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—during the Qing Dynasty—they were the rulers of China. Now they are one of the most assimilated ethnic minorities, yet they still retain a strong sense of their own identity. They live mainly in Liaoning Province but also cane be found in significant numbers in Jilin and Heilongjiang Province. [Source: "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]

The Manchus are the second largest minority in China after the Zhuang. They are widely distributed throughout China but most of them live in the three northeast provinces—Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang, The largest number of them is in Liaoning Province, followed by Jilin and Heilongjiang Province and smaller numbers in Hebei, Gansu, Shandong, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia. There are also significant numbers in the cities of Beijing, Chengdu, Xian and Guangzhou. Many of the Manchus that live outside the Manchu homeland descendants of Manchu administrators and military colonists.

Manchus tend to be concentrated in middle and large cities of China rather than the countryside. Over 70 per cent of the Manchus are engaged in agriculture-related jobs. Their main crops include soybean, sorghum, corn, millet, tobacco and apple. They also raise tussah silkworms. For Manchus living in remote mountainous areas, gathering ginseng, mushroom and edible fungus makes an important sideline. Most of the Manchu people in cities, who are better educated, are engaged in modern occupations. [Source: ]

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ Descended from a horse-riding nomadic people of northeastern China, the Manchus were the last imperial rulers of the country, establishing the Qing Dynasty, which lasted from 1644 until 1912. The number of people in China who identify themselves as Manchu (a classification that exists on Chinese identification cards) has increased from just over 4 million in the early 1980s to more than 10 million. Because the increase is greater than the birthrate, it suggests that many people have changed their classification back from Han.[Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2013 \~/]

Manchu are also known as Jurchen, Nuzhen and Qiren. They tend to be concentrated in middle and large cities of China rather than the countryside. Manchu in rural areas mainly work in agriculture. Manchu who reside in the cities mainly work in industry, culture and science. The Manchu have traditionally paid a lot of attention to education and have produced a number of writers, scientists and intellectuals.

Manchu population in China: 0.7794 percent of the total population; 10,387,958 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 10,708,464 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 9,821,180 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

Origin and Cultural Identity of the Manchus

Manchu accountants in the 1890s

The Manchus have traditionally been centered in the area around the present-day city of Shenyang. They were of mixed Mongolian, Korean, Chinese and Jurchen stock. Qing (pronounced ching and also spelled Ching or Ch'ing) means “pure. “

Manchu ancestry can be traced to the Nuchen nationality from the Northern Song Dynasty to the Ming Dynasty, the Mohe nationality of the Sui Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty, the Wuji nationality of the Northern Dynasties, the Yilou nationality of the Han Dynasty and the Sushen nationality around the Shang Dynasty and the Zhou Dynasty. [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. 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). The Jurchen ended the Chinese Song Dynasty when they imprisoned the Song Emperor and captured the Song capital of Bianjing. The Jurchen established the Chin Empire (1115-1234), which briefly ruled northern China until they were the conquered by another group of horsemen, the Mongols. Manchu tribesmen only organized into a confederation in the 17th century. Under the leader Nurhachi, they began calling themselves Manchus and expanding southwards and northwards and making advances into China.

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.

The Manchus speak an Altaic language similar to Mongolian. They have their own writing system developed in the 17th century and based on Mongolian but which can also be written with Chinese characters. Many modern Manchus can not read or speak their language.

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).

The Sushen, Yilou, Huji, Mohe and Nuzhen 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: |]

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. |

Manchus in Imperial China

Arigun, a Manchu general

The Jurchen ended the Chinese Song Dynasty when they imprisoned the Song Emperor and captured the Song capital of Bianjing. The Jurchen established the Chin Empire (1115-1234), which briefly ruled northern China until they were the conquered by another group of horsemen, the Mongols.

