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The Dingling (Chinese: 丁零) were an ancient people mentioned in Chinese historiography in the context of the 1st century BCE. They are assumed to have been an early Proto-Turkic-speaking people,[1] whose original constituents mainly assimilated into the Xiongnu and Xianbei groups.[citation needed] They originally lived on the bank of the Lena River in the area west of Lake Baikal, gradually moving southward to Mongolia and northern China. They were a huge independent horde for centuries, but later been defeated and temporary became subject of the Xiongnu Empire,[2][3] and thus presumably related to the invaders known as Huns in the west.[4] Around the 3rd century they were assimilated into the Tiele,[5] also named Di (翟), DiLi (狄历), Gaoche (高車) or Chile (敕勒), who gradually expanded westward into Central Asia, expelled from Mongolia by the Rouran and establishing a state Turpan in the 5th century. The Tiele were a collection of early Turkic tribes, largely descended from the Chile.

Origin and migration[edit]

The Dingling were a warlike group of hunters, fishers, and gatherers of the southern Siberian mountain taiga region from Lake Baikal to northern Mongolia. Chinese records do not mention the physical appearance of the Dingling, suggesting general homogeneity with people of the Asiatic region, and their name appears rarely, such as Di (翟), a example of the family name that been translated based on their group name or the last name of the top Ruling class.[6][7][8]

They might have been correlated with the Guifang, a northern tribe that appears in the oracle bone inscriptions from Yinxu.[9]

According to the History of the Gaoche of Wei Shou (6th century), the origin of the Dingling can be traced to the Chidi or Red Di (赤狄), who lived in northern China during the Spring and Autumn period. The Mozi mentions a total of eight Di groups related to the Chidi, of whom only the Chidi and two others were known.[10][11]

To the north of the Xiongnu empire and Dingling territories, at the headwaters of the Yenisei around Tannu Uriankhai, lived the Gekun (鬲昆), also known as the Yenisei Kirghiz in later records. Further to the west near the Irtysh river lived the Hujie (呼揭). Other tribes living north of the Xiongnu, such as the Hunyu (浑庾), Qushe (屈射), and Xinli (薪犁), are only mentioned once in Chinese records, and their exact location is unknown.[12][13]

During the 2nd century BCE, the Dingling became subjects of Modu Chanyu along with 26 other tribes, including the Yuezhi and Wusun.[14]

Dingling and Xiongnu[edit]

The Dingling were first subjugated by the Xiongnu, but these gradually weakened. In 71 BCE, after numerous conflicts between the Chinese and the Xiongnu, the Dingling, with help from neighboring tribes, took the opportunity to revolt. From 63 to 60 BCE, during a split within the Xiongnu ruling clan of Luanti (挛鞮), the Dingling attacked the Xiongnu, together with the Wusun, supported by the Chinese, from the west and the Wuhuan from the southeast.[15]

In 51 BCE, they were, together with the Hujie and Gekun, defeated by the Xiongnu under Zhizhi Chanyu, on his way to Kangju. Over the next century there may have been more uprisings, but the only recorded one was in the year 85, when together with the Xianbei they made their final attack on the Xiongnu.[16] After that, the Dingling were assimilated into the remaining northern Xiongnu and the Tuoba under the confederacy of Xianbei chief Tanshihuai (檀石槐). After his death in 181, the Xianbei moved south and the Dingling took their place on the steppe.


Between the short-lived Xianbei confederacy in 181 and the foundation of the Rouran Qaghanate in 402, there was a long period without a tribal confederacy on the steppe. During this period, a part of the Dingling were assimilated to the northern Xiongnu by permanently settling further to the south.[17] Another group, documented as about 450,000, moved southeast and merged into the Xianbei.

After the defeat of Northern Shanyu (1st century), deduced from the number of casualties and immigrants, an estimated figure of 200,000 is given for the Xiongnu still remaining on the northern steppe. Remnants of the Xiongnu managed to keep their identity until the early 5th century, living on the Orkhon River under the tribal name Bayeqi (拔也稽) before being eliminated by the Rouran.[18]

Some groups of Dingling settled in China during Wang Mang's reign. According to the Weilüe, another group of Dingling escaped to the western steppe in Kazakhstan, which beeb called the West Dingling.[19] Around the 3rd century, Dinglings living in China began to adopt family names such as Zhai(翟)or Di, Xianyu (鲜于), Luo (洛) and Yan (严).[20] These Dingling became part of the southern Xiongnu tribes known as Chile (赤勒) during the 3rd century, from which the name Chile (敕勒) originated.

