Orochen (Oroqen) in the early 1900s

The minorities of northern China, particularly the northeast, are closely related to indigenous ethnic groups found in Mongolia, Central Asia, Siberia, and the Russian Far East. Most have traditionally been shamanist, nomadic animal herders, living a basic life in harsh conditions in areas with few people, and migrating over large distances. Those towards the south herded sheep, horses and cattle. Those towards the north herded reindeer. Some were also fishermen, trappers and hunters. Few had written languages.

Minorities found in northern Chinese include the Daur, Dongxiang, Ewenki, Hezhen, Koreans, Manchu, Mongols, Oroqen, Oryat Mongols, Hui, Tu, Russians, Xibe, and Yugar. The Ewenki are former reindeer herders. The Hezhen and Oroqen are former forest hunters. The Manchu were founders of the Qing Dynasty, China’s last dynasty. The Mongols were the founders of Yuan Dynasty, one of China’s greatest dynasties. Indigenous national minorities make up around 8 percent of the region's population.

Northern China Ethnic Groups (size ranking of China's 55 minorities, ethnic group: population in 2010, 2000 and 1990):
3) Hui: 10,586,087 (0.7943 percent of China’s population) in 2010; 9,828,126 in 2000; 8,602,978 in 1990.
4) Manchu: 10,387,958 (0.7794 percent of China’s population) in 2010; 10,708,464 in 2000; 9,821,180 in 1990.
10) Mongol: 5,981,840 (0.4488 percent of China’s population) in 2010; 5,827,808 in 2000; 4,806,849 in 1990.
15) Korean: 1,830,929 (0.1374 percent of China’s population) in 2010; 1,929,696 in 2000; 1,920,597 in 1990.
34) Daur: 131,992 (0.0099 percent of China’s population) in 2010; 132,747 in 2000; 121,357 in 1990.
42) Ewenki: 30,875 (0.0023 percent of China’s population) in 2010; 30,545 in 2000; 26,315 in 1990.
51) Oroqen: 8,659 (0.0006 percent of China’s population) in 2010; 8,216 in 2000; 6,965 in 1990.
53) Hezhen: 5,354 (0.0004 percent of China’s population) in 2010; 4,664 in 2000; 4,245 in 1990.

Northeast China

Northeast China is a cold and sparsely populated region that embraces Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces — which together cover an area of 308,000 square miles and have a population of 107 million people. Known to the Chinese simply as Dongbei (the Northeast), and to Westerners as Manchuria, it encompasses fertile plains, forested mountains and remnants of minorities that survived by hunting and herding reindeer. The term Manchuria is generally not used by Chinese because its association with the Japanese occupation. Some include eastern Inner Mongolia as part of region

Northeast China covers 1.554 million square kilometers (600,000 square miles), an area roughly the size of Alaska. It is separated from Siberia and Russia by the Amur River and two of its tributaries, the Argus and Ussuuri. The Tumen and Yalu Rivers divide it from North Korea. It south coast lies on the opening of the Yellow Sea. Inner Mongolia and Northeast China are roughly separated by the Khingan Mountains. Dongbei has long, cold winters and heavy rainfall during the short, hot summers. Rapid population growth began in the 19th century and accelerated after 1949 and continued into the 1980s mainly due to heavy Han immigration from north China as people seeking jobs but in recent decades the migration has declined and even reversed as industry has died and jobs have dried up.

Norma Diamond wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “In the north, there are vast areas of coniferous forest or mixed coniferous/broad-leaved forest, a rich source of timber. To the south there is large-scale mechanized farming on the plains and on reclaimed lands. As of the 1990s, most of China's state farms were located here. Ample supply of water supports summer crops of wheat, maize, potatoes, sugar beets, soybeans, and gaoliang (sorghum). Some areas are warm enough to raise rice and cotton. Dongbei's major source of wealth is industrial. After 1949, Dongbei rapidly developed as a key industrial area, providing oil and petrochemical products, coal, iron and steel, motor vehicles, and a variety of consumer products. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

Languages in Northern China

According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: In the northern areas of China, almost all the minority languages belong to the Altaic Family, which includes Mongolian, Turkic, and Tungus. Through migration and historical contacts the languages of some of these groups have become rich in loanwords from Chinese and Tibetan as well as from Persian, Indic, Semitic, and Slavic languages. Most of China's Mongolian speakers are found in the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region. Other groups live further to the northeast, or in Qinghai and Gansu and even Yunnan. In addition to Mongolian proper (Khalkha dialect), there are at least five other languages within the Mongolian Branch of Altaic. These are associated with small minority groups: Daur, Dongxiang, Bonan, Tu (Monguor) and Yugur. The last group is culturally related to the Turkic-speaking Uyghur minority. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

