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Chinese History - Poltical History of the Jin Dynasty 金 (1115-1234)

Origin of the Jin Dynasty
The Jurchens conquer northern China
The powerful Jin empire
The end of the Jurchen empire



The Jurchens 女真 were one of the non-Chinese nomad peoples that inhabited the area of modern Manchuria (Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces) in China's northeast. They are commonly seen as ancestors of the Manchus that founded the Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911). The Jurchens belonged to the Tungusic branch of the peoples speaking Altai languages. While the northernmost tribes of the Jurchens stayed to make their livelihood as hunters and pastoral nomad, the Jurchens inhabiting the southern parts of this area lived in settlements throughout the year and engaged in agriculture. The various Jurchen tribes consisted of between thousand and several thousand households and were led by chieftains. There was an intensive trade with natural goods with the neighbouring Liao empire 遼 (907-1125) during the 10th and 11th centuries. The Jurchens exported furs and ginger and importe advanced cultural goods from the north of China (the Liao empire). In the mid-11th century the tribe Wanyan 完顏 united five tribes in a federation called the "Five Nations" (wuguobu 五國部). These tribes were called Punuli 蒲努里, Tieli 鐵驪, Yuelidu 越里篤, Aolimi 奧里米, and Puali 剖阿里 by the Chinese and the Liao. Later, other tribes joined this federation. It was led by Wanyan Wugunai 完顏烏古迺 and his "counsellor" Wanyan Yada 完顏雅達. Wugunai was bestowed the title of military commissioner (jiedushi 節度使) of the northeast by the Liao rulers. After his death his son Helibo 劾里鉢 took over leadership over the Jurchen federation, with his brother Pochishu 頗勅淑 as advisor. The rebellion of Yada's son Huanbao 桓報 and his followers could be suppressed by Helibo leadership. In 1092 Pochishu took over regency, and was succeeded by his brother Yingge 盈歌 in 1095. At that time, three tribes of the Jurchen challenged the power of the Wanyan family and founded their own federations. These three were the Tudan 徒單, Wugulun 烏古論, and Pucha 蒲察. The brothers Yingge, Sagai 撒改, and Aguda 阿骨打 (later called Min 旻) defeated the three tribes and cemented the power of the Wanwan family over the other Jurchen tribes. In 1103 Wuyashu 烏雅束 became leader of the Jurchen federation, in 1113 his younger brother Aguda who named himself supreme chieftain (Jurchen-Chinese: du bojilie 都勃極烈 or anban bojilie 諳版勃極烈).


After Aguda (Wanyan Min 完顏旻) had become the supreme leader of the Jurchen tribes he started to undertake campaigns against neighboring states. The Jurchens defeated the Liao army, incorporated their troops into the own army, conquered the area of modern Liaoning area and abducted many inhabitants and Liao troops as slaves. Supported by his relatives Wuqimai 吳乞買 (Wukimai), Sagai, and Sheng 晟, Aguda proclaimed himself emperor of the Jin "Golden" dynasty in 1115 (posthumous title Emperor Taizu of the Jin 金太祖, r. 1115-1122), adopted a reign title and started to install court officials like the Liao that had on their own side imitated the Chinese administration system, but with traditional Jurchen components like the supreme chieftain and the organization of the troops and tribes in batallions and companies (Jurchen-Chinese: meng'an mouke 猛安謀克, from the Jurchen words minggan "thousand" and mukūn "hundred"). Wanyan Xiyin 完顏希尹 created the Jurchen script that was based on the Liao script and looking like Chinese characters. This script was used as an instrument of administration by writing in Jurchen language. The conquest of the south and west dominated the politics of next decades of the Jin empire. In 1116 the eastern capital of the Liao empire, Liaoyang 遼陽 (modern Liaoyang, Liaoning), was occupied, in 1120 the "Upper Capital" Linhuang 臨潢 (modern Balinzuo Banner 巴林左旗, Inner Mongolia), in 1121 Dading 大定 (near modern Ningcheng 寧城, Liaoning) and Datong 大同 (modern Datong, Shanxi), and the southern capital Xijin 析津 (Yanjing 燕京; modern Beijing). The Jin and the Song empire 宋 concluded the so-called treaty of Haishang 海上 in which the two states allied with the aim to destroy the Liao empire. The Tianzuo Emperor 遼天祚帝 (r. 1101-1125), the last emperor of the Liao, had fled to the Mongolian steppe but was captured soon by Jin troops. Aguda died a year after the conquest of the Liao empire had been finished.
Wanyan Sheng 完顏晟 took over the regency of the Jin empire (posthumous title Emperor Taizong 金太宗, r. 1123-1134) and continued the conquest war, now against the former ally of the Song empire that reigned from Kaifeng 開封 (modern Kaifeng, Henan). Wanyan Gao 完顏杲 and Wanyan Zonghan 完顏宗翰 were the supreme military leaders of the Jin army that conquered Yanjing and Taiyuan 太原 (modern Taiyuan, Shanxi), and in 1126 the Song capital Kaifeng fell into the hands of the Jin armies. The Song emperors shifted their capital to Lin'an 臨安 (modern Hangzhou 杭州, Zhejiang), and the north of China was now controled by the Jurchen. Historians divide the Song period into the Northern Song 北宋 (960-1126) and the Southern Song 南宋 (1127-1279) periods, the latter beginning with the transferral of the capital to the south.
General Wanyan Zongbi 完顏宗弼 plundered Hangzhou in 1129 but withdrew his troops. In these years, Zhang Bangchang 張邦昌 founded the short-lived Chu dynasty 楚, and Liu Yu 劉豫 the short-lived Qi Dynasty 齊. Both were mere puppet emperors depending on the support of the Jin emperors.


