The Di (Chinese: ; pinyin: ; Wade–Giles: Ti1;[1] < Eastern Han Chinese *tei[2] < Old Chinese (B-S): *tˤij) were an ancient ethnic group that lived in western China, and are best known as one of the non-Han Chinese peoples known as the Five Barbarians that seized power in northern China during the Sixteen Kingdoms period. This ethnic group should not be confused with the earlier (狄), which refers to unrelated nomadic peoples in northern China during the earlier Zhou dynasty. The Di are thought to have been of proto-Tibetan origin,[3][4][5] though there is a widespread belief among Chinese scholars that the Di spoke a Turkic language.[6] The Ba-Di (巴氐) were a branch of the Di that intermixed with another ethnic group known as the Cong people (賨).

Only a few special Di names and place names have been preserved in old Chinese books.[7][8][9]



As early as the Spring and Autumn period, the Di lived in areas of present-day Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan and Shaanxi. They were culturally related to the Qiang, but farmed in the river valleys and lived in wood-frame homes with mud walls.[10][11][12] They might be related to the Geji (戈基) people in Qiang people stories.[13] A distinct branch of Di known as the Ba-Di emerged during the 3rd-century. The Ba-Di were initially Cong people from Sichuan that relocated to northwestern China and intermixed with the local Di population. The "Ba" in Ba-Di refers to the region of Ba, where their ancestors originated from.

Han dynasty

In 111 BC, the Han dynasty established Wudu Commandery (武都郡; around present-day Longnan, Gansu) after defeating the local Di people. Some Di fled west towards Qinghai Lake to live in the valleys, while others submitted to the Han and dispersed throughout the Central Plains. In 108 BC, the Di rebelled against Han but were defeated, prompting Emperor Wu of Han to relocate a portion of them to Jiuquan Commandery.

During the end of the Han dynasty, Di chieftains such as Agui (阿貴) of Xingguo (興國; northeast of present-day Qin'an County, Gansu) and Yang Qianwan (楊千萬) of the White Neck Di (白項氐) allied themselves with the warlord, Ma Chao, against the Han Chancellor, Cao Cao. Agui was killed in battle by Cao Cao's general, Xiahou Yuan while Qianwan fled to Yi province. The Di people who remained all surrendered to Cao Cao. In 219, Cao Cao relocated around 50,000 Di people from Wudu to Tianshui and Fufeng commanderies to deter them from allying with his rival, Liu Bei.

Jin dynasty, Sixteen Kingdoms and Northern and Southern dynasties

The Di were one of the Five Barbarians that founded most of the Sixteen Kingdoms during the 4th-century and early 5th-century. During this era, the Di ruled the states of Former Qin (351–394) and Later Liang (386–403), while the Ba-Di ruled the state of Cheng-Han (304–347). Chouchi (296–580) was another Di-led state which coincided with both the Sixteen Kingdoms and Northern and Southern dynasties.

Cheng-Han (304–347)

Prior to the upheaval of the Five Barbarians, the Di, along with many other nomadic peoples in northwestern China, partook in a number of revolts against the Western Jin dynasty. In 296, a Di chieftain, Qi Wannian, was acclaimed as emperor and led a four-year-long rebellion that devastated the Guanzhong region. Many refugees, including the Ba-Di, Li Te, fled south to Hanzhong and Sichuan to escape the confusion. Li Te became a representative for the refugee families, and in 301, he rebelled against Jin in part due to an imperial edict forcing the refugees to return to Guanzhong.

In 304, Li Te's son, Li Xiong captured the provincial capital, Chengdu and established the state of Cheng, one of the first of the Sixteen Kingdoms and the only one that was not based in northern China. It became a haven for refugees fleeing the wars in the north, and due to the prevalence of Taoism in the region, the Taoist hermit, Fan Changsheng was appointed as the state's first Chancellor. Li Xiong initially took the title of King, before elevating himself to Emperor in 306. In 338, Li Xiong's cousin, Li Shou took the throne in a coup and declared a new state called Han. As both Cheng and Han were ruled by the Li clan, historians consider them as a single polity, thus the name Cheng-Han. The Han was conquered in 347 by the Eastern Jin commander, Huan Wen.

Former Qin (351–394)

As the Western Jin collapsed, the Di tribes in Guanzhong had free rein over the region. One Di chieftain, Pu Hong, declared himself the Duke of Lüeyang in 310 and independently controlled the region until 319, when he submitted to the Han-Zhao. He later submitted to the Later Zhao in 329, where he became a high-ranking general under its ruler, Shi Hu. After Shi Hu's death and the collapse of Later Zhao that followed, Pu Hong attempted to break away by returning to Guanzhong, changing his family name to Fu (苻) and claiming the title of King of the Three Qins in the process. In 351, his son, Fu Jiàn took Chang'an and declared himself Heavenly King of (Former) Qin.

