- Chinese: 女真 (Nǚzhēn)
The Jurchens were a nomadic steppes group which formed the Jin Dynasty (1122-1234), invading the Northern Song Dynasty and controlling all of northern China for over one hundred years, from 1127 to 1234. The Manchus, who emerged as a new group around the turn of the 17th century, claimed descent from the Jin Dynasty Jurchens. The term "Jurchen" (C: Nǚzhēn) appears in Chinese documents from around 800 CE until 1636, with the term "Manchu" (C: Mǎnzú) first appearing in 1635.
The Jurchens claimed portions of northeastern Manchuria (today, the Chinese provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang) as their ancestral homelands. As early as 1019, the Jurchens launched pirate raids on Kyushu known as the Toi Invasion.
The Jin Dynasty was founded in 1122. Three years later, with aid from the Northern Song, they conquered the Liao Dynasty of the Khitans, another steppe nomad group. Jurchen forces then continued to push into Chinese territory, seizing the Northern Song capital of Kaifeng in 1127; they captured Emperor Huizong and his successor, but another son of Huizong escaped, hiding out for about a decade before returning to found the Southern Song Dynasty in 1138. The Jin signed a peace agreement with the Southern Song in 1142, requiring the Song to pay regular tribute in exchange for peace.
The peace was broken on several occasions, however, as conflict erupted between the Jin and the Song in 1161-1165, and again in 1206-1208; on both occasions, however, the superior Song navy managed to prevent the Jurchens from crossing the Yangzi River.
The Jin fell to Mongol forces in 1234.
In the late 16th century, on the verge of the emergence of the Manchus, some Jurchen groups were based around the Sungari River in Jilin province, while others were based in the Long White Mountains (Changbaishan) on the Korean border. A third group, somewhat more Sinicized, lived in the cities of Shenyang (Mukden) and Fushun in Liaoning province, around the Liao River. While the former groups were largely agriculturalists and hunters, and maintained traditional nomadic lifestyles to a considerable extent, this latter group was somewhat more urban, intermingling with Han Chinese merchants and settlers, and engaging in the trading of furs, horses, and other local goods. Nurhachi, founder of the Manchus, would come from the Long White Mountains Jurchens.
- Pamela Kyle Crossley, A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology, University of California Press (1999), 3.
- Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Co. (1999), 26.
- Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations, Fourth Edition, Cengage Learning (2012), 190-223.