Donghu people

The Donghu were located to the northeast of Qin China in the 3rd century BCE.

Donghu (simplified Chinese: 东胡; traditional Chinese: 東胡; pinyin: Dōnghú; Wade–Giles: Tung-hu; IPA: [tʊ́ŋ.xǔ]; literally: "Eastern foreigners" or "Eastern barbarians") was a tribal confederation of nomadic people that was first recorded from the 7th century BCE and was destroyed by the Xiongnu in 150 BCE. They lived in northern Hebei, southeastern Inner Mongolia and the western part of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang along the Yan Mountains and Greater Khingan Range.[1]

The Dōnghú later divided into the Wuhuan in the Yan Mountains and Xianbei in the Greater Khingan Range: the former of whom are ancestors of Kumo Xi,[2][3] while the latter of whom are ancestors of Khitan and Mongols;[4] another people of Donghu descent were the Rouran.[5]


The Classical Chinese name Chinese: literally means "Eastern Barbarians".[6] The term Dōnghú contrasts with the term Xīhú meaning "Western barbarians" (Chinese: 西胡, meaning "non-Chinese peoples in the west" and Five Barbarians 五胡 (Wǔ Hú) "five northern nomadic tribes involved in the Uprising of the Five Barbarians (304–316 CE)". Hill (2009:59) translates Xīhú as "Western Hu" and notes:

The term hu 胡 was used to denote non-Han Chinese populations. It is, rather unsatisfactorily, commonly translated as 'barbarian'. While sometimes it was used in this general way to describe people of non-Han descent, and carried the same negative overtones of the English term, this was not always the case. Most frequently, it was used to denote people, usually of Caucasoid or partial Caucasoid appearance, living to the north and west of China. (2009:453)

The term "Hu" can refer to a variety of different races and different ethnic groups.[7] It was used by Han Chinese to describe anyone who is not of ethnic Han Chinese descent and were considered barbarians.

The peoples categorized as the Five Barbarians means "Five Hu" were the Xiongnu, Jie, Xianbei, Di, and Qiang.[8][9] Of these five ethnic groups, the Xiongnu and Xianbei were nomadic peoples from the northern steppes. The ethnic identity of the Xiongnu is uncertain, but the Xianbei appear to have been Mongolic. The Jie, another pastoral people, may have been a branch of the Xiongnu, who may have been Yeniseian[10] or Indo-Scythian.[11] The Di and Qiang were from the highlands of western China.[8] The Qiang were predominantly herdsmen and spoke Sino-Tibetan (Tibeto-Burman) languages, while the Di were farmers who may have spoken a Sino-Tibetan[12] or Turkic language.[13]

The usual English translation of Dōnghú is "Eastern Barbarians" (e.g., Watson, di Cosmo, Pulleyblank, and Yu), and the partial translation "Eastern Hu" is occasionally used (Pulleyblank). Note that "Eastern Barbarians" is also a translation for Dōngyì 東夷, which refers to "ancient peoples in eastern China, Korea, Japan, etc."[clarification needed]

Chinese Sinocentrism differentiates the Huáxià "Chinese" and the "barbarians, non-Chinese, foreigner": this is referred to as the Huá–Yì distinction. Many names besides Hu originally had pejorative "barbarian" meanings, for instance Nanman 南蠻 ("southern barbarians") and Beidi 北狄 ("northern barbarians"). Edwin G. Pulleyblank explains:

At the dawn of history we find the Chinese, self-identified by such terms as Hsia and Hua, surrounded and interspersed by other peoples with whom they were frequently in conflict and whom they typically looked down upon as inferior beings in the same was the Hellenes looked down on the barbaroi and, indeed, as human we-groups have always looked down on their neighbors.[14]

The historian Nicola di Cosmo concludes:

We can thus reasonably say that, by the end of the fourth century B.C., the term "Hu" applied to various ethnic groups (tribes, groups of tribes, and even states) speaking different languages and generally found living scattered across a wide territory. Their fragmentation, however, could be turned, when the need arose, into a superior form of political organization (a "state"). This explains why hu appears often preceded by a qualifier that we may take for a specific ethnic group, as with the Lin Hu and the Tung Hu. Whether or not it had originally been an ethnonym, such a designation had been lost by the Warring States period.[15]

In modern Standard Chinese usage has lost its original meaning although it still appears in words like èrhú 二胡 (lit. "two foreign") "Chinese two-string fiddle", hútáo 胡桃 ("foreign peach") "walnut", and húluóbō 胡萝卜 ("foreign radish") "carrot".

The modern pronunciation Dōnghú differs from the Old Chinese pronunciation, which roughly dates from the Warring States Period (476–221 BCE) when Donghu was first recorded. Old Chinese reconstructions of Dōnghú include *Tûngγâg,[16] *Tungg'o,[17] *Tewnggaγ,[18] *Tongga,[19] and *Tôŋgâ.[20] William H. Baxter and Laurent Sagart (2014)[21] reconstruct the Old Chinese name of Hú as *[g]ˤa.

