Jurchen people

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Jurchen people
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese女眞 (variant)
Korean name
Hangul여진 (S. Korea)
녀진 (N. Korea)
Khitan name name
Khitan namedʒuuldʒi (女直)[2]
Mongolian name name
Mongolian nameЗүрчид
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Jurchen people
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese女眞 (variant)
Korean name
Hangul여진 (S. Korea)
녀진 (N. Korea)
Khitan name name
Khitan namedʒuuldʒi (女直)[2]
Mongolian name name
Mongolian nameЗүрчид

The Jurchens or Jurcheds[3] (Jurchen language:Jurchen.png jušen) were a Tungusic people who inhabited the region of Manchuria (present-day Northeast China) until the 17th century, when they adopted the name Manchu. They established the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234) (Ancun gurun in ancient Jurchen and Aisin gurun in Standard Manchu) between 1115 and 1122, which lasted until 1234 with the arrival of the Mongols. In 1127 the Jurchens during the Jin–Song wars conquered the Northern Song and gained control of most of northern China, where they migrated and adopted the practices of the local Confucian culture.


The form Jurchen dates back to at least the beginning of the tenth century AD, when the Balhae kingdom was destroyed by the Khitans. However, cognate ethnonyms like Sushen or Jichen (稷真)[4] have been recorded in pre-Christian Era geographical works like the Shan Hai Jing and Book of Wei. It comes from the Jurchen word jušen, the original meaning of which is unclear. The standard English version of the name, "Jurchen," is an Anglicized transliteration of the Mongolian equivalent of the Jurchen term jušen (Mongolian: Jürchin, plural is Jürchid), and may have arrived in the West via Mongolian texts.[5] A less common English transliteration is "Jurched".

It is thought by a number of Russian linguists and historians that the Ducher people encountered by Russian explorers on the middle Amur and lower Sungari in the early 1650s (who were evacuated by the Qing authorities further south a few years later) were the descendants of the Amur Jurchens,[6] and that the word "Ducher" itself is simply a variation of jušen.[7]

Mongolian Jürchin and Jurchen/Manchu Jušen are also similar to Joseon (朝鮮), one of the several names of Korea.

Jin Dynasty[edit]

Eurasia before Genghis Khan's conquests, 1200

The 11th century Jurchen tribes of northern Manchuria descended from the Tungusic Mohe, or Malgal tribes who were subjects of the ethnic-Goguryeo state of Balhae. By the 11th century, the Jurchens had become vassals of the Khitans (see also Liao Dynasty).

They rose to power after their leader Wanyan Aguda unified them in 1115, declared himself Emperor, and in 1120 seized Shangjing (上京), also known as Linhuangfu (Traditional Chinese: 临潢府), the Northern Capital of Liao.[8] During the Jin–Song Wars, the Jurchens invaded territories under the Han Chinese Northern Song Dynasty and overran most of northern China, first setting up puppet regimes like Qi and Chu, later directly ruling as a dynastic state in Northern China named Jin ("Gold", not to be confused with the several Jin Dynasties named after the region around Shanxi and Henan). Jin captured the Song capital of Kaifeng in 1127. Their armies pushed all the way south to the Yangtze, but through continued warfare and treaties of diplomacy this boundary with the Han Chinese Southern Song Dynasty was eventually stabilised along the Huai River.

The Jurchen named their Dynasty the Jin ("Golden") after the Anchuhu River (anchuhu is the Jurchen equivalent of Manchu aisin "gold, golden") in their homeland. At first, the Jurchen tribesmen were kept in readiness for warfare, but decades of urban and settled life in China eroded their original hunting-gathering lifestyle in Manchurian tundra and marshes. Eventually intermarriage with other ethnicities in China was permitted and peace with the Southern Song confirmed. The Jin rulers themselves came to follow Confucian norms.

After 1189, the Jin became involved in exhausting wars on two fronts, against the Mongols and the Southern Song dynasty. By 1215, under Mongol pressure, they were forced to move their capital south from Zhongdu (modern day Beijing) to Kaifeng, where the Mongol hordes captured the city in 1232. The emperor fled to a small town, and when it fell to the Mongols in the siege of Caizhou in 1234, the Jin Dynasty was extinguished.

