We put our bags down in the office and then headed over to a little building near the school gate. It’s the school museum — if you go in the school gate, it’s just to the right. On the way over, I asked Shi Junguang, one of the school’s two Manchu teachers, how he started learning Manchu when he was little.
SJG: 小的时候， 就是， 爷爷奶奶他们，就是老人们说满语了我也听不懂。但是，当时吧，他们就是教我们一些简单的词汇。唉。咋说呀？ 见到什么东西啦，介绍我们怎么叫。这是简单东西。或者诶，上学之候呢，到五六年级我们教的是赵金纯教育事变语。到中学阶段就是主要学习了。所以就断了这个阶段，完了倒是，高中毕业了之后，完了下来学的。当时，具有这个理想就是长大以后这个三家语言，就是赵老师当时介绍给我们说，全国来说保留非常好了。就是希望这些学生能传承一下。我就是有这种志向，所以始终这方面做这个。
Me: How did you start studying Manchu, when you were little?
SJG: When I was little, when my grandparents spoke Manchu, I couldn’t understand them. But at that time they taught us a simple vocabulary. When we saw an object, they would tell us what to call it. Or after I started going to school, in 5th or 6th grade we studied Zhao Jinchun’s educational methods. When we went to middle school it was the most important time for study, so at that time we stopped. After graduating from high school we started again. At that time, the goal was that after we grow up, the language of Sanjiazi, well, our teacher, Mr Zhao, told us then that here it was preserved best in the whole country. He hopes that we can hand it down. This is my aspiration, too, so this is what I’ve been engaged in all along.
It’s important to note that he’s not a native speaker. The only native speakers left are above 80 years old, and there are only less than ten, I believe. We’ll meet some of them in later posts.
In his answer he says that he stopped studying Manchu while he was attending middle school and high school (grades 7-12) because “it was the most important time for study”. This shows a peculiar element of the average Chinese citizen’s perspective on education: math and Chinese language are considered “real” things to study, and Manchu (or anything else) is not. (Click for bigger pictures. Mouse-over for titles.)
He asks me in Manchu if I can speak Manchu:
My “huh?” before he repeats the question sums up my range of potential answers.
However, after listening to it at home many times and consulting no fewer than four books, I think what he said was: si manju gisun gisurehe mutembinio?
si = you
manju gisun = Manchu language
gisureme = speak (converb)
mutembinio = can (with question ending)
Notice the SOV (subject, object, verb) sentence structure, similar to Japanese and Korean. A converb is a verb that is not the main verb in a sentence. These are used much the same way secondary English verbs are used in subordinate clauses, or with coordinators, like “and”. The word mutembi is the simple present form, and the -nio is a question suffix that can be put on the end of a verb as one way to make a question.
I’m a little puzzled why there is no be beween gisun and gisureme. Usually, direct objects in Manchu are marked by be. I don’t know if it just got swallowed up, or if there is a grammatical reason for its omission.
A quick peek in the next room shows that there is a nice computer room, with decent computers. I asked Mr Shi if he had internet access, and he said no, and that the nearest internet bar was always filled up with people playing games, so he could never get a seat. What an ironic tragedy. He’s the one person who is charged with passing on the Manchu language, and he can’t even communicate with the Manchu enthusiasts scattered across the globe who are rooting for him.
Looking around the two or three museum rooms, we see some antiques:
“Galaha” (3rd picture) is a game played using sheep’s knuckles. Players roll the sheep’s knuckles, then they throw a small ball (or another sheep’s knuckle) into the air and, while the ball is in the air, try to arrange all of the sheep’s knuckles to be in the same position, and then catch the ball. Then they throw the ball again and see if they can pick them up and then catch the ball with the same hand. Of course there are many variations of this game. According to this, it is mentioned, along with the “nine interlinks” (4th picture) in 红楼梦 (hónglóumèng, Dream of the Red Chamber). Galaha is regarded as a Manchu thing, and the name for the game in Chinese (嘎拉哈, gālāhà) is simply a transliteration of the Manchu. I don’t know if the nine interlinks puzzle is of Manchu origin specifically or not, but from looking around the net a bit, it appears to be of Chinese origin at least. If anyone knows more about these, please let us know in the comments.
In the main room there are also three montages on the wall depicting Sanjiazi’s development.
A translation of the Chinese captions follows (notice how random they are):
- Former Manchu residences
- The old schoolhouse
- 1996 school song and dance competition
- Young Pioneers initiation ceremony
- 1997 performance celebrating Hong Kong’s return
- Dance performance
- Participating in village-level sports day
- 1998 Children’s Day performance
- The new school’s appearance
- Expert passing on Manchu language knowledge
- Manchu class
- Attentively studying Manchu
- A glance at the Manchu village
- Smooth, flat village road
- New Manchu residences
- Party and government leaders’ enthusiastic support
- City and county leaders watch a Manchu class
- Foreign experts come to do research
- Cash cows: “black & white flowers”
- A corner of the park
- Happy ethnic dance
- Modernized dairy production facility
- Zhongyin irrigation canal supplies an abundant source of water for Sanjiazi rice paddy production
There are also two enlarged Manchu documents posted on the wall.
As intriguing as they are, I’m not going to translate them just now. I’ll save that for a rainy day, if another intrepid soul doesn’t beat me to it. The titles are jakvn gvsa (Eight Banners), and ilan boo tacikv i suduri (History of Sanjiazi School). It’s amazing how deep one can go into things. Look at the how in the two documents, the words are split between lines — they sometimes get cut off at the bottom and then continue at the top of the next line! I’ve never seen that happen before in Manchu script. And in the second document, there is a horizontal space dividing two “horizontal columns” (since the writing is vertical).