Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Nanman: the Lost Tribe of South China DOCUMENTARY

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The ancient history of China is told almost exclusively from the perspective of the Han

Chinese people, whose high culture dominated the middle Kingdoms early dynastic history.

However, this land has always been culturally diverse, especially in the subtropical lands

south of the Yangtze.

Long before the arrival of Chinese civilization, this megaregion was inhabited by a forgotten

spectrum of non-Chinese seafarers, painted warriors, and jungle-dwelling animists.

It is their story we will tell today.

Welcome to our video on the Nanman and Hundred Yue, the forgotten natives of Southern China.

Todays video is sponsored by our friends at Creative Assembly, who asked us to talk

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Visit the jungles around Southern China and with it, the fearsome tribes of the Nanman!

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Chinese culture began in the fertile basin of the Yellow River with the early dynasties

of the Shang and Zhou - the originators of many pillars of Chinese culture.

During this time, anyone who lived outside this cultural sphere was considered a barbarian.

The Zhou designated four main groups: The Dongyi were the Eastern Barbarians who lived

around the Korean Peninsula.

The Xirong were the Western Barbarians who lived around modern day Gansu Province and


The Beidi were the Northern Barbarians, predecessors of the nomads with whom China would do battle

with for millenia.

Finally, south of the Yangtze river, in lands we now consider the heartland of modern China,

dwelt the Nanman, literally: “Southern Barbarians”.

In time, they would also be calledBaiyue”, meaning theHundred Tribes of Yue”.

Inhabiting a vast territory stretching between modern day Shanghai and central Vietnam, these

so-calledhundred tribesof the south had languages, customs and religions considered

utterly foreign to the Chinese of the central plain.

The Archaeological record shows that as early as the 5th millennium BC, the ancestors of

the Baiyue peoples had already formed sedentary communities along the Yangtze and Pearl river


They cultivated wet rice, raised water buffalo, and lived in distinctive houses balanced off

the swampy ground on high stilt posts.

Around 4500 years later, during the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history, the

so-called southern barbarians had developed two powerful Kingdoms, known to the Chinese

as Wu and Yue.

These two Kingdoms were bitter rivals, but the Chinese states to their north considered

them equally foreign, and culturally indistinguishable.

In 482BC, the state of Yue launched a successful military campaign against Wu, conquering its

long time rival and consolidating itself into a huge Kingdom that marked the political zenith

ofsouthern Barbarianpower.

Meanwhile, other powerful confederations of Yue tribes existed outside of this realm,

such as the Luoyue and Ouyue, known also as the Au Viet, and Lac Viet.

In case youre wondering, no, the titleVietis not a coincidence, and we will

get to that in a moment.

For now, let us try to present a coherent picture of the Baiyue culture and lifestyle.

Granted, this is an inherently problematic endeavor.

This is because there are little to no records written by the peoples in question which survive

to this day.

This makes us reliant on the outside perspective of ancient Chinese chroniclers, who used the

exonymHundred Yueto group together many different southern tribes with differing

languages and customs.

Therefore, bear in mind that as we move forward, we are at best describing broad commonalities

between a spectrum of peoples with much internal diversity among them.

According to the Zhan Gou Ce, the ancient Baiyue peoples kept their hair short, tattooed

their face and bodies, blackened their teeth, and wore hats made out of fish skin.

This is corroborated by Sima Qian, who also described the Yue as short haired and tattooed,

further adding that they wore clothing made out of plant fibre and tree bark, and lived

in small communities amidst bamboo groves.

These details were likely highlighted to emphasize the Yues supposed barbarisms compared to

the Chinese, who considered their long bound up hair, unblemished skin, silk robes, and

urbanized lifestyle to be the hallmark of civilization.

Indeed, later Han sources claimed the Yue peoples had a language that was likeanimal

shrieking”, and bore a culture that lacked all forms of basic morals and modesty.

Surviving fragments of Yue religion seem to suggest that they practiced animism.

Sima Qian implies that they had prophets that read divinations from chicken bones.

Snakes appeared to have some form of spiritual importance.

Archaeological records show serpentine patterns appearing on ancient pottery, bronze drums,

swords, and tools across ancestral Yue territory.

The dragon also appeared to be very important in religious and cultural contexts, and was

a sign of power and nobility.

One thing common to many of the Hundred Yue was seafaring, as the coastal peoples of the

south were renowned ship-builders.

Their naval prowess made them the envy of the Chinese Kings of the warring states period.

In the Chinese literature of this time, Yue peoples are mentioned whenever the story involves

a skillful sailor, or cunning swimmer.

The southern barbarians were synonymous with the sea.

This made the Yue prominent merchants, as their ocean-going vessels established trade

networks across much of southeast Asia, peddling luxury goods .

The most notable aspect of Yue culture was their metallurgy.

Blades made by Yue smiths were extremely valued in the royal courts of the Chinese warring

states, and were said to be imbued with the talismanic powers of dragons and other mythical

aquatic spirits.

