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Manchuria is the region of northeastern China that now covers the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning. Some geographers also include northeastern Inner Mongolia, as well. Manchuria has a long history of conquering and being conquered by its southwestern neighbor, China.
The name "Manchuria" is controversial. It comes from a European adoption of the Japanese name "Manshu," which the Japanese began to use in the nineteenth century. Imperial Japan wanted to pry that area free from Chinese influence. Eventually, in the early 20th century, Japan would annex the region outright.
The so-called Manchu people themselves, as well as the Chinese, did not use this term, and it is considered problematic, given its connections with Japanese imperialism. Chinese sources generally call it "the Northeast" or "the Three Northeast Provinces." Historically, it is also known as Guandong, meaning "east of the pass." Nonetheless, "Manchuria" is still considered to be the standard name for northeastern China in the English language.
The Manchu People
Manchuria is the traditional land of the Manchu (formerly called the Jurchen), the Xianbei (Mongols), and the Khitan peoples. It also has long-standing populations of Korean and Hui Muslim people. In total, the Chinese central government recognizes 50 ethnic minority groups in Manchuria. Today, it is home to more than 107 million people; however, the vast majority of them are ethnic Han Chinese.
During the late Qing Dynasty (19th and early 20th centuries), the ethnic-Manchu Qing emperors encouraged their Han Chinese subjects to settle the area that was the Manchu homeland. They took this surprising step to counter Russian expansionism in the region. The mass migration of Han Chinese is called the Chuang Guandong, or the "venture into the east of the pass."
The first empire to unite nearly all of Manchuria was the Liao Dynasty (907 - 1125 CE). The Great Liao is also known as the Khitan Empire, which took advantage of the collapse of Tang China to spread its territory into China proper, as well. The Manchuria-based Khitan Empire was powerful enough to demand and receive tribute from Song China and also from the Goryeo Kingdom in Korea.
Another Liao tributary people, the Jurchen, overthrew the Liao Dynasty in 1125 and formed the Jin Dynasty. The Jin would go on to rule much of northern China and Mongolia from 1115 to 1234 CE. They were conquered by the rising Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan.
After the Mongols