The ancestors of the Manchu include the Nuchen nationality from the Northern Song Dynasty to the Ming Dynasty, the Mohe nationality of the Sui Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty, the Wuji nationality of the Northern Dynasties, the Yilou nationality of the Han Dynasty and the Sushen nationality around the Shang Dynasty and the Zhou Dynasty. [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, ~]

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 Nuzhens built a powerful state in the former domain of Bohai. The early 12th century saw a successful insurrection led by Aguoda with the Wanyan tribe of the Nuzhen people as a key force in their fight against the Liao Dynasty, founding the regime of Kin (1115-1234). After the termination of the Liao, the Kin armies destroyed the Northern Song (960-1126) and rose as a power in opposition to the rule of the Southern Song (1127-1279). Moving to live en masse on the Central Plains, the Nuzhens gradually became assimilated with the Han people. |

Early in the 13th century, the Nuzhens 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 Nuzhens 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 Nuzhen 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 Nuzhen and Han peoples.

Rise of the Powerful Manchu Under Nurhachi

In the Ming Dynasty, the leader of the Jian state Nuchen 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 Nuzhens, 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 Nuzhen 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: |]

Once the Nuzhens 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 Kin. |

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 Nuzhen 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 Nuchen 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 Nuchen tribes. By the forty-fourth year of the Wanli period (1616), he had unified all the Nuchen 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.

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.

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. Only Manchus that remained in the homelands kept Manchu culture alive.

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.

After the Revolution of 1911, the nationality was called "The Manchus". 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. [Source: ]

See QING (MANCHU) DYNASTY (1644-1912)

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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". 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. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

Qing hunting party

Manchu History in the 20th Century

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.

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.

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 meagre 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. Only Manchus that remained in the homelands 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. 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."

Manchu Religion and Shamanism

Shamanism has long been a fixture of Manchu spirituality among both the elite and the common people. Villages typically had a shaman. The Qing dynasty had its own court shaman, who chanted scripture and performed religious dances at imperial services. Villages shaman came in two types: full time ones that specialized in treating illnesses and part time ones that presided over ceremonies and sacrificial rites to spirits and ancestors. When performing his duties, a Manchu shaman typically wore a smock, bronze bells at the waist, a mirror on his chest and a pointed cap with colored strips that hung in front of the face.

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Manchu shaman

The Manchu adopted many Buddhist and Taoist religious beliefs of the Han Chinese. They made offerings to ancestors in small shrines on the west side of their sleeping rooms and believed the dead traveled to another world that coexists with the world of the living. Ground burials were the norm. Corpses traditionally were removed through windows — doorways are only for the living. People were not allowed to die on the west or north side of a kang.

Qing emperors were devout followers of Tibetan Buddhism. Imperial votive offering were fashioned from copper or bronze and then gilded and inlaid with gemstones, glass, jade or enamels. The objects were made at the Imperial Workshops in the Imperial Palace by craftsmen from Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet and China.

In the Qing era, Manchus shamanism days was divided into the court branch and the common folk branch. The former was generally practiced by priestsorcerers in the palace. During the early Qing period, those eligible for the office of "shaman" were mostly clever and smart people with a good command of the dialect of the royal Aisin-Gioro clan. Shamans were employed to chant scriptures and perform religious dances when imperial services were held. Shamanism remained popular among the Manchus in the area of Ningguta and Aihui County in northeast China until the nation-wide liberation. [Source: |]

Shamans of the common Manchus generally fell into two categories: village shamans, who performed religious dances to exorcise evil spirits through the power of the gods, and clan shamans who presided only over sacrificial ceremonies. Every village had its own shaman, whose sole job was to perform the spirit dance. Only seriously ill patients saw a real doctor. Religious rite was generally performed by a shaman attired in a smock and a pointed cap festooned with long colored paper strips half-concealing his face. Dangling a small mirror in front and bronze bells at the waist, he would intone prayers and dance at a trot to the accompaniment of drumbeats. |

Military successes and triumphal marches or returns were inevitably celebrated with sacrificial ceremonies presided over by shamans. Up to the eve of the country's liberation, making animal sacrificial offerings to the gods and ancestors was still a big event among the Manchus in Aihui County. |

The Manchu funeral arrangement was unique. No one was allowed to die on a west or north "kang". Believing that doors were made for living souls, the Manchus allowed dead bodies to be taken out only through windows. Ground burial was the general practice. |

Manchu Life

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Manchu women
Traditionally, the Manchu were organized on the basis of paternal clans; marriages were arranged by parents; couples were wed when they were 16 or 17; and babies were kept in suspended cradles. The latter customs dates back to a time when the Manchu hunted regularly on horseback and suspended the cradles from tree branches so that wild animals would not get the babies while the parents were out hunting.

