An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Dada 韃靼, Tatars

Aug 17, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Dada 韃靼 or Tatars is the Chinese designation for the Mongols especially after the end of the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368). Yet the designation Dada, also written 達打, 達靼, 達達, Dadan 達怛, 達旦, Tatan 塔壇, Tatar 塔塔兒, was used since the Tang period 唐 (618-907) for Mongolian-speaking peoples in the northern steppe.

A people called Dada, living in the area of Ulunbeir, is first mentioned in 732 in the Turkic inscription on the stele of Kütlüg Khan, where the 30 Tatar tribes are mentioned. In the inscription of Bilge Khan from 735, the 9 Tatar tribes are mentioned that joined with the nine Oghuz tribes to challenge the Turks. In the mid-8th century they again joined with the Oghuz tribes to fight against the Uyghurs. It seemed that that the Tatar tribes migrated from the east, where they might be identical to the Shiwei 室韋, towards the west, first to the valley of River Selangge, and then on towards the south of the Mongolian steppe. Around 840 they occupied the space that had formerly been controlled by the Uygur khanate along the Orkhon River. The terms Dada is first mentioned in Chinese sources in 842. At the end of the Tang period Tatar warriors were integrated into the army of the warlord Li Keyong 李克用.

When northern China was controlled by the Liao dynasty 遼 (907-1125), the Tatars regularly submitted tributes in the shape of horses, camels and furs and delivered contingents of troops to support the military campaigns of the Liao empire. At that time they were called Zubu 阻卜 or Zhubugu 朮不姑. Tribesleaders were officially appointed "great princes" (dawang 大王, in native language called yilijin 夷離堇) by the Liao court, and they were administered by so-called bandit suppression commissioners (zhaotaoshi 招討使). Along the River Orkhon and Tula, three prefectures were founded that were intended to provide a better control over the nomad peoples. From 1011 on the whole region was administered by a military commisioner (jiedushi 節度使) who cared for the founding of garrisons and military colonies (tuntian 屯田). Yet a year later the Tatars already killed the military commissioner and rebelled against the exploitation by the Liao government. In 1026 the military commissioner Xiao Hui 蕭惠 lost a battle, and all Tatar tribes joined the rebellion. From 1092 on the northern chieftain Mogusi 磨古斯 initiated a large-scale rebellion that was only put down after eight years of fight. When the Liao empire was conquered by the Jurchen, founders of the Jin dynasty 金 (1115-1234), Prince Yelü Dashi 耶律大石 migrated to the west. Among his military force, a lot of Tatars were to be found.

Under the Jin dynasty, the Mongolian steppe was inhabited by various peoples like the Tatars on the Hulunbeir grassland, the Kereyid 克烈 along the river Orkhon, the Naiman 乃蠻 living between the Altai Range and the Kang'ai Range, and the Önggüd 汪古 living south of the Gobi desert. All of these peoples declared their submission under the Jin, but except the Önggüd, all of them from time to time refused to pay tributes. The Jin court therefore decides to construct a fortification line in order to protect its borderlands from raids by the steppe peoples. Chinese sources discern between the Black Tatars 黑韃靼 (the Tatars proper), the White Tatars 白韃靼 (Önggüd), and the "raw" Tatars 生韃靼, tribes living most far away from the Jin empire. The Tatars were also called Mongols (Menggu 蒙古 or Mengwur 蒙兀兒). When Čingghis Qan united the steppe peoples at the beginning of the 13th century his federation was given the name "Mongols". The name "Tatars" continued to be used in inofficial writings of the Yuan period, while "Mongols" was the official designation of the federation. The effect was that the word "Tatar", originally designating only one people, came to designate all steppe peoples. The Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644) adopted the term Dada as the official name for the steppe peoples.

