The Dongyi or Eastern Yi (simplified Chinese: 东夷; traditional Chinese: 東夷; pinyin: Dōngyí; Wade–Giles: Tung-i) was a collective term for ancient peoples found in Chinese records. The definition of Dongyi varied across the ages, but in most cases referred to inhabitants of eastern and northeastern China, the Korean peninsula, or Japan. They were one of the Four Barbarians in Chinese culture, along with the Northern Di, the Southern Man, and the Western Rong; as such, the name "Yí" 夷 was something of a catch-all and was applied to different groups over time.
Oracle bone inscriptions from the early 11th century BCE refer to campaigns by the late Shang king Di Yi against the Rénfāng (人方), a group occupying the area of southern Shandong and northern Jiangsu. Many Chinese archaeologists apply the historical name "Dongyi" to the archaeological Yueshi culture (1900–1500 BCE). Other scholars, such as Fang Hui, consider this identification problematic because of the high frequency of migrations in prehistoric populations of the region.
The Chinese word yí in Dōngyí has a long history and complex semantics.
The modern Chinese regular script character 夷 for yí combines radicals (recurring character elements) da 大 "big" and gong 弓 "bow", which are also seen in the seal script. However, yí was written in the earlier bronze script as a person wrapped with something, and in the earliest oracle bone script as a person with a bent back and legs.
The (121 CE) Shuowen Jiezi character dictionary, defines yí 夷 as "men of the east" 東方之人也. The dictionary also informs that yí 夷 is not dissimilar from the Xià 夏, which means referred to the Chinese. Elsewhere in the Shuowen Jiezi, under the entry of qiang 羌, the term yí is associated with benevolence and human longevity. Yí countries are therefore virtuous places where people live long lives. This is why Confucius wanted to go to yí countries when the dao could not be realized in the central states.
The scholar Léon Wieger provided multiple definitions to the term yí: "The men 大 armed with bows 弓, the primitive inhabitants, barbarians, borderers of the Eastern Sea, inhabitants of the South-West countries."
Bernhard Karlgren says that in the bronze script for yí inscribed on Zhou Dynasty (c. 1045 BCE – c. 256 BCE) Chinese bronze inscriptions, "The graph has 'man' and 'arrow', or 'arrow' with something wound around the shaft."
The Yi, or Dongyi, are associated with the bow and arrow: K. C. Wu says the modern character 夷 designating the historical "Yí peoples", is composed of the characters for 大 "big (person)" and 弓 "bow"; which implies a big person carrying a bow, and also that this old form of this Chinese Character was composed with an association of a certain group of people with the use of the bow in mind. Some classic Chinese history records like Zuo Zhuan, Shuowen Jiezi, Classic of Rites, all have some similar records about this.
The earliest records of yi were inscribed on oracle bones dating from the late Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 – c. 1046 BCE). This oracle bone script was used interchangeably for yí 夷, rén 人 "human", and shī 尸 "corpse; personator of the dead; inactive; lay out". The archeologist and scholar Guo Moruo believed the oracle graph for yi denotes "a dead body, i.e., the killed enemy", while the bronze graph denotes "a man bound by a rope, i.e., a prisoner or slave". The historical linguist Xu Zhongshu explains this oracle character depicts either a "corpse"' with two bent legs or a "barbarian" custom of sitting with one's legs stretched out instead of the Chinese norm of squatting on one's heels. The early China historian Li Feng says the Western Zhou bronze graph for Yí was "differentiated from rén 人 (human) by its kneeling gesture, clearly implying a population that was deemed a potential source of slaves or servants", thus meaning "foreign conquerable". Axel Schuessler hypothesizes an Old Chinese etymological development from *li 夷 "extend; expose; display; set out; spread out" to *lhi 尸 "to spread out; lie down flat (in order to sleep); motionless; to set forth (sacrificial dishes)", to "personator of a dead ancestor", and to "corpse".
Historical linguists have tentatively reconstructed yí 夷's ancient pronunciations and etymology. The Modern Standard Chinese pronunciation yí descends from (c. 6th–9th centuries CE) Middle Chinese and (c. 6th–3rd centuries BCE) Old Chinese. Middle and Old Chinese reconstructions of yí 夷 "barbarian; spread out" include i < *djər, yij < *ljɨj, jiɪ < *lil, and ji < *ləi. As to the most recent reconstruction, William H. Baxter and Laurent Sagart (2014) reconstruct the Old Chinese name of yí 夷 as *ləj.
As Yuèjuèshū (越絕書) states that the Yue word for "sea" is also 夷 (*li → yí), Sinologist Axel Schuessler proposes an Austroasiatic etymology for the ethnonym *li by comparing to Khmer ทะเล dhle "sea", from Pre-Angkorian Old Khmer ទន្លេ danle(y) "large expanse of water"; thus the ethnonym might have referred to a people living by the sea.
The sinologist Edwin G. Pulleyblank describes how Yi usages semantically changed. "Their name furnished the primary Chinese term for 'barbarian' and is sometimes used in such a generalized sense as early as the Spring and Autumn period. At the same time it continued to have a specific reference, denoting especially the Yi of the Huai river region, who constituted a recognized political entity. Paradoxically the Yi were considered the most 'civilized' of the non-Chinese peoples."
It is not easy to determine the times of people that a Classical Chinese document reflects.
