The Tuoba founded the Northern Wei (386-535), a powerful dynasty that unified northern China after the Sixteen Kingdoms period and became increasingly sinicized. As a result, from 496, the name "Tuoba" disappeared by an edict of Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei, who adopted the Chinese language surname of Yuan (?). After the Northern Wei split into the Eastern and Western Wei in 535, the Western Wei briefly restored the Tuoba name in 554. A surviving branch of the Tuoba established the state of Tuyuhun before submitting as a vassal of the Tang dynasty. A branch of the Tanguts originally bore the surname Tuoba, but their chieftains were subsequently bestowed the Chinese surnames Li (?) and Zhao (?); the founding emperor of the Western Xia, Li Yuanhao, later adopted the surname Weiming ().
Tuoba and their Rouran enemies descended from common ancestors.Weishu stated that the Rourans were of Donghu origins and Tuoba originated from Xianbei, who were also Donghu's descendants. The Donghu ancestors of Tuoba and Rouran were most likely proto-Mongols. Nomadic confederations of Inner Asia were often linguistically diverse, and Tuoba Wei comprised the para-Mongolic Tuoba as well as assimilated Turkic peoples such as Hegu () and Yizhan (); consequently, about one quarter of the Tuoba tribal confederation was composed of Dingling elements as Tuoba migrated from northeastern Mongolia to northern China.
Alexander Vovin (2007) identifies the Tuoba language as a Mongolic language. On the other hand, Juha Janhunen proposed that Tuoba might have spoken an Oghur Turkic language. According to Peter Boodberg, Tuoba language was essentially Turkic with Mongolic admixture. Chen Sanping observed that Tuoba language contains both elements. Liu Xueyao stated that Tuoba may have had their own language which should not be assumed to be identical with any other known languages.
The distribution of the Xianbei people ranged from present day Northeast China to Mongolia, and the Tuoba were one of the largest clans among the western Xianbei, ranging from present day Shanxi province and westward and northwestward. They established the state of Dai from 310-376 AD and ruled as the Northern Wei from 386-536. The Tuoba states of Dai and Northern Wei also claimed to possess the quality of earth in the Chinese Wu Xing theory. All the chieftains of the Tuoba were revered as emperors in the Book of Wei and the History of the Northern Dynasties.
The Northern Wei started to arrange for Chinese elites to marry daughters of the Xianbei Tuoba royal family in the 480s. More than fifty percent of Tuoba Xianbei princesses of the Northern Wei were married to southern Chinese men from the imperial families and aristocrats from southern China of the Southern dynasties who defected and moved north to join the Northern Wei. Some Chinese exiled royalty fled from southern China and defected to the Xianbei. Several daughters of the Xianbei Tuoba Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei were married to Chinese elites, the Han Chinese Liu Song royal Liu Hui , married Princess Lanling ? of the Northern Wei, Princess Huayang ? to Sima Fei , a descendant of Jin dynasty (265-420) royalty, Princess Jinan ? to Lu Daoqian , Princess Nanyang to Xiao Baoyin , a member of Southern Qi royalty.Emperor Xiaozhuang of Northern Wei's sister the Shouyang Princess was wedded to the Liang dynasty ruler Emperor Wu of Liang's son Xiao Zong .
When the Eastern Jin dynasty ended Northern Wei received the Han Chinese Jin prince Sima Chuzhi ? as a refugee. A Northern Wei Princess married Sima Chuzhi, giving birth to Sima Jinlong ?. Northern Liang Xiongnu King Juqu Mujian's daughter married Sima Jinlong.
|Posthumous name||Full name||Period of reign||Other|
|Shényuán||? Tuòbá Lìwéi||219-277||Temple name? Shíz?|
|? Zh?ng||? Tuòbá X?lù||277-286|
|? Píng||Tuòbá Chuò||286-293|
|? S?||Tuòbá Fú||293-294|
|? Zh?o||? Tuòbá Lùgu?n||294-307|
|? Huán||? Tuòbá Y?tu?||295-305|
|? Mù||? Tuòbá Y?lú||295-316|
|None||? Tuòbá P?g?n||316|
|Píngwén||? Tuòbá Yùl?||316-321|
|? Huì||? Tuòbá Hèr?||321-325|
|? Yáng||? Tuòbá Hén?||325-329 and 335-337|
|? Liè||? Tuòbá Yìhuaí||329-335 and 337-338|
|Zha?chéng||Tuòbá Shíyìjiàn||338-377||Regnal name? Jiànguó|
As a consequence of the Northern Wei's extensive contacts with Central Asia, Turkic sources identified Tabgach, also transcribed as Tawjach, Taw?a?, Tamghaj, Tamghach, Tafgaj, and Tabghaj, as the ruler or country of China until the 13th century.
In the 11th century text, the D?w?n Lugh?t al-Turk ("Compendium of the languages of the Turks"), Turkic scholar Mahmud al-Kashgari writing in Baghdad for an Arabic audience, describes Tawjach as one of the three components comprising China.
n [i.e., China] is originally three fold: Upper, in the east which is called Tawj?ch; middle which is Khit?y, lower which is Barkh?n in the vicinity of Kashgar. But now Tawj?ch is known as Man and Khitai as n.
At the time of his writing, China's northern fringe was ruled by Khitan Liao dynasty while the remainder of China Proper was ruled by the Northern Song dynasty. Arab sources used S?n (Persian: Ch?n) to refer to northern China and M?s?n (Persian: Mach?n) to represent southern China. In his account, al-Kashgari refers to his homeland, around Kashgar, then part of the Kara-Khanid Khanate, as lower China. The rulers of the Karakanids adopted Temahaj Khan (Turkic: the Khan of China) in their title, and minted coins bearing this title. Much of the realm of the Karakhanids including Transoxania and the western Tarim Basin had been under the suzerainty of the Tang dynasty prior to the Battle of Talas in 751 and the Karakhanids continued identify with China, several centuries later.