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Paul Pelliot (May 28, 1878–October 26, 1945) was a Frenchmarker 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 Hanoimarker, 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 Francemarker.

The Expedition

Pelliot's expedition left Parismarker on June 17, 1906. His 3-man team included Dr. Louis Vaillant, an Army medical officer, and Charles Nouette, a photographer. The three traveled to Chinese Turkestan by rail through Moscowmarker and Tashkentmarker. The team arrived in Kashgarmarker 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) that were previously considered unobtainable.

His first stop after leaving Kashgar was Tumchuq. From there, he proceeded to Kuchamarker, where he found documents in the lost language of Kuchean. These documents were later translated by Sylvain LĂ©vi, Pelliot's former teacher. After Kucha, Pelliot went to Urumchimarker, where they encountered Duke Lan, whose brother had been a leader of the Boxer Rebellion. Duke Lan was in permanent exile in Urumchi. Pelliot's final stop on his expedition was the famed Dunhuangmarker in February 12, 1908.

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 3 weeks of analyzing the manuscripts, often at a rate of one thousand 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 ( ÂŁ 90).

The Return and Later Years

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 M. Fernand Farjenel. These charges were not proved 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 Tun-huang. Stein's book vindicated Pelliot and silenced Pelliot's critics.

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

Pelliot later 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 Museummarker in Paris has a gallery named after him.

Works and Publications

  • Pelliot (with E. Chavannes), "Un traitĂ© manichĂ©en retrouvĂ© en Chine", Journal asiatique 1911, pp. 499-617; 1913, pp. 99-199, 261-392.
  • " Les influences iraniennes en Asie Centrale et en ExtrĂŞme-Orient," Revue d'histoire et de littĂ©rature religieuses, N.S. 3, 1912, pp. 97-119.
  • "Mo-ni et manichĂ©ens," Journal asiatique 1914, pp. 461-70.
  • "Le 'Cha-tcheou-tou-fou-t'ou-king' et la colonie sogdienne de la region du Lob Normarker", Journal asiatique 1916, pp. 111-23.
  • "Le sĂ»tra des causes et des effets du bien et du mal". Edité‚ et traduit d'après les textes sogdien, chinois et tibĂ©tain par Robert Gauthiot et Paul Pelliot, 2 vols (avec la collaboration de E. Benveniste), Paris, 1920.
  • "Les Mongols et la PapautĂ©. Documents nouveaux Ă©ditĂ©s, traduits et commentĂ©s par M. Paul Pelliot" avec la collaboration de MM. Borghezio, Masse‚ and Tisserant, Revue de l'Orient chrĂ©tien, 3e sĂ©r. 3 (23), 1922/23, pp. 3-30; 4(24), 1924, pp. 225-335; 8(28),1931, pp. 3-84.
  • "Les traditions manichĂ©ennes 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 chrĂ©tiens d'Asie centrale et d'ExtrĂŞme-Orient I, Paris, 1973.
  • "L'inscription nestorienne de Si-ngan-fou", ed. avec suplĂ©ments par Antonino Forte, Kyoto et Paris, 1996.
  • P. Pelliot et L. Ηambis, "Histoire des compagnes de Gengizkhan", vol. 1, Leiden, 1951.


  • Hopkirk, Peter (1980). Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 0-87023-435-8.

  • Walravens, Hartmut (2001). Paul Pelliot (1878-1945): His Life and Works - A Bibliography. Bloomimgton: Indiana University Oriental Studies IX. Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies. ISBN: 0-93307-047-0.

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