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The Xianbei (simplified Chinese: 鲜卑; traditional Chinese: 鮮卑; pinyin: Xiānbēi; Wade–Giles: Hsien-pei) were a significant nomadic people residing in Manchuria and eastern Mongolia, or Xianbei Shan.



The Xianbei were descendants of the Donghu, which used to be believed to represent the “Eastern Hu” based on the Chinese record. Now most Chinese historians believe that Donghu by itself was an ethnonym, rather than having derived from their location on the east of the Xiongnu. Whereas Donghu was a Chinese transcription, the Mongolian reference was “Tünghu” [1]. Later they migrated south and westward into areas of the modern Chinese provinces of Shanxi, Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, and Liaoning. Possibly some Xianbei groups also lived in ancient Eastern Heilongjiang or Hulun Manchu Imperial province,[2] currently Khabarovsk and Amur regions in the Russian Far East.

The Xianbei people consisted of a federation of non-Han groups of which the most important was the Tuoba (拓跋). During the Han Dynasty, they occupied the steppes in Mongolia, Hebei and Liaodong. After the downfall of the Xiongnu, the Xianbei set up the nomadic Xianbei state. After the fall of the Han dynasty, the Xianbei established extensive presence in China.


During the Sixteen Kingdoms (304-439) period, the Xianbei founded six kingdoms in China proper, including the Former Yan (281-370), Western Yan (384-394), Later Yan (383-407), Southern Yan (398-410), Western Qin (385-430) and Southern Liang (397-414). Most of them were unified by the Tuoba Xianbei, who established the Northern Wei (386-535), which was the first of the Northern Dynasties (386-581) founded by the Xianbei[3][4][5].

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