Manchu noble ladies in the 1900s

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. Qing (pronounced ching and also spelled Ching or Ch'ing) means “pure. “ 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. 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. The main crops of those in the countryside 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:]

The Manchus were of mixed Mongolian, Korean, Chinese and Jurchen stock. arbara 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. “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." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2013 \~/]

Manchu Population and Where They Live

Manchu grandmother and grandson

Manchu are the sixth largest ethnic group and the fifth largest minority in China. They numbered 10,423,303 in 2020 and made up 0.74 percent of the total population of China in 2020 according to the 2020 Chinese census. Manchu populations in China in the past: 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. A total of 2,418,931 (0.42 percent of China’s population) were counted in 1953; 2,695,675 (0.39 percent of China’s population) were counted in 1964; and 4,299,950 (0.43 percent of China’s population) were, in 1982. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

The Manchus 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 (46.2 percent in the 1990s), 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. The Manchurian plain, crossed by the Liao and Sungari rivers, the traditional homeland of the Manchu, has become a major agricultural and industrial center.

The official Manchu population grew from 2.4 million in the early 1950s to almost 10 million in 1990. It is hard to say how much of the increase was the result of natural population growth and how much was s due to the increased willingness of Manchu or part Manchu to identify themselves as Manchu. The latter seems to be the most likely reason. Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ 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." The total fertility rate for the Manchu according to the 2010 China census was 1.18 compared to 1.14 for Han Chinese, 2.04 for Uyghurs and 1.26 for Mongols. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2013 \~/]

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 Family Trees

Manchu ladies buying head ornaments

The Manchu family tree, also called pedigree or chart, is a book for every family, which records births, marriages, descent and the stories of important persons in a family. For a long history, Manchus have paid a lot of attention on the emendation (correction or revision) and composition of the family tree. They have believed that the emendation of family tree could strengthen family positions and merits and virtues of individuals a family, which could be passed down to "descendants who respect their ancestors". [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

The Manchu family tree is written or printed on paper or cloth and silk textiles, according to the surname, from generation to generation. It is made up of a family tree book and family tree list. Generally speaking, ordinary families only write names of ancestors on a piece of paper or cloth and silk textiles, according to the generation position, from ancestors to descendants, from ancient time to nowadays, which forms the shape of a pagoda and makes the generation position clear at a glance. This chart is called the "family tree list". Rich and powerful families compile much more data and place into a volume called the "family tree book". The family tree book cannot be printed or copied. ~

The contents of the family tree generally includes: family order, origin, pedigree, fete decorum, family instruction (instructiona on wedding and funeral), models (the biography of ancestors and officers), graves, bestow (imperial mandate and appointment), formulary of naming (according to generation, literary name and nickname) and so on. The family tree is often kept by the patriarch of the family and can be emended by family consultation. It is said that the custom of family tree emendation goes back to the period of Nurhachi in the 16th century. In that period, after Nurhachi had unified all the Nuchen tribes and had set up the Posterior Jurchens power, he ordered the official Erdeni to record the significant events in newly created Manchus. Erdeni was a diligent, prudent, clever and versatile person. From then on, he recorded cautiously and conscientiously "all the good policies" of Nurhachi such as political policies, military action, court life and so on. This is the earliest documents of The Manchus and the earliest family tree of the Aisin Gioro clan. ~

In the past, it was a great event for Manchus to emend the family tree. It was mostly carried out in the year of "dragon or tiger". At that time, the clansmen came together. They sacrificed pigs and lambs for their ancestors and for the gods in Heaven. Nowadays, the custom of emending the family tree is carried on but a lot less fanfare than in past and the procedure has been simplified a lot. ~

Manchu Languages and Names

20080217-manchu osu.gif
Manchu women
The Manchu language belongs to the Manchu division of Manchu-Tungus group in Altai family of languages. They have their own writing system developed in the 17th century and based on Mongolian but which can also be written with Chinese characters. Almost no Manchus can not read or speak their language. Their rates of literacy in Chinese have traditionally been are higher than the national average. [Source: "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]

The Manchu written language developed from Mongolian, based on the letter "u". Later, a circle or a dot was added on the right of the letter and this was called "Manchu language with a circle or dot" or the "new Manchu language". Originally, Manchu people used the Mongol written language. In 1599, two courtiers Eerdeni and Zhaerguqiergai created the Manchu characters without punctuations under the assignment of the emperor Nuerhachi. In 1632, emperor Huangtaiji ordered Dahai to improve the Manchu characters, this new type of Man characters with punctuation has been used up to the present. [Source:]

Originally, the family names of the Manchu people were in the Manchu language. These included family names such as Aixinjueluo and Nala. Some family names had the tribe names in front, such as Yehe Nala and Hada Nala. After the Manchu took over China and established the Qing Dynasty they began to use Han Chinese family names and many Manchu names were changed to Han names. For example, Aixinjueluoshi was changed to the surname Jin; Fuchashi was changed to Fu; and the Nala shi was changed to Na. [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]

Near Death of the Manchu Language

Since the Qing Dynasty, a large number of Manchu have immigrated into the central plains area (the heart of China and the traditional home of the Han Chinese), which resulted in the close contact with the Han, with most Manchu gradually learning Chinese to the point where their own language is on the verge of dying out. Although there are 11 million ethnic Manchus, only 100 or so can speak Manchu fluently and less than a dozen read and write it well. Only 20 native speakers were reported as of 2007.

