Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Yue (Yüeh in Wade-Giles, also Yuet) refers to ancient non-Han Chinese peoples of southern China, especially those along the coastline. In archaic Chinese, a number of characters (越, 粵, 鉞) were often used interchangeably to represent the same meaning.
Origins and ancient usage
In ancient times, the Chinese referred to the peoples to their south collectively as the Yue. Historical texts often refer to the "Hundred Yue" tribes. Historian Lo Hsiang-lin has suggested that these peoples shared a common ancestry with the Xia. There is little evidence, however, that the Yue peoples held any common identity. The "Treatise of Geography" in Han Shu notes: "In the seven or eight thousand miles from Jiaozhi (northern Vietnam) to Kuaiji (southern Jiangsu or northern Zhejiang), the Hundred Yue are everywhere, each with their own clans." Just as the term Celt was used by the Greeks to describe what they perceived to be a broad cultural group, so the term Yue was a culturally relative term for the ancient Chinese. Also like "Celt", Yue is now used in a number of different ways. (see Modern usage below).
Ethnololinguists have suggested that the pronunciaton 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" (鉞), 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, including the Gou-Wu (句吳), Yu-Yue (于越), Yang-Yue (揚越), Min-Yue (閩越), Nan-Yue (南越), Dong-Yue (東越), Shan-Yue (山越), Luo-Yue (駱越) and Ou-Yue (甌越). Most of these names survived into early imperial times and can be roughly construed as cultural groupings.
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 southern Jiangsu and northern Zhejiang respectively. Their aristocratic elite learnt the written Chinese language, adopted Chinese political institutions and military technology. Traditional accounts attribute the cultural change to the Grand Earl of Wu (吴太伯), 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 launced 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.
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 Guangdong, Guangxi, and Vietnam; and that of the Min-Yue who lay to the northeast, centred on the Min River in modern Fujian.
Sinification of these peoples were 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 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 defensive 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.
Legacy of the Yue
The fall of the Han Dynasty and the succeeding period of division speeded 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. Intermarriage and cross-cultural dialogue has led to a mixture of Chinese and non-Chinese peoples in the south. By the Tang Dynasty, 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" is a cognate of the Chinese "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 form the basis the modern Wu language and to some extent the Min languages of Fujian. Anthrolinguists have also determined that a number of Chinese words can be traced to ancient Yue words. An example is the word "jiang" (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.
In modern Chinese, the characters of "越" and "粵" are differiented. The former is used to refer to the area of northern Zhejiang, especially the areas around Shaoxing and Ningbo. The theatre of Zhejiang, for example, is called "Yue Opera" (越劇). The second character "粵" (yuè) is associated with the southern province of Guangdong and is commonly used as an abbreviation. Yue language (粵語) is a subdivision of the Chinese language popularly called "Cantonese". Its standard form and regional dialects are spoken in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, Hong Kong, Macau and in many overseas Chinese communities around the world.
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