The name Jurchen dates back to at least the beginning of the tenth century, when the Balhae kingdom was destroyed by the . However, cognate ethnonyms like Sushen have been recorded in pre-Christian Era geographical works like the Shan Hai Jing and Book of Wei. It comes from the Jurchen word ''jušen'', the original meaning of which is unclear. It is a curious fact that in , the linear descendant of Jurchen, ''jušen'' occurs in many compounds denoting "slaves" and "serfs", such as ''jušen halangga niyalma'' "a serf of the Manchus" . The standard English version of the name, "Jurchen," is an Anglicized transliteration of the equivalent of the Jurchen term ''jušen'' , and may have made it to the West via Mongolian texts. A less common English transliteration is "Jurched".
The 11th century Jurchen tribes of northern Manchuria descended from the Mohe, or Malgal tribes who were subjects of the ethnically Goguryeo, Balhae state during the era. By the 11th century, the Jurchens had become vassals of the s .
They rose to power after their leader Wanyan Aguda unified them in 1115, declared himself Emperor, and quickly seized Shangjing, also known as Huanglongfu, the Northern Capital of Liao. The Jurchens then invaded territories under the Han Chinese Northern Song Dynasty and overran most of northern China, first setting up puppet regimes like Qi and Chu, later directly ruling as a dynastic state in Northern China named . Jin captured the capital of Kaifeng in 1127. Their armies pushed all the way south to the but through continued warfare and treaties of diplomacy this boundary with the Han Chinese Southern Song Dynasty was eventually stabilised along the Huai River.
The Jurchen named their Dynasty the ''Jin'' after the Anchuhu River in their homeland. At first, the Jurchen tribesmen were kept in readiness for warfare but decades of urban and settled life in China eroded their original lifestyle in Manchurian tundra and marshes. Eventually intermarriage with other ethnicities in China was permitted and peace with the Southern Song confirmed. The Jin rulers themselves came to follow norms.
After 1189, the Jin became involved in exhausting wars on two fronts: against the Mongols and the Southern Song dynasty. By 1215, under Mongol pressure, they were forced to move their capital south from Zhongdu to Kaifeng, where the Mongol hordes extinguished the Jin Dynasty in 1234.
Culture, language and society
The Jurchens generally lived by traditions that reflected the hunting-gathering culture of Siberian-Manchurian tundra and coastal peoples. Like the Khitans and Mongols, they took pride in feats of strength, horsemanship, archery, and hunting. They engaged in shamanic rituals and believed in a supreme sky god . After conquering China, during the Jin Dynasty, the Jurchen adopted Tibetan Buddhism as the state religion and Daoism was assimilated as well.
The Jurchen made the , within the conquered territories, shave the tops of their heads and adopt Jurchen dress. This "bald-Head" fashion was known as 禿髮 tūfǎ to the Chinese.. The later Manchus similarly made the Han shave their heads and adopt the , or ''soncoho'' , which was the traditional Manchurian hairstyle.
The early Jurchen script was invented in 1120 by Wanyan Xiyin, acting on the orders of Wanyan Aguda. It was based on the Khitan script, that was inspired in turn by Chinese characters. However, because Chinese is an isolating language and the Jurchen and Khitan languages are , the script proved to be cumbersome. The written Jurchen language died out soon after the fall of the Jin Dynasty, though its spoken form survived. Until the end of the sixteenth century, when became the new literary language, the Jurchens used a combination of Mongolian and Chinese.
The pioneeering work on studies of the Jurchen script was done by Wilhelm Grube in the end of 19 c.
The cultural conceptualisation of Jurchen society owes a great deal to the Mongols. Both Mongols and Jurchens used the title '''' for the leaders of a political entity, whether "emperor" or "chief". A particularly powerful chief was called ''beile'' , corresponding with the Mongolian ''beki'' and ''beg'' or ''bey''. Also like the Mongols and the Turks, the Jurchens did not observe a law of primogeniture. According to tradition, any capable son or nephew could be chosen to become leader.
During times, the Jurchen people lived in social units that were sub-clans of ancient clans . Members of Jurchen clans shared a consciousness of a common ancestor and were led by a head man . Not all clan members were blood related and division and integration of different clans was common. Jurchen households lived as families , consisting of five to seven blood-related family members and a number of slaves. Households formed squads to engage in tasks related to hunting and food gathering; and formed companies for larger activities, such as war.
