An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Jiuli 九黎

Feb 14, 2018 © Ulrich Theobald

Jiuli 九黎, the Nine Li tribes, were a federation of several tribes living in southern China (region of River Han and the middle Yangtze River) in prehistoric times. Their supreme leader was Chi You 蚩尤. According to legend, Chi You had 81 brothers, nine of which were heads of individual tribes, which in turn were divided into nine groups each.

The northward expansion of these powerful tribes roused conflict with the tribes in the Yellow River plain. This conflict is reflected in mythology and the legends of the wars between the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di 黃帝) and the Red Emperor (Yan Di 炎帝), the latter having adopted the title of "Son of Heaven" (tianzi zhi wei 天子之位). After initial strife, the two "emperors" created an alliance against Chi You, a former subject of the Red Emperor. In the battle of Zhuolu 涿鹿 (today's Zhuolu 涿鹿 or Huailai 懷來, Hebei), Chi You was defeated.

After this final defeat, part of the Li tribes founded the statelet of Li 黎 that was later incorporated into the state of the Zhou dynasty 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE), while others merged with the people of the Central Plain, and yet others founded the alliance of the Three Miao Tribes 三苗. The oldest reference to the Jiuli tribes is seen in the history of the state of Chu (Chuyu 楚語) in the history book Guoyu 國語.

It is reported that the Li tribes relied on shamans (wu 巫) to communicate with spirits and deities, were able to forge weapons, and had been the first who created a kind of penal law code.

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