20080219-shaman manchu_sjaman China, Three Emporers, 2006  crystalpun.png
Manchu shaman
Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In far western China, near the Kazakhstan border, descendants of a garrison of Qing soldiers still speak a dialect of Manchu, among the few native speakers left in China. The Manchu language is multisyllabic and lyrical; some linguists believe it to be part of the Altaic language group, which includes Mongolian, Korean and Turkish. It can be downright confusing to Chinese speakers: For example, the word for "father" — "ama" — sounds like "mother" in Chinese.” Manchu script is a kind “loopy calligraphy that looks a little like Arabic written vertically.[Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2013 \~/]

“Nowadays, fewer than 100 people are believed to be native speakers of Manchu, the largest cluster of them in a single isolated village, Sanjiazi, in northeastern China. "Only the old people can really speak the language," said Shi Junguang, a part-time Manchu-language teacher who learned from his grandmother and has about 70 students. So few people can read Manchu that many Qing Dynasty documents have gone untranslated, scholars say. Courses in the Manchu language are now offered at Ethnic Minorities University in Beijing and at other schools around China. Because the Manchus have no separatist aspirations, they are considered a model minority by the Communist Party, and the government has encouraged some elementary schools in northeastern China, the heartland of old Manchuria, to offer the language so it doesn't die out.” \~/

Manchu Religion

The Manchu have adopted many of the Buddhist and Taoist religious beliefs of the Han Chinese. They make offerings to ancestor is small shrines on the west side of their sleeping rooms. Save for ancestor worship, the gods the Manchu honored were virtually identical to those of the Han Chinese. As is true with Chinese Guan Yu was considered as the God Protector of the Nation and was sincerely worshipped by Manchus. They called him "Lord Guan". Saying his name was taboo.   In addition, Manchus worshipped Cai Shen and the Kitchen God just like the Han Chinese did.

The Jurchens and Manchu descendants originally practiced cremation. They adopted the practice of burial from the Han Chinese, but many Manchus continued to cremate their dead. Princes were cremated on pyres. The Manchus believe the dead travel to another world that coexists with the world of the living. Ground burials are the norm. Corpses have traditionally been removed through windows—doorways are only for the living— people were not allowed to die on the west or north 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. The worship of Mongolian and Tibetan gods has also been reported.

Manchu Shamanism

Shamanism has long been a element 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 shaman typically wore a smock, bronze bells at his waist, a mirror on his chest and pointed cap with colored strips that hand in front of the face.

In the Qing era, Manchus shamanism days was divided into the court branch and the common folk branch. The former was generally practiced by priest-sorcerers in the palace. 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 1949. [Source: |]

Village shamans generally fell into two categories: those performed religious dances to exorcize 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 rites was generally performed by a shaman dangling a small mirror who intoned 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. |

Manchu Holidays and Festivals

Manchus have many traditional holidays. Some are derived from Chinese culture, such as the "Spring Festival" and Duanwu Festival. Others are of Manchu origin. These include Banjin Inenggi on the 13th day of the tenth month of the lunar calendar (in November or December on the Western calendar). This started to be celebrated in late 20th century. It marks the anniversary of the name creation of Manchu in 1635 by Hong Taiji.

Food Exhaustion Day, on the 26th day of the 8th lunar month (in September or October on the Western calendar, was inspired by a story that once Nurhaci and his troops were in a battle with enemies and almost running out of food. The villagers who lived near the battlefield heard the emergency and came to help. There was no tableware on the battlefield. They had to use perilla leaves to wrap the rice. Afterwards, they won the battle. So later generations could remember this hardship, Nurhaci made this day the "Food Exhaustion Day". Traditionally on this day, Manchu people eat perilla or cabbage wraps with rice, scrambled eggs, beef or pork.

Manchu celebrate Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) a little differently than the Han Chinese. . The Manchu make their traditional snack — Saqima — from refined flour, eggs, sugar, sesame, fruits and melon seeds. On New Year’s the eve, people paste Spring Couplets, paper cuts, and portraits of the Door God and wear pouches. Lantern poles are erected in the courtyard of each household to hang up lanterns and light up the night.

The edge of Manchu dumplings should be made pleated instead of flat, which might make the dumplings look like a monk's head. Dumplings should not be arranged in a circle, a shape representing no way out. The dumpling is cooked between 11 p.m. and l a.m. While cooking, the host has to cry out, You, life! Did you all get up? The others answer: Yes, we did! They regard the floating of the dumplings from the pot bottom as the life prosperity. Afterward, the kids climb up the cabinet and jump three times, symbolizing that the new life will be improved.

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, 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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