The etymology of Donghu is unknown.[22] The traditional explanation, going back to the second-century Han dynasty scholar Cui Hao 崔浩 is that the Donghu were originally located "east of the Xiongnu" who were one of the "Five Barbarians" ().[23] Modern Chinese apologetics suggests that "Donghu" was a transcription of an endonym and did not literally mean "Eastern Barbarian".[24] Recently, Christopher Atwood proposes that a foreign ethnonym *ga was borrowed into Old Chinese as 胡 * (> ), while *ga's alternate version, with suffix -i, underlied two Middle Chinese transcriptions: namely, *Bo-lâk Khėi (> [Bùluò]-Jī) (步落稽), based on the ethnonym of a people in Northern Shaanxi-Shanxi-Ordos; as well as *Gʰiei, based on the ethnonym of the Mongolic-speaking (奚), whom Arabic geographers knew as Qāy.[25]

Some dictionaries confuse Dōnghú 東胡 with Tungusic peoples, Tonggu 通古. This "chance similarity in modern pronunciation", writes Pulleyblank, "led to the once widely held assumption that the Eastern Hu were Tungusic in language. This is a vulgar error with no real foundation."[26]


Lineage of the Donghu (Eastern Hu)

Among the northern ethnic groups, the Donghu was the earliest to evolve into a state of civilization and first developed bronze technology. They spoke proto-Mongolian language and their culture was associated with the Upper Xiajiadian culture, characterized by the practice of agriculture and animal husbandry supplemented by handicrafts and bronze art.[27] Through the use of cavalry and bronze weaponry in warfare, they dominated over the Xiongnu on their west.[28][29][30][31]

The (ca. 109–91 BCE) Shiji section on Xiongnu history first records the Donghu during the era of Duke Wen of Jin (r. 697–628 BCE) and Duke Mu of Qin (r. ca. 659–621 BCE).

At this time Qin and Jin were the most powerful states in China. Duke Wen of Jin expelled the Di barbarians and drove them into the region west of the Yellow River between the Yun and Luo rivers; there they were known as the Red Di and the White Di. Shortly afterwards, Duke Mu of Qin, having obtained the services of You Yu, succeeded in getting the eight barbarian tribes of the west to submit to his authority.
Thus at this time there lived in the region west of Long the Mianzhu, the Hunrong, and the Diyuan tribes. North of Mts. Qi and Liang and the Jing and Qi rivers lived the Yiqu, Dali, Wuzhi, and Quyuan tribes. North of Jin were the Linhu (Forest Barbarians) and the Loufan, while north of Yan lived the Donghu (Eastern Barbarians) and Shanrong (Mountain Barbarians), each of them with their own chieftains. From time to time they would have gatherings of a hundred or so men, but no one tribe was capable of unifying the others under a single rule.[32]

In 300 BCE Qin Kai, a general taken hostage from the state of Yan (whose capital "Ji" is now Beijing), defeated the Donghu after having gained the esteem of the Donghu and learning their battle tactics. By the time of the rule of the Xiongnu Chanyu Touman (c. 220 BCE to 209 BCE), "the Eastern Barbarians were very powerful and the Yuezhi were likewise flourishing."[33] When the Xiongnu crown prince Modu Chanyu killed his father, Touman (in 209 BCE) and took the title of Chanyu, the Donghu thought that Modu feared them, and they started to ask for tribute from the Xiongnu, and even a consort of Modu's. Not satisfied with this they asked for some of the Xiongnu territories. This enraged Modu who attacked and soundly defeated them, killing their ruler, taking his subjects prisoner, and seizing their livestock, before turning west to attack and defeat the Yuezhi (c. 177 BCE).[34] This caused disintegration in the Donghu federation. Thereafter, the Wuhuan moved to Mt. Wuhuan and engaged in continuous warfare with the Xiongnu on the west and China on the south. As they came to be worn out from the lengthy battles, the Xianbei preserved their strengths by moving northward to Mt. Xianbei. In the 1st century, the Xianbei defeated the Wuhuan and northern Xiongnu, and developed into a powerful state under the leadership of their elected Khan, Tanshihuai.[35][36][37][38]

Chinese historian Yu Ying-shih describes the Donghu.

The Tung-hu peoples were probably a tribal federation founded by a number of nomadic peoples, including the Wu-huan and Hsien-pi. After its conquest of the Hsiung-nu, the federation apparently ceased to exist. Throughout the Han period, no trace can be found of activities of the Tung-hu as a political entity.[23]

Di Cosmo says the Chinese considered the Hu 胡 as "a new type of foreigner", and believes, "This term, whatever its origin, soon came to indicate an 'anthropological type' rather than a specific group or tribe, which the records allow us to identify as early steppe nomads. The Hu were the source of the introduction of cavalry in China."[39]

Pulleyblank cites Paul Pelliot that the Donghu, Xianbei, and Wuhuan were "proto-Mongols".

