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A conquest dynasty in the history of imperial China refers to a dynasty established by non-Han peoples that ruled parts or all of the China proper, most notably the Mongol-founded Yuan dynasty and the Manchu-founded Qing dynasty.

Conventional Chinese history mostly uses neat single dates for the beginnings and ends of dynasties, but it should be remembered that most conquest dynasties arrived and fell in protracted and violent wars. For example, the Chinese Ming dynasty is normally dated as replacing the conquest Yuan dynasty in 1368, but there was a long revolt against the Yuan, and in the field of Chinese ceramics Jingdezhen porcelain is usually, but not always, described as "Ming" from 1352, when the Mongols lost Jingdezhen in the south.[1]



The term "conquest dynasty" was coined by the German-American sinologist Karl August Wittfogel in his 1949 revisionist history of the Liao dynasty (907–1125). He argued that the Liao, as well as the Jin (1115-1234), Yuan (1279–1368), and Qing (1662–1912) dynasties of China were not really "Chinese", and that the ruling families did not fully assimilate into Han Chinese culture. The "conquest dynasty" idea was warmly received by mostly Japanese scholars such as Otagi Matsuo, who preferred to view these dynasties in the context of a "history of Asia" rather than a "history of China". Alternative views to the "conquest dynasty" from American sinologists include Owen Lattimore's idea of the steppe as a "reservoir", Wolfram Eberhard's concept of a "superstratification" of Chinese society with nomadic peoples, and Mary C. Wright's thesis of sinicization. Among historians, the idea of the Liao and Jin as being foreign or conquest dynasties is much more controversial than the same characterization of the Yuan and the Qing.[2]

Scope of China (Zhongguo)Edit

In English language "Zhongguo ren" (中國人) is frequently confused and conflated with "Han ren" (漢人), meaning Han Chinese.[3]

Han Chinese dynasties only used Zhongguo (中國, lit. the Central Kingdom) to explicitly refer to Han areas of their empire.[4] The Ming dynasty only used Zhongguo to refer to explicitly only refer to Han areas of China, even excluding ethnic minority areas under Ming rule from being defined as Zhongguo.[5]

The Xianbei Northern Wei referred to itself as Zhongguo and referred to yogurt as a food of Zhongguo.[6] Similarly, the Jurchen Jin dynasty (1115–1234) referred to itself as Zhongguo.[7]

Kublai announced the name of the Yuan dynasty as Great Yuan and claimed the succession of former Chinese dynasties from the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors to the Tang dynasty.

The Manchu referred to all subjects of the Qing Empire regardless of ethnicity as "Chinese" (中國之人), and used the term Zhongguo as a synonym for the entire Qing Empire while using "neidi" (内地) to refer only to the core area of the empire (or China proper), with the entire empire viewed as multi-ethnic.[8]

The Qing emperors governed frontier non-Han areas in a different, separate system under the Lifan Yuan and kept them separate from Han areas and administration. Rather, it was the Manchu Qing emperors who expanded the definition of Zhongguo and made it "flexible" by using that term to refer to the entire Empire and using that term to other countries in diplomatic correspondence. However, some Han Chinese subjects criticized their usage of the term and used Zhongguo only to refer to the seventeen provinces of China and three provinces of the east (Manchuria), excluding other frontier areas.[9] Ming loyalist Han literati held to defining the old Ming borders as China and using "foreigner" to describe minorities under Qing rule such as the Mongols, as part of their anti-Qing ideology.[10] Due to the Qing using treaties clarifying the international borders of the Qing state, it was able to inoculate in the Chinese people a sense that China included areas such as Mongolia and Tibet due to education reforms. Specifically, the educational reform in which geographic made it clear where the borders of the Qing state were even if they did not understand how the Chinese identity included Tibetans and Mongolians or understand what the connotations of being Chinese were.[11]

