The Manchus

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Wiley, Jun 3, 2002 - History - 260 pages
The Manchus looks at the development of this ethnic group from its achievements as ruler of its own people to ruler of all China and now, in the 1990s its resurgence after the downfall of the last Manchu Emperor in 1912.

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I don't like her romanizations of Korean names, many of which are arbitrary or wrong. On the other hand, I was impressed that she found out and mentioned things that few people outside the Korea history field know. Some of the criticisms here strike me as kind of juvenile. Anybody can look at a book like this --a general history, not a scholarly monograph, doesn't pretend to be, no footnotes or anything-- and find errors a specialist would pick up. When this book was written in 1997 (I have the hardback), it was probably written before that who knows, there wasn't any book like this. She put together a story that my undergraduates find really revealing. It may be time for an update, which would probably easily correct the errors we are complaining about. But the strengths of the book would still be there. I like that. And I am surprised at the amount of fairly esoteric information she gets into the narrative here. My students generally have no interest in my research specialization, but discussions of the book allow me to get into some things I find enjoyable.
I see the problems with her coverage of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ti is not complete for all of China. I don't know what you think happened to Manchus in the 19th and 20th cents that is not in the book. As for modern Chinese history, I just read the Woblibng Pivot, it is one of the best surveys of modern China I have ever read. It has errors, too. Not many, but if a specialist wanted to tear it apart they probably could.
By the way, you are probably aware that for the period Crossley is writing about in the book, the Yongning temple stele was in Manchu territory and paid tribute to the Qing via Heilongjiang province. It only came under Russian administration in 1850, and that was rather informal. She says it is in Heilongjiang today, meaning she didn't follow up to modern times. But I heard her give a paper on research based on the stele at a Tungusic conference, she clearly knows a whole lot more about Yongning than you think she does.

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I am afraid that I only managed to read to page 37, where I encountered this woeful passage in which Crossley piles up error after error:
"The Jurchen script survived the downfall of the Jin empire
, and had at least some official recognition under the Yuan empire of the Mongols (c.1260-1368), who carved dharāni, or Buddhist prayers, in the language on major gateways and other monumental displays. In Ming times it was the official mode of communications between the Jurchen functionaries of the fictive "garrison" system in Manchuria and the Chinese court. The Yongning temple, at the military settlement in present-day Heilongjiang province, was inscribed in Chinese, Mongolian, and the Jurchen script, like the Juyong Pass constructed by the Mongols near Peking -- one of several Rosetta stones that have permitted reconstruction of medieval Jurchen."
A. The inscription in a strange script on the Cloud Platform at Juyong Pass had been assumed by several 19th centuries authors (e.g. Alexander Wylie in 1870) to be Jurchen, but as early as 1899 Stephen Wootton Bushell had definitively identified this script as Tangut not Jurchen. So for almost exactly a century before Crossley wrote this book the Juyong Pass inscription had been celebrated as one of the best preserved examples of a Tangut inscription, and every reliable book on the subject would have told her that the script was Tangut.
B. The reconstruction of Jurchen was not reliant on any "Rosetta stone", but was facilitated by the survival of several manuscript versions of a Sino-Jurchen Vocabulary issued by the Ming dynasty Bureau of Interpreters. Nor did the Juyong Pass inscription act as a Rosetta stone for the decipherment of Tangut. The "Rosetta stone" fantasy is simply a figment of her imagination.
C. The site of Yongning Temple is not in Heilongjiang province, nor even in China, but is the modern village of Tyr, near the mouth of the Amur, in Russia. That she does not know that the location of one of the most famous outposts of the Ming governement was well beyond the borders of modern China is particularly worrying.
These mistakes are so egregious that I have lost all confidence in Crossley's credibility as a historian. If she gets these easily verifiable facts completely wrong, can I trust anything else she writes? The answer has to be no, and so I did not waste my time reading any more of this book.

About the author (2002)

Pamela Kyle Crossley's most recent study, A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology (1999) was awarded the Levenson Prize by the Association for Asian Studies. She is a past fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and presently is Professor of History at Dartmouth College (New Hampshire, USA).

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