Stephen Copley Research Report: Serena Qihui Pei on Thomas Manning

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Firstly, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to BARS for offering me a Stephen Copley Research Award in support of my research trip to China for the project on Thomas Manning. I used the funding to carry out my research in the National Historical Archive, Peking University and Fudan University. Through these experiences, I gained more information about Manning’s record in China, which has been forgotten for centuries. 

At the library in Peking University, I found the very first publication on Thomas Manning in China – the Chinese translation of Clements R. Markham’s Narratives of the Mission of George Bogle to Tibet and of the Journey of Thomas Manning to Lhasa, which was published in 2002. The book was entitled with a poetic line before its direct translation from the original title: “Knocking on the door of the snowy plateau” (Original texts: 叩響雪域高原的門扉). For many years, in mainland China, Manning’s name only exists in Chinese Tibetology among Chinese academic research. For example, there is one article entitled “Notes on Thomas Manning’s Journey to Lhasa according to Chinese sources” written by the influential Tibetologist professor Liu Shengqi in English in 2014. This is the only publication from mainland China about Manning, except that translation of Markham’s Narratives.

A person standing next to a statue

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(the sculpture of Laozi in Peking University)

My research in the National Historical Archive was fruitful, as there exist a series of documents about Manning, which were sent by Yang Chun and Qing Hui, (the Ambans, who were given order by the Emperor as local officials in Tibetan area) to the Emperor Jiaqing, dated through the period from 1811 to 1812, the time when Manning was in Tibet. This is the only place in the mainland China, as found so far, containing the first-hand materials about Thomas Manning. We can see that, as for Chinese people, it is more striking to know that Manning was the first European to visit Lhasa since the Capuchins, and to know that unlike his predecessors, George Bogle and Samuel Turner, Manning followed a proper procedure to apply for an official permission to visit Lhasa as a foreigner from Calcutta. Although, they shared the same ultimate goal: reaching Beijing through the pathway from Tibet, and Manning must have been inspired by their previous plan after experiencing all the obstacles on entering interior area of China, when he was in Canton. However, his ultimate goal was luckily kept unknown to Tibetan officials, as they thought that Manning was one of the missionaries. Particularly, in one document in the Nationalities Category of the Historical Archive in Beijing, dated on the 14th day of the 12th month of the 16th year of Jiaqing (same as January 27, 1812), it is recorded that Manning attempted to secretly preach Christianity in the guise of a Buddhist pilgrim. (Original texts: “夷人馬吝… 假借朝佛之名,希圖暗中傳教.” And ‘馬吝’ is the Chinese name for Manning given by those Tibetan officials.)

After my visit in Peking University, I visited Fudan University in Shanghai, where I had a wonderful discussion with Professor Chen Zhenghong, one of the leading experts in Chinese Special Collections and Rare Books. He mentioned that several books in Manning’s Chinese book collection are rare books indeed. For example, one Daoist work Zhuangzi (ca. 3rd BC, the second Daoist canonical masterpiece after Dao De Jing), one Confucianist work Xing Li Da Quan (ca.1415) and some secular novels in Ming and Qing Dynasty. In the meantime, he gave me much practical advice on the development of archival research skills.

Once more, I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to BARS for offering me a Stephen Copley Research Award. With its support, I gained better understanding of Thomas Manning’s life in China with more helpful first-hand materials about Chinese officials’ attitudes towards him at that time as well as his stay in Tibet. I was inspired so much by those archival materials which I found during my research trip in the National Archives, Peking University and Fudan University. From these experiences, I obtained new ideas of my project, and helpful suggestions from local experts on those specific questions.

Serena Qihui Pei

Serena Qihui Pei is a PhD candidate at University College London. Her research interests focus on British Romanticism and its connections to China and Chinese traditions, such as culture, literature, and philosophy. Her current project explores the life of Thomas Manning in China as well as his Chinese book collections, to investigate Manning’s understanding of old Chinese philosophies; particularly, Daoism and Confucianism.