Manchu bride

The Manchus are Mongol-like-horsemen-turned-merchants from Manchuria whose homeland was originally centered around what is now the city of Shenyang in northeast China. From the 17th century to the early 20th century they ruled all of China. Now they are one of the most assimilated ethnic minorities, yet they still retain a strong sense of their own identity. [Source: "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]

The Manchu descended from a horse-riding nomadic people of northeastern China and were the last imperial rulers of China, establishing the Qing Dynasty, which lasted from 1644 until 1912. Many of the Manchus that live outside the Manchu homeland descendants of Manchu administrators and military colonists. In the 1980s, the Manchu were listed as the second largest ethnic minority in China, now they are are fifth (See Below). Manchu are also known as Jurchen, Nuzhen and Qiren.

The Qing (Ching, Ch’ing, Manchu) Dynasty (1644-1912) was China's last dynasty. Its Manchu emperors were unpopular because they were not Han Chinese. In Chinese eyes they descended from invaders and opened up China to exploitation from the West. The Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) was overthrown by the Manchus, who established the Qing Dynasty, with the help of local peasant rebellions. The Manchus had advanced steadily south in the 16th and by the end of 17th century had complete control of China. The Qing Dynasty expanded northward, westward and southward. Under emperors Kangxi (reigned 1662–1722) and Qianlong (reigned 1735–96), China was perhaps at its greatest territorial extent, and included Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet, Taiwan, and parts of Siberia and the Uighur Empire in Central Asia and Turkestan (Xinjiang, present-day Western China). During the last years of the Qing Dynasty, China was ruled by Empress Dowager Cixi. Pu Yi was the last Qing emperor.

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Chinese history deals harshly with the Qing Dynasty. Pu Yi is still despised as a collaborator for having headed the puppet state of Manchuko, which was established by Japanese occupiers during the 1930s. Some memoirs about Cixi describe an insatiable sexual appetite and cruelty, although her relatives say the stories are fabricated. Cixi became the scapegoat for everything that was wrong with old China," said Na Genzheng, a 61-year-old descendant of one of the empress' brothers. One of the more outspoken family representatives, he keeps a photograph of Cixi flanked by tall vases, shrine-like, in a niche in his living room. "People don't appreciate her contribution and the family's to Chinese culture," he said. His illustrious ancestor, he said, "lived in a period of transition and promoted reforms learned from Western countries." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2013 \~/]

Origin of the Manchus

Manchu accountants in the 1890s

The origins of the Manchu can be traced back more than 2,000 years to the forest-and mountain-dwelling peoples of northeastern China such as the Sushen tribe, and in later periods to the Yilou, Huji, Mohe, and Jurchen (Nuzhen, Nuchen) mentioned in historical records. Their ancestors established the Bohai State between the seventh and eighth centuries A.D., and were a part of the Liao Empire (947-1125), which extended over Manchuria, Mongolia, and northeastern China. [Source: Lin Yueh-hwa (Lin Yaohua) and Naranbilik, e Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) World Cultures, Yale University]

The Sushen lived during Zhou Dynasty (1050–221 B.C.). The Yilou were recorded in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) and the Wuji were recorded in Northern Dynasties period (A.D. 420– 589). The Mohe lived during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-906) and the Jurchen lived from the Song Dynasty (960–1279) to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences]

According to myth the Manchu race descended from a beautiful maiden who was impregnated by a magic magpie who placed a magic red berry in the maiden's stomach while she waded in the crater lake on top of Tianchi mountain on the what is now the North Korean and Chinese border. The origins of the Manchu have been traced back 2000 years to forest and mountain-dwelling people who lived between the Ussuri and Heilongjiang rivers in northeast China.

