Earlier I wrote about the Uighurs and the Xi Xia. Now I must finally turn my attention to the Jin Dynasty, also known as the Jurchen Dynasty (1115–1234).
The people known as Jurchens who went on to found the Jurchen, or Jin Dynasty, originated around the timbered basins of the Amur, Ussuri, and Sungari rivers in Manchuria, in what is now northeast China. Their language was Tungusic, an eastern extension of the Altaic language family and closely related to Manchu, the language of the people what would later create the Qing Dynasty.
Almost nothing is known of their history prior to the tenth century a.d. Apparently they began to use iron only in the early eleventh century. One tribe of the Jurchen, the Wanyan, began making farming tools and weapons from iron and on the basis of this new technology soon dominated their neighbors. Under the leadership of a chieftain known as Wugunai (1021–1074) the Wanyan soon assumed leadership of a loose confederation of the various Jurchen tribes. Wugunai, according to contemporary histories, “was addicted to wine and women and could outdrink anyone,” but he was also a warrior of legendary statue.
His sons and grandsons emulated his military exploits, and by 1114 his grandson Ayuda and a horse-mounted army of some 10,000 men had defeated a 100,000-man army sent north to the borderlands to confront the up-start Jurchens by the emperor of the Liao Dynasty (907–1125), then in control of much of northern China. Based on his military exploits, Aguda audaciously claimed the Mandate of Heaven and at the beginning of the first lunar month in the year 1115 proclaimed the commencement of the Jin (Gold) Dynasty with himself as emperor. He then launched a full-scale assault on the territories of the Liao Dynasty. The various Liao capitals fell one-by-one, culminating with the Southern Capital (current-day Beijing) in 1122.
In 1125 the last of the Liao rulers, the Tianzou Emperor, was captured while trying to escape westward through the Ordos Desert. This signaled the end of the Liao Dynasty. The same year the Jurchens attacked the Song Dynasty which controlled much of middle and southern China. The Song capital of Kaifeng quickly fell, following by Taiyuan and other other strategic Song cities. On January 16, 1127, the Song Emperor Qinzong personally surrendered to the Jurchens. Intermittent fighting between the Jurchens and hold-out Song forces would continue for years, but by the 1140s the southern boundary of the Jin Dynasty would be fixed roughly along the course of the Huai River, about two hundred miles south of Yellow River, where the wheat and millet growing lands of northern China graded into the rice paddies of southern China. South of here the reconstituted Song, known as the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) would continue to rule.
Boundaries of the Jin and Southern Song Dynasties
With the defeat of the Liao Dynasty in 1125 the Jin had turned their attention north to the Mongolian Plateau. While still engaged with the Song Dynasty they had no desire to confront their potentially dangerous neighbors to the north and sought instead to court their friendship or at least neutrality. Thus it was that they invited to their court Khabul Khan, the great-grandfather of Chingis Khan. Khabul Khan was the leader of the Khamag Mongols, a loose confederation of the various Mongol tribes, and thus one of the most powerful men on the Mongolian Plateau. The details are hazy, but some sources suggest this meeting took place during the coronation of the Jin emperor Xizong in 1125 at the Jin capital of Zhongdu, current-day Beijing.
At the meeting between himself and the Jin Emperor Khabul Khan reportedly got roaringly drunk and in his intoxicated state even dared to tug on the emperor’s beard. Not wanting to antagonize the capricious Mongol ruler, Xizong apparently shrugged this off as the playful antics of an uncouth barbarian. He even loaded down Khabul Khan with generous gifts of gold, precious stones, and rich fabrics when he left the capital. The emperor’s courtiers took a dimmer view; infuriated by what what they perceived as insults to the emperor, they dispatched troops to capture Khabul Khan and bring him back for punishment. Khabul Khan managed to escape, but the seeds of ill will were planted between the Jin Court and the Mongols.
Although various treaties sought to maintain trade and tribute relations between the Jurchen and the Mongols their alliance continued to deteriorate. War broke out between the two parties in 1139, 1143, and in 1147 and the Jurchen suffered some humiliating defeats. After the latter conflict the Jurchen agreed to sent the Mongols yearly gifts—essentially bribes—of livestock, grain, and silk in an effort to secure peace along the borderlands. One source suggest that the gifts of fabrics alone amounted to 300,000 bales of fine silk and 300,000 bales of coarse silk a year. When his cousin Ambakhai became khan of the Khamag Mongols after Khabul Khan’s death the Jurchen decided that it was finally time to rein in the unruly nomads. They contrived with the Tatars, their erstwhile allies and hereditary enemies of the Mongols, to capture both Ambakhai and Khabul Khan’s own son Ökin Barkhakh and take them as prisoners to the Jin capital, where they were executed by nailing them onto a wooden donkey, a traditional punishment for rebellious tribesmen. Before he died, Ambakhai managed to a courier, a man named Balaqachi, back to Mongolia with message for Khutula, one of Khabul Khan’s sons, and his own son Qadaan-taishi:
I became the Khan of all, Lord of the Nation . . . I have been captured by the Tartar people. Do not follow my example. Strive until the nails of your five fingers splinter and your ten fingers drop from you hands to avenge me.
For the meantime Ambakhai’s supplication would go unanswered. The Jurchen and Tatars renewed their attacks on the Mongols and by the time of Chingis Khan’s birth in 1162 the confederation of tribes ruled over by Khabul Khan and later by his son Khutula had collapsed. Anarchy reigned among the Mongols. According to the Persian historian Juvaini:
They had no chief or ruler. Each tribe lived separately; they were not united with one another, and there was constant fighting and hostility between them. Some of them regarded robbery and violence, immorality and debauchery as deeds of manliness and excellence. The Khan of Kitai [the Jurchen emperor of the Jin Dynasty] used to demand and seize goods from them. Their clothing was of the skins of dogs and mice, and their food was the flesh of those animals and other dead things . . .
Temüchin, the future Chingis Khan, although the great-grandson of Khabul Khan, ruler of the Khamag Mongols, was born into straightening circumstances, and after the murder of his father at the hands of Tatars his family was reduced to outright property. At one point, according to the Secret History of the Mongols, the entire family had only nine horses and was reduced to eating marmots and mice.
Temüchin’s rise to power has been well-related elsewhere and will not be recounted here. Suffice it to say that by 1189 he had been recognized as khan of the Mongol tribes at a convocation held at Khökh Nuur (Blue Lake) in what is now Khentii Aimag, and according to some accounts it was at this time that he was given the title of Chingis Khan.
New Chingis Monument at Khökh Nuur
Relief of Chingis on new monument
By 1206 he had defeated most of the other tribes who had opposed him and at convocation on the Onon RIver his title of Chingis Khan was confirmed. From this point on he was the undisputed ruler of the Mongolian Plateau. Juvaini describes the sudden changes in the fortunes of Chingis Khan and his followers:
And they continued in this indigence, privation, and misfortune until the banner of Chingiz-Khan’s fortune was raised and they issued forth from the straits of hardship into the amplitude of of well-being, from a prison into a garden, from the desert of poverty into a palace of delight and from abiding torment into reposeful pleasances, their raiment being of silk and brocade . . .