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The Xibe ethnic minority (2)

(People's Daily)

10:10, August 12, 2011

History

The Xibes think they are descendants of the ancient Xianbei people, and there are many versions of the origin of this ethnic group. Xianbei was a branch of the ancient Donghu ethnic group in northern China, roving as nomads over vast areas between the eastern slopes of the Great Xinggan Mountains in northeast China. In A.D. 89, the northern Xiongnus, defeated by the Han Dynasty troops, moved westward, abandoning their land to the Xianbeis. Between A.D. 158 and 167, the Xianbei people formed a powerful tribal alliance under chieftain Tan Shihuai. Between the third and sixth centuries, the Murong, Tuoba, Yuwen and other powerful tribes of Xianbei established political regimes in the Yellow River valley, where they mixed with Han people. But a small number of Xianbeis never strayed very far from their native land along the Chuoer, Nenjiang and Songhua rivers. They were probably the ancestors of the Xibe people.

Before the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Xibe ethnic group lived in a vast area centering around the present-day Fuyu County in Jilin Province and reaching as far as Jilin in the east, Hulunbuir in the west, the Nenjiang River in the north and the Liaohe River in the south. In the late 16th century, the Manchu nobility rose to power. In order to expand their territory and consolidate their rule, the Manchu rulers repeatedly tried to conquer neighboring tribes by offering them money, high position and marriage, and more often by armed force. Various Xibe tribes submitted themselves one after another to the authority of the Manchu rulers. By the end of the 17th century, the Xibe tribes in different areas had all been incorporated into the "eight banners" of Mongolia and Manchu. According to the "eight-banner system," soldiers in the banners worked the land in time of peace and went to battles during wartime, shouldering heavy military and labor services. In less than 150 years after the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was founded, the Xibe people were removed from their native land in northeast China to various other places as far as Yunnan and Xinjiang. The Qing court also gave different treatment to various Xibe tribes according to the time and way of their submission to show varying degrees of favor and create differences in classification among them.

In the mid-18th century, the Qing government quelled the rebellions in Junggar and other localities of Xinjiang, and moved Xibes and people of some other ethnic minorities from northeast China to Xinjiang to consolidate and reinforce the northwestern border defenses. For this garrisoning assignment which was to last 60 years, 1,016 Xibe officers and soldiers were dispatched, and they took along more than 2,000 family members. In one year and five months, the poorly-equipped Xibes scaled mountains and forded rivers, eating in the wind and sleeping in the dew, trekking across deserts and grasslands in Mongolia to the faraway northwestern border. With striking stamina and tenacity, they endured starvation, drought, diseases and difficulties brought about by Qing officials, big and small, who embezzled army provisions and goaded them on. This was how the Xibes came to live far apart in northeast and northwest China. The heavy toll taken by the trip sharply reduced the originally small Xibe population.

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