Early Manchu History

Jurchen man

The Manchu have a long history. Their origins have been traced back 2000 years to forest and mountain-dwelling people who lived between the Ussuri and Heilongjiang rivers in northeast China. Originally called the Sushen and Mohe people, they evolved into the Jurchen, who established the Bohai State in the A.D. 8th century and later the Liao Empire (A.D. 947-1125). See Above

The Sushen, Yilou, Huji, Mohe and Jurchen tribes are native to the Changbai Mountains and the drainage area of the Heilong River in northeast China. As testified to by the stone arrowheads and pomegranate-wood bows they sent as tributes to rulers of the Western and Eastern Zhou period (11th century-221 B.C.), the Sushens were one of the earliest tribes living along the reaches of the Heilong and Wusuli rivers north of the Changbai Mountains. [Source: China.org |]

After the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.), the Sushens changed the name of their tribe to Yilou. They ranged over an extensive area covering the present-day northern Liaoning Province, the whole of Jilin Province, the eastern half of Heilongjiang Province, east of the Wusuli River, and north of the Heilong River. Stone arrowheads and pomegranate-wood bows still distinguished the Yilous in hunting wild boar. They also mastered such skills as raising hogs, growing grain, weaving linen and making small boats. They pledged allegiance to dynastic rulers on the Central Plains after the Three Kingdoms period (220-280). During the period between the 4th and 7th centuries, descendants of the Yilous called themselves Hujis and Mohes, consisting of several dozen tribes. |

By the end of the 7th century a local power called the State of Zhen with the Mohes of the Sumo tribe as the majority was formed under the leadership of Da Zuorong on the upper reaches of the Songhua River north of the Changbai Mountains. In 713, the Tang court conferred on Da Zuorong the title of "King of Bohai Prefecture" and made him "Military Governor of Huhan Prefecture." Da's domain, known afterwards as the State of Bohai, showed marvelous skills in iron smelting and silk weaving. With its political and military institutions modeled on those of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), this society adopted the Han script. Under the influence of the political and economic systems of the central part of China and the more developed science and culture there, speedy advances were made in agriculture and handicraft industries. Then the Liao Dynasty (916-1125) conquered the State of Bohai and moved the Bohai tribesmen southward. Along with this movement, the Mohes in the Heilong River valley made a southward expansion. Gradually a people known as Jurchens built a powerful state in the former domain of Bohai.

Jin Dynasty and Jurchen During the Yuan and Ming Periods

Arigun, a Manchu general

The early 12th century saw a successful insurrection led by Aguoda with the Wanyan tribe of the Jurchen people as a key force in their fight against the Liao Dynasty. In 1115, the Jurchen tribes of northern Manchuria became unified and formed an alliance with other non-Han agricultural and pastoral peoples of the region. The Jurchen formed an alliance with the Song and reduced the Kitan Empire to vassal status in a seven-year war (1115-1122). The Jurchen leader proclaimed himself the founder of a new era, the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234).

Scarcely pausing in their conquests, the Jurchen subdued neighboring Koryo (Korea) in 1226 and invaded the territory of their former allies, the Song, to precipitate a series of wars with China that continued through the remainder of the century. After the termination of the Liao, the Jin armies destroyed the Northern Song (960-1126) and imprisoned the Song Emperor and captured the Song capital of Bianjing. After that the Jurchen turned their attention to the Mongols who, in 1139 and in 1147, warded them off. [Source: Library of Congress]

The Jurchen rose as a power in opposition to the rule of the Southern Song (1127-1279). The short-lived Jin (Chin, Kin) dynasty controlled what is now northeast China and extended southward into inner China as far south as the Huai River. At their main capital, Yanjing (now Beijing), they built a Chinese-type bureaucratic state and recruited Chinese officials to help run the empire. By 1215, under pressure from the advancing Mongols, the capital was moved southward to Kaifeng; the Chin fell in 1234.

Early in the 13th century, the Jurchens were conquered by the Mongols and later came under the rule of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). With the largest concentration in Yilan, Heilongjiang Province, they settled on the middle and lower reaches of the Heilong River and along the Songhua and Wusuli rivers, extending to the sea in the east. The Yuan Dynasty enlisted the service of local upper-strata residents to create five administrations each governing 10,000 house-holds, known respectively as Taowen, Huligai, Woduolian, Tuowolian and Bokujiang. The Jurchens at this time were still leading a primitive life. They developed and progressed, until Nurhachi's son proclaimed the name of Manchu towards the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The Ming Dynasty had 384 military forts and outposts established in the Jurchen area, and the Nuergan Garrison Command, a local military and administrative organization in Telin area opposite the confluence of the Heilong and Henggun rivers, was placed directly under the Ming court. While strengthening central government control over northeast China, these establishments aided the economic and cultural exchanges between the Jurchen and Han peoples.

