Qiang (historical people)

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Qiang (Chinese: ; pinyin: Qiāng; Wade–Giles: Ch'iang) was a name given to various groups of people at different periods in ancient China. During the sixteen kingdoms era, they were known as one of the Five Barbarians. The Qiang people are generally thought to have been of Tibeto-Burman origin,[1][2][3][4][5] though there are other theories.

As one of the oldest nations in western China, according to a legend, part of the Qiang people’s ancestry came from the famous Yan Emperor. Some 5,000 years ago, the Yan Emperor and his tribe were defeated by the Yellow Emperor. Most of his people were integrated with that of the Yellow Emperor and formed into a new nationality named Huaxia, who inhabited the Central Plain along the Yellow River. The rest moved west or south and became the ancestors of Tibetan, Yi and Qiang ethnic groups.[6]

The Tangut people of Tang, Sung and Yuan dynasties may be of Qiang descent.[1]


According to the Han dynasty dictionary Shuowen Jiezi, the Qiang were shepherds, and the Chinese character for Qiang () was thus formed from the characters for "sheep" (羊) and "man" (人), and pronounced like "sheep".[7][8] Fengsu Tongyi also mentions that character of Qiang was formed from the words "sheep" and "man". Modern scholars have attempted to reconstruct the ancient pronunciation of Qiang: sinologist Edwin Pulleyblank reconstructs it to *kʰiaŋ in Middle Chinese, while William H. Baxter and Laurent Sagart reconstruct the Old Chinese name of Qiang as *C.qʰaŋ.[9] They are generally believed to be Tibeto-Burman speakers, although Christopher Beckwith proposes that the word "Qiang" may have an Indo-European etymology and that the Qiang were of Indo-European origin; Beckwith compares a proposed reconstruction of Qiang to *klaŋ in Old Chinese to the Tocharian word klānk, meaning "to ride, go by wagon", as in "to ride off to hunt from a chariot", so that Qiang could actually mean "charioteer".[10]


The term "Qiang" appears in the Classic of Poetry in reference to Tang of Shang (trad. 1675–1646 BC).[11] They seem to have lived in a diagonal band from northern Shaanxi to northern Henan, somewhat to the south of the later Beidi. They were enemy of the Shang dynasty, who mounted expeditions against them, capturing slaves and victims for human sacrifice. The Qiang prisoners were skilled in making oracle bones.[12]

This ancient tribe is said to be the progenitor of both the modern Qiang and the Tibetan people.[13] There are still many ethnological and linguistic links between the Qiang and the Tibetans.[13] The Qiang tribe expanded eastward and joined the Han people in the course of historical development, while the other branch that traveled southwards, crosses over the Hengduan Mountains, and entered the Yungui Plateau; some went even farther, to Burma, forming numerous ethnic groups of the Tibetan-Burmese language family.[14] Even today, from linguistic similarities, their relative relationship can be seen. They formed the Tibetan ethnicity after the unification of the Tubo kingdom.[14] According to Fei Xiaotong: "Even if the Qiang people might not be regarded as the main source of the Tibetan people, it is undoubtedly that the Qiang people played a certain role in the formation of Tibetan race".[15]

Shuowen Jiezi indicated that the Qiangs were shepherds from the west and they were part of the Xirong.[8] They had a close relation to the Zhou dynasty, who may themselves have come from the Rong,[1] and were mentioned in the Book of Documents and Records of the Grand Historian as one of the allies of King Wu of Zhou who defeated the Shang.[16] It has been suggested that the clan of Jiang Yuan, mother of Houji, a figure of Chinese legends and mythology and an ancestor of the Zhou dynasty, was possibly related or identical to the Qiang.[1][17][18] Some of the ancient groups were called the "Horse-Qiang" or "Many-Horse-Qiang" (Ma Qiang or Duo Ma Qiang), suggesting they may have been horse breeders.[12] Not until the rise of the state of Qin under Duke Mu was the Qiang expansion effectively halted.

