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Guifang (Chinese: 鬼方; Wade–Giles: Kuei-fang) was an ancient ethnonym for a northern people that fought against the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE). Chinese historical tradition identified the Guifang with the Rong, Xunyu, or Xiongnu peoples.[1][2] This Chinese exonym combines gui ( "ghost, spirit, devil") and fang ( "side, border, country, region"), a suffix referring to "non-Shang or enemy countries that existed in and beyond the borders of the Shang polity."[3] The sinologist Herrlee Glessner Creel translated Guifang as "Demon Territory".[4]


Chinese annals contain a number of references to the Guifang, the earliest are the records in the Bamboo Annals which state that during the Shang Dynasty a people known as the Gǔiróng (Jung) (simplified Chinese: 鬼戎; traditional Chinese: 鬼族) had already been attacked by the Zhou leader Jili in 1119 BCE, the thirty-fifth year of the Shang King Wu Yi. Historians believe that the Guirong were identical to the Guifang.[5] The name Guifang appeared during the reign of the King Kang of Zhou (r. 1005/03–978 BCE). They were probably a people located northeast of the initial Zhou domain. According to the Xiao Yu Ding (小盂鼎) bronze vessel inscriptions, cast in the twenty-fifth year of King Kang (979 BC), after two successful battles against the Guifang, captured enemies were brought to the Zhou temple and offered to the king. The prisoners numbered over 13,000 with four chiefs who were subsequently executed. Zhou also captured a large amount of booty.[5] The Yijing or "Book of Changes" mentions a Shang King, probably Wu Ding (r. 1250-1192 BCE),[6] fighting against the Guifang, "attacked the Demon region, but was three years in subduing it."[7]

Later authors including Sima Qian, Ying Shao, Wei Zhao and Jin Zhuo ,[8] without citing any arguments, stipulated that Xunyu or Guifang were the terms designated for nomadic people who during the Han dynasty were transcribed as Xiongnu in Chinese. This view was also held by the Tang dynasty commentator Sima Zhen.[9] As a result of phonetical studies and comparisons based on the inscriptions on bronze and the structure of the characters, Wang Guowei came to the conclusion that the tribal names in the annalistic sources Guifang, Xunyu, Xianyu, Xianyun, Jung, Di, and Hu designated one and the same people, who later entered history under the name Xiongnu.[9][10][11]

The Shang state had a system of writing attested to by bronze inscriptions and oracle bones, which record Shang troops fighting frequent wars with neighboring nomadic herdsmen from the inner Asian steppes. In his oracular divinations, a Shang king repeatedly showed concern about the fang (方) groups of barbarians outside his inner tu (土) regions in the center of Shang territory. A particularly hostile Tufang group from the Yanshan region is regularly mentioned in divinatory records.[12] Another Chinese ethnonym for the animal husbandry nomads was ma (马) or "equine" barbarians mentioned at the Shang western military frontier in the Taihang Mountains, where they fought and may have used chariots.[13] The exact time period when the oldest phonetization of the name "Hun" had the form Guifang remains only vaguely determined: Sima Qian stated that in the earlier pre-historic period the Huns were called Hu and Jung (Pinyin Rong), in the late pre-historic period they were called Xunyu, in the literate period starting with the Shang Dynasty when they were called Guifan, in the following Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC) they were called Xianyun. From the start of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), the Chinese annalists called them Xiongnu.[14][15]



  1. ^ Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian Ch. 1, l. 4b, Ch. 110, l. 1a, notes
  2. ^ Taskin V.S., "Materials on history of nomadic tribes in China 3rd-5th cc", Issue 3 "Mujuns", "Science", Moscow, 1992, p.10, ISBN 5-02-016746-0
  3. ^ Loewe M. and Shaughnessy E.L., eds., The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 B.C., New York, Cambridge, 1999, ISBN 978-0-521-47030-8, p. 269.
  4. ^ Creel, Herrlee G. (1970). The Origins of Statecraft in China. The University of Chicago Press. p. 232.
  5. ^ a b Nicola Di Cosmo, The Northern Frontier in Pre-Imperial China//The Cambridge History of Ancient China, p. 919
  6. ^ Creel (1970), p. 232.
  7. ^ tr. James Legge, The I Ching, p. 196.
  8. ^ Sima Qian, "Shiji", Bo-na, 1958, Ch. 110, p. 1a
  9. ^ a b Taskin V.S., "Materials on the history of nomadic tribes in China 3rd-5th cc", Issue 3 "Mujuns", p. 276
  10. ^ Wang Guowei, "Guantang Jilin" (觀堂集林, Wang Guowei collection of works), Ch.2, Ch. 13
  11. ^ Taskin V.S., 1968, "Materials on history of Sünnu", "Science", Moscow, p.10
  12. ^ Sun, Yan (June 2006). "Colonizing China's Northern Frontier: Yan and Her Neighbors During the Early Western Zhou Period". International Journal of Historical Archaeology. 10 (2): 159–177(19). doi:10.1007/s10761-006-0005-3.
  13. ^ Shaughnessy, Edward L. (1988). "Historical Perspectives on The Introduction of The Chariot Into China". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 48 (1): 189–237. doi:10.2307/2719276. JSTOR 2719276.
  14. ^ Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian Ch. 1, l. 4b, Ch. 110, l. 1a, notes
  15. ^ Taskin V.S., "Materials on history of nomadic tribes in China 3rd-5th cc", Issue 3 "Mujuns", p. 10


  • Wang, Zhonghan (2004). Outlines of Ethnic Groups in China. Taiyuan: Shanxi Education Press. p. 133. ISBN 7-5440-2660-4.

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