. 4
( 15)


atively new technique, which had not yet acquired independent status; see Nikolai
Bokovenko, “Tuva during the Scythian Period,” in Nomads of the Eurasian
Steppes in the Early Iron Age, ed. Jeannine Davis-Kimball et al. (Berkeley: Zinat
Press, 1995), p. 276.
A. P. Derevianko, Rannyi zheleznyi vek Priamur™ia (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1973);
P. M. Dolukhanov et al., “Radiocarbon Dates of the Institute of Archaeology II,”
Radiocarbon 12 (1970): 130“55.
At a later period, usually de¬ned as Hunno-Sarmatian in Russian scholarship
(second century b.c.“second century a.d.), there is evidence of close contacts
between Hei-lung-chiang and Transbaikalia; see D. L. Brodianskii, “Krovnovsko-
Khunnskie paralleli,” in Drevnee Zabaikal™e i ego kul™turnye sviazi, ed. P. B.
Konovalov (Novosibirsk: Nauka, 1985), pp. 46“50.


ivory, and shell.81 Iron was used mostly for utilitarian projects such as tools
and weapons. Bronze prevails in the artistic and decorative objects, such as
animal-style plaques, buttons, and circular disks, but three earrings and two
plates are in gold. Given the extensive use of metal, it is possible that this
area was a center of metal production; nevertheless its people were proba-
bly non-nomadic pastoralists and specialist hunters rather than fully ¬‚edged
pastoral nomads. The importance of archery, and therefore of hunting, is
shown by the more than 50 bow ends and 240 arrowheads discovered as
well as by the horses and dogs found buried with the human dead.
The existence of contact between the P™ing-yang culture and more south-
ern sites and its nature are dif¬cult to ascertain. Certain elements suggest
that a southward movement may have been responsible for the introduc-
tion of iron metallurgy. Clues suggesting a southward diffusion are the
funerary customs of sacri¬cing dogs and of covering the deceased™s face with
bronze buttons, which are identical with the practices found at sites located
in the area near Peking, (Chou-chia-ti and Yen-ch™ing) and at the site of
San-chia-tzu, attributed to the Warring States period.82
Along with this pastoral-hunting people, the Manchurian Plains were
also home to a settled farming people whose culture is known as Han-shu
II.83 The presence of numerous clay and sandstone molds shows that this
was an active center of bronze production, though the metal objects that
have been found are mostly small utilitarian or decorative ones. The Han-
shu II economy was based on agriculture and ¬shing, and a number of arti-
facts, from the numerous ¬shing hooks to boat-shaped objects to decorative
¬shnet motifs, show that the rivers provided a signi¬cant portion of this
people™s sustenance. Spears, buckles, arrowheads, and horse-shaped orna-
mental plaques were manufactured locally, but the iron socketed axes and
iron knives found at Erh-k™o-ch™ien, which are similar to those found in the
Central Plain during the Warring States period, point to a range of contacts
that may have extended as far as China.84

The P™ing-yang culture, dating from the late Spring and Autumn to the middle
Warring States periods, has been identi¬ed in burials in southwestern Hei-lung-
chiang and eastern Inner Mongolia, in particular the two burial sites of Chuan-
ch™ang and Chan-tou in P™ing-yang (T™ai-lai county, Hei-lung-chiang), but no
settlements associated with this culture have been found; see P™ing-yang mu-tsang
(Peking: Wen-wu, 1990).
K™ao-ku 1988.12: 1090“1098. 83 Tung-pei k™ao-ku yü li-shih 1982.1: 136“40.
An Lu and Jia Weiming, “Hei-lung-chiang Ne-ho Er-k™e-ch™ien mu-ti chi ch™i wen-
t™i t™an-t™ao,” Pei-fang wen-wu 1986.2: 2“8. Note also that in the upper layer of
this culture, dated to the Warring States period, an iron dagger has been found
that is very similar in shape to the bronze daggers of the Northern Zone; see Chao
Shan-t™ung, “Hei-lung-chiang kuan-ti yi-chih fa-hsien de mu-tsang,” K™ao-ku
1965.1: 45“6.


Whether the development of iron metallurgy in the Northern Zone (espe-
cially the Ordos, southern Inner Mongolia, Liao-ning, Ning-hsia, and
Kansu) bene¬ted substantially from contacts with other areas is unclear nor
is it possible to establish the nature of these contacts. However, the devel-
opment of iron metallurgy in the far north and west and the existence of
communication routes between the Northern Zone complex and northern
Manchurian cultures did establish a context in which the formation of pas-
toral nomadic cultures in northern China was likely to be closely linked
with a broader area far from the Central Plain and only marginally affected
by political and cultural processes taking place within the Sinitic cultural
sphere. This broader area, marked by an early diffusion of iron metallurgy
and horse riding, was home to movements of peoples, exchanges of tech-
nology, and, surely also, wars and other dramatic events of which no trace

Foci of Pastoral Nomadic Cultures

north-central region. The appearance of early nomads in the central
part of the Northern Zone was by no means instantaneous, nor was it
uniform. In the period from the sixth (and even mid-seventh) to the fourth
century b.c. the north-central frontier presents a ¬‚uid picture. Some sites
display traits that foreshadow the appearance of a Hsiung-nu culture, while
others show a lesser degree of change with respect to the previous period.
Certainly people became more mobile, and several sites display signs of cul-
tural and possibly ethnic mixtures. For instance, the site of Kuo-hsien-yao-
tzu, in Inner Mongolia, features different types of burials,85 including some
that resemble those found at the site of Chün-tu-shan, near Peking. These
burials include rectangular vertical earthen pits, sometimes provided with
head niches and secondary platforms, wooden cof¬ns, stone chambers, or
a combination. Animal sacri¬ces were practiced; typically, men were buried
with horses and deer or sheep, and women with cattle and sheep.
The burial assemblage found at Kuo-hsien-yao-tzu consists mostly of
bronze ornaments, such as buckles, plaques, buttons, bells, rings, and ear-
rings. Among the tools we ¬nd two knives and a pickax. Ornamental
plaques with geometric or animal-style motifs are particularly abundant
(with forty-four items found at a single site). Such features as the buckles
and the button ornaments establish a context for this site that is typical of
the Ordos region.86 However, despite these similarities with other northern

K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1989.1: 57“81. This is purported to be a Pei Ti site.
Similar buckles were found at contemporary or later Ordos sites such as T™ao-
hung-pa-la, Fan-chia-yao-tzu (Ho-lin-ko-erh), and Hsi-kou-p™an. Similar bronze
bells have been found at Pei-hsin-pao. See K™ao-ku 1966.5: 231“42.


sites, horse ¬ttings are not found here, although they do appear in con-
temporary sites such as T™ao-hung-pa-la and Mao-ch™ing-kou.
Although the people of Kuo-hsien-yao-tzu bred horses and used them
in sacri¬ces, they do not seem to have had a highly developed horse-
riding culture. Their metal inventory indicates that they were rather differ-
ent from “Scythian-type” early nomads and points instead to their being
a pastoral and hunting community. They had contacts with mounted
nomads and were in¬‚uenced by nomads™ art and metallurgy, but had not
yet achieved the same level of socio-economic development. It is also likely
that they had trade relations with people of the Central Plain, as knife
coins from the late Spring and Autumn and early Warring States periods
have been found in their burials.87 In other words, the remains left by
the people of Kuo-hsien-yao-tzu may be typical of a pre-nomadic pastoral
or agro-pastoral society, one that could perhaps be identi¬ed with those
northern people who appear in the Chinese sources under the name of Jung
or Ti.88
A similar center of pastoral, but not quite “early nomadic,” culture is
possibly recognizable at the site of Pao-t™ou in Inner Mongolia.89 The two
types of burials found here, namely, in rectangular earthen pits and in
catacomb-style graves, are an unusual combination found in contemporary
sites in the west, in particular at Yü-chia-chuang, in Ning-hsia. Other ele-
ments, such as a bronze semi-annular pendant, similar to a silver one found
in Ku-yüan county, Ning-hsia, strongly suggest a connection between this
area and the early nomads of the cultural area spanning Ning-hsia and
Kansu. Objects found here are typical of early nomadic sites, for example
the bronze buckles decorated in usual northern animal style, and similar to
those found at Mao-ch™ing-kou (Inner Mongolia) and the three-winged
arrowhead, which had a wide distribution, including Inner Mongolia,
Hopei, and Liao-ning.90 Nonetheless, Pao-t™ou is also remarkable for the