In 1135 the young Wanyan Dan 完顏亶 (posthumous title Emperor Xizong 金熙宗, r. 1135-1148) became emperor of Jin. At this time, the Jin empire did not only consist of Jurchens, but most of the subjects were other people, like Khitans (the ruling class under the Liao dynasty), people from Bohai 渤海, and of course Chinese. There was the urgent need for restructuring the administration of the vast area that stretched from the River Amur south to the Huai River region, and from the Yellow Sea to the great Yellow River Bend in the west. Giving up the traditional system of the bojilie chieftain-ruler, the Jin court took over the Chinese administrative system with a regular bureaucracy. Court intrigues among the Jurchen warrior aristocracy led to the downfall of Wanyan Zonghan's faction and the rise of Wanyan Chang 完顏昌 and Wanyan Zongpan 完顏宗磐 who on their own side were again ousted by Wanyan Xiyin, Wanyan Zonggan 完顏宗幹, and Wanyan Zongbi. The capital was shifted southwards to Bianjing 汴京 (Kaifeng), the ancient Song capital, in 1140. In the next year, a treaty between Song China and the Jin emperor fixed the course of the River Huai as the border between the two empires. The last years of Jin Xizong's reign are characterized by the influence of the family of this consort, the family Peiman 裴滿. In 1149 Wanyan Dan was murdered by marshal Wanyan Liang 完顏亮, Prince of Hailing 海陵王, who usurped the throne (no posthumous title, r. 1149-1160).
The first steps of Prince Hailing in his government were to weaken the branches of the imperial family by executing the sons and grand-sons of Emperor Taizong and to appoint more non-Jurchen people into the highest state offices in order to prevent a dominace of imperial princes: Da Gao 大㚖 and Zhang Hao 張浩 were people of Bohai, Zhang Tonggu 張通古 was a Chinese, and Xiao Yu 蕭裕 came from the Xi 奚. Prince Hailing reformed the central government and relied only on the Department of State Affairs (shangshusheng 尚書省) as administratorial tool. He abolished the Jurchen central military command (du yuanshuaifu 都元帥府) and instead introduced the Chinese central Bureau of Military Affairs (shumiyuan 樞密院). Yanjing (modern Beijing) became the central capital, and not only the central government moved to this place, but the tombs of the dynastic ancestors Taizu and Taizong were moved to this area. In his plans to conquer southern China, Prince Hailing established Kaifeng as the Southern Capital, and personally attacked the Song capital Lin'an (Hangzhou) during a campaign 1153. But because of uprisings of some Khitans and other non-Jurchen peoples in the northeast (revolt of Yila Wowo 移剌窩斡) and the proclamation of Wanyan Yong 完顏雍 as counter-emperor, the attacks of the Jin troops did not effect their full strength, and after a defeat of the naval forces, Prince Hailing was murdered by his generals.
Wanyan Yong (posthumous title Emperor Shizong 金世宗, r. 1161-1189) did not alter the personal appointments of Prince Hailing because he wanted to ensure the suppression of the northeastern rebellions within a smooth environment. Yilan Wowo had himself proclaimed emperor in 1161 had already occupied a vast area when he was defeated by general Pusan Zhongyi 僕散忠義 and withdrew to the north where he was killed. After the suppression of the Khitan rebellion the Jin armies again moved to the south and occupied some territory of modern Anhui province. In 1162 a peace treaty with the Southern Song government introduced a fourty years period of peace between the two empires. This period was also a peaceful and stable time within the Jin empire, Jurchen warriors that had moved to the south became landowners in the traditional Chinese manner. But Wanyan Yong was also the maecenas of the revival of Jurchen customs and habits, and he had ordered to collected Jurchen songs, poems and dances in order to preserve the heritage of the Jurchen people.


