views updated May 29 2018


ETHNONYMS: Jurchen, Nuzhen, Qiren


Identification. From the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century, the Manchu played a key role in Chinese history as the rulers of the Qing dynasty. As a result of their long interaction with the Han they are one of the most highly Sinicized of any of China's minorities. Even so, they retain a strong sense of ethnic identity.

Location. The largest concentration of Manchu (46.2 percent) is in Liaoning Province. Most of the remainder is located in the other two northeast provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang, and in smaller numbers in Hebei, Gansu, Shandong, and Ningxia provinces and the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia. There are also sizeable Manchu populations in major cities such as Beijing, Chengdu, Xian, and Guangzhou. The dispersal of the population relates in part to the sending of Manchu administrators and military colonists to various parts of the empire during the Qing dynasty. At present, 80 percent of the Manchu are in areas where settled farming is possible. The Manchurian plain, crossed by the Liao and Sungari rivers, has become a major agricultural and industrial center.

Demography. The 1990 estimate of the Manchu population is 9,821,180. The early 1950s estimate was 2.4 million, but it is difficult to say how much of the rise is due to natural population growth and how much is due to the increased willingness of Manchu to identify themselves as such.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Manchu language belongs to the Manchu-Tungus Branch of the Altaic Language Family. The Manchu script, which was developed in the sixteenth century, is a modified borrowing from Mongolian. In the eighteenth century, educated Manchu began to use the Han ideographic writing system. At present, although the state encourages publications in Manchu, many Manchu cannot easily speak or read the language. They do, however, have a much higher literacy rate in Chinese than the national average.

History and Cultural Relations

The origins of the Manchu can be traced back more than 2,000 years to the forest- and mountain-dwelling peoples of northeastern China such as the Sushen tribe, and in later periods to the Yilou, Huji, Mohe, and Nuzhen (Jurchen) mentioned in historical records. Their ancestors established the Bohai State between the seventh and eighth centuries a.d., and were a part of the Liao Empire (947-1125), which extended over Manchuria, Mongolia, and northeastern China. In 1115, the Jurchen tribes of northern Manchuria became unified, and in alliance with other non-Han agricultural and pastoral peoples of the region established the short-lived Chin (Jin) dynasty, which held control of the northeast and extended southward into inner China as far south as the Huai River. At their main capital, Yanjing (now Beijing), they built a Chinese-type bureaucratic state and recruited Chinese officials to help run the empire. By 1215, under pressure from the advancing Mongols, the capital was moved southward to Kaifeng; the Chin fell in 1234. Four centuries later, they were more successful, establishing the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), which ruled all of China. During the Qing, many important Han writings were translated into Manchu. There was frequent interaction with Han and Mongols, and marriage alliances between Manchu and Mongols. Intermarriages with Han were not permitted until the mid-nineteenth century. During the Qing years, many Manchu, particularly those living in or on the borders with interior China, adopted much of Han culture and assimilated to Han styles of life. Migrations of Han from north China into the northeastern provinces during the twentieth century further hastened assimilation and the adoption of the Chinese language. By the end of the nineteenth century, Russia and Japan were competing for control of China's northeastern provinces, with their rich timber lands, farm lands, and mineral reserves. Japan occupied the area in 1931 and in 1932 proclaimed Manchukuo as an "independent" state under the rule of Pu Yi Aisengoro, the last of the Qing emperors. After World War II, Chinese sovereignty was restored.


The traditional houses of the Manchu were, for many centuries, similar to those of the Han. They were built in three divisions, with a central room used as a kitchen and two wings that served as sleeping quarters and living area. The sleeping rooms were heated by kangs, brick beds that could be heated in winter that were laid against the west, north, and south walls. Windows of the house opened to the south and west. The houses were warm in winter and cool in summer. Houses held a three-generation family, with an average size of seven or more persons.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Mountain and forest hunting and gathering were more important subsistance activities in the past, but for many centuries the Manchu have been a sedentary agricultural people. Sorghum, maize, millet, soybeans, and tobacco are basic crops, along with fruit growing. Animal husbandry is part of the rural economy, particularly the raising of pigs. More than 80 percent of the Manchu now living in Liaoning, Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Hebei are engaged in agriculture. The remainder of the population is in industry and a variety of urban jobs. Forestry and lumbering are also part of the present economy.