The Mongolian script, which is still in use today, was borrowed from the Uyghurs in the twelfth century. It has twenty-four basic alphabetic symbols, which take variant forms that are dependent on the symbols' positions in words. Despite some problems with it, the script is better suited to a polysyllabic and inflecting language than are the Chinese ideographs. Mongolian is very different from Chinese, despite some borrowing of vocabulary: it does not have tones, and its grammatical structures resemble those of Korean or Japanese rather than those of the Chinese languages.

The Eastern branch of Altaic are the Tungus languages. The largest of these groups is Manchu. The majority of the Manchu are highly Sinicized, and most are unilingual in Chinese or use Chinese as their first language. There is a large literature in Manchu, which uses a modified version of Mongolian script; much of it is translations of Chinese writings. A few small groups (Ewenki, Oroquen, Hezhen) are also Tungus speakers.

Ancestors of the Ethnic Groups in Northern China

shaman clothes

The ancestors of the Jurchens, Manchu, Oroquen and several other groups are believed to have been were the Mohe People, consisting of Tungusic tribes (See Below) associated with the multi-ethnic kingdom of Balhae. The Mohe ate pork and practiced pig farming and used both pig and dog skins for coats. They were predominantly sedentary farmers and grew soybean, wheat, millet, and rice in addition to hunting. The Mohe rode reindeer. Horses were rare in the region they inhabited until the 10th century when it was controlled by the Khitans. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Mohe, Malgal, or Mogher, or Mojie, were an East Asian Tungusic people who lived primarily in what is now Northeast Asia. The two most powerful Mohe groups were the Heishui Mohe, located along the Amur River, and the Sumo Mohe, named after the Songhua River. The Mohe constituted a major part of the population in the kingdom of Balhae in northeast Asia, which lasted from the late 7th century to early 10th century. After the fall of Balhae, few historical traces of the Mohe can be found, though they are considered the primary ethnic group from whom the Jurchen descended. The Heishui Mohe in particular are considered to be the direct ancestors of the Jurchens.

Sushen were ancient people who lived in what is now the northeastern part of China in Jilin and Heilongjiang Provinces and the Russian Far East. They were active during the Zhou Dynasty period. Archeological relics in the area are attributed to the Xituanshan Culture. Chinese Bronze Age archaeologist Zou Heng of Peking University believed that the Sushen were also related to the Lower Xiajiadian culture ( 2200–1600 B.C.) The Sushen are thought to have been Tungusic speakers.

The Sushen lived during Zhou Dynasty (1050–221 B.C.). The Mohe lived during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-906) . Other ancient groups in the region included the The Yilou, who 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 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]

Shamanism in Northern China

The words “shaman” and “shamanism” are derived from Manchu-Tungus language term for "excited", "agitated" or "fury man". Shamanism in its classic form comes from Siberia and Asia (including northeast China and inner Mongolia area). Shamanism is still practiced by the Manchu, Daur, Oroqen, Ewenki, Hezhen, Xibe and some Mongols. Koreans, Uyghur , Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Yugur also once believed in Shamanism. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]

Though they have used different texts, had different legends, worshiped different gods and spirits, and had different clan and tribe organizations, the Siberian and East Asian groups that have traditionally practiced shamanism share some roughly identical basic features: 1) they believed in animism and that soul is immortal. 2) They believe in three realms: heaven, the world and hell, with gods living in the heaven, human being live in the world and devils, bad spirits and unhappy ancestor gods living in the hell. 3) They believed that the gods and devils were in charge of everything in the universe and of everyone's woes were the result of evil spirits, good things were attributed to the gods and Shaman acted as intermediaries to summon the help of gods and caste out bad spirits. 4) They believed that shaman were the deputies and avatars of gods, acting as agents between humans and gods or devils, and possessing special characters and theurgies that can help them get rid of misfortune and attract good fortune.

People of the Amur River Area

Evenk family in the 1900s

The Ewenki and Hezhen ethnic groups of northeast China live in the area the Amur river and its tributaries in northeast China in Heilongjiang Province and Inner Mongolia. The Hezhen people still occasionally wear fishskin clothes. Some villages still have shaman that do the old dances but many of traditions are being lost and young people are more interested in the modern world than the old world.

