Qiang (historical people)

Qiang (Chinese: ; pinyin: Qiāng; Wade–Giles: Ch'iang) was a name given to various groups of people at different periods in ancient China. The Qiang people are generally thought to have been of Tibeto-Burman origin,[1][2][3][4][5] though there are other theories.

Dengzhi ambassador to the Southern Liang court 516-520 CE.jpg
Depiction of an envoy of Dengzhi (鄧至), a Qiang ethnic group, from a Portraits of Periodical Offering painting, 6th century CE
Regions with significant populations
Ancient China

The Tangut people of the Tang, Sung and Yuan dynasties may be of Qiang descent.[1] The modern Qiang people as well as Tibetans may also have been descended in part from the ancient Qiangs.[6]


According to the Han dynasty dictionary Shuowen Jiezi, the Qiang were shepherds, and the Chinese character for Qiang () was thus formed from the characters for "sheep" (羊) and "man" (人), and pronounced like "sheep".[7][8] Fengsu Tongyi also mentions that character of Qiang was formed from the words "sheep" and "man". Modern scholars have attempted to reconstruct the ancient pronunciation of Qiang: sinologist Edwin Pulleyblank reconstructs it to *kʰiaŋ in Middle Chinese, while William H. Baxter and Laurent Sagart reconstruct the Old Chinese name of Qiang as *C.qʰaŋ.[9]

Qiangs are generally believed to be Tibeto-Burman speakers, although Christopher Beckwith proposes that the word "Qiang" may have an Indo-European etymology and that the Qiang were of Indo-European origin; Beckwith compares a proposed reconstruction of Qiang to *klaŋ in Old Chinese to the Tocharian word klānk, meaning "to ride, go by wagon", as in "to ride off to hunt from a chariot", so that Qiang could actually mean "charioteer".[10]


Guard tower located in a Qiang village
Qiang watchtower
The Old Qiang city (中国古羌城), in Mao County, Sichuan

According to a legend the Qiang were partly descended from the Yan Emperor, the mythical "Flame Emperor." The Yan Emperor and his tribe were defeated by the Yellow Emperor.[11]


The term "Qiang" first appeared on oracle bone inscriptions 3,000 years ago and was used to describe "a people other than one's people."[12] It appears again in the Classic of Poetry in reference to Tang of Shang (trad. 1675–1646 BC).[13] They seem to have lived in a diagonal band from northern Shaanxi to northern Henan, somewhat to the south of the later Beidi. They were enemy of the Shang dynasty, who mounted expeditions against them, capturing slaves and victims for human sacrifice. The Qiang prisoners were skilled in making oracle bones.[14]

This ancient tribe is said to be the progenitor of both the modern Qiang and the Tibetan people.[6] There are still many ethnological and linguistic links between the Qiang and the Tibetans.[6] The Qiang tribe expanded eastward and joined the Han people in the course of historical development, while the other branch that traveled southwards, crosses over the Hengduan Mountains, and entered the Yungui Plateau; some went even farther, to Burma, forming numerous ethnic groups of the Tibetan-Burmese language family.[15] Even today, from linguistic similarities, their relative relationship can be seen. They formed the Tibetan ethnicity after the unification of the Tubo kingdom.[15] According to Fei Xiaotong: "Even if the Qiang people might not be regarded as the main source of the Tibetan people, it is undoubtedly that the Qiang people played a certain role in the formation of Tibetan race".[16]

Shuowen Jiezi indicated that the Qiangs were shepherds from the west and they were part of the Xirong.[8] They had a close relation to the Zhou dynasty,[1] and were mentioned in the Book of Documents and Records of the Grand Historian as one of the allies of King Wu of Zhou who defeated the Shang.[17] It has been suggested that the clan of Jiang Yuan, mother of Houji, a figure of Chinese legends and mythology and an ancestor of the Zhou dynasty, was possibly related or identical to the Qiang.[1][18][19] Some of the ancient groups were called the "Horse-Qiang" or "Many-Horse-Qiang" (Ma Qiang or Duo Ma Qiang), suggesting they may have been horse breeders.[14]

