Biggest collection of Minnan manuscripts dated by Taiwan-Spain team

The biggest collection of manuscripts documenting the Minnan dialect, which was spoken by the majority of arrivals in Taiwan and Southeast Asia from the southern part of Fujian province in mainland China�the main source of migration to the island and region during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911)�was recently dated to the 17th century by a Taiwan-Spain research team.

Comprising nearly 20,000 words and phrases, along with their pronunciations and explanations in Spanish, the 1,000 plus-page Vocabulario de la Lengua Chio Chiu was confirmed as being produced by Spanish settlers in the Philippines between 1626 and 1642. Chio Chiu refers to present-day Zhangzhou, the southernmost city of Fujian.

The announcement was made April 14 by the researchers from Academia Sinica's Institute of Taiwan History in Taipei City, National Tsing-Hua University in northern Taiwan's Hsinchu City, and Spain's Barcelona-based Pompeu Fabra University and University of Seville.

Chen Tsung-jen, an associate research fellow at the AS institute, said the manuscripts�part of the collections of the University of Santo Tomas in Manila�were produced in an effort to introduce Christianity to the burgeoning ethnic Chinese community. Tens of thousands of people from Zhangzhou were drawn to Manila in the late 16th century by the massive infusion of silver from the Americas into the Spanish colony, he added.

According to Chen, this ethnic Chinese community was the main reference for the manuscripts, which contain many phrases providing a valuable glimpse into the lives of the newcomers and the unique culture of southern mainland China. For example, the researchers discovered the phrase sey muy hong, which refers to a moral punishment inflicted on individuals for breaking marriage vows or dishonoring others, still exists in certain parts of Taiwan 400 years later, he said.

The manuscripts are expected to inspire new research in many areas like the Spanish perspective of ethnic Chinese communities in Southeast Asia and the development of the Minnan dialect in the region. They will also create new opportunities for cross-border scholarly exchanges under the government's New Southbound Policy, he added.

A key component of the government's national development strategy, the New Southbound Policy seeks to deepen Taiwan's agricultural, business, cultural, educational, tourism and trade ties with the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states, six South Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand.

Supported by Taipei-headquartered Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, the team's work comes under the auspices of a three-year project between AS and NTHU to establish a Taiwan-mainland China historical archive featuring data from institutions in Spain and the Philippines.

Source: Taiwan Today