Who were the Jurchen? History of Central Asia

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Jin white vase with brown leaf decoration on it

Jurchen history: A pottery vase from the Jin Dynasty, ca. 1200 AD (Musee Guimet, Paris)

Where did the Jurchen come from?

Unlike most of the people living in north Asia, the Jurchen did not speak a Turkic or Altaic language. Their language was not related to the other Asian languages. The Jurchen probably lived north of China, along the Pacific coast, from at least 100 BC or so. Nobody knows where they were before that- maybe in the same place, or not.

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The Jurchen lifestyle

Like other north Asian Pacific coast people, the Jurchen hunted and gathered most of their food. Probably they ate a lot of fish and shellfish. They rode horses in war.

When did people start to ride horses?

The Khitan conquer the Jurchen

But just before 1000 AD, the Jurchen people suddenly fell into history and civilization. The expanding Khitan empire defeated the Jurchen and made them part of their empire.

Who were the Khitan?

Once they were in the Khitan empire,  soon the Jurchen got to know the even more civilized people of China.

The Jurchen defeat the Khitan

green fabric with gold embroidery of swans and leaves

Jurchen history: silk and leather cloth showing a swan hunt, from northern China about 1200 AD: now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

About a hundred years later, the Song Dynasty emperors of China hired the Jurchen to fight against the Khitan and break up the Khitan empire. In 1122 AD, the Jurchen – who by now had a khan, Wanyan Aguda – won their battle against the Khitan. Most of the Khitan left the area and moved further west.

More about the Song Dynasty

But now the Jurchen decided to have their own empire. In 1126 AD, the Jurchen army conquered Korea. The next year, Jurchen horsemen captured the Song Dynasty capital of Haifeng.

History of Korea
Jin Dynasty in China

The Jurchen established themselves as the rulers of what is now northern China, calling themselves the Jin Dynasty. (Be careful! This is not the same Jin Dynasty as the one that conquered the Wu during the Three Kingdoms period hundreds of years earlier.)

Gradually the Jurchen learned more and more about civilization and Chinese culture. They started to read and write Chinese. They followed the teachings of Confucius.

How do you read and write Chinese?
Who was Confucius?

The Mongols defeat the Jurchen

Then after another hundred years, in 1234 AD, the Song Dynasty tried again: they hired the Mongols, under Genghis Khan, to conquer the Jin Dynasty and the Jurchen people. The Mongols forced the Jurchen to become part of the Mongol Empire.

Genghis Khan and the Mongols

Jurchen history as the Manchu

When the Mongol Empire collapsed, the Jurchen were independent again for a short time – and then, under the name of the Manchu, they invaded southern China, overthrew the Ming Dynasty, and ruled China as the Qing Dynasty until modern times.
Did you find out what you wanted to know about Jurchen history? Let us know in the comments!

Find out about the Mongols and the Manchu

Bibliography and further reading about the Jurchen:

Need a second source about the Jurchen? Check out this article from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

More about Central Asia
More about medieval China
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By |2018-09-24T08:47:40+00:00May 31st, 2017|Central Asia, History|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Who were the Jurchen? History of Central Asia. Quatr.us Study Guides, May 31, 2017. Web. December 19, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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