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Zhou dynasty cosmography of Huaxia and the Siyi: the Yi in the east, the Man in the south, the Rong in the west, and the Di in the north.
Traditional Chinese南蠻
Simplified Chinese南蛮
Literal meaningSouthern Man (ethnonym)

The Man, commonly known as the Nanman or Southern Man (Chinese: 南蠻), or the Southern Barbarians, were ancient indigenous peoples who lived in inland South and Southwest China, mainly around the Yangtze River valley. In ancient Chinese sources, the term Nanman were used to describe multiple ethnic groups, probably the predecessors of the modern Miao, Zhuang, and Dai peoples, and non-Chinese Sino-Tibetan groups such as the Jingpo and Yi peoples. There was never a single polity that united these people, although the state of Chu ruled over much of the Yangtze region during the Zhou dynasty and was influenced by the Man culture.


The early Chinese exonym Man () was a graphic pejorative written with Radical 142 虫, which means "insect" or "reptile". Xu Shen's (c. 121 CE) Shuowen Jiezi dictionary defines Man as "Southern Man are a snake race. [The character is formed] from [the] insect / serpent [radical and takes its pronunciation from] luàn 南蠻蛇種从虫䜌聲."[1]

William H. Baxter and Laurent Sagart (2014)[2] reconstruct the Old Chinese name of Mán as *mˤro[n]. Baxter & Sagart (2014) provide a similar Old Chinese reconstruction for Min *mrə[n] 'southern tribes', which is also a name for Fujian province. Today, similar-sounding self-designated ethnonyms among modern-day peoples include Mraṅmā, Hmong, Mien, Bru, Mro, Mru, and Maang. The ethnonym Hmong is reconstructed as *hmʉŋA in Proto-Hmongic by Ratliff (2010), while Mien is reconstructed as *mjænA in Proto-Mienic (see Proto-Hmong–Mien language).


The Man were described in the Book of Rites as one of the Four Barbarians associated with the south. They tattooed their foreheads, had inwards pointing feet, and ate raw food. Although various stereotypes and accounts are recorded in the Book of Rites, little detail is actually known about their inner social hierarchies, their social customs, and the social interdependence among the tribes at that time. [3]

During the Spring and Autumn period, King Wu of Chu (r. 741-690 BC) undertook many campaigns against the Man, who rebelled during the reign of King Zhuang of Chu (r. 613–591 BC). During the reign of King Dao of Chu, the general Wu Qi also conducted campaigns against the Man. When the state of Qin conquered Chu, they found that the commandery of Qianzhong, corresponding to modern Hubei, Hunan and Guizhou, was still inhabited by Man people.[4]

Under the Han dynasty, the Man were recognized as three distinct groups: the Pangu, Linjun, and Bandun. The Pangu worshiped dog totems and lived in the commanderies of Wuling and Changsha. They were also known as the Man of the Five Creeks. The Pangu had no unified leader but individual chiefs were acknowledged as local administrators by the Han. They wore clothes weaved from tree bark, used dotted patterns for their robes, wore short skirts, and painted their legs red. The Linjun lived further west in the commanderies of Ba and Nan, around modern Chongqing. Linjun was actually the name of a chief, who according to Linjun mythology, turned into a white tiger upon his death. Thus the Linjun worshiped the tiger. The Bandun Man (literally "board shield" barbarians) lived further west of the Linjun and were known for their music and heroic conduct in war. They supported Liu Bang after the fall of the Qin dynasty and contributed troops to Han campaigns against the Qiang people. According to legend, they killed a white tiger during the reign of King Zhaoxiang of Qin (r. 306–251 BC) and were therefore spared from taxes.[4]