During the Han dynasty, a group of nomads to the southwest of Dunhuang were known as the Chuo Qiang (Chinese: 婼羌). They were described in the Book of Han as a people who moved with their livestock in search of water and pasture, made military weapons themselves using iron from the mountains, and possessed bows, lances, short knives, swords and armour.[20] In the Weilüe, other Qiang tribes named were the "Brown Onion", "White Horse", and "Yellow Ox" Qiang.[21] The various tribes of the Qiangs formed a confederation against the Han but were defeated.[22]

Later in the Han Dynasty, groups of people in the western part of Sichuan were mentioned in the Book of the Later Han as separate branches of the Qiang. A song from one of these groups, the "White Wolf" people, was transcribed in Chinese characters together with Chinese translation, and the language has since been identified as a Tibeto-Burman language.[1]


Qiang female dress
Qiang female flower dress

In the mid-2nd century BCE, the Lesser Yuezhi fled into southern Gansu and merged with the Qiang population.[23]

In 112 BCE, the Han dynasty invaded what is now eastern Tibet with 25,000 cavalry on grounds of Qiang raiding.[24]

In 65 BCE, the Qiang revolted in what is now eastern Tibet.[25]

In 42 BCE, the Qiang rebelled and defeated a force of 12,000 under Feng Fengshi.[26]

In 41 BCE, Feng Fengshi returned to what is now eastern Tibet with 60,000 men and crushed the Qiang rebellion.[26]

In 49 CE, the Qiang tribes retook the Qinghai region from the Han.[27]

In 57 CE, the Qiang led by Dianyu raided Jincheng Commandery.[28]

In 59 CE, a Han army defeated Dianyu.[28]

In 107 CE, Dianlian of the Qiang Xianlian attacked Liang Province. As a result the Protectorate of the Western Regions was abandoned. The Han court sent Deng Zhi and Ren Shang against the invading army, and although the Qiang forces suffered significant casualties, they were defeated at Hanyang Commandery. Having achieved victory against the Han army, Dianlian proclaimed himself emperor at Beidi Commandery. Qiang forces now threatened Han territory as far south as Hanzhong Commandery and as far east as Ji Province.[29][27]

In 109 CE, Dianlian conquered Longxi Commandery.[30]

In 110 CE, Dianlian defeated and killed the Administrator Zheng Qin in Hanzhong Commandery.[30]

In 112 CE, Dianlian died and was succeeded by his son Lianchang. Lianchang was too young to exercise authority and another man of the tribe, Langmo, took charge of strategy. The new regime was significantly less effective under the regent and failed to make any headway against Han forces.[31]

In 116 CE, the Han general Deng Zun led 10,000 Southern Xiongnu cavalry in a raid on Lianchang's headquarters from the north. Meanwhile Ren Shang attacked from the south and killed Lianchang's wife and children.[31]

In 117 CE, Lianchang was assassinated and forces under Ren Shang ended Qiang raids.[32]

In 120 CE, the Qiang chieftain Jiwu attacked Jincheng Commandery and was defeated by the general Ma Xian.[33]

In 121 CE, the Qiang Shaodang tribe under Manu raided Wuwei Commandery but were defeated by the general Ma Xian the following year.[34]

In 140 CE, the Qiang rebelled.[32]

In 142 CE, the Qiang rebellion was put down.[32]

In 167 CE, Duan Jiong conducted an anti-Qiang campaign and massacred Qiang populations as well as settled them outside the frontier.[32]

In 184 CE, Beigong Boyu, a member of the Auxiliary of Loyal Barbarians of Huangzhong, started the Liang Province rebellion. The rebels captured Jincheng and reached Youfufeng Commandery in 185, and from there carried out raids against Chang'an. A Han army was sent out against them led by Huangfu Song and Zhang Wen but they failed to achieve any major victory. In 185, the Han general Dong Zhuo won a battle against Beigong Boyu and the rebels withdrew. Beigong Boyu and Li Wenhou are not mentioned after this, but the rebellion continued anyway when the new Inspector was killed by his own troops.[35]

