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Who Are the Manchu?


This Manchu bowman was part of the Qing Chinese army in the late 19th century.

A Manchu archer, circa 1871, in Qing Dynasty China

Hulton Archives / Getty Images


The Manchu are a Tungistic people (meaning "from Tunguska") of northeastern China. Originally called "Jurchens," the Manchus founded both the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1910) that ruled China.

The Jin Dynasty fell to Genghis Khan and the Mongols; the Qing Dynasty was destroyed by Western imperialism and Japanese expansion onto the mainland in the early 20th century.

The Manchu were a pastoralist and hunting people, very skilled in horsemanship and archery. Even after more than 200 years among the Han Chinese, Manchu rulers of the Qing Dynasty would stage annual hunts as a nod to their traditional lifestyle. They also imposed a Manchu hairstyle, called a "queue" in English, on Han Chinese men.

Manchu women were far more assertive and were considered equals of the men - shocking to Han Chinese sensibilities. Girls' feet were never bound in Manchu families, as it was strictly forbidden. Nevertheless, by the early 20th century, the Manchu people by and large were assimilated into Chinese culture.

Today, only a handful of elderly people in remote corners of Manchuria (northeast China) still speak the Manchu language.

The origins of the name "Manchu" are debatable. Certainly, Hong Taiji forbade use of the name "Jurchen" in 1636. However, scholars are unsure whether he chose the name "Manchu" in honor of his father Nurhachi, who believed himself a reincarnation of the bodhisattva of wisdom Manjushri, or whether it comes from the Manchu word mangun meaning "river."


Pronunciation: man-CHOO

Also Known As: Jurchen, Mohe

Examples: "The Manchu military was organized into banners, similar to the Mongol ordu. All Manchu families belonged to one of eight banners, which included the Plain Red and Bordered Yellow banner groups."

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