Paul Pelliot

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Paul Pelliot
Paul Pelliot
Born (1878-05-28)May 28, 1878
Paris, France
Died October 26, 1945(1945-10-26) (aged 67)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Fields Sinology
Known for Dunhuang manuscripts discovery

Paul Pelliot (28 May 1878 – 26 October 1945) was a French Sinologist and explorer of Central Asia. Initially intending to enter the Foreign Service, Pelliot took up the study of Chinese and became a pupil of Sylvain Lévi and Édouard Chavannes.

Pelliot worked at École française d'Extrême-Orient in Hanoi, from where he was dispatched in 1900 to Beijing to search for Chinese books for the École's library. While there, he was caught up in the Boxer Rebellion and trapped in the siege of foreign legations. Pelliot made two forays into enemy territory during the siege—one to capture an enemy standard and another to obtain fresh fruit for those under siege. For his bravery, he received the Légion d'honneur. At age 22, Paul Pelliot returned to Hanoi, where he was made a Professor of Chinese at the École. He was later elected professor at the Collège de France.

Rediscovery of Funan[edit]

Pelliot's first great scholarly achievement was the publication of his monograph "Le Fou-nan" in the journal Bulletin de l'École française d'Extrême Orient. The ancient kingdom of Funan had existed in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam from approximately the 1st to the 6th century A.D. However, its history was not well-understood. Pelliot brought together the source-texts regarding this polity that he could find in the dynastic histories of China, translated them into French, and drew upon them in writing the first modern history of Funan.[1] While some of Pelliot's conclusions regarding Funan have been criticized, chiefly on account of his reliance on the Chinese sources, in general his work has been validated by subsequent archeological excavation in southern Vietnam of sites belonging to the Óc Eo culture, which is thought to be the material culture of Funan.

The Expedition[edit]

Mission Pelliot map

Pelliot's expedition left Paris on June 17, 1906. His three-man team included Dr. Louis Vaillant, an Army medical officer, and Charles Nouette, a photographer. Aboard the train in Samarkand, the Frenchmen met Baron Gustaf Mannerheim, a colonel in the Russian Imperial Army. Pelliot had agreed to allow the army officer, disguised as an ethnographic collector, to travel with his expedition. Mannerheim was actually carrying out a secret mission for Tsar Nicholas II to collect intelligence on the reform and modernization of the Qing Dynasty.[2] The Tsar was assessing the possibility of a Russian invasion of Western China. Mannerheim was the last Tsarist agent in the so-called Great Game, the struggle for empire between Russia and Britain in Inner Asia. Pelliot fully endorsed Mannerheim's participation, and even offered himself as an informant to the Russian General Staff. In return, the Frenchman demanded free passage on the Trans-Caspian Railway,a personal and confidential payment of ten thousand francs and a Cossack escort. These were granted, and the payment even doubled.[3]

Pelliot examines manuscripts in the Mogao Caves

The expedition traveled to Chinese Turkestan by rail through Moscow and Tashkent to Andijan, where they mounted horses and carts to Osh. From here, they travelled across the Alai Mountains of southern Kyrgyzstan over the Taldyk Pass and Irkeshtam Pass to China. Near the town of Gulcha, the expedition met Kurmanjan Datka, the famed Muslim Queen of Alai and posed for a photograph with her.[4] Mannerheim and Pelliot did not get along, and parted ways two days after leaving Irkeshtam Pass.[5] The French team arrived in Kashgar at the end of August, staying with the Russian consul-general (the successor to Nikolai Petrovsky). Pelliot amazed the local Chinese officials with his fluent Chinese (only one of the 13 languages he spoke). His efforts were to pay off shortly, when his team began obtaining supplies (like a yurt) previously considered unobtainable.

His first stop after leaving Kashgar was Tumxuk. From there, he proceeded to Kucha, where he found documents in the lost language of Kuchean. These documents were later translated by Sylvain Lévi, Pelliot's former teacher. After Kucha, Pelliot went to Ürümqi, where they encountered Duke Lan, whose brother had been a leader of the Boxer Rebellion. Duke Lan, who was the deputy chief of the Peking gendarmerie and participated in the siege, was in permanent exile in Ürümqi.[6]

In Ürümqi, Pelliot heard about a find of manuscripts at the Silk Road oasis of Dunhuang from Duke Lan. The two had a bittersweet reunion. Pelliot had been in the French legation in Peking while Duke Lan and his soldiers were besieging the foreigners during the Boxer Rebellion. They reminisced about old times and drank champagne. Duke Lan also presented Pelliot with a sample Dunhuang manuscript. Recognizing its antiquity and archaeological value, Pelliot quickly set off for Dunhuang, but arrived there months after Aurel Stein had already visited the site.[7]

At Dunhuang, Pelliot managed to gain access to Abbot Wang's secret chamber, which contained a massive hoard of ancient manuscripts already observed by Sir Aurel Stein. Like the yurt in Kashgar, it is believed that Pelliot's abilities with the Chinese language played an important role here. After three weeks of analyzing the manuscripts, often at a rate of 1000 a day, Pelliot convinced Wang to sell him a selection of the most important ones. Wang, who was interested in continuing the refurbishment of his monastery, agreed to the price of 500 taels (£ 90).

