An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Xianyun 玁狁

Feb 14, 2018 © Ulrich Theobald

The Xianyun 玁狁 were "wild" tribes living in what is today the south of Shaanxi province, in Gansu, and in Inner Mongolia during early antiquity. The name of these apparently nomadic tribes appears not only in transmitted texts, but also in Western Zhou period 西周 (11th cent.-770 BCE) bronze inscriptions and is variously transcribed as Xianyun 玁狁, Xianyun 獫狁, Hunzhou (Hunyu?) 葷粥, Xunyu 獯鬻, Xunyu 薰育, Xunyu 熏育, in bronze inscriptions also 𠪚允,𡪯允 and other forms. An ethnic affiliation to any better-known tribes (like the Xiongnu 匈奴) cannot realistically be established, nor is it certain that the western tribes of the Rong 戎 and Di 狄, Quanyi 畎夷, Quanyi 犬夷 or Quanrong 犬戎 appearing during the Spring and Autumn period 春秋 (770-5th cent. BCE), or the tribes of the Guifang 鬼方 or Kunyi 昆夷 (緄夷), mentioned in Shang period 商 (17th-11th cent. BCE) oracle bone inscriptions, were identical with them. In some legends, the Hunzhou 葷粥 represent enemies of the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di 黃帝).

The Xuanyun are mentioned in several poems of the Shijing "Book of Songs" (Minor Odes Chuche 出車 and Caiwei 采薇). The minor ode Liuyue 六月 reveals that Xianyun tribes were even found in the region of Taiyuan, northern Shanxi.

The Xianyun several times harassed the Western Zhou capital in Haojing 鎬京. The inscription of the tripod Duoyou ding 多友鼎 reports that King Yi 周夷王 (885-878 BCE) assembled "allied" forces against the Xianyun, killing 356 of them, capturing 28, and making a booty of 127 chariots. King Xuan 周宣王 (r. 828-782 BCE) successfully repelled them and erected fortifications in the northern region (cheng bi Shuofang 城彼朔方) to prevent them from raiding the borderlands. The inscription of the plate Guo Jizi bo pan 虢季子白盤 reports of 500 slain enemies and 50 war captives. His victory over the Xianyun is also narrated in the inscription of the tripod Shitong ding 師同鼎.

If the Xuanyun were identical with the Quanrong, it was an invasion of the Xianyun which ended the Zhou rule over the western parts of their empire.

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Yuan Mingren 袁明仁 et al., ed. (1992). Sanqin lishi wenhua cidian 三秦歷史文化辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin jiaoyu chubanshe), 411.
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