The Eastern Hu, mentioned in the Shih-chi along with the Woods Hu and the Lou-fan as barbarians to the north of Chao in the fourth century B.C., appear again as one of the first peoples whom the Hsiung-nu conquered in establishing their empire. Toward the end of the Former Han, as the Hsiung-nu empire was weakening through internal dissension, the Eastern Hu became rebellious. From then on they played an increasingly prominent role in Chinese frontier strategy as a force to play off against the Hsiung-nu. Two major divisions are distinguished, the Hsien-pei to the north and the Wu-huan to the south. By the end of the first century B.C. these more specific names had supplanted the older generic term.[40]

Pulleyblank also writes that although

there is now archaeological evidence of the spread of pastoral nomadism based on horse riding from Central Asia into Mongolia and farther east in the first half of the first millennium B.C.E., as far as we have evidence it did not impinge on Chinese consciousness until the northward push of the state of Zhao 趙 to the edge of the steppe in present Shanxi province shortly before the end of the fifth century B.C.E. brought them into contact with a new type of horse-riding “barbarian” that they called Hu 胡. … In Han times the term Hu was applied to steppe nomads in general but especially to the Xiongnu who had become the dominant power in the steppe. Earlier it had referred to a specific proto-Mongolian people, now differentiated as the Eastern Hu 東胡, from whom the Xianbei 鮮卑 and the Wuhuan 烏桓 later emerged.[41]


A genetic study published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in August 2018 detected the paternal haplogroup C2b1a1b among the Xianbei and Rouran. This lineage has also been found among the Donghu.[42] The authors of the study suggested that haplogroup C2b1a1b was an important lineage among the Donghu, and that the Rouran were paternally descended from the Xianbei and Donghu. Haplogroup C2b1a1b has a high frequency among Mongols.[43]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Origins of Minority Ethnic Groups in Heilongjiang Archived March 22, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Suishu vol. 84 "奚本曰庫莫奚東部胡之種" tr. "The Xi were originally called the Kumo Xi. They are a race of Eastern Hu"
  3. ^ New Book of Tang vol. 219 "奚亦東胡種, 為匈奴所破, 保烏丸山. 漢曹操斬其帥蹋頓蓋其後也." tr. "The Xi are also a Donghu race. Defeated by the Xiongnu, their refuge was Wuwan mountains. During Han time, Cao Cao slew their leader Tadun. [Xi] are probably their descendants"
  4. ^ Janhunen 2006, pp. 405-6.
  5. ^ Book of Wei vol. 103 "蠕蠕,東胡之苗裔也,姓郁久閭氏" tr. "Rúrú, offsprings of Dōnghú, surnamed Yùjiŭlǘ"
  6. ^ Liang (1992) and DeFrancis (2003).
  7. ^ Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania By Barbara A. West [1]
  8. ^ a b Jacques Gernet, A History of Chinese Civilization Cambridge University Press 1996 P.186-87
  9. ^ Peter Van Der Veer, "III. Contexts of Cosmopolitanism" in Steven Vertovec, Robin Cohen eds., Conceiving Cosmopolitanism: Theory, Context and Practice Oxford University Press 2002 p. 200-01
  10. ^ Vovin, Alexander. "Did the Xiongnu speak a Yeniseian language?". Central Asiatic Journal 44/1 (2000), pp. 87-104.
  11. ^ Dorothy Wong, Chinese Steles: Pre-Buddhist and Buddhist Use of a Symbolic Form University of Hawaii Press P.44
  12. ^ (Chinese) 段渝, 先秦巴蜀地区百濮和氐羌的来源 2006-11-30
  13. ^ Guo Ji Zhongguo Yu Yan Xue Ping Lun, Volume 1, Issue 1, J. Benjamins 1996. page 7.
  14. ^ Pulleyblank (1983), p. 411.
  15. ^ Di Cosmo (2002), p. 130.
  16. ^ Dong 1948:?.
  17. ^ Karlgren 1957:303, 34.
  18. ^ Zhou 1972:?.
  19. ^ Baxter 1992:754, 763.
  20. ^ Schuesler 2007:215, 281.
  21. ^ Baxter, William H. and Laurent Sagart. 2014. Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction. Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-994537-5.
  22. ^ Schuessler (2007), p. 281
  23. ^ a b Yu (1986), p. 436.
  24. ^ Hao and Qimudedaoerji (2007), p. 17.
  25. ^ Atwood, Christopher P. "The Qai, the Khongai, and the Names of the Xiōngnú" International Journal of Eurasian Studies II. p. 47-53
  26. ^ Pulleyblank (1983), p. 452.
  27. ^ Lin (2007)[page needed]
  28. ^ Ma (1962)[page needed]
  29. ^ Liu (1994)[page needed]
  30. ^ Wang (2007)[page needed]
  31. ^ Lü (2002), pp. 15–16.
  32. ^ Watson (1993), p. 132.
  33. ^ Watson (1993), p. 134.
  34. ^ Watson (1993), p. 135.
  35. ^ Ma (1962)[page needed]
  36. ^ Liu (1994)[page needed]
  37. ^ Wang (2007)[page needed]
  38. ^ Lü (2002)[page needed]
  39. ^ Di Cosmo (1999), pp. 951–52.
  40. ^ Pulleyblank (1983), p. 452
  41. ^ Pulleyblank (2000), p 20.
  42. ^ Li et al. 2018, p. 4, Table 2.
  43. ^ Li et al. 2018, pp. 1, 8-9.


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