‘A Collection of Data on the Peoples Living in Middle Asia in Ancient Times’ is a work by the outstanding Russian Sinologist N. Ya. Bichurin, known under his monastic name Hyacinth.
Nowadays, specialists consider his work as a unique one for that time – both in the volume of materials, and in the quality of translation from Chinese into Russian; in those aspects it was ahead of its time. The first publication took place in 1851; the second – in 1950-1953, under the initiative of the Ac. of Sc. of the U.S.S.R.; there is an opinion, that the author made the book on the order of the Ac. of Sc. in 1846, but archive materials testify that the initiative was his own. A demand on such book was produced with the growing military and political presence of the Russian Empire in the Middle Asia in the mid-nineteenth century. The book contains mane Chinese documents with descriptions of the history and common-day life of local peoples. Those sources were given by author in their diversity and in a complete way, and in exact translation – with variant readings, and historical and geographical comments. Such method of publication was not absolutely new for the oriental studies of those times. The sources of that book provided rich information on the peoples of the Middle and Central Asia, Manchuria, Eastern Turkestan, South Siberia, Afghanistan, Iran, Asia Minor, and Northern India. The first part was on the Central Asia and South Siberia; the second part – on Manchuria, Korea and Japan; it reflected many years of work by B., his studies and purposeful collecting materials on the history of the peoples of the region in question, and their connections with each other and with China. He started that work in Beijing, during his service at the Russian Ecclesiastic Mission; it is known, that after fourteen years of stay there, he returned to Russia with a caravan loaded with books. Father Hyacinth was not only a deep connoisseur of China in its history and modernity, but also a kind of philosopher; he was inclined to see inner connections of mentality, customs and religious views of peoples, and he put much attention to local beliefs. He stressed that it was necessary to get ‘an exact understanding of religion, another way we would not be able to see the connections between the cause and the effect’. To implement that idea, he included a vast complex of data on customs, religious beliefs and practices of the peoples of the Middle Asia, particularly, on their funeral rituals, marriage and family traditions, conceptions of gods and spirits, their temples and sanctuaries.