The most striking thing I’ve found about the prehistory of Yanqing County is the Shanrong people (山戎æ—?). The Shanrong are mentioned in every Chinese article I’ve come across on the subject, but I can not find any mention of them in any non-Chinese source. So who were the Shanrong people? According to Baidu Baike, they are:



å?¤ä»£åŒ—方民æ—?å??,å?ˆç§° 北戎 , 匈奴 的一支。活动地区在今 河北çœ? 北部。è§?《春秋·庄公三å??年》ã€?《汉书·匈奴传上》。å?Žäº¦ä¸ºåŒ—方少数民æ—?的泛称。

Shanrong People
Ancient northern ethnic group’s name, also called Beirong, a branch of the Xiongnu/Huns. Active in the northern part of modern Hebei Province. See 《春秋·庄公三å??年》ã€?《汉书·匈奴传上》 [I’m not going to try translating the names of these books. Presumably they already have standard English names] Later also a general term for ethnic minorities of the north.

Well, that’s all very vague. Wikipedia, like all the non-Chinese sources I’ve come across, makes no mention of the Shanrong, as I already said, but does mention other prehistoric cultures found in southeastern Inner Mongolia, northern Hebei, and western Liaoning. I suspect these may be relevant to figuring out who the Shanrong are from a Western point of view because it would seem that historically Yanqing has been more closely linked to that area than to downtown Beijing. It should also be noted that Baidu Baike identifies the Shanrong as a branch of the Xiongnu, who are commonly associated with the Huns, although Wikipedia seems to cast some doubt on that.

I’ll start with the other prehistoric cultures occupying the area of southeastern Inner Mongolia, northern Hebei and western Liaoning:

  1. Lower Xiajiadian Culture/å¤?家店下层文化 2200 – 1600 BC.
  2. Upper Xiajiadian Culture/�家店上层文化 1000- 600 BC.

One could perhaps also add the older Hongshan Culture/红山文化 of 4700 – 2900 BC. But none of this tells us anything about the Shanrong exactly. All it does is perhaps provide some possible antecedents to the Shanrong. And then there is absolutely no guaruntee. The wikipedia article on the Xiongnu, of whom the Shanrong are supposed to be a branch, tells us:

The Xiongnu (Chinese: 匈奴; Pinyin: XiÅ?ngnú; Wade-Giles: Hsiung-nu); were a nomadic people from Central Asia, generally based in present day Mongolia and China. From the 3rd century BC they controlled a vast steppe empire extending west as far as the Caucasus. They were active in the areas of southern Siberia, western Manchuria and the modern Chinese provinces of Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Xinjiang. Very ancient (perhaps legendary) historic Chinese records say that the Xiongnu descended from a son of the final ruler of China‘s first dynasty (Xia Dynasty), the remnants of which were believed by the Chinese of the Spring and Autumn Period to be the people of the state of QÇ? (æ?ž). However, due to internal differences and strife, the Xiongnu fled north and north-west.

Ah, right. “Western Manchuria”, but no mention of northern Hebei let alone Yanqing. Also note that it says ancient, perhaps legendary records said that the Xiongnu were descended from a son of the final ruler of the Xia dynasty, and that the Chinese of the Spring and Autumn period believed the remnants of the Xia were the people of the state of Qi/æ?ž who, “due to internal differences and strife”, fled to the north and west.


Here’s what wikipedia has to say about the Qi:

Qi (Chinese: æ?ž QÇ?) was a minor feudal state that appeared in Chinese history from the beginning of the Shang Dynasty (16th c. BCE) until the Warring States Period circa 445 BCE.

The state of Qi was said to have been founded when the first king of the Shang Dynasty enfeoffed the direct descendants of the royal family of the deposed Xia Dynasty in the area that is now Qi County in Kaifeng, eastern Henan. The state of Qi gradually moved eastward to the area of Xintai in Shandong Province until it was finally destroyed by King Hui of Chu. One of these progeny of the Xia Dynasty, Chunwei, was supposed to have become the king of the Xiongnu in later Chinese history.

The state of Qi was apparently very small in scale, as it is rarely mentioned in ancient Chinese documents except to say that “its affairs are not worth mentioning.” It is perhaps best known as the inspiration for a popular Chinese idiom, æ?žäººæ†‚天 qÇ? rén yÅ?u tiÄ?n (literally, “Qi people lament heaven” or “the people of Qi worry about the sky”), which is said to refer to the fact that the people of Qi often talked anxiously about the sky falling down on their heads. The idiom is used when mocking a person’s needless anxiety over an impossible, inconsequential, or inevitable matter.

Not a lot of information. But key to my little study here is that they, or at least the rulers, were apparently direct descendents of the royal family of Xia, and that one of them, Chunwei, is supposed to have become the king of the Xiongnu.

Now this is very, very confusing. A descendant of Xia becomes king of the Xiongnu. A descendant of the presumably Sinitic Xia becomes king of the apparently Altaic Xiongnu. Or, as wikipedia puts it:

The original geographic location of Xiongnu is generally placed at the Ordos. According to Sima Qian, the Xiongnu were descendants of Chunwei (淳維), possibly a son of Jie, the final ruler of the Xia Dynasty. However, while there is no direct evidence contradicting this theory, there is no direct evidence supporting it either.

So I’m going with Chunwei as ancestor of the Xiongnu as a convenient little myth.

