Jurchen people

Jurchen people
Chinese name
Chinese 女真
Traditional Chinese 女眞 (variant)
Korean name
Hangul 여진 (S. Korea)
녀진 (N. Korea)
Khitan name
Khitan dʒuuldʒi (女直)[2]
Mongolian name
Mongolian Зүрчид

The Jurchen, also known by many variant names, were a Tungusic people who inhabited the region of Manchuria until around 1630, at which point they were reformed and combined with their neighbors as the Manchus. The Jurchen established the Jin Dynasty, whose empire conquered the Northern Song in 1127, gaining control of most of North China. Jin control over China lasted until their 1234 conquest by the Mongols. The Manchus would later conquer the Ming and establish the Qing Dynasty, which ruled Manchuria, China, Mongolia, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang until their overthrow in 1911.


Siberians capturing a reindeer

The obscurity of the origin of the Jurchen is reflected in the confusion surrounding their name, particularly in older English works. It is recorded variously in different languages and different eras.[4] The apparently cognate ethnonyms Sushen (Old Chinese: */siwk-[d]i[n]-s/) and Jizhen (稷真, Old Chinese: */tsək-ti[n]/)[5] are recorded in ancient Chinese geographical works like the Classic of Mountains and Seas and the Book of Wei.[6]

The present name dates back to at least the 10th century, when Balhae was destroyed by the Khitans. Jurchen is an anglicization of Continental Jurčen,[3][7] an attempted reconstruction of this unattested original form of the native name,[8] which has been preserved transcribed into Middle Chinese as Trjuwk-li-tsyin ()[n 1] and into Khitan small script as Julisen.[10] It was the source of Fra Mauro's Zorça[7] and Marco Polo's Ciorcia,[11] reflecting the Persian form of their name.[7] Vajda considers that the Jurchens' name probably derives from the Tungusic words for "reindeer people" and is cognate with the names of the Orochs of Khabarovsk Province and the Oroks of Sakhalin.[12] ("Horse Tungus" and "Reindeer Tungus" are still the primary divisions among the Tungusic cultures.)[13]

Janhunen argues that these records already reflect the Classical Mongolian plural form of the name, recorded in the Secret History as J̌ürčät,[8] and further reconstructed as *Jörcid,[11][n 2] whose medial -r- does not appear in the later Jurchen Jucen[11] or Jušen (Jurchen: )[14][n 3] or Manchu Jushen.[11] In Manchu, this word was more often used to describe the serfs[14]—though not slaves[15]—of the free Manchu people,[14] who were themselves mostly the former Jurchens. To describe the historical people who founded the Jin dynasty, they reborrowed the Mongolian name as Jurcit.[11][4]

The initial Khitan form of the name was said to be Lüzhen; the variant Nrjo-tsyin (now Nüzhen, whence English Nurchen) appeared in the 10th century after the Khitans came to power in northern China as the Liao.[4] At the same time, the Jurchen were interchangeably known as the Nrjo-drik (now Nüzhi). This is traditionally explained as an effect of the Chinese naming taboo, with the character being removed after the 1031 enthronement of the Liao emperor Zhigu (later the Xingzong Emperor of the Liao dynasty) because it appeared in the sinified form of his personal name.[4] Aisin Gioro, however, argues that this was a later folk etymology and the original reason was uncertainty among dialects regarding the name's final -n.[10]

Under the Liao, a distinction was also made between the "Charted Jurchens" (女眞) who submitted to their rule and the "Uncharted Jurchens" (女眞) who lived beyond their frontier. The former were divided into the Jianzhou and Haixi Jurchens and the latter included the Yeren Jurchens.

In English, references to all of these names has been further confused by the numerous variant romanizations of the Chinese characters involved prior to the general adoption of Pinyin in the late 20th century.[n 4] the "Neu-che",[19] the "Neù-chĭh",[20] " Leú-chin",[21] the "Jou-tchi", "Tchortchog", "Niô chi", "Jurjeh, and Jurji",[22] the "Kin Tartars",[23] the "Neu-chih", "Neu-chĭh", and "New-chĭh",[24] the "Ju-chi", "Zhu-chǐ" (, now Rúzhí), and "Niu-chǐ",[25] the "Ninchi",[26] the "Churchi, also called Khaisi",[27] "the Nyûché or Chûrché race"[28] (i.e., "Čurčä"),[8] the "Nüchi",[29] the "Nüjin",[30] the "Niu-tchi", "Tchortcha", and "Aisin" or "Aijin",[31] "the Nüchih race",[32] the "Nüchen"[9] or "Nuchens",[33] "the Manchus known as Kins",[34] the "Yu-chi", "Nu-chin", and "Golden Tartars",[35] the "Jurgen",[36] the "Jürched" or "Jürchet",[37] the "Chin",[16] the "Jurchit",[38] the "Jurced",[39] and the "J̌ürčed".[40]</ref>



