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An Introduction to the Qing Foundation Myth

From: Late Imperial China
Volume 6, Number 2, December 1985
pp. 13-24 | 10.1353/late.1985.0016

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Vol. 6, No. 2 Late Imperial ChinaDecember 1985 AN INTRODUCTION TO THE QING FOUNDATION MYTH Pamela Kyle Crossley* For symbolic legitimacy and cultural coherence the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) depended in part upon a myth of the supernatural foundation of their imperial clan, the Aisin Gioro. In retrospect further significance can be attached to the myth. The story itself reflects certain aspects of the origins of the Aisin Gioro clan that the official docments do not treat with much precision, and reveal the mythological intentions of the story as reduced in extant Qing documents. The preservation and presentation of the myth over the course of the dynasty is in turn a reminder of the importance of clan origin as an enduring, fundamental cultural theme. Finally, the story was the inspiration for a Manchu epic that quickened the fascination of Enlightenment intellectuals, notably Voltaire, for China and things Chinese. The hero of the Qing foundation myth was Bukuri Yongson. He was magically conceived when his mother Fekulen held a fruit that had fallen from the mouth of a sacred crow. The child Bukuri was barely grown when he pacified the warring factions of the sanxing people, and was elected beyile by them. He then lived at Wodoli, a town on the heaths of Womuhe, east of Changbaishan, and he called his tribe manju. The Yuan dynasty established a militial myriarchy here, and in the early Ming it became the Jianzhou Garrison. After several generations the clan of Bukuri Yongson became unfit to govern the people. When the tribes rebelled Fanca, a scion of the clan, escaped. Generations later the Garrison commander Möngke Temür was born into the lineage.1 *I thank the American Council of Learned Societies and the Mellon Foundation, whose support has aided in the research for this essay, and the China-Japan Program at Cornell University, which has been helpful and friendly in so many ways during 1984 and 1985. Portions of this study grow directly from my 1983 dissertation, '"Historical and Magic Unity ': The Real and Ideal Clan in Manchu Identity," and I remain grateful to Jonathan Spence, Ying-shih Yu, Beatrice Bartlett and Joseph Fletcher for their comments on that work. I am further indebted to Betsy Bartlett and Mark Elliott for drawing my attention to some very helpful materials. Many thanks to Gail Patten for editorial aid. 'The preceding paraphrase is from Qingshi gao (1928), 1:1a (1977 edition p.l). It is a condensation of an earlier version. Compare Manzhou shilu, unnumbered pages 1-16, Donghua Iu l:la-b (1980 edition p.l). A more elaborate treatment is Mukden i fujurun bithe (1743), discussed below. 13 14Pamela Kyle Crossley This is the story of Bukuri Yongson as related in its simplest form. It suggests a series of reduced interlocking oral tales, shifting from Bukuri to Fanca and finally ending on an informed historical note with Möngke Temür. Superficially it is not a myth proper but a form of etiological tale, purporting to explain the rise to dominance of the Möngke Temür lineage in the ancestral region. On this level the historical clues contained in the story are striking. Möngke Temür was an unusually welldocumented individual of the early fifteenth century, known to the courts of both Yi Korea and Ming China. He was officially recognized by the Ming as commander of the amorphous Jianzhou "garrison" (wei) of eastern Jurchens, the ancestors of the Manchus; in fact he was a commercially and militarily powerful hegemon of what is now northeastern Korea and southeastern Jilin province who regularly collected currency from the Chinese and the Korean rulers in exchange for his help in containing the more chaotic elements among the Jurchen tribes.2 Not long after his death in 1433 his younger brother Fanca led the tribesmen westward , where they eventually broke the power of a rival lineage and established a new homestead at Hetu Ala, not far east of the Ming limits in Liaodong.3 The career of Möngke Temür does not figure prominently in the Qing foundation myth, though it is independently established by the Ming and Yi records. His status as an...