An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Zubu 阻卜

Feb 15, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Zubu 阻卜 is a name for the Mongolian tribe of the Tatars 韃靼 that was used in the official dynastic histories of the Liao 遼 (907-1125) and Jin 金 (1115-1234) empires. They are also known under the names Zupu 阻{革+菐/䪁}, Zhubugu 朮不姑 or Shubao 殊保.

The historian Wang Guowei 王國維 explains in his book Dada kao 韃靼考 that the Mongols, founders of the Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368), avoided using the name Dada and instead used the designation Zubu. The reason for this is that the dynastic founder, Činggis Qaɣan, hailed from the tribe of the Dada, and this name was therefore a sacrosanct taboo name. It was only reintroduced during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644).

The use of the designation Zubu in the histories Liaoshi 遼史 and Jinshi 金史 is therefore actually an anachronism. Yet recently scholars have found out that the term Zubu was in fact already used during the Jin period and even during the Liao period. The Khitans 契丹, founders of the Liao empire, used the name Zubu to refer to all nomad tribes living in the region of the Rivers Kerulen, Orkhon and Tula and southwards to the Yinshan Range 陰山. The designation is therefore not very exact to refer to ethnic identity, not even with the geographical attribute of "Northern Zubu" 北阻卜, "Western Zubu" 西阻卜, or "Northwestern Zubu" 西北阻卜. Much more helpful are designations like Zubu Zhala 阻卜札剌, which refers to the tribe of the Jalayirs 茶札剌.

The various Zubu tribes were under the suzerainty of the Liao empire administered the great royal prefectures (dawangfu 大王府) Zhenzhou 鎮州, Fangzhou 防州 and Weizhou 維州 that were supervised by a military commissioner (jiedushi 節度使) for all Zubu tribes. The Jin empire, as heir of the Liao empire, administered the northern steppe tribes in a so-called bandit suppression commission (zhaotaosi 招討司).

Gao Wende 高文德, ed. (1995). Zhongguo shaoshu minzu shi da cidian 中國少數民族史大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin jiaoyu chubanshe), 1259.
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 remin chubanshe), 373.