Yue (Chinese: 越; Old Chinese: *[ɢ]ʷat), also known as Yuyue (於越), was a state in ancient China which existed during the first millennium BC – the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods of China's Zhou dynasty – in the modern provinces of Zhejiang, Shanghai, and Jiangsu. Its original capital was Kuaiji (modern Shaoxing); after its conquest of Wu, the Kings of Yue moved their court north to the city of Wu (modern Suzhou).
State of Yue
Map of the Chinese plain in the 5th century BC. The state of Yue is located in the southeast corner.
|Capital||Kuaiji, later Wu|
• 496–465 BC
|Historical era||Spring and Autumn period|
Warring States period
• Conquered by Chu
"Yue" in seal script (top) and modern (bottom) Chinese characters
The name "Baiyue" (百越) was applied indiscriminately to many non-Chinese peoples who had been mentioned in numerous classical texts. A specific kingdom, which had been known as the "Yue Guo" (越國) in modern Zhejiang, was not mentioned until it began a series of wars against its northern Yue neighbor Wu during the late 6th century BC. According to the Records of the Grand Historian and Discourses of the States, the Yue are descended from Wuyu, the son of Shao Kang which as known as the sixth king of the Xia dynasty.
With help from Wu's enemy Chu, Yue was able to be victorious after several decades of conflict. The famous Yue King Goujian destroyed and annexed Wu in 473 BC. During the reign of Wujiang (無彊), six generations after Goujian, Yue was partitioned by Chu and Qi in 306 BC.
During its existence, Yue was famous for the quality of its metalworking, particularly its swords. Examples include the extremely well-preserved Swords of Goujian and Zhougou.
The Yue state appears to have been a largely indigenous political development in the lower Yangtze. This region corresponds with that of the old corded-ware Neolithic, and it continued to be one that shared a number of practices, such as tooth extraction, pile building, and cliff burial, practices that continued until relatively recent times in places such as Taiwan. Austronesian speakers also still lived in the region down to its conquest and sinification beginning about 240 BC.
What set the Yue apart from other Sinitic states of the time was their possession of a navy. Yue culture was distinct from the Chinese in its practice of naming boats and swords. A Chinese text described the Yue as a people who used boats as their carriages and oars as their horses.
Rulers of Yue family tree
|Rulers of Yue family tree|
After the fall of Yue, the ruling family moved south to what is now northern Fujian and set up the Minyue kingdom. This successor state lasted until around 150 BC, when it miscalculated an alliance with the Han dynasty.
Mingdi, Wujiang's second son, was appointed minister of Wucheng (present-day Huzhou's Wuxing District) by the king of Chu. He was titled Marquis of Ouyang Ting, from a pavilion on the south side of Ouyu Mountain. The first Qin dynasty emperor Qin Shi Huang abolished the title after his conquest of Chu in 223 BC, but descendants and subjects of its former rulers took up the surnames Ou, Ouyang, and Ouhou (歐侯) in remembrance.
In Chinese astronomy, there are two stars named for Yue:
People from Yue
Possible languages spoken in the state of Yue may have been of Tai-Kadai and Austronesian origins. Li Hui (2001) identifies 126 Tai-Kadai cognates in Maqiao Wu dialect spoken in the suburbs of Shanghai out of more than a thousand lexical items surveyed. According to the author, these cognates are likely traces of 'old Yue language' (gu Yueyu 古越語).
Wolfgang Behr (2002) points out that some scattered non-Sinitic words found in the two ancient Chinese fictional texts, Mu tianzi zhuan 穆天子傳 (4th c. BC) and Yuejue shu 越絕書 (1st c. AD), can be compared to lexical items in Tai-Kadai languages:
“The Wú say yī for ‘good’ and huăn for ‘way’, i.e. in their titles they follow the central kingdoms, but in their names they follow their own lords.”
伊 yī < MC ʔjij < OC *bq(l)ij ← Siamese diiA1, Longzhou dai1, Bo'ai nii1 Daiya li1, Sipsongpanna di1, Dehong li6 < proto-Tai *ʔdɛiA1 | Sui ʔdaai1, Kam laai1, Maonan ʔdaai1, Mak ʔdaai6 < proto-Kam-Sui/proto-Kam-Tai *ʔdaai1 'good'
缓 [huăn] < MC hwanX < OC *awan ← Siamese honA1, Bo'ai hɔn1, Dioi thon1 < proto-Tai *xronA1| Sui khwən1-i, Kam khwən1, Maonan khun1-i, Mulam khwən1-i < proto-Kam-Sui *khwən1 'road, way' | proto-Hlai *kuun1 || proto-Austronesian *Zalan (Thurgood 1994:353)
“The Middle mountains of Gū are the mountains of the Yuè’s bronze office, the Yuè people call them ‘Bronze gū[gū]dú.”
← Siamese kʰauA1 'horn', Daiya xau5, Sipsongpanna xau1, Dehong xau1, Lü xău1, Dioi kaou1 'mountain, hill' < proto-Tai *kʰauA2; Siamese luukD2l 'classifier for mountains', Siamese kʰauA1-luukD2l 'mountain' || cf. OC 谷 gǔ < kuwk << *ak-lok/luwk < *akə-lok/yowk < *blok 'valley'
"... The Yuè people call a boat xūlú. (‘beard’ & ‘cottage’)"
? ← Siamese saʔ 'noun prefix'
"[Líu] Jiă (the king of Jīng 荆) built the western wall, it was called dìngcuò ['settle(d)' & 'grindstone'] wall."
← Siamese diaaŋA1, Daiya tʂhəŋ2, Sipsongpanna tseŋ2 'wall'
? ← Siamese tokD1s 'to set→sunset→west' (tawan-tok 'sun-set' = 'west'); Longzhou tuk7, Bo'ai tɔk7, Daiya tok7, Sipsongpanna tok7 < proto-Tai *tokD1s ǀ Sui tok7, Mak tok7, Maonan tɔk < proto-Kam-Sui *tɔkD1
- The author notes that these two texts are only preserved in corrupt versions and share a rather convoluted editorial history.
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