| ¡¡¡¡Like the Han people, the majority ethnic
group in China, 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 traditional and modern industries.
Manchus have their own script and language,
which belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic group of the Altaic language
family. Beginning from the 1640s, large numbers of Manchus moved
to south of the Shanhaiguan Pass (east end of the Great Wall), and
gradually adopted Mandarin Chinese as their spoken language. Later,
as more and more Han people moved to north of the pass, many local
Manchus picked up Mandarin Chinese too.
An ethnic group originally living in
forests and mountains in northeast China, the Manchus excelled in
archery and horsemanship. Children were taught the art of swan-hunting
with wooden bows and arrows at six or seven, and teenagers learned
to ride on horseback in full hunting gear, racing through forests
and mountains. Women, as well as men, were skilled equestrians.
The traditional costumes of male Manchus
are a narrow-cuffed short jacket over a long gown with a belt at
the waist to facilitate horse-riding and hunting. They 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 and wore
earrings, long gowns and embroidered shoes. Linen was a favorite
fabric for the rich; deerskin was popular with the common folk.
Silks and satins for noble and the rich and cotton cloth for the
ordinary people became standard for Manchurians after a period of
life away from the mountains and forests. Following the Manchus'
southward migration, the common people came to wear the same kind
of dress as their Han counterparts, while the Manchu gown was adopted
by Han women generally.
In places around Aihui County, Heilongjiang
Province, however, 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.
Houses of the Manchus were built in
three divisions, with the middle used as a kitchen and the two wings
each serving as bedroom and living room. By tradition, the bedroom
had three "kang" (brick beds which could be heated in
winter), which were laid against the west, north and south walls.
Guests and friends were habitually given the west "kang",
elders the north, and the younger generation the south. With windows
generally open to the south and west, the houses stayed warm in
winter and cool in summer.
A favorite traditional Manchu meal
consisted of steamed millet or cakes of glutinous millet. Festivals
were traditionally celebrated with dumplings, and the New Year's
Eve with a treat of stewed meat. Boiled and roast pork and Manchu-style
cookies were table delicacies.
Monogamy has always been practiced
by the Manchus, with young people engaged at the age of 16 or 17
by parental will.
On the wedding day, the bride had to
sit the whole day on the south "kang", an act inaugurating
"future happiness." When night fell, a low table with
two wine pots and cups would be set. The bride and bridegroom would,
hand in hand, walk around the table three times and sit down to
drink under the light of a candle burning through the night on the
south "kang". They were congratulated amid songs by one
or several guests in the outer room. Sometimes the ceremony was
marked with well-wishers casting black peas into the bridal chamber
before they left the new couple. On the fourth day, the newlyweds
would pay a visit to the bride's home.
A variety of manners were observed
by the Manchus. Children were required to pay formal respects to
their elders regularly, once every three to five days. In greeting
their superiors, men were required to extend their left hand to
the knee and idle the right hand while scraping a bow, and women
would squat with both hands on the knees. Between friends and relatives,
warm embraces were the commonest form of greeting for all men and
The Manchus used to believe in Shamanism,
which in the early 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.
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
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.
Jumping onto galloping horses from
one side or onto camels from the rear was the most popular recreational
activity among the Manchus. Another favorite sport was horse jumping
in celebration of bumper harvests in the autumn and on New Year
holidays at the Spring Festival.
Skating is also a long established
sport enjoyed by the Manchus, as it is by the whole Chinese people.
In the Qing Dynasty before the mid-19th century, skating was even
undertaken by Manchu soldiers as a required course of their military
training. Pole climbing, swordplay, juggling a flagpole, and archery
on ice are the more interesting sports of the Manchu people.
The ancestry of the Manchus can be
traced back more than 2,000 years to the Sushen tribe, and later
to the Yilou, Huji, Mohe and Nuzhen tribes native to the Changbai
Mountains and the drainage area of the Heilong River in northeast
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.
After the Warring States Period (475-221
B.C.), the Sushens changed the name of their tribe to Yilou. They
ranged over an extensive area covering the present-day northern
Liaoning Province, the whole of Jilin Province, the eastern half
of Heilongjiang Province, east of the Wusuli River, and north of
the Heilong River. Stone arrowheads and pomegranate-wood bows still
distinguished the Yilous in hunting wild boar. They also mastered
such skills as raising hogs, growing grain, weaving linen and making
small boats. They pledged allegiance to dynastic rulers on the Central
Plains after the Three Kingdoms period (220-280).