The Amur River, known as the Heilongjiang, (Heilong River, "Black Dragon River") in China,is the world's tenth longest river, forming the border between the Russian Far East and Northeastern China (Manchuria). The Amur proper is 2,824 kilometers (1,755 miles) long, and has a drainage basin of 1,855,000 square kilometers (716,000 square miles). If its source is, in the Argun River, is included, it is 4,444 kilometers (2,761 miles) long. The largest fish ever caught in the Amur was a kaluga that was 5.6 meters (18 feet) long. Other large fish found in the river are the northern snakehead, Amur pike, taimen, Amur catfish, predatory carp and yellowcheek. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Nania, Ulchi and Evenki ethnic groups of the Russian Far East. eastern Siberia also live in the Amur river area. The Ulchi, Nanai and Evenki wore fish skin clothes or clothes with fish skin parts. Some Amur River people wore coats of embroidered salmon skin. Ulchi people live along the Amur River in Krabarovsk Territory. There are about 2,500 of them. They have traded in their traditional fishing boats for boats with outboard motors.

The Nanai in Russia and Henzhen People in China are regarded as the same people. They are a Tungusic people of East Asia who have traditionally lived along Heilongjiang (Amur), Songhuajiang (Sunggari) and Wusuli River on the Middle Amur Basin. Their ancestors were the Jurchens of northernmost Manchuria (Outer Manchuria). The Nanai-Hezhe language belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic languages. According to the 2010 census there were 12,003 Nanai in Russia. The Hezhen are the fourth smallest minority in China out off 55. They numbered 5,354 in 2020 and made up less than 0.01 percent of the total population of China in 2020 according to the 2020 Chinese census.

The Evenks (Evenki) in Russia and Ewenki People in China are regarded as same people. They are a Tungusic people of North Asia. In Russia, the Evenks are recognised as one of the indigenous peoples of the Russian North, with a population of 38,396 (2010 census). In China, the Ewenki are the 14th smallest minority. China. They numbered 30,875 in 2020 and made up less than 0.01 percent of the total population of China in 2020 according to the 2020 Chinese census. There are 537 Evenks in Mongolia (2015 census), called Khamnigan in the Mongolian language.

Tungusic Peoples and Languages

Tungusic peoples are an ethno-linguistic group made up of by the speakers of Tungusic languages. They are native to Siberia and Northeast Asia. Tungusic Languages (also known as Manchu-Tungus and Tungus) are spoken in Eastern Siberia and Manchuria by Tungusic peoples. Many Tungusic languages are endangered. There are approximately 75,000 native speakers of the dozen or so living Tungusic languages. Some linguists consider Tungusic to be part of the controversial Altaic language family, along with the early forms of Turkish, Mongol, and sometimes Korean and Japonese. The term "Tungusic" comes from the word the Evenk (Ewenki) people used to describe themselves. It was used by the Yakuts ("tongus") and picked up the Russians and later found its way into English. [Source: Wikipedia]

The name Tunguska refer to a region of eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East bounded on the west by the Tunguska rivers and on the east by the Pacific Ocean. The Tungusic language group is divided into two main branches, northern (Evenic or Tungus) and southern (Jurchen–Nanai). An intermediate group (Oroch–Udege) is sometimes recognized. Tungus group, which lives in Siberia and includes the Evenks. In China, they have traditionally been grouped with the Oroqens and Dauers, All Tungus people practiced slavery.

It is generally suggested that the homeland of the Tungusic people is in northeastern Manchuria, somewhere near the Amur River region. The Tungusic language family is grouped mostly with Turkic and Mongolic, which forms the proposed linguistic area of the Altaic (or Micro-Altaic). Genetic evidence collected from the Ulchsky District suggests a date for the Micro-Altaic expansion predating 3500 B.C.

Ewenki folk ensemble

History of Tungusic Peoples

The Tungusic expansion into Siberia displaced the indigenous Siberian languages, which are now grouped under the term Paleosiberian. Several theories suggest that the Pannonian Avars of the Avar Khaganate in Central, East and Southeast Europe were of Tungusic origin or of partially Tungusic origin (as a ruling class). [Source: Wikipedia]

Tungusic people on the Amur river like Udeghe, Ulchi and Nanai adopted Chinese influences in their religion and clothing with Chinese dragons on ceremonial robes, scroll and spiral bird and monster mask designs, Chinese New Year, using silk and cotton, iron cooking pots, and heated homes from China.