The return and later years[edit]

Pelliot returned to Paris on October 24, 1909, to a vicious smear campaign mounted against himself, Édouard Chavannes (a fellow sinologist) and the staff of the École. Pelliot was accused of wasting public money and returning with forged manuscripts. This campaign came to a head with a December 1910 article in La Revue Indigène by Fernand Farjenel (died 1918) of the Collège libre des sciences sociales (fr). At a banquet on 3 July 1911 Pelliot struck Farjenel, and a court case followed.[8] These charges were not proven false until Sir Aurel Stein's book, Ruins of Desert Cathay, appeared in 1912. In his book, Stein made it clear that he had left manuscripts behind in Dunhuang. Stein's book vindicated Pelliot and silenced his critics.

For many years, he was a contributor to the journal, T'oung Pao and became its editor in 1920.

Pelliot served as French military attaché in Beijing during World War I. He died of cancer in 1945. Upon his death, it was said that "Without him, sinology is left like an orphan."

The Guimet Museum in Paris has a gallery named after him.

Works and publications[edit]

  • Tamm, Eric Enno. "The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds: A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road and the Rise of Modern China". Vancouver, Douglas & Mcintyre, 2010. ISBN 978-1-55365-269-4.
  • Pelliot (with E. Chavannes), "Un traité manichéen retrouvé en Chine", Journal asiatique 1911, pp. 499–617; 1913, pp. 99–199, 261-392.
  • " Les influences iraniennes en Asie Centrale et en Extrême-Orient," Revue d'histoire et de littérature religieuses, N.S. 3, 1912, pp. 97–119.
  • "Mo-ni et manichéens," Journal asiatique 1914, pp. 461–70.
  • "Le 'Cha-tcheou-tou-fou-t'ou-king' et la colonie sogdienne de la region du Lob Nor", Journal asiatique 1916, pp. 111–23.
  • "Le sûtra des causes et des effets du bien et du mal". Edité‚ et traduit d'après les textes sogdien, chinois et tibétain par Robert Gauthiot et Paul Pelliot, 2 vols (avec la collaboration de E. Benveniste), Paris, 1920.
  • "Les Mongols et la Papauté. Documents nouveaux édités, traduits et commentés par M. Paul Pelliot" avec la collaboration de MM. Borghezio, Masse‚ and Tisserant, Revue de l'Orient chrétien, 3e sér. 3 (23), 1922/23, pp. 3–30; 4(24), 1924, pp. 225–335; 8(28),1931, pp. 3–84.
  • "Les traditions manichéennes au Foukien," T'oung Pao, 22, 1923, pp. 193–208.
  • "Neuf notes sur des questions d'Asie Centrale," T'oung Pao, 24, 1929, pp. 201–265.
  • Notes sur Marco Polo, ed. L. Hambis, 3 vols., Paris 1959-63.
  • Notes on Marco Polo, (English version), Imprimerie nationale, librairie Adrien-Maisonneuve, Paris. 1959-63
  • "Recherches sur les chrétiens d'Asie centrale et d'Extrême-Orient I, Paris, 1973.
  • "L'inscription nestorienne de Si-ngan-fou", ed. avec supléments par Antonino Forte, Kyoto et Paris, 1996.
  • P. Pelliot et L. Ηambis, "Histoire des campagnes de Gengizkhan", vol. 1, Leiden, 1951.
  • * Marco Polo: The Description of the World. 1938. Translated and edited by A. C. Moule & Paul Pelliot. 2 Volumes. George Routledge & Sons, London. Downloadable from [1] ISBN 4-87187-308-0
  • Marco Polo Transcription of the Original in Latin (with Arthur Christopher Moule) ISBN 4-87187-309-9
  • P. Pelliot, "Artistes des Six Dynasties et des T’ang", T’oung Pao 22, 1923.
  • "Quelques textes chinois concernant l'Indochine hindouisśe." 1925. In: Etudes Asiatiques, publiées à l'occasion du 25e anniversaire de l'EFEO.- Paris: EFEO, II: 243-263.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pelliot, Paul (1903). "Le Fou-nan". BEFEO 3: 248–303. 
  2. ^ Tamm 2010, p. 59
  3. ^ Tamm 2010, p. 60
  4. ^ Tamm 2010, p. 89
  5. ^ Tamm 2010, p. 108
  6. ^ Tamm 2010, p. 179
  7. ^ Tamm 2010, p. 201
  8. ^ "100, 75, 50 Years Ago". 2011-10-26. Retrieved 2012-12-11. 

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