The Manchus – Abstract

I researched the Manchus, an ethnicity in China, and where they might be in 2020. I had a few research questions, but they all fit under one blanket question: what will like be like for the Manchus in 2020? In addition, what makes them distinct from Han Chinese, and what does it take to be considered a Manchu? I had difficulty answering these questions due to a general lack of information about the Manchus since 1913. Tracking down Manchu food was particularly hard.

The Manchus are an ethnic minority in northeast China, numbering about 11 million. Historically, they spoke a Tungusic language, practiced a form of shamanism, and for about 300 years ruled the Qing dynasty until its overthrow in 1913. Today, all but about 60 people in the village of Sanjiazi (Ilan Boo in Manchu) speak Mandarin, with only those 60 or so people being native speakers of Manchu. Their shamanistic belief system is also mostly gone, though it does still persist somewhat. I found in my research that there is quite a lot of information about them during the Qing dynasty, and there are a few good tools for learning the language (maybe more for Mandarin speakers), but there is remarkably little about them as a distinct ethnic group in the last hundred years or so. Plenty can be found about the Tibetans, the Uyghurs, the Miao, and other groups, but not so much for the Manchus. This, combined with their known language endangerment and relatively small numbers, implied to me that there must not have been a compelling reason to write about them. I’ll address this further in my conclusion section, however, as it ties in with the rest.

Politically and economically, the Manchus aren’t much different from the rest of China, though they don’t have the endless metropolises or countless people of the coast. They have Harbin and some other cities, which by Chinese standards are fairly unimportant and out of the way. Harbin does have industry (especially with cars), and the region of Manchuria is perfectly civilized, but the provinces of Manchuria are to the coastal regions approximately what Maine is to California in terms of development, size of economy, population, etc.

Just like in the rest of China, corruption permeates Manchuria. While this doesn’t only concern the Manchus, it does concern both them and everyone else, mostly Han Chinese, who live in Jilin, Heilongjiang, and Liaoning, as multiple officials from these provinces have been indicted in only the last year or two on corruption charges. This shows no sign of slowing down.

Manchu culture has been in decline overall for centuries. Even in the reign of the Qianlong Emperor the language was being overtaken by Mandarin, and today very few Manchus speak their own language, practice traditional shamanism, wear traditional dress, or otherwise do things that are unmistakably Manchu. However, traditional cuisine is still going strong, as food always seems to. This generally consists of soups, stews, and various wheat-based products, including steamed dumplings, and has spread through China; variations and relatives of Manchu food can even be found in the US and around the world. Music has also survived somewhat. While it may be hard to compete with mainstream pop (almost by definition), Manchu artists, both in folk and other genres, have enjoyed some success. Possibly the best known is Akšan, who writes in both Manchu and Mongolian and often combines traditional instruments and styles with modern rock and roll. His music can be found on YouTube and is worth a look.

My research did in fact answer my questions, something that I’d doubted would happen at a few points. The Manchus are, overall, distinct from Han people mostly by name, which may partly explain why so little has been written about them. They speak Mandarin, wear modern Chinese clothing, and have abandoned many of the things that make ethnicities into true nations. Other ethnicities are more “interesting,” and so get more scholarship. However, Manchu culture isn’t dead, and it may not be so for a while; organizations exist that are attempting to resurrect the language and religion, for example. As for where they’ll be in 2020, it seems likely that there will be fewer native Manchu speakers but possibly more enthusiasts. Corruption will likely be as bad as it is now. With some luck, their economy will improve, but the Chinese coast will likely feel any economic upturn before Manchuria does.

2 thoughts on “The Manchus – Abstract

  1. Tyler Greening

    You specify that there were few modern references to the Manchus, so first I must congratulate you on the amount of information you were able to find. However, you focus heavily on what they were like in the past and not so much how they’ll be in 2020. My question to you is this: is there any way that the Manchus would be able to experience a revival of their culture in the near future? Do they embrace technology and thus could use social media to create an interest in their culture? Would there be any way of them spreading their culture to other parts of the world where it may be more successful (and therefore avoid the corruption in China)?

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  2. Yangfan Pan

    We both did our project on Manchu; it is very interesting to me to see different perspectives of how other people think about them. You definitely talked about how the development impacts the Manchu community in your abstract, and negatively impacts the Manchu. Manchu cultures and languages are slowing disappearing, and many people are losing interest in the Manchu group. Most of the younger generation only receives their knowledge about Manchu group from the TV drama show. In addition, we both found out that the Manchu people are spread out in the urban areas and wear the modern Chinese clothing, which is different from some ethnic minority groups that use tourism to get their income.

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