The Manchu originally came from Manchuria, which is now Northeast China and the Russian Far East. Following the Manchu establishment of the Qing dynasty in the 17th century, they have been almost completely assimilated into the language and culture of the ethnic Han population of China. The southern Tungusic Manchu farming sedentary lifestyle was very different from the nomadic hunter gatherer forager lifestyle of their more northern Tungusic relatives like the Warka, which left the Qing state to attempt to make them sedentarize and farm like Manchus.

During the 17th century, the Tsardom of Russia was expanding east across Siberia, and into Tungusic-speaking lands, resulting in early border skirmishes with the Qing dynasty of China, leading up to the 1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk. The first published description of a Tungusic people to reach beyond Russia into the rest of Europe was by the Dutch traveler Isaac Massa in 1612. He passed along information from Russian reports after his stay in Moscow.

Tungusic Ethnic Groups

"Tungusic" (Manchu-Tungus) peoples are divided into two main branches, northern and southern. The southern branch is dominated by the Manchu (historically Jurchen). The Chinese Qing emperors were Manchu, and the Manchu group has largely been sinicized. The Sibe were possibly a Tungusic-speaking section of the (Mongolic) Shiwei and have been conquered by the expanding Manchu (Jurchen). Their language is mutually intelligible with Manchu. The Nanai (Goldi) are also derived from the Jurchen. The Orok (Ulta) are an offshoot of the Nanai. Other minor groups closely related to the Nanai are the Ulch, Oroch and Udege. The Udege live in the Primorsky Krai and Khabarovsk Krai in the Russian Federation. [Source: Wikipedia]

Orochen in Russia in the 1900s

The northern branch is mostly formed by the closely related ethnic groups of Evenks (Ewenki) and Evens. (Evenks and Evens are also grouped as "Evenic". The Evenks live in the Evenk Autonomous Okrug of Russia in addition to many parts of eastern Siberia, especially Sakha Republic. The Evens are very closely related to the Evenks by language and culture, and they likewise inhabit various parts of eastern Siberia. People who classify themselves as Evenks in the Russian census tend to live toward the west and toward the south of eastern Siberia, whereas people who classify themselves as Evens tend to live toward the east and toward the north of eastern Siberia, with some degree of overlap in the middle (notably, in certain parts of Sakha Republic).

The Ewenki of China are distributed across seven banners (counties) in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and in Nahe County of Heilongjiang Province. The total Evenks population is 69,856, with 37,843 in Russia, 30,875 in China, 537 in Mongolia and 48 in Ukraine. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia]

Minor ethnic groups also in the northern branch are the Negidals and the Oroqen. The Oroqen, Solon, and Khamnigan inhabit some parts of Heilongjiang Province, Inner Mongolia, and Mongolia and may be considered as subgroups of the Evenk ethnicity, though the Solons and the Khamnigans in particular have interacted closely with Mongolic peoples (Mongol, Daur, Buryat), and they are ethnographically quite distinct from the Evenks in Russia.

Shiwei, Xianbe and Donghu People

The ancestors of the Ewenki and Oroqen and other groups are thought to have been people that lived in the forests northeast of Lake Baikal and in the forest bordering the Shilka River (upper reaches of the Heilong River). They survived by hunting, fishing, and raising reindeer. Historically they were often grouped together with Oroqens and Daurs, who share much of their cultural tradition, and have been referred to as the “Sulun Tribes." [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]

