The Dingling (Chinese: 丁零) were an ancient people who lived in Siberia, mentioned in Chinese historiography in the context of the 1st century BCE. They are assumed to have been related to Na-Dené and Yeniseian speakers,[1][page needed] to be early Proto-Turkic people[2][3][4][5] or even ancestors of Tungusic speakers among the Shiwei[a].[7][8]

They originally lived on the bank of the Lena River in the area west of Lake Baikal, gradually moving southward to Mongolia and northern China. They were a huge independent horde for centuries, but later been defeated and temporary became subject of the Xiongnu Empire,[9][10] and thus presumably related to the invaders known as Huns in the west.[11] Around the 3rd century they were assimilated into the Tiele,[12] also named Di (翟), Dili (狄历), Gaoche (高車) or Chile (敕勒), who gradually expanded westward into Central Asia. Some, known as the West Dingling, remained in an area that would become Kazakhstan, while others – expelled from Mongolia by the Rouran – settled in the Tarim Basin during the 5th century and took control of Turpan.

Origin and migrationEdit

Lineage of the Dingling

The early Han Classic of Mountains and Seas mentioned, within the region between China and North Sea (aka Lake Baikal), a fantastical Dingling nation (釘靈國) where people possessed below their knees hairy shins and horse hooves and ran deftly.[13] This is echoed in a Wusun's account, recorded in Weilüe (compiled 239-265 CE), that "north of the Dingling is the kingdom of Majing (‘Horses Shanks’). These men make sounds like startled wild geese. From above the knee, they have the body and hands of a man, but below the knees, they grow hair, and have horses’ legs and hooves. They don’t ride horses as they can run faster than horses. They are brave, strong, and daring fighters". Weilüe mentioned three Dingling groups: one group was located south of Majing, north of Kangju, and west of Wusun, another south of Lake Baikal, and another north of Xiongnu and neighbouring the Qushi, Hunyu, Gekun, and Xinli,[14] all of whom had once been conquered by the Xiongnu.[15]

The Dingling were a warlike group, formed by traders, hunters, fishers, and gatherers, living a semi-nomadic life in the southern Siberian mountain taig region from Lake Baikal to northern Mongolia. Chinese records did not mention the physical appearance of the Dingling, suggesting general homogeneity with people of the Asiatic region, and their name appears rarely, such as Di or Zhai (翟), an example of the family name that been translated based on their group name[clarification needed] or the last name of the top ruling class (see: Zhai Liao). Some ancient sources claims that Di or Zhai (翟) was adopted as the group name because the Zhai family had been the ruling house for centuries. [16][17][18]

Other sources claim that they might have been correlated with the Guifang, a northern tribe that appears in the oracle bone inscriptions from Yinxu.[19]

According to the History of the Gaoche of Wei Shou (6th century), the origin of the Dingling can be traced to the Chidi (赤狄) (lit. Red Di), who lived in northern China during the Spring and Autumn period. The Mozi mentions a total of eight related Di groups, of whom only "Red Di" (赤狄, Chidi), the "White Di" (白狄, Baidi), and "Tall Di" (長狄, Changdi) are known.[20][21][22]

To the north of the Xiongnu empire and Dingling territories, at the headwaters of the Yenisei around Tannu Uriankhai, lived the Gekun (鬲昆), also known as the Yenisei Kirghiz in later records. Further to the west near the Irtysh river lived the Hujie (呼揭). Other tribes living of the Xiongnu, such as the Hunyu (浑庾), Qushe (屈射), and Xinli (薪犁), were only mentioned once in Chinese records, and their exact location is unknown.[23][24]

During the 2nd century BCE, the Dingling became subjects of Modu Chanyu along with 26 other tribes, including the Yuezhi and Wusun.[25]

Dingling and XiongnuEdit

The Dingling were first subjugated by the Xiongnu, but the latter gradually weakened. In 71 BCE, after numerous conflicts between the Chinese and the Xiongnu, the Dingling, lead by Zhai Jin, with help from neighboring tribes, took the opportunity to revolt. From 63 to 60 BCE, during a split within the Xiongnu ruling clan of Luanti (挛鞮), the Dingling attacked the Xiongnu, together with the Wusun from the west, supported by the Chinese from the south and the Wuhuan from the southeast.[26]

In 51 BCE, the Dingling, together with the Hujie and Gekun, defeated by the Xiongnu under Zhizhi Chanyu, on his way to Kangju. Over the next century there may have been more uprisings, but the only recorded one was in the year 85, when together with the Xianbei they made their final attack on the Xiongnu, and Dingling regained its power under Zhai Ying.[27] After that, under the Dingling pressure, the remaining of northern Xiongnu and the Tuoba formed the confederacy by Xianbei chief Tanshihuai (檀石槐). After his death in 181, the Xianbei moved south and the Dingling took their place on the steppe.