Rise of the Powerful Manchu Under Nurhachi

In the Ming Dynasty, the leader of the Jian state Jurchen nationality, Nurhachi, unified the various tribes of Nunchen, founded the "Eight Banner" system, and established the Posterior Jurchens—the name first adopted by the Manchus when they rebelled against the Chinese Ming Dynasty— in the forty-fourth year of the Wanli period (1616 B.C.). In the ninth year of Tiancong period (1635), HuangTaiji abolished the old name of the nationality and adopted "Manchuria" as the new name. In the first year of the Chongde period (1636 B.C.), the name of Posterior Jurchens was changed into Qing.


From the mid-16th century onwards, repeated internecine wars broke out among the Jurchens, but they were later reunified by Nurhachi, who was then Governor of Jianzhou Prefecture.

In 1595, the Ming court conferred on Nurhachi the title of "Dragon-Tiger General" after making him a garrison commander in 1583 and public procurator of Heilongjiang Province in 1589. Frequent trips to Beijing brought him full awareness of developments in the Han areas, which in turn exerted great influence on him. A talented political and military leader, he later proved his outstanding ability by welding together within 30 years all the Jurchen tribes that were scattered over a vast area reaching as far as the sea in the east, Kaiyuan in the west, the Nenjiang River in the north and the Yalu River in the south. [Source: China.org |]

Once the Jurchens were united, Nurhachi initiated the "Eight banner" system, under which all people were organized along military lines. Each banner consisted of many basic units called "niulu" which functioned as the primary political, military and production organization of the Manchu people, and each unit was formed of 300 people. Members of these units hunted or farmed together in peace time, and in time of war all would go into battle as militia. In 1619 Nurhachi proclaimed himself "Sagacious Khan" and established a state known to later times as Late Jin. |

In pursuing their goal to conquer the country, the Manchu rulers began in 1633 to institute the Eight Banner system among the Hans and Mongolians under their control. In 1635, Huang Taiji (1592-1643, eighth son of Nurhachi and later enthroned as Emperor Tai Zong of the Qing Dynasty) chose the name of "Manchu" to replace Jurchen for his people. In the following year, when he ascended the throne, he adopted Great Qing the name of his dynasty. |


Nurhachi (1559-1626), the Qing Tai Zu, is regarded as the founder of the Manchus. He was from Zuowei (Xinbin county in present-day Liaoning province) in Jian state. His family name was Aisin Gioro, which later became a common Manchu clan name. He came from a family of chiefs that served as leaders of the Jurchen tribe and passed down their leadership on a hereditary basis. According to the Chinese government propaganda line: “He had a good command of the Chinese language and was greatly influenced by the Han nationality culture. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

Manchu Conquest of China

In a review of Erik Hildinger’s “Warriors of the Steppe”, Christopher Berg wrote: “The Manchu dynasty was founded by Nurhachi, a man who consolidated power in a way reminiscent of Genghis Khan. Nurhachi was a seasoned practitioner of war who used every trick available to win. Often times, he took great gambles. However, with great risk comes the opportunity for great reward. In one incident, he sent Chinese deserters to a loyal Chinese army in order to sow discord amongst its officers and create the illusion of defeat. The ruse worked because Nurhachi was committed to see it through and knew that his own life hung in the balance. Nurhachi achieved success against the Chinese because they were plagued by intrigue and internal division. They were more concerned with Chinese politics than Nurhachi’s barbarians on the frontier. While troops were sent to garrison the frontier, they were sent gradually. The greatest threat against the Chinese was not the Manchus, but themselves. The Manchus merely capitalized on a weakened Chinese state as any opportunist would. Hildinger concludes, and rightly so, that Manchu success against the Chinese is due in part to their limited holdings abroad and their concentrated efforts against a single enemy. [Sources: “Warriors of the Steppe: A Military History of Central Asia 500BC to 1700AD” by Erik Hildinger (Da Capo Press, 1997); Christopher Berg, Sam Houston State University ]

