An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Tuyuhun 吐谷渾

Feb 9, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

The Tuyuhun 吐谷渾 (a special pronunciation instead of Tuguhun) were a nomad people of proto-Mongolian stock living in the region of modern Qinghai, Gansu and northwest Sichuan between the 4th and the 7th century CE. According to Chinese historiography, the founder of their state, a certain Tuyuhun, was an older brother of Murong Hui 慕容廆 (r. r. 307-334), ruler of the Former Yan empire 前燕 (337-370), one of the Sixteen Barbarian States 五胡十六國 (300~430). This state was founded by a family of the Xianbei 鮮卑 people.

Tuyuhun was the leader of around one thousand families that migrated from China's northeast to the Yinshan Range 陰山, north of the great bend of the Yellow River. In the early 4th century they migrated on to the region of Longxi 隴西 and arrived at Baohan 罕 (modern Linxia 臨夏, Gansu), where they united the natives of the Qiang 羌 and Di 氐 peoples to a mighty federation that controlled the whole region. The name Tuyuhun became the name of the ruling family, and than the name of the whole federation and its state.

The Southern Dynasties called this state the country of Henan 河南國 ("south of the River") because they lived south of the upper course of the Yellow River. Northwestern sources call them A-chai-lu 阿柴虜 or Ye-lu 野虜, which were both derogatory terms. The kingdom of Tubo 吐蕃 (Tibet) used the term A-zha. The remnant tribes of the Tuyuhun federation were in the 9th century called Tuihun 退渾 or Tuhun 吐渾. Most of the Tuyuhun lived of pastoral nomadism and were famous for their excellent horsebreeding skills. Yet some parts also cultivated barley, millet, beans and buckwheat. The region where the Tuyuhun lived also produced a lot of copper and iron ores, as well as cinnabar. The Yuyuhun lived in felt yurts, but later also built houses.

In the late 4th century the Tuyuhun delivered tributes to the court of the Western Qin empire 西秦 (385-431), later to the Northern Wei 北魏 (386-534), who had conquered the north of China, but then also to the courts of the Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420~589). Because the Tuyuhun occupied the western part of the Silk Road, which was the only way leading from China to Central Asia, all Chinese dynasties, but also private merchants and Buddhist monks, were highly interested that the Tuyuhun allowed passing their territory. They also had intimate contact to the steppe federations of the Turkish Gaoche 高車 and the Rourans 柔然.

In the mid-6th century the leader of the Tuyuhun federation, Kua-lü 夸呂 (r. 535-591), adopted the title of khan, and founded a residence at Fuqi 伏俟城. He declared his vassalship to the Eastern Wei 東魏 (534-550) and Northern Qi 北齊 (550-577), two of successor states of the Northern Wei. It is interesting to see that both ruled over the eastern part of north China, while the western part was occupied by other states. The Eastern Wei and Northern Qi so probably tried to sandwhich their opponents, the Western Wei 西魏 (535-556) and Northern Zhou 北周 (557-581).

When the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) finally reunited China, Shi-fu Khan 世伏 (r. 591-603) asked to be allowed marrying a Chinese princess according to the old system of "peace by marriage" (heqin 和親). In 591 Princess Guanghua 光化公主 was sent to the land of the Tuyuhun. Yet in 609 the Sui undertook a military campaign against the Tuyuhun and conquered their territory, where they founded the commanderies (jun 郡) of Xihai 西海, Heyuan 河源, Shanshan 鄯善 and Qiemo 且末. When the Sui empire disintegrated, the Tuyuhun won suzerainty again.

The Tuyuhun constantly raided the Chinese border regions, so that Taizong 唐太宗 (r. 626-649), emperor of the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907), in 635 ordered general Li Jing 李靖 to punish Fu-yun Khan 伏允 (r. 603-635). During the war Fuyun Khan was assassinated by Tuyuhun nobles, and therefore the Tang granted his adoptive son Murong Shun 慕容順 (r. 635) the title of khan, yet Murong Shun soon found resistance, too, was killed, and then succeeded by his son Nuo-he-bo 諾曷鉢 (r. 635-688). Murong Nuo-he-bo was accepted by the Tang court and even given Princess Honghua 弘化公主 as one of his wives.

In 663 the kingdom of Tubo (Tibet) conquered the land of the Tuyuhun, and Nuohebo fled to the prefecture of Liangzhou 涼州 with his remaining troops. The Tang court resettled his people in 672 to Lingzhou 靈州 and especially founded the prefecture of Anle 安樂 (modern Zhongning 中寧, Ningxia), in order to control the people of the Tuyuhun. The people that had remained in the former territory gradually expanded to the east, and the Tuyuhun of Anle likewise did not stay in this place and moved into the provinces of Shuofang 朔方(modern Inner Mongolia) and Hedong 河東 (modern Shanxi). During the 9th century these groups of Tuyuhun were headed by a chieftain called Helian Duo 赫連鐸. A 10th century chieftain was called Bai Chengfu 白承福. At that time many tribes of these "Northern Tuhun" 北吐渾 were incorporated into the federation of the Khitans 契丹 that would eventually found the Liao dynasty 遼 (907-1125) and conquer northern China. Those of the Tuyuhun that had remained in the ancient lands, are believed to be ancestors of the modern national minority of the Tu 土族.

Table 1. "Khans" of the Tuyuhun 吐谷渾 300-688
Tu-yu-hun 吐谷渾 * (d. 317)
Tu-yan 吐延 (r. 317-329)
Ye-yan 葉延 (r. 329-351)
Sui-xi 碎奚 (r. 351-371?)
Shi-lian 視連 (r. 371?-390)
Shi-pi 視羆 (r. 390-400)
Wu-he-ti 烏紇提 (r. 400-405)
Shu-luo-gan 樹洛干 (r. 405-417)
A-chai 阿豺 (阿柴) (r. 417-424/426)
Mu-gui 慕璝 (r. 424/426-436)
Mu-li-yan 慕利延 (r. 436-452)
Shi-yin 拾寅 (r. 452-481)
Du-yi-hou 度易侯 (r. 481-490)
Fu-lian-chou 伏連籌 (r. 490-529)
He-luo-zhen 呵羅真 (r. 529-530)
Fo-fu 佛輔 (r. 530-534)
Ke-ta-zhen 可沓振 (r. 534-535)
Kua-lü 夸呂 (r. 535-591)
Shi-fu 世伏 (r. 591-603)
Fu-yun 伏允 (r. 603-635)
Murong Shun 慕容順 (r. 635)
Nuo-he-bo 諾曷鉢 (r. 635-663; d. 688)
* hyphens signify Chinese transcription of foreign names
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