Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 61 (1930), p. 156.

12 Ibid.

13 Joseph Marie Amyot, Dictionnaire tartare-mantchou françois, edited by L. Langlès (Paris: Imprimé par F. A. Didot l'ainé, 1789).

14 Michael Weiers, ed., Die Verträge zwischen Russland und China, 1689–1881: Faksimile der 1889 in Sankt Petersburg erschienenen Sammlung mit den Vertragstexten in russischer, lateinischer und französischer sowie chinesischer, mandschurischer und mongolischer Sprache (Bonn: Wehling, 1979).

15 Zhang, Kaiyun, ed., Tongshang Yuezhang Leizuan. Classified Compendium of Treaties and Agreements of Trade, 35 vols. (Tianjin: Guanshuju, 1886).

16 V. K. Wellington Koo, The Status of Aliens in China (New York: Columbia University, 1912), p. 52, n. 1.

17 Caleb Cushing, “Considerations on the Language of Communication between the Chinese and European Governments”, The Chinese Repository 13, no. 4 (1844), 300; the article was published anonymously, but Alexander Wylie claimed that the article was written by Caleb Cushing in Alexander Wylie, ed., Translation of the Ts'ing Wan K'e Mung, a Chinese Grammar of the Manchu Tartar Language with Introductory Notes on Manchu Literature (Shanghae: London Mission Press, 1855), pp. lv–lvi.

18 “Considerations”, p. 290.

19 John K. Fairbank, “The Manchu Appeasement Policy of 1843”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 59, no. 4 (1939), pp. 469–484.

20 “Ky-ing entra dans des longues explications sur la différence existant entre les langues chinoises et mantchoux; cette dernière, nous dit-il, a, comme les langues de l'Occident, des lettres pour composer les mots; et il nous en figura quelques-unes avec son pinceau.” Jules Itier, Journal d'un voyage en Chine en 1843, 1844, 1845, 1846 (Paris: Chez Dauvin et Fontaine, 1848), Vol. 1, p. 309.

21 Mark C. Elliott, “The Manchu-Language Archives of the Qing Dynasty and the Origins of the Palace Memorial System”, Late Imperial China 22, no. 1 (2001), p. 3.

22 One of the few book-length biographies of Wade that has been published is James C. Cooley, Jr., T.F. Wade in China: Pioneer in Global Diplomacy 1842–1882 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981); see also James Hevia, “An Imperial Nomad and the Great Game: Thomas Francis Wade in China”, Late Imperial China 16, no. 2 (1995), pp. 1–22.

23 Giles, Herbert Allen, and T. F. Wade. A Catalog of the Wade Collection of Chinese and Manchu Books in the Library of the University of Cambridge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1915).

24 For a first-hand account of the negotiations, see Steen Andersen Bille, Min Reise til China 1864 (Copenhagen: 1865), pp. 153–79.

25 Note from British legation to Zongli yamen, 1863.04.08, Lufu zouzhe (LFZZ) 3-156-7618-10, First Historical Archives, Beijing.

26 Note from British legation to Zongli yamen, 1864.12.04, LFZZ 3-156-7618-11.

27 Joseph Edkins, A Grammar of the Chinese Colloquial Language Commonly Called the Mandarin Dialect, 2nd ed. (Shanghai: Presbyterian mission press, 1864), p. 10; according to Samuel Wells Williams the Nanjing dialect was known as tongxing de hua, see his A Syllabic Dictionary of the Chinese Language Arranged According to the Wu-Fang Yüan Yin (Tung Chou: North China Union college, 1909), p. xxxii.

28 Edward J. M. Rhoads, Manchus & Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861–1928 (WA: University of Washington Press, 2000), p. 42.

29 Cooley (1981), p. 27.

30 Wade and Hillier (1886), II: 250.

31 Paul Georg von Möllendorff, A Manchu Grammar: With Analysed Texts (Shanghai: 1892).

32 Thomas Francis Wade, and Walter Caine Hillier, Yü-Yen Tzŭ-Êrh Chi, a Progressive Course Designed to Assist the Student of Colloquial Chinese, as Spoken in the Capital and the Metropolitan Department: In Two Volumes, third (abridged) ed. (Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh, ltd., 1903), Vol. 1, p. 6.

33 John K. Fairbank, “Synarchy under the Treaties”, in Chinese Thought and Institutions, edited by John K. Fairbank (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1957), pp. 204–231.

34 For instance, John K. Fairbank took the Wade-Giles system to task by saying that “[C]onventions should be simple not be extravagant”. See Fairbank, Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast: The Opening of the Treaty Ports, 1842–1854 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953), Vol. 2, preface.

35 Jerry Norman, Chinese, Cambridge Language Surveys (Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

36 Some of Karlgren's ideas are outlined in his pamphlet The Romanization of Chinese: A Paper Read before the China Society on January 19, 1928 (London: China Society, 1928); see also Göran Malmqvist, Bernhard Karlgren: Ett forskarporträtt (Stockholm: Norstedts, 1995), pp. 283–286.

37 Olov Bertil Anderson, Konkordans till fem transkriptionssystem för kinesiskt riksspråk (Lund: Studentlitteratur, 1973).

38 S. Robert Ramsey, The Languages of China (Princeton NJ: University of Princeton Press, 1987), pp. 143–154.

39 Jeroen Wiedenhof, “Purpose and Effect in the Transcription of Mandarin”, in Hanxue Yanjiu Guoji Xueshu Yantaohui Lunwenji 漢學研究國際學術研討會論文集 [Proceedings of the International Conference on Chinese Studies 2004], edited by Lee Jer-shiarn (Li Zhexian) (Douliu: National Yunlin University of Science and Technology, 2005), p. 390. Accessed at on 28 January 2010.

40 James L. Hevia, English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), p. 135.

41 James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 72–73.

42 Chloe Lai, “Linguistic heritage in peril: A group of friends are hoping to revive Cantonese in Guangzhou”, South China Morning Post, online edition, updated on 11 October 2009.


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