Jin (Chin) Dynasty

Jin (Chin) Dynasty
Jin (Chin) Dynasty

The people who ruled the Jin dynasty were called Jurchen; their language belonged to the Tungustic family related to Manchu and they were the first among the Tungustic people to form a major dynastic state. Their original homeland was in present day Jilin (Kirin) province in northern Manchuria, where they hunted, fished, raised livestock, and also farmed living in semisubterranean log cabins.

Jurchen were organized into tribes, which were subdivided into clans. Early accounts call them fierce warriors, heavy drinkers, and believers in shamanism. As with many other tribal peoples in eastern Asia, a man married his father’s widows (other than his own mother) and also his brothers’ widows.

After the 10th century some Jurchen moved to southern Manchuria and became vassals to the Song (Sung) dynasty and the Liao dynasty. These Jurchen began to learn from the more advanced culture of the Khitan (Liao) and Chinese and were called “civilized Jurchen” as opposed to their northern kin, who were called “wild Jurchen.”

Jurchen Treaty with the Song Dynasty

In the early 12th century Jurchen erupted to power under Wanyan Aguda (Wan-yen A-ku-ta), 1068–1123. He raided Liao frontier posts and defeated Liao forces sent against him. Emboldened, he announced the creation in 1115 of a dynastic state called Jin, which means gold, after a river of that name.

He then sent envoys to negotiate a treaty with the Song government, his nominal overlord, jointly to attack Liao, their common enemy, until its destruction, and then to divide the spoils. Under the terms Song would get the 16 prefectures in northeastern China that they had failed to win in previous wars against Liao and would pay to Jin annually the 200,000 ounces of silver and 300,000 bolts of silk it had been paying to Liao.

The war began with Song armies attacking from the south and Jurchen from the northeast. While Song armies did not do well against Liao on the southern front, Jin forces advanced relentlessly, taking Liao capitals and capturing the last Liao emperor in 1225, ending that dynasty.

Jin turned over to Song the 16 prefectures, which included a Liao capital in present-day Beijing. But their alliance soon collapsed. Jin forces advanced on Song territory until reaching its capital, Kaifeng (K’ai-feng). The inept and unprepared Emperor Huizong (Huitsung) then abdicated, leaving his son Qinzong (Ch’intsung) to cope.

After sustaining a long siege and out of food and supplies, Qinzong capitulated and agreed to Jin’s harsh terms in 1125. When the Song government was unable to meet the demands for payment, Jin resumed its attack in 1126 until Kaifeng surrendered unconditionally.

After thoroughly pillaging the city, Jin forces carried Huizong, Qinzong, and 3,000 members of their family and court as prisoners to northern Manchuria. The debacle ended the first part of the Song dynasty, retroactively called Northern Song, whereas the period 1127–1279 is called Southern Song.

One of Huizong’s younger sons escaped, rallied Song troops, and continued to fight, finally establishing his capital in Hangzhou (Hangchou) on the coast south of the Yangzi (Yangtze) River. Jin cavalry found fighting difficult in the Yangzi area because of the rivers, canals, and lakes.

Song loyalists, most notably general Yue Fei (Yueh Fei), were able to carry the offensive to the Yellow River valley. Finally Jin and Song signed a peace treaty in 1142 that led to coexistence, in which Song ceded all the Yellow River drainage area to Jin, with the Huai River as the border.

Song also accepted vassal status to the Jin (the Song emperor was forced to address the Jin emperor as uncle) and agreed to annual payment of 200,000 ounces of silver and 200,000 bolts of silk to Jin. The payments were altered twice during the next century as a result of two brief wars between the two states, varying according to the outcome of each conflict.

Culture and Institutions

Although he did not live to see Jin victory against both Liao and Song, Aguda was responsible for transforming Jurchen society, leading to its success. Jurchen had no written script and had used Khitan (Liao) writing until Aguda ordered a Jurchen writing system created in 1120.

It was called the Jurchen Great Script and was based on the Khitan system. In 1038 a Jurchen Small Script was introduced. Neither gained widespread usage, few surviving examples and no complete books of either have survived, and not all words have been deciphered.

