The Manchu people are a Tungusic people who originated in Manchuria (today’s northeastern China). During their rise in the 17th century, with the help of the Ming dynasty rebels (such as general Wu Sangui), they came to power in China and founded the Qing Dynasty, which ruled China until the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, which established a republican government in its place.
The Manchu ethnicity has largely been assimilated with the Han Chinese. The Manchu language is almost extinct, now spoken only among a small number of elderly people in remote rural areas of northeastern China and a few scholars; there are around ten thousand speakers of Sibe (Xibo), a Manchu dialect spoken in the Ili region of Xinjiang. In recent years, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in Manchu culture among both ethnic Manchus and Han. The number of Chinese today with some Manchu ancestry is quite large – with 10.68 million members (in China), Manchu is the 3rd largest ethnic group in China after the Han and the Zhuang. The adoption of favorable policies towards ethnic minorities (such as preferential university admission, government employment opportunities and exemption from the one child policy) has encouraged some people with mixed Han and Manchu ancestry to re-identify themselves as Manchu.
The first ancestors of the Manchu were the Sushen, a people who lived during the second and first millennia BC. They were followed by the Yilou people, who were active from AD 202 to 220. The Wuji followed in the 5th century and the tribes of the Mohe in the 6th century. One of the tribes of the Mohe, the Heishui (Amur River) tribe, eventually became the ancestors of the Jurchens, from whom the Manchu originated.
The Jurchens under the Wanyan clan established the Jin Dynasty (literally Golden Dynasty) that ruled the northern half of China (1115–1234) and rivaled the Song Dynasty in southern China. The Jin were conquered by the Mongols under Genghis Khan.
Before the 17th century, the ancestors of the Manchus were generally a pastoral people, hunting, fishing and engaging in limited agriculture and pig-farming.
One of the old traditions of Manchu is the system of bondservants, booi aha or just booi, translated into Mandarin as nucai. The Jurchen tribes employed booi as early as the 15th century, and it was common practice for Manchu military commanders to have their field and house bondservants serving in booi units during military campaigns. The booi differ from Chinese bond slavery in a few key ways, and are somewhat akin to the European feudal liege-bondsman relation. Firstly, booi status is hereditary, similar to a social caste. However, booi were not viewed as properties (although sales of bondservants did occur). Thirdly, booi is more a matter of rank and heredity rather than profession or social status. Indeed, many booi were richly rewarded by their bondmasters, and amassed great wealth and power. Booi status to the imperial Aisin Gioro clan was very prestigious, and they retained the privillege to call themselves “nucai” (slave) when addressing their Aisin Gioro lords.
In 1673 the killing of a ‘booi’s slaves to accompany their dead master to the grave was outlawed.