Sixteen KingdomsEdit

During the era of Sixteen Kingdoms, a Qiang leader, Yao Chang, founded the state of Later Qin 384–417 CE).[36]

Northern and Southern dynastiesEdit

During the period of Northern and Southern dynasties, Fan Ye (398-445) wrote a history of the Western Qiang describing traits such as "disheveled hair", folding their coat from the left side, and marriage customs where a widow would either marry her son or the deceased husband's brother. According to Fan, the Qiang lived in tribes and had no unified ruler.[12]

In 446 an ethnic Qiang rebellion was crushed by the Northern Wei. Wang Yu (王遇) was an ethnic Qiang eunuch and he may have been castrated during the rebellion since the Northern Wei would castrated the rebel tribe's young elite. Fengyi prefecture's Lirun town according to the Weishu was where Wang Yu was born , Lirun was to Xi'ans's northeast by 100 miles and modern day Chengcheng stands at it's site. Wang Yu patronized Buddhism and in 488 had a temple constructed in his birth place.[37]


During the Tang dynasty, the Dangxiang Qiang moved to the region of Xiazhou around modern Jingbian County, Shaanxi Province. They eventually founded the state of Western Xia (1038–1227 CE) and came to be known as the Tanguts. Another group of Qiang migrated south to the Min River in modern Sichuan Province. They came to be known as the Ran and Mang who were the ancestors of the modern Qiang people.[36]

Tibetan EmpireEdit

According to the New Book of Tang, the "Bod originates from the Qiang." According to the Da Qing yi tong zhi (1735), the Tibetan Empire was founded by a branch of the Fa Qiang.[12]


According to the polymath Shen Kuo, the Qiang were noted for producing high quality steel armour.[38]

The Qiang people of Qingtang are skilled at forging armour. The colour of the iron is blue-black, so clear and bright that it can mirror a hair. They use musk-deer leather for the thongs to string it together - it is soft, thin, and tough.[39]

— Shen Kuo


During the Yuan dynasty, the term Qiang was replaced by Fan (Bod), and the people of the western plateaus were called "Western Bod". The two terms were used interchangeably until the Qing dynasty when Qiang came to refer to those living upstream of the Min River.[12]


A problematic case is the “Qiang,” which as Wang Mingke has established, is an old Chinese term along the western borderlands for people in the middle, neither Chinese nor Tibetan, neither exclusively agricultural nor purely pastoral, and likely referring to a variety of successive frontier populations. Communities and individuals were not firmly identified with the modern nationality Qiang, by others as well as themselves, until the People’s Republic. Today they are concentrated in Maozhou and Wenchuan and parts of Lixian and Heishui, plus a few in the southernmost part of Songpan. They speak a variety of non-Tibetan dialects in two main forms, Northern and Southern Qiang, but some speak only Chinese.[40]

— Xiaofei Kang

The Qiang did not have surnames until the last few hundred years when they adopted Han Chinese surnames.[41]


The Silver Turtle Temple is a complex of Qiang temples dedicated to various gods consecrated in 2013-2014. Its three temples are dedicated to Yandi, Dayu and Li Yuanhao , the most important deities of the Qiang people. It is located on Qiangshan, in Qiang City, Mao County of Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, in Sichuan.
Qiang guard tower
Traditional Qiang house

The Qiang were first described as nomadic shepherds living in the region of contemporary Gansu and Qinghai provinces. Unlike other nomads, the Qiang did not shave their heads and wore their hair loose over their face.[42] At some point prior to the modern era they settled and adopted an agricultural way of life.[43] Due to constant conflict between Qiang tribes and other peoples, the Qiang built numerous stone guard towers with small windows and doors, giving them the moniker of "Stone Tower Culture". These constructs, described as Himalayan Towers, can be found today in eastern Tibet and Sichuan Province.[44]

Qiang society followed matrilineal descent and it was men who integrated into the women's lineage at their deaths. There was no formal marriage ceremony or ritual. Instead the men traveled to their wives' residences and worked their land for a long period of time as bride service. Despite the centrality of women in Qiang families, Qiang society was neither matriarchal or egalitarian. Men held all the important political and religious positions, although there is some evidence that female shamans existed at one point. Like most agricultural societies, women were responsible for domestic and agricultural work while men engaged in construction, transport, and plowing.[43]

