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A Chinese wooden Bodhisattva statue, Jin Dynasty, Shanghai Museum.

The Nuzhen or Jurchens (Traditional Chinese: 女眞; Simplified Chinese: 女真; pinyin: nǚzhēn) were a Tungus people who inhabited the region of Manchuria (Northeast China) until the seventeenth century, when they became known as the Manchus. Vassals of the Khitan (Liao dynasty) during the tenth and eleventh centuries, they were unified in 1115 under Wanyan Aguda (完颜阿骨打), who declared himself Emperor and established the Jin Dynasty. The Jurchen seized Shangjing, the Northern Capital of Liao, then invaded the Han Chinese Northern Song Dynasty( 宋朝) and overran most of North China. The Jurchen set up a Chinese-style bureaucracy and made Buddhism the state religion, but continued to use their own written script and speech, and made the Han within the conquered territories adopt Jurchen dress. The Jin dynasty lasted until 1234 when the Mongols arrived.


The Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) sought allies against the Mongols among the Jurchens, and began a process of sinicization which ultimately gave them the organizational structure to extend their power. Over a period of thirty years beginning in 1586, Nurhaci, a chieftain of the Jianzhou Jurchens, united the three Jurchen tribes, renamed the united tribe “Manchu,” and founded the Qing Dynasty, the last dynasty to rule China.


The name “Nuzhen” or “Jurchen” dates back to at least the beginning of the tenth century, when the Balhae (Bohai in Chinese,振, then 渤海) kingdom was destroyed by Khitan ( 契丹; Pinyin: Qìdān). However, cognate ethnonyms like Sushen (肅愼) have been recorded in pre-Christian era geographical works like the Shan Hai Jing( 山海經/山海经) and Book of Wei ( 魏書/魏书; Pinyin: Wèishū). It comes from the Jurchen word jušen, the original meaning of which is unclear. It is a curious fact that in Manchu, the linear descendant of Jurchen, jušen occurs in many compounds denoting "slaves" and "serfs," such as jušen halangga niyalma, "a serf of the Manchus" (literally, "a person of the Jušen clan").[1] The standard English version of the name, "Jurchen," is an Anglicized transliteration of the Mongolian equivalent of the Jurchen term jušen (Mongolian: Jürchen, plural form Jürched), and may have made it to the West via Mongolian texts.[2] A less common English transliteration is "Jurched."

Jin Dynasty

Eurasia before Genghis Khan's conquests, 1200 C.E.

The eleventh century Jurchen tribes of northern Manchuria descended from the Tungusic Mohe( 靺鞨), or Malgal ( 靺鞨) tribes who were subjects of the ethnically Goguryeo( 高句麗) Balhae( Bohai in Chinese; 振, then 渤海) state during the Tang ( 唐朝) era. Their homeland was the forests in northern Manchuria and the adjacent region of southeastern Siberia across the Amur River. By the eleventh century, the Jurchens were vassals of the Khitans (契丹; Pinyin: Qìdān), who established the Liao Dynasty( 遼朝) in 907 C.E..

In 1115, after their leader Wanyan Aguda (完颜阿骨打) unified them and declared himself Emperor, the Jurchen overthrew the Khitan and quickly seized Shangjing, also known as Huanglongfu, the Northern Capital of Liao. The Jurchens then invaded territories under the Han Chinese Northern Song Dynasty( 宋朝) and overran most of North China, first setting up puppet regimes like Qi and Chu( (楚), later directly ruling as a Chinese dynastic state named Jīn (Jurchen: Anchu; Chinese: 金朝; Pinyin: Jīn Cháo Wade-Giles Chin Dynasty), "Gold," not to be confused with the several Jin Dynasties named after the region around Shanxi 山西and Henan 河南). Jin captured the Northern Song (宋朝 ) capital of Kaifeng 開封 in 1126. Their armies pushed all the way south to the Yangtze( 長江; Pinyin: Cháng Jiāng) but the boundary with the Southern Song was eventually stabilized roughly along the Huai River( 淮河; Pinyin: Huái Hé). The Jurchens ruled over Manchuria, southeastern Siberia, northern and central Han China, and Inner Mongolia.

