An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Jie 羯

Dec 31, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald

Jie 羯 is a collective term for miscellaneous Non-Chinese tribes living in the western parts of the Wei 曹魏 (220-265) and Jin 晉 (265-420) empires in the 3rd and 4th centuries. They were also known as Western Jie 西羯 or Jie-Hu 羯胡. The name Jie itself was first used during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) and continued being used for northern peoples until the Sui period 隋 (581-618). The Jie founded one of the Sixteen Barbarian states 五胡十六國 (300~430), namely the Later Zhao empire 後趙 (319-350).

The ethnic affiliation of the Jie is unknown. Some sources say that they were descendants of the Tokharians (Yuezhi 月氏), while others say that they were offsprings of the Xiongnu 匈奴. The first theory would mean that they were an Indo-Iranian people, while the Xiongnu theory is of no great help because it is not known who the Xiongnu really were. The problem is that all federations of steppe peoples included tribes of very different ethnic and linguistic origins, so that they were always a mixture of various peoples. According to historical sources, the appearance of the Jie was rather Indo-European, with deep eye-sockets, high noses, and dense beards. These observations speak for the Tokharian theory.

The Jie emerged from the khanate of the Southern Xiongnu, nineteen tribes of which migrated into the western provinces of the Jin empire in the late 3rd century, among them the Lijie 力羯 and Qiangqu 羌渠 (these actually being Tanguts 黨項). They settles in the northern parts of modern Shanxi and Hebei, and in Shaanxi. The name Jie might be derived from a village called Jieshi 羯室 in Wuxiang 武鄉, commandery Shangdang 上黨 (modern Yushe 榆社, Shanxi).

The Jie lived scattered among the Chinese population and often became slaves of the Chinese magnates, working on their large estates. Many of them were adherents of the religion of Manicheism and cremated the corpses of their death. Typical family names of the Jie were Shi 石, Zhi 支, Kang 康 or Bai 白. In 305 the Jie chieftain Shi Le 石勒 rose in rebellion against the Jin dynasty and founded the Later Zhao empire. Half a century later Ran Min 冉閔, an adoptive son of the Jie ruler, killed the princes Shi Jian 石鑑 and Shi Zhi 石祗 and massacred more than 20,000 Jie or people looking like Non-Chinese "barbarians". The rest of the Jie from thereon merged with the Chinese majority.

Cai Ling 蔡玲 (1998). "Jie 羯", in Zhang Dainian 張岱年, ed. Zhongguo wenshi baike 中國文史百科 (Hangzhou: Zhejiang renmin chubanshe), Vol. 1, 63.
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Liu Xianzhao 劉先照 (1992). "Jie 羯", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Minzu 民族 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 206.
Yang Qingzhen 楊慶鎮 (1993). "Jie 羯", in Shi Quanchang 石泉長, ed. Zhonghua baike yaolan 中華百科要覽 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 43.
Zhou Weizhou 周偉洲 (1992). "Jie 羯", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 447.
Zhou Weizhou 周偉洲, Ding Jingtai 丁景泰, ed. (2006). Sichou zhi lu da cidian 絲綢之路大辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 365.