Some groups of Dingling, called the West Dingling by the ancient Chinese, started to migrate into western Asia, but settled in Kangju (康居), modern day Kazakhstan. There is no specific source to tell where exactly they settled, but some claims that the Lake Zaysan (宰桑 or 斋桑) was where they settled.


Between the short-lived Xianbei confederacy in 181 and the foundation of the Rouran Qaghanate in 402, there was a long period without a tribal confederacy on the steppe. During this period, a part of the Dingling were assimilated to the northern Xiongnu by permanently settling further to the south.[28] Another group, documented as about 450,000, moved southeast and merged into the Xianbei.

After the defeat of Northern Shanyu, with the number of casualties and immigrants subtracted, an estimated figure of 200,000 is given for the Xiongnu still remaining on the northern steppe. Remnants of the Xiongnu managed to keep their identity until the early 5th century, living on the Orkhon River under the tribal leader Bayeji (拔也稽) before being eliminated by the Rouran.[29][30]

Some groups of Dingling settled in China during Wang Mang's reign. According to the Weilüe, another group of Dingling escaped to the western steppe in Kazakhstan, which beeb called the West Dingling.[31] Around the 3rd century, Dinglings living in China began to adopt family names such as Zhai or Di (翟), Xianyu (鲜于), Luo (洛) and Yan (严).[32] These Dingling became part of the southern Xiongnu tribes known as Chile (赤勒) during the 3rd century, from which the name Chile (敕勒) originated.

During the Sixteen Kingdoms period, the West Dingling Khan Zhai Bin (翟斌) lead his hordes, migrate from Kazakhstan into Central China, served under the Former Qin, after series of plotting, Zhai Bin was betrayed by Former Qin, to avoid Qin nobles further attempts, he revolted against the Former Qin Dynasty. Murong Chui (慕容垂), the Xianbei leader under Former Qin court, got appointed as the high command of Former Qin army, was expected to take down the revolt, but convinced by Zhai Bin, joined his mutiny to against Former Qin. Their mutiny were also joined by serval other Xianbei tribes which formed the Anti-Qin leagues, with the suggestion by Zhai Bin, Murong Chui was elected to be the leader of the leagues. Near end of the same year, Murong Chui styled himself King of Yan (燕王), left Zhai Bin the new leader of the league and a dilemma of the war, later Murong Chui broke the alliance with the leagues, murdered Zhai Bin and his three sons in an ambush. His nephew Zhai Zhen (翟真) inherited the horde, was elected be the new Leader of the leagues, seeking for revenge, but later assassinated by his military advisor Xianyu Qi (鲜于乞), Xian did not escape far, were caught by the Dingling soldiers and got executed, the leagues elected Zhai Zhen's cousin Zhai Cheng (翟成) as the new Leader, but later also been assassinated by Yan spy, then Zhai Liao (翟辽), became the new leader of Dingling horde, with the support from the Leagues, he founded the Wei state, a DingLing Dynasty in China in modern Henan Province.[33]

A branch of people descended from the Tiele in Central Asia, mixing with Indo-European peoples, would later emerge as the Uyghur group.

About one-quarter of the Tuoba clans show similar names as found among the later Gaoche and Tiele tribes. Among them, the Hegu (紇骨) and Yizhan (乙旃) clans kept their high status and were forbidden[clarification needed] to intermarry with the rest.

Between the 4th and 7th centuries, the name "Dingling" slowly disappeared from Chinese records.

Dené-Yeniseian hypothesisEdit

In Zur jenissejisch-indianischen Urverwandtschaft (Concerning Yeniseian-Indian Primal Relationship), the German scholar, Heinrich Werner developed a new language family which he termed Baikal–Siberic. By extension, he groups together the Yeniseian peoples (Arin, Assan, Yugh, Ket, Kott, and Pumpokol), the Na-Dene Indians, and the Dingling of Chinese chronicles to Proto-Dingling.[34] The linguistic comparison of Na-Dene and Yeniseian shows that the quantity and character of the correspondences points to a possible common origin. According to Russian linguistic experts, they likely spoke a polysynthetic or synthetic language with an active form of morphosyntactic alignment, exhibiting a linguistically and culturally unified community.

The name Dingling resembles both:

  • the Yeniseian word *dzheng people > Ket de?ng, Yug dyeng, Kott cheang
  • the Na-Dene word *ling or *hling people, i.e. as manifested in the name of the Tlingit (properly hling-git son of man, child of the people).