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. (See Jin Dynasty ( 金朝, 1115–1234)). At first, the Jurchen tribesmen were kept in readiness for warfare, but decades of urban and settled life in China eroded their original lifestyle of hunting and gathering on 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. They established a dual system of administration similar to that of the Liao, with a Chinese-style bureaucracy ruling over the south and a tribal state to control the nomadic tribes of Inner Asia. Until 1152, their capital was at Hui-ning; then it was moved to Ta-hsing. Though they had chosen the Chinese name of “Jin” for their dynasty, and the major part of their realm was in China proper, the Juchen continued to use their own written script and speech, and prohibited Chinese clothing and customs from being used among their armies in order to preserve their ethnic identity.

After 1189, the Jin became involved in exhausting wars on two fronts: against the Mongols and against the Southern Song dynasty. The Mongols on the north concluded an alliance with the Song, and by 1215, under Mongol pressure, they were forced to move their capital south from Zhongdu (modern day Beijing) to Kaifeng, where the Mongol hordes extinguished the Jin dynasty in 1234.

Culture, Language and Society

The Jurchens generally lived by traditions that reflected the hunting and gathering culture of the Siberian-Manchurian tundra and coastal peoples. Like the Khitans( 契丹; Pinyin: Qìdān) and Mongols, they took pride in feats of strength, horsemanship, archery, and hunting. They engaged in shamanic cults and believed in a supreme sky god (abka-i enduri, abka-i han). After conquering China, during the Jin Dynasty, the Jurchen adopted Buddhism as the state religion, and Taoism was assimilated as well. [3]

The Jurchen made the Han, within the conquered territories, shave the tops of their heads and adopt Jurchen dress.[4] This "bald-head" fashion was known as tūfǎ (禿髮, “Bald-Hair or Stripped-Hair”) to the Chinese.[5] The Manchus, descendants of the Jurchen, later made the Han shave their heads and adopt the Queue (ponytail), which was the traditional Manchurian hairstyle. This was known as the biànzi (辮子) by the Chinese.

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. However, because Chinese is an isolating language and the Jurchen and Khitan languages are agglutinative, the script proved to be cumbersome. The written Jurchen language died out soon after the fall of the Jin Dynasty, though its spoken form survived. Until the end of the sixteenth century, when Manchu became the new literary language, the Jurchens used a combination of Mongolian and Chinese.

The culture of Jurchen society owes a great deal to the Mongols. Both Mongols and Jurchens used the title han (khan, sometimes spelled as Xan, Han, Ke-Han) 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.

Jurchens During the Ming Dynasty

During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), 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 they formed companies (niru) for larger activities, such as war.

The Nuzhen tribe 女真族 (Jurchen) was the predecessor of the Manchu nationality. Chinese chroniclers of the Ming Dynasty distinguished three groups of Jurchens: the Yeren (野人, "wild people") of northernmost Manchuria; the Haixi Jurchens (海西, "west of the sea") of modern Heilongjiang( 黑龍江省); and the Jianzhou (建洲, "establishing a state") of modern Jilin (吉林) province. They led a pastoral-agrarian lifestyle, hunting, fishing, and engaging in limited agriculture.

The Yeren tribe was rather backward, (nomadic) without 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. 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 Nuzhen dwelling-place to carry out trade with the Haixi and Jianzhou tribes, whose main commodities were horses, fur, ginseng, and other special local products. Commodities from the Han regions included iron farming tools, farm cattle, seeds, rice, salt, and textiles.

In 1388, the Hongwu Emperor( 洪武帝 朱元璋) dispatched a mission to establish contact with the tribes of Odoli, Huligai and T'owen, beginning the sinicization of the Jurchen people. The Yongle Emperor( 永楽帝 朱棣) found allies against the Mongols from among the various Jurchen tribes. He bestowed titles and surnames on various Jurchen chiefs and expected them to send periodic tribute. 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, a measure of the Chinese divide-and-rule policy. Later, horse markets were also established in the northern border towns of Liaodong for trade.

In 1409, the Ming government set up a post called Nurkal Command Post (NCP) at Telin in the vicinity of Heilong River.

From 1411 to 1433, the Ming eunuch Yishiha ( 亦失哈 ), a man of Jurchen origin, led ten large missions to win over the allegiance of the Jurchen tribes along the Sunggari and Amur rivers. His fleet sailed down the Sunggari into the Amur, and set up the Nurkal (Nu'ergan) Command Post (NCP, 努尔干都司 ) at Telin (特林, now Nikolayevsk-na-Amur in the Russian Far East) near the mouth of the Amur. The three parts of the Nuzhen tribe came under the administration of the NCP. Leaders of the Haixi and Jianzhou tribes accepted the Ming administration's "enfeoffments," which under a feudal system are a pledge (or deed) of land (or rights) in exchange for services.