The most famous of these is the Sword of King Goujian, a 2500 year old blade which even

today remains remarkably sharp, a testament to Baiyue craftsmanship.

Perhaps the most interesting but controversial aspect of the Baiyue peoples are the ancestral

ties that they may have had with many modern populations in South-East Asia.

The most prominent of these connections lie in the country of Vietnam.

Vietnamese literary tradition asserts that the origin of their nation is somewhat tied

to the Yue.

A 14th century anthology, the Lĩnh Nam chích quái, tells the following tale: Sometime

around the 3rd millennium BC, there lived a great King known as Lc Long Quân, who

descended from a mighty sea dragon.

He fell in love with a mystical fairy Princess known as Âu Cơ, who bore him an egg sac

that spawned 100 children.

These hundred children became the forebears of the Hundred Yue peoples, a branch of which,

the aforementioned Luoyue, or Lac Viet, are the ones considered to be the direct ancestors

of the Vietnamese people.

The word Viet, infact, is derived from the old chinese pronunciation ofYue”.

Vietnam is not the only country with a claim on the Baiyue legacy.

Linguistic evidence suggests that some of the ancient Yue had spoken tongues ancestrally

related to modern Thai.

The strongest testament to this is the presence of the modern Zhuang people.

Natives to Guangxi province, and speakers of northern Tai languages, they may well be

a remnant of a once larger, indigneous Tai presence.

Linguistic evidence further suggests that archaic versions of Tibeto-Burman and Hmong-mien

languages may also have been spoken among the ancient Yue, which corroborates with the

fact that those language families are still spoken by pockets of minority peoples across

Southern China to this day.

Meanwhile, the Yue tribes who lived in modern-day Fujian were most likely speakers of proto-Austronesian


Archaeological evidence suggests that around 4000BC, they crossed the narrow strait and

settled Taiwan, and then migrated out across a huge swath of the Pacific, diverging into

the ancestors of the Malay and Indonesian peoples, as well as the voyageuring Polynesians.

Therefore, we can look at people as far flung as the Maori of New Zealand or the natives

of Hawaii, and wonder if their seafaring lifestyle and iconic polynesian tattoos are

in some way an echo of ancient ancestors separated by thousands of years and an ocean.

As one might have guessed, the latter half of Baiyue history is defined by a centuries-long

march of conquest and cultural assimilation that resulted in the overwhelmingly Han Chinese

south we know today.

This began in earnest with Qin Shihuang, who engaged in a conquest of ancestral Yue lands

on his path to creating what historians consider the first united Imperial Dynasty of China.

The Qin Emperor kept order in his realm with an iron fist.

To subdue the unruly barbarians he organized the southwards immigration of 500,000 northern

Chinese settlers, many of whom were convicted felons and exiles.

However, the Qin dynasty soon buckled under its own tyranny, collapsing immediately after

the death of its only Emperor.

From its ruins emerged the dynamic Han Dynasty, which managed to reunite most of the Qins

former territory.

During this time, the Yue peoples re-established their independence in the form of two states:

In modern day Fujian was the Kingdom of Minyue, ruled by a royal line descended from the original

Yue Kingdom.

Spanning from Guangdong to central Vietnam was the Kingdom of Nanyue, which was ruled

by Zhao Tou, a Chinese general from the Qin Dynasty who had styled himself asEmperor

of the Southern Yue”, and adopted the culture & customs of the locals.

Nanyuescultural legacy is significant, due to its control over much of modern-day

Vietnam, it is considered by some scholars to be historys first Vietnamese state.

Originally these states were cordial with the Han Emperors, but this changed with the

ascension of Han Wudi, whose expansionist ambitions saw the Han Dynasty absorb them

through conquest.

Wudi proved to be as despotic to the Yue as Emperor Qin had been.

His draconian edict mandated the deportation of the peoples of Minyue, forcing them from

their homes and resettling them between the Changjiang and Huai Rivers, leaving their

country completely depopulated.

Han rule saw an influx of Han Chinese merchants, scholars, bureaucrats, and soldiers into Yue

lands, putting increasing pressure on the native peoples to assimilate into the culture

of the new elite.

That is not to say they accepted their fate meekly.

In 43BC, the legendary Trưng sisters led a fierce uprising that briefly pushed the

Chinese out of their homeland of northern Vietnam, but were eventually put down by a

Han counteroffensive.

The saga of these two female warriors is indicative of one of the main differences between Chinese

and Baiyue culture.

Where Han China ran on the rigidly patriarchal precepts of Confucian teachings, the peoples

they called southern barbarians comparatively allowed great freedom to their women, who

fought as warriors and leaders.

The mighty Han soon fell into decline and power fell into the hands of local warlords.

By 220AD, the illusion of Imperial Han unity had collapsed, and the middle Kingdom was

officially divided into three warring states: Cao Wei, Eastern Wu, and Shu Han.

Each state was ruled according to High Chinese culture, but in the southern Kingdoms of Wu

and Shu Han, there still existed major pockets of Nanman, who had not yet assimilated into

Chinese society.

