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CitizenshipMing dynasty
Years activefl. 1409-1451

Yishiha (Chinese: 亦失哈; Wade–Giles: Ishiha/I-shih-ha; also Išiqa or Isiha;[1] Jurchen: i ʃï xa[2]) (fl. 1409–1451) was a Jurchen eunuch of the Ming dynasty of China. He served the Ming emperors who commissioned several expeditions down the Songhua and Amur Rivers during the period of Ming rule of Manchuria,[1][3] and is credited with the construction of the only two Ming dynasty Buddhist temples ever built on the territory of present-day Russia.[4]

Early life

Yishiha's voyages in the context of military and diplomatic activities in the Yongle era of the Ming dynasty. Yishiha's route is in blue, along with those of Zheng He (in black) and Chen Cheng (in green).

It is believed that Yishiha was a Haixi Jurchen by origin,[1][5] and was captured by the Ming forces in the late 14th century.[1] He worked under two important eunuchs, Wang Zhen and Cao Jixiang. It is speculated by modern historians that he rose to prominence by participating in imperial court politics and serving the Yongle Emperor's concubines of Manchu (Jurchen) origin.[6][7]

Amur expeditions

Yishiha's Amur expeditions belong to the same period of the Yongle Emperor's reign (1402–1424) which saw another eunuch admiral, Zheng He, sail across the Indian Ocean, and Chinese ambassador Chen Cheng reach the Timurid Empire's capital Herat (in today's Afghanistan) overland.[8]

By 1409, the Yongle Emperor's government, which had already established relations with the Haixi and Jianzhou Jurchens in southern Manchuria, ordered Yishiha to start preparations for an expedition to the lower Amur River region, to demonstrate the power of the Ming Empire to the Nurgan Jurchen populating the area and induce them to enter into relations with the empire, and to ensure that they would not create trouble for the Ming state when the latter went to war with the Eastern Mongols.[1]

In 1411, after two years of preparations, Yishiha's fleet of 25 ships with 1000 men aboard[1] sailed from Jilin City[1] down the Sungari and into the Amur. The "Nurgan Jurchens" offered little opposition to Yishiha's expedition. He gave generous gifts to their tribal leaders, and established a Nurgan Regional Military Commission,[1] at the place the Chinese called Telin (特林), near the present-day village of Tyr in Russia's Khabarovsk Krai. This was the same place where in 1260–1320 the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty had the headquarters of their Marshal of the Eastern Campaigns.[4] The commission's authority covered much of the Amur basin, including the shores of the Sungari, Ussuri, Urmi, Muling, and Nen Rivers.[5] Yishiha then returned to the Ming Empire, taking with him a tribute-bearing mission of 178 "Nurgan Jurchens".[1]

A pillar on top of the Tyr Cliff, remaining from, apparently, Yishiha's second temple, as seen ca. 1860

In 1413–1414, during his second expeditions to the lower Amur, Yishiha stayed almost a year at Tyr.[6] He built a Buddhist temple (sometimes described as a "monastery") named Yongning Si (永宁寺, the Temple of Eternal Peace) dedicated to Guanyin on the Tyr Cliff, and erected a stele describing his expedition, with the text in Chinese, Mongol, and Jurchen languages.[1][9] The stele, presently kept in the Arseniev Museum in Vladivostok, described the locals as good archers and fishermen, and their clothes as made of fishskin.[10] According to some evidence (a seal issued by the empire's Ministry of Rites, found in Yilan County, Heilongjiang), in 1413 Yishiha also visited the nearby coast of the Sakhalin Island, and granted Ming titles to a local chieftain.[5]

While no detailed ethnographic data about the "Nurgan Jurchens" has been found in Chinese records, it was, apparently, a collective name for the Tungusic peoples and possibly other groups (e.g. Nivkh[11]) populating the area. As of the mid-19th century, Tyr was a Nivkh settlement, as attested by a contemporary encyclopedia[12] and the book by E.G. Ravenstein, based on the accounts of the Russian explorers of the 1850s.[13] Another ethnic group native to the Ulchsky District (where Tyr is located) are the Ulch people, a Tungusic people, but their home villages are all located upstream from Tyr.[14]

During the rest of the Yongle Emperor's reign, Yishiha carried out three more expeditions to Nurgan, while the Nurgan natives sent some more tribute and trade missions to the Ming court.[1]

The Yongle Emperor's successor (the short-lived Hongxi Emperor (r. 1424–25), or, more likely, the Xuande Emperor (r. 1425–35)) continued the Yongle era's policy toward the "Wild Jurchens". In 1425, the Liaodong regional commissioner, Liu Qing, was ordered to build ships for another expedition down the river, and in 1426 Yishiha sailed again.[1][15]

Yishiha's last mission was connected to the retirement of the Nurgan chief and the "inauguration" of his son as his successor. Yishiha attended at that event in 1432, presenting the new chief a seal of authority and giving gifts to subordinate chieftains.[1][16] This time Yishiha's fleet included 50 big ships with 2,000 soldiers, and they actually brought the new chief (who had been living in Beijing) to Tyr.[6] As Yishiha's first (1413) Yongning Si temple had been destroyed by that time, Yishiha had a second temple of the same name built. According to the modern archaeologists, his second temple was not built at the site of his first temple (as it had been commonly believed), but rather at the site of its ancient predecessor – the Yuan Dynasty Yongning Si temple. As the archaeological research has revealed, the 1413 temple was located some 90 meters to the west of the top of the Tyr Cliff, where Yishiha's 1430s temple (and its Yuan predecessor) were located.[4][17] A second stele was put next to the second temple. The stele has also survived, and has been moved south by the Russians for keeping at the Arsenyev Primorye Museum in Vladivostok.[18][19]

According to modern historians, Yishiha made the total of nine[5] expeditions to the Lower Amur.

