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Apr 23: Empire of Translation: Understanding Manchu-language books in Qing China

Date: April 23, 2024 (Tuesday)

Time: 4:30PM

Venue: Room7.58, 7/F Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU

Details and registration:

All are welcome. No registration required.


Sarah Jessi Bramao-Ramos, Fellow, Society of Fellows in the Humanities, HKU


Loretta Kim, Associate Professor, School of Modern Languages and Cultures, HKU

Historians generally accept that the Manchus, the rulers of Qing China (1644–1911), actively embraced Chinese culture to the point that they came to only speak Chinese. Yet books in the Manchu language continued to be produced and read, even well into the nineteenth century. How do we make sense of this? What kinds of Manchu-language books were produced? Who printed these books, and who read them? Moreover, how might the answers to these questions change how we think of the trajectory of the Manchu language in the late Qing?


This talk engages in these questions through the lens of book history. Drawing on examples of Manchu-language books from libraries in the United States, Europe, and Japan, this talk identifies the major genres of Manchu-language books and demonstrates that the production of such books was, by the nineteenth century, a commercial one. Through an analysis of marginalia and manuscript textbooks, this talk shows that Manchu books were read, by engaged multilingual readers. Finally, this talk proposes an explanation as to why Manchu-language book production continued until the end of the Qing: the continued importance of Manchu-language translation to the Qing empire.


Sarah Bramao-Ramos is a cultural historian of the Qing. She received her PhD at Harvard University and MA at the University of British Columbia. Her work focuses on Manchu-language books, and she is more broadly interested in translation in the early modern world, the history of the book, and ways of uncovering the history of reading.


Society of Fellows in the Humanities


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