Manchu fashions included riding boots and royal robes with flared cuffs and narrow sleeves (not wide Chinese-style sleeves) and slits for riding horses even though they often weren't worn on horseback. Manchu men have traditionally worn a long gown and mandarin jacket. The cheongsam, a woman’s dress associated with the Chinese, originated with the Manchus. The Manchu cheongsam was loose and reached to the ankle (See Clothes). In the old days female members of the Manchu elite didn't cut their hair, their feet remained unbound and the nails of their third and forth fingers were allowed to grow, sometimes to a length of over four inches.

Qing princes studied from 5:00am to 4:00pm. Their curriculum included lessons in Manchu, Mongolian and Chinese as well as riding, archery and martial arts. Sometimes they continued their studies until they were in their 30s.

Manchu Hairstyles

Manchu males let the back part of their hair grow long and wore it in a plait or queue. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the queue became the standard fashion throughout China, eventually becoming a political symbol of the dynasty.Women coiled their hair on top of their heads. [Source: |]

queue styles

In the Qing era, Manchu women wore their hair in a broad and long fashion, somewhat like a fan and sort of like a crown. At that time, most Manchu girls, like Manchu boys, had their hair shaved off around the head in the childhood, with the hair on the back of the head left and cued into braid. It was not until they grew up that Manchu women could let their hair grow. After marriage, Manchu women rolled their hair into tray-shaped hairdos, shelf-shaped hairdos, two halves hairdo and others. The two halves hairdo was the typical. In it, hair on top of the head was divided and tied into two locks, with each lock cued into a hairdo. The hair on the lower part of the head was cued into a "swallow-tailed" long and flat hairdo. A hair clasp called " the flat pane"— which was 20 or 30 centimeters in length and two or three centimeters in width—was inserted into the hairdo. At festivals, or when welcoming the guests, women were expected to wear traditional crown-style hairdos. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, ~]

The bone of the crown-style Manchu women’s hairstyle was made up of iron thread or bamboo strip while the cover of the crown was made of cyan flat satin, cyan wool or cyan gauze. The crown was fan-shaped, with a length was over 30 centimeters and a width over 10 centimeters. When worn, the crown served as frame for the hairdo and was often decorated with patterns, embroidery, jewels, flower, ribbons or tassels. This kind of headgear was mostly worn by upper class Manchu women. Ordinary Manchu women only wore it on their wedding day. The broad and long crown restricted the movement of neck and required women to keep their bodies straight. ~

In the past, the Manchu often wore a skullcap with peaked top and broad bottom, sewed from six parts. This "six parts unification" skullcap featured three-centimeter-wide or had brocaded margin with no brim. The hat adopts with a black flat satin surface were worn in winter and spring while hats with black gauze were worn in summer and autumn. A black or red knot at the top of the hat was called the "abacus knot". Under the brim, in the middle, was the " cap center" sometimes made of pearl, agate, silver or glass. This kind of hat can be traced to the period when Ming Tai Zu Zhuyuanzhang was in Emperor. The six sewed up parts symbolized the six sides of the universe and represented unification. After Manchu took over China, the "unification" skullcap became popular among Han Chinese as well as Manchus. Nowadays, we can still see those caps in TV dramas set in the Qing Dynasty and the period of the Republic of China.

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." \~/

Views on the Manchus in Modern China

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. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2013 \~/]

"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."

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 descedents 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

Manchu culture lives on the streets of Shanghai

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 \~/]

"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, ~; 3) Ethnic China *\; 4) \=/; 5), the Chinese government news site | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated August 2021

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