Trade. There was a merchant class in past centuries, although during the Qing dynasty the Manchu were forbidden to engage in trade. Even then the Manchu held an official monopoly on ginseng, a medicinal root native to the area. Business activities have begun to reemerge since the economic reforms of the early 1980s.

Division of Labor. During the Qing dynasty, most of the Manchu, aside from members of the imperial clan or those in the thirty-one grades of the aristocracy, were "bannermen," who received land and stipends from the government. The "banners" were military forces who together with their families were assigned to various locations within the empire. Most were assigned to areas in and around major cities, particularly Beijing. Within the homeland area, the Manchu continued as farmers, theoretically banned from engaging in trade or artisan labor. The main division of labor in the countryside was along sex lines, with household chores undertaken by the women and most of the agricultural work or side occupations engaged in by men. In the twentieth century, some of the urban Manchu became peddlers or workers, and some entered the arts and professions.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Monogamy and patrilocal residence has always been practiced by the Manchu. By custom, young people were engaged at the age of sixteen or seventeen, by parental decision. Bride-price was reciprocated by gifts of wine, pork, clothing, and jewelry to the groom's family. Dowry was regarded as the bride's property. Lavish weddings are currently discouraged.

Domestic Unit. Rural Manchu live in three-generation extended households. In the cities, the nuclear family has become the norm.

Sociopolitical Organization

In the past, the patrilineal clan was an important form of sociopolitical organization; it was preserved through the Qing dynasty. In the early seventeenth century, the outstanding leader Nurhachi welded all the Nuzhen tribes into the Eight Banners. Each banner was divided into basic units called niulu, which functioned as the primary unit of political, military, and economic organization. Each niulu held about 300 people. In the early Qing dynasty, around 1633, the Manchu rulers began to incorporate Mongols and other tribal groups, as well as Han, into the Eight Banner system. The banner system dissolved in the twentieth century. At present, the area is organized on the basis of counties, townships, and villages.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Traditionally, shamanism was a key practice, both among the common people and at the imperial court. In the early Qing dynasty, only the most intelligent people who had a good command of the dialect of the royal Aisengoro clan could be candidates for the office of court shamans. They chanted scriptures and performed religious dances when imperial services were held. The common shamans were of two kinds: full-time specialists who dealt with illness and ceremonial leaders for their kin group, who presided over sacrificial rites for the ancestors and heavenly spirits. The shaman's costume during performances consisted of a smock, a pointed cap festooned with long colored paper strips half-concealing the face, a small mirror dangling over the chest, and bronze bells at the waist.

Ceremonies. Sacrifices to the heavenly spirits were offered to mark the occasion of military undertakings, successes, and returns. Offerings and rites to the ancestors of the household were made in front of a small shrine kept at the west side of the sleeping room. Over the centuries, some Manchu adopted Han religious practices and beliefs associated with folk Buddhism and Daoism.

Death and Afterlife. The dead were believed to travel to another world that coexists with this world. No one was allowed to die on the west or north kang, and the corpse had to be removed from the house through the windows since the doorway was meant only for the living. Ground burial was the common practice.


Ma Yin, ed. (1989). Chinas Minority Nationalities, 41-53. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

National Minorities Commission, Liaoning Provincial Editorial Group, ed. (1985). Manzu shehui lishi diaocha (Research on the society and history of the Manchu). Shenyang: Liaoning Peoples Press.

Zhongguo da baike quanshu (Encyclopedia Sinica) (1986). Vol. 20, Minzu (Nationalities). Beijing: Encyclopedia Sinica Press.



views updated May 14 2018

Manchu a member of a people originally living in Manchuria, who formed the last imperial dynasty of China (1644–1912). The name is from the Manchu language, and means literally ‘pure’.


views updated Jun 27 2018

Manchu Nomadic peoples of Manchuria. They established the Qing dynasty.

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