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Yue (traditional: or ; simplified: or ; pinyin: Yuè; Wade-Giles: Yüeh4; Zhuang: Vot, Bouxvot; Cantonese: Yuht; Vietnamese: Việt; also seen as Yueh or Yuet) refers to ancient semi-Sinicized or non-Sinicized peoples of southern China, originally those along the eastern coastline of present-day Zhejiang province. In archaic Chinese, a number of characters (越,,鉞) were often used interchangeably to represent the same meaning.

Contents

Origins and ancient usage

In ancient times, the northern Han Chinese referred to the peoples to their south collectively as the Yue. Historian Luo Xianglin has suggested that these peoples shared a common ancestry with the Xia Dynasty. There is little evidence, however, that the Yue peoples held any common identity. Historical texts often refer to the Hundred Yue tribes (Chinese: 百越; pinyin: Bǎi Yuè; Cantonese Yale: Baak Yuht; Vietnamese: Bách Việt). The "Treatise of Geography" in Han Shu notes: "In the seven or eight thousand li from Jiaozhi to Kuaiji (modern southern Jiangsu or northern Zhejiang) the Hundred Yue are everywhere, each with their own clans."

Ethnolinguists have suggested that the pronunciation of Yue may be related to a type of hemp produced in what is now Zhejiang. The character itself is related to the character for "ceremonial axe" (Traditional Chinese: ; Simplified Chinese: ), usually considered a symbol of royal or imperial authority. A number of stone axes have been found in the area of Hangzhou, and there is evidence that the ceremonial axe was a southern invention.

Ancient texts mention a number of Yue peoples. Most of these names survived into early imperial times:

Chinese Hanyu Pinyin Cantonese Yale Vietnamese Notes
句吳/句吴 Gōuwú Geui'ngh Câu Ngô
於越/于越 Yūyuè Yūyuht Ư Việt Major Yue
揚越/扬越 Yángyuè Yèungyuht Dương Việt Ocean Yue
干越 Gānyuè Gonyuht Cán Việt Gan Yue
閩越/闽越 Mǐnyuè Mànyuht Mân Việt River Yue
夜郎 Yèláng Yehlòng Dạ Lang Night Yue
南越 Nányuè Naàhmyuht Nam Việt Southern Yue
東越/东越 Dōngyuè Dōngyuht Đông Việt Eastern Yue
山越 Shānyuè Saānyuht Sơn Việt Mountain Yue
雒越 Luòyuè Lokyuht Lạc Việt Sea Bird Yue
甌越/瓯越 Ōuyuè Āuyuht Âu Việt (East) Valley Yue
西甌 Xī'ōu Sāi'āu Tây Âu West Valley Yue
滇越,盔越 Diānyuè, Kuīyuè Dīnyuht, Kwaīyuht Điền Việt, Khôi Việt Heavenly Yue, Basin Yue

Sinification and displacement

From the Ninth century BC, two northern Yue peoples, the Gou-Wu and Yu-Yue, were increasingly influenced by their Chinese neighbours to their north. These two states were based in the areas of what is now southern Jiangsu and northern Zhejiang respectively. Their aristocratic elite learned the written Chinese language and adopted Chinese political institutions and military technology. Traditional accounts attribute the cultural change to the Grand Earl of Wu (吳太伯), a Zhou prince who had fled to the south. The marshy lands of the south gave Gou-Wu and Yu-Yue unique characteristics. They did not engage in extensive agrarian agriculture, relying instead more heavily on aquaculture. Water transport was paramount in the south, so the two states became advanced in shipbuilding and developed riverine warfare technology. They were also known for their fine swords.

In the Spring and Autumn Period, the two states, now called Wu and Yue, were becoming increasingly involved in Chinese politics. In 512 BC, Wu launched a large expedition against the large state of Chu, based in the Middle Yangtze River. A similar campaign in 506 succeeded in sacking the Chu capital Ying. Also in that year, war broke out between Wu and Yue and continued with breaks for the next three decades. In 473 BC, the Yue king Goujian finally conquered Wu and was acknowledged by the northern states of Qi and Jin. In 333 BC, Yue was in turn conquered by Chu. The Kings of the state of Yue, and therefore its succesor state Minyue, claimed to be descended from Yu the Great of the Chinese Xia dynasty.[1] According to Sima Qian, Wu was founded by Wu Taibo, a brother of zhou wu wang, the King of the Chinese Zhou dynasty.

