Dongyi (東夷) was a collective term for people in Eastern China and in the east of China. People referred to as Dongyi vary across the ages.

The character 夷

Chinese dictionaries give various meanings of yi. Besides "Dongyi", it also means "foreign" (外夷), "flat and safe" (化险为夷), "calm (and composed)" (夷然自若), "to level" (夷为平地), "same kind" (夷等:同辈), "kill" (族夷), "name" (伯夷), "joyful" (通“怡” as in 我心则夷), "hoe" (锄), etc.

The first Chinese dictionary, Shuowen Jiezi by Xu Shen interpretated "夷" as "big bow". The character itself consists of two Chinese characters: "大", meaning "big" and depicting a frontal view of a person with arms outstretched, and "弓", meaning "bow". Dongyi people are usually referred to as the eastern bowmen, who also first invented the bow in China. Houyi, one of the legendary leaders of Dongyi, is the Chinese God of Archery.

Historical usages

Pre-Qin usages

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 Xia Dynasty, some groups of people are referred to as the Yi. For example, "Yu Gong" (禹貢) of the Classic of History calls people in Qingzhou and Xuzhou as 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 the famous 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.

The Shang Dynasty has contemporary sources, in other words, oracle bone inscriptions. These records state that King Wu Ding (reign c. 1250 BC-1192 BC) made military expeditions to the Yi. The enclave of the Yi people is considered to have been located to the southeast of the Shang Dynasty. King Di Xin, the last king, made a massive military campaign against the Yifang (夷方). The word "yifang" is often interpreted as "renfang" (人方) because the pictures of "夷" and "人" (meaning: person, humans) look alike in oracle script. Some history books use "Dongyi" for Shang-related episodes, but judging from oracle bone inscriptions, the Shang people themselves did not use this term.

It appears that the Yifang were the same people as Huaiyi (Huai River Yi), Nanhuaiyi (Southern Huai Yi), Nanyi (Southern Yi) and Dongyi in bronzeware inscriptions of the Western Zhou Dynasty. The Zhou Dynasty attempted to keep the Yi under its control. The most notable is the successful campaign against the Huaiyi and the Dongyi by the Duke of Zhou.

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 finally fell under the influence of Chu in the south. At the same time, people in the east and south ceased to be called Dongyi as they founded their own states.

References to Dongyi became ideological during the Warring States period probably because selves and others had subtle cultural differences among Chinese. The Classic of Rites (early 4th BC) made the first reference to the combination of "Dongyi" (east), "Xirong" (west), "Nanman" (south) and "Beidi" (north) in fixed four directions. At the same time "Dongyi" acquired a clearly pejorative nuance.

Post-Qin usages

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" and covers Buyeo, Yilou, Goguryeo, Dongwozu, 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).

The Usage of Dongyi in Chinese history books

1) Records of the Grand Historian and Book of Han

These two history books do not assign many chapters to describe the history of Dongyi. However, it includes the simple description Wiman Joseon. Wiman fled from Han dynasty to Gojoseon, and he diguised as if he was Gojoseon people. As decribing the disguise of Wiman, Sima Qian says that that Gojoseon people are Manyi(蠻夷) instead of Dongyi. Book of Han uses the same term as Records of the Grand Historian.

2) Book of the Later Han

This book was written by Fan Ye (historian). This book contains the chapter of 'Dongyi', which describes the history of Korea and Japan such as Buyeo, Goguryeo, Okjeo, Dongye, Samhan, Wa (Japan).

3) Records of Three Kingdoms

This book was written by Chen Shou, and also contains the chapter about 'Dongyi'. The chapter of "Wuwan Xianbei Dongyi" describes the Wuwan tribes, Xianbei tribes, and Dongyi tribes respectively. In the section of Dongyi, this book explains the Korean and Japanese ancient kingdoms such as Buyeo, Goguryeo, Okjeo, Dongye, Samhan, and Wa (Japan).

4) Book of Jin

This book was written by Fang Xuanling at Tang dynasty. It has the chapter of 'Four Yi', and describes the Korean, Manchurian, and Japanese history such as Buyeo, Mahan confederacy, Jinhan confederacy, Sushen, and Wa (Japan)

5) Book of Song

This history book describes the history of Liu Song Dynasty, but also contains the simple explanation the neighbor states. The Chapter of Dongyi of this book describes the ancient history of Korea and Japan such as Goguryeo, Baekje and Wa (Japan).

6) Book of Qi

The Book of Qi is the history book of Southern Qi. In the 58th volume, the history of Dongyi's history is described, which includes the ancient Korean and Japanese history such as Goguryeo, Baekje, Gaya and Wa (Japan).

7) History of Southern Dynasties

This book is about the history of Liu Song, Southern Qi, Liang Dynasty, and Chen Dynasty, but also includes the history of Dongyi. In the chapter of Dongyi, this book describes the Korean and Japanese history such as Goguryeo, Baekje, Silla, Wa (Japan), and so on. . Interestingly, this book says that Dongyi's state was Gojoseon while Sima Qian says that Gojoseon people is Manyi. .