Culture and society[edit]

Stone tortoise from the grave of a 12th-century Jurchen leader in today's Ussuriysk

Among the ancestor tribes of the Jurchens were the Heishui Mohe tribes, which were among the various Mohe tribes living along the Amur River (Black Water).[9] The Jurchens generally lived by traditions that reflected the hunting-gathering culture of Siberian-Manchurian tundra and coastal peoples. Like the Khitans and Mongols, they took pride in feats of strength, horsemanship, archery, and hunting. They engaged in shamanic rituals and believed in a supreme sky goddess (abka hehe, literally sky woman). In the Qing dynasty, bowing to Confucian pressure, this reverence for a female sky deity was switched to a male, sky father, Abka Enduri (abka-i enduri, abka-i han).[10] After conquering China, during the Jin Dynasty, Buddhism became the prevalent religion of the Jurchens, and Daoism was assimilated as well.[11]

The Jurchen made the male Han within their conquered territories shave the tops of their heads and adopt Jurchen dress.[12] This "bald-head" fashion was known as 禿髮 tūfǎ (“Bald-Hair or Stripped-Hair”) to the Chinese.[13] The later Manchus (who were also Jurchens) similarly made Han men shave their heads and adopt the queue (ponytail), or soncoho (Chinese: 辮子 biànzi), the traditional Manchurian hairstyle.

Jurchen society was in some ways similar to that of the Mongols. Both Mongols and Jurchens used the title Khan for the leaders of a political entity, whether "emperor" or "chief". A particularly powerful chief was called beile ("prince, nobleman"), corresponding with the Mongolian beki and Turkish beg or bey. Also like the Mongols and the Turks, the Jurchens did not observe a law of primogeniture. According to tradition, any capable son or nephew could be chosen to become leader.

During Ming times, the Jurchen people lived in social units that were sub-clans (mukun or hala mukun) of ancient clans (hala). Members of Jurchen clans shared a consciousness of a common ancestor and were led by a head man (mukunda). Not all clan members were blood related, and division and integration of different clans was common. Jurchen households (boo) lived as families (booigon) consisting of five to seven blood-related family members and a number of slaves. Households formed squads (tatan) to engage in tasks related to hunting and food gathering and formed companies (niru) for larger activities, such as war.

Until recently, it was uncertain what kind of burial rites existed among the Jurchens. In July 2012 Russian archaeologists discovered a Jurchen burial ground in Partizansky District of Primorye (Primorsky Territory) in Russia. Fifteen graves dating to the 12th or 13th centuries were found, consisting of the grave of a chieftain placed in the centre, with the graves of 14 servants nearby. All the graves contained pots with ashes, prompting the scientists to conclude that the Jurchens cremated the corpses of their dead. The grave of the chieftain also contained a quiver with arrows and a bent sword. The archaeologists propose that the sword was purposely bent, to signify that the owner would no longer need it in earthly life. The researchers planned to return to Primorye to establish whether this was a singular burial or a part of the larger burial ground.[14]


The early Jurchen script was invented in 1120 by Wanyan Xiyin, acting on the orders of Wanyan Aguda. It was based on the Khitan script that was inspired in turn by Chinese characters. The written Jurchen language died out soon after the fall of the Jin Dynasty, though its spoken form survived. Until the end of the 16th century, when Manchu became the new literary language, the Jurchens used a combination of Mongolian and Chinese. The pioneering work on studies of the Jurchen script was done by Wilhelm Grube at the end of the 19th century.

Ming Dynasty[edit]

A Jurchen man hunting from his horse, from a 15th-century ink and color painting on silk.
A late Ming era woodblock print of a Jurchen warrior.

Chinese chroniclers of the Ming Dynasty distinguished three groups of Jurchens: the Wild Jurchens (Chinese:野人女真) of northernmost Manchuria, the Haixi Jurchens (Chinese:海西女真) of modern Heilongjiang (Chinese:黑龍江) and the Jianzhou Jurchens of modern Jilin province. They led a pastoral-agrarian lifestyle, hunting, fishing, and engaging in limited agriculture. In 1388, the Hongwu Emperor dispatched a mission to establish contact with the tribes of Odoli, Huligai and T'owen, beginning the sinicisation of the Jurchen people.

Yongle Emperor (1360 - 1424, r. 1402 - 1424) found allies among the various Jurchen tribes against the Mongols. He bestowed titles and surnames to various Jurchen chiefs and expected them to send periodic tribute. One of Yongle's consorts was a Tungusic Jurchen (Nu chen) princess, which resulted in some of the eunuchs serving him being of Jurchen origin.[15] Chinese commanderies were established over tribal military units under their own hereditary tribal leaders. In the Yongle period alone 178 commanderies were set up in Manchuria, an index of the Chinese divide-and-rule tactics. Later on, horse markets were also established in the northern border towns of Liaodong for trade. The increasing sinification of the Jurchens ultimately gave them the organisation structures to extend their power beyond the steppe. Later, a Korean army led by Yi-Il and Yi Sun-sin would expel them from Korea.

The Jurchen tribe was the predecessor of the Manchu nationality. For a long period of time, it inhabited the areas north and south of the Songhua River(Chinese:松花江) and around the Heilong River. During the late Ming and early Qing eras, the Jurchen tribe in the northeast was divided into 3 parts called Haixi (海西, "west of the sea"), Jianzhou (建洲, "establishing a state") and Yeren (野人, "wild people").

