Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chinese Monguor people

The Monguor people are one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China. They are distributed throughout the 31 provinces and regions of China, with a higher concentration in Qinghai and Gansu Provinces in the northwest.

Ethnonym and ethnic origins

The official classification as "Tu Nationality" took place in 1953, when most of the Chinese nationalities were classified. The name "Tu" is derived from the Chinese phonetic transcription of Tuyuhun , the first Khan who established the Tuyuhun Kingdom after it separated from the Murong group of the Xianbei nationality in northeast China in the third century.

The earliest use of the specific designation "Tu" dates to the early Song Dynasty, in 1001 CE. Prior to that time official records called them the "Tuhun ren" or "Tuihun er" .

The Tu in and counties in Qinghai also call themselves "Chaaghaan monguor" in contrast to their reference to the as "Khara Monguor" . This contrast is the result of the Tu in these areas encountering the Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty and most likely reflected on the lighter skin of the Tu people, derived from the Murong Section of Xianbei who were referred to as the "Baibu Xianbei" , which marked their difference from the other sections of the Xianbei , from the latter of which the Mongolians derived their ancestry. The shared ancestral origins of the Tu and Mongolians have contributed to the similarities in the languages of the two groups, the parallel festival celebrations of ''Nadun'' among the Tu and ''Nadam'' among the Mongolians, and shamanism as part of their religious practices.


The Tu language is classified as one of the ; 85% of the Tu vocabulary is similar to the that of the Mongolian language .

The term "Monguor" language usually refers to the Northern, or Huzhu , dialect of Monguor, on which the most research has been conducted. There is also a Southwest and a Southeast variety, both of which have orthographic and grammatical differences from Northern Monguor and which have had different amounts of contact throughout history with the neighboring languages Tibetan, Salar, Wutun, and the local, -influenced variety of Chinese.


The Tu religion is a harmonious blend of the Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism, and Shamanism. In many Tu villages, a Buddhist temple and a Taoist shrine coexist. While Buddhist monks are common in most villages, Taoist priests and shamans are few and each serves a large area. The shaman's primary function is as a trance medium during the Nadun celebration.

Cultural traditions

The Tu, whose social organization reflects Confucianism, have preserved ancient cultural traditions, most characteristically demonstrated in the unique Nadun and Anzhao. Nadun is similar in name to Nadam celebrated by the Mongolians, but different in format and content. It is specifically held among the Tu people who live in the Sanchuan Region of Minhe County, on the border of Qinghai and Gansu Provinces by the Yellow River, whose subpopulation totaled 39,616. It is celebrated at the end of the harvest each year and lasts over two months across the Sanchuan area from the twelfth of the seventh month to the fifteenth of the ninth month by the Chinese lunar calendar. Anzhao is traditional Tu dance predominantly held in Huzhu County, which has the largest Tu community of 62,780 people.

Traditional Tu weddings are incomparable affairs with elaborate rituals that encompass hundreds of wedding songs, called "daola," that are sung over days and nights with great variations in melody and contents.

Origins and History

The origins of the Tu are reflected in the local folktales that accounted the struggles the Tu ancestors, Donghu , with the Wangmang people about three thousand years ago in northeast China. Donghu first developed bronze technology in northeast China, where proto-Mongolian language was spoken, and developed into powerful coalitions formed by the Donghu, Wuheng , and Xianbei tribes during the 8th to 2nd centuries BC.

Origins as the Murong of the Xianbei kingdom

After Donghu was annihilated by Xiongnu at the beginning of the Han Dynasty, Wuheng and Xianbei moved respectively to Mt. Wuheng and Mt. Xianbei. The Murong Section of Xianbei resided towards the north, and because of their lighter skin, they were referred to as "Bai Bu" , by the other Xianbei sections that resided in the west. After the Han defeated Xiongnu , Xianbei forced inside the Great Wall and annexed the Wuheng tribe, moved further to the vast grassland of Mongolia, and killed the Xiongnu chief, Shanyu Youliu , thereby taking over the Xiongnu territory and a powerful Xianbei Kingdom was formed under the leadership of Tanshihuai .