W. Watson, Cultural Frontiers in Ancient East Asia, p. 102; Hsiang Ch™un-sung,
“Nei Meng-ku Ch™ih-feng ti-ch™ü fa-hsien te Chan-kuo ch™ien-pi,” K™ao-ku
1984.2: 138“44.
In Chinese archaeological studies it is relatively common to identify certain north-
ern cultures with these ancient neighbors of the Central States. See, for instance;
Hsü Ch™eng and Li Chin-tseng, “Tung Chou shih-ch™i te Jung Ti ch™ing-t™ung wen-
hua,” K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1993.1: 1“11. This type of dependency of the archae-
ological work on the historical record is a classic feature of Chinese archaeology;
see on this, Lothar von Falkenhausen, “On the Historiographical Orientation of
Chinese Archaeology,” Antiquity 67 (1993): 839“49.
Nei Meng-ku wen-wu k™ao-ku 1991.1: 13“24.
In Hopei, this arrowhead is found in Pei-hsin-pao, in Huai-lai county, and in Liao-
ning it is found at the site of Cheng-chia-wa-tzu, Shenyang. On Pei-hsin-pao, see
K™ao-ku 1966.5: 231“42; on Cheng-chia-wa-tzu, see K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1975.1:

absence of some features that demarcate early nomadic sites: horse ¬ttings,
daggers, pickaxes, plaques in the Ordos tradition, and objects made of iron
and gold.91
In contrast, some centers of “true” early nomads emerge in the north-
central region at this time. These centers are characterized by typical
Scythian triad funerary assemblages; one such site is Chün-tu-shan, in Yen-
ch™ing county, near Peking, dated to the late Spring and Autumn and early
Warring States periods.92 The funerary assemblage, comprised mainly of
horse ¬ttings and a large number of tools and weapons “ including one
hundred straight-blade daggers, ko dagger-axes, and axes “ indicates that
a martial horse-riding people dominated this area. Ornaments such as
plaques, belthooks, buckles, and bells are reminiscent of the Kuo-hsien-yao-
tzu site, and the custom of covering the face of the deceased with sackcloth
decorated with bronze buttons is shared with other sites in this area.93 The
combination of mounted nomadism with ethnic markers found in non-
mounted contexts suggests the assimilation of semi-nomadic pastoralists to
a fully nomadic culture and the formation of an ethnically composite society
dominated by a military aristocracy possibly of northern origin.
According to the radiocarbon data, the earliest fully nomadic bronze and
iron sites in the north-central area are the cemetery sites of T™ao-hung-pa-
la and Mao-ch™ing-kou. Considered a late Spring and Autumn site of the
sixth to ¬fth century b.c., T™ao-hung-pa-la may have been one of the pro-
genitors of the later Hsiung-nu culture.94 This identi¬cation is based pri-
marily on the pottery found at T™ao-hung-pa-la, in particular, on the brown,

Chinese archeologists have attributed this site to the Lin Hu, a northern people
that appear in the Chinese records in the fourth“third century b.c. Because of its
incomplete “Scythian triad” assemblage, however, we cannot accept the attribu-
tion of this site to the Lin Hu if we take the “Hu” to be a term used to refer to
early nomads. See Nei Meng-ku wen-wu k™ao-ku 1991.1: 13“24.
Wen-wu tzu-liao ts™ung-k™an, 1983.7: 67“74; Wen-wu 1989.8: 17“35, 43. This
site has been attributed to the Shan Jung, an ethnic group, probably non-nomadic,
that appears in the Ch™un ch™iu annals beginning in the mid-seventh century b.c.
(see next chapter).
On mortuary practices in this area, see Yangjin Pak, “A Study of the Bronze Age
Culture in the Northern Zone of China” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1995),
pp. 416“20.
T™ien Kuang-chin, “T™ao-hung-pa-la te Hsiung-nu mu,” K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao
1976.1: 131“42. Rpt. in O-erh-to-ssu ch™ing-t™ung ch™i, ed. T™ien Kuang-chin and
Kuo Su-hsin (Peking: Wen-wu, 1986), pp. 203“19. The site consists of seven
tombs excavated in 1973. In the original report, published in 1976, T™ao-hung-
pa-la was dated to the Warring States and regarded as a Hsiung-nu site on the
basis of typological similarities with Hsiung-nu sites in Inner Mongolia, such as
Fan-chia-yao-tzu, and the presence of iron objects. In the reprint of 1986 the site
was attributed no longer to the Hsiung-nu but to the Pai Ti.


single-ear kuan pots, hand-made and ¬red at low temperature, that are
regarded as a typological antecedent of the gray and more re¬ned pottery
found in Warring States period “Hsiung-nu” sites such as Hsi-kou-p™an and
Stylistic af¬nities connect T™ao-hung-pa-la not only with Warring States
sites but also with the earlier Upper Hsia-chia-tien sites. For instance,
bronze plaques similar to those at T™ao-hung-pa-la have been found at
Nan-shan-ken. Bronze daggers in the so-called antennae style (ch™u-chiao
shih) were widespread and have been found, among other sites, at Pei-hsin-
pao (Hopei) and Fan-chia-yao-tzu (Inner Mongolia), and the ring orna-
ments are similar to those seen in Fan-chia-yao-tzu. The T™ao-hung-pa-la
metal inventory includes a pair of gold earrings of the type also seen in
Nan-shan-ken and Pei-hsin-pao. Once again, this broad range of similari-
ties between different cultural complexes within the Northern Zone under-
scores the fact that nomadic people may have been directly responsible
for expanding the scope of human intercultural communication and
commercial exchange.
The other important early nomadic site regarded by some as the “cradle”
of Hsiung-nu culture is Mao-ch™ing-kou, a site that shows long and con-
tinued utilization, and one that is therefore particularly valuable for exam-
ining changes over time.96 According to the chronology established by the
main investigators of the site, T™ien Kuan-chin and Kuo Su-hsin, four phases
can be recognized.97 Phase I, dated to the late Spring and Autumn period,
contains pottery and bronze items. The treatment of the body, shape of
the burial, and remains of animal sacri¬ce present analogies with the pre-
viously discussed Kuo-hsien-yao-tzu site; other similarities include the
absence of iron and the presence of a large number of bronze ornamental
plaques. Differences, too, can be telling. A bronze dagger with double bird-
head pommel, a bronze bit, and belthooks found at Mao-ch™ing-kou are
missing from Kuo-hsien-yao-tzu. The bird head is a typical motif of the
nomadic peoples of the west, in particular the Saka culture of northern
Sinkiang,98 whereas the bronze bit points to an advanced horse-riding
culture. Such ¬ndings can indicate differences in a society™s development
toward more widespread use of horses and in its range of contacts with
other cultures.

On the relationship between Ordos sites and Hsiung-nu, see T™ien Kuan-chin,
“Chin-nien-lai Nei meng-ku ti-ch™ü te Hsiung-nu k™ao-ku,” K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao
1983.1: 7“24.
The best study of this site is Thomas O. Höllmann and Georg W. Kossack, eds.,
Maoqinggou: Ein eisenzeitliches Gr¤berfeld in der Ordos-Region (Inner Mon-
golei) (Mainz: Philip von Zabern, 1992).
T™ien Kuan-chin and Kuo Su-hsin, O-erh-to-ssu ch™ing-t™ung ch™i, pp. 227“315.
See So and Bunker, Traders and Raiders on China™s Northern Frontier, pp. 65“66.

The later Mao-ch™ing-kou periods, phases II, III, and IV, which span the
entire Warring States era, are very different from phase I. One important
development is the conspicuous use of iron, which became increasingly
larger during each phase, and included, besides weapons and tools, orna-
mental plates. The marked differences between the burials of phase I and
later burials persuaded the investigators to assign the early period to the Ti,
a pre-nomadic northern people and subsequent phases to the Lou-fan, a
people who appear to have been horse-riding steppe nomads culturally
related to the Hsiung-nu.
Although the people of Mao-ch™ing-kou were mainly pastoral, remains
of a settlement, kilns, and pottery found next to the cemetery indicate the
presence of farmers in the midst of a society of the horse-riding pastoral-
ists.99 We do not know what relations existed between the two, but, as we
have seen for northeastern nomadic cultures, the existence of small seden-
tary centers in an area next to burial sites belonging to nomadic people
is by no means unusual. It is plausible, and indeed probable, that the
economic development of the steppe depended to a great extent on the
symbiotic and constructive (rather than adversarial and destructive)
relationships that nomads and farmers were able to establish between
We ¬nd at Mao-ch™ing-kou an assemblage typical of an early nomadic
culture and closely related to that of T™ao-hung-pa-la. The gap between the
earliest occupancy and the later tombs seems to support the hypothesis of
a gradual af¬rmation of pastoral nomadism in this area. A fully formed
early nomadic culture probably existed in Mao-ch™ing-kou in the late sixth
century b.c., and the ¬nding of a knife coin in the site™s upper layer also
suggests that, in the fourth century b.c., there was trade with China. This
site is thought to have been abandoned at the beginning of the third century
b.c. as a result of occupation by Chao.
Similar to the early nomadic cultures of T™ao-hung-pa-la and Mao-
ch™ing-kou is the Ordos site of Hu-lu-ssu-t™ai.100 This site is dated to the
early Warring States period (¬fth“fourth century b.c.) and belongs to a
group of transitional sites dated around the early to late Warring States
period that also includes Fan-chia-yao-tzu and Shui-chien-kou-men.101 The
artifact assemblage found at these sites is very similar to those of T™ao-