It is unknown if these indigenous tribes were related to the Baiyue peoples, but it seems

likely, as they appeared to have shared some broad cultural affinities.

With China now divided, they would rise up again in an attempt to retake control of their


The first of these uprisings came in 221, when the chieftain Shamoke rallied the tribes

living in the valley gorges of the Hunan to enter open revolt against the Eastern Wu by

joining forces with their main rival, the legendary warlord Liu Bei and the armies of

Shu Han.

However, this insurgency was short, for the Shu Han alliance was defeated by Wu forces

at the battle of Xiaoting a year later, and Shamoke was killed in the fighting.

The defeat of the Shu Han at Xiaoting made the Kingdom look weak in the eyes of the indigenous

tribes who lived under their rule.

This feeling was exacerbated when the seasoned warlord Liu Bei died, and his uninitiated

young son ascended to the Shu Han throne.

Seeing their opportunity, Nanman tribes in the region of Nanzhong entered into open rebellion.

The war that followed is retold in the form of a fantastical legend, detailed in the 14th

century chronicle: Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

According to the Romance, the Nanzhong rebellion was spearheaded by a great tribal King known

to the Chinese as Menghou.

Born and raised in the jungle, his men rode war elephants into battle, and developed a

special armour made of palmwood, which supposedly was able to deflect even the sharpest blades

and arrows.

Menghou had two key allies in his campaign.

The first was his wife, the Lady Zhurong, titularly named after the Chinese fire god

Zhurong, whom she was descended from.

Notably, she is the only woman in the entire Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel who actively

fights in battle, perhaps a testament to the aforementioned egalitarian culture of the

Baiyue peoples.

The second of these allies was King Mulu, the lord of Bana Cave.

The Romance depicts this man as a wielder of magical powers, claiming that he had control

of wild beasts, directing armies of feral tigers upon his foe, while he looked on atop

his Elephant.

Initially, the Shu Han Kingdom was ill-prepared to deal with the insurgency, but they had

better leadership.

In the wake of King Liu Beis death, control of Shu Han had passed down to Zhuge Liang,

who served as regent of the realm on behalf of the young King Liu Shan.

Liang was without flaws; according to the Romance: an incorruptible statesman, benevolent

ruler, and cunning general.

After putting his affairs in order in his capital of Chengdu, he marched south to put

down the rebellion.

In the end, the determination of the southern barbarians was no match for Zhuge Liangs


King Mulu scored some initial victories against the Shu forces with the aid of his magical

beast horde, but lost when his animals were scared away by Zhuge Liang'sflame-spewing

wooden beasts”, which were probably some form of anachronistic gunpowder based siege


During his retreat, Mulus elephant threw him off and trampled him to death.

Menghou, meanwhile, met Zhuge Liang in battle seven times, and was defeated each time.

After every loss, the tribal chieftain was captured, only to be treated with kindness

and set free.

The idea was that by showing mercy, Menghou would give up his rebellious aspirations and

become loyal to Shu Han once more.

Nevertheless, the King of the Nanman was stubborn: each time he was set loose, he would rally

his army and fight Zhuge Liang once more.

Only upon the seventh capture did Menghou give up his struggle, ending the rebellion.

He swore complete loyalty to the Shu Han Kingdom.

According to the romance, the Nanman peoples never rebelled again.

The historical validity of Menghous rebellion is highly questionable.

Many scholars rightfully question the fantastical elements of the tale, and point out how absurd

it was that the leader of an insurgency could be captured seven times and be let go each


Nevertheless, it is one of the last times that Chinese records mention any sort of major

uprising amongst the indigenous peoples of the South.

By the 7th century AD, it had become predominantly Chinese-speaking, resulting in the modern

populations of Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, and Yunnan we see today.

With that said, not all the descendants of the indigenous south disappeared: Vietnam

is home to a vibrant culture whose heritage, in many ways, traces back to the ancient Hundred


The same can be said for many of the modern peoples of Thailand and Myanmar, as well as

the aborigines of Taiwan, who hold out strong in the western mountains of their island to

this day.

In China itself, echoes of ancient Yue languages can be found in the form of loanwords in modern

southern Chinese languages like Hokkien, Hakka & Cantonese.

Furthermore, aspects of their culture lived on long after the peoples themselves faded

into memory.

As late as 1368, some peoples in Shandong province were recorded to have kept their

hair short and tattooed themselves with markings of the dragon and snake.

As a result of historical intermixing between southerners and Chinese, a huge chunk of the

modern southern Chinese population has Baiyue blood.

Beyond that, minority peoples in China like the Zhuang, Yi, Miao, and Tanka boat people

still exist in pockets throughout southern China, with languages, customs and traditions

that stand apart from the modern Han Chinese.

These peoples are all likely the descendants of tribes the Imperial Chinese once called

Nanman”, meaning that while their history has largely been forgotten, their successors

live on to this day.

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The Description of Nanman: the Lost Tribe of South China DOCUMENTARY