The descendants of Čingghis Qan ruling over China, the Yuan dynasty, struggled with the Mongol nobility for dominance. Toγon Temür 妥歡帖睦爾 (Yuan Shundi 元順帝, r. 1333-1370) gave up the capital Dadu 大都 (modern Beijing) in 1368, and his son Ayuširidara 愛猷識理達臘 (元昭宗, r. 1370-1378) withdrew to the steppe. The factual power of the Great Khan declined, and rulers like Toquz Temür 脫古思帖木兒 (r. 1378-1388) or Gün Temür 坤帖木兒 (r. 1400-1402) were killed by Mongol nobles. Lord Aruγtai 阿魯臺 enthroned Kun Temür's brother Benyashiri 本雅失里 (Olejui Temür 額勒錐特穆耳) as Great Khan and made himself great commander, yet in 1408 enthroned Adai 阿岱 as Great Khan. The empire was still called that of the Northern Yuan.

The Chinese Ming empire in the south used the weakness of the Khan's court and his conflict with the Oirats 瓦剌 in the west. Mahmud 馬哈木, khan of the Oirats, and his son Toγon 脫歡, strengthened the power of the Oirats, killed Aruγtai and enthroned Toγto Buqa 脫脫不花 (Daizong khan 岱總汗) as great khan of the Tatars. Esen Khan 也先 (also written 額森), son of Tohuan, was able to unify all peoples of the steppe and made himself Great Khan of the Tatars, yet he was not accepted as a leader by the greatest part of Tatars.

In 1470 or 1480 Batu Mengke 巴圖蒙克 (or 把禿猛可) reunited the Tatar tribes and made himself Great Khan as Dayan Qaghan 達延汗 (also written Dayanhan 答言罕 or Daiyanha 歹顔哈). He was able to defeat the Oirats and unified all Mongolian-speaking tribes, from the Chahar 察哈爾 to the Khalka 喀爾喀 and Uriangkhai 烏梁海. These peoples constituted the "left wing" of his federation, commanded by himself, while the "right wing", consisting of the peoples Ordos, Tumet and Yongxiebu 永謝布, was commanded by his son Barsbold Jinong Khan (Bars Burut 巴爾斯博羅特), who bore the title of Sain alak jinong 賽阿拉克濟農.

In 1517, when Dayan Khan died, the Tatar federation again dissolved, and Bars Burut's son Anda Khan 俺答汗 assumed the title of Situ Khan 司徒汗 and ruled over the right wing, independently from the ruler of the left wing, whom the Chinese called the "Lesser Prince" 小王子. Anda Khan moved his seat eastwards to Yizhou 義州 (modern Yixian 義縣, Liaoning) and began threatening the border to Ming China. Later on he was granted by the Ming court the title of Prince Shunyi 順義王, which obliged him to bring annual tributes to the Ming empire. Anda Khan undertook several military campaigns in the west against the Oirats and the regions of Gansu, Qinghai and Tibet. His relations to Tibet intensified, and he reintroduced Tibetan Buddhism into Mongolia, this time the confession of the the Yellow Head Schools (dGelugs-pa). He also appointed the patriarch Sonam Gyatso 素南嘉措 (also written 鎖南堅錯) as the third Dalai Lama 達賴喇嘛.

Under great khan Tuman 土蠻汗 (Tümen Jasaqtu 土門札薩克圖汗, r. 1558-1592) the power of the Tatars grew. His successor Ligdan Khan 林丹汗 planned reunifying the Mongol peoples and founding another great khanate. Yet he was not able to submit the Khalkha Mongols and was not successful in his attempt to subdue the newly emerging empire of the Later Jin 後金 (the eventual Manchus 滿洲) in the east. He fled to the west and died in 1634 in Gansu. Two years later his son submitted to the Manchus and so ended the khanate of the Tatars.

The term "Tatars" was also used in Europe, where it was, in the shape of "Tartars" (assimilated to the Greek word for the underworld, tártaros) a general name for the steppe peoples invading Eastern Europe. The Krim Tatars and other "Tatars" living in southern Russia were Turkic-speaking peoples, yet their name is derived from their part of the Mongol (Tatar) empire. Strangely enough, the European name for the Manchus was "Tatars" from the 16th centry on until the demise of the Manchu Qing empire 清 (1644-1911).

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