During the Sixteen Kingdoms period the West Dingling Khan Zhai Bin(翟斌) lead his hordes, migrate from Kazakhstan into Central China, serveing the Chinese Dynasty Qian Qin(前秦), after series of betrayed and Chinese plotting against him, Zhai Bin revolted against the QianQin Dynasty. MuRongChui 慕容垂, a XianBei noble who was appointed the high command of QianQin army to take down the revolt, but ZhaiBin successfully persuade him to start mutiny against QianQin, then later with the support of other XianBei nobles, ZhaiBin supported MuRongChui to be the leader of the Anti-Qin leagues. End of the same year, MuRongChui self appointed King of Yan Dynasty(燕王), left ZhaiBin in a dilemma of war, murder ZhaiBin and his three sons. His nephew Zhaizhen(翟真) inherited the hordes, seeking for revenge, but later assassinated by his military advisor XianYuQi (鲜于乞), the DingLing soldiers executed XianYuQi, then elected ZhaiZhen's cousin ZhaiCheng(翟成) as the new Leader, but later also been murdered by XianBei, then ZhaiLiao 翟辽, became the new leader of the hordes, with the support, he founded the Wei state, a DingLing Dynasty in China in modern HeNan Province.[21] A branch of people descended from the Tiele in central Asia, mixing with Indo-European people, would later emerge as the Uyghur group.

About one-quarter of the Tuoba clans show similar names as found among the later Gaoche and Tiele tribes. Among them, the Hegu (紇骨) and Yizhan (乙旃) clans kept their high status and were forbidden to intermarry with the rest.

Between the 4th and 7th centuries, the name "Dingling" slowly disappeared from Chinese records.

Yeniseian theory[edit]

In Zur jenissejisch-indianischen Urverwandtschaft (Concerning Yeniseian-Indian Primal Relationship), the German scholar, Heinrich Werner developed a new language family which he termed Baikal–Siberic. By extension, he groups together the Yeniseian peoples (Arin, Assan, Yugh, Ket, Kott, and Pumpokol), the Na-Dene Indians, and the Dingling of Chinese chronicles to Proto-Dingling. The linguistic comparison of Na-Dene and Yeniseian shows that the quantity and character of the correspondences points to a possible common origin. According to Russian linguistic experts, they likely spoke a polysynthetic or synthetic language with an active form of morphosyntactic alignment, exhibiting a linguistically and culturally unified community.[citation needed]

The name Dingling can be seen to resemble both:

  • the Yeniseian word *dzheng people > Ket de?ng, Yug dyeng, Kott cheang
  • the Na-Dene word *ling or *hling people, i.e. as manifested in the name of the Tlingit (properly hling-git son of man, child of the people).

Although the Dené–Yeniseian language family is now a widely known proposal, his inclusion of the Dingling is not widely accepted.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hyun Jin Kim: The Huns, Rome and the Birth of Europe. Cambridge University Press, 2013. pp.175-176. Victor H. Mair: Contact And Exchange in the Ancient World. University of Hawaii Press, 2006. p.140
  2. ^ Lu (1996), pp. 111, 135-137.
  3. ^ Li (2003), pp. 110-112.
  4. ^ A. J. Haywood, Siberia: A Cultural History, Oxford University Press, 2010, p.203
  5. ^ Victor H. Mair: Contact And Exchange in the Ancient World. University of Hawaii Press, 2006. p.140
  6. ^ Xue (1992), pp. 54-60.
  7. ^ Lu (1996), pp. 305-320.
  8. ^ Duan (1988) pp. 35-53.
  9. ^ Duan (1988) pp. 8-11.
  10. ^ Duan (1988), pp. 1-6
  11. ^ Suribadalaha (1986), p. 27.
  12. ^ Lu (1996), p. 136.
  13. ^ Shen (1998), p. 75.
  14. ^ Li (2003), p. 73.
  15. ^ Duan (1988) pp. 99-100.
  16. ^ Duan (1988) pp. 101-103.
  17. ^ Duan (1988) pp. 111-113.
  18. ^ Duan (1988), pp. 118-120.
  19. ^ Hill (2004), Section 28
  20. ^ Duan (1988), pp. 137-142, 152-158.
  21. ^ Duan (1988), pp. 148-152.


  • Duan, Lianqin (1988). Dingling, Gaoju and Tiele. Shanghai: Shanghai People's Press, 1988.
  • Hill, John E. (2004). "The Peoples of the West" from the Weilüe, Section 15. (Draft version). Downloadable from: [1].
  • Li, Jihe (2003). A Research on Migration of Northwestern Minorities Between pre-Qin to Sui and Tang. Beijing: Nationalities Press.
  • Lu, Simian (1996). A History of Ethnic Groups in China. Beijing: Oriental Press.
  • Shen, Youliang (1998). A Research on Northern Ethnic Groups and Regimes. Beijing: Central Nationalities University Press.
  • Suribadalaha (1986). New Studies of the Origins of the Mongols. Beijing: Nationalities Press.
  • Trever, Camilla (1932). Excavations in Northern Mongolia (1924-1925). Leningrad: J. Fedorov Printing House.
  • Xue, Zongzheng (1992). A History of Turks. Beijing: Chinese Social Sciences Press.