A random quote from an awesome book

Memorial for Yelü Yanning in Khitan large script. Dated 986.

Memorial for Yelü Yanning in Khitan large script. Dated 986.

From From President To Prison from Ferdinand Ossendowski an idiosyncratic retelling of 10th- to 12th-century Northeast Asian history (the guy is just like a proper historian!):

In the course of my business, I made the acquaintance of the richest merchant of the town and heard from him some interesting law regarding these Kara-Khorch’ins. He told me that this tribe had often swept down toward the Great Wall, which protected China from the attacks of the northern barbarians. More than once the powerful Sons of Heaven feared that this warlike tribe would eventually threaten Peking itself, but the Khorch’ins drew away to the north and disappeared without trace in the prairies and wastes between the Nonni and the Khingans.
But later, in the twelfth century, during the days of the Sung dynasty, they returned to visit the country with fire and sword. It was the time when the hordes of the barbarous Khitans of the great Tungutze tribe began threatening Peking from the North. These wild, big-framed Khorch’ins, closely related to the Khitans, led the van and first carried murder and plunder beyond the Great Wall, scourging with their wild fury the settled regions of the Han and forcing the terrified rulers to leave their sacred dwelling in the Forbidden City to fund a new capital in Nanking on the Yangtze. But another wave of barbarian hordes appeared to conquer and drive out the Khorch’ins and Khitans. These were the Kin Tartars, who supplanted their savage forerunners in the possession of China’s rich fields, only to yield themselves, in turn, to the old civilization of the conquered land and disappear in the great Chinese ocean, leaving nothing after them except the impetus to the Chinese to repair and strengthen the Great Wall against possible further invasion from the North. 

The Kin Tartars Ossendowski mentions are in fact the Jurchen, who founded the Jin 金 (Japanese pronounciation: Kin) state. Before they could well and truly “disappear in the great Chinese ocean”, they were conquered by the Mongols and taken a few pegs down. The whole notion of sinification (or “disappearing in the great Chinese ocean”) is popular but also a load of crap. For every ounce of sinification on the part of the Khitan/ Jurchen/ Mongols/ Koreans/ [put here any other sufficiently barbaric looking people that was geographically close to the Han 漢 people but insisted on retaining its own identity in the face of the overwhelming superiority of classical Sinitic culture], there was at least an ounce of Khitanification/ Jurchenification/ Mongolification/ Koreanification on the part of the people that made up that ‘great Chinese ocean.’ The notion of a Han people remaining eternally and essentially the same has of course been critically deconstructed numerous times, but still somehow the notion of sinification as a one-way street appeals to people. Well, some people. To put it simply: the Han population before the Mongol conquest and the Han population after the Mongol conquest were really rather different. In the way that someone who had known Han society before its forced Mongolization and was miraculously still alive at the onset of the Ming might have complained about how in the old days everything was better. Better I don’t know, but different most certainly. I wonder about these Kara-Khorch’ins. In Ossendowski’s times they were obviously a Mongolian ethnic group, apparently a subdivision of the Khorchin Mongols who were to be precise the most numerous Inner Mongolian ethnic group (also known as Horqin, Horchin, Qorcin, or Ke’rqin). The thing is, I have only heard from the Khorchins after the establishment of the Yuan dynasty in the late fourteenth century, while the Khitan (or Liao 遼) fought the Sung in the eleventh century.  This may of course be caused by my selective reading of stuff I find interesting (as opposed to the selective non-reading of stuff I don’t find interesting which quite feasible may contain a fabulously rich chapter on the role of the Kara-Khorchins in the Khitan conquest of part of the Sung). So what the Khorchins were doing during the Liao wars with Sung I don’t know. And especially not what the Kara-Khorchins or Black Khorchins were doing there. Or who they were. Oh well, tracing back ethnicities in premodern Northeast Asia is almost always inconclusive. I’ll live with it. 

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