Literature describing a pre-Xia Dynasty period does not use the character yi. As for the Xià Dynasty, some groups of people are referred to as the Yi. For example, the Yu Gong chapter of the Shu Ji or Book of Documents terms people in Qingzhou and Xuzhou Laiyi (萊夷), Yuyi (嵎夷) and Huaiyi (淮夷). Another yi-related term is Jiu-yi (九夷), literally Nine Yi, which could have also had the connotation The Numerous Yi or The Many Different Kinds of Yi, and which appears in a passage in The Analects that reads, "The Master (i.e., Confucius) desired to live among the Nine Yi." The term "Dongyi" is not used for this period.
Shang Dynasty oracle shell and bone writings record yi but not Dongyi. Shima Kunio's concordance of oracle inscriptions lists twenty occurrences of the script for 夷 or 尸, most frequently (6 times) in the compound zhishi 祉尸 "bless the personator; blessed personator". Michael Carr notes some contexts are ambiguous, but suggests, "Three compounds refer to 'barbarians' (in modern characters, fayi 伐夷 'attack barbarians', zhengyi 征夷 'punish barbarians', and yifang 夷方 'barbarian regions')." Oracle inscriptions record that Shang King Wu Ding (r. c. 1250–1192 BCE) made military expeditions on the Yi, and King Di Xin (r. c. 1075–1046 BCE) waged a massive campaign against the Yifang 夷方 "barbarian regions". It appears that the Yifang were the same people as Huaiyi (Huai River Yi), Nanhuaiyi (Southern Huai Yi), Nanyi (Southern Yi) and Dongyi according to bronzeware inscriptions of the Western Zhou Dynasty. The Zhou Dynasty attempted to keep the Yi under its control. The most notable example of which is the successful campaign against the Huaiyi and the Dongyi led by the Duke of Zhou.
On the other hand, historian Huang Yang notes that in the Shang period, "the term yi probably did not carry the sense of 'barbarian'. Rather it simply denoted one of the many tribes or regions that were the target of the Shang military campaigns ... We see, therefore, that at the beginning the yi might haven been certain particular tribe or group of people that was neighboring the Shang."
During the Spring and Autumn period, Jin, Zheng, Qi and Song tried to seize control of the Huai River basin, which was occupied by the Huaiyi, but the region ultimately fell under the influence of Chu to the south. At the same time, people in the east and south ceased to be called Dongyi as they founded their own states. These Yifang states included the states of Xu, Lai, Zhongli, Ju and Jiang. The small state of Jie was based around present-day Jiaozhou. The state of Xu occupied large areas of modern Jiangsu and Anhui provinces between the Huai and Yangtze Rivers. Eventually, after warring with Chu and Wu, it was conquered by the State of Wu in 512 BC. Chu annexed the State of Jiang, destroyed the State of Ju whose territory was annexed by the State of Qi. Recent archaeological excavations reveal that the State of Xu's presence extended to western Jiangxi in modern Jing'an County. This includes bronzeware inscriptions about the State of Xu and also a tomb with many nanmu coffins containing sacrificial female victims. Dongyi customs include burials with many sacrificial victims and veneration of the sun.
References to Dongyi became ideological during the Warring States period, owing to cultural changes in Chinese concepts of Self and Other. When the (c. 4th BCE) Classic of Rites recorded stereotypes about the Siyi "Four Barbarians" (Dongyi, Xirong, Nanman, and Beidi) in the four directions, Dongyi had acquired a clearly pejorative nuance.
The people of those five regions – the Middle states, and the [Rong], [Yi], (and other wild tribes round them) – had all their several natures, which they could not be made to alter. The tribes on the east were called [Yi]. They had their hair unbound, and tattooed their bodies. Some of them ate their food without its being cooked. Those on the south were called Man. They tattooed their foreheads, and had their feet turned in towards each other. Some of them (also) ate their food without its being cooked. Those on the west were called [Rong]. They had their hair unbound, and wore skins. Some of them did not eat grain-food. Those on the north were called [Di]. They wore skins of animals and birds, and dwelt in caves. Some of them also did not eat grain-food. The people of the Middle states, and of those [Yi], Man, [Rong], and [Di], all had their dwellings, where they lived at ease; their flavours which they preferred; the clothes suitable for them; their proper implements for use; and their vessels which they prepared in abundance. In those five regions, the languages of the people were not mutually intelligible, and their likings and desires were different. To make what was in their minds apprehended, and to communicate their likings and desires, (there were officers) – in the east, called transmitters; in the south, representationists; in the west, [Di-dis]; and in the north, interpreters.
The more "China" expanded, the further east the term "Dongyi" was applied to. The Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian uses the term "Manyi" (蠻夷), but not "Dongyi". It puts the section of "Xinanyi (southwestern Yi) liezhuan (biographies)", but not "Dongyi liezhuan". The Book of Han does not put this section either but calls a Dongye (濊) chief in the Korean Peninsula as Dongyi. The Book of Later Han puts the section of "Dongyi liezhuan (東夷列傳)" and covers Buyeo, Yilou, Goguryeo, Eastern Okjeo, Hui, Samhan and Wa, in other words, eastern Manchuria, Korea, Japan and some other islands. The Book of Jin positioned Dongyi inside the section of "Siyi" (barbarians in four directions) along with "Xirong", "Nanman" and "Beidi". The Book of Sui, the Book of Tang and the New Book of Tang adopt the section of "Dongyi" and covers eastern Manchuria, Korea, Japan and optionally Sakhalin and Taiwan. During the Song Dynasty, the official history books replaced Dongyi with Waiguo (外國) and Waiyi (外夷).
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