After the unification of China by Qin Shi Huang, it became incorporated into the Chinese empire. The Qin armies also advanced south along the Xiang River to modern Guangdong and set up commanderies along the main communication routes. Throughout the Han Dynasty period two groups of Yue were identified, that of the Nan-Yue in the far south, who lived mainly in the area of what is now Guangdong, Guangxi, and Vietnam; and that of the Min-Yue who lay to the southeast, centred on the Min River in modern Fujian. The Kings of Minyue claimed to be descended from Yu the Great of the Chinese Xia dynasty.[1]

Sinification of these peoples was brought about by a combination of imperial military power, regular settlement and Chinese refugees. The difficulty of logistics and the malarial climate in the south made the displacement and eventual sinification of the Yue peoples a slow process. When the Chinese came into contact with local Yue peoples, they often wrested control of territory from them or subjugated them by force. When a serious rebellion broke out in 40 AD by the Trung Sisters in what is now modern Vietnam, a force of some 10,000 imperial troops was dispatched under General Ma Yuan. Between 100 and 184 no less than seven outbreaks of violence took place, often calling for strong action by the Chinese.

As Chinese migrants gradually increased, the Yue were gradually forced into poorer land on the hills and in the mountains. Unlike the nomadic peoples of Central Asia, such as the Xiongnu or the Xianbei, however, the Yue peoples never posed any serious threat to Chinese expansion or control. Sometimes they staged small scale raids or attacks on Chinese settlements - termed "rebellions" by traditional historians. The Chinese for their part regarded them as being highly uncivilised and prone to fight one another.

While most Yue peoples were eventually sinicized, the Kam-Tai (Daic): Zhuang, Buyi, Dai, Sui (Shui), Kam (Dong), Hlai(Li), Mulam, Maonan, Ong-Be(Lingao), Thai, Lao, Shan, and Vietnamese people retained their ethnic identities. Some of these peoples also have their own nation-states today. In particular, the Vietnamese people regained independence from Chinese rule in the 10th century and have their own state to this day.

Legacy

The fall of the Han Dynasty and the succeeding period of division sped up the process of sinification. Periods of instability and war in northern China, such as the Northern and Southern Dynasties and during the Song Dynasty led to mass migrations of Chinese.[2] Intermarriage and cross-cultural dialogue has led to a mixture of Chinese and non-Chinese peoples in the south. By the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the term "Yue" had largely become a regional designation rather than a cultural one. A state in modern Zhejiang province during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, for example, called itself "Wu-Yue". Likewise, the "Viet" in "Vietnam" (literally, "Viet South") is a cognate of the "Yue".

The impact of Yue culture on Chinese culture has not been determined authoritatively but it is clear that it is significant. The languages of the ancient states of Wu and Yue had significant influence on the modern Wu language and to some extent of the Min languages of Fujian. Linguistic anthropologists have also determined that a number of Chinese words can be traced to ancient Yue words. An example is the word "kɔ:ŋ" (江), meaning river. To some extent, some remnants of the Yue peoples and their culture can also be seen in some minority groups of China and in Vietnam.

Modern usage

In modern Chinese, the characters of "越" and "粵" (both yuè) are differentiated. The former is used to refer to the original territory of the Yue Kingdom, the area of what is now northern Zhejiang, southern Jiangsu, and Shanghai, especially the areas around Shaoxing and Ningbo. The opera of Zhejiang, for example, is called "Yue Opera" (yueju, 越劇). The first character "越" is also associated with Vietnam. The second character "粵" (yuè) is associated with the southern province of Guangdong. Popularly called "Cantonese", both the standard form and regional dialects of the Yue language (粵語) are spoken in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, Macau and in many Cantonese communities around the world.

See also

References

  1. ^ a b The State of Yue
  2. ^ A History of Chinese Civilization (second Edition), by Jacques Gernet ISBN 0-521-49781-7

External links

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