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The Xunyu (Chinese: 獯鬻; Wade–Giles: Hsünyü; Old Chinese (ZS): *qʰun-lug) is the name of an ancient nomadic tribe which invaded China during legendary times. They are often identified as the Xiongnu.


Chinese annals contain a number of references to the Xunyu. The earliest authors were Sima Qian (c. 145 or 135 BC – 86 BC), Ying Shao (AD 140-206), Wei Zhao (204-273), and Jin Zhuo (c. late 3rd or 4th century).[1] Without citing any supporting document, they claimed that Xunyu or Xianyun were names that designated nomadic people who during the Han dynasty were called Xiongnu (匈奴). That view was also held by the Tang dynasty commentator Sima Zhen (c. 8th century):[2] Sima Zhen quoted Zhang Yan (張晏) as saying that “Chunwei, during the Yin era, fled to the northern borders.”; immediately after, Sima Zhen stated that Yue Chan (樂產) wrote in the now-lost Guadipu (括地譜) "Register of the Encompassing Lands" that: “Jie, (ruler of) the House of Xia lived an immoral life. Tang exiled him to Mingtiao, he died there three years later. His son Xunyu 獯粥 married his concubines and they wandered far away to the northern wilderness in search of pasture lands, and then in the Middle Kingdom they were mentioned as Xiongnu 匈奴.”; [3]

Based on phonetical studies and comparisons of inscriptions on bronze and the structure of the characters, Wang Guowei (1877–1927) came to the conclusion that the tribal names Guifang (鬼方), Xunyu, Xianyu (鮮虞), Xianyun (獫狁), Rong, Di, and Hu in the old annals designated one and the same people, who later entered Chinese history under the name Xiongnu,[4][5][6]

The exact period when the form Xunyu existed as the oldest phonetization of the name Xiongnu remains unclear: Sima Qian stated that in the earlier pre-historic period the Xiongnu were called Hu and Rong, and in the late pre-historic period Xunyu. In the literate period starting with the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC) they were called Guifang, in the Zhou period (1045–256 BC) they were called Xianyun, and starting from the Qin period (221–206 BC) the Chinese annalists called them Xiongnu.[7][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sima Qian, "Shiji", Bo-na, 1958, Ch. 110, p. 1a
  2. ^ Taskin V.S., "Materials on history of nomadic tribes in China 3rd-5th cc", Issue 3 "Mujuns", "Science", Moscow, 1992, p. 276, ISBN 5-02-016746-0
  3. ^ Sima Zhen. Suoyin, chapter 24
  4. ^ Wang Guowei, "Guantang Jilin" (觀堂集林, Wang Guowei collection of works), Ch.2, Ch. 13
  5. ^ Taskin V.S., "Materials on history of nomadic tribes in China 3rd-5th cc", Issue 3 "Mujuns", p. 276
  6. ^ Taskin V.S., 1968, "Materials on history of Sünnu", "Science", Moscow, p.10
  7. ^ Sima Qian, "Shi Chi", Ch. 1, l. 4b, Ch. 110, l. 1a, notes
  8. ^ in Taskin V.S., "Materials on history of Sünnu", p.10
  • Zhonghan Wang, "Outlines of Ethnic Groups in China", Taiyuan, Shanxi Education Press, 2004, p. 133, ISBN 7-5440-2660-4