Jurchens during the Ming Dynasty
Chinese chroniclers of the Ming Dynasty distinguished three groups of Jurchens: the Wild Jurchens of northernmost Manchuria, the Haixi Jurchens of modern Heilongjiang and the Jianzhou Jurchens of modern Jilin province. They led a pastoral-agrarian lifestyle, hunting, fishing, and engaging in limited agriculture. In 1388, the dispatched a mission to establish contact with the tribes of Odoli, Huligai and T'owen, beginning the sinicisation of the Jurchen people.
Yongle Emperor found allies among the various Jurchen tribes against the Mongols. He bestowed titles and surnames to various Jurchen chiefs and expected them to send periodic tribute. Chinese commanderies were established over tribal military units under their own hereditary tribal leaders. In the Yongle period alone 178 commanderies were set up in Manchuria, an index of the Chinese divide-and-rule tactics. Later on, horse markets were also established in the northern border towns of Liaodong for trade. The increasing sinification of the Jurchens ultimately gave them the organisation structures to extend their power beyond the steppe. Later, a Korean army led by Yi-Il,and Yi Sun-sin would expel them from Korea.
Over a period of thirty years from 1586, Nurhaci, a chieftain of the Jianzhou Jurchens, united the Jurchen tribes, which was later renamed Manchu by his son Hung Taiji. He created a formidable synthesis of nomadic institutions, providing the basis of the Manchu state and later the conquest of China by the Qing dynasty.
The Nuzhen tribe 女真族 was the predecessor of the Manchu nationality. For a long period of time, it inhabited the areas north and south of the Songhua River and around the Heilong River. During the late Ming and early Qing eras, the Nuzhen tribe in the northeast was divided into 3 parts called Haixi , Jianzhou and Yeren .
The Yeren tribe was rather backward, without a fixed dwelling place. The Haixi and Jianzhou tribes were engaged in fishing, hunting, animal husbandry, and farming, and had relatively fixed abodes. A gap between the rich and the poor and the division of classes emerged. The three tribes were in the patriarchal-slavery stage of the late slavery clan system.
The Ming dynasty had set up a horse market at a Nuzhen dwelling-place to carry out trade with the Haixi and Jianzhou tribes, whose main commodities were horse, fur, ginseng, and other special local products. Commodities from the Han regions included iron farming tools, farm cattle, seeds, rice, salt, textiles, etc.
In 1409, the Ming government set up a post called Nurkal Command Post at Telin in the vicinity of Heilong River. The three parts of the Nuzhen tribe came under the administration of the NCP. Leaders of the Haixi and Jianzhou tribes had accepted the Ming government's enfeoffments.
From 1411 to 1433, the Ming eunuch Yishiha 亦失哈 led ten large missions to win over the allegiance of the Jurchen tribes along the and Amur rivers. His fleet sailed down the Sunggari into the Amur, and set up the Nurkal Command at Telin 特林 near the mouth of the Amur.
These missions are not well recorded in the Ming dynastic history, but an important source on them is two stone steles erected by Yishiha at the site of the Yongning Temple 永宁寺, a Guanyin temple commissioned by him at Telin. The inscriptions on the steles are in four languages: Chinese, Jurchen, Mongol, and Tibetan. There is probably quite a lot of propaganda in the inscriptions, but they give a detailed record of the Ming court's efforts to assert suzerainty over the Jurchen.
After the setting up of the NCP, Yishiha and other Ming dynasty eunuchs, under orders from the Emperor, came several times to offer local minority nationalities blessings and consolidations. When Yishiha inspected Nuergan for the 3rd time in 1413, he built a temple called Yongning Temple at Telin and erected a stele in front of it. The stele bore an inscription written in 4 languages - Han, Jurchen, Mongolian, and Tibetan.
Yishiha paid his 10th visit to Nuergan in 1432, during which he re-built the titled Yongning Temple and re-erected a stele in front of it. The stele bore the heading "Record of Re-building Yongning Temple," The setting up of the NCP and the repeated declarations to offer blessings and consolidations to this region by Yishiha and others were all recorded in this and the first steles.