The Qiang revered the tiger and featured it prominently on their totem poles. White stones were also considered to be sacred and sometimes put on altars or rooftops. Qiang folk religion resembles animism and shamanism. It places spiritual belief in the natural features of the landscape and the ability of shamans to contact spirits.[45]

Relation to modern QiangEdit

In most current scholarship, especially in Chinese, the modern Qiangzu are assumed to be the same as Ancient Qiangzu. However, compared to other Tibeto-Burman speakers, Qiangzu does not have a closer relation to the Ancient Qiang group. Nevertheless they have been designated as Qiangzu by the Chinese government. The arbitrary assignment of Qiang (羌) to a specific ethnic group has created confusion. First, in general, people could hardly avoid making an artificial equivalence between Ancient Qiang and Qiangzu. Since Qiangzu was named in 1950, other Tibeto-Burman speakers or Ancient Qiang decendents show no interest in dating their history back to Ancient Qiang, asking, “How could we (Yi 9,000,000; Tibetan 6,000,000) be decendents of the small Qiangzu?” Moreover, since the assignment of the name Qiangzu, the indigenous culture (Rme/ʐme/ culture) has been strongly shaped by the willing and concomitant necessity of creating a Qiang culture that demonstrates unmerited links to Ancient Qiang. Thirdly, the term Qiang split the Rme people (those using the Rme/ʐme autonym) into two parts. The Rme in Heishui are not considered Qiangzu but Tibetan by the Central Government.[46]

— Maotao Wen

Tribes and chiefsEdit

  • Bi'nan
  • Goujiu
    • Dianyu II (184)
  • Qian
    • Midanger (60)
  • Shaodang (Yan)
    • Shaodang (40 BCE)
    • Dianliang (40)
  • Western Qiang
    • Fu Fan (6)
    • Pang Tian (6)
  • Xianlian
    • Yangyu (60)
    • Youfei (60)
    • Dianlian (r.107-112)
    • Lianchang (d.117)
    • Langmo (r.112-118)
  • Zhong
  • ?
    • Beigong Boyu
    • Diaoku
    • Dize
    • Erku
    • Juzhong
    • Li Lu
    • Lianger
    • Miwang
    • Quhu lai Wang
    • Ruoling
    • Yangdiao

