The Tuoba (Middle Chinese: *tʰak-bɛt) also known as the Taugast or Tabgach (Old Turkic: 𐱃𐰉𐰍𐰲Tabγač), was a Xianbei clan in ancient China.[1][2][3][4]


The Tuoba founded the Northern Wei (386–535), a powerful dynasty that unified northern China after the Sixteen Kingdoms period and became increasingly sinicized. As a result, from 496, the name "Tuoba" disappeared by an edict of Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei, who adopted the Chinese language surname of Yuan (). After the Northern Wei split into the Eastern and Western Wei in 535, the Western Wei briefly restored the Tuoba name in 554. A surviving branch of the Tuoba established the state of Tuyuhun before submitting as a vassal of the Tang dynasty. A branch of the Tanguts originally bore the surname Tuoba, but their chieftains were subsequently bestowed the Chinese surnames Li () and Zhao (); the founding emperor of the Western Xia, Li Yuanhao, later adopted the surname Weiming (嵬名).

Ethnicity and LanguageEdit

Tuoba and their Rouran enemies descended from common ancestors.[5] Weishu stated that the Rourans were of Donghu origins[6][7] and Tuoba originated from Xianbei,[8][9] who were also Donghu's descendants.[10][11] The Donghu ancestors of Tuoba and Rouran were most likely proto-Mongols.[12] Nomadic confederations of Inner Asia were often linguistically diverse, and Tuoba Wei comprised the para-Mongolic Tuoba as well as assimilated Turkic peoples such as Hegu (紇骨) and Yizhan (乙旃); consequently, about one quarter of the Tuoba tribal confederation was composed of Dingling elements as Tuoba migrated from northeastern Mongolia to northern China.[13]

Alexander Vovin (2007) identifies the Tuoba language as a Mongolic language.[14][15] On the other hand, Juha Janhunen proposed that Tuoba might have spoken an Oghur Turkic language.[16] According to Peter Boodberg, Tuoba language was essentially Turkic with Mongolic admixture.[17] Chen Sanping observed that Tuoba language contains both elements.[18][19] Liu Xueyao stated that Tuoba may have had their own language which should not be assumed to be identical with any other known languages.[20]


Tuoba people and their neighbours, c. III century AD
Remnants of Tuoba in Alxa League
Remnants of Tuoba in Alxa League

The distribution of the Xianbei people ranged from present day Northeast China to Mongolia, and the Tuoba were one of the largest clans among the western Xianbei, ranging from present day Shanxi province and westward and northwestward. They established the state of Dai from 310-376 AD[21] and ruled as the Northern Wei from 386-536. The Tuoba states of Dai and Northern Wei also claimed to possess the quality of earth in the Chinese Wu Xing theory. All the chieftains of the Tuoba were revered as emperors in the Book of Wei and the History of the Northern Dynasties.

Marriage policiesEdit

The Northern Wei started to arrange for Chinese elites to marry daughters of the Xianbei Tuoba royal family in the 480s.[22] More than fifty percent of Tuoba Xianbei princesses of the Northern Wei were married to southern Chinese men from the imperial families and aristocrats from southern China of the Southern dynasties who defected and moved north to join the Northern Wei.[23] Some Chinese exiled royalty fled from southern China and defected to the Xianbei. Several daughters of the Xianbei Tuoba Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei were married to Chinese elites, the Han Chinese Liu Song royal Liu Hui 刘辉, married Princess Lanling 蘭陵公主 of the Northern Wei,[24][25][26][27][28][29] Princess Huayang 華陽公主 to Sima Fei 司馬朏, a descendant of Jin dynasty (265–420) royalty, Princess Jinan 濟南公主 to Lu Daoqian 盧道虔, Princess Nanyang 南阳长公主 to Xiao Baoyin 萧宝夤, a member of Southern Qi royalty.[30] Emperor Xiaozhuang of Northern Wei's sister the Shouyang Princess was wedded to the Liang dynasty ruler Emperor Wu of Liang's son Xiao Zong 蕭綜.[31]

When the Eastern Jin dynasty ended Northern Wei received the Han Chinese Jin prince Sima Chuzhi 司馬楚之 as a refugee. A Northern Wei Princess married Sima Chuzhi, giving birth to Sima Jinlong 司馬金龍. Northern Liang Xiongnu King Juqu Mujian's daughter married Sima Jinlong.[32]