These missions are not well documented in the Ming dynastic history, but an important historical source for them is two stone steles erected by Yishiha at the site of the Yongning Temple ( 永宁寺 ). After the setting up of the Nurkal Command Post, Yishiha (亦失哈) and other Ming dynasty eunuchs, under orders from the Emperor, came several times to offer local minority nationalities blessings and consolidations. When Yishiha inspected Nuergan for the third time in 1413, he built a Guanyin temple called Yongning Temple at Telin, and erected steles in front of it. The inscriptions on the steles are in four languages: Chinese, Jurchen, Mongol, and Tibetan. In 1432, during Yishiha’s tenth visit to Nuergan, he rebuilt the titled Yongning Temple and erected another stele in front of it, bearing the heading, "Record of Re-building Yongning Temple." The setting up of the NCP and the repeated declarations to offer blessings and consolidations to this region by Yishiha and others were all recorded on this and the first steles. Probably written to glorify Yishiha, they give a detailed record of the Ming court's efforts to assert suzerainty over the Jurchen, a historical testimony of China's development of the Heilong river and Ussuri river basins,

The increasing sinicization of the Jurchens ultimately gave them the organizational structure to extend their power beyond the steppe. Over a period of 30 years beginning in 1586, Nurhaci, a chieftain of the Jianzhou Jurchens, united the three Jurchen tribes, and renamed the united tribe “Manchu.” He created a formidable synthesis of nomadic institutions, providing the basis of the Manchu state and later the conquest of China as the Qing dynasty.


Buddhist influence reached the Jurchen from both Northern Song China and Goguryeo (918 - 1392). In 1019, they requested a copy of the newly-printed Buddhist canon from the Northern Song emperor, and by 1105, Han Chinese monks were performing Buddhist ceremonies at the Jurchen court. The strongest Buddhist influence, however, was from the Khitans.

After the establishment of the Jin Dynasty, the Khitan form of Buddhism remained prominent in the Inner Mongolian regions taken over by the Jurchens. In the later years of the Jin, Han Chinese forms took precedence. The early Jurchen emperors patronized Buddhism, and built many temples in their capital, now known as Beijing, and throughout their domain. By the middle of the twelfth century, there were more than thirty thousand monks in the Jin Empire, with monks occupying a higher position than court officials. [6]

See also

  • Manchu


  1. Cf. Jerry Norman, A Concise Manchu-English Lexicon (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978)
  2. Cf. William J. Peterson. The Cambridge History of China. (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  3. Ulrich Theobald. Chinese History - Jin Dynasty 金 (1115-1234) religion and customs, CHINAKNOWLEDGE. Retrieved September 14, 2007.
  4. Sanderson Beck. Liao, Xi Xia, and Jin Dynasties 907-1234. Ethics of World Civilizations: China, Korea & Japan to 1800. (World Peace Communications. 2007) Retrieved September 14, 2007.
  5. Chinese History - Western Xia Dynasty (Xixia) 西夏 (1038-1227) arts, CHINAKNOWLEDGE. Retrieved September 14, 2007.
  6. Alexander Berzin. The Historical Interaction between the Buddhist and Islamic Cultures before the Mongol Empire. Berzin Archives, (1996, revised 2003, 2006) Retrieved 8/28/2007


  • Franke, Herbert, and Hok-lam Chan. 1997. Studies on the Jurchens and the Chin dynasty. Aldershot, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate. ISBN 9780860786450
  • Kane, Daniel. 1989. The Sino-Jurchen vocabulary of the Bureau of Interpreters. Uralic and Altaic series, v. 153. Bloomington, Ind: Indiana University, Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies. ISBN 9780933070233
  • Morton, W. Scott, and Charlton M. Lewis. 2005. China: its history and culture. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0071412794 ISBN 9780071412797
  • Peterson, William J. 2002. The Cambridge History of China. Cambridge University Press.
  • Tao, Jinsheng. 1977. The Jurchen in twelfth-century China: a study of sinicization. Seattle: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0295955147 ISBN 9780295955148
  • Tillman, Hoyt Cleveland, and Stephen H. West. 1995. China under Jurchen rule essays on Chin intellectual and cultural history. SUNY series in Chinese philosophy and culture. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. ISBN 9780585045399

External links

All links retrieved February 2, 2015.

  • Simon Ager. Jurchen script, OMNIGLOT, writing systems and languages of the world.


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