The Nuzhen (Jurchen) tribe originated in what is now northeast China. Once vassals of the Khitan Liao Dynasty (907–1125), they rose to power under the leadership of Wanyan Aguda, who declared himself emperor in 1115 and established the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234).
Aguda soon seized control of the Liao capital and the victorious Nuzhen swept across northern China, capturing the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127) capital of Kaifeng in 1126. Although their armies continued to push southward to the Yangtze River, eventually they established a boundary with the Southern Song (1127–1280) around the Huai River.
During the years of their supremacy, the Nuzhen were gradually assimilated by the Han Chinese and today the tribe has essentially disappeared. But in northwest China's Gansu Province, thousands of kilometers from the original homeland of the Nuzhen, a large clan descended from Wanyan Aguda still maintains many of the old traditions.
The ancestors of today's residents of Wangcun town moved to this site at the foot of Jiuding Meihua Mountain in 1161. They were the guardians of the remains of Wanyan Heng, the eldest son of Jin Wushu, a leading general and the fourth son of Aguda.
Jin Wushu was largely responsible for the victory against the Northern Song in 1127. From a very young age, Wanyan Heng fought beside his father and was considered outstandingly brave and capable. Eventually he was given the title of Prince Ruiwang.
However, his cousin and the heir to the throne, Wanyan Liang (r. 1149–1161), was bitterly jealous and eventually had both Wanyan Heng and his wife murdered. In 1161, the descendants and loyal followers of Wanyan Heng carried his remains to Anding -- today's Wangcun area -- to avoid persecution by Wanyan Liang.
Many sites in Wangcun today are named after Wanyan Heng, such as Ruiwangzui and Ruiwangping.
Villager Wanyan Bang said that there were also areas around the original site dedicated for the sole use of the Wanyan clan. Descendents of the family were also declared exempt in perpetuity from payment of taxes.
According to the Jingchuan Historical Records, written in the reign of Qing Dynasty Emperor Guangxu (r. 1875–1909), for the first 70 years in their new home the Wanyan immigrants saw themselves primarily as guards of Wanyan Heng's mausoleum.
But as time wore on, they became permanent settlers, learning the language and the plow skills of the Han and intermarrying with Han people. Now, all the people in the town are registered as members of the Han ethnic group.
Many of the old Nuzhen customs have been retained or revived today. Their special day to worship their ancestors is the 15th day of the third lunar month. In 2004, it fell on May 3, and for the first time the Wanyan clan held a major public observance of the day.
More than 30,000 from around the world gathered in Wangcun for the event. The ancient rituals they performed included worshipping yellow rope and setting free horses, eagles and cranes. They also held an opening ceremony for the newly built Wanyan ancestral temple, where they hung a portrait of Jin Wushu.
Elderly people say that many of these rites have been performed every year since the Wanyan first settled here. It is an expression of their yearning for their ancestral home, Acheng.
On June 17, 2004, several Wanyan clan members went to Acheng, in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, to attend the third Jin People's Roots Festival. As the first capital of the Jin Dynasty, the Wanyan consider it their "true" home.
Although the Wanyan clan itself is now part of the Han ethnic group and peace has prevailed for many centuries, they still hold a grudge about certain things. They refuse to so much as listen to stories about Yue Fei (1103–1142), a general of Northern Song Dynasty who fought against the Jin.
(China.org.cn by Chen Lin, March 25, 2005)