Conventionally characterized as a perfunctory exercise established to bolster the ranks of Manchu officials, the Qing dynasty civil service translation examination, and its accompanying curriculum of literary and classical training, played a major role in the development of literary-intellectual values among members of the Eight Banners. This article demonstrates how it contributed to the emergence of a multiethnic population of Manchu, Mongol, and Chinese bannermen possessing high levels of Manchu literacy who would become consumers and producers of Manchu literature, translations, and textbooks, engendering a literati culture that extended beyond the administrative concerns of the court. While the Manchu language is commonly considered to have become moribund by the late eighteenth century, the translation examination highlights its continued, and in certain contexts growing, significance into the early twentieth century. These findings require a reexamination of Manchu cultural identity beyond imperial ideology and the role of non-Han peoples in literati culture more broadly. They also provide new insights into the classicizing potential of vernacular languages within the linguistic ecologies of early modern East Asia.

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