On this issue see Claudia Chang and Perry Tourtellotte, “The Role of Agro-
pastoralism in the Evolution of Steppe Culture,” in The Bronze Age and Early
Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central Asia, 1: 270“75; and Nicola Di Cosmo,
“The Economic Basis of the Ancient Inner Asian Nomads and Its Relationship
to China,” Journal of Asian Studies 53.4 (1994): 1092“1126.
T™a La and Liang Ching-ming, “Hu-lu-ssu-t™ai Hsiung-nu mu,” Wen-wu 1980.7:
T™ien Kuan-chin and Kuo Su-hsin, O-erh-to-ssu ch™ing-t™ung ch™i, pp. 220“21.


hung-pa-la and Mao-ch™ing-kou, and the bronze tools and weapons present
archaic characteristics, close to a typology found in sites attributed to the
Spring and Autumn period. Horse ¬ttings are also similar to the earlier
types. At the same time, these sites also contain items that are found in later
Warring States sites in the Ordos area, such as Yü-lung-t™ai, Hsi-kou-p™an,
and Su-chi-kou, and that are primarily ornamental, such as decorative waist
belts. Certain features in the production of traditional objects have also
been standardized, as in the case of the wing-shaped dagger guard.102
Although precise dates for these sites require more accurate scienti¬c evi-
dence than typological analysis, such analysis does indicate that, possibly
starting in the seventh“sixth century b.c., several areas in the north-central
sector of the Northern Zone were inhabited by pastoral people; in addi-
tion, some burials, especially those dated to the sixth“¬fth century b.c.,
possess the distinct features of the in¬‚uence of militant mounted early
nomads. These more advanced pastoral communities, once established, not
only did not obliterate the pre-existing communities where both pastoral
and agricultural activities were pursued but co-existed with them, albeit
possibly in a position of supremacy. The rise of a nomadic aristocracy was
probably facilitated by the existence of a socially inferior, and perhaps
tribute-paying, population, which the nomadic nobility could exploit to
solidify its own economic force and social role.
The question of the origins of mounted nomadism in the Northern Zone
remains open.103 Some mounted nomads may have come to this area from

T™ien Kuan-chin, “Chin-nien-lai te Nei Meng-ku ti-ch™ü te Hsiung-nu k™ao-ku,”
K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1983.1: 7“24.
A comprehensive review of this issue is in Wang Ming-ke, “O-erh-to-ssu chi ch™i
lin-chin ti-ch™ü chuan-hua yu-mu-yeh te ch™i-yüan,” Chung-yang Yen-chiu-yüan
li-shih yü-yen yen-chiu-so chi-k™an [Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philol-
ogy] 65.2 (1994): 375“44. In this article Wang Ming-ke argues that the rise of
pastoral nomadism in northern China was not (or not only) a function of an
independent adaptation by formerly agro-pastoral peoples to an environment
particularly suitable to stock breeding. He maintains that cultural factors were
more important in separating out the north from China, and that the con-
sciousness of cultural and ethnic differences from China may have played a role
in the emergence of a pastoral nomadic society. This is based on the considera-
tion that although the preconditions for the transition to full pastoral nomadism
(horse riding, for instance) had been achieved already in the early ¬rst millen-
nium b.c., it was only several hundred years later “ according to Wang “ that
pastoral nomads actually appear on the northern frontier, after the formation of
a cultural frontier between the north and China. This thesis is engaging in the
sense that specialized agriculture, by creating a surplus of cereals exchangeable
for products that would be lacking in a predominantly farming society, such as
animal products, might stimulate stock breeding wherever climatic conditions
would allow it. From a historical point of view, however, the creation of a sharp

elsewhere, a hypothesis that rests mainly on the appearance of new types
of burials, such as those using wooden and stone-slab cof¬ns.104 Or
mounted nomadism might be the result of an internal evolution toward
an increasingly specialized pastoral economy favored by external stimuli
or pressures. However they might have evolved, mounted nomads must
have exerted a great deal of pressure on the “periphery” formed by pre-
existing semi-nomadic communities who were lagging behind in the acqui-
sition of new technology and forms of social organization. This hypothesis
is consistent with a phenomenon documented in the historical records,
which reveal a sudden acceleration of pressure on the northern frontier of
China from people such as the Ch™ih Ti, Pai Ti, and Shan Jung after the
mid-seventh century b.c.: The expansion of the nomadic centers around this
time may have been the cause of the southward movement of displaced

northwestern zone. Early nomadic sites are found in the Ning-
hsia“Kansu region to the west of the Wei River Valley and to the southwest
of the Ordos. These are clustered in and around the areas of Ku-yüan
county, in Ning-hsia,105 and Ch™ing-yüan, in Kansu,106 both of which appear
to have been centers of diffusion of early nomadic culture comparable to
Mao-ch™ing-kou and T™ao-hung-pa-la. On the basis of the funerary assem-
blage from several sites, and of stratigraphical analysis, we can distinguish
a general process of development in the material culture of the Ku-yüan
nomadic people, which shows a course similar to that found among the

demarcation between Chung-yüan agriculturalists and northern nomads remains
highly speculative and is contradicted by the archaeological presence of several
agricultural peoples in the arc of lands to the north of China. It is more likely
that, if specialized pastoral production developed as a complementary activity to
specialized farming, this “branching off” occurred within a Northern Zone eco-
nomic context. In any case, Chinese sources remain mute about this process, and
we run the risk of overinterpreting them by establishing cause-effect associations
between factors whose mutual relationship is untestable.
On Hsiung-nu burials, see S. Minyaev, “Niche Grave Burials of the Xiong-nu
Period in Central Asia,” Information Bulletin. International Association for the
Cultures of Central Asia 17 (1990): 91“99; S. Minyaev, “On the Origin of the
Hiung-nu,” Information Bulletin. International Association for the Cultures of
Central Asia 9 (1985): 69“78.
Chung K™an, “Ning-hsia Ku-yüan hsien ch™u-t™u wen-wu,” Wen-wu 1978.12:
86“90; Chung K™an and Han Kung-le, “Ning-hsia nan-pu Ch™un-ch™iu Chan-kuo
shih-ch™i te ch™ing-t™ung wen-hua,” Chung-kuo k™ao-ku hsüeh-hui ti-ssu-tz™u
nien-hui lun-wen-chi 1983 (Peking: Wen-wu, 1985), pp. 203“13. See also the
notes below.
Liu Te-zhen, Hsü Chün-ch™en, “Kan-su Ch™ing-yang Ch™un-ch™iu Chan-kuo mu-
tsang te ch™ing-li,” Kaogu 1988.5: 413“24.


early nomads of the Ordos and Hopei sites. The early graves™ inventory
yields evidence of abundant bronze production: Weapons, animal-style
ornaments, and horse and chariot ¬ttings are all present and make this area
one of the centers of “Scythian-type” pastoral nomadism in the Northern
Zone. Iron metallurgy existed but was not widely used, although it is also
possible that iron objects were simply not deemed ¬t to be included in funer-
ary assemblages; precious metals are rare, as are chariot and horse ¬ttings.
In contrast, later graves show a net increase in ornaments, horse gear, pre-
cious objects, and iron metallurgy, a trend that parallels that seen in the
Yet the archaeological materials from this area also reveal pronounced
local characteristics and an independent path of development. The exca-
vated sites are limited to graves, and there is no trace of permanent
dwellings or settlements. Generally speaking, the funerary customs and
other features in the workmanship of bone and clothing reveal local char-
acteristics and indicate a coherent cultural complex. Yet it is possible that
this area included more than one ethnic group, since throughout the area
of distribution of the Ku-yüan culture there are two types of burials, “cat-
acomb” style and earthen pit graves.107 The use of catacomb-style graves “
that is, L-shaped pits with a cof¬n-chamber opening on one side at the
bottom of the pit “ is unusual in this area but can be found in sites in north-
western China, such as Ha-ma-tun, a site of the Sha-ching culture with clear
evidence of pastoralism at this time.108 The economy of the “catacomb”
people in Ku-yüan was also pastoral, as revealed by the number of sacri-
¬ced animal remains accompanying the dead, consisting of the heads, lower
jaws, and hooves of horses, cattle, and sheep. A similar combination of cat-
acomb and earthen pit graves can be seen in the possibly contemporary site
of Pao-t™ou, in Inner Mongolia, which we have discussed earlier. Finally,
although catacomb graves are not seen in Hsiung-nu sites of the Ordos
region, they are present at Tao-tun-tzu, a Western Han site in Ning-hsia
attributed to the Hsiung-nu.109 The continuity in the types of burial found
in the northwestern region during the Han period suggests that, even though
there are similarities with the “Hsiung-nu” culture of the Ordos sites, local
(possibly ethnic) differences were not eliminated. As a result, the term
“Hsiung-nu culture” can be used in archaeology only as an umbrella term
synonymous with “early nomadic culture,” not in reference to a particular

See, for instance, K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1993.1: 13“56. Here, out of twenty-nine
tombs whose structure is known, one is a vertical earthen pit tomb; the remain-
ing twenty-eight are earthen catacomb graves.
K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1990.2: 205“37.
Tao-tun-tzu (T™ung-hsin county, Ning-hsia) is dated to the Western Han on the
basis of coins. The site comprises twenty rectangular pit graves, six catacomb
graves, and one stone chamber grave. See K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1988.3: 333“56.