In the eleventh year of the Wanli period of the Ming Dynasty (1583), Nurhachi began the unification of the Jurchen tribes. By the forty-fourth year of the Wanli period (1616), he had unified all the Jurchen tribes and established the Posterior Jurchens—the name first adopted by the Manchus when they rebelled against the Chinese Ming Dynasty— power in Hetuala (later, its name was changed to Xingjing, west of Xinbin in present-day Liaoning province) and began the period of Tianming. In the forty-sixth year of the Wanli period of the Ming Dynasty (1618), he declared his aim to overthrow the Ming rulers, with his powerful "Eight Banner" force. In March 1619, he won key battle against Dusong's army, the main force of the Ming army. From then on, the Posterior Jurchens developed into an aggressive, ambitious fighting force. ~

In the first year of the Tianqi period of the Ming Dynasty (1621), Nurhachi led the "Eight Banner" army and the Mongolian army to attack the Ming army and occupied Shenyang and Liaoyang. The next year, he occupied Xiping fort and Guangning. In the fifth year of the Tianqi period (1625), he moved the capital of the Manchus to Shenyang. In the eleventh year of Tianming period of the Posterior Jurchens (1626), he led the "Eight Banner" army to occupy Jinzhou and Ningyuan. In Ningyuan, he was beaten by Yuanchonghuan, a Ming general, and was badly hurt. In August 1626, Nurhachi died. His position as hereditary chief was passed on to his eighth son,HuangTaiji. The Jurchen people were renamed the Manchus under Hong Taiji. ~

Nurhachi and Respect for Dogs and Crows

In frigid cold of northeast China, some ethnic group have had the custom of wearing dogskin hats and dogskin clothes. However, the Manchus abstained from killing dogs, eating dogs and wearing dogskin hats. In addition, they did not allow guests with dogskin hats on into their houses. Some say that this respect for dogs can ne traced to the story of "dog's rescuing of Nurhachi". According to legend, Nurhachi once got into serious danger and it was a dog that saved him and helped him escape what seemed like probable death. As the recognition of dog's selfless act, Nurhachi said: "in the mountains, there are so many kinds animals which you can hunt for food, but from now on, no one is allowed to eat dogs nor wear dogskin. When dogs die, they should be buried because dogs can read man's emotion and can rescue their masters. Dogs are loyal." From then on, loving dogs and respecting dogs became the custom of The Manchus. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

There is another similar legend. Once, Nurhachi was being hunted by the Ming army and hid himself in the reeds. The Ming army set fire to the reeds and Nurhachi collapsed on the ground exhausted and suffocating from the smoke. Just when things were about to go from bad to worse, a yellow dog appeared between the pond and Nurhachi. The animal put out the fire around the king by digging water from the pond. Nurhachi was rescued but the dog died of exhaustion beside the king. When the Ming army approached, a flock of crows landed on the body of the king, which made the army believe that the crows were eating the corpse, and withdrew. When the king came to, he realized that the dog and crows saved his life. So, from then on, he ordered his followers not to hurt dogs and crows and treat them with care and respect. As a result, Manchus didn't eat the meat of crows and raised them as pets.

battle between Ming Chinese and Manchus

Qing Dynasty

The Manchus became powerful under Nurhachi, when they began calling themselves Manchus. They expanded southwards and northwards and began invading China from the northeast in 1618. To help put down a peasant rebellion generals in the Ming dynasty, which ruled China at that time, saw their only hope was in forming an alliance with the Manchus, who were initially held back the Great Wall of China. After the peasants were easily defeated, the Manchus turned their weapons on the Ming and marched into Beijing in June 1644 and declared a new dynasty, the Qing, which ruled China until 1911.

In the first year of the Shunzhi period (1644), the army of Qing attacked Shanhaiguan and took over the central power of China. Beijing was set as the capital. The Qing Dynasty founded by the ruling class of Manchus ruled China for over 260 years. During this period, the most outstanding emperors who contributed the most to history were Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong.

Although the Manchus were not Han Chinese and were strongly resisted, especially in the south, they had assimilated a great deal of Chinese culture before conquering China Proper. Realizing that to dominate the empire they would have to do things the Chinese way, the Manchus retained many institutions of Ming and earlier Chinese derivation. They continued the Confucian court practices and temple rituals, over which the emperors had traditionally presided.

