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The Jianzhou Jurchens (Chinese: 建州女真) were one of the three major categories of Jurchens as identified by the Ming dynasty. During the 14th century they were located south of the Wild Jurchens (Chinese: 野人女真) and the Haixi Jurchens (Chinese: 海西女真), inhabiting modern-day Liaoning (Chinese: 辽宁) province and Jilin (Chinese: 吉林) province in China.
After the fall of the Yuan dynasty in 1368, pockets of Yuan loyalists retreated to the northeast. In 1375, a former Yuan official Naghachu residing in Liaoyang province invaded Liaodong with the hope of restoring the Yuan dynasty. After he was defeated in 1387, the Ming began reorganizing the Jurchens in Liaodong to protect the Ming border region from further incursions. Various Jurchen groups had migrated south and three tribes settled themselves around the Tumen River near the modern border of China, Russia, and North Korea.
In 1388, the Hongwu Emperor established contact with three tribes of Ilan Tumen in modern Yilan County near the confluence of the Mudanjiang River and the Songhua River. The Odori, Huligai (Hūrha or Hurka) and Tuowen Jurchens were enlisted as allies against the Mongols. Jurchens began accepting Ming titles. Ahacu, chief of the Huligai, became commander of the Jianzhou Guard in 1403, named after a Yuan Dynasty political unit in the area. Möngke Temür (猛哥帖木儿) of the Odoli became leader of the Jianzhou Left Guard and accepted the Chinese surname of Tong not long afterward. The two Jianzhou guards engaged in trade with the Ming at the designated market of Kaiyuan and Fushun. They undertook several short-term moves west, battling the Wild Jurchens of the north and the Koreans to their south. Jurchen raids into Korean territory brought about joint Korean-Ming counterattacks in 1467 and 1478 which severely weakened the Jianzhou Jurchens.
Jianzhou Jurchens adopted agriculture during the Ming dynasty when they acquired knowledge of fertilization, draft animals, and iron ploughs as they moved south closer to Asian agricultural civilizations. Ironsmelting and mining knowledged was acquired by the Jurchens from 1599 after they learned who to turn iron into weapons from Koreans and Han Chinese from the iron plowshares they bought from the Chinese.
By the mid-sixteenth century, the Ming guard structure had mostly disappeared and the Jurchens were split between two confederations: the Haixi Jurchens and the Jianzhou Jurchens. The Jianzhou confederates, continued to live north of the Yalu River in five tribes: the Suksuhu River tribe, Hunehe, Wanggiya, Donggo and Jecen. Under the leadership of Wang Gao, the confederation raided the Ming frontier and even killed the Ming commander at Fushun in 1573. A major counterattack by the Chinese ended in the death of Wang Gao and the dissolution of the confederation.
A number of leaders within the Suksuhu tribe stood ready to take his place. In 1582 the chieftain Nikan Wailan allied with the Ming general Li Chengliang against Wang Gao's son Atai. Giocangga, chief of the Beiles of the Sixes, was originally under Li's command since his grandson, the young Nurhaci was under his hostage but later chose to oppose Nikan Wailan and took his fourth son Taksi to support Atai at his stronghold Fort Gure. In the ensuing battle at Gure, Atai was defeated, Giocangga and his son were massacred by Nikan Wailan when Li thought they had mutinied and left them behind. Soon afterwards, the Ming troops became engaged in another struggle amongst the Haixi Jurchens.
Nurhaci and the Manchu state
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It was at this junction that Nurhaci, son of Taksi, appeared on the scene. Taking control of his grandfather's Suksuhu River tribe, he drove Nikan Wailan from the lands of the Jianzhou Jurchens. In 1588 he subjected the Wanggiya tribe and received the submission of the Donggo tribe. The unification of the Jianzhou Jurchens provided the basis for Nurhaci to expand his power throughout southern and central Manchuria, and to create a true Manchu state. The very name Manchu (Jurchen: manju) was perhaps an old term for the Jianzhou Jurchens.
- Mark C. Elliott (2001). The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China. Stanford University Press. pp. 50–. ISBN 978-0-8047-4684-7.
- Frederic E. Wakeman (1985). The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in Seventeenth-century China. University of California Press. pp. 47–. ISBN 978-0-520-04804-1.