ethnic group or political community. Evidence of multiple burial customs
within the same burial site is by no means unusual, and, as mentioned
before, should be regarded as the probable result of the process of politi-
cal and military change following the evolution of early nomadic commu-
nities which caused territorial displacements, partial cultural assimilation,
and the fusions of different ethnic groups into larger political unions.
The possibility of regional migrations, resulting possibly from an
increased militarization of the areas where strong and expansive nomadic
societies appear, may be supported by the anthropological evidence from
the site of Yü-chia-chuang, near the village of P™eng-p™u, dated approxi-
mately to the late Spring and Autumn.110 Its inhabitants appear to have been
north Asiatic, and different from the eastern Asiatic people that inhabited
the area in the earlier Neolithic period. According to the investigators, their
somatic features are consistent with an anthropological type found in north-
east Asia among the Mongol, Buriat, and Tungus peoples.111 Although this
type of evidence is questioned by some archaeologists, it provides a hint
that cannot be disregarded completely, since the existence of a migratory
route from the Manchurian and Mongolian areas to Ning-hsia might
explain the presence of cultural links between this area and the Ordos and
between northeastern metallurgical cultures and the far northeast.
Burials at the important site of Yang-lang span from the early to the late
Eastern Chou period.112 Burial goods in tombs of the early period include
daggers in the classic antennae style, which are usually regarded as a marker
of the Western Chou and Spring and Autumn Northern Zone style, but iron
remains are limited to fragments of an iron sword (tomb IM3), and horse
and chariot ¬ttings are not present in large quantity. Among the precious
metals, only silver earrings are found in the earlier graves (tomb IIIM3).
The abundance of bronze shows that this was a center of metallurgical pro-
duction, possibly controlled by a higher social stratum; moreover, almost
every grave contains funerary goods, usually more than ten objects, and
several yielded over ¬fty.
At P™eng-p™u and Shih-la-ts™un sites, also in Ku-yüan county, we ¬nd
funerary assemblages that may belong to a more advanced type of com-
munity that made a wider use of horses.113 Iron is absent from the assem-

The burial site of P™eng-p™u is particularly interesting because out of its thirty-
one burials, twenty-seven were undisturbed prior to excavation. See K™ao-ku
hsüeh-pao 1995.1: 79“107. This full report has been used as a reference also for
the following discussion of this site.
Han K™ang-hsin, “Ning-hsia P™eng-p™u Yü-chia-chuang mu-ti jen-ku chung-hsi
t™e-tien chih yen-chiu,” K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1995.1: 107“25.
K™ao-ku hsüeh-pao 1993.1: 13“56.
Chung K™an, “Ku-yüan hsien P™eng-p™u Ch™un-ch™iu Chan-kuo mu-tsang,”
Chung-kuo k™ao-ku-hsüeh nien-chien 1988 (1989): 255“56; Lo Feng, “Ning-hsia

blage, but there are signs of advanced horse-related technology, such as bits,
masks, and a bridle frontal piece of bronze. Bronze weapons and tools are
still predominant, as in the early phase of Yang-lang, but the greater role
played by the horse, the large selection of animal-style ornaments, and
the presence of some gold ¬nds foreshadow the type of changes in the
funerary assemblage that were to take place in the mid and late Warring
States period, where the preference for artistic works and precious metals
in rich graves is testimony to a likely change in the social role of the
Finally, catacomb burials are not found in Chung-ning county, where
two rectangular earthen pit graves have been excavated whose features are
consistent with the north-central early nomadic sites of Chün-tu-shan and
Mao-ch™ing-kou.114 The assemblage here is typically “Scythian,” with
bronze weapons and ornaments, a golden plate, and horse ¬ttings; and
horses were sacri¬ced in burials. Because of the concurrent presence of a
developed horse-riding nomadic community and of bronze weapons dis-
playing traditional or even archaic features, this site has been dated to the
early Warring States period. The signi¬cance of the presence of “early
nomadic” sites with catacomb graves in close proximity with other
“Scythian-type” sites with only earthen pit graves suggests that at some
point different ethnic groups lived side by side and may have eventually
fused into new social formations, and larger political unions.

Third Phase: Late Warring States (c. Mid-Fourth“Third
Century B.C.)

The “closing in” between the northern cultures and the Chinese zone
occurred during the last part of the Warring States era. From the fourth to
the third centuries b.c. contacts with China became more signi¬cant. In
part, the distinctive elements of early nomadic cultures, though they were
still predominant and retained their northern ¬‚avor, blended with different
images (trees, mountains) which substantially affected previous stylistic

Ku-yüan Shih-la-ts™un fa-hsien yi-tso Chan-kuo mu,” K™ao-ku-hsüeh chi-k™an 3
(1983): 130“31, 142; Lo Feng and Han Kung-le, “Ning-hsia Ku-yüan chin-nien
fa-hsien te pei-fang hsi ch™ing-t™ung ch™i,” K™ao-ku 1990.5: 403“18.
K™ao-ku 1987.9: 773“77.
Esther Jacobson, “Beyond the Frontier: A Reconsideration of Cultural Inter-
change Between China and the Early Nomads,” Early China 13 (1988): 201“40.
The presence of distinctive Chinese motifs in northern art have led some to
believe that there was Chinese production of artistic metalwork speci¬cally
designed for the northern markets or that there were Chinese artisans among the


The nomadic sites of the fourth“third century b.c., centered in the Ordos
area and generally referred to in the archaeological literature as “Hsiung-
nu,” exhibit a de¬nite shift in the contents of the mortuary assemblages.
Precious metals predominate in the aristocratic burials of this period, while
fewer weapons were buried, and the use of iron became more common,
especially for the manufacture of certain types of weapons and horse ¬t-
tings. “Antennae-style” iron daggers, similar to the earlier bronze daggers,
and iron swords similar to those of the Central Plain, are found both over
a broader area and in larger numbers with respect to the previous period;
horse bits and chamfrons were more frequently made out of iron, and the
bronze pickax was replaced with an iron one.116 Among the decorative fea-
tures of this period, we see an increase in belt buckles and plates in the
animal style, while other plates, round or rectangular, often depict human
activities.117 Scenes of animal combat, both realistic and stylized, became
both common and artistically sophisticated, and the tendency to standard-
ize certain features of metal artifacts became even more pronounced. To the
extent that standardization may be taken as evidence of a centralized orga-
nization of the productive process, it may also be regarded as an indirect
indicator of more hierarchically organized societies, within which the aris-
tocratic stratum might have wielded greater power.
By far the most striking feature of the nomadic burials of this period is
their extraordinary richness, as the funerary inventory includes at times
hundreds of precious objects, including many gold and silver ornaments, at
sites such as T™ao-hong-pa-la, Hsi-kou-p™an, and A-lu-ch™ai-teng.118 In two

nomads. For a full illustration of this viewpoint, see So and Bunker, Traders and
Raiders on China™s Northern Frontier, chapter 4.
The progressive increase in the amount of iron used can be seen by looking at
Western Han sites such as Pu-tung-kou (Yi-k™o-chao-meng, Inner Mongolia),
where there is a vast inventory of iron tools and weapons. Iron was reserved
mostly for vessels, such as tripods and cauldrons; for weapons, such as swords,
knives, and arrowheads; for horse ¬ttings, such as bits, rings, and chamfrons;
and, ¬nally, for ornamental objects, such as belt plates. Bronze was still the prin-
cipal material used for decorative and ornamental purposes.
Emma Bunker, “The Anecdotal Plaques of the Eastern Steppe Regions,” in Arts
of the Eurasian Steppelands, pp. 121“42.
Gold constitutes a most interesting aspect of the Northern Zone culture, because
it seems to link China and the northern regions as an important medium of
exchange and because of the appreciation reserved for it on both sides (an appre-
ciation not shared for silver). On the questions of gold in ancient China and the
introduction of taste for gold from the northwest, see Emma Bunker, “Gold in
the Ancient Chinese World,” Artibus Asiae 53.1/2 (1993): 27“50; and id., “Cul-
tural Diversity in the Tarim Basin Vicinity and Its Impact on Ancient Chinese
Culture,” in The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Peoples of Eastern Central
Asia, 2: 604“18.