The Yeren tribe lacked a fixed dwelling place. The Haixi and Jianzhou tribes were engaged in fishing, hunting, animal husbandry, and farming, and had relatively fixed abodes. A gap between the rich and the poor and the division of classes emerged. According to standardized nomenclature of socialist historiography, the three tribes were in the patriarchal-slavery stage of the late slavery clan system.

The Ming dynasty had set up a horse market at a Jurchen dwelling-place to carry out trade with the Haixi and Jianzhou tribes, whose main commodities were horse, fur, ginseng, and other special local products. Commodities from the Han regions included iron farming tools, farm cattle, seeds, rice, salt, textiles, etc.

History of the Nurkal Command Post and the achievements of Yishisha[edit]

In 1409, the Ming government set up a post called Nurkal Command Post (NCP) at Telin in the vicinity of Heilong River. The three parts of the Jurchen tribe came under the nominal administration of the NCP,which lasted only 25 years and was abolished in 1434. Leaders of the Haixi and Jianzhou tribes had accepted the Ming government's honorable titles.

From 1411 to 1433, the Ming eunuch Yishiha 亦失哈 (who himself was a Haixi Jurchen by origin[16]) led ten large missions to win over the allegiance of the Jurchen tribes along the Sunggari and Amur rivers. His fleet sailed down the Sunggari into the Amur, and set up the nominal Nurkal (Nu'ergan) Command (奴兒干都司) at Telin 特林 (now, the village of Tyr[17] about 100 km upstream from Nikolayevsk-na-Amure in the Russian Far East) near the mouth of the Amur.

These missions are not well recorded in the Ming dynastic history, but an important source on them is two stone steles erected by Yishiha at the site of the Yongning Temple (Chinese:永宁寺), a Guanyin temple commissioned by him at Telin.[18] The inscriptions on the steles are in four languages: Chinese, Jurchen, Mongol, and Tibetan. There is probably quite a lot of propaganda in the inscriptions, but they give a detailed record of the Ming court's efforts to assert suzerainty over the Jurchen.

After the setting up of the NCP, Yishiha and other Ming dynasty eunuchs, under orders from the Emperor, came several times to promote Ming influences. When Yishiha visited Nuergan for the 3rd time in 1413, he built a temple called Yongning Temple at Telin and erected a stele in front of it. The stele bore an inscription written in 4 languages - Han, Jurchen, Mongolian, and Tibetan.

Yishiha paid his 10th visit to Nuergan in 1432, during which he re-built the titled Yongning Temple and re-erected a stele in front of it. The stele bore the heading "Record of Re-building Yongning Temple". The setting up of the NCP and the repeated declarations to offer blessings to this region by Yishiha and others were all recorded in this and the first steles.

Transition from Jurchens to Manchu[edit]

A 1682 published Italian map showing the "Kingdom of the Niuche" (i.e., Nǚzhēn) or the "Kin (Jin) Tartars", who "have occupied and are at present ruling China", north of Liaodong and Korea

Over a period of thirty years from 1586, Nurhaci, a chieftain of the Jianzhou Jurchens, united the Jurchen tribes, which was later renamed Manchu by his son Hung Taiji. He created a formidable synthesis of nomadic institutions, providing the basis of the Manchu state and later the conquest of China by the Qing dynasty.

The creation of the Manchu ethnic group from the Jurchen people is linked to the creation of the Eight Banners by Hung Taiji.

The Chinese banners were known as the "Nikan" Banners, made out of a massive amount of Chinese POW's and defectors. Jurchen women married those Chinese who had no family with them.[19] There were so many Chinese entering the Banners that there were more of them than the Jurchen.[19]

Attempts by Hung Taiji were made to separate Chinese and Jurchen banners. In Chinese and Jurchen of Liaodong were mix in culture. Many bannermen forged geanealogies of their origin since they did not have any, and then these decided whether or not they were in a Chinese or a Jurchen banner.[19]

The Eight Banners were then created from the old black Chinese banners and Jurchen banners and made equal to each other. The Mongol Eight banners were also created at this time, and anyone who was not classified into a Chinese or a Mongol banner became a Manchu, an ethnic group which Hung Taiji created.[20]

A caste of "degraded" outcasts said to be descended from the Jurchen existed in Ningbo city during the Qing dynasty, around 3,000 people in a class called to min. Samuel Wells Williams gave an account of them in his book "The Middle kingdom: a survey of the ... Chinese empire and its inhabitants":

