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Asia in AD 565, showing Tuyuhun and its neighbors.
Asia in AD 565, showing Tuyuhun and its neighbors.
CapitalFuqi (in modern Gonghe, Qinghai)
Common languagesTuyuhun
o 284-317
Murong Tuyuhun
o 635-672
Murong Nuohebo
o Established
o Vassal of Tang China
o Destroyed by the Tibetan Empire
Succeeded by
Today part ofChina

Tuyuhun (Chinese: ; LHC: *tB-k/jok-gu?n;[1]Wade-Giles: T'u-yühun), also known as Azha (Tibetan: 'A-zha),[2] was a dynastic kingdom established by the nomadic peoples related to the Xianbei in the Qilian Mountains and upper Yellow River valley, in modern Qinghai, China.[3]


After the disintegration of the Xianbei state, nomadic groups were led by their khagan, Murong Tuyuhun (), to the rich pasture lands around Qinghai Lake about the middle of the 3rd century AD.

Murong Tuyuhun was the older brother of the Former Yan's ancestor Murong Hui[4] and elder son of the Chanyu Murong Shegui (?) of the Murong Xianbei who took his people from their original settlements on the Liaodong Peninsula to the region of the Yin Mountains, crossing the Yellow River between 307 and 313, and into the eastern region of modern Qinghai.[5]

The Tuyuhun Empire was established in 284[6] by subjugating the native peoples referred to as the Qiang, including more than 100 different and loosely coordinated tribes that did not submit to each other or any authority.

After Tuyuhun died in Linxia, Gansu in 317, his sixty sons further expanded the empire by defeating the Western Qin (385-430) and Xia (407-431) kingdoms. The Qinghai Xianbei, Tufa Xianbei, Qifu Xianbei and Haolian Xianbei joined them. They moved their capital 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) west of Qinghai Lake.[7]

These Xianbei groups formed the core of the Tuyuhun Empire and numbered about 3.3 million at their peak. They carried out extensive military expeditions westward, reaching as far as Hotan in Xinjiang and the borders of Kashmir and Afghanistan, and established a vast empire that encompassed Qinghai, Gansu, Ningxia, northern Sichuan, eastern Shaanxi, southern Xinjiang, and most of Tibet, stretching 1,500 kilometers from east to west and 1,000 kilometers from north to south. They unified parts of Inner Asia for the first time in history, developed the southern route of the Silk Road, and promoted cultural exchange between the eastern and western territories, dominating the northwest for more than three and half centuries until it was destroyed by the Tibetan Empire.[8] The Tuyuhun Empire existed as an independent kingdom[9] and was not traditionally considered to be an orthodox dynasty in Chinese historiography.

Conflict between the Tang and Tibetan empires

Emperor Taizong's campaign against Tuyuhun in 634 AD

In the beginning of the Tang dynasty, the Tuyuhun Empire came to a gradual decline and was increasingly caught in the conflict between China and Tibet. Because the Tuyuhun controlled the crucial trade routes between east and the west, the empire became the immediate target of invasion by the Tang.

The Tibetan Empire developed rapidly under the leadership of Songtsen Gampo, who united the Tibetans and expanded northward, directly threatening the Tuyuhun Empire. Soon after he took the throne of the Yarlung Kingdom in Central Tibet in 634, he defeated the Tuyuhun near Qinghai Lake and received an envoy from the Tang.[10] The Tibetan emperor requested marriage to a Chinese princess, but was refused. In 635-6 the Tang emperor defeated the Tibetan army; after this campaign,[11] the Chinese emperor agreed to provide a Chinese princess to Songtsen Gampo.[12]

The Tibetan emperor, who claimed that the Tuyuhun objected to his marriage with the Tang, sent 200,000 troops to attack. The Tuyuhun troops retreated to Qinghai, whereas the Tibetans went eastward to attack the Tangut people and reached into southern Gansu. The Tang government sent troops to fight. Although the Tibetans withdrew in response, the Tuyuhun Empire lost much of its territory in southern Gansu to Tibetans.

Battle of Dafeichuan

The Tuyuhun government was split between the pro-Tang and pro-Tibet factions, with the latter increasingly becoming stronger and collaborated with Tibet to bring about an invasion. The Tang sent general Xue Rengui to lead 100,000 troops to fight Tibet in Dafeichuan (present Gonghe County, Qinghai). They were annihilated by the ambush of 200,000 troops led by Dayan and the Tibetans. The Tibetan Empire took over the entire territory of the Tuyuhun.


Remnants of Tyuhun in northern Hebei and northern Qinghai (907-1125)
Remnants of Tuyuhun in northern Hebei and northern Qinghai (1207)

After the fall of the kingdom, the Tuyuhun people split. Led by Murong Nuohebo on the eastern side of the Qilian Mountains they migrated eastward into central China. The rest remained and were ruled by the Tibetan Empire.