Later career

In the 1430s, the Xuande government stopped sending sea and river expeditions, and the naval (or, rather, riverine) career of Yishiha came to an end, as did that of his colleague Zheng He. In the ninth year of the Ming Xuande emperor the Jurchens in Manchuria under Ming rule suffered from famine forcing them to sell their daughters into slavery and moving to Liaodong to beg for help and relief from the Ming dynasty government.[20][21] In 1435 Yishiha was put in charge of the defense of the Liaodong region; he remained at this post for over 15 years.[1][15] Apparently, his performance during the raids of the Oirad Mongol chief Esen Tayisi was considered unsatisfactory, and some time between 1449 and 1451 he was relieved of his duties. No later traces of him have been found by modern historians.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Rossabi, Morris (1976). "Isiha". In Goodrich, L. Carrington; Fang, Chaoying (eds.). Dictionary of Ming Biography, 1368–1644. Volume I (A-L). Columbia University Press. pp. 685–686. ISBN 0-231-03801-1.
  2. ^ Jin Qicong (金啓孮), Jurchen script Dictionary (女真文辞典), Relics Press (文物出版社), China, 1984, pp.94
  3. ^ Shih-shan Henry Tsai (1996). The eunuchs in the Ming dynasty. SUNY Press. p. 129. ISBN 0-7914-2687-4. Retrieved March 2, 2012. While Hai Tong and Hou Xian were busy courting the Mongols and Tibetans, a Ming eunuch of Manchurian stock, Yishiha, also quietly carried the guidon in the exploration of Northern Manchuria and Eastern Siberia. In 1375, the Ming dynasty established the Liaodong Regional Military Commission at Liaoyang, using twenty-five guards (each guard consisted of roughly 5,600 soldiers) to control Southern Manchuria. In 1409, six years after Yongle ascended the throne, he launched three campaigns to shore up Ming influence in the lower Amur River valley. The upshot was the establishment of the Nuerkan Regional Military Commission with several battalions (1,120 soldiers theoretically made up a battalion) deployed along the Songari, Ussuri, Khor, Urmi, Muling and Nen Rivers. The Nuerkan Commission, which parallelled that of the Liaodong Commission, was a special frontier administrations; therefore the Ming government permitted its commanding officers to transmit their offices to their sons and grandsons without any dimunition in rank. In the meantime, The Ming court periodically sent special envoys and inspectors to the region, making sure that the chiefs of various tribes remained loyal to the Ming emperor. But the one enboy who was most active and played the most significant role in the region was the eunuch Yishiha.
  4. ^ a b c Важнейшие результаты исследований Лаборатории позднесредневековой археологии Дальнего Востока Archived 2007-12-22 at the Wayback Machine (Principal research results of the Laboratory of the Late Mediaeval Archaeology of the [Russian] Far East) (in Russian)
  5. ^ a b c d Tsai, Shih-Shan Henry (2002). Perpetual Happiness: The Ming Emperor Yongle. University of Washington Press. pp. 158–159. ISBN 0-295-98124-5.
  6. ^ a b c Tsai, Shih-Shan Henry (1996). The Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty. SUNY Press. pp. 129–130. ISBN 0-7914-2687-4.
  7. ^ Shih-shan Henry Tsai (1996). The eunuchs in the Ming dynasty. SUNY Press. p. 129. ISBN 0-7914-2687-4. Retrieved March 2, 2012. Yishiha belonged to the Haixi tribe of the Jurchen race. The Ming shi provides no background information on this Manchurian castrato except that Yishiha worked under two powerful early Ming eunuchs, Wang Zhen and Cao Jixiang.16 It is also likely that Yishiha gained prominence by enrduring the hard knocks of court politics and serving imperial concubines of Manchurian origin, as Emperor Yongle kept Jurchen women in his harem. At any rate, in the spring of 1411, Yongle commissioned Yishiha to vie for the heart and soul of the peoples in Northern Manchuria and Eastern Siberia. Yishiha led a party of more than 1,000 officers and soldiers who boarded twenty-five ships and sailed along the Amur River for several days before reaching the Nuerkan Command post. Nuerkan was located on the east bank of the Amur River, approximately 300 li from the river's entrance and 250 li form the present-day Russian town of Nikolayevka. Yishiha's immediate assignment was to confer titles on tribal chiefs, giving them seals and uniforms. He also actively sought new recruits to fill out the official ranks for the Regional Commission.17
  8. ^ Tsai, Shih-Shan Henry (2002). Perpetual Happiness: The Ming Emperor Yongle. University of Washington Press. p. 161. ISBN 0-295-98124-5.
