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About the project: 

Weaving Onomastic Tapestries: Corpus-Building and Analysis of Non-Chinese Names in Northeastern China, 1368–1948 



Funding Period: January 2018 to March 2021

General Research Fund (Grant No.17601317) by the Hong Kong Research Grants Council

The project aims to deepen the scholarly understanding of the social and cultural diversity of Northeast China from 1368 to 1948 BCE through the onomastic study of non-Han Chinese names. “Northeast China” is defined by political and cultural parameters. It includes present-day eastern Inner Mongolia and the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning and other areas that now belong to other administrative units, including the Russian Federation. The research focuses specifically on the names of non-Han Chinese persons because their names have been less studied and systematically analyzed than those of Han Chinese individuals. The work addresses two major research questions by compiling a critical mass of data and generating reference material for scholars working in various disciplines. These questions are 1) How did Qing imperial rule influence how the personal and communal (tribe, clan) names of the non-Han populations of Northeast China were recorded? 2) Can those names be attributed to particular populations or did people of different social and cultural groups use them in the same or similar forms?


The research to address those questions was conducted in three steps.

1) The first step was to compile as many non-Han Chinese names as possible during the period under study. The beginning and endpoints of the period were chosen to allow comparison between pre-Qing and Qing data. The study starts before the Qing dynasty to establish the context prior to the political rise of the Manchus and subsequent founding of the Latter Jin and Qing states. The endpoint reflects the fact that throughout the Republican period (1911—1949), non-Han Chinese groups both retained the social organization of the Qing and used their native languages as their primary or sole language.


2) The second step was to analyze the aggregate data by discerning how names were utilized within society and among such sub-groups as clans and families. Because the data includes both names in their original form and transcribed into Chinese characters, it was examined to discern how names were transcribed over time and what characters were used to represent particular sounds.

3) The third step was to organize and make the data available both online and in print to the public and to give presentations at academic meetings ranging from international gatherings of scholars such as the Association for Asian Studies and specialized conferences for data curation, Qing history, and regional studies of Northeast China.


The project’s long-term impact is most obvious in the future use of the resulting dataset by scholars worldwide studying Northeast China and, more broadly, Chinese history. It sets a new standard in the citation of names by educating scholars who are not formally trained in the region’s languages to refer to individuals accurately and to learn more about their socio-cultural origins. The project also is part of a greater, long-term endeavor to aggregate and curate data on names in other parts of China during the Qing era, including the southwest and northwest regions of the country.

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