Through this period, the Xianbei underwent massive diasporata over a vast territory that stretched from the northwest into central and eastern parts of China, with the greatest concentrations by Mt. Yin near Ordos Loop. In 946, a Shatuo, Liu Zhiyuan, conspired to murder the highest Xianbei leader, Bai Chengfu, who was reportedly so wealthy that "his horses had silver mangers".[13] With the looted wealth that included an abundance of property and thousands of fine horses, Liu established the Later Han (Five Dynasties) (947-950), which lasted only four years and became the shortest dynasty in Chinese history. The incident took away the central leadership and stripped the opportunity for the Xianbei to restore the Tuyuhun Kingdom, although later they were able to establish the Western Xia (1038-1227), which was destroyed by the Mongols.[14]


Alexander Vovin (2015) identifies the extinct Tuyuhun language as a Para-Mongolic language, meaning that Tuyuhun is related to Mongolic as a sister clade but is not directly descended from the Proto-Mongolic language.[15] The Khitan language is also a Para-Mongolic language.


The Tuyuhun people were experts in horse breeding and also practised agriculture. As a realm just between the Chinese empires in the east (Northern Wei, and the Southern Dynasties) and other steppe tribes such as the Rouran Khaganate and the Tiele people, the Tuyuhun acted as envoys and traders, while many Buddhist missionaries and travelers crossed their country.[]

When the Chinese pilgrim monk, Songyun, visited the region in 518, he noted that the people had a written language, which was more than a hundred years before Thonmi Sambhota is said to have returned from India after developing a script for writing the Tibetan language.[16]


Regal names Family names and given name Durations of reigns
Henan King () Mùróng T?yùhún 284-317
Henan King () ? Mùróng T?yán 317-329
Tuyuhun King (?) ? Mùróng Yèyán 329-351
Tuyuhun King (?) ? Mùróng Suìx? 351-371
Bailan King () ? Mùróng Shìlián 371-390
Tuyuhun King (?) ? Mùróng Shìpí 390-400
Da Chanyu () Mùróng W?g?tí 400-405
Wuyin Khan (?)/
Da Chanyu ()/
Wu King ()
Mùróng Shùluòg?n 405-417
Bailan King () ? Mùróng ?chái 417-424
Hui King ()/
King of Longxi ()
? Mùróng Mùgu? 424-436
Henan King () Mùróng Mùlìyán 436-452
Henan King ()/
Xiping King ()
? Mùróng Shíyín 452-481
Henan King () Mùróng Dùyìhóu 481-490
Mùróng Fúliánchóu 490-540
Khan ? Mùróng Ku?l? 540-591
Khan ? Mùróng Shìfú 591-597
Busabo Khan () ? Mùróng Fúy?n 597-635
Zhugulüwugandou Khan ()/
Daning King ()/
Xiping Commandery King (?)
Mùróng Shùn 635
Wudiyebaledou Khan ()/
Heyuan Commandery King (?)
Mùróng Nuòhéb? 635-672

Rulers family tree

See also


  1. ^ Schuessler, Axel. (2007) An Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese. University of Hawaii Press. p. 502, 259, 290
  2. ^ Beckwith 1993, p. 17.
  3. ^ Frederick W. Mote (2003). Imperial China 900-1800. p. 170.
  4. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 90.
  5. ^ The T'u-yü-hun from the Northern Wei to the time of the Five Dynasties, p. XII. 1970. Gabriella Molè. Rome. Is.M.E.O.
  6. ^ 281 is the foundation for the first or 'Former' (of the four) Murong Xianbei Kingdoms. See Charles Holcombe, The Genesis of East Asia, 221 B.C.-A.D. 907: 221 B.C.-A.D.907,University of Hawaii Press, 2001 pp.130-131.
  7. ^ "Note sur les T'ou-yu-houen et les Sou-p'i." Paul Pelliot. T'oung pao, 20 (1921), p. 323.
  8. ^ Zhou, Weizhou [] (1985). The Tuyühu History [] . Yinchuan []: Ningxia People's Press [?].
  9. ^ Beckwith 2009, p. 128-129.
  10. ^ Tibetan Civilization, p. 57. R. A. Stein. 1972. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. ISBN 0-8047-0806-1 (cloth); ISBN 978-0-8047-0901-9 (paper).
  11. ^ OTA l. 607
  12. ^ Tibet: A Political History, p. 26. Tsepon W. D. Shakabpa. 1967. Yale University Press. New Haven and London.
  13. ^ Molè, Gabriella, 1970, The T'u-yü-hun from the Northern Wei to the time of the five dynasties. Roma, Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente. p. xxiv.
  14. ^ Lü, Jianfu [], 2002. The Tu History []. Beijing []: Chinese Social Sciences Press [].
  15. ^ Vovin, Alexander. 2015. Some notes on the Tuyuhun () language: in the footsteps of Paul Pelliot. In Journal of Sino-Western Communications, Volume 7, Issue 2 (December 2015).
  16. ^ Ancient Tibet: Research Materials from the Yeshe De Project (1986), p. 136. Dharma Publishing, California. ISBN 0-89800-146-3.

Works cited

External links

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