During the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), many important Han writings were translated into Manchu. Many Manchu, particularly those living in or on the borders with interior China, adopted much of Han culture and assimilated to Han styles of life. The success of the Manchus against their Asian adversaries was due to their ability to marry Mongol military technique with Chinese administrative government. They had less success against the European invaders. In the 19th century, Manchu archers were mowed down by European guns and canons.

See QING (MANCHU) DYNASTY (1644-1912) factsanddetails.com

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Qing Imperial banners

Manchu "Eight Banner" System

The Eight Banners were administrative-military divisions under the Qing dynasty into which all Manchu households were placed. In war, the Eight Banners functioned as armies. In the peacetime, the members of the Eight Banners went back to farming and hunting and living as ordinary people. The banner system also served as the basic organizational framework of all of Manchu society. Created in the early 17th century by Nurhaci, the banner armies played an instrumental role in his unification of the fragmented Jurchen people and in the Qing dynasty's conquest of the Ming dynasty. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Initially, Nurhaci's forces were organized into small hunting parties of about a dozen men related by blood, marriage, clan, or place of residence, as was the typical Jurchen custom. In 1601, with the number of men under his command growing, Nurhaci reorganized his troops into companies of 300 households. Five companies made up a battalion, and ten battalions a banner. Four banners were originally created: Yellow, White, Red, and Blue, each named after the color of its flag. By 1614, the number of companies had grown to around 400. In 1615, the number of banners was doubled through the creation of "bordered" banners. The troops of each of the original four banners would be split between a plain and a bordered banner. The bordered variant of each flag was to have a red border, except for the Bordered Red Banner, which had a white border instead. The banner armies expanded rapidly after a string of military victories under Nurhaci and his successors. Beginning in the late 1620s, the Jurchens incorporated allied and conquered Mongol tribes into the Eight Banner system. In 1635, the Mongols were separated into the Mongol Eight Banners. +

As Mongol and Han Chinese forces were incorporated into the growing Qing military establishment, the Mongol Eight Banners and Chinese Eight Banners were created alongside the original Manchu banners. The banner armies were considered the elite forces of the Qing military, while the remainder of imperial troops were incorporated into the vast Green Standard Army. Membership in the banners was hereditary, and bannermen were granted land and income. After the defeat of the Ming dynasty, Qing emperors continued to rely on the Eight Banners in their subsequent military campaigns. After the Ten Great Campaigns of the Qianlong Emperor, the quality of banner troops gradually decreased, and by the 19th century the task of defending the empire had largely fallen upon regional warlord armies such as the Xiang Army. Over time, the Eight Banners became synonymous with Manchu identity even as their military strength totally vanished. +

The "Eight Banner" system has its origins in the social institution of the Junchen (the Manchus). To meet the need of war, Nurhachi adapted the Junchen Niulu system—a temporary organization for production and military affairs—into a long-term formal organization. Each Niulu contained 300 people and was lead by a Niulu Ezhen (Watch Leader). Five Niulus formed a Jiala Ezhen (Canling) and every five Jiala formed a Gushan,— a banner. The leader of a Gushan was Gushan Ezhen (commander-in-chief). In 1601, Nurhachi set up the yellow banner, the white banner, the red banner and the blue banner. In 1615, he set up the border yellow banner, the border white banner, the border red banner and the border blue banner. Together these banners were called the "Eight Banners". Nurhachi named his sons and nephews as the leaders of the eight banners and they were collectively called the "Gushan Beile". [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

Qing hunting party

In 1635, the Mongolian "Eight Banner" system was set up and, in 1642, the "Eight Banners" of the Han nationality was established. So, at this juncture 24 banners existed bu they were still called the Eight Banners. The "Eight Banners" had military, political and producing function. The member of "Eight Banner" was called "banner man". The collapse of the Qing Dynasty in the early 20th century also spelt doom for the "Eight Banner" system.

Manchu History in the 20th Century

By the end of the nineteenth century, Russia and Japan were competing for control of China's northeastern provinces, with their rich timber lands, farm lands, and mineral reserves. Japan occupied the area in 1931 and in 1932 proclaimed Manchukuo as an “independent” state under the rule of Pu Yi Aisengoro, the last of the Qing emperors. In Shenyang, Dalian, Anshan, Fushun, Changchun and Harbin, the Japanese and their Chinese helpers opened many big mines and factories. The capitalists ruthlessly exploited the workers, Manchus and Hans alike, and deprived them of their political right and personal safety. After World War II, Chinese sovereignty was restored. In places around Aihui County, Heilongjiang Province, Manchu people lived by their old traditions and customs and used their own ancient language until 1949, when the People's Republic of China was founded.