In order to show that these diverse groups were all part of one family and part of the state, the Qing used the phrase "Zhongwai yijia" (中外一家, "interior and exterior as one family"), to convey this idea of "unification" of the different ethnic groups.[12] After conquering "China proper", the Manchus identified their state as "China" (中國, Zhōngguó; "Middle Kingdom"), and referred to it as Dulimbai Gurun in Manchu (Dulimbai means "central" or "middle," gurun means "nation" or "state"). The emperors labelled the lands of the Qing state (including present-day Northeast China, Xinjiang, Mongolia, Tibet and other areas) as "China" in both the Chinese and Manchu languages. This defined China as a multi-ethnic state, thereby rejecting the idea that "China" only meant Han areas. The Qing emperors proclaimed that both Han and non-Han ethnic groups were part of "China." They also used both "China" and "Qing" to refer to their state in official documents, international treaties (as the Qing was known internationally as "China"[13] or the "Chinese Empire"[14]) and foreign affairs. The "Chinese language" (Dulimbai gurun i bithe) included Chinese, Manchu, and Mongol languages while the "Chinese people" (中國之人 Zhōngguó zhī rén; Manchu: Dulimbai gurun i niyalma) were referred to as being subjects of the empire.[15]

In the Treaty of Nerchinsk the name "China" (Dulimbai Gurun, Zhongguo), was used to refer to the Qing territory in Manchuria in both the Manchu and Chinese language versions of the treaty. Additionally, the term "the wise Emperor of China" was also used within the text of the treaty in Manchu.[16]

The Qianlong Emperor rejected the earlier idea that only the Han people could be subjects of China and only Han land could be considered as part of China. Instead, he redefined China as being multi-ethnic, saying in 1755 that "there exists a view of China (zhongxia), according to which non-Han people cannot become China's subjects and their land cannot be integrated into the territory of China. This does not represent our dynasty's understanding of China, but is instead a view of the earlier Han, Tang, Song, and Ming dynasties."[4] The Manchu Qianlong Emperor rejected the views of Han officials who said Xinjiang was not part of China and that he should not conquer it, putting forth the view that China was multi-ethnic and did not just refer to Han.[17]

When the Qing conquered Dzungaria, they proclaimed that the new land which formerly belonged to the Dzungars, was now absorbed into "China" (Dulimbai Gurun) in a Manchu language memorial.[18][19][20]

The Qing Yongzheng Emperor spoke out against the claim by anti-Qing rebels that the Qing were only rulers of Manchus and not China, saying "The seditious rebels claim that we are the rulers of Manchus and only later penetrated central China to become its rulers. Their prejudices concerning the division of their and our country have caused many vitriolic falsehoods. What these rebels have not understood is the fact that it is for the Manchus the same as the birthplace is for the people of the central plain. Shun belonged to the Eastern Yi, and King Wen to the Western Yi. Does this fact diminish their virtues?" 在逆賊等之意,徒謂本朝以滿洲之君入為中國之主,妄生此疆彼界之私,遂故為訕謗詆譏之說耳,不知本朝之為滿洲,猶中國之有籍貫,舜為東夷之人,文王為西夷之人,曾何損於聖德乎?[21]

According to Russian scholars S.V. Dmitriev and S.L. Kuzmin, despite usage of the term "China", these empires had their official names by the names of their dynasties. Non-Han people considered themselves as subjects of the Yuan and Qing states not equating them to China. This resulted from different ways of the Yuan and Qing legitimization for different peoples in these empires.[22][23] The Qing Emperor was referred to as Bogda Khan by the Mongols. According to Dmitriev and Kuzmin, Liao, Jin, Yuan and Qing were multi-national empires led by non-Chinese peoples, to whom the conquered China or its part was joined.[24]


Certain traits assigned by past scholars to "conquest dynasties" to distinguish them from "native" dynasties may not have been so distinguishing. An example is the "royal hunt," which, according to David M. Robinson, "originated in China in a complex legacy of venerable Central Plains polities of high antiquity."[25]

List of dynastiesEdit

Parts of 'Northern China'Edit

Wu Hu EraEdit


  • Liao (907–1125) founded by the Khitans
  • Later Tang (923–936) founded by the Shatuo Turks
  • Later Jin (936–947) founded by the Shatuo Turks. Later Jin founder Shi Jingtang claimed patrilineal Han Chinese ancestry.[26]
  • Later Han (947–951) founded by the Shatuo Turks. Sources conflict as to the origin of the Later Han and Northern Han Emperors, some indicate Shatuo ancestry while another claims that the Emperors claimed patrilineal Han Chinese ancestry.[27]
  • Northern Han in China (951–979) (founded by Shato) See above note on the Later Han's origins, Northern Han was founded by the same family as Later Han.
  • Jin (1115–1234) founded by the Jurchen
  • Western Xia (1038–1227) founded by the Tanguts