The Bandun Man rebelled in 179 due to unrest caused by the Yellow Turban Rebellion, but when amnesty was issued by Cao Qian in 182, the rebellion was ended.[5] There was another brief uprising in 188 which amounted to nothing.[6] Related to the Bandun were the neighboring Zong people, who became interested in the mysticism of the Celestial Master Zhang Lu and moved north to the border of his territory. When Cao Cao attacked Zhang Lu in the summer of 215, he fled to Duhu of the Zong and Fuhu of the Bandun for refuge. However Duhu and Fuhu surrendered to Cao Cao in the autumn and received appointment, with Zhang Lu following in the winter. The Bandun and Zong were settled in what is now modern Gansu province. In 219 Liu Bei's officer Huang Quan attacked them and drove several non-Chinese peoples north into Cao Cao's territory.[7] The Zong therefore became known as the Di people from Ba.[8] These Di people later founded the state of Cheng Han, one of the Sixteen Kingdoms.[4]

In southwest China, the Nanman tribes rebelled after the death of Shu Han's founder, Liu Bei, in 223.The Shu Han chancellor, Zhuge Liang, led a successful expedition to quell the rebellion in 225. One of the leaders of the Nanman, Meng Huo, was captured seven times before he surrendered.[9]

After the fall of the Han dynasty, the Man became more integrated into Han Chinese society. During the period of Northern and Southern dynasties, the Man were able to remain independent by switching sides out of political expedience. The southern courts appointed Man chiefs as tax collectors for their regions. Many Man chiefs taxed their subjects lightly which resulted in some Han Chinese pretending to be Man people. On one occasion, a Han Chinese called Huan Dan even became a Man chieftain. The Man also rebelled at times. Defeated tribes were resettled at border garrisons or became slaves in the metropolitan area. Generally speaking, the trend was for the Nanman to migrate ever northward. By the 7th century the ethnic character of Man society was decidedly mixed.[4]


The Nanman "Southern Man" tattooed their foreheads and were a totem worshiping people. Among their totems were those dedicated to tiger, snake, and dog deities.[10]

Romance of the Three Kingdoms[edit]

Meng Huo was a local leader of the Nanman, or simply a Han Chinese with great influence among them, mentioned in Annotations to Records of the Three Kingdoms by Pei Songzhi. In 225, Meng Huo rebelled with Yong Kai against Shu Han. He was captured by Zhuge Liang seven times before he surrendered.

Meng Huo[edit]

Meng Huo riding into battle on his red ox

Meng Huo's role was greatly expanded upon in Romance of the Three Kingdoms, in which he is portrayed as the king of the Man and husband to Lady Zhurong, a descendant of the God of Fire. In the Romance, Meng Huo was described riding a red horse, wearing a golden inlaid headdress, a belt with a clasp in the image of a lion's face, boots with pointed toes that were green, and a pair of swords chased with pine amber at his waist. Later he rode into battle on a red ox, wearing rhinoceros armour while wielding sword and shield. He enlisted the aid of his fellow kings Wutugu, who commanded an army of 30,000 invincible rattan armour troops, and Mulu, who rode a white elephant and deployed wild beasts in battle. Although his allies were defeated by Zhuge Liang's anachronistic gunpowder weapons and killed, Meng Huo was repeatedly captured and released until he surrendered and became a local administrator.[9]

In the middle was the King, who advanced to the front. He wore a golden, inlaid headdress; his belt bore a lion's face as clasp; his boots had pointed toes and were green; he rode a frizzy-haired horse the color of a red hare; he carried at his waist a pair of swords chased with the pine amber... The King of the Nanman was clad in mail of rhinoceros hide and wore a bright red casque. In his left hand he bore a shield, and his right gripped a sword. He rode a red ox. As soon as he saw his enemies, he opened his mouth and poured forth abuse and insults, while his warriors, huge and bold, darted to and for brandishing their weapons.[11][12]

— Romance of the Three Kingdoms


Lady Zhurong was the wife of Meng Huo in the Romance. Adept at using throwing knives. She fought on the front line and defeated Zhao Yun (twice) and Wei Yan. She was captured in an ambush in a narrow valley where her horse was tripped by cords while in pursuit of Wei Yan.[13]


In the Romance, Mulu was the King of the Bana Ravine and aided Meng Huo in his fight against Zhuge Liang.