During the Han dynasty, a group of nomads to the southwest of Dunhuang were known as the Chuo Qiang (Chinese: 婼羌). They were described in the Book of Han as a people who moved with their livestock in search of water and pasture, made military weapons themselves using iron from the mountains, and possessed bows, lances, short knives, swords and armour.[19] In the Weilüe, other Qiang tribes named were the "Brown Onion", "White Horse", and "Yellow Ox" Qiang.[20] The various tribes of the Qiangs formed a confederation against the Han but were defeated.[21]

Later in the Han Dynasty, groups of people in the western part of Sichuan were mentioned in the Book of the Later Han as separate branches of the Qiang. A song from one of these groups, the "White Wolf" people, was transcribed in Chinese characters together with Chinese translation, and the language has since been identified as a Tibeto-Burman language.[1]

A Qiang leader, Yao Chang, founded the Later Qin kingdom (384–417 CE) during the Sixteen Kingdoms period of Chinese history.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Edwin G. Pulleyblank (1983). "Chapter 14 - The Chinese and Their Neighbors in Prehistoric and Early Historic Times". In David Keightley. The Origins of Chinese Civilization. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-04229-8.
  2. ^ Sigfried J. de Laet, Joachim Herrmann: History of Humanity: From the seventh century B.C. to the seventh century A.D. UNESCO, 1996, page 501.
  3. ^ Sanping Chen: Multicultural China in the Early Middle Ages. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
  4. ^ Patricia Buckley Ebrey: The Cambridge Illustrated History of China, Cambridge University Press, 2010, page 69.
  5. ^ Henry Luce Foundation Professor of East Asian Studies Nicola Di Cosmo, Nicola Di Cosmo, Don J Wyatt. Political Frontiers, Ethnic Boundaries and Human Geographies in Chinese History. Routledge, 2005, page 87.
  6. ^ "Qiang among China's ancients". archive.shine.cn. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  7. ^ Wicky W. K. Tse. The Collapse of China's Later Han Dynasty, 25-220 CE: The Northwest Borderlands and the Edge of Empire. Routledge. ISBN 9781315532318.
  8. ^ a b Shouwen Original text: 羌:西戎牧羊人也。从人从羊,羊亦聲。
  9. ^ Baxter, William H. and Laurent Sagart. 2014. Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction. Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-994537-5.
  10. ^ Beckwith, Christopher I. (16 March 2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton University Press. pp. 375–376. ISBN 14008-29941. Retrieved 30 December 2014.
  11. ^ Shi Jing, Sacrificial Odes of Shang, Yin Wu. 《詩經·商頌·殷武》: "昔有成湯,自彼氐羌,莫敢不來享,莫敢不來王"。
  12. ^ a b Nicola Di Cosmo. "The Northern Frontier in Pre-Imperial China". In Michael Loewe, Edward L. Shaughness. The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 B.C. Cambridge University Press. p. 908. ISBN 0-521-47030-7.
  13. ^ a b Bradley Mayhew, Korina Miller, Alex English: South-West China. 2002. Northern Síchuan - Around Wénchuan, page 517.
  14. ^ a b Chen Qingying, Tibetan History, 五洲传播出版社, 2003. page 7.
  15. ^ Fei Xiaotong (1999). The Pluralistic and Unified Structure of Chinese Ethnic Groups. The Central Ethnic University Publishing. p. 28.
  16. ^ Shiji 武王曰:「嗟!我有國冢君,司徒、司馬、司空,亞旅、師氏,千夫長、百夫長,及庸、蜀、羌、髳、微、纑、彭、濮人,稱爾戈,比爾干,立爾矛,予其誓。」
  17. ^ Beckwith, Christopher I. (16 March 2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton University Press. p. 44. ISBN 14008-29941. Retrieved 30 December 2014.
  18. ^ Kleeman, Terry F. (1998). Great Perfection: Religion and Ethnicity in a Chinese Millennial Kingdom. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 54–58. ISBN 0824818008. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  19. ^ Hulsewé, A. F. P. (1979). China in Central Asia: The Early Stage 125 BC – AD 23: an annotated translation of chapters 61 and 96 of the History of the Former Han Dynasty. E. Brill, Leiden. pp. 80–81. ISBN 90-04-05884-2.
  20. ^ Annotated translation of the Weilüe by John E. Hill
  21. ^ Joseph P. Yap (2009). "Chapter 9 - War with Qiang". Wars With the Xiongnu: A Translation from Zizhi Tongjian. AuthorHouse. pp. 324–340. ISBN 978-1-4490-0605-1.