Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

“Shooting, Riding, and Speaking Manchu”: Manchu Language and Identity in Qing Institutions

“Shooting, Riding, and Speaking Manchu”: Manchu Language and Identity in Qing Institutions

Todd Hovey

This article uses the abundant historical research of New Qing History scholars such as Crossley, Rawski, Elliot, and Di Cosmo which concerns the relationship between Manchu identity and Qing Dynasty imperial institutions to explore how these relate to the usage of the Manchu language in the early-mid eras of the Qing rule, focusing mainly on the pre-conquest Jurchen period until the end of the Qianlong reign. This research applies a sociolinguistic lens towards historical sources to understand the role language played in the construction of Manchu ethnic identity in a diachronic way, and to answer by what means and to what ends was the Manchu language related to ethnic identity and imperial institutions. For this purpose, secondary sources surrounding Manchu ethnic identity during the Qing era are mostly employed, though primary sources are referenced whenever possible.  This research concludes that the usage of the Manchu language served as an integral link in the chain which bound Manchu ethnic identity to political institutions, and that this relationship had a profound effect on the perception of Manchu language and the construction of identity among the Manchus themselves.

April 16, 2020 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This is an extremely interesting topic. I am sure that the social concerns add great depth and could lead to even new discoveries about the use and changes in the Manchu language. Is Manchu still spoken today? Or what modern language/dialect is Manchu most closely related to? Mandarin, or another?

    Comment by Jeff Dempsey | April 20, 2020 | Reply

  2. I also wondered where and if Manchu is still spoken in a similar form today. It seems like it might be challenging to find and prove links between language and identity historically, but maybe that is the intrigue.

    Comment by Shannon Yee | April 22, 2020 | Reply

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