An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Wanggu 汪古, Önggüd

Jan 19, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

The Öngüds, also written Önggüd, Onggut, Onggud, and with many variants in Chinese characters (Wanggu 汪古, Wanggu 汪骨, Wanggu 旺古, Wanggu 王孤, Yonggu 雍古, Yonggu 甕古, or Wangguti 汪古惕), was a nomad people living in the northern steppe from around the 10th century on. They are said to be either a tribe of the Shatuo Türks 沙陀突厥 or the Uyghurs 回鶻. Some said that the ruling house were descendants of Li Keyong 李克用, military commissioner (jiedushi 節度使) over today's Shanxi, and a Shatuo Türk. Some of the Önggüd 'people' certainly were also of Kitan 契丹, Tangutan, and Chinese origin.

When the Kitans and Jurchens 女真 ruled over northern China, they lived north of Mt. Qingshan 大青山 in what is today Inner Mongolia. Their vicinity to settle peoples was felt in their cultural traits. They were therefore also called "White Tatars" (Bai Dada 白達旦) or "Civilized Tartars" (Shu Dada 熟韃靼), as a distinction to the "Black Tatars" (Hei Dada 黑韃靼) or "Wild Tatars" (Sheng Dada 生韃靼), the Mongols. Chinese sources also call them a side-tribe of the Tatars (Dada biebu 韃靼別部), but it is more probable that the greatest part of them was of Türkish origin. The Kitans, founders of the Liao empire 遼 (907-1125), entrusted them with the safeguarding of the Pass of Weizhou 衛州塞 in a protective wall erected to ward off raiding parties of the steppe tribes. This wall was in Mongolian language called unkuh, a term from which the name of the Önggüds seems to be derived.

In the later years of the Kitan Liao empire the tribesleader Chuanggur 牀古兒 was appointed "xiangyin 詳穩", which is another transliteration of jiangjun 將軍 "general". As part of the Jin empire 金 (1115-1234) of the Jurchens, the Önggüds lived under the jurisdiction of the bandit suppression commission of the Northwest (Xibei zhaotaosi 西北路招討司) and were entrusted with the protection of the prefecture of Weijing 衛凈州, and their chieftains were given the title of "King Pacifying the North" (Beiping wang 北平王). In 1203 the chieftain brothers Alawusi 阿剌兀思 and Tijihulu 剔吉忽里 refused the request of the Naimans 乃蠻 to fight against Činggis Qaɣan, leader of the Mongols, and instead accepted the suzerainty of the emerging Mongol federation and sent troops to support Činggis Qaɣan in his war against the Naimans.

When Činggis Qan adopted the title of Great Khan (Qaɣan) in 1206 the five miliarchies (qianhu 千戶) Önggüds were given an official status in the Mongol federation. They served as vanguard in the war against the Jin empire that began in 1211, first independently, but then under the command of the Mongol prince Muqali 木華黎. The leaders of the Önggüds reigned in their own rights over the circuits (lu 路) of Jining 集寧 (today Bayantala Community 巴彥塔拉公社 in Čaqar Baraɣun Ɣarun Emünedü qosiɣu Banner 察哈爾右翼前旗, Inner Mongolia), Jingzhou 凈州 (today Chengbu Village 城卜子村 in the Dörbed qosiɣu Banner 四子王旗), Shajing 砂井 (today 紅格爾公社 in the Dörbed qosiɣu Banner) and Dening 德寧 (today Elunsum Village 鄂倫蘇木 in the Darqan qosiɣu Banner 達茂旗). The rulers of the Önggüd settled down in a residence called Fort Anding 按打堡子 (today Aibugai 艾不蓋 in the Darqan qosiɣu Banner), later called Xincheng 新城, then Jing'an 靜安, and finally Dening.

The Önggüd nobility was allowed to intermarry with the Mongolian elite, and Alawusi was given one of Činggis Qaɣan's daughters (Alaγa Beqi, Alahai gongzhu 阿剌海公主) as a consort, and Aibuqa 愛不花, a son of Alawusi's second son of Boyaohe 孛要合, a daughter of Qubilai Qaɣan. Alawusi's successor was Buyanxiban 不顏昔班, then succeeded his nephew Zhenguo 鎮國 and then Boyaohe. He latter was appointed Counsellor-in-chief (chengxiang 丞相). Kuolijisi 闊里吉思 was made King of Gaotang 高唐王, but he perished in the fight against Duwa 篤哇, ruler of the Chagatai Khanate. His younger brother Shuhunan 術忽難 was made King of Yu 鄃王 and King of Zhao 趙王.

There were several famous sons of the Önggüd people, like the writer Ma Zuchang 馬祖常 or the Censor Zhao Shiting 趙世延. Although most of the Önggüds continued to be pastoral nomads, part of them worked the fields, and were taxed accordingly. Within their territory, granaries and postal stations were founded, because the area the Önggüds lived in was an important thoroughfare between northern China, the Mongolian steppe and Central Asia. As the people was of different ethnic stock, the Önggüds were important translators as part of the Semuren 色目人 elite of the social order of the Yuan empire 元 (1279-1368). The religion of the Önggüds was predominantly the Nestorian creed (jingjiao 景教), yet there were also some Buddhist monasteries supported by the Önggüd nobility, as well as Confucian schools in the cities. Kuolijisi even founded a library containing Confucian Classics and historiographical writings.

After the downfall of the Yuan empire, the Önggüds ceased to be a distinct people.

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Shi Xuanyuan 施宣圓 et al., ed. (1987). Zhongguo wenhua cidian 中國文化辭典 (Shanghai: Shanghai shehui kexue yuan chubanshe), 681.
Zhou Qingshu 周清澍 (1992). "Wanggu 汪古", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Lishi 中國歷史 (Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1186.
Zhou Weizhou 周偉洲, Ding Jingtai 丁景泰, ed. (2006). Sichou zhi lu da cidian 絲綢之路大辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 373.