“Sulun Tribes" are believed to be the same as the "Shiweis", which consisted of subgroups like the ""Bei Shiwei" (Northern Shiweis") and "Bo Shiweis" living at the time of Northern Wei (386-534) on the upper reaches of the Heilong River, and the "Ju" tribes that bred deer at the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) in the forests of Taiyuan to the northeast of Lake Baikal. The Shiwei were a Mongolic people that inhabited far-eastern Mongolia, northern Inner Mongolia, northern Manchuria and the area near the Okhotsk Sea. The oldest records mentioning the Shiwei date to the time of the Northern Wei (386-534). The term Shiwei remained until the rise of the Mongols under Genghis Khan in 1206 when the name "Mongol" and "Tatar" were applied to all the Shiwei tribes. The Shiwei-Mongols were closely related to the Khitan people to their south. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Shiwei were descendants of the Yuwen Xianbei, but also included some tribes of the Tungusic Mohe people. Shiwei is a variant transcription for Xianbei.The Xianbei were the northern branch of the Donghu (or Tung Hu, the Eastern Hu), a proto-Tunguz group mentioned in Chinese histories as existing as early as the fourth century B.C. The language of the Donghu, like that of the Xiongnu, is unknown to modern scholars. The Donghu were among the first peoples conquered by the Xiongnu. Once the Xiongnu state weakened, however, the Donghu rebelled. By the first century, two major subdivisions of the Donghu had developed: the Xianbei in the north and the Wuhuan in the south. The Xianbei, who by the second century A.D. were attacking Chinese farms south of the Great Wall, established an empire, which, although short-lived, gave rise to numerous tribal states along the Chinese frontier. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989]

Chinese dynastic histories describe the Shiwei as somewhat related to the Khitan, who were of Xianbei origin. They were local Xianbei tribes who became independent after the Xianbei state dissolved in 234 with the death of Budugen. In the Book of Wei, it is claimed that the language of the Shiwei was the same as the Khitan's, who spoke the Khitan language; in the Book of Sui, it is claimed that the Shiwei belonged to the same kind of people as the Khitan; and in both the New Book of Tang and Old Book of Tang, it is claimed that the Shiwei were a collateral branch of the Khitan. It is likely that at least some tribes of the Shiwei had some ethnic similarities with the Khitan. Tang dynasty historian Wan Guowei describes the Shiwei as a Khitan tribe.

As a result of pressure from the west, south and south-east the Shiwei-Mongols never established unified, semi-sedentarized empires like their neighbors, but remained nomadic confederations led by tribal chieftains, alternately submitting to the Turks, the Chinese and the Khitan as the political climate changed. The Mengwu Shiwei, one of the 20 Shiwei tribes during the Tang dynasty (618-907), were also called the Menggu during the Liao dynasty (907-1125) and are generally considered to be the ancestors of the Mongols of Genghis Khan.

Jurchen People

Jurchen is a term used to collectively describe a number of East Asian Tungusic-speaking peoples, descended from the Donghu people. They lived in the northeast of China (Manchuria) before the 18th century. The Jurchens were renamed Manchus in 1635 by Hong Taiji. Different Jurchen groups lived as hunter-gatherers, pastoralist semi-nomads, or sedentary agriculturists. Generally lacking a central authority, and having little communication with each other, many Jurchen groups fell under the influence of neighbouring dynasties, their chiefs paying tribute and holding nominal posts as effectively hereditary commanders of border guards. [Source: Wikipedia]

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.

Jurchen man

The Jurchen from the Sushen and Mohe people described above and 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 Jin (Chin) Empire (1115-1234), which briefly ruled northern China until they were the conquered by the Mongols. Manchu tribesmen only organized into a confederation in the 17th century.

The Jurchens are mainly known for producing the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912) dynasties in China., which originally calling itself the Later Jin. It was founded by the Jianzhou commander, Nurhaci (r. 1616–26), who unified most Jurchen tribes, incorporated their entire population into hereditary military regiments known as the Eight Banners, and patronized the creation of an alphabet for their language based on the Mongolian script. Under Nurhachi, they began calling themselves Manchus and expanding southwards and northwards and eventually claimed all of China as well as territory north of China.

When the Jurchens were first recorded by the Chinese in 748, they inhabited the forests and river valleys and what is now China's Heilongjiang Province and Russia's Primorsky Krai province. In earlier records, this area was known as the home of the Sushen (c. 1100 B.C.) the Yilou (around A.D. 200), the Wuji (c. 500), and the Mohe (c. 700). Scholarship since the Qing period traces the origin of the Jurchens to the "Wanyen tribe of the Mohos" around Mt Xiaobai, or to the Heishui or Blackwater Mohe.

Types of Jurchen

Chinese officials of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) classified the Jurchen into three groups, relative to location in regard to China: 1) Jianzhou Jurchens lived around the Mudan river, the Changbai mountains, and Liaodong in what is nnow northeast China. They were able to sew clothes similar to the Chinese, and lived by hunting and fishing, sedentary agriculture, and trading in pearls and ginseng. Some of them mixed with Korean and Chinese populations. [Source: Wikipedia]

2) Haixi Jurchens were named after the Haixi or Songhua river, which runs from northeast China into Russia. This classification included several populous and independent tribes, largely divided between semi-nomadic pastoralists in the west and sedentary agriculturalists in the east. They were the Jurchens most strongly influenced by the Mongols.