All of ChinaEdit

  1. Yuan (1271–1368) founded by the Mongols
  2. Qing (1636–1912) founded by the Manchus

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Vainker, S.J., Chinese Pottery and Porcelain, p. 180, 1991, British Museum Press, ISBN 9780714114705
  2. ^ Tao, Jing-shen. The Jurchen in Twelfth-Century China: A Study of Sinicization. University of Washington Press. pp. xi–x.
  3. ^ Liu 2004, p. 266.
  4. ^ a b Zhao 2006, p. 4.
  5. ^ Jiang 2011, p. 103.
  6. ^ Scott Pearce; Audrey G. Spiro; Patricia Buckley Ebrey (2001). Culture and Power in the Reconstitution of the Chinese Realm, 200-600. Harvard Univ Asia Center. pp. 22–. ISBN 978-0-674-00523-5.
  7. ^ Patricia Buckley Ebrey; Anne Walthall; James B. Palais (2013). East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History, Volume I: To 1800. Cengage Learning. pp. 138–. ISBN 1-111-80815-5.
  8. ^ Barabantseva 2010, p. 20.
  9. ^ Esherick 2006, p. 232.
  10. ^ Mosca 2011, p. 94.
  11. ^ Esherick 2006, p. 251.
  12. ^ Elliott & Chia (2004), pp. 76–77.
  13. ^ Treaty of Nanking. 1842.
  14. ^ McKinley, William. "Second State of the Union Address". 5 Dec. 1898.
  15. ^ Zhao (2006), pp. n 4, 7–10, and 12–14.
  16. ^ Zhao (2006), pp. 8 and 12.
  17. ^ Zhao 2006, pp. 11-12.
  18. ^ Dunnell 2004, p. 77.
  19. ^ Dunnell 2004, p. 83.
  20. ^ Elliott 2001, p. 503.
  21. ^ Yongzheng Emperor. 大義覺迷錄 [Record of how great righteousness awakens the misguided], 近代中國史料叢刊 [Collectanea of materials on modern Chinese history] (Taipei: 文海出版社, 1966), vol. 36, 351–2, 1: 2b–3a.
  22. ^ Dmitriev, S.V. and Kuzmin, S.L. 2012. What is China? The Middle State in historical myth and real policy, Oriens (Moscow), no 3, pp. 5-19.
  23. ^ Dmitriev, S.V. and Kuzmin, S.L. 2014. Qing Empire as China: anatomy of a historical myth, Oriens (Moscow), no 1, pp. 5-17
  24. ^ Dmitriev, S.V. and Kuzmin, S.L. 2015. Conquest Dynasties of China or Foreign Empires? The Problem of Relations between China, Yuan and Qing, International J. Central Asian Studies, vol. 19, pp. 59-91.
  25. ^ Roger des Forges, (Review) Journal of Chinese Studies No. 60 – (January 2015) pp. 302-303.
  26. ^ Wudai Shi, ch. 75. Considering the father was originally called Nieliji without a surname, the fact that his patrilineal ancestors all had Chinese names here indicates that these names were probably all created posthumously after Shi Jingtang became a "Chinese" emperor. Shi Jingtang actually claimed to be a descendant of Chinese historical figures Shi Que and Shi Fen, and insisted that his ancestors went westwards towards non-Han Chinese area during the political chaos at the end of the Han Dynasty in the early 3rd century.
  27. ^ According to Old History of the Five Dynasties, vol. 99, and New History of the Five Dynasties, vol. 10. Liu Zhiyuan was of Shatuo origin. According to Wudai Huiyao, vol. 1 Liu Zhiyuan's great-great-grandfather Liu Tuan (劉湍) (titled as Emperor Mingyuan posthumously, granted the temple name of Wenzu) descended from Liu Bing (劉昞), Prince of Huaiyang, a son of Emperor Ming of Han