After the Revolution of 1911, the nationality was called "The Manchus". According to the Chinese government: The Revolution of 1911 led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen won wide acclaim and support among the broad masses of the Manchu people. Manchus staged a series of armed uprisings including those of Fengcheng and other places led by the Manchu progressives, Bao Huanan and He Xiuzhai, who cooperated with the Han revolutionary Ning Wu. Manchu and Han intellectuals in Shenyang (Mukden) formed a "Progressives' Radical Alliance." Leaders of the alliance, Manchu intellectuals Bao Kun and Tian Yabin and Han progressive Zhang Rong, a member of the Tong Meng Hui (Chinese Revolutionary League), proposed the establishment of a "coalition republican government composed of Manchu and Han people." Though executed by the Qing government, the two Manchus represented the correct position many Manchu people took in the Revolution of 1911.

Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the social and economic conditions of the Manchu people in northeast China was quite different from those of the people in the central part of the country. In the days of Japanese occupation, most land in the northeast was in the hands of landlords and rich peasants, with large tracts of farmland under direct control of the Japanese "Land Reclamation Corps." The Manchu people were subjected to plunder and enslavement. A compulsory "grain purchasing system" was enforced. All soybean, maize, corn and millet harvested by the peasants were taken by the Japanese and Chinese puppet officials, policemen and village heads. Food grain was strictly rationed after all the layers of corruption, leaving only swill for the average Manchus.

Along with this were all sorts of military services and forced labor. A physical examination was required of all young Manchu peasants at the age of 19. With the strong ones conscripted into the Japanese military or the puppet army, the weaker ones were made coolies building highways, fortifications and factories or working in the mines. Life for them was extremely miserable. Treated like beasts of burden and tortured by cold and hunger they were forced to work 15 to 16 hours a day. Many perished under the lashes of the Japanese. Massacres of press-ganged Manchu workers by the Japanese were the rule upon completion of strategic military projects.

Life was no better for many Manchu intellectuals, including scientific and artistic workers, teachers and government employees, since inflation and currency devaluation made things all the worse for those with meager pay. This circumstance left no exception for the Manchu peasants living in the countryside south of the Great Wall. A few privileged old-timers and offspring of big families under the Qing Dynasty were the only ones better off than the general run. These were rent collectors or dealers in jewellery, calligraphy and Chinese painting.

In 1952, the government issued a decision protecting the right of people of all national minorities living in scattered groups to enjoy political equality. The decision stipulates that all minority people be duly represented in governments at all levels. Under this policy the Manchu people have their own deputies to the national and local People's Congresses and enjoy equal right with other nationalities running state affairs.

Manchu Assimilation

In the old days there was a lot of intermarriage between Manchus and Mongols. Intermarriage with Han Chinese was not permitted until the mid 19th century. During the Qing dynasty the Manchus were heavily influenced by Han Chinese culture and adopted many of its traditions and customs and assimilated the Han lifestyle. Migrations of Han from north China into the northeastern provinces during the twentieth century further hastened assimilation of the Manchu and the adoption of the Chinese language. Only Manchus that remained in the traditional homelands, and some in Xinjiang, kept Manchu culture alive.

“Manchus today live throughout China, indistinguishable from the Han majority except for a few physical traits. They tend to be larger, with more prominent noses and curlier hair. "We wear the same clothes. I don't feel we are so different from other Chinese people," said Na Na, a 20-year-old Manchu student who has been working with her father, a calligrapher, to revive Manchu culture.

queue styles

Unlike some other Chinese minorities, Manchus are not exempt from China's limits on family size, although they do get preferential treatment on college entrance exams as part of an affirmative action program for minorities. Because the Manchus have no separatist aspirations, they are considered a model minority by the Communist Party. \~/]

“Some things Manchu have been incorporated seamlessly into Beijing culture, such as the popular pastry saqima and the figure-hugging dresses known as cheongsam. Like the Yiddish woven into New York slang, Beijingers use Manchu-derived insults such as "moceng," meaning "slow," and "mama huhu," meaning "mediocre" or "careless."

