Tag Archive | Manchu

New Story: A Burden of Transmuting Metal

Most of my blog posts lately have been about new publications! It’s true I’ve had a bumper crop this fall, but after this one you can expect a lull. I’m pleased to announce that my short story “A Burden of Transmuting Metal” came out on Sunday in Silver Blade. You can read it here. You will notice an accompanying graphic depicting a dramatic tornado; this has nearly nothing to do with the story.

Some of my stories are very much inspired by real places (“Lómr” is a clear example of this). Last fall, when I had just arrived in Grinnell, I somehow got the idea to write a story set at a fictionalized version of Grinnell College, my new place of employment. So this is a story of academia, and grad school. (It’s a pretty happy grad school story! I have another less happy grad school story that I’m still shopping.) I also wove in the Manchu class I took as a Ph.D. student. But most importantly, “A Burden of Transmuting Metal” is a portal fantasy that pays homage most explicitly to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

So last November I’m drafting this story about portals in college towns in rural Iowa, and one day I walk onto campus and see this:


It was uncanny.

Almost one year later, the story is published, and the empty doorway is still on campus.

Studying Manchu

Over the summer, an e-mail went around to the linguistics grad students and undergrads advertising a course entitled Qing History Through Manchu Sources. It was essentially a Manchu language course, being taught by a visiting scholar in the history department. The phrases “re-creating the pedagogical experience of a Qing Manchu class” and “the final examination will be modeled on the Qing translation examinations” were very enticing. I tried to persuade some of my colleagues to give in to temptation with me. And, long story short, I’m taking the course. The only other linguist in the class is my friend Isabelle.


Beginning of the bilingual 三字孝經 (Sanzi Xiaojing) (Three Character Classic of Filial Piety)

Manchu is a Tungusic (perhaps Altaic) language written in a beautiful vertical alphabet derived from the Mongol script (it was mainly because of the writing system that I wanted to take the class). It was (one of) the languages of the Manchu Qing Dynasty and over time lost ground to Chinese. Manchu is now extremely endangered (I remember reading this New York Times article about some of the last speakers of Manchu, and it’s nine years old), though the related language Xibe, spoken in western China, has many more speakers.

In the class, we began by learning the Manchu script. Since then, we’ve been translating short texts from primary sources, including dialogues about Manchu life (studying the classics, etc.) and a story about a bird that’s exactly the same as Aesop’s The Crow and the Pitcher. I’ve got the writing system pretty much down, but the grammar is still rather hazy. Class is fun, though, because it’s quite laid back. The instructor makes cracks about the Manchus and occasional asides in Mandarin, only half of which I understand. (As it turns out, just about everybody who’s interested in studying Manchu is either Chinese or speaks Chinese, and my Chinese is probably the worst in the class.)

Somewhat relatedly, I finally finished reading 紅樓夢 (Dream of Red Mansions), more than a month after I saw the opera in San Francisco! There were significant differences between the opera and the book. Now I can finally get to all the other books I’ve been waiting to read! First up is Monstress, which I bought when I visited Tr!ckster in Berkeley.