tombs of the late Warring States unearthed in the locality of A-lu-ch™ai-teng,
located to the north of T™ao-hung-pa-la, altogether 218 gold and ¬ve silver
objects were found.119 Among the many extraordinary pieces, reproduced
in the typical “Scythian” animal style, there is a unique gold headdress set,
or crown, composed of four pieces: a skullcap and three headbands. Because
of its richness, this site is regarded by the investigators as a royal burial of
the Lou-fan people, who presumably inhabited this area during the Warring
States. Finally, at Na-lin-kao-t™u in northern Shaansi, a grave attributed to
the Hsiung-nu yielded a large number of gold, silver, and bronze ornamental
objects,120 even though a rare gilt silver dagger handle, possibly imported,
was the only military object recovered.
The complexity of this later nomadic society is nowhere more visible
than at the site of Hsi-kou-p™an, also in the Ordos area.121 Gold and silver
ornaments abound in one burial, while other assemblages present the
objects normally associated with a more “classic” nomadic aristocracy,
including weapons, tools, and horse equipment reminiscent of the early
T™ao-hung-pa-la assemblage. At the same time, we ¬nd unmistakable evi-
dence of agriculture: a settlement, and agricultural tools such as hoes, adzes,
and pickaxes, which were also made of iron.122
The various types of funerary assemblages seems to indicate the exis-
tence of sharper social differentiation. The poorest members of society were
buried with a few tools or weapons, while warriors continued to be buried
with their weapons, and with the ornamental plaques characteristic of
nomadic art. But some, presumably the most powerful chiefs, were accom-
panied in death by real treasures, often consisting of gold and silver arti-
facts. The accumulation of precious metals of course is an indication of
power and wealth, but it may also point to a different origin of wealth, one
no longer acquired through military ventures or the exploitation of subject
peoples, but rather through commerce. While leadership in war must have
remained an important function of the aristocracy, chiefs may have been
increasingly involved in trade, and the precious artifacts were a form of
high value currency used in commercial transactions.
This hypothesis is supported by the Chinese origin of some of these
objects, which bear Chinese characters, such as golden plates and silver
T™ien Kuan-chi and Kuo Su-hsin, “Nei meng-ku A-lu-chai-teng fa-hsien te
Hsiung-nu yi-wu,” K™ao-ku 1980.4: 333“38, 364, 368.
Tai Ying-hsin, and Sun Chia-hsiang, “Shensi Shen-mu hsien ch™u-t™u Hsiung-nu
wen-wu,” Wen-wu 1983.12: 23“30.
Wen-wu 1980.7: 1“10; Nei Meng-ku wen-wu k™ao-ku 1981: 15“27.
An ax, pickax, adze, hoe, and other agricultural implements, all of iron, have
been recovered from Wu-huan burials of the Han period in Hsi-cha-kou
(Hsi-feng, Liao-ning). See Lin Kan, “Kuan-yü yen-chiu Chung-kuo ku-tai pei-
fang min-tsu wen-hua shih te wo chien,” Nei Meng-ku ta-hsüeh hsüeh-pao
1988.1: 3.

ornaments.123 Moreover, some silver rein rings bear characters that have
been interpreted as the marks of a workshop located in the state of Chao.124
Chinese imports of horses, cattle, and other typical northern products such
as furs, mentioned in works such as the Chan-kuo ts™e (see Chapter 4) may
have been paid for with golden and silver objects worked in a style attrac-
tive to the nomads. Among the precious objects found in this region, the
gilded bronze, golden. and silver artifacts inlaid with precious stones that
have been found at Shih-hui-kou125 bear a striking resemblance to the
“Siberian” gold of Peter the Great.126 In the same sites we ¬nd an abun-
dance of silver, and some new animal-style motifs, which enrich an already
vast gamut of modes of representation.
For all the richness of the funerary inventory, the burial structure is rel-
atively simple. Nowhere do we ¬nd the elaborate tombs of the Altai
nomads, with the subterranean wooden chamber and surface mound. Nor-
mally they are simple pit graves with or without a wooden cof¬n. Animal
sacri¬ce was practiced in all the sites and included mostly horses and sheep.
In Yü-lung-t™ai, a site possibly dating to the third century b.c., the number
of chariot ¬ttings, which include seven animal-shaped ¬nials in bronze rep-
resenting lambs, antelopes, deer, and horses, and two axle ends, indicate
that the chariot was in use among the late nomads, but it is not clear
whether this function was military or ceremonial.127
Finally, we should note that in the northwest an analogous process was
taking place. The Yang-lang burials (Ku-yüan county) dated to the late
Warring States period reveal the true blooming of nomadic culture at
around that time. First, the use of iron becomes widespread and generally
available for weapons, tools, and ornaments.128 Second, gold objects appear
in the funerary assemblage, though not on the scale of some Ordos sites.
Finally, the amount of excavated horse gear (bits, chamfrons, bronze
and bone cheek pieces, and harness ornaments) and chariot ¬ttings (shaft
ornaments, axle cuffs, and hubs) increases dramatically. Ornamental pole

Li Xueqin, Eastern Zhou and Qin Civilizations, trans. K. C. Chang (New Haven
and London: Yale University Press, 1985), pp. 333“35. For a discussion of
Chinese exports to the steppes, see So and Bunker, Traders and Raiders on
China™s Northern Frontier, pp. 53“66.
So and Bunker, Traders and Raiders on China™s Northern Frontier, p. 59.
Nei Meng-ku wen-wu k™ao-ku 1992.1“2: 91“96.
B. B. Piotrovskij, Tesori d™Eurasia: 2000 anni di storia in 70 anni di archeolo-
gia sovietica (Venezia: Mondadori, 1987), pp. 114“15.
K™ao-ku 1977.2: 111“14.
In Yang Lang the following burials presented iron objects: I2 (knife and orna-
mental plate), I3 (sword, rings, and belt ornaments), I12 (sword with bronze
hilt), I15 (knife), III4 (sword, spear, and cheek pieces), III5 (various ornaments,
a horse bit, a knife and two rings), and III8 (remains of an iron object); see K™ao-
ku hsüeh-pao 1993.1: 13“56.


tops and plaques representing animal combat are also typical of this later
Early nomadic sites of the Ku-yüan type share important cultural traits
with the Ordos, possibly indicative of a similar type of mobile aristocratic
society. Chamfrons and bits, albeit still limited in number, indicate a pro-
gressively more important role of the horse, used not only for transporta-
tion and herding but also for war. This suggests that the expansion of
pastoralism and the growth in the sheer volume of herds was accompanied
by the rise of a warrior class, whose social function may have also been ini-
tially related to the regulation of economic and “juridical” disputes among
kin groups.


Northern China participated actively in what was, during the ¬rst half of
the ¬rst millennium, the Central Eurasian rise of steppe pastoral nomadism.
Advanced metallurgy and the development of specialized technology for the
management of the horse were the most signi¬cant prerequisites for the evo-
lution of nomadic cultures, and it is possible that pastoral nomadism was
¬rst developed in the northeastern region of the steppe belt, in a mixed envi-
ronment that favored communication across different forms of ecological
and economic adaptations. Contacts with areas further to the north and
west, as well as the natural impetus of a ¬‚ourishing culture, may have pro-
vided the right environment for the advance of pastoralism, especially along
the ecological border between grassland and forest.
Throughout the ninth to the third century b.c., from western Liao-ning
to Hopei, Ning-hsia, and Kansu, the herds of horses, cattle, and sheep grew,
a phenomenon re¬‚ected in the higher degree of specialization achieved in
these regions in the management of pastoral economies. As in other parts
of Inner Asia, the growth of pastoral economies was accompanied by the
rise of a militant warlike aristocracy. These military elites, by leading
the political expansion of their own political communities, helped to estab-
lish more articulate relations both within the wide world of steppe pas-
toralism and between pastoral communities and neighboring agricultural
It is premature, at this point, to attempt to construct a model that
explains the development of pastoral societies in the Northern Zone.
However, we do know that this development occurred, and that such a
development eventually produced increasingly larger and more powerful
political units. The evidence presented thus far suggests that the areas of
the Northern Zone closer to the Great Wall (from Ning-hsia and Kansu to
Inner Mongolia and the northeast) underwent such an evolution, but it is
important to underscore that one cannot see, in the Northern Zone as a

whole, a linear evolutional continuum. At present it seems to me that two
levels of analysis are either missing or not suf¬ciently developed. One level
is the intermediate regional level between the Northern Zone complex and
the local cultures.
Generally, scholars break down the Northern Zone into northwestern,
north-central, and northeastern subzones, a convention to which I have also
conformed. However, there are serious limitations to this method, the most
signi¬cant of which is that it obscures other, possibly more relevant, parting
lines, such as the cultural watersheds constituted by the T™ai-hang or by the
Yin-shan mountain ranges respectively in Hopei and Inner Mongolia. In the
mapping of the cultures of the Northern Zone, a regional approach needs
to be developed that integrates cultural, environmental, and topographical
features in an organic manner, regardless of present-day administrative divi-
sions or abstract compass-point sectors. The second level that needs to be
developed is one of comparative study among cultures within and without
the Northern Zone. This is sometimes done, especially with respect to
China. But clearly China was only one, and in many cases not the most
important, among the cultural areas that participated in the development
of various parts of the Northern Zone complex. It must be borne in mind
that social and economic advancements within the Northern Zone
depended greatly on a network of contacts and exchanges that included a
much larger area, as each cultural area in the Northern Zone also partici-
pated independently in contacts with separate zones. Because of its natural
avenues of communication (the Kansu Corridor, the Mongolian grassland
and the riverways of Manchuria), and possibly because of its relatively more
dense concentration of peoples with respect to other areas of northern Asia,
the Northern Zone, not unlike Central Asia at the same time, became a
dynamic area in which cultural clusters emerged where advancements in
technology, economic production, and social organization proceeded more
speedily than elsewhere.
The archaeological sites that we have labeled as “foci” for the forma-
tion of early nomads feature evident technological advances in transporta-
tion and warfare, which conceivably also re¬‚ect changes in the social and
political functions of the elite, as the traditional measure of nomadic wealth,
the animals they bred, became exchange commodities in an expanding trade
network. Social status was expressed through the possession of more elab-
orate goods, such as bimetallic swords and belts made of elegant bronze
plaques, and precious objects. Artifacts related to chariots, usually regarded
as typical status symbols of ancient China, and to horses, which of course
held primary importance in nomadic societies, came together to represent
the power and wealth enjoyed in life. Advances occurred in metallurgy as
well, as the use of iron became more common in the manufacture of
weapons and tools; and though the social implications of the use of iron
are unclear, it may be that the presence of iron agricultural tools (hoes and