At the time of their notice by Chinese historians, the Jurchen inhabited the forests and river valleys of the land which is now divided between China's Heilongjiang Province and Russia's Maritime Province. In earlier records, this area was known as the home of the Sushen (c.1100 BC), the Yilou (around AD 200), the Wuji (c.500), and the Mohe or Malgal (c.700).[41] Under the Qing and within modern scholarship,[n 5] some sources stress the continuity between these earlier peoples with the Jurchen[42] but this remains conjectural.[43]

The Tungusic Mohe tribes were subjects of the Korean state of Balhae. The Mohe enjoyed eating pork, practiced pig farming extensively, and were mainly sedentary.[44] They used both pig and dog skins for coats. They were predominantly farmers and grew soybean, wheat, millet, and rice in addition to hunting.[45]

Jin Empire

China in circa 1141, superimposed on modern national borders.
Eurasia before the Mongol conquests, circa 1200

By the 11th century, the Jurchens had become vassals of the Khitan rulers of the Liao dynasty. The Jurchens in the Yalu River region were tributaries of Goryeo since the reign of Wang Geon, who called upon them during the wars of the Later Three Kingdoms period, but the Jurchens switched allegiance between Liao and Goryeo multiple times, taking advantage of the tension between the two nations; posing a potential threat to Goryeo's border security, the Jurchens offered tribute to the Goryeo court, expecting lavish gifts in return.[n 6]

The Jurchens rose to power after Wanyan Aguda, the chief of the Wanyan tribe, unified the various Jurchen tribes in 1115, declared himself emperor, and in 1120 seized Shangjing, also known as Linhuang Prefecture (臨潢府), the northern capital of the Liao dynasty.[47] During the Jin–Song Wars, the Jurchens invaded territories under the Han Chinese-led Northern Song dynasty and overran most of northern China, first setting up puppet regimes such as Qi and Chu, later directly ruling as a dynastic state in northern China known as "Jin", which means "gold" and is not to be confused with the earlier Jin dynasties named after the region around Shanxi and Henan provinces. The Jin dynasty captured the Northern Song dynasty's capital, Bianjing, in 1127. Their armies pushed all the way south to the Yangtze River, but through continued warfare and treaties of diplomacy this boundary with the Southern Song dynasty (the successor state to the Northern Song) was eventually stabilised along the Huai River.

The name of the Jurchens' dynasty—the Chinese word for "gold"—derived from the "Gold River" (Jurchen: Anchuhu; Manchu: Aisin) in their ancestral homeland. At first, the Jurchen tribesmen were kept in readiness for warfare, but decades of urban and settled life in China eroded their original warlike lifestyle in Manchurian tundra and marshes. Eventually, intermarriage with other ethnic groups in China was permitted and peace with the Southern Song dynasty was confirmed. The Jin rulers themselves came to follow Confucian norms.

After 1189, the Jin dynasty became involved in exhausting wars on two fronts: in the north, they faced an emerging threat posed by the Mongols; in the south, they were still at war with the Southern Song dynasty. By 1215, after losing much territory to the Mongols, the Jurchens moved their capital south from Zhongdu to Kaifeng. After a siege lasting about a year, Kaifeng fell to the Mongols in 1233. Emperor Aizong fled to Caizhou for shelter, but Caizhou eventually fell to the Mongols in 1234. This marked the end of the Jin dynasty.

Ming China

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 between three groups of Jurchens: the Wild Jurchens (野人女真) of northernmost Manchuria, the Haixi Jurchens (海西女真) of modern Heilongjiang Province 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.

