Man 蠻 was a generic term for non-Chinese peoples in southern China throughout history. In a wider sense it means "barbarian", or uncivilised or even cruel person. In Chinese geographical theory the Man were "southern barbarians" (nanman南蠻, manyi 蠻夷), while the other directions were inhabited by Yi 夷 (east), Qiang 羌 or Rong 戎 (west) and Hu 胡 (north). From the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) on the native inhabitants of southern China were called Miao 苗.
During the early Zhou period the term Man was used for all non-Chinese tribes, while it became a specific term for southern natives only from the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) on. The Xianyun 玁狁 and Guifang 鬼方 in the northwest, for instance, were called Manfang 蠻方, the peoples of the Huai River 淮 region Huaiyi Manmo 淮夷蠻貊, peoples of the north Baiman 百蠻 "Hundred Man", and those of the south Jing Man 荊蠻. The latter was specifically used for natives living in the semi-Chinese state of Chu 楚. King Wu of Chu 楚武王 (r. 741-690) undertook many campaign to force these native tribes, the "many Man" (qunman 群蠻) to accept the suzerainty of the kingdom of Chu. Under King Zhuang 楚莊王 (r. 614-591) many Man tribes and tribes of the "Hundred Pu" 百濮 rebelled against the house of Chu. The native tribes had even founded an own state that was called Yong 庸.
Wu Qi 吳起, counsellor of King Dao 楚悼王 (r. 402-381), undertook campaigns against the Man and the Yue 越 and conquered the regions of Dongting 洞庭 and Cangwu 蒼梧. When the state of Qin 秦 conquered Chu the commandery of Qianzhong 黔中 was founded that was inhabited by Man tribes. It corresponds to the modern provinces of Hubei and Hunan. The inhabitants were consequently called Qianzhong Man 黔中蠻.
The most important tribal groups of the Man during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) were the Pangu 槃瓠, Linjun 廪君, and Bandun 板楯. Archaeological remains from the provinces of Sichuan and Hubei have brought to light a lot of funeral boats, equipped with bronze vessels in a peculiar style with hand, heart and tiger patters.
The name of the Pangu is derived from the name of a dog that was the "totem" of this tribe. They lived in the commanderies of Wuling 武陵 and Changsha 長沙 and were therefore called the Man of Wuling 武陵蠻 and those of Changsha 長沙蠻, or the Man of the Five Creeks 五溪蠻. There were also the Man of Lingling 零陵蠻, the Man of Bajun and Nanjun 巴郡南郡蠻 and the Man of Jiangxia 江夏蠻.
There was no unified leader of the different groups the Pangu, but individual chieftains that during the Han period were bestowed official seals as local administrators of the imperial court. It is known that the native word for "chieftain" was jingfu 精夫, and the word for "relative" yangxi 姎徒. They lived in mountain villages and engaged in a simple kind of agriculture. They used to weave clothes from the bark of a kind of tree that was coloured with the fruit of a kind of herb. They used dotted patterns for their robes, painted their legs red and wore short skirts, and used to tie up their hair with the fibres of nettle-hemp. The tribes of the Pugu delivered this kind of cloth as tributes to the Han court. This tributary taxes were gradually increased to such heights that the Man tribes often rebelled and killed Han officials.
The five tribes of the Linjun lived more to the west, in the modern region of Chongqing (the old state of Ba 巴). Linjun was actually the name of a supreme chieftain, "Lord Lin", whose name was later used as a name for the whole people. According to myth Lord Lin after his death transformed into a White Tiger 白虎, for which reason the tiger was highly venerated by the Linjun, and was even offered human sacrifices. The Han court called them the Man of the commanderies of Ba 巴郡 and Nanjun 南郡. When the king of Qin conquered the region of Ba he gave the chieftain of the natives a princess to his wife, but nevertheless claimed the delivering of high annual taxes. This custom was perpetuated by the Han dynasty, but also the Linjun Man often rebelled against the Chinese tax collectors.
