Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period/Erdeni

ERDENI 額爾德尼, d. 1623, of the Manchu Plain Yellow Banner, was a member of the Nara clan whose ancestral home was in Duyengge 都英額. He distinguished himself as a youth by his knowledge of the Mongol and Chinese languages and after joining the service of Nurhaci [q. v.] was useful to him as an interpreter and was given the title, baksi (巴克什, professor). Prior to 1599 there was no system of writing in use among the Manchus, so that it was necessary, before messages and proclamations could be transmitted, to translate them into Mongol which was written in vertical columns from left to right. In 1599 Nurhaci ordered Erdeni and Gagai 噶蓋 (d. 1599) to evolve a written medium for the Manchu speech. They are said to have replied in favor of continuing Mongol as an international language, but at Nurhaci's insistence they adopted the practice of writing the native Manchu words in a modified form of the Mongol alphabet. Gagai was executed in the same year, but Erdeni and others began translating a number of Chinese works into the Manchu tongue, thus laying the foundation of a national literature.

Despite these services Erdeni appears to have fallen into disfavor with Nurhaci. Anticipating the confiscation of his property, he entrusted a quantity of gold and pearls to his brother-in-law. When these were discovered in 1623 Erdeni and his wife were executed on the charge of accumulating and concealing valuables. Nurhaci's successor, Abahai [q. v.], ordered that Erdeni should be posthumously adopted into the Hešeri clan, into the family of the brothers Šose and Hife (for both, see under Songgotu) who were also from Duyengge and who had also played an important part in the formation of the Manchu language. In 1654 Erdeni was granted by Emperor Shih-tsu the posthumous name Wên-ch'êng 文成. The system of writing developed by Erdeni continued in use until 1632 when it was revised by Dahai [q. v.]. Manuscripts in the earlier form are rare, but about thirty volumes of them have been found in the Palace Museum, accompanied by translations into "modern" pointed Manchu made in the Ch'ien-lung period.

[1/234/1a; 2/4/9b; 3/115/1a; 4/3/18a; 11/8/28b; 34/147/11a; 滿洲老檔秘錄 Man-chou lao-tang mi-lu (1920) 1/33b; Li Tê-ch'i 李德啟, "Origin and Evolution of the Manchu Language" (in Chinese) Bul. Nat. Lib. Peking, Vol. V, No. 6; Wylie, Chinese Researches (1897) pp. 253–271; Laufer, Skizze der Manjurischen Literatur, Revue orientale, vol. IX, 1908, pp. 1–53; Fuchs, Walter, Beiträge zur Mandjurischen Bibliographie und Literatur (1936).]

George A. Kennedy