The issue of controlling the Jurchens was a point of contention between Joseon Korea and the early Ming.[48] The Yongle Emperor (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 the Yongle Emperor's consorts was a Tungusic Jurchen princess, which resulted in some of the eunuchs serving him being of Jurchen origin.[49] 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 sinicisation of the Jurchens ultimately gave them the organisational structures to extend their power beyond the steppe. The Joseon Koreans tried to deal with the military threat that the Jurchens posed to them by using both forceful means and incentives, by launching military attacks on the Jurchens. At the same time they tried to appease them with titles and degrees, trading with them, and seeking to acculturate them by having Korean women marry Jurchens and integrating them into Korean culture. Despite these measures, fighting continued between the Jurchen and the Koreans.[50][51] Their relationship was discontinued by the Ming dynasty, because the Ming was planning to make Jurchens a means of protecting the border. The Koreans had to allow this as it was in the Ming dynasty's tribute system.[52] In 1403, Ahacu, chieftain of Huligai, paid tribute to the Yongle Emperor. Soon after that, Möngke Temür, chieftain of Odoli clan of the Jianzhou Jurchens, defected from paying tribute to Korea, becoming a tributary to China instead. Yi Seong-gye, the first ruler of Joseon, asked the Ming dynasty to send Möngke Temür back but he refused.[53] The Yongle Emperor was determined to wrest the Jurchens out of Korean influence and have China dominate them instead.[54][55] The Koreans tried to persuade Möngke Temür to reject the Ming dynasty's overtures, but was unsuccessful since Möngke Temür submitted to the Ming.[56][57][58][59] Since then, more and more Jurchen tribes presented tribute to the Ming dynasty in succession.[60] They were divided in 384 guards by the Ming dynasty,[52] and the Jurchen became vassals to the Ming emperors.[61] The name given to the Jurchen land by the Ming dynasty was Nurgan. 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 and around the Heilong River. During the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, the Jurchen tribe in the northeast was divided into three parts called Haixi, Jianzhou and Yeren.

The Haixi Jurchens were "semi-agricultural, the Jianzhou Jurchens and Maolian (毛怜) Jurchens were sedentary, while hunting and fishing was the way of life of the "Wild Jurchens".[62] Han Chinese society resembled that of the sedentary Jianzhou and Maolian, who were farmers.[63] Hunting, archery on horseback, horsemanship, livestock raising, and sedentary agriculture were all practiced by the Jianzhou Jurchens as part of their culture.[64] The Manchu way of life (economy) was described as agricultural, farming crops and raising animals on farms.[65] Manchus practiced slash-and-burn agriculture in the areas north of Shenyang.[66] In spite of the fact that the Manchus practiced archery on horse back and equestrianism, the Manchus' immediate progenitors practiced sedentary agriculture.[67] Although the Manchus also partook in hunting, they were sedentary.[68] Their primary mode of production was farming while they lived in villages, forts, and towns surrounded by walls. Farming was practiced by their Jurchen Jin predecessors.[69][70]

“建州毛怜则渤海大氏遗孽,乐住种,善缉纺,饮食服用,皆如华人,自长白山迤南,可拊而治也。" "The (people of) Chien-chou and Mao-lin [YLSL always reads Mao-lien] are the descendants of the family Ta of Po-hai. They love to be sedentary and sow, and they are skilled in spinning and weaving. As for food, clothing and utensils, they are the same as (those used by) the Chinese. (Those living) south of the Ch'ang-pai mountain are apt to be soothed and governed."

据魏焕《皇明九边考》卷二《辽东镇边夷考》[71] Translation from Sino-J̌ürčed relations during the Yung-Lo period, 1403-1424 by Henry Serruys[72]

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.

In 1409, the Ming government set up a post called Nurkal Command Post (奴兒干都司) at Telin (present-day Tyr, Russia,[73] about 100 km upstream from Nikolayevsk-on-Amur in the Russian Far East) in the vicinity of Heilongjiang. The three parts of the Jurchen tribe came under the nominal administration of the Nurkal Command Post, 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 (who himself was a Haixi Jurchen by origin[74]) led ten large missions to win over the allegiance of the Jurchen tribes along the Songhua River and Amur River. His fleet sailed down the Songhua into the Amur, and set up the nominal Nurkal (Nurgan) Command at Telin near the mouth of the Amur River.

These missions are not well recorded in the Ming histories, but an important source on them is two stone steles erected by Yishiha at the site of the Yongning Temple, a Guanyin temple commissioned by him at Telin.[75] 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 Nurkal Command Post, Yishiha and other Ming eunuchs, under orders from the emperor, came several times to promote Ming influences. When Yishiha visited Nurgan for the 3rd time in 1413, he built a temple called Yongning Temple at Telin and erected the Yongning Temple Stele in front of it. The stele bore an inscription written in four languages - Han, Jurchen, Mongolian, and Tibetan.

Yishiha paid his 10th visit to Nurgan in 1432, during which he rebuilt 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 Nurkal Command Post and the repeated declarations to offer blessings to this region by Yishiha and others were all recorded in this and the first steles.