During the period between the 4th and
7th centuries, descendants of the Yilous called themselves Hujis
and Mohes, consisting of several dozen tribes.
By the end of the 7th century a local
power called the State of Zhen with the Mohes of the Sumo tribe
as the majority was formed under the leadership of Da Zuorong on
the upper reaches of the Songhua River north of the Changbai Mountains.
In 713, the Tang court conferred on Da Zuorong the title of "King
of Bohai Prefecture" and made him "Military Governor of
Huhan Prefecture." Da's domain, known afterwards as the State
of Bohai, showed marvelous skills in iron smelting and silk weaving.
With its political and military institutions modeled on those of
the Tang Dynasty (618-907), this society adopted the Han script.
Under the influence of the political and economic systems of the
central part of China and the more developed science and culture
there, speedy advances were made in agriculture and handicraft industries.
Then the Liao Dynasty (916-1125) conquered
the State of Bohai and moved the Bohai tribesmen southward. Along
with this movement, the Mohes in the Heilong River valley made a
southward expansion. Gradually a people known as 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.
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
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.
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.
1619 Nurhachi proclaimed himself "Sagacious Khan" and
established a slave state known to later times as Late Kin.
Political and Cultural Development
Under the strong influence of the Han
people, the Manchu slave system soon underwent a speedy development
towards feudalism, accompanied by intense class struggle and social
reform made from above downwards. 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.
In 1644 the Qing troops marched south
of Shanhaiguan Pass and unified the whole of China, initiating nearly
300 years of Manchu rule throughout the country.
The Manchus made their contributions
in defending China's frontiers from foreign aggression. As early
as the mid-17th century, Russia made repeated incursions into areas
along the Heilong River. In 1685, on orders of Qing Emperor Kang
Xi, Manchu General Peng Chun led his "eight banner" troops
and naval units in driving out the Russian invaders. The subsequent
Treaty of Nerchinsk, signed on an equal footing in 1689, delineated
a boundary line between China and Russia, and maintained normal
relations between the two countries for more than 100 years.
Later, in the 18th and 19th centuries,
troops sent by the Qing court repulsed British-backed Gurkha invasions
of southern Tibet and local rebellions in Xinjiang, also incited
by the British colonialists. These and other military exploits of
the Manchu emperors brought into being a unified Chinese state that
extended from the outer Hinggan Mountains in the north to the Xisha
Islands in the south, and from the Pamirs in the west to the Kurile
Islands in the east in the heyday of the Qing Dynasty.
The Manchu people have also added splendor
to Chinese culture with many works of scientific significance. These
include Shu Li Jing Yun
(Essence of Mathematics and Physics), Li Xiang Kao Cheng (A Study of Universal Phenomena) and Huang Yu Quan Lan Tu (Complete
Atlas of the Empire) compiled during the reign of Emperor Kang
Xi. Man Wen Lao Dang (Ancient Archives in Manchu),
Man Wen Tai Zu Shi Lu
(A Manchu Biography of the Founding Emperor) and Yi Yu Lu (Stories of Exotic Lands) by Tu Lichen are among the famous works written
in the early years of the dynasty, while Qing Wen Qi Meng (Primer of
Manchurian), Chu Xue Bi
Du (Essential Readings for Beginners), Xu Zi Zhi Nan (A Guide to Function Words)
and Qing Wen Dian Yao
(Fundamentals of Manchurian) are important
works in the study of the Manchu language.
While the Manchu language was enriched
in vocabulary, efforts were made by the Manchus to translate important
works of the Han people into their own language. Along with government
documents, such great works as The
Three Kingdoms, The Western
Chamber, A Dream of Red Mansions, Flowering Plum in the Vase and Strange Tales from a Lonely Studio all
had their Manchu versions.
Notable achievements were made by the
Manchu people in writing books in the Han language. Typical of these
were the poems of classical styles written in the seventeenth century
by the Manchu poet Nalanxingde who became known for his vivid description
of the landscapes of Inner Mongolia and northeast China.
Dream of Red Mansions written in the 18th century by the Manchu
writer Cao Xueqin is a classic that occupies a prominent place in
the history of world literature. With its story drawn from the life
of a Manchu noble family, the novel gives incisive analysis and
exposure of all the decadence of the Manchu ruling class. By dissecting
China's feudal society, the author brought the country's literary
expression to an unprecedented height.