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Edwin G. Pulleyblank (1983). "Chapter 14 - The Chinese and Their Neighbors in Prehistoric and Early Historic Times". In David Keightley (ed.). The Origins of Chinese Civilization. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-04229-8.
  2. ^ Sigfried J. de Laet, Joachim Herrmann: History of Humanity: From the seventh century B.C. to the seventh century A.D. UNESCO, 1996, page 501.
  3. ^ Sanping Chen: Multicultural China in the Early Middle Ages. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.
  4. ^ Patricia Buckley Ebrey: The Cambridge Illustrated History of China, Cambridge University Press, 2010, page 69.
  5. ^ Henry Luce Foundation Professor of East Asian Studies Nicola Di Cosmo, Nicola Di Cosmo, Don J Wyatt. Political Frontiers, Ethnic Boundaries and Human Geographies in Chinese History. Routledge, 2005, page 87.
  6. ^ a b c Bradley Mayhew, Korina Miller, Alex English: South-West China. 2002. Northern Síchuan - Around Wénchuan, page 517.
  7. ^ Wicky W. K. Tse (27 June 2018). The Collapse of China's Later Han Dynasty, 25-220 CE: The Northwest Borderlands and the Edge of Empire. Routledge. ISBN 9781315532318.
  8. ^ a b Shouwen Original text: 羌:西戎牧羊人也。从人从羊,羊亦聲。
  9. ^ Baxter, William H. and Laurent Sagart. 2014. Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction. Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-994537-5.
  10. ^ Beckwith, Christopher I. (16 March 2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton University Press. pp. 375–376. ISBN 978-14008-29941. Retrieved 30 December 2014.
  11. ^ "Qiang among China's ancients". archive.shine.cn. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  12. ^ a b c d The Creation of the Qiang Ethnicity, its Relation to the Rme People and the Preservation of Rme Language, p.56-63
  13. ^ Shi Jing, Sacrificial Odes of Shang, Yin Wu. 《詩經·商頌·殷武》: "昔有成湯,自彼氐羌,莫敢不來享,莫敢不來王"。
  14. ^ a b Nicola Di Cosmo (13 March 1999). "The Northern Frontier in Pre-Imperial China". In Michael Loewe, Edward L. Shaughness (ed.). The Cambridge History of Ancient China: From the Origins of Civilization to 221 B.C. Cambridge University Press. p. 908. ISBN 0-521-47030-7.
  15. ^ a b Chen Qingying, Tibetan History, 五洲传播出版社, 2003. page 7.
  16. ^ Fei Xiaotong (1999). The Pluralistic and Unified Structure of Chinese Ethnic Groups. The Central Ethnic University Publishing. p. 28.
  17. ^ Shiji 武王曰:「嗟!我有國冢君,司徒、司馬、司空,亞旅、師氏,千夫長、百夫長,及庸、蜀、羌、髳、微、纑、彭、濮人,稱爾戈,比爾干,立爾矛,予其誓。」
  18. ^ Beckwith, Christopher I. (16 March 2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton University Press. p. 44. ISBN 978-14008-29941. Retrieved 30 December 2014.
  19. ^ Kleeman, Terry F. (1998). Great Perfection: Religion and Ethnicity in a Chinese Millennial Kingdom. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 54–58. ISBN 0824818008. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  20. ^ Hulsewé, A. F. P. (1979). China in Central Asia: The Early Stage 125 BC – AD 23: an annotated translation of chapters 61 and 96 of the History of the Former Han Dynasty. E. Brill, Leiden. pp. 80–81. ISBN 90-04-05884-2.
  21. ^ Annotated translation of the Weilüe by John E. Hill
  22. ^ Joseph P. Yap (2009). "Chapter 9 - War with Qiang". Wars With the Xiongnu: A Translation from Zizhi Tongjian. AuthorHouse. pp. 324–340. ISBN 978-1-4490-0605-1.
  23. ^ Whiting 2002, p. 141.
  24. ^ Whiting 2002, p. 158.
  25. ^ Whiting 2002, p. 175.
  26. ^ a b Whiting 2002, p. 179.
  27. ^ a b Twitchett 2008, p. 270.
  28. ^ a b Crespigny 2017, p. 90.
  29. ^ Twitchett 2008, p. 421.
  30. ^ a b Crespigny 2007, p. 139.
  31. ^ a b Crespigny 2007, p. 445.
  32. ^ a b c d Cosmo 2009, p. 104.
  33. ^ Crespigny 2007, p. 723.
  34. ^ de Crespigny 2007, p. 663.
  35. ^ Crespigny 2007, p. 248.
  36. ^ a b http://www.chinaknowledge.de/History/Altera/qiang.html
  37. ^ Watt, James C. Y.; Angela Falco Howard, Metropolitan Museum of Art Staff, Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, NY., Boris Ilʹich Marshak, Su Bai, Zhao Feng, Maxwell K. Hearn, Denise Patry Leidy, Chao-Hui Jenny Lui, Valentina Ivanova Raspopova, Zhixin Sun (2004). China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD (illustrated ed.). Metropolitan Museum of Art. p. 23. ISBN 1588391264.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  38. ^ Wagner 2008, p. 322-323.
  39. ^ Wagner 2008, p. 322.
  40. ^ Kang 2016, p. 63.
  41. ^ LaPolla 2003, p. 11.
  42. ^ Twitchett 1994, p. 181-182.
  43. ^ a b West 2009, p. 681-682.
  44. ^ https://www.lonelyplanet.com/china/sichuan/travel-tips-and-articles/the-inside-info-on-chinas-ancient-watchtowers/40625c8c-8a11-5710-a052-1479d27762ce
  45. ^ West 2009, p. 681.
  46. ^ Wen, p. 70-71.


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