In 235 AD, the last Khan of Xianbei, Kebineng, was assassinated by the Wei Kingdom , and resulted in the disintegration of the Xianbei Kingdom. The Murong section separated first, led by Mohuba , to submit under Wei. He was succeeded by his son Muyan in 246, and grandson, Shegui , the latter of whom was appointed as the Xianbei Khan . After She Gui died in 283, his brother, Nai , first took the position of the Khan and, after being killed, was replaced by his younger son, Murong Gui . In 284, an internal feud developed between Murong Gui and his older brother, Tuyuhun, which folktales accounted to be caused by a horse race and in fact by disputes over the position of the Khan. As a result of the dispute, Tuyuhun led his people, proclaimed as the , and undertook the long westward journey, whereby the official history of the Tu people began.

Westward migration to Qinghai

Tuyuhun "migrated westward 4,000 kilometers" to pass the territories of the Yuwen and Duan sections , further crossing the Bai sections in the Ru River and Mt. Bai to settle by Mt. Yin facing the Yellow River. In 315, Tuyuhun crossed the river and move southward to settle on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, whereby the Tu presence in northwest China began. Two years later, Tuyuhun died at the age of 72 years old and was succeeded by his oldest son, Yeyan . Yeyan occupied the land of Xiqiang through military conquest and established capital at Gansong , occupying a vast territory that covered the great Marshes of Gannan and Shaqiang , the upper and middle streams of the Tao River , and reached the Ruoergai Marshes . After overtaking the Aba Grasslands , they expanded northwest along the Yellow River, Mt. Great Jishishan and Mt. Bailan .


The subsequent Tuyuhun Khans vastly expanded the territory. Achai developed diplomatic relationships with the Liu-Song Dynasty , and expanded southwest to the east of River Jinsha , the middle and upper streams of Yalong River , Greater and Lesser Jinchuan , and the Qiang areas around the Dadu River . He further expanded across Bailan to the other Qiang areas along the Tongtian River , and opened a route into the Xinu Kingdom , current Lhasa and Nepal. In the northwest, he annexed the territories of Yifu and Qihan and further expanded northward to reach the south of River Ruo . His son, Mugui , brought the kingdom to its highest peak, by annexing West Qin and eliminating Haolian Xia , and further expanding the territory to the upper streams of the Wei River . At the southeast, the Kingdom extended to the Baishui River area . After his death in 436, his brother, Muliyan , succeeded to be the Khan. In face of the growing and expanding North Wei from the east, he undertook a famous westward campaign to eliminate the smaller kingdoms and to expand into the northwest of the present Tibet. After he died in 452, his son Shiyan succeeded him as Khan and further expanded to annex the south of the Great Chaidamu Basin under his territory. Through these successful military conquests, he was able to expand into North Wei by 471.

Subsequently major changes took place in central China. Yang Jian replaced the North Zhou with Sui Dynasty. The Tuyuhun leadership did not adapt with changes in foreign policy and engaged in decades of warfare with the Sui. By 576, internal conflicts developed within the kingdom and brought it to a gradual decline. The Tuyuhun Khan, Kualu , repeatedly abolished his heirs, killing those who were deemed not loyal, and further sent troops to assault the Sui and provoked the Sui to send troops to attack the Kingdom. Turmoil ensued and portions of the kingdom abandoned Tuyuhun and surrendered to the Sui.

Tibet breaks away from the Tuyuhun kingdom

After the Tang Dynasty was established, the Chinese defeated the in the north. Because the Tuyuhun kingdom controlled the crucial trade routes between the east and the west, the kingdom became the immediate target of attack by the Tang. Meanwhile, as the Tuyuhun kingdom underwent a decline through internal conflicts under the changing international politics, the region called Tubo , located in the southwest of the Kingdom, developed rapidly and expanded northward, directly threatening the kingdom. Songzanganbu united the entire Tubo region and moved its capital to present Lhasa. The exile Tuyuhun Khan, Dayan , submitted himself under Tubo, which resorted to an excuse that Tuyuhun objected its marriage with the Tang and sent 200,000 troops to attack. Tuyuhun troops retreated to the Qinghai area, whereas Tubo went eastward to attack the Dangxiang groups and reached the southern Gansu. The Tang Government was shocked and sent five troops to fight. Although Tubo withdrew in response, Tuyuhun lost much of its territory in southern Gansu. Meanwhile, the Tuyuhun Government was split between the pro-Tubo and pro-Tang fractions, with the former increasingly becoming stronger. In the struggle between the different fractions, the pro-Tubo fractions corroborated with Tubo and brought the Tubo troops to attack the Kingdom. The Tang sent the famous general, Xue Rengui , who led 100,000 troops to fight Tubo in Dafeichuan . They were annihilated by the ambush of 200,000 troops of Dayan and Tobu, which became the biggest debacle in the Tang history.