Establishment of the Manchu

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 30 years from 1586, Nurhaci, a chieftain of the Jianzhou Jurchens, united the Jurchen tribes, which was later renamed Manchu in 1635 by his son and successor, Huangtaiji. He created a formidable synthesis of tribal and interethnic 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 Huangtaiji.


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

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).[76] After conquering China, during the Jin dynasty, Buddhism became the prevalent religion of the Jurchens, and Daoism was assimilated as well.[77]

In 1126, the Jurchens initially ordered male Han Chinese within their conquered territories to adopt the Jurchen hairstyle by shaving the front of their heads and adopting Jurchen dress, but the order was lifted.[78] Jurchens were impersonated by Han rebels who wore their hair in the Jurchen "pigtail" to strike fear within their population.[79] During the Qing dynasty, the Manchus, who descended from the Jurchens, similarly made Han Chinese men shave the front of their head and wear the rest of their hair in a queue, or soncoho (辮子; biànzi), the traditional Manchu 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 the Ming dynasty, the Jurchens 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 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.[80]

The Jurchens were sedentary,[81][12] settled farmers with advanced agriculture. They farmed grain and millet as their cereal crops, grew flax and raised oxen, pigs, sheep, and horses.[82] Their farming way of life was very different from the pastoral nomadism of the Mongols and Khitans on the steppes.[83][84] "At the most", the Jurchen could only be described as "semi-nomadic" while the majority of them were sedentary.[46]

Although their Mohe ancestors did not respect dogs, the Jurchens began to respect dogs around the time of the Ming dynasty and passed this tradition on to the Manchus, it was prohibited in Jurchen culture to use dog skin, and forbidden for Jurchens to harm, kill, and eat dogs, the Jurchens believed that the "utmost evil" was the usage of dog skin by Koreans.[85]

The Jurchen leader Nurhaci chose to variously emphasize either differences or similarities in lifestyles with other peoples like the Mongols for political reasons.[86] Nurhaci said to the Mongols that "the languages of the Chinese and Koreans are different, but their clothing and way of life is the same. It is the same with us Manchus (Jušen) and Mongols. Our languages are different, but our clothing and way of life is the same." Later, Nurhaci indicated that the bond with the Mongols was not based in any real shared culture, rather it was for pragmatic reasons of "mutual opportunism", when he said to the Mongols, "You Mongols raise livestock, eat meat and wear pelts. My people till the fields and live on grain. We two are not one country and we have different languages."[87]


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.

Possible Jurchen descendants

A caste of "degraded" outcasts said to be descended from the Jurchen existed in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, during the Qing dynasty, around 3,000 people in a class called to-min (惰民; duòmín). 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.[88][89][90][91]

It is thought by a number of Russian linguists and historians that the Duchers encountered by Russian explorers on the middle Amur River and lower Songhua River in the early 1650s who were evacuated by the Qing dynasty authorities further south a few years later were the descendants of Amur Jurchens[92] and that the word "Ducher" itself is simply a variation of Jušen.[93]

See also


  1. The Japanese government and Franke give the modern Mandarin pronunciation Zhulizhen.[9][4]
  2. The modern Mongolian form is Jürčid[3] or Зүрчид.
  3. First attested in a late 15th-century glossary for the Ming Bureau of Translators.[14]
  4. In addition to those given in the infobox above, these people have been known in English by the names "Eastern Tartarie",[16] the "Niu-chin" and "Neu·chin",[17]
  5. For example, the Japanese government, who traced them to the "Wanyen tribe of the Mohos" around Mt Xiaobai,[9] and Huang, who connected them to the Heishui or Blackwater Mohe.[40]
  6. "The Jurchen settlements in the Amnok River region had been tributaries of Koryŏ since the establishment of the dynasty, when T'aejo Wang Kŏn heavily relied on a large segment of Jurchen cavalry to defeat the armies of Later Paekche. The position and status of these Jurchen is hard to determine using the framework of the Koryŏ and Liao states as reference, since the Jurchen leaders generally took care to steer a middle course between Koryŏ and Liao, changing sides or absconding whenever that was deemed the best course. As mentioned above, Koryŏ and Liao competed quite fiercely to obtain the allegiance of the Jurchen settlers who in the absence of large armies effectively controlled much of the frontier area outside the Koryŏ and Liao fortifications. These Jurchen communities were expert in handling the tension between Liao and Koryŏ, playing out divide-and-rule policies backed up by threats of border violence. It seems that the relationship between the semi-nomadic Jurchen and their peninsular neighbours bore much resemblance to the relationship between Chinese states and their nomad neighbours, as described by Thomas Barfield."[46]



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  8. 1 2 3 Pelliot (1959), p. 367.
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