Zhao Lian's Xiao Ting Za Lu (Random Notes
at Xiaoting), a true account of the events, rites, personalities
and institutions of the early Qing Dynasty, was a work of academic
value for the study of the history of the Manchus and Mongols.
Also outstanding among the Manchus
were many works by women writers. These include Qin Pu (Music Score) by
Ke De, Hua Ke Xian Yin (Leisurely Recitation of Poems by the Flower Beds) by Wanyan Yuegu, Xiang Yin Guan Xiao Cao (Poems from Xiangyin Pavilion) by Kuliya
Lingwen, and Tian You Ge Ji
(Poems Written in Tianyou Pavilion) by Xilin
Taiqing (Gu Taiqing). Her Dong
Hai Yu Ge (Song of East
Sea Fishermen) won her reputation as the greatest poetess of
the Qing Dynasty.
China was reduced to the status of
a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country after the Opium War of 1840.
During the war, many Manchus, as well as Hans, lost their lives
in fighting for China's independence and the dignity of the Chinese
nation. A 276-man Eight Banner unit under Major Fu Long, fighting
to the last man at Tianzunmiao in Zhejiang Province, beat back the
onslaught of British invaders five times in succession. In another
battle fought in Zhenjiang City, Jiangsu Province, 1,500 Eight Bannermen
yielded no ground in defiance of an enemy force ten times their
The Second Opium War of 1856-60 ended
with Russia annexing more than a million square kilometers of northeast
China. Local Manchus and people of other nationalities in this area
waged tenacious resistance against the aggression and colonialist
rule of Russia.
In 1894, the Japanese launched a war
against China and Korea, occupying large tracts of Chinese territory
in eastern Liaoning Province. This aroused nationwide protest and
gave rise to strong resistance by the Han, Manchu and Korean peoples,
who sprang surprise attacks on the enemy day and night. Chinese
troops and civilians defending Liaoyang, Liaoning, Province, inflicted
heavy casualties on the invading Japanese troops.
The year 1900 marked the outbreak of
the Yi He Tuan movement or Boxer Rebellion, which was composed mainly
of peasants of Han and Manchu nationalities.
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.
On September 18, 1931, Japanese forces
launched a surprise attack on Shenyang and installed the puppet
"Manchukuo" government to control the area.
The rigging up of the puppet "Manchukuo"
soon gave rise to strong national protest throughout China. Anti-Japanese
volunteers, anti-Japanese organizations and guerrilla units were
formed with massive participation by Manchu people.
On September 9, 1935, a patriotic demonstration
was held with a large number of Manchu students in Beijing participating.
Many of them later joined the Chinese National Liberation Vanguard
Corps, the Chinese Communist Youth League or the Chinese Communist
Party, carrying out revolutionary activities on their campuses and
After the nation-wide War of Resistance
Against Japan broke out in 1937, guerrilla warfare was waged by
the Communist led Eighth Route Army with many anti-Japanese bases
opened far behind enemy lines. Guan Xiangying, a Manchu general,
who was also Political Commissar of the 120th Division of the Eighth
Route Army, played a vital role in setting up the Shanxi-Suiyuan
Before the founding of the People¡¯s
Republic of Chins, 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
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.
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Since 1949 Many Manchu writers and artists
have gained fame throughout China since liberation. Cheng Yanqiu
was a distinguished Manchu Beijing Opera singer as well as a patriot.
During the War of Resistance Against Japan, he quit the stage to
show his hatred and contempt for the Japanese aggressors and returned
to a quiet life on the western outskirts of Beijing. But soon after
the national liberation of the country, he plunged himself into
the work of training young opera singers.
Lao She, widely known as a patriotic
writer and people's artist, was born into a poor Manchu family and
had tasted all the bitterness of life in his childhood. Before liberation
he wrote Camel Xiang Zi
(or Rickshaw Boy) to make a thorough critique
of the old society. During the War of Resistance Against Japan,
he founded the National Writers' and Artists' Resistance Association,
uniting and organizing Chinese writers and artists for the war against
Japan. He continued to write novels after liberation. From 1950
to 1966, he wrote more than a score of plays including Dragon-Beard
Ditch, A Woman Shop Assistant
and Teahouse, winning wide acclaim among the
Luo Changpei, a famous Manchu linguist,
was distinguished for his expert knowledge of the dialects and phonology
of the Han language and for his studies in phonetic classification
of classical Chinese, its pronunciation and its history. He also
studied Chinese grammar, compiled dictionaries and promoted researches
into the languages of minority nationalities. He helped create the
language science of New China.