Manchu Studies by A.V. Grebenshchikov at the Oriental Institute in Vladivostok

Tatiana Pang
(St. Petersburg, Russia)

Manchu Studies by A.V. Grebenshchikov at the Oriental Institute in Vladivostok

(57th Annual Meeting of the PIAC Vladivostok, 2014)

The Oriental institute in Vladivostok was opened in 1899 as a center for practical studies of the Far Eastern countries with the aim to prepare specialists for administrative and trade service in China, Japan and Korea. The Manchu studies were developed as a part of Chinese studies with a special accent on research of Northern Manchuria and boarder areas. They are associated with the name of Aleksandr Vasilievich Grebenshchikov (1880-1941) – professor of the Oriental Institute, a specialist on Manchu language, folklore and religion. After graduating the Oriental institute in 1907, he specialized on phonetics of living languages and made several expeditions through the villages of Northern Manchuria to collect material on Manchu folklore and shamanism. Those studies resulted in publication of his “Short Sketch of Manchu Literature” (1909) and “Manchus, Their Language and Script” (1912), which are of scholarly importance till our days. During folklore expeditions in 1907-1927 Grebenshchikov wrote down in Cyrillic transcription a great number of Manchu tales and asked local informants to collect Manchu manuscripts. One of his major discoveries were three versions of the famous “Tale of Nisan shamaness”, which became known to the scholarly world owing to its publication by M.P. Volkova in 1961 and Giovanni Stary in 1985.

In 1912 Grebenshchikov opened a Laboratory of experimental phonetics at the Oriental institute with the aim to register and study the Manchu spoken language which was gradually disappearing under Chinese language pressure. That was quite a revolutionary attitude to the Manchu language studies, since at that time academic circles in Europe (including St. Petersburg) considered Manchu as a dead language. Unfortunately, not much is known about the work of this Laboratory, only two draft manuscripts by Grebenshchikov on Manchu phonetic structure are kept in the Archives of Orientalists at the Institute of Oriental manuscripts, RAS.

In 1935 Grebenshchikov moved from Vladivostok to Leningrad and headed the Manchu section of the Institute of Oriental studies, where he made a full Russian translation from the Manchu language of “The Imperially approved Code of Manchu shamanic rites”. He did not publish it before the World War II broke out and died in the besieged Leningrad on October 15? 1941. His archives and Manchu materials are kept in St. Petersburg at the Institute of Oriental manuscripts, RAS, and are a precious source for the studies language, culture, economy, geography of Northern China, folklore and shamanism of Manchus, Orochens and Daghurs.