pickaxes, for instance) resulted in advances in farming in the northern
region that would also have contributed to the enrichment of nomads, espe-
cially if we envisage the farmers as tribute-paying communities politically
subordinated to the nomadic aristocracy.
A tendency toward the commercialization of relations with China can
also be shown by evidence already drawn from Spring and Autumn sites in
Yen-ch™ing county, near Peking, where the presence of gold is consistent and
regular. Even more signi¬cantly, coins have been found that indicate a
degree of monetary exchange between the Northern Zone and China.
Moreover, because of the increasing importance of commerce, the nomadic
aristocracy™s wealth may also have been derived from its access to the routes
that connected faraway communities and therefore gave them the possibil-
ity of exacting some form of payment from itinerant merchants.129
The pursuit of commercial interests transformed the nomadic elite, to
some extent, into diplomatic and commercial agents who managed exter-
nal exchanges to their own pro¬t. It is likely that this trend reached its
highest point during the late Warring States period, when a greater quan-
tity of gold and precious objects found its way to the north. It is not unlikely
that part of the people who inhabited these sites were ethnically different
from the previous inhabitants, as some nomadic tribes may have descended
into the Northern Zone from regions farther to the northeast and north-
west. This hypothesis would explain the different artistic motifs and deco-
rative techniques found in these later sites. Migration theories are, however,
dif¬cult to prove, and the supposed originating point of these peoples, as
well as their cultural af¬liation, remain moot.
The question of the emergence of a putative “pre-Hsiung-nu” culture,
therefore, should be placed within the framework of a synchronic, but not
necessarily linear, evolution of a pastoral aristocracy in several “core” areas.
This class was not only “truly” nomadic “ that is, akin to the Scythian pro-
totype found throughout the rest of the Inner Asian steppe world “ but also
“new.” Given our preceding discussion, we may conclude that it was likely
able to manage political systems more complex than the kin group; it estab-
lished its rule over societies that were ethnically and economically com-
posite; it enhanced its economic status through the use of military resources
and political in¬‚uence; and it could pro¬t from inter-tribal and interstate
trade relations. During the Warring States period the nomadic political for-
mations were probably already constituted in political bodies that were able
to transcend the simple kin group, a necessary prerequisite for the creation
of a “state,” such as the one established by the Hsiung-nu, which was based
on an elaborate hierarchical military structure around a central authority.

The presence of Chinese silk at San-chia-tzu suggests that by the Warring States
period Hei-lung-chiang had some relations with the Central Plain, possibly the
state of Yen. See K™ao-ku 1988.12: 1090“98.

For the greater part of the Eastern Chou period, however, the Chinese
seemed unaware of the momentous events that were occurring in the steppe
region. Their relations with the inhabitants of the north were colored by
the direction in which the political process internal to China was evolving.
Therefore, foreign peoples appeared as pawns on the chessboard of Chinese
politics, in the game for supremacy and survival played during the Spring
and Autumn and Warring States periods. The following section explores
the emergence within the Hua-Hsia community of cultural stereotypes and
political strategies as China confronted the north in the pre-imperial period.

part ii
chapter three

Beasts and Birds
The Historical Context of Early Chinese
Perceptions of the Northern Peoples


Is it true that, during the Spring and Autumn period, a clear consciousness
emerged of a moral and cultural divide between the Chou states and a
nebulous external world of alien peoples? Several passages in the Ch™un
ch™iu and its commentaries, which later entered the Shih chi and other his-
torical works, show foreigners being compared to animals and being rep-
resented as subhuman. A certain mythology of the external world and an
idealized representation of geographic space in terms of its moral and polit-
ical order contribute to the impression that, during the Chou period, a
notion of “China” as a territory “ Chou states, chung-kuo “ and of “the
Chinese” as a people “ Hua or Hsia “ crystallized suf¬ciently to make
China™s external boundaries deeper than internal boundaries between the
various polities that comprised the Chou political and cultural universe. The
evolution of an inner Chinese core differentiated from an outer non-Chinese
one was already seen by Fu Ssu-nien in the opposition between the mythi-
cal Hsia dynasty and the so-called Yi peoples.1 Nonetheless, although
both the Shang and the Western Chou fought against foreign polities, the
few dry records of their expeditions, triumphs, and defeats fail to convey
a clear sense of this differentiation between a “Chinese” world of shared
principles, revolving around a real or assumed source of moral and politi-
cal authority (the Chou dynastic line), and a “barbarian” world whose
inhabitants were placed at various degrees of distance from that central

K. C. Chang, “Sandai Archaeology and the Formation of States in Ancient
China,” in The Origins of Chinese Civilizations, ed. David Keightley (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1983), p. 498.

The notion of a radiating civilization, shedding its light in progressively
dimming quantity on the surrounding areas, was part of a worldview that
surely existed during the Chou period. The boundaries of the Hua “civi-
lization” were delineated along moral and cultural lines. The simple, dia-
grammatic mappings of the geographic and human space that appear in the
“Yü Kung” (Tribute of Yü) chapter of the Shu ching, or in the Kuo yü,
Chou li, and other works, were neither a means to acquire knowledge about
the physical realities surrounding that community nor the result of an
inquiry into those realities. Even when they included details possibly derived
from geographic facts, these notions were framed by cosmological and
ethical schemes devised, on the one hand, to demonstrate the spatial equiv-
alence between earth and heaven and, on the other, to mark an ideal bound-
ary between the Hua-Hsia (Chinese) community and the world outside it.
This divide is common in the literature of the Warring States, and best
summed up in the Hsün-tzu: “All the states of Hsia share the same terri-
torial zones (fu) and the same customs; Man, Yi, Jung and Ti share the
same territorial zones, but have different institutions.”2
Before we consider the early texts in which we may reasonably expect
to ¬nd an effort to identify these foreign lands and peoples, we should be
aware that these texts have raised issues of attribution and dating that are
central to current scholarship. These issues, however, will not be dealt with
here. Instead, the texts in question are considered as expressions of forms
of knowledge “ mythological, astrological, pseudo-geographical “ that were
surely widespread in China during the pre-imperial period, and whose
origins, albeit dif¬cult to determine, are commonly seen as having preceded
physical composition of the texts.
Two notions of geographic space were common in China™s early litera-
ture: the representation of the land as a system of inscribed squares,
and the representation of the world (also identi¬ed with the territory
of the Chinese states) as divided into nine continents, or provinces (chiu
chou).3 It is in the ¬rst of these “ the rich textual tradition de¬ning geo-
graphic space as a nested succession of areas around a central seat of polit-
ical and moral authority “ that we ¬nd references to foreign “barbarian”
peoples.4 Generally, the prototype of this system is held to be the “Yü

Wang Hsien-chien, Hsün-tzu chi-chieh (Peking: Chung-hua, 1988) 2: 329.
Shu ching (S. Couvreur, Chou King [Ho Kien Fu: Imprimerie de la mission
catholique, 1897], pp. 61, 86“88. Also, James Legge, The Chinese Classics, vol.
3: Shoo King, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985; rpt. Hong Kong: Hong Kong
University Press, 1960), p. 149.
An excellent summary is provided in Guoyu: Propos sur le principaut©s I “
Zhouyu. Trans. Andr© d™Hormon, annotations par R©mi Mathieu (Paris: Collège
de France, 1985), pp. 66“69, n. 21.