The Tuoba Xianbei remains in Inner Mongolia’s Qahar Right Wing Middle Banner Qilang mountain cemetery were found genetically in autosomal DNA and Y haplogroups to be closest to Oroqen, Evenkis and Outer Mongolians, being closest to Oroqen, and relatively distant and far away genetically from Han Chinese. Evenkis, Buryat Mongols, Outer Mongols, Inner Mongols, Daur, Oroqen, Evenkis and Koreans are clustered closer to Xianbei in successive order than both northern Han Chinese and southern Han Chinese, with Evenkis close in autosomal genetics to Xianbei. Only Turkish people from Turkey, Uzbeks and Kazakhs were more distant from Xianbei in autosomal genetics than Han Chinese.[33]

Chieftains of Tuoba Clan 219-377 (as Princes of Dai 315-377)Edit

Posthumous name Full name Period of reign Other
神元 Shényuán 拓拔力微 Tuòbá Lìwéi 219-277 Temple name: 始祖 Shízǔ
章 Zhāng 拓拔悉鹿 Tuòbá Xīlù 277-286
平 Píng 拓拔綽 Tuòbá Chuò 286-293
思 Sī 拓拔弗 Tuòbá Fú 293-294
昭 Zhāo 拓拔祿官 Tuòbá Lùguān 294-307
桓 Huán 拓拔猗㐌 Tuòbá Yītuō 295-305
穆 Mù 拓拔猗盧 Tuòbá Yīlú 295-316
None 拓拔普根 Tuòbá Pǔgēn 316
None 拓拔 Tuòbá[34] 316
平文 Píngwén 拓跋鬱律 Tuòbá Yùlǜ 316-321
惠 Huì 拓拔賀傉 Tuòbá Hèrǔ 321-325
煬 Yáng 拓拔紇那 Tuòbá Hénǎ 325-329 and 335-337
烈 Liè 拓拔翳槐 Tuòbá Yìhuaí 329-335 and 337-338
昭成 Zhaōchéng 拓拔什翼健 Tuòbá Shíyìjiàn 338-377 Regnal name: 建國 Jiànguó

Legacy of the Tuoba/Tabgach nameEdit

As a consequence of the Northern Wei's extensive contacts with Central Asia, Turkic sources identified Tabgach, also transcribed as Tawjach, Tawġač, Tamghaj, Tamghach, Tafgaj, and Tabghaj, as the ruler or country of China until the 13th century.[35]

The Orkhon inscriptions in the Orkhon Valley of Mongolia from the 8th century identifies Tabgach as China.[35]

I myself, wise Tonyukuk, lived in Tabgach country. (As the whole) Turkic people was under Tabgach subjection.[36]

In the 11th century text, the Dīwān Lughāt al-Turk ("Compendium of the languages of the Turks"), Turkic scholar Mahmud al-Kashgari writing in Baghdad for an Arabic audience, describes Tawjach as one of the three components comprising China.

Ṣīn [i.e., China] is originally three fold: Upper, in the east which is called Tawjāch; middle which is Khitāy, lower which is Barkhān in the vicinity of Kashgar. But now Tawjāch is known as Maṣīn and Khitai as Ṣīn.[35]