In 357, Fu Jiān (note the different pinyin) overthrew his cousin and took the throne. With the early help of Wang Meng, a Han Chinese, as his prime minister, the Former Qin briefly unified northern China and became the largest of the Sixteen Kingdoms, conquering the Former Yan, Chouchi, Former Liang and Dai by 376 as well as Sichuan from the Eastern Jin dynasty. Fu Jiān vied to complete the full unification of China, but following a disastrous defeat to the Eastern Jin at the Battle of Fei River in 383, his empire disintegrated as his generals took the opportunity to secede. Fu Jiān was assassinated by a rebel general, Yao Chang in 385, and in 394, the last of the Former Qin rulers was killed.

Later Liang (386–403)

Lü Guang was a prominent Di general serving under the Former Qin. In 383, he was ordered to lead an expedition to the Western Regions, thus avoiding the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Fei River. In 385, at the advice of the Buddhist monk, Kumārajīva, Lü Guang returned from Kucha and seized Liang province, making Guzang (姑臧, in modern Wuwei, Gansu) his capital. He introduced a new reign era in 386, but only declared himself King of Sanhe in 389 and then Heavenly King of (Later) Liang in 396.

The Later Liang repeatedly attacked the Western Qin in the Longxi, even briefly forcing it into submission, but was also an internally unstable regime. In 397, after a failed invasion of Western Qin, a string of rebellions broke out in Later Liang. Most notably, the Tufa-Xianbei broke away and founded the Southern Liang, followed by the Han Chinese governor, Duan Ye, who was backed by the Lushuihu Juqu clan into establishing the Northern Liang. Later Liang was unable to stop the rebellions, and in 403, faced with pressure from their rival Liang states, their last ruler, Lü Long, surrendered himself and his whole territory to the Later Qin.

Chouchi (296–580)

Chouchi was a small state located southeast in present-day Gansu. It was ruled by the White Neck Di, which had briefly resided in the region before migrating to Lüeyang, but later returned under Yang Maosou to escape Qi Wannian's rebellion in 296. Chouchi is divided into five periods: Former Chouchi, Later Chouchi, Wudu, Yinping and Wuxing. Former Chouchi was subjugated by the Former Qin in 371. It was revived as Later Chouchi by Yang Ding in 385, which in turn was conquered by the Northern Wei in 443.

That same year, Yang Wende restored Chouchi, beginning the Wudu period that lasted until the death of Yang Wendu in 477. Afterwards, the realm was split between two branches of the Yang clan in Wuxing and Yinping. The Wuxing regime was conquered by the Western Wei in 553, while the Yinping regime seemingly disappeared around the same time. In 580, Yang Yongan (楊永安), a Di chieftain in Shazhou (沙州; a name of a region that appears in offices granted by the Southern dynasties to the rulers of Yinping), joined Wang Qian in rebelling against the future Emperor Wen of Sui, but was defeated by Daxi Changru.

With the fall of the last Chouchi states, the Di were eventually assimilated into other populations.[14][15][16] The modern Baima people living in southeast Gansu and northwest Sichuan may be descended from the Di.

Notable people

See also


  1. ^ "汉典".
  2. ^ Schuessler, Axel. 2007. An Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese. University of Hawaii Press. p. 209
  3. ^ Dorothy C. Wong: Chinese Steles: Pre-Buddhist and Buddhist Use of a Symbolic Form. University of Hawaii Press, 2004, page 44.
  4. ^ Henry Luce Foundation Professor of East Asian Studies Nicola Di Cosmo, Nicola Di Cosmo, Don J Wyatt. Political Frontiers, Ethnic Boundaries and Human Geographies in Chinese History. Routledge, 2005, page 87.
  5. ^ John A.G. Roberts: A History of China Archived 2016-04-29 at the Wayback Machine. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. page 43.
  6. ^ Guo Ji Zhongguo Yu Yan Xue Ping Lun, Volume 1, Issue 1, J. Benjamins 1996. page 7.
  7. ^ "用麗江白族語試讀趙整歌謠"阿得脂"". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  8. ^ "古羌族派分之民族 五 川西北地区的氐类". Archived from the original on 2013-08-25. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
  9. ^ The Baima Tibetans and the Di people of Chinese historical records
  10. ^ (Chinese) 段渝, 先秦巴蜀地区百濮和氐羌的来源 Archived 2018-09-08 at the Wayback Machine 2006-11-30
  11. ^ 四川三星堆之謎新解:平武發現"縱目人"後裔?-搜狐IT
  12. ^ 汉晋时期藏彝走廊中的“氐”
  13. ^ “羌戈大战”与岷江上游古羌人的族群认同
  14. ^ 羌族族源及其文化多样性成因研究 Archived 2012-05-10 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ 浅说黑水民族源流
  16. ^ 华夏文化-西南夷——氐羌、笮人及炯人 - 国际在线