Even a little bit more to the west lived the tribes of the Bandun. They were famous for their music, but also for their heroic conduct of war. They lived of agriculture and hunting. During the reign of King Zhaoxiang 秦昭襄王 (r. 307-251) of Qin some people of the Bandun killed a white tiger and were therefore given the promise of tax exemption and light punishment. After the demise of the Qin dynasty the Bandun tribes supported Liu Bang 劉邦 (Han Gaozu, 漢高祖, r. 206-195), the eventual founder of the Han dynasty, in the conquest of the metropolitan region, and were therefore rewarded with a tax reduction. The taxes were collected in the shape of money (cong 賨). The Bandun were therefore also known under the name Cong 賨人, and also as White Tiger Barbarians 白虎夷. The tribesleaders were appointed village heads or as "barbarian kings" (yiwang 夷王). The belligerent men of the Bandu tribes were often used as elite troops in the Han armies, for instance, in campaigns against the western Qiang. During the Later Han period the Bandun tribes also often rebelled against the oppressive regime of the Chinese and against high taxation. In 188 they even jointed the Yellow Turban rebellion 黃巾起義. A lot of Bandun people later became adherents of the Daoist Five-Pecks-of-Grain Sect 五斗米道.
During the political disturbances of the 3rd and 4th centuries the Pangu tribes moved towards the north and east and even advanced as far as Henan, and Anhui. The are also known to have settled the mountain valleys in the south of Hunan and Jiangxi. Contempary sources speak of the Man of Jingyong 荊雍蠻 and Dangyang 當陽蠻. The tribes of the Linjun and Bandun likewise expanded towards the north into the region of Hanzhong 漢中, like the Man of Mianzhong 沔中蠻, or to the east, where they settled even in the Huai River valley.
The Bandun tribes were punished for their particiation in Zhang Lu's 張魯 uprising of the Five-pecks-of-grain groups. After Cao Cao 曹操 had quelled his rebellion he had several Bandun tribes resettled to Lüeyang 略陽 in the region of Gansu in the west, among various Di tribes 氐. They were headed by the chieftains Li Hu 李虎, Du Huo 杜濩, Pu Hu 朴胡, Yuan Yue 袁約, Yang Che 楊車 and Li Hei 李黑. A century later their descendants, the so-called Di from Ba 巴氐 or Cong 賨, returned to their homelands and ended the rule of the Jin dynasty 晉 (265-420) over Sichuan, where chieftain Li Te 李特 founded the Cheng-Han dynasty 成漢 (304-347). Other parts of the Cong that had been forced by Cao Cao to settle in Shaanxi, moved eastwards into the south of the province of Shanxi. The chieftain Gou Quzhi 勾渠知 joined a rebellion of Di, Qiang and Jie 羯 tribes in order to fight against Liu Yao 劉曜, founder of the Former Zhao Dynasty 前趙 (304-329). Interestingly enough, the northwards migration of the Man tribes caused other tribes living more to the south, to occupy the territories formerly inhabited by the Man, especially the Liao 僚 that migrated into the Sichuan Basin. When the Northern Wei empire 北魏 (386-534) conquered Sichuan they appointed the native chieftain Yan Shixin 嚴始欣 as regional inspector (cishi 刺史) over the Liao tribes.
The Man tribes that lived in the border regions between the Southern and the Northern Dynasties 南北朝 (300~600) profited from the political disunion of China to preserve their own political and ethnic identity and often changed sides according to need, sometimes accepting the suzerainty of the south, and sometimes that of the north. In regions with a high density of Man people, the Southern courts established parallel "left districts" (zuoxian 左縣) and "left commanderies" (zuojun 左郡), where Man representatives acted as native magistrates or even regional inspectors. In the province of Jingzhou 荊州 (Hubei and Hunan) a Nanman xiaowei 南蠻校尉 was appointed, in Yongzhou 雍州 (southern Shaanxi) and Ningman xiaowei 寧蠻校尉. The taxes posed on the Man households were relatively light, so that many Chinese feigned being Man. A Chinese called Huan Dan 桓誕 even managed to become a Man chieftain. On the other side, there were also many rebellions of Man people against the Chinese officials. Defeated tribes were regularly transported to other regions, especially to the border garrisons or the metropolitan region, where they were used as state-owned or private slaves.
The result of these ethnic shifts is the very mixed character of the inhabitants of the provinces of Hubei, Hunan, Anhui, Jiangxi and Henan that could be observed during the 7th century. Today the population of these provinces had wholly merged, except a few places, where a distinct character in the physical and cultural appearance of the population can be observe, like along the river Qingjiang 清江, or in southern and western Hunan. The modern national minorities of the She 畲族 and the Yao 瑤族 are said to be descendants of the old Man.