  9. ^ Shih-shan Henry Tsai (1996). The eunuchs in the Ming dynasty. SUNY Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-7914-2687-4. Retrieved March 2, 2012. year, during which time he artfully maneuvered his trusted Jurchen friends to leadership positions. And by constructing a Buddhist temple called Yunning, or Forever Tranquil, Yishiha also attempted to convert the Oroqens and other ethnic groups of the region into Buddhism. In 1414, he ordered the erection of a stone monument near the Yunning Temple on which he scribed his major activities in four different languages — Chinese, Mongolian, Jurchen, and Tibetan. During this mission, Yishiha also visited Sakhalin Island and was said to have conferred a Ming title of a tribal chieftain there. And according to a stone monument found in an old shipyard of Jilin City, Yishiha probably undertook another mission around 1420, as he used many of the Jilin ships to transport grain and utensils to the Nuerkan region.
  10. ^ Telin Stele (from: "Политика Минской империи в отношении чжурчженей (1402–1413 гг.)" (The Jurchen policy of the Ming Empire), in "Китай и его соседи в древности и средневековье" (China and its neighbors in antiquity and the Middle Ages), Moscow, 1970. (in Russian)
  11. ^ Головачев В.Ц. (V.Ts. Golovachev), "Тырские стелы и храм «Юн Нин» в свете китайско-чжурчжэньских отношений XIV-XV вв." Archived 2009-02-23 at the Wayback Machine (The Tyr stelae and the Yongning Temple viewed in as an aspect of Sino-Jurchen relations), Etno-zhurnal, 2008-11-14
  12. ^ Тыр (Tyr in Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary) (in Russian)
  13. ^ E.G.Ravenstein "The Russians on the Amur". Full text can be found on Google Books.
  14. ^ "Ульчи". Archived from the original on April 1, 2012. (Ulchi data, at the site of the Associations of the Indigenous Peoples of Siberia; most of the villages can be found on
  15. ^ a b Shih-shan Henry Tsai (1996). The eunuchs in the Ming dynasty. SUNY Press. p. 130. ISBN 0-7914-2687-4. Retrieved March 2, 2012. By 1420, Yishiha's experience, character, record, and judgement had certainly made him not only an expert on the frontier defense of the region, but also might well have provided him a coat of armor that protected him against jealous and wily court rivals. His next mission to the Nuerkan Command post ended in 1425 as he and his party were awarded by Yongle's successor, the Emperor Hongxi. During the reign of the fifth Ming sovereign, Emperor Xuande, Yishiha was dispatched at least three more times to the lower Amur River, inspecting, spreading imperial will and Ming policies, and reporting on the frontier defense and general conditions of the region. In 1432, when the commissioner in chief Kang Wang retired, Yishiha escorted Kang's son Kang Fu, who resided in Beijing at the time, to assume his inherited position. A part of 2,000 soldiers and an armada of fifty big ships arrived at the Siberian frontier fortress during the summer season. Almost immediately, Yishiha ordered the refurbishing of the Yunning Temple and the erection of yet another stone stele to commemorate the occasion. All told, Yishiha had made a total of nine missions to this desolate but strategically important region, pacifying the minority groups and serving as Ming's expansionist agent.18 Yishiha was later promoted to grand defender, or zhenshou, of Liaodong and received an annual salary of forty piculs of rice in 1444. Three years later, he was awarded an annual increment of thirty-six piculs of rice as a consequence of a memorable military campaign.19
  16. ^ Tsai (1996) describes the person being retired as "the commissioner in chief Kang Wang"; one has to assume that it was a Chinese title, and Chinese name, bestowed to a local (probably, Nivkh) chief.
  17. ^ Shih-shan Henry Tsai (1996). The eunuchs in the Ming dynasty. SUNY Press. p. 129. ISBN 0-7914-2687-4. Retrieved March 2, 2012. Two years later, in 1413, Yishiha undertook a second mission to the area, bringing with him large quantities of foods, clothes, and agricultural tools. That mission did a great deal to mollify some of the tribes who continued to make contact with the Mongols. Yishiha stayed there for nearly a
  18. ^ A. R. Artemyev. Archaeological sites of Yuan and Ming epochs in Transbaikalia and the Amur basin Archived 2012-06-09 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Объекты туризма — Археологические. Тырские храмы Archived 2009-09-03 at the Wayback Machine (Regional government site explaining the location of the Tyr (Telin) temples: just south of the Tyr village) (in Russian)
  20. ^ "宣德九年,女真地區災荒,女真人被迫賣兒鬻女,四處流亡,逃向遼東的女真難民,希望得到官府的賑濟。". Archived from the original on 2020-03-12. Retrieved 2020-12-24.
  21. ^ "亦失哈八下东洋". 2014-07-08. Archived from the original on 2015-04-28.

Further reading

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