But wait- why “apparently Altaic Xiongnu”? It seems that some scholars have linked the Xiongnu language to the Yeniseian languages. A couple of interesting quotations from that article on the Yeniseian languages:

“Attempts have been made by Russian scholars to establish a relationship with Burushaski or the Sino-Tibetan languages, and Yeniseian frequently forms part of the Dene-Caucasian hypothesis or variants thereof.”


“The Yeniseian languages have been described as having up to four tones or no tones at all. The ‘tones’ are concomitant with glottalization, vowel length, and breathy voice, not unlike the situation reconstructed for Old Chinese before the development of true tones in Chinese. The Yeniseian languages have highly elaborate verbal morphology, to an extreme found elsewhere in Eurasia only in Burushaski and, to a lesser extent, in Basque and the Languages of the Caucasus. (All of these languages are ergative as well.)”

I will not attempt to speculate on the reliability of the wikipedia article or the quality of the scholarship that linked up all these widely scattered languages. But it is interesting to see a potential link between the Xiongnu and Sino-Tibetan languages and apparent similarities in the tones of the Yeniseian languages and Old Chinese. But just to keep the waters nicely muddied, try this from the article on the Xiongnu:

Recent genetics research dated 2003[4] confirms the studies[5] indicating that the Turkic peoples,[6] originated from the same area and therefore are possibly related.

As archaeological indicate, petroglyph sites in Yinshan and Helanshan dated from the 9th millennium BC to 19th century had been discoverd, the rock art of the Yinshan and Helanshan consists mainly of engraved signs (petroglyphs) and only minimally of painted images.[7] Through gathered data, scholar like Ma Liqing had make a comparison between the petroglyphs (which he presumed to be the sole extant of possible Xiongnu’s writings), and the Orkhon script (the earliest known Turkic alphabet) recently, and argued a new connection between both of them.[8]

But this is all a wild goose chase so far. Let’s get back to what I can establish:

Basically all I’ve found of prehistoric Yanqing is the Shanrong people, who were a branch of the Xiongnu. That’s all I can say with any certainty. So what can I find about the Shanrong? Well, for that I have to turn to Chinese sources, many of which must be translated. As an example to show just how pathetically unhelpful non-Chinese sources are, the closest I can find to a mention of the Shanrong people in wikipedia is this from the article on the State of Yan:

The borders of the Yan were approximately in a horizontal shape, stretching from the mountains of Shanxi Province to the Liaodong Peninsula. As the most northeastern of all the Chinese states during this time period, it suffered several invasions from Mongolia. The border states of Zhao and Qi were its main enemies. The mountainous border in the west between the Zhao and the Yan became the area in which the armies belonging to the two kingdoms often clashed. Despite this, the war between the Zhao and the Yan usually dragged on into a stalemate, requiring the help of other kingdoms to conclude.

The key sentence: “As the most northeastern of all the Chinese states during this time period, it suffered several invasions from Mongolia.”

We’ll start with this:

Remains of Shanrong in the Beijing area during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods has been found to focus on the north mountainous area �Cthe area located in the Jundu Hill, north of Badaling in Yanqing County.

From August,1985 to december,1987, the operators of cultural relics from Beijing disinhumed more than five hundreds tombs of Shanrong during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods in the three places of Yuhuangmiao, Guchengcun and Hulugou in Yanqing county and more than eight thousand Shanrong-distinctive relics of variety came to light. These remains and the relics play an important role in the historical research of Shanrong in the Beijing area.

Well, the English is less than ideal, but we have them placed in Yanqing county during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, 770 – 221 BC. This would seem to give us some overlap with the Upper Xiajiadian Culture (1000 – 600 BC), although that’s hardly proof of anything. Trying to stick with the facts, remember that.

Trouble is, even though all the sources that mention the Shanrong people are Chinese, even searching in Chinese for information on the Shanrong people is, well, frustrating. To say the least. I’ve found a few articles and some pretty cool pictures, but all in Chinese. Well, the pictures are in regular picture form, don’t worry about that, but the articles will need some translating.

Getting tired, running low on energy, certain frustrations this afternoon on top of all the trouble of trying to make sense of prehistoric northern China have left me drained.  I’m just going to post what I’ve got here and try to make some sense of these Shanrong people tomorrow.

2 Responses to “prehistoric Yanqing? Wild goose chase, more like.”

  1. John Says:

    As far as I’ve ever been aware, the only thing really known about the Huns is that they came out of Central Asia.

    Apart from personal names, I didn’t think that there were any extant instances of their language, which could be one of any of that great and messy Central Asian Sprachbund. I’d also think that any putative linguistic data would be difficult to interpret accurately. Too much danger of a priori expectations.

    As for the most famous Hun of the lot – Attila – I believe his name’s Germanic and means “little father”.

  2. wangbo Says:

    So far as I could work out, only 20-odd Altaic-looking words and one sentence have survived of the Xiongnu language. Not a hell of a lot of data to work with. And when I read of one linguist trying to link Xiongnu up with Dene, I smelled a big, stinky rat. How the hell does North America get to poke its ugly nose in here? Some of that was a bit far fetched, especially considering how little data there is to work with and apparently that’s all been filtered through ancient Chinese records. A Sinitic link, if not genetic then at least historical and cultural, makes sense, as does Altaic if we stick with the regular Altaic and don’t go off on these wacky theories. The rest? Who knows.