|Traditional Chinese||女眞 (variant)|
|Hangul||여진 (S. Korea)
녀진 (N. Korea)
The Jurchens or Jurcheds (Jurchen language: jušen) were a Tungusic people who inhabited the region of Manchuria until the 17th century, at which point they began referring to themselves as the Manchu people.
The Jurchen established the Jin dynasty (1115–1234) (Ancun gurun in the older Jurchen language and Aisin gurun in standard Manchu), a state that conquered the Song dynasty in 1127 during the Jin–Song Wars, gaining control of most of North China.
Jin control over China lasted until the 1234 conquest by the Mongols.
The Jurchen autonym was Jušen until the 17th century, the original meaning of which is unclear. This name dates back to at least the beginning of the tenth century, when Balhae was destroyed by the Khitan people, although apparently cognate ethnonyms like Sushen and Jichen (Chinese: 稷真) have been recorded in ancient geographical works like the Classic of Mountains and Seas and Book of Wei.
The English version of the name, "Jurchen," is from the Mongolian term Jürchin, plural Jürchid, and may have arrived in the West through Mongolian-language texts. A less-common English transliteration is "Jurched" from the Mongolian plural.
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 authorities further south a few years later were the descendants of Amur Jurchens and that the word "Ducher" itself is simply a variation of Jušen.
The 11th century Jurchen tribes of northern Manchuria descended from the Tungusic Mohe, or Malgal tribes who were subjects of the ethnic-Goguryeo state of Balhae. The Mohe enjoyed eating pork, practiced pig farming extensively, and were mainly sedentary, and also used both pig and dog skins for coats. They were predominantly farmers and grew soybean, wheat, millet, and rice, in addition to engaging in hunting. By the 11th century, the Jurchens had become vassals of the Khitans (see also Liao dynasty).
They rose to power after their leader Wanyan Aguda unified them in 1115, declared himself Emperor, and in 1120 seized Shangjing (上京), also known as Linhuangfu (Traditional Chinese: 臨潢府), the Northern Capital of Liao. During the Jin–Song Wars, the Jurchens invaded territories under the Han Chinese Northern Song dynasty and overran most of northern China, first setting up puppet regimes like Qi and Chu, later directly ruling as a dynastic state in Northern China named Jin ("Gold", not to be confused with the several Jin Dynasties named after the region around Shanxi and Henan). Jin captured the Song capital of Kaifeng in 1127. Their armies pushed all the way south to the Yangtze, but through continued warfare and treaties of diplomacy this boundary with the Han Chinese Southern Song dynasty was eventually stabilised along the Huai River. The Jurchens extorted gifts and rewards from the Korean Kingdom Goryeo by militarily threatening them.
The Jurchen named their dynasty the Jin ("Golden") after the Anchuhu River (anchuhu is the Jurchen equivalent of Manchu aisin "gold, golden") in their 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 ethnicities in China was permitted and peace with the Southern Song confirmed. The Jin rulers themselves came to follow Confucian norms.
After 1189, the Jin became involved in exhausting wars on two fronts, against the Mongols and the Southern Song dynasty. By 1215, under Mongol pressure, they were forced to move their capital south from Zhongdu (modern day Beijing) to Kaifeng, where the Mongol hordes captured the city in 1232. The emperor fled to a small town, and when it fell to the Mongols in the siege of Caizhou in 1234, the Jin dynasty was extinguished.
Culture and society
Among the ancestor tribes of the Jurchens were the Heishui Mohe tribes, which were among the various Mohe tribes living along the Amur River (Black Water). 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). After conquering China, during the Jin dynasty, Buddhism became the prevalent religion of the Jurchens, and Daoism was assimilated as well.
In 1126 the Jurchen initially ordered male Han within their conquered territories to adopt Jurchen hairstyle by shaving the front of their heads and adopting Jurchen dress, but the order was lifted. Jurchen were impersonated by Han rebels who wore their hair in the Jurchen "pigtail" to strike fear within their population. The later Manchus (who were also Jurchens) similarly made Han men shave the front of heads and adopt the queue (ponytail), or soncoho (Chinese: 辮子 biànzi), the traditional Manchurian 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 Ming times, the Jurchen people 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 (Primorsky Territory) 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.