At the time of his writing, China’s northern fringe was ruled by Khitan Liao dynasty while the remainder of China Proper was ruled by the Northern Song dynasty. Arab sources used Sīn (Persian: Chīn) to refer to northern China and Māsīn (Persian: Machīn) to represent southern China.[35] In his account, al-Kashgari refers to his homeland, around Kashgar, then part of the Kara-Khanid Khanate, as lower China.[35] The rulers of the Karakanids adopted Temahaj Khan (Turkic: the Khan of China) in their title, and minted coins bearing this title.[37] Much of the realm of the Karakhanids including Transoxania and the western Tarim Basin had been under the suzerainty of the Tang dynasty prior to the Battle of Talas in 751 and the Karakhanids continued identify with China, several centuries later.[37]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Wei Shou. Book of Wei. Vol. 1
  2. ^ Grousset, Rene (1970). The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University Press. pp. 60–65. ISBN 0-8135-1304-9.
  3. ^ Holcombe, Charles (2001). The Genesis of East Asia: 221 B.C. - A.D. 907. p. 131.
  4. ^ Tseng, Chin Yin (2012). The Making of the Tuoba Northern Wei: Constructing Material Cultural Expressions in the Northern Wei Pingcheng Period (398-494 CE) (PhD). University of Oxford. p. 1.
  5. ^ Hyacinth (Bichurin), Collection of information on peoples lived in Central Asia in ancient times, 1950. p.209
  6. ^ Golden, B. Peter. "Some Notes on the Avars and Rouran" in The Steppe Lands and the World beyond Them. Ed. Curta, Florin; Maelon, Bogdan-Petru. Iaşi (2013). p. 55
  7. ^ 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"
  8. ^ Wei Shou. Book of Wei. Vol. 1
  9. ^ Tseng, Chin Yin (2012). The Making of the Tuoba Northern Wei: Constructing Material Cultural Expressions in the Northern Wei Pingcheng Period (398-494 CE) (PhD). University of Oxford. p. 1.
  10. ^ Book of Later Han vol. 90 "鮮卑者,亦東胡之支也,別依鮮卑山,故因號焉" "The Xianbei who were a branch of the Donghu, relied upon the Xianbei Mountains. Therefore, they were called the Xianbei." translated by Xu (2005)
  11. ^ Xu Elina-Qian, Historical Development of the Pre-Dynastic Khitan, University of Helsinki, 2005
  12. ^ *Pulleyblank, Edwin G. (2000). "Ji 姬 and Jiang 姜: The Role of Exogamic Clans in the Organization of the Zhou Polity", Early China. p. 20
  13. ^ Lee, Joo-Yup (2016). "The Historical Meaning of the Term Turk and the Nature of the Turkic Identity of the Chinggisid and Timurid Elites in Post-Mongol Central Asia". Central Asiatic Journal 59(1-2): 112-3.
  14. ^ Vovin, Alexander. 2007. ‘Once again on the Tabγač language.’ Mongolian Studies XXIX: 191-206.
  15. ^ Holcombe 2001, p. 132.
  16. ^ Juha Janhunen, (1996), Manchuria: An Ethnic History, p. 190
  17. ^ Holcombe 2001, p. 132.
  18. ^ Chen, Sanping 2005. Turkic or Proto-Mongolian? A Note on the Tuoba Language. Central Asiatic Journal 49.2: 161-73.
  19. ^ Holcombe 2001, p. 248
  20. ^ Liu Xueyao p. 83-86
  21. ^ Grousset, Rene (1970). The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University Press. pp. 57. ISBN 0-8135-1304-9.
  22. ^ Rubie Sharon Watson (1991). Marriage and Inequality in Chinese Society. University of California Press. pp. 80–. ISBN 978-0-520-07124-7.
  23. ^ Tang, Qiaomei (May 2016). Divorce and the Divorced Woman in Early Medieval China (First through Sixth Century) (PDF) (A dissertation presented by Qiaomei Tang to The Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the subject of East Asian Languages and Civilizations). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University. pp. 151, 152, 153.
  24. ^ Lee (2014).
  25. ^ Papers on Far Eastern History. Australian National University, Department of Far Eastern History. 1983. p. 86.
  26. ^ Hinsch, Bret (2018). Women in Early Medieval China. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 97. ISBN 978-1538117972.
  27. ^ Hinsch, Bret (2016). Women in Imperial China. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 72. ISBN 978-1442271661.
  28. ^ Lee, Jen-der (2014). "9. Crime and Punishment The Case of Liu Hui in the Wei Shu". In Swartz, Wendy; Campany, Robert Ford; Lu, Yang; Choo, Jessey (eds.). Early Medieval China: A Sourcebook (illustrated ed.). Columbia University Press. pp. 156–165. ISBN 978-0231531009.
  29. ^ Australian National University. Dept. of Far Eastern History (1983). Papers on Far Eastern History, Volumes 27-30. Australian National University, Department of Far Eastern History. pp. 86, 87, 88.
  30. ^ China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2004. pp. 30–. ISBN 978-1-58839-126-1. Xiao Baoyin.
  31. ^ Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature (vol.3 & 4): A Reference Guide, Part Three & Four. BRILL. 22 September 2014. pp. 1566–. ISBN 978-90-04-27185-2.
  32. ^ China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2004. pp. 18–. ISBN 978-1-58839-126-1. sima.
  33. ^ Yu, Changchun; Xie, Li; Zhang, Xiaolei; Zhou, Hui; Zhu, Hong (13 November 2006). Takashi, Gojobori (ed.). "Genetic analysis on Tuoba Xianbei remains excavated from Qilang Mountain Cemetery in Qahar Right Wing Middle Banner of Inner Mongolia". FEBS Letters. 580 (26): 6242–6246. doi:10.1016/j.febslet.2006.10.030.
  34. ^ No known given name survives.
  35. ^ a b c d e Biran 2005, p. 98.
  36. ^ Atalay Besim (2006). Divanü Lügati't Türk. Turkish Language Association, ISBN 975-16-0405-2, p. 28, 453, 454
  37. ^ a b Biran, Michal (2001). "Qarakhanid Studies: A View from the Qara Khitai Edge". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)


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