Split into eastern and western kingdoms

After the war, the originally independent and unified Tuyuhun kingdom fell into the east and west Tuyuhun kingdoms, respectively controlled by two puppet governments supported by the Tang in the east and the Tibetan kings in the west. The west Tuyuhun was placed under the total control of Tubo and served as its base to attack Tang and main procurement for material goods and soldiers. The east Tuyuhun was distributed on the eastern side of Mt. Qilian and increasingly migrated eastward to central China, particularly following the An Shi Rebellion and the continued attacks of Tubo. The Anshi Turmoil shook the Tang Dynasty and caused its emperor to flee, during which Tubo overtook the entire territory of Tuyuhun. The former Khan and officials of Tuyuhun were forced to serve under the reign of Tubo until the internal turmoil developed within the Tubo Government and massive revolts brought an end to its ruling.

Tuyuhun diaspora

Following the fall of the Tuyuhun Kingdom, the Tuyuhun people underwent continuous diasporas and were widely distributed over the vast territory in the north of the Yellow River, which stretched from the northwest to the central and eastern parts of China that covered the present Qinghai, Gansu, Shaanxi, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Hebei, Henan, and Shandong Provinces. Through the later dynasties, many Tuyuhun descendants became high-ranking officials and military generals. For example, the legendary general, Murong Yanzhao , played a key role in the founding of the Song Dynasty and enjoyed the highest ranking position under its first emperor, Zhao Kuangyin . As an overall trend, the Tuyuhun people underwent constant dispersal and gradual absorption into other ethnic groups, the bulk into the Han.

Northern Tu establish the West Xia kingdom

In the eleventh century, the Tu who disseminated northward established the Xixia Kingdom, which also had a mixture of Dangxiang Qiang. When the Mongolians troops marched southward in the thirteen century, Xixia resisted for 22 years before it was eventually overrun. The Tu settlement in the current Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan occurred after the fall of Xixia. A continuous cluster distribution was maintained especially in Qinghai until after the Ming Dynasty, during which the Han migrations occurred and increasingly disrupted the former settlement of the Tu. In the following centuries, the Tu population underwent further decline from more dispersals and absorption into other populations. The assimilation occurred predominantly into the prevailing populations around them. Few were absorbed into Tibetans, some into Muslims, and the bulk of the Tu who dispersed in central China became Han Chinese.

Modern Tu groups

By the turn of the 20th century, the Tu were found predominantly in Qinghai, Gansu, and Yunnan. The Tu population declined from nearly 4 million during the peak of the Tuyuhun Kingdom to about 49,000 when the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. During the 1950s, the Chinese Government launched a large-scale nationwide survey to grasp the precise locations and numbers of all the ethnic groups in China. The Tu were identified as one of the official nationalities in the initial classification in 1953. Because the sub-groups have been separated and lived in isolation, surrounded by other ethnic groups, they have been under different extents of linguistic and cultural influences from the surrounding peoples. The Huzhu Tu live among the Tibetans and absorbed more influence from the Tibetan language, whereas the Minhe Tu show greater influence from the Han Chinese, an overall pattern demonstrated in the Tuyuhun culture which adopted the Chinese language and Confucianism since the early Xianbei period. The bulk of the Tu who have been absorbed into the Han Chinese, and some who became Tibetan Buddhists and no longer carried the ethnic characteristics to be identified as Tu. After another half a century passed, the Tu population increased to over 200,000 in China by the turn of this century.

The Tu are the direct descendants of the Xianbei Nationality. After the bulk of Xianbei have been absorbed into the Han and other groups hundreds of years ago, the Tu have kept intact the unique cultural heritages of Xianbei. After thousands of years, the Tu legends continue to give off the reminiscence of the struggles that the earliest Tu ancestors had had with the Wangmang people, and the unique Nadun celebration vividly demonstrates the intense warfare that took place during the Three Kingdoms, at a time when Tuyuhun separated from Xianbei. In absence of a written language, Xianbei and Tuyuhun relied on the Chinese language to record and communicate officially, which is a feature maintained in the elaborate Tu wedding songs and rituals at present. As a result of continuous military expansions over a vast territory and annexation of diverse nomadic groups, the Tu language and culture absorbed the vocabulary and cultural elements of these groups, including the Shatuo Turks who submitted allegiance under Tuyuhun. The original religion of Tuyuhun was the Chinese Buddhism, which subsided following the westward migration and gradually gave way to the increasingly strong influence of the Tibetan Buddhism in northwest China.


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