The Jurchens were sedentary, settled farmers with advanced agriculture. They farmed grain and millet as their cereal crops, grew flax and raised oxen, pigs, sheep, and horses. Their farming way of life was very different from the pastoral nomadism of the Mongols and the Khitan on the steppes. "At the most", the Jurchen could only be described as "semi-nomadic" while the majority of them were sedentary.
Although their Mohe ancestors did not respect dogs, the Jurchen began to respect dogs around the time of the Ming dynasty and passed this tradition on to the Manchu, 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.
The Jurchen leader Nurhaci chose to variously emphasize either differences or similarities in lifestyles with other peoples like the Mongols for political reasons. 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."
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.
Chinese chroniclers of the Ming dynasty distinguished three groups of Jurchens: the Wild Jurchens (Chinese:野人女真) of northernmost Manchuria, the Haixi Jurchens (Chinese:海西女真) of modern Heilongjiang (Chinese:黑龍江) 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 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. 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 sinification of the Jurchens ultimately gave them the organisation structures to extend their power beyond the steppe. The Joseon Koreans tried to deal with the military threat that the Jurchen 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. Their relationship was discontinued by Ming, because Ming was planning to make Jurchens a means of protecting the border. Korea had to allow this as it was in Ming's tribute system. 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 Taejo of Joseon asked Ming to send Möngke Temür back but he refused. The Yongle Emperor was determined to wrest the Jurchens out of Korean influence and have China dominate them instead. Korea tried to persuade Möngke Temür to reject the Ming overtures, but was unsuccessful since Möngke Temür submitted to the Ming. Since then, more and more Jurchen tribes presented tribute to Ming in succession. They were divided in 384 guards by Ming, and the Jurchen became vassals to the Ming. The Ming dynasty name for the Jurchen land 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(Chinese:松花江) and around the Heilong River. During the late Ming and early Qing eras, the Jurchen tribe in the northeast was divided into 3 parts called Haixi (海西, "west of the sea"), Jianzhou (建洲, "establishing a state") and Yeren (野人, "wild people").
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". Han Chinese society resembled that of the sedentary Jianzhou and Maolian, who were farmers. Hunting, archery on horseback, horsemanship, livestock raising, and sedentary agriculture were all practiced by the Jianzhou Jurchens as part of their culture. The Manchu way of life (economy) was described as agricultural, farming crops and raising animals on farms. Manchus practiced slash-and-burn agriculture in the areas north of Shenyang.
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.
History of the Nurkal Command Post and the achievements of Yishisha
In 1409, the Ming government set up a post called Nurkal Command Post (NCP) at Telin in the vicinity of Heilong River. The three parts of the Jurchen tribe came under the nominal administration of the NCP,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 亦失哈 (who himself was a Haixi Jurchen by origin) 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 (奴兒干都司) at Telin 特林 (now, the village of Tyr, Russia about 100 km upstream from Nikolayevsk-on-Amur in the Russian Far East) near the mouth of the Amur.
These missions are not well recorded in the Ming dynastic history, but an important source on them is two stone steles erected by Yishiha at the site of the Yongning Temple (Chinese:永宁寺), a Guanyin temple commissioned by him at Telin. 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 NCP, Yishiha and other Ming dynasty eunuchs, under orders from the Emperor, came several times to promote Ming influences. When Yishiha visited Nuergan 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 4 languages - Han, Jurchen, Mongolian, and Tibetan.
Yishiha paid his 10th visit to Nuergan in 1432, during which he re-built 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 NCP and the repeated declarations to offer blessings to this region by Yishiha and others were all recorded in this and the first steles.
Transition from Jurchens to Manchu
Over a period of thirty years from 1586, Nurhaci, a chieftain of the Jianzhou Jurchens, united the Jurchen tribes, which was later renamed Manchu in 1635 by his son Hung Taiji. He created a formidable synthesis of tribal and inter-ethnic 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 Hung Taiji.
Possible Jurchen descendants
A caste of "degraded" outcasts said to be descended from the Jurchen existed in Ningbo city during the Qing dynasty, around 3,000 people in a class called to min (惰民 duò mín). 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.
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Paper presented to ISA’s 49th Annual Convention, San Francisco, March 26–29, 2008
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This article incorporates text from The Manchus: or The reigning dynasty of China; their rise and progress, by John Ross, a publication from 1880 now in the public domain in the United States.
- Jurchen script
- (Chinese) The Jurchen language and Script Website (Chinese Traditional Big5 code page) via Internet Archive
- The Russian news about the discovery of the Jurchen burial ground, July 2012