Although the Dené–Yeniseian language family is now a widely known proposal, his inclusion of the Dingling is not widely accepted.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Shiwei were stated in most Chinese sources (e.g. Weishu 100, Suishu 84, Jiu Tangshu 199) to be relatives to para-Mongolic-speaking Khitans; the sub-tribe Mengwu Shiwei 蒙兀室韋 were identitied as ancestors and namesakes of the Mongols[6]


  1. ^ Werner, Heinrich Zur jenissejisch-indianischen Urverwandtschaft. Harrassowitz Verlag. 2004 abstract
  2. ^ Hyun Jin Kim: The Huns, Rome and the Birth of Europe. Cambridge University Press, 2013. pp.175-176.
  3. ^ Peter B. Golden: Some Thoughts on the Origins of the Turks and the Shaping of the Turkic Peoples in Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World. Ed. Victor H. Mair. University of Hawaii Press, 2006. p.140
  4. ^ Weishu Vol 103 Gaoche "高車,蓋古赤狄之餘種也,[...] 諸夏以為高車丁零。" tr. "Gaoche, probably the remnant stock of the ancient Red Di. [...] The various Xia (i.e. Chinese) considered them Gaoche Dingling (i.e. Dingling with High Cart)"
  5. ^ Xin Tangshu vol. 217a "回紇,其先匈奴也,俗多乘高輪車,元魏時亦號高車部,或曰敕勒,訛為鐵勒。" tr: "Uyghurs, their predecessors were the Xiongnu. Because, customarily, they ride high-wheeled carts. In Yuan Wei time, they were also called Gaoche (i.e. High-Cart) tribe. Or called Chile, or mistakenly as Tiele."
  6. ^ Xu (2005) p. 175-176, 184
  7. ^ Xin Tangshu vol. 219 "Shiwei" txt: "室韋, 契丹别種, 東胡之北邊, 蓋丁零苗裔也" translation by Xu (2005:176) "The Shiwei, who were a collateral branch of the Khitan inhabited the northern boundary of the Donghu, were probably the descendants of the Dingling ... Their language was the same as that of the Mohe."
  8. ^ Xu Elina-Qian, Historical Development of the Pre-Dynastic Khitan, University of Helsinki, 2005. p. 176. quote: "The Mohe were descendants of the Sushen and ancestors of the Jurchen, and identified as Tungus speakers."
  9. ^ Lu (1996), pp. 111, 135-137.
  10. ^ Li (2003), pp. 110-112.
  11. ^ A. J. Haywood, Siberia: A Cultural History, Oxford University Press, 2010, p.203
  12. ^ Peter B. Golden: Some Thoughts on the Origins of the Turks and the Shaping of the Turkic Peoples in Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World. Ed. Victor H. Mair. University of Hawaii Press, 2006. p.140
  13. ^ Classic of Mountains and Seas. Vol. 18 "北海之內 [...] 有釘靈之國,其民從膝已下有毛,馬蹄善走。"
  14. ^ Yu Huan, Weilüe Section 28 draft translation by John E. Hil 2004
  15. ^ Sima Qian Records of the Grand Historian Vol. 110 "後北服渾庾、屈射、丁零、鬲昆、薪犁之國。於是匈奴貴人大臣皆服,以冒頓單于爲賢。" tr. "Later [in the] north [he] subjugated the nations of Hunyu, Qushe, Dingling, Gekun, and Xinli. Therefore, the Xiongnu nobles and dignitaries all admired [and] considered Modun chanyu as capable."
  16. ^ Xue (1992), pp. 54-60.
  17. ^ Lu (1996), pp. 305-320.
  18. ^ Duan (1988) pp. 35-53.
  19. ^ Duan (1988) pp. 8-11.
  20. ^ Duan (1988), pp. 1-6
  21. ^ Suribadalaha (1986), p. 27.
  22. ^ Theobald, Ulrich (2012). Di 狄 in ChinaKnowledge.de - An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art
  23. ^ Lu (1996), p. 136.
  24. ^ Shen (1998), p. 75.
  25. ^ Li (2003), p. 73.
  26. ^ Duan (1988) pp. 99-100.
  27. ^ Duan (1988) pp. 101-103.
  28. ^ Duan (1988) pp. 111-113.
  29. ^ Duan (1988), pp. 118-120.
  30. ^ Weishu. ch. 91
  31. ^ Hill (2004), Section 28
  32. ^ Duan (1988), pp. 137-142, 152-158.
  33. ^ Duan (1988), pp. 148-152.
  34. ^ Werner, Heinrich Zur jenissejisch-indianischen Urverwandtschaft. Harrassowitz Verlag. 2004 abstract


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  • Hill, John E. (2004). "The Peoples of the West" from the Weilüe, Section 15. (Draft version). Downloadable from: [1].
  • Li, Jihe (2003). A Research on Migration of Northwestern Minorities Between pre-Qin to Sui and Tang. Beijing: Nationalities Press.
  • Lu, Simian (1996). A History of Ethnic Groups in China. Beijing: Oriental Press.
  • Shen, Youliang (1998). A Research on Northern Ethnic Groups and Regimes. Beijing: Central Nationalities University Press.
  • Suribadalaha (1986). New Studies of the Origins of the Mongols. Beijing: Nationalities Press.
  • Trever, Camilla (1932). Excavations in Northern Mongolia (1924-1925). Leningrad: J. Fedorov Printing House.
  • Xue, Zongzheng (1992). A History of Turks. Beijing: Chinese Social Sciences Press.