Kung.”5 Political and ethical considerations are superimposed onto a
pseudo-geographic grid in an idealized scheme whereby distance from the
royal domains, located at the center, is the key element in the classi¬cation
of territorial zones.6 The farther the areas inhabited by foreign peoples are
from the center, the less civilizing in¬‚uence these areas receive, and the more
“alien” they are. In the “Yü Kung” are ¬ve such nested square territories,
each extending in all directions around the seat of imperial power for ¬ve
hundred li beyond the closer one: the ¬rst zone is the royal domain (tien),
the second is the land of feudal vassals (hou), the third is the zone of paci-
¬cation (sui), the fourth is the zone of vassal foreigners (yao) where the Yi
peoples live, and the ¬fth is the zone of uncultivated marshes (huang) where
the Man foreigners live. Together with this ¬ve-zone tradition are other tra-
ditions, which go back to the Chou li, chapter 29 (“Ta ssu-ma”), where we
have a nine-zone (chiu chi) division, and chapter 37 (“Ta hsing-jen”), with
its six-zone (fu) arrangement of the territories around the royal domains.
The peripheral zones are inhabited by a sequence of foreigners, among
whom we ¬nd the Man and the Yi. The most unenlightened of these zones,
which is also the farthest away, is called fan (“outer,” and by inference,
barbaric).7 The people inhabiting these distant and benighted marshes are

The composition of the “Yü Kung” may be as late as the late Warring States
period, that is, fourth“third century b.c. See Edward L. Shaughnessy, “Shang
shu,” in Early Chinese Texts, ed. Michael Loewe (Berkeley: Society for the Study
of Early China and the Institute of East Asian Studies, 1993), p. 378. The myth
of Yü™s ordering of the geography of the world, a kind of “chorogenesis” through
which all the potentialities of the earth were brought to light and tamed into the
service of the “Son of Heaven” (and of humankind), is reported in the Shih chi
2, 49“77 (trans. Nienhauser, ed., The Grand Scribe™s Records, vol. 1: The Basic
Annals of Pre-Han China by Ssu-ma Ch™ien [Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1994], pp. 22“32).
For a diagram of the geography of the “Yü Kung,” see Joseph Needham, Science
and Civilization in China, vol. 3: Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens
and Earth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), p. 501.
It is well known that the term “barbarian” common in a number of European
languages, does not have a single analog in the Chinese language. Yet a number
of terms designating foreign peoples (Man, Yi, Ti, Jung, Ch™iang, Hu, etc.) are
routinely translated as “barbarians.” The distinction made in these early differ-
entiations between yao peoples (allied, and possibly “absorbed,” also indicated
with the binome Man-Yi) and fan peoples (independent, and possibly hostile, also
designated with the binome Jung-Ti) introduces a notion of conscious differenti-
ation between close foreigners and far foreigners, possibly analogous to the dyadic
classi¬cation of foreigners into shu, “tamed, cooked,” and sheng, “raw, ¬erce,”
of later times. This distinction is hopelessly obscured when the blanket term “bar-
barian” is used indiscriminately. The “Ta Hsing-jen” places the states in the fan


exposed to gradually diminishing imperial in¬‚uence, and pay tribute to the
center at increasingly longer intervals of time. The Yi Chou shu, chapter 7,
“Wang hui,” has an abbreviated three-zone division, with the outer zone
being that of the uncultivated marshes (huang fu). The nine-zone division
is repeated in chapter 8, “Chih fang-shih.” The Kuo yü (chapter 1, “Chou
yü 1”) presents the same basic structure and has the Ti and Jung people
living in the last square zone, of the huang fu.8
It is clear, then, that in the early Chinese conception of foreign peoples,
besides identifying them according to their location, which placed the Man
to the south, the Yi to the east, the Jung to the west and the Ti to the north,9
another structure existed that consistently categorized the Man and the Yi
as “allied” or “assimilated” foreigners, and the Jung and Ti as outer, non-
assimilated, and hostile foreigners. In the ethical and political hierarchy that
these schematic representations re¬‚ect the peoples to the north and to the
west were regarded as more resistant to (and therefore more distant from)
the virtuous in¬‚uence of the center. Yet the texts that mention these foreign
peoples are expressions of an intellectual world unconcerned with the
systematic exploration and empirical description of the surrounding geo-
graphical area and “ethnographic” realities.
Although similarly unconcerned with direct observation and description,
the texts that allow us to understand the forms of interaction between Chou
and non-Chou peoples are the ones that are “historical.” As a step beyond
the bare mention of “outside” peoples found in the oracle bones, and a step
behind the historical accounts found in the Shih chi, the Chou historical
texts identify in realistic terms those areas of political action and geographic
space that were frequented and often occupied by foreign agents. Of course,
“foreign” remains a problematic term, since its quali¬cations, whether cul-
tural, political, or ethnic, need to be veri¬ed each time it is used.
This historical tradition is embodied in the Ch™un Ch™iu annals and its
commentaries, in particular the Tso-chuan, which remains the richest single
source for the Eastern Chou period prior to the Shih chi. The information
relevant to foreign peoples, however, often has been read less for its his-
torical importance “ on the development of political relations, for instance
“ and more for its cultural dimension, that is, for what it tells us of a coa-

zone (fan kuo) outside the “nine provinces” (chiu chou chih wai), whereas
those in the yao zone are by implication retained within the Chou territorial
sphere. This distinction clearly supports the notion that in pre-imperial China
there was a conscious realization that some foreign peoples were living inside
the territory of the Chou community of states or that they could be absorbed
within it.
The Kuo yü presents some dif¬culty in interpreting the rings closer to the royal
domains; Kuo yü 1 (Ssu-pu pei-yao), 3a-b. See Guoyu, p. 69, n. 23.
Chou li, 33 (“Chih-fang shih”), 9a; 29 (“Ta ssu-ma”), 5a.

lescing Chinese civilization in the process of differentiating itself from a sur-
rounding “barbarism.”
A closer look at some passages on the relations between Chou and non-
Chou suggests that, if these statements are taken within their historical
context, they lend themselves to a different interpretation. Passages that
have traditionally been used to support the view that a cultural and moral
divide existed may actually re¬‚ect aspects of political change behind the
foreign policy strategies of Chou states and thus need to be examined in
the context of Chou foreign affairs. That is, statements concerning foreign
peoples are more apt to reveal political struggles and foreign policy shifts
in response to actual circumstances than to be the result of the emergence
of a consciousness of cultural differentiation.

Cultural Statements in Political Context

The well-known example of the relations between the Ti people and the
state of Hsing offers a suitable introduction to what I see as a necessary re-
evaluation of statements that, taken out of their historical context, were
hastily adopted to prop up the notion of a polarized opposition between
civilization and “barbarism.” In 661 b.c., Kuan Chung, the famed coun-
cillor of Duke Huan, persuaded the state of Ch™i to intervene in defense
of the state of Hsing, which was subject to incursions by Jung and Ti
peoples. Kuan Chung™s argument has been taken as plain evidence of the
moral divide between Chou and non-Chou: “The Ti and the Jung are like
wolves, and can never be satis¬ed; all the Hsia [states] are closely related,
and none should be abandoned; to rest in idleness is a poison that should
not be cherished.”10 According to most interpretations, this statement
proves that a consciousness had been achieved among the Chou states of a
clearly demarcated “us” and “them” and that such a demarcation indicates
a mature notion of cultural unity within China expressed in the classic
opposition between a uni¬ed Hua-Hsia community and non-Chou
If we examine both its historical context and the text itself more closely,
however, this interpretation is much less obvious. The state of Hsing, having

Ch™un-ch™iu Tso-chuan chu, ed. Yang Po-chün (Peking: Chung-hua, 1990 [1981])
(Min 1), p. 256 [hereafter Tso-chuan chu] (James Legge, The Chinese Classics,
vol. 5: The Ch™un Ts™ew with the Tso Chuen [London: Trübner, 1872; rpt. Hong
Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1960], p. 124).
For a recent reiteration of this theme, see Cho-yun Hsu, “The Spring and Autumn
Period,” in The Cambridge History of Ancient China, ed. Michael Loewe
and Edward L. Shaughnessy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999),
p. 550.

been rescued by Chin in the name of Chou “brotherhood,” was attacked
and conquered by Wey only a few years later, in 635 b.c. Yet not only was
Wey a Chou state, it was also a state whose royal house shared the same
surname with the ruler of Hsing. By invading Hsing, Wey violated the very
kinship links that, allegedly, formed the internal bond uniting the Hsia polit-
ical community. This constituted a blatant breach of the socio-political code
of conduct on which Chin™s anti-Ti posture was ostensibly based. Never-
theless, the deed was done, and in retribution Wey suffered only the verbal
condemnation of later commentaries.12
The same year in which Hsing was annexed by Wey, the state of Chin
was itself found in violation of the same principle of unity among the
Central States that it had invoked. When the marquis of Chin sought to
take possession of the ¬ef of Yang-fan, the people refused to submit, claim-
ing they were relatives of the king, and “the central states are conquered
through virtue, while severity is used to intimidate the various foreign
peoples (ssu yi).”13 Unwilling to risk being alienated from the other Chou
states, Chin conceded and let the people leave the city, but its action reveals
the expedient nature of the principle of kinship.
The two episodes just cited suggest that the divide between the Chou
and the non-Chou was de¬ned in terms of kinship to shore up the loose
federation of independent statelets that formed the Eastern Chou political
community. Using lineage to underpin larger political unions is by no means
unique to early China (it is a common feature of early states), and genealog-
ical ties, whether real or ¬ctitious, play a primary role in politics. Often the
family metaphor was resorted to by some Chou state seeking hegemony
within the Chou community, but the same principle could also be invoked
to limit the ambition of the stronger states.
When raison d™©tat required that this principle be violated, however,
Central States were ready to attack the relatives of the royal house, and
they by no means shunned alliances with those allegedly outside the family,
such as the Jung and the Ti. For instance, in 640 b.c. the state of Ch™i and
the Ti concluded a treaty in Hsing forming a political alliance to help Hsing
against Wey. Even more shocking, in 636 b.c. the Chou king attacked the
state of Cheng with the help of the Ti. This was the context for another
famous statement concerning the cultural differences between the Ti and
the Chou community.
Those whose ears cannot hear the harmony of the ¬ve sounds are deaf; those
whose eyes cannot distinguish among the ¬ve colors are blind; those whose

