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Origins of Minority Ethnic Groups in Heilongjiang

From the Shang and Zhou dynasties (1600 B.C.-900 A.D.) the ancestral forefathers in Heilongjiang gradually formed three major ethnic groups, namely the Sushen, Weimo, and Donghu. The Donghu included the Xianbei, Shiwei, Qidan, and Mongolian in the west; the Weimo included the Suoli, Fuyu, and Doumo in the center; and the Sushen included the Yilou, Wuji, Mohe, and Nüzhen in the east. The minority ethnic groups of Heilongjiang were mostly people on horseback hunting with bows and arrows, people fishing and trapping martens, and they had a long and rich history.

 

Xianbei People and Gaxian Cave

 

The Donghu is an ancient tribe in the western part of Heilongjiang, one of the three major tribes as well as a complicated alliance of tribes. The Donghu gradually evolved to include the Beixian, Shiwei, Qidan, and Mongol.

 

"Dong" means east while "Hu" refers to the people in Mongolia who used the Dawoer language. The Book of Han called them "proud sons of heaven." The Xianbei people, descendants of a branch of the Donghu people, once established the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) along the Yellow River region.

 

During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-746 B.C.), the Xiongnu, another minority ethnic group, marched into Heilongjiang and defeated the King of Donghu. The tribes broke apart and some fled back to Greater Xing'an Mountain (Greater Xianbei Mountain at that time) and joined with a branch of the Donghu there, and named the Xianbei. The north branch of this group was called the Tuoba Xianbei (Xianbei meaning the father side, while the mother side was Hu). The Xianbei originated in Gaxian Cave on the northern ridge of Greater Xing'an Mountain. During the Qin (221-206 B.C.) and Han (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) dynasties, the Xianbei people left the dense forest to move onto the plains in the south. By 386 B.C., they had established the Wei State (Northern Wei Dynasty); later they unified the Yellow River region and set up their capital at Luoyang.

 

Gaxian Cave, the ancestral stone cave of Tuoba Xianbei people, is situated ten kilometers northwest of today's Alihe Town in Elunchun County of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The entrance to this cave is of triangle shape, and the cave is 100 meters long, 20 meters wide, and 20 meters high. It could house several hundred people. On one of the stone walls was carved a eulogy by Li Chang, a minister of the Northern Wei Dynasty. Under the reign of the Taiwu Emperor of the Northern Wei Dynasty in 443, Duke Wuluo sent his envoy to report to the Emperor, saying that the forefather of Northern Wei Dynasty once lived in an "ancestral stone temple" in the northwest and the place was well preserved. Pleased to learn of this, Emperor Taiwu, in order to express his memory of the ancestor, immediately sent Li Chang as an envoy to pay homage to their ancestor. Li Chang and his party traveled thousands of kilometers to the stone cave. After a memorial ceremony, Li Chang carved the eulogy on the stone wall, cut birch wood to set up a fence, and put animals therein to be used for sacrifices.

 

The Xianbei people who came out of the Gaxian Cave were a staunch people who freed themselves from the closed enclave and migrated to the vast plain. The Xianbei people made important contributions to the unification and harmony of the Chinese nation, even though they never developed their own written language.

 

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