Jie people

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For the Jie people of northern Uganda, see Jie (Uganda).

The Jié (Chinese: ; Wade–Giles: Chieh; Middle Chinese: [ki̯at][1]:246) were members of a small tribe in Northern China in the 4th century CE. They established the Later Zhao state.

According to the Book of Wei, their name derives from the Jiéshì area (羯室, modern Yushe County in Shanxi province) where they reside.[2][3]:6,149 The Chinese graphic pejorative 羯 literally means "wether" or "castrated male sheep".

According to the Book of Jin, the ancestors of Shi Le, the founder of Later Zhao, were a separate tribe of Xiongnu known as Qiāngqú (羌渠).[4] Pulleyblank identified Qiangqu with Kangju, who might be Tocharian in origin.[1]:247

Jie phrase[edit]

The Jie are known for one phrase that reached us in their native language, uttered by a Buddhist monk Fotucheng and recorded in the Chinese annals Book of Jin as 秀支 替戾剛 僕谷 劬禿當, in connection with Shi Le's fight against Liu Yao in 328 CE.[5] The phrase was glossed with Chinese translation (Middle Chinese pronunciation provided below follows Pulleyblank[1]:264):

秀支 [si̯u-ci̯e] means 軍 “army”; 替戾剛 [tʰei-let/lei-kɑŋ] means 出 “go out”; 僕谷 [bok-kuk/yok] is 劉曜胡位 “Liu Yao's barbarian title”; 劬禿當 [ɡi̯ou-tʰuk-tɑŋ] means 捉 “capture”.

This phrase has been analyzed in a number of publications. Shiratori (1900),[6] Ramstedt (1922),[7] Bazin (1948),[8] von Gabain (1950),[9] and Shervashidze (1986)[10] recognized Turkic lexicon, and gave their versions of the transcription and translation:

Ramstedt Bazin von Gabain Shervashidze
Sükä talıqın
bügüg tutun!
Süg tägti ıdqaŋ
boquγıγ tutqaŋ!
Särig tılıtqan
buγuγ kötürkän
Sükâ tol'iqtin
buγuγ qodigo(d)tin
Go with a war
[and] captured bügü!
Send the army to attack,
capture the commander!
You'd put forth the army,
you'd take the deer
You came to the army
Deposed buγuγ

Pulleyblank (1963) remarked that the Turkic interpretations cannot be considered very successful because they conflicted with the phonetic values of the Chinese text and to the Chinese translation. Instead, he suggested a connection with the Yeniseian languages.[1]:264

Vovin listed the following translation based on Yeniseian:[11]

suke t-i-r-ek-ang bok-kok k-o-t-o-kt-ang
armies PV-CM-PERF-go out-3pp bok-kok PV-?-OBJ-CM-catch-3pp

(PV - preverb, CM - conjugation marker, OBJ - object marker, PERF - perfective)

Armies have gone out. [They] will catch Bokkok.

South-pointing chariot[edit]

Fang Xuanling recorded in the Book of Jin chronicle that at around 340 CE a Jie state Later Zhao's scholar Xie Fei serving as a Head of Healing (Medicinal) Department in the Later Zhao State Chancellery, was a mechanical engineer who built a south-pointing chariot (also called south-pointing carriage), a directional compass vehicle which apparently did not use magnetic principle, but was operated by use of differential gears (which apply an equal amount of torque to driving wheels rotating at different speeds), or a similar angular differential principle.[12]

For the great ingenuity shown in the construction of the device, the Later Zhao Emperor Shi Jilong granted Jie Fei the noble title of hou without land possessions and generous rewarded him generously.[3]:99[13]


In 319, Jie general Shi Le established the state of Later Zhao in northern China, which supplanted the Xiongnu-led Han Zhao (304-329) state. However, the Later Zhao state collapsed in 351. In the period between 350 and 352, General Ran Min ordered the complete extermination of this tribe, and their distinctive features led to large numbers being killed[citation needed]. Despite this, the Jie continue to appear occasionally in history over the next 200 years. Both Erzhu Rong and Hou Jing, two famous warlords of the Northern Dynasties, were identified as Qihu and Jiehu respectively and modern scholars have suggested that they could have been be related to the Jie.[citation needed]