Ch™un-ch™iu Ku-liang chuan chin-chu chin-yi, ed. Hsüeh An-chih (Taipei: Taiwan
Shang-wu, 1994), p. 257.
Tso-chuan chu (Hsi 25), p. 434 (Legge, The Ch™un Ts™ew, p. 196).


minds do not conform to the standards of virtue and righteousness are per-
verse; those whose mouths do not speak words of loyalty and faith are foolish
chatterers. The Ti conform to these four evils.14
These words are attributed to Fu Ch™en, a minister who opposed the pro-
Ti policy of the Chou king. However, Fu Ch™en™s eloquent protest remained
unheeded. Not only did the king send the Ti to attack Cheng, he even
offered to marry the daughter of the Ti prince. Fu Ch™en remonstrated
again, this time claiming that the Ti were greedy and could never be satis-
¬ed and that marrying a Ti woman would be the king™s ruin. Once again,
the king ignored this Cassandra. Yet shortly afterward Fu™s prediction came
true when a coup in which the Ti gave military support to enemy faction
forced the king to ¬‚ee. This political drama, however, was an internal one
at the Chou court, with the Ti playing the role of extras, eventually being
manipulated by one court faction against another. We do not know what
happened to Fu Ch™en.15
Fu Ch™en™s disparaging depiction of the Ti was far from being a simple
statement remarking on the cultural gap between Hua and Ti. Instead, it
illustrates above all a locus classicus of Chinese history: the struggle
between the inner and outer courts, that is, between the faction of the king™s
family, especially his various wives and concubines, and the faction of the
ministers. Fu Ch™en represents the minister who dutifully tries to oppose
the evil schemes of the inner court and protect a king who has allegedly
been manipulated by a faction with foreign ties.
If we were to strip this political layer from Fu Ch™en™s statement about
the barbarity of the Ti, and consider it only in its “cultural” dimension, we
could still legitimately argue that Fu Ch™en™s ideas of cultural purity were
not necessarily shared by other Chou people, including the king. We are
left, then, with a perception of “difference” between Chou and non-Chou
that some Chinese used for political purposes. Although I do not wish to
deny the existence of differences, Fu Ch™en™s statement cannot be presented
as evidence of deep cultural cleavage between Chou and non-Chou, and
that, by inference, the Chou states were already fully conscious of their own
cultural cohesion.
Doubts about the reality of hard-and-fast cultural boundaries between
the Chou community of states and the foreigners are also raised by the Ku-
liang and the Kung-yang commentaries to the Ch™un Ch™iu. More than other

Tso-chuan chu (Hsi 24), p. 425 (Legge, The Ch™un Ts™ew, p. 192).
The Tso-chuan seems to indicate that he was captured or even perished. Accord-
ing to Andr© d™Hormon™s translation of the same story in the Kuo yü, however,
he “brought death” to the Ti, that is, he attacked and killed them. Note that
Chavannes translates the same passage: “he went to die (¬ghting against) the Ti.”
See Guoyu, p. 200, and p. 208, n. 70.


sources, these commentaries re¬‚ect the view of an unbridgeable gap
between the Chou states and foreigners. Statements about this gap have
been presented as evidence of a closed system of interstate relations during
the early Eastern Chou that excluded foreign peoples.16 It should be noted,
however, that the Ku-liang and the Kung-yang commentaries re¬‚ect ethical
positions that were held much later than the events they comment on; this
consideration in itself seriously dents the argument that such a sharp cul-
tural differentiation existed during the Spring and Autumn period. What is
interesting in addition, however, is that these commentaries introduce a cat-
egory for referring to non-Chou peoples that is not found in the Tso-chuan,
that is, the binome “Yi-Ti.” In its most general sense, this term appears to
be close to “barbarian,” a word we often use in English, with considerable
imprecision, to translate any item of the large inventory of Chinese names
for foreign peoples.17 Indeed, in the Ku-liang tradition, the Yi-Ti were those
people who inhabited the reverse side of virtue and morality, to the point
that it was even acceptable to punish them without paying overmuch atten-
tion to the rules of propriety otherwise supposed to regulate interstate rela-
tions: “As for Yi and Ti, one does not speak of right or wrong.”18 But who
exactly were the Yi-Ti? The name itself obviously points to foreigners, but
it is clear that the category could also be applied to states normally regarded
as part of the Chou political and cultural system. The states of Chin, Ch™u,
and Wu were all branded at one time or another as Yi-Ti because of their
violation of accepted norms.
In the commentary following the record of Chin™s attack against the
Hsien-yü and the state of Fei (both of them “barbarians” of the White Ti
confederation) of 530 b.c., the Ku-liang says that Chin is like the Yi-Ti
because Chin joined them in waging war against the Central States.19 This
statement probably refers to the war between Chin and Chou three years
earlier (533 b.c.) in which Chin had employed the Yin Jung “ that is, a
certain group of foreign peoples, who cannot be identi¬ed more precisely
“ to lay siege to the Chou city of Ying. Chin™s use of foreign troops was
criticized by the representative of the Chou House, who insisted that Chin
would have been to blame if the Jung had been allowed to enter the Central
States, arguing further that, once that had happened, the land that the
ancestors had divided up and cultivated would have been abandoned to the

Chen Shih-tsai, “Equality of States in Ancient China,” American Journal of Inter-
national Law 35 (1941): 641“50.
See, for instance, Hsiao Kung-Chuan, A History of Chinese Political Thought,
vol. 1: From the Beginnings to the Sixth Century A.D., trans. F. W. Mote (Prince-
ton: Princeton University Press, 1979), pp. 137, 142.
Ch™un-ch™iu Ku-liang chuan, p. 288.
Ch™un-ch™iu Ku-liang chuan, p. 571. Note that according to the commentator, the
appellation Yi-Ti refers to the state of Ch™u.

Jung, who would then be in a position to “administer them.”20 The Chou
king™s remonstrance continues: “I [the king] am to the uncle [ruler of Chin]
as the crown or cap to all other garments, like the root or the spring to the
tree and the river, like the ministers to the common people. If the uncle
breaks the cap and destroys the crown, tears up the roots and blocks the
spring, and arbitrarily casts the ministers away, then how will the Jung and
the Ti have me (as ruler)?”21
By denying the existence of a hierarchy that subordinated the feudal
states to the Chou House, Chin was implicitly questioning that a political
center could exist at all. Yet if there were no political center anarchy would
ensue, and the Jung and the Ti would naturally gain an advantage. In
other words, the action of Chin de facto weakened the Central States,
strengthening foreign forces and potentially enabling them to eventually
gobble up the whole of China. In this sense, Chin™s behavior indeed was
no different than that of the Jung and the Ti. However, this parallel is
purely political, not cultural. In the Ku-liang passage, the principle that
separates the Central States and the Yin Jung depends on the acceptance
or rejection of a certain political order. The expansionist policies of the
Chou states required that the Jung and Ti be brought within the Chinese
political arena, either as subjects or as allies. But if the consequences of
the Jung and Ti™s involvement were perceived as threatening or as dam-
aging to the political order, then those responsible for their involvement,
such as Chin in the example just mentioned, would be regarded as just
like the Jung and Ti. In theory at least, the states could not subordinate
the security of the Chou order to self-serving opportunism. Hence the
laconic statement of the Ku-liang referring to Chin, in 530 b.c., as a Yi-Ti
Chin was not the only state to be so branded. Just one year before the
Chin expedition against the Hsien-yü and Fei (i.e., 531 b.c.), the Ch™un
Ch™iu reports that the lord of Ch™u ambushed the viscount of Ts™ai, killing
him, after which the lord™s son laid siege to the capital city of Ts™ai.22 The
Ku-liang refers to the Ch™u ruler as a Yi-Ti, on the grounds that he had
tricked and killed the lord of a Central State.23 Once again, the Ku-liang
places a “Chinese” state in the middle of the Yi-Ti camp. As in the case of
Chin, Ch™u was in violation of accepted norms through its act of treachery
against the Chou state.
The state of Wu also gained an equally bad reputation. In its case, the
epithet “Yi-Ti” was based on parameters that were more cultural than polit-
ical. Thus Ku-liang contends: “The state of Wu is Yi-Ti. Its people shave

Tso-chuan chu (Chao 9), p. 1309, notes that the Jung used the land for pasture.
I do not see how this can be inferred from the text.
Tso-chuan chu (Chao 9), p. 1309 (cf. Legge, The Ch™un Ts™ew, p. 625).
Tso-chuan chu (Chao 11), p. 1321. 23 Ch™un-ch™iu Ku-liang chuan, p. 566.


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