China's Ethnic Manchus Rediscovering Their Roots

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: a century after the end of the Qing Dynasty “ethnic Manchus are rediscovering their roots. A few universities have revived the study of the nearly extinct Manchu language, which is more like Mongolian than Chinese. There are culture seminars to study the dance, food and music of Manchuria, even Internet forums. Many people have also begun using their Manchu family names, even if few are legally registered like little Yehenala Yiyi. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2013 \~/]

“The primary benefits of being Manchu appear to be psychological, a way to distinguish oneself in a country of 1.3 billion. "Right now, China is stable, politically and financially. People have the leisure to trace back their family history," said Ye Ming, 29, who runs an Internet forum called Fortunate Manchu Ethnicity, with 17,000 members. Ma Baohe, 20, of Hebei province says he became interested in his Manchu heritage when he started college and met other minorities. "People would say to me: 'Oh, you're Manchu. What's your language?' "I had no answer, so I figured I had to learn." \~/

Manchu Royalty After the Qing Dynasty Collapse

Manchus dressed as royal family

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “After the abdication of the last emperor, Pu Yi, his clan changed its name to Jin. The Yehenalas, related to Cixi, the empress dowager who was de facto ruler in the late 19th century, became Ye or Na. Not all Manchus can trace their lineage to emperors, but many have ties to the former imperial bureaucracy. (In fact, a large number of descendants found jobs in the civil service or in state-owned companies, many joining the Communist Party.) [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2013 \~/]

During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Tse-tung's decade-long purge of the elites, the stigma attached to being a member of the old aristocracy was so great that many imperial descendants were unaware of their own lineage. Ye Longpei, Yiyi's 70-year-old grandfather, didn't find out until he was an adult that his own grandfather had been the youngest brother of the empress Cixi. His father, who was then close to dying, confided the family secret in 1975, in the waning days of the Cultural Revolution, during a walk to the Summer Palace, Cixi's retreat in northwest Beijing. \~/

"That's how shameful it was to be part of the royal family. This is something that nobody would brag about," said Ye, a retired schoolteacher who lives with his son's family in a comfortable but nondescript two-bedroom walk-up apartment south of downtown Beijing. Cixi's descendants held a large family reunion in 2008 on the 100th anniversary of her death and are trying to salvage her reputation.

Descendants of Manchu Royalty

Reporting from Beijing, Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Nobody would suspect that this impish toddler is of noble lineage. Yiyi has the same buzz cut as other 3-year-old Chinese boys, the familiar habit of scattering his fleet of toy cars across the living room rug. But his family name gives him away: Yehenala, a famous Manchurian clan that once ruled China. When Yiyi was born, his father and grandfather made the unusual decision to give him the old Manchu name. Generations earlier, the family had shortened the name to Ye to disguise the fact that they were aristocrats in a communist country founded on the principle of overturning feudalism. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2013 \~/]

Manchu culture lives on the streets of Shanghai

"We are proud of our royal blood," said the boy's father, Ye Jia, a 40-year-old state company employee who says he would change his name too if the bureaucracy wasn't so complicated. The name is a mouthful in a country where almost all family names are written by a single character and pronounced with a single syllable. Yiyi is the only child with such an exotic name in his Beijing preschool class. But his father thinks it will serve him well in the long run. "Even his teacher says he's special," Ye said. \~/

“Although aristocracy is no longer a dirty word in China (daytime television is full of historical dramas about imperial times and luxury goods are advertised as fit for royalty), China's imperial kin continue to live modestly, not flaunting their lineage like European nobility. The Ye family has faded black-and-white photographs of Cixi and other illustrious relatives in their brocaded costumes of old, but they are kept tucked away in a folder. Despite their enthusiasm for Manchu culture, little Yiyi's family has not gone so far as to study the language. "It is not very useful," grandfather Ye Longpei said sadly. "Without language there is no ethnicity … which is why our ethnicity will probably die." \~/

Image Sources: Columbia University, Wikimedia Commons Text Sources: 1) "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company; 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4) \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, he Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated October 2022

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