Some historians conjecture the Jie to have been be a medieval tribe related to the modern Kets, living between the Ob and Yenisey rivers—the character 羯 (jié) is pronounced kit in Cantonese, ket or kiet in Hakka and katsu or ketsu in Japanese, implying that the ancient pronunciation may have been fairly close to Ket. Western Washington University historical linguist Edward Vajda spent a year in Siberia studying the Ket people and their language and his findings helped substantiated such conjecture into the origins of the Ket people, where DNA claims show genetic affinities with people of Tibetan, Burmese, and other origins [1]. He further proposes a relationship of the Ket language to the Na-Dene languages indigenous to Canada and western United States, and even suggests the tonal system of the Ket language is closer that that of Vietnamese than any of the native Siberian languages [2]. His (2004) monograph Ket is the first modern scholarly grammar of the Ket language in English. (Lueders 2008)

Others[who?] link the Jie with the Sogdians, and suggest that the family name of Shi from Jie who ruled the Later Zhao state originated in the Sogdian statelet of Tashkent, which was later also known as the Kingdom of Shi. An Lushan, the Tang rebel general, had a Sogdian stepfather and was called a Jiehu. Yet others trace the Jie to those Great Yuezhi or Tocharians who had remained in Sogdiana.[14] Others have traced the Jie to the Little Yuezhi, who remained in China as subjects of the Xiongnu.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d Pulleyblank, Edwin George (1963). "The consonantal system of Old Chinese. Part II". Asia Major 9: 206–265. Retrieved 2011-02-06. 
  2. ^ Wei, Shou (554). 魏書 [Book of Wei]. , Vol. 95.
  3. ^ a b Taskin, V. S. (1990). Цзе [Jie]. Материалы по истории кочевых народов в Китае III-V вв. [Materials on the history of nomadic peoples in China. 3rd–5th cc. AD] (in Russian) 2. Moskow: Nauka. ISBN 5-02-016543-3. 
  4. ^ Fang, Xuanling (1958). 晉書 [Book of Jin] (in Chinese). Beijing: Commercial Press.  Vol. 104
  5. ^ Fang Xuanling, Book of Jin, ibid., Vol. 95, pp. 12b-13a
  6. ^ Shiratori, Kurakichi, Uber die Sprache des Hiung-nu Stammes und der Tung-hu-Stdmme, Tokyo, 1900
  7. ^ Ramstedt G.J., "Zur Frage nach der Stellung des Tschuwassischen" (On the question of the position of the Chuvash), Journal de la Société finno-ougrienne 38, 1922, pp. 1–34
  8. ^ Bazin, Louis (1948). "Un texte proto-turc du IVe siècle: le distique hiong-nou du "Tsin-chou"". Oriens 1 (2): 208–219. JSTOR 1578997. 
  9. ^ von Gabain, Annemarie (1950). "Louis Bazin: Un texte proto-turc du IVe siècle: le distique hiong-nou du "Tsin-chou" (Besprechung)". Der Islam 29: 244–246. 
  10. ^ Shervashidze I.N. "Verb forms in the language of the Turkic runiform inscriptions", Tbilisi, 1986, pp. 3–9
  11. ^ Vovin, Alexander. "Did the Xiongnu speak a Yeniseian language?". Central Asiatic Journal 44/1 (2000), pp. 87-104.
  12. ^ J.Needham (1986), "Science and Civilization in China", Taipei, Caves Books, Ltd, Volume 4, Part 2, Part 2, pp. 40 and 287, ISBN 978-0-521-05803-2
  13. ^ Fang Xuanling, Book of Jin, supra, Vol. 106
  14. ^ The Connection between Later Zhao and the West (in Chinese)
  15. ^ Haw 2006, p. 201

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