8) Book of Sui

The Book of Sui describes the history about the Sui Dynasty, and was compiled at Tang dynasty. The chapter of Dongyi's history describes the history of Korean, Manchurian and Japanese such as Goguryeo, Baekje, Silla, Mohe, Liuqiu, and Wa (Japan).

Modern usages


Some Chinese scholars extend the historical use of Dongyi to prehistoric times. They consider Dongyi as one of the origins of Chinese people, based on the hypothesis of the pluralistic origins of Chinese culture that became popular in 1980s.

People called Dongyi in this sense lived in Haidai (海岱) region, the lower reaches of the Yellow and Huai Rivers, from the Neolithic period.

The cultural evolution in Haidai region is considered as follows:

The ages differ among scholars

The Shandong Longshan culture was characterized by large-scale hierarchical groups of walled settlements. The Yueshi culture which replaced the Longshan culture around 2000 B.C. saw a decline of civilization. Groups of settlements were dissolved and the highly-developed pottery technology of the Shandong Longshan culture was lost.

(Note: The Longshan Culture was not just Dongyi and did not just exist in Shandong and other eastern coastal areas of China. Areas further west, including much of the middle and lower Yellow River Valley region, was also a part of the Longshan Culture area. Historians such as Jacques Gernet think that the Longshan Culture was also culturally ancestral to the Erlitou Culture and the later Shang dynasty in the middle Yellow River Valley region. There are some good evidence for this claim, for both the Longshan and Shang cultures shared the following basic elements:

  1. A similar technical of divination based on heating animal bones and shells until they crack.
  2. Similar construction techniques for city-walls, fortifications and building platforms using rammed earth.
  3. Similar artistic styles.

Furthermore, the Shang dynasty technology of bronze metallurgy seems to be the descendant of high temperature ceramic-making techniques used by the late Neolithic Longshan Culture.

The Longshan Culture might have been replaced by the Yueshi Culture in Shandong but further to the west it continued and developed into the Erlitou Culture around 1900 - 1800 BC.)

During the Yueshi culture in Shandong, the Erlitou culture and the subsequent Erligang culture gradually stretched from the Yellow River valley in the west. Since sites of the Yueshi culture distributed complementarily with those of the Erligang culture, the traditional theory that the Shang Dynasty originated in the east was shattered. Shang civilization extended to central Shandong at the end of the Shang Dynasty and it was during the middle Western Zhou Dynasty that the central civilization covered the entire Haidai region.

It is notable that Longshan people seemingly had their own writing system. A pottery inscription of the Longshan culture discovered in Dinggong Village, Zouping County, Shandong Province contains eleven characters and they do not look like the direct ancestor of Chinese characters. Chinese scholar Feng Shi (馮時) argued in 1994 that this inscription can be interpreted as written by the Longshan people. Other scholars, like Ming Ru, are doubtful about attributing a Neolithic date to the inscription. Some other scholars also claim a connection between ancient Dongyi and the modern Yi people in southwestern China.

South Korea

In South Korea, the Chinese characters for Dongyi is pronounced dong-i (동이). It is considered by Koreans as the name that the Chinese used to call the people to its east. It is thought to refer to the various peoples of this geographic region, rather that a specific ethnicity, although the term later expanded to include specific ethnic groups.

Silhak scholars of later Joseon period studied mentions of Dongyi in Chinese texts, to connect it with ancient Korean history, such as with Han Chi-yun's Haedong Yeoksa. Some modern Korean scholars continue to examine the ethnic characteristics, geography, and cultural development of the Dongyi as they may relate to Korean history.

Some have attempted to explain Gija Joseon with a theory of Dongyi migration, but many reject this as unsupported by archeology.

See also



  • Cai Fengshu 蔡鳳書, Kodai Santō bunka to kōryū 古代山東文化と交流, Higashi Ajia to hantō kūkan 東アジアと『半島空間』, pp. 45-58, 2003.
  • Luan Fengshi 栾丰实, 论"夷"和"东夷" (On "Yi" and "Dong Yi"), Zhongyuan Wenwu 中原文物 (Cultural Relics of Central China), 2002.1, pp. 16-20.
  • Matsumaru Michio 松丸道雄, Kanji kigen mondai no shintenkai 漢字起源問題の新展開, Chūgoku kodai no moji to bunka 中国古代の文字と文化, 1999.
  • Matsumaru Michio 松丸道雄 and Takashima Ken'ichi 高嶋謙一 ed., Kōkotsumoji Jishaku Sōran 甲骨文字字釋綜覽, 1994.
  • Shirakawa Shizuka 白川静, Jitō 字統, 2004.
  • Tang Jiahong 唐嘉弘, 东夷及其历史地位, Shixue yuekan 史学月刊, 1989.4, pp.37-46.
  • Xu Guanghui 徐光輝, Kodai no bōgyo shūraku to seidōki bunka no kōryū 古代の防御集落と青銅器文化の交流, Higashi Ajia to hantō kūkan 東アジアと『半島空間』, pp. 21-44, 2003.
  • Yoshimoto Michimasa 吉本道雅 Chūgoku Sengoku jidai ni okeru "Shii" kannen no seiritsu 中国戦国時代における「四夷」観念の成立. Retrieved on 2006-03-04..

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