He is Mu Lu, King of the Bana Ravine. He is a master of witchcraft who can call up the wind and invoke the rain. He rides upon an elephant and is attended by tigers, leopards, wolves, venomous snakes, and scorpions. Beside, he has under his hand thirty thousand superhuman soldiers... Mu Lu rode up on his white elephant, dressed in silks, and with many gold and pearl ornaments. He wore a double sword at his belt, and he was followed by the motley pack of fighting animals that he fed, gamboling and dancing about him... King Mu Lu had two swords in his belt and carried a hand bell. He urged his white elephant forward and emerged from between his flags.[13]

— Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Chapter 90


In the Romance, Wutugu was the King of Wuguo and aided Meng Huo in his fight against Zhuge Liang.

The King of that state is named Wutu Gu. He is a giant of twelve spans. He does not eat grain, but lives on serpents and venomous beasts. He wears scaly armor, which is impenetrable to swords and arrows. His warriors wear rattan armor. This rattan grows in gullies, climbing over rocks and walls. The inhabitants cut the rattans and steep them in oil for half a year. Then they are dried in the sun. When dry they are steeped again, and so on many times. Then they are plaited into helmets and armor. Clad in this, the men float across rivers, and it does not get wet. No weapon can penetrate it. The soldiers are called the Rattan Army... Wutu Gu called up two generals named Xi Ni and Tu An and gave them thirty thousand of the rattan-armored soldiers and bade them march northeast... They came to a river called the River of Peach Flowers, on both banks of which grow many peach trees. Year after year the leaves of these trees fall into the river and render it poisonous to all but the natives. But to the natives it is a stimulant which doubles their vigor... The Wuguo men poured forth. The soldiers of Shu shot at them, but neither arrows nor bolts penetrated their armors; they rolled off harmless. Nor could swords cut or spears enter. The enemy, thus protected and armed with big swords and prongs, were too much for the troops of Shu, who had to run away. However, they were not pursued. When, on the retreat, they came to the Peach Flowers Ford, they saw the Nanman crossing as if walking on the water. Some of them were tired, so they took off their rattan breastplates, sat upon them and floated to the other side... King Wutugu on his white elephant was well in the forefront. He had on a cap with symbols of the sun and moon and streamers of wolf's beard, a fringed garment studded with gems, which allowed the plates or scales of his cuirass to appear, and his eyes seemed to flash fire.[13]

— Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Chapter 90


In the Romance, Duosi was the king of a valley called the 'Bald Dragon Ravine'. He gave refuge to Meng Huo and aided him in his fight against Zhuge Liang. The valley Duosi ruled was only accessible by two roads, one which was suitable for human travel, and the other which was high, narrow, and infested by scorpions and snakes. The valley was home to four poisonous springs that made the region uninhabitable to birds or insects. The first spring was called the Dumb Spring which tasted well but made people dumb and die in a few days. The second spring was the Destruction Spring which was hot and made the flesh of those who bathed in it rot and die. The third spring was called the Black Spring, which had clear water, but turned black the limbs of those it touched and made them die. The fourth spring was called the Weak Spring, which was cold and chilled the breath of those who drank from it, made them weak and die.[12]

Modern China[edit]

The She people and Yao people are said to be descended from the Man.[4]


  1. ^ Tr. by Mair, Victor H. (2010), How to Forget Your Mother Tongue and Remember Your National Language,
  2. ^ Baxter, William H. and Laurent Sagart. 2014. Old Chinese: A New Reconstruction. Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-994537-5.
  3. ^ Wangzhi chap., tr. James Legge (1879), The Li Ki, Clarendon Press, vol.1, pp. 229-230.
  4. ^ a b c d e Theobald, Ulrich. "Man 蠻". Retrieved 2019-09-14.
  5. ^ de Crespigny 2007, p. 46.
  6. ^ de Crespigny 2007, p. 515.
  7. ^ de Crespigny 2007, p. 191.
  8. ^ de Crespigny 2007, p. 416.
  9. ^ a b Besio 2007, p. 57.
  10. ^ Brindley 2015, p. 175-176.
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^ a b c


  • Besio, Kimberly (2007), Three Kingdoms and Chinese Culture | State University of New York Press
  • Brindley, Erica (2015), Ancient China and the Yue
  • de Crespigny, Rafe (2007), A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms, Brill