The Peking Tongwen Guan (京师同文馆), also known as the School of Combined Learning, T’ung-wen Kuan or Tungwen College, was established during the late Qing Dynasty when the empire was confronted with both military and diplomatic defeats. The school was officially founded in 1862 and eventually incorporated into the Imperial University of Peking (京师大学堂) in 1902, after having operated for 40 years. Its original mission was to “train the translators needed in Sino-Western diplomacy” (Guo and Liu 1978: 525) for the crumbling empire. As the first foreign language school run by the government in modern times, the establishment of Tongwen Guan not only marks the beginning of the modernization of education in China, but also initiates the practice of training interpreters and translators in modern Chinese government-funded schools (Biggerstaff 1961). In the book under review, the author comprehensively discusses the foreign language education offered at Tongwen Guan from the perspectives of its founding, course design, schooling system, instructor recruitment, student enrolment, management, teaching and translation activities, with a special focus on the role of translation as a teaching method in training interpreters and of books of Western knowledge translated by the instructors and students at the school. In a word, this book addresses many issues with translation being only one of the foci. The whole book is composed of eight chapters. The Introduction offers a systematic review of the academic history of Tongwen Guan. Scholars from many disciplines, especially history, have discussed its importance and influence. The author however works from the perspective of foreign language education and translation studies, which enriches the existing knowledge on Tongwen Guan (p. 30). Overall, in the last decade, the evaluation and assessment of Tongwen Guan have become more objective and studies have also increased significantly. In Chapter 1, the author explores the underlying reasons for the establishment of Tongwen Guan and its evolution. The author argues that the establishment of this school has its internal and external causes. Internal causes include China being in a diplomatic dilemma at that time. Due to the First and Second Opium Wars, China had to train qualified interpreters and translators to negotiate with Western countries. External causes include the fact that establishing foreign language schools had been advocated and supported by progressive and open-minded officials, such as Feng Guifen (冯桂芬) and Guo Songtao (郭嵩焘), so as to avert a governance crisis in the empire. Their advocacy for training interpreting and translation talents produced some positive effects in the royal court. Prince Gong (奕䜣) and other officials in power then proposed the founding of Tongwen Guan in 1861 and it was formally established in 1862. In the early stages, only foreign languages were taught with the goal of training interpreters and translators. Later, in 1869, the former American interpreter and missionary William Alecander Parsons Martin was officially appointed the chief instructor or headmaster of the school, thanks to the recommendation of Robert Hart, the Inspector-General of China’s Imperial Maritime Custom Service. With the support of Hart, Martin carried out drastic reforms and the school’s situation gradually improved. Chapter 2 describes the faculty at Tongwen Guan, including foreign and native Chinese instructors. The author gives a full account of these instructors at Tongwen Guan in terms of their recruitment, professional accomplishments and treatment as well as their contributions. There were 51 foreign instructors from several foreign countries and 32 native Chinese instructors in total. A noteworthy thing is that their names, nationalities, arrival dates, subjects and academic qualifications are provided in detail. Many foreign instructors had a background in interpreting or translating. Among them, W.A.P. Martin, the chief instructor, who …
- Biggerstaff, Knight (1961): The Earliest Modern Government Schools in China. New York: Cornell University Press.
- Guo, Ting-Yee and Liu, Kwang-Ching (1978): Self-strengthening: the pursuit of Western technology. In: John K. Fairbank, ed. The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 10. Late Ch’ing 1800-1911. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 491-542.
- Lung, Rachel (2016): The Jiangnan Arsenal: A Microcosm of Translation and Ideological Transformation in 19th-century China. Meta. 61(HS):37-52.