Emperor Shizong's grandson Wanyan Jing 完顏璟 (or Madage 麻達葛; posthumous title Emperor Zhangzong 金章宗, r. 1189-1208) was also a patron of arts and literature and advocated the cultural and ethnic assimilation of Jurchen and Chinese. During Wanyan Jing's reign the Tatars 韃靼, ancestors of the Mongols, started to endanger the northern border of the Jin empire, and Khitan rebellions often occurred in the central region. Moreover, after a long period of peace, war with the Southern Song broke out, but the Song armies under Han Tuozhou 韓侂冑 were defeated and concluded peace in 1208. Inspite of its victory the Jin army had suffered bad losses, and after the death of Emperor Zhangzong the young Prince Weishao 衛紹, Wanyan Yunji 完顏允濟 became emperor (no posthumous title, r. 1208-1213). In these years, several floodings of the Yellow River devastated the Central Plain, and the suffering peasants were unable to pay their taxes that the Jin government required to finance the campaigns against the Mongols. In the years of 1211 and 1212 Chinggis Khan's armies occupied more and more territory of the Jin empire and attacked the Jin capitals, but withdrew after plundering the cities. In the turmoil, Prince Weishao was murdered by general Heshi Liezhizhong 紇石烈執中 and was replaced with Wanyan Xun 完顏珣 (posthumous title Emperor Xuanzong 金宣宗, r. 1213-1223). Chinggis Khan withdrew from the beleaguered capital Yanjing when Wanyan Xun presented him Princess Qiguo 歧國公主 as a tribute of "peace by marriage". The powerless emperor decided to shift the capital to the south, to Kaifeng, the old capital of Northern Song. The Mongols soon occupied Yanjing. Peasant armies rose up against the Jin government. They were called called Hongaojun 紅襖軍 "Red shirt armies". The local gentry and landowners had to protect themselves against the intruding Mongol hords. From 1217 on Ĵalaγir Muqali (Chinese: Muhuali 木華黎) took over the command of the Mongol troops entrusted with the conquest of the Jin empire. Under this pressure the Jin court under the leadership of Counsellor-in-chief Shuhu Gaoqi 術虎高琪 decided to withdraw further to the south. But this would make necessary the conquest of the Southern Song territory. In 1218 Shuhu Gaoqi was executed after too many officials had pledged against the unsuccessful conquest campaigns. Two years later the Song court concluded an alliance with the Western Xia empire 西夏 (1038-1227) in the hope to attacke the Jin empire from two sides and to extinguish it. In 1223 the Mongol general Muqali and Emperor Xuanzong died.
His successor Wanyan Shouxu 完顏守緒 (posthumous title Emperor Aizong 金哀宗, r. 1223-1233) concentrated on the defense against the Mongols and was in fact able to reconquer some territory. In 1227 the Mongols extinguished the Western Xia empire, and the death of the great Khan Chinggisonly prolonged the life of the Jin Dynasty for some years. The monk-general Wanyan Chen 完顏陳 was even able to obtain several victories against the Mongol armies during these years. The next khan, Ögödei (Chinese: Wohuotai 窩闊台) and Tolui (Chinese: Tuolei 拖雷), personally conducted the conquest of the Jin empire, and in the battle of Sanfeng Mountain 三峰山 near Junzhou 鈞州 the Jin army was totally defeated.
Kaifeng was beleaguered in 1234, and Emperor Aizong fled to Caizhou 蔡州 where he transferred the throne to Wanyan Chenglin 完顏承鱗 and committed suicide. With the quick surrender of Wanyan Chenglin to the Mongols the Jin dynasty became history.


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May 27, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail