Ákos Bertalan Apatóczky

Ákos Bertalan Apatóczky
Department of Chinese Studies
Károli University Budapest, Hungary

During the time of the Yuan dynasty, the Mongol empire of steppe origin was not the first
in history to face the linguistic difficulties caused by a multilingual realm. Former nomadic
dynasties from the Northern Wei up until the Jin dynasty struggled with similar problems.
However, Yuan was the first dynasty to establish a special imperial office dedicated to the tasks related to interpretation, the Hui Tong Guan 會同館 (1276), the Bureau of Interpreters.
With the fall of the Yuan, the new and last native Chinese dynasty, the Ming, also
recognized the importance of this kind of offices. They have not only kept the bureau unharmed, but further developed the system of such agencies with the establishment of the Si Yi Guan 四夷館 (1407), the Bureau of Translators. These bureaus produced a huge number of bilingual documents.
When the Manchu Qing dynasty also of nomadic origin replaced the Ming, they likewise
retained the offices, but firstly, since they considered the Chinese name of the Bureau of
Translators derogative, they changed it to a more neutral one Si yi Guan 四譯館, and eventually merged the two main bureaus into the Huitong Si yi Guan 會同四譯館 in 1748. The bureau kept publishing bilingual glossaries until the end of the Qing era, but the quality of the transcriptions had deteriorated significantly compared to the original system that was abundantly equipped with diacritical characters to render foreign phonemes.
In this presentation, I will review the history and role of the above bureaus in the course of
subsequent but culturally utterly heterogenous dynasties as well as in Chinese literacy.