An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

The Jurchen Jin Dynasty 金 (1115-1234)

The Jin dynasty 金 (1115-1234) was the second great "barbarian" dynasty ruling over northern China. It was founded by Wanyan Aguda 完顏阿骨打 (Emperor Taizu of the Jin 金太祖, r. 1115-1122), khan of the federation of the Jurchens, who are commonly seen as the ancestors of the Manchus, who later founded the Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911).

The court of the Song empire 宋 (960-1279) hoped to use the military prowess of the "wild" Jurchens to conquer northern China that was occupied by the Liao empire 遼 (907-1125), a foundation of the proto-Mongolian federation of the Kitans. The Jin armies conquered the Liao empire, but continued their campaign and in 1126 occupied the Song capital Kaifeng 開封 (modern Kaifeng, Henan). The Song court fled to the far southeast and established the later so called Southern Song empire in Lin'an 臨安 (modern Hangzhou 杭州, Zhejiang). In 1142 the Jin Dynasty concluded a peace treaty with the Southern Song that imposed heavy tributes on the formerly so proud cultural centre of East Asia.

Like the Liao dynasty before, the Jin emperors quickly adopted the Chinese governmental system and employed Chinese officials and advisors in their government. Official documents were translated from Chinese into Jurchen, for which language a special script was developed. The Jurchen subjects were administered in a different mode than the Chinese and Kitans. There was never a consensus among the Jurchen elite as to which degree the Jurchens should be allowed to adopt Chinese customs and culture. Traditionalists feared that full-scale "sinification" might destroy the traditional virtues of the Jurchen people. Among the Jin emperors, some favoured the old way of Jurchen life, while others, mainly the Prince of Hailing 海陵王 (r. 1149-1160), preferred a Chinese-style way of government, in order to cope with the Song empire in the south.

Economic disasters and internal quarrels weakened the Jin empire. It finally fell victim to the Mongolian conquest machine in 1234.

This chapter of the encyclopaedia gives an overview of the political history of the Jurchen Jin empire, the geography of the realm and its surroundings, provides a list of its rulers, describes the administration and political structure of the empire, and gives insight into the religion and beliefs of the time, as well as the fine arts, the economy and literature and philosophy.