Jurchen – The language with no documentary evidence

Have you ever been placed in a compromising situation that forced you to forge your genealogy? This is exactly what happened to thousands of people in China in the 17th Century. The transition of the Jurchen language to Manchu language took place between 1586 to 1616. A chief belonging to the Jianzhou Jurchen took it upon himself to unite the Jurchen people. His son, Hung Taiji, who took over from him later renamed the Jurchen people Manchu. This was linked to the creation of the 8 banners by Hun Taiji. The banners basically meant that any person who was not classified as a Chinese or a Jurchen was classified as a Manchu. During this time, a lot of Jurchen women had intermarried with Chinese men. This resulted in the population of the Chinese exceeding that of the Jurchen’s. In an effort to separate the Chinese from the Jurchen’s, Hun Taiji created the banners. This resulted in a lot of people forging their genealogies, based on whether they wanted to be known as Chinese or Jurchen’s.

Jurchen is the language of the people living in northeastern China, in Manchuria. The Jurchen people conquered the lands in north eastern China and set up a Jin dynasty in the 12th century. This dynasty fell into the hands of the Mongols in the 13th century. In the 17th century, this Manchu people took over the whole of China and set up a Qing dynasty. Even though a writing system for the language was developed in 1119, there is very little information on the language as there are no texts to validate this. The majority of the evidence that relates to the Jurchen people was found in Chinese documents.

Jurchen belongs to the Tunguistic branch of languages, which falls under Atlaic languages. Jurchen is distantly related to Turkish and Mongolian. Currently, there are approximately 9 million Manchu’s who live in northeastern China. Out of this, only 70 to 1,000 of the people can speak Jurchen. This makes Jurchen an extinct language. The rest of the population speaks Mandarin. The Jurchen script is known to contain 720 characters. The design of the Jurchen script was based on Chinese characters.

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