ALTERNATE NAMES: Jurchens; Manzhou
POPULATION: 9.85 million
The Man, better known as the Manchus, dwell mainly in northeast China. They are descended from the Jurchens of the Central Plains. The Jurchens were conquered by the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) and later ruled by the Ming (1368–1644). Starting in the fifteenth century, the Jurchens' tribal leaders were appointed by the central government. In the sixteenth century, a Jurchen hero, Nurhachi (1559–1626), unified all the tribes by military force. His leadership combined military operations, government administration, and economic management. He was the founder of Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). His eighth son succeeded him on the throne. In 1635, he changed the name of his nationality to Manzhou (origin of the Western term "Manchu"). It was shortened to Man in 1911 when China's last dynasty ended.
The Manchus live all over China. Most live in Liaoning Province. Smaller numbers are found in the regions of Jilin, Heilongjiang, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Gansu, and Shandong, as well as the cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Chengdu, Xi'an, and Guangzhou. The Manchu population was 9.85 million in 1990, second in size only to the Zhuang among the national minorities.
The Man language belongs to the Altaic family. It has been spoken less and less since the end of the eighteenth century. Today it is used only by a small number of Manchus. Almost all of the Manchus speak Chinese.
A large portion of Manchu mythology is about ancestors. According to one myth, three fairy maidens took a bath in Tianchi (Heavenly Lake) in the Changbai Mountains. The youngest ate a small red fruit that a golden bird carried in its bill. She got pregnant and bore a boy who could speak as soon as he was born. She named him Aixinjueluo (the last name of Qing Dynasty emperors). When he had grown up, she told him the story of his birth and then rose up to heaven.
The traditional beliefs of the Manchus are rooted in shamanism, which revolves around magical healers. Shamans help women bear children, and they cure illness and shield people from harm. The shaman dances in a trance to cure the sick. There is only one real shaman in each village. When he performs, the shaman wears a long skirt and a special hat. Many long strips of colored cloth hang from it and cover his face and head. Shamanism still exists in Manchu villages, but it disappeared from cities long ago.
The Chinese Spring Festival, or New Year, occurs between January 21 and February 20 on the Western calendar. It is a major holiday for the Manchus. They decorate their doors with red, yellow, blue, or white banners.
Some Manchu festivals are related to sacrificial rites. For example, every family offers a sacrifice (usually a black male pig) to its ancestors in autumn.
In order to obtain the gods' blessings, a small bow and arrow are hung at a family's gate when a boy is born. A strip of cloth is hung when a girl is born. Girls are made to lie on their backs with a special pillow under their heads because it is considered pretty for the back of the head to be flattened.
When a person dies, the coffin is brought in and carried out through a window instead of through the door. The funeral must be held on an odd-numbered day. Before the funeral, a post is erected in the courtyard. A long, narrow flag made of red and black pieces of cloth is hung on it. During the funeral, relatives and friends take pieces of the flag. They then use the pieces to make clothes for their children. They believe this will protect the children from harm. After the funeral ceremony, the dead person is buried.
Guests are warmly welcomed in a Manchu home. However, they must avoid sitting in the part of the house reserved for ancestors.
When the bride-to-be visits her future husband's family for the first time, she is given a small heart-shaped bag. It is used for carrying money and other objects and actually consists of two smaller bags. The girl keeps one and gives the other to her future husband.
Inside a Manchu courtyard, there is usually a post for sacrificial offerings. The house is made of wood and adobe. Its central room opens to the south. The room in the west part of the house is usually the bedroom. The parents and older family members sleep on the north side, the children on the south side.
The Manchu family name is carried on by males. Three or more generations often live in one household. The Manchus have great respect for their elders. Men and women hold equal power in the family. Men engage in farming. Women work in the fields, but they usually spend most of their time doing household chores. The Manchu are monogamous (they marry only one person). Arranged marriages are common. Young people become engaged at sixteen or seventeen.
The traditional Manchu costumes included long robes. These robes were still worn in the first part of this century. Then they slowly disappeared. However, women's robes ( cheongsam) are still worn on special occasions, but their style has changed. Women wear wooden blocks about 2.5 inches (6.2 centimeters) high under the middle part of their shoe soles. Their hair is worn in a flat bun behind the neck.
The Manchus like to eat millet, including sticky millet. "Cooked mutton held in the hand" is a required part of the Spring Festival. Mutton (the meat of a sheep) is chopped into pieces and partly cooked with a little salt. Each piece is held in the hand while it is eaten. Sometimes a knife is needed. The most popular snack is saqima , a candied fritter. It is made by mixing flour with eggs, cutting the mixture into noodles, and frying it. It is then taken out, covered with syrup, and stirred. Finally, it is put into a wooden frame, pressed, cut into squares, and served.
The Manchus have always had a high level of literacy (ability to read and write). Many young people (mainly men) needed an education in order to work for the emperor during the Manchu Qing Dynasty. More recently, the growth of cities has furthered education among the Manchu.
One of the main Manchu art forms is dancing. In the Hunting Dance, the dancers wear leopard and tiger costumes. Some ride on horseback as they hunt "animals" wearing costumes. Manchu songs are accompanied by a bamboo flute and a drum.
The Octagon Drum Opera is the Manchu version of the famous Chinese Peking Opera.
Famous Manchu figures in the arts include writer Lao She (1899–1966), comic writer Hou Baolin, and actor Cheng Yanqiu.
Metals, coal, hydroelectric power production, agriculture, and forestry are the main sources of income among the Manchu. Since the end of the nineteenth century, the Manchu homeland has become the center of Chinese heavy industry. Many Manchu are workers and managers in large factories.
The Manchu have a long tradition of ice skating. During the long, cold winters in northeast China they skate on rivers and lakes or in skating rinks. Some Manchu skaters have won international fame.
Urban Manchus watch television in the evening. They go to the movies about once or twice a month. Adults enjoy Peking opera, chess, gardening, keeping pet birds, and storytelling. Young people like dancing, listening to popular songs, and karaoke (singing for others in public). Recreation is similar in rural areas. However, people see fewer television programs and movies.
The Manchus are experts at jade sculpture, bone carving, making small clay and dough figures, and painting the insides of small bottles. They are also known around the world for their ice carving and sculptures.
Urban Manchus have one of the highest standards of living in China. However, they have lost much of their cultural identity. In contrast, the rural Manchu remain poor because of their long, cold winters, but they have preserved their traditions.
Harrell, Stevan, ed. Cultural Encounters on China's Ethnic Frontiers. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995.
Heberer, Thomas. China and Its National Minorities: Autonomy or Assimilation? Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1989.
Ma Yin, ed. China's Minority Nationalities. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1989.