3) Yeren literally means ‘Wild People,' or, 'savage,' 'barbarian' in Chinese. The term was sometimes used by Chinese and Korean chroniclers to describe all Jurchens. More specifically Yeren referred to the inhabitants of the sparsely populated areas north of Manchuria beyond the Liao and Songhua river valleys. These people mainly supporting themselves by hunting, fishing, pig farming, and some migratory agriculture. Many "Yeren Jurchens", such as the Nivkh, Negidai, Nanai, Oroqen and many Evenks, are regarded as distinct ethnic groups today.

Early Mongols

Mongols chasing an enemy

Archeological finds established the Mongols as a distinct people as early as the second millennium B.C.. Ancient Chinese manuscripts mentioned Turkic-speaking people living in what is now Mongolia from the 4th century B.C. The name Mongol was first used in the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD).

Deer stones are ancient monoliths with images of deers and other animals carved on them. They were made between 1000 and 700 B.C., around the time that people in the steppe were becoming nomadic herdsmen. Many have images of deers. Some have images of the sun and the moon. Almost always face east towards the rising sun. There are 450 deer stones scattered across northern Mongolia, particularly in Bulgan, Khovd and Ulaangom provinces, and in southern Siberia. The tallest are about five meters tall. They have been dated based on weapons and tools some of the figures carry. The relationship between the Deer Stone people and other people of the steppes is not known. The lived at around the same time as the early Scythians but were not Scythians. The Scythians. also were fond of deer images but their deers were quite different that the ones seen on deer stones.

On the origin of the Mongols, Mongolian Studies specialist Christopher Atwood of Indiana University told the Washington Post, “Most probably what you had was an attractive and charismatic package of nomadic pastrorialism and a dynamic horse culture. A small elite [of deer stone people] conquers the Scythians and then lose their language and subsequently their culture.”

Up until the emergence of Genghis Khan in the 12th century, the Mongols were little more than a loose confederation of rival clans. When they emerged Mongolia was dominated by other groups such as the Scythians from the 7th to 3rd centuries B.C., followed by the Xiongnu-Huns in the 2nd century B.C. to A.D. 2nd century, the ancient Turks from the 6th to 12th centuries, the Uighurs in the 8th century and the Kyrgyz in the 9th century.


The Xiongnu were an ancient people associated with the Mongols and other horse-mounted peoples. The Great Wall of China was initially built to keep from invading China. According to Chinese historical records about 200 B.C., a warlike horse people from Mongolia called the Xiongnu (His-Ug.-nu. Hsiun-nu, or Hunnu) created a confederation of nomadic tribes of aggressive horsemen in an area along the border of China and Mongolia. In the 3rd century B.C. Xiongnu advanced on and displaced kingdoms in Western China. In the 2nd century B.C. they attacked northern China. The Great Wall of China was built to keep them out. Important Xiongnu chieftains included Tumen and Modun

Xiongnu hedehog filials, 400 BC to AD 100

The Xiongnu shot arrows from horseback and used swords and lances. They advanced as far as the Yellow River before being stopped. As part of a peace agreement with China's Han dynasty, the Xiongnu demanded tributes of silk, wine, rice, concubines and other luxuries. The transport of these goods from China to Central Asia marked the beginning large-scale use of the Silk Road.

The Xiongnu were the nemesis of the Han Dynasty Chinese. The Han built up the Great Wall and presented the Xiongnu with Han princesses as gifts but to no avail. The Xiongnu weakened the Han empire with repeated raids In 133 B.C. there was a great battle in which “the men and horses killed on the Han side amounted to over a hundred thousand.” Xiongnu in Chinese means “The State That Holds the Bows Beyond the Great Wall.”

The Xiongnu empire collapsed in the 1st century A.D. primarily because of disputes over succession. The Xianbei replaced the Xiongnu in Mongolia in the A.D. 1st century and gained enough influence that intermingled with the Han Chinese in China. The origin of the Xianbei is not known. They are thought to a mix of Turkic and Iranian clans. Xianbei in turn eclipsed by a succession of other horsemen: the Toba, Ruruan and Turks.

Image Sources: 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, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated October 2022

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