Initially, literate Jurchen continued to use the Khitan writing system; later they preferred to use Chinese and did not record their oral traditions or write literature in their own language. Jin diplomatic correspondence with Southern Song and all other states was written entirely in Chinese and it seems no Song official learned Jurchen.

The Jin empire at its peak in 1207 had 8.5 million households and 53 million people. The Southern Song empire had a comparable population, which made them the two most populous states in the world at that time. There exist no precise figures on the ethnic identity of people of the Jin empire, but experts agree that Jurchen constituted less than 10 percent of the total.

As Liao, Jin was set up as a dual administration, with a north-facing government to govern Jurchen people under tribal laws, and a south-facing one to administer their Chinese subjects under modified Tang (T’ang) laws that it inherited from Liao.

Similarly to Liao, Jin ruled from several capitals, a Supreme Capital in their homeland in northern Manchuria, the Eastern Capital in Luoyang, Western Capital in Datong (Tatung), Central Capital in modern Beijing, and Western Capital in Kaifeng. Jurchen military colonies were established at strategic locations across northern China and Jurchen were encouraged to migrate from their homeland to northern China.

Pagoda built on Jin Dynasty era
Pagoda built on Jin Dynasty era

This policy reduced the reservoir of Jurchen in their homeland and even though they were a privileged group, often as landlords, it made their assimilation to Chinese culture more rapid. Jurchen living amid Chinese quickly became bilingual, and later solely Chinese speakers.

The Wanyang clan ruled the Jin Empire, and within the empire, Jurchen people enjoyed primacy. The military was dominated by the cavalry and was made up almost exclusively of Jurchen. Chinese conscripts and volunteers formed the infantry, but the higher officers were Jurchen.

Jin needed large numbers of officials to administer the populous empire. Most of the lower ranks of the civil administration were made up of Chinese, but few Chinese were admitted to the higher ranks of the civil government. Where there were two officials of the same rank, Jurchen always enjoyed greater privileges than Chinese.

Even the examination system that was inherited from Song times was modified with a parallel system of academies and examinations. The one for Jurchen scholars was held in Jurchen language and script and was easier than the one for Chinese scholars. Moreover a higher percentage of Jurchen candidates passed than Chinese candidates. Sons of Jurchen officials were also able to receive appointments without passing the exams.

Just as Song China’s official ideology was Confucianism, it too was the Jin official ideology, and it was also based on the interpretations of the Northern Song scholar-official Wang Anshi (Wang An-shih); and Confucius’s lineal descendant was given ducal rank in Jin. The Jin state in fact proudly counted itself as the valid heir of Chinese achievements and of Northern Song’s cultural greatness. Jurchen, became Buddhists and adopted Chinese-style Buddhism.

Jin rulers since Aguda had adopted Chinese reign titles and imperial ceremonies. The official ethnic policy of Jin, however, changed several times through the dynasty. Initially Jin tried to impose Jurchen clothes and hairstyles on its Chinese subjects. These rules were unenforceable and the reverse took place.

Even at the height of the dynasty, during the reign Emperor Shizong (Shih-tsung, r. 1161–89), Jurchen were forbidden to wear Chinesestyle clothes. He also ordered them to give up Chinese names that they had adopted. He also ordered Jurchen, including his own family members, to return to their tribal habits, including hunting, and to speak in Jurchen.

He was moved to tears when one of his grandsons spoke several sentences in Jurchen, because by then most had forgotten how to speak it. In 1191 his successor issued an order that forbade his Chinese subjects to refer to Jurchen as fan, which is derogatory, with the connotation of “barbarian.”

These and other attempts to make Jurchen retain their culture were futile, and they assimilated to the Chinese way of life. Only those who remained in their homeland in Manchuria retained the Jurchen language and way of life, and they came to be called “wild Jurchen.”

The expanding Mongol empire under Genghis Khan began to war against Jin in1212, initially as plundering expeditions, then forcing Jin to abandon land and move to Kaifeng as the remaining capital. It was totally destroyed in 1234 after Genghis’s death by his youngest son, Tului Khan.

Jin was already in decline, its economy weakened by flooding of the Yellow River, its control weakened by revolts and internal dissent. It nevertheless resisted for 20 years until it was finally ground down and its territories destroyed.

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