There are local prejudices against associating with some portions of the community, though the people thus shut out are not remnants of old castes. The tankia, or boat-people, at Canton form a class in some respects beneath the other portions of the community, and have many customs peculiar to themselves. At Ningpo there is a degraded set called to min, amounting to nearly three thousand persons, with whom the people will not associate. The men are not allowed to enter the examinations or follow an honorable calling, but are play-actors, musicians, or sedan-bearers; the women are match-makers or female barbers and are obliged to wear a peculiar dress, and usually go abroad carrying a bundle wrapped in a checkered handkerchief. The tankia at Canton also wear a similar handkerchief on their head, and do not cramp their feet. The to min are supposed to be descendants of the Kin, who held northern China in A.D. 1100, or of native traitors who aided the Japanese, in 1555-1563, in their descent upon Chehkiang. The tankia came from some of the Miautsz' tribes so early that their origin is unknown.[21][22][23][24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Grand dictionnaire Ricci de la langue chinoise. Vol. IV, Liang-P'u. Paris/Taipei: Institut Ricci 2001, p.697.
  2. ^ 遼朝國號非「哈喇契丹(遼契丹)」考
  3. ^ Nahm, Andrew C (1996). Korea: Tradition and Transformation — A History of the Korean People (második kiadás ed.). Elizabeth, NJ: Hollym International. pp. 89–90. ISBN 1-56591-070-2. 
  4. ^ 《汲冢周书》
  5. ^ Cf. Willard J. Peterson, The Cambridge History of China (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  6. ^ Амурская область: История НАРОДЫ АМУРСКОЙ ЗЕМЛИ (Amur Oblast - the History. The peoples of the Amur Land) (Russian)
  7. ^ А.М.Пастухов (A.M. Pastukhov) К вопросу о характере укреплений поселков приамурских племен середины XVII века и значении нанайского термина «гасян» (Regarding the fortification techniques used in the settlements of the Amur Valley tribes in the mid-17th century, and the meaning of the Nanai word "гасян" (gasyan)) (Russian)
  8. ^ Frederick Mote (1999), Imperial China, 900-1800 (Harvard University Press), p. 195.
  9. ^ Huang, P.: "New Light on the origins of the Manchu," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 50, no.1 (1990): 239-82. Retrieved from JSTOR database July 18, 2006.
  10. ^ Judika Illes, Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses (2009)
  11. ^ Ulrich Theobald. "Chinese History - Jin Dynasty (Jurchen) 金 religion and customs". www.chinaknowledge.de. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  12. ^ "Ethics of China 7 BC To 1279 by Sanderson Beck". San.beck.org. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  13. ^ Chinese History - Western Xia Dynasty (Xixia) 西夏 (1038-1227) arts, China Knowledge
  14. ^ "A Large Burial Ground of the Jurchen People Has Been Found In Russia's Primorye :: Russia-InfoCentre". Russia-ic.com. 2012-07-27. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  15. ^ Taisuke Mitamura (1970). Chinese eunuchs: the structure of intimate politics. C.E. Tuttle Co. p. 54. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  16. ^ Shih-Shan Henry Tsai, "Perpetual Happiness: The Ming Emperor Yongle". Published by University of Washington Press, 2002. ISBN 0295981245 Partial text on Google Books. p.158.
  17. ^ Объекты туризма — Археологические. Тырские храмы (Regional government site explaining the location of the Tyr (Telin) temples: just south of the Tyr village) (Russian)
  18. ^ Telin Stele (from: "Политика Минской империи в отношении чжурчженей (1402 -1413 гг.)" (The Jurchen policy of the Ming Empire), in "Китай и его соседи в древности и средневековье" (China and its neighbors in antiquity and the Middle Ages), Moscow, 1970. (Russian)
  19. ^ a b c Kimberly Kagan (2010). Kimberly Kagan, ed. The imperial moment (illustrated ed.). Harvard University Press. p. 95. ISBN 0-674-03587-9. Retrieved 2012-03-02. 
  20. ^ Kimberly Kagan (2010). Kimberly Kagan, ed. The imperial moment (illustrated ed.). Harvard University Press. p. 96. ISBN 0-674-03587-9. Retrieved 2012-03-02. 
  21. ^ Samuel Wells Williams (1848). The Middle kingdom: a survey of the ... Chinese empire and its inhabitants ... (3 ed.). NEW YORK: Wiley & Putnam. p. 321. Retrieved 8 May 2011. (Original from Harvard University)
  22. ^ Samuel Wells Williams (1882). The Middle Kingdom: a survey of the geography, government, literature, social life, arts, and history of the Chinese empire and its inhabitants, Volume 1 (revised ed.). NEW YORK: C. Scribner's Sons. p. 412. Retrieved 8 May 2011. (Original from Harvard University)
  23. ^ Samuel Wells Williams (1883). The middle kingdom; a survey of the Chinese empire and its inhabitants (revised ed.). p. 412. Retrieved 2011-05-08. 
  24. ^ China monthly review, Volume 8. Millard Publishing Co., inc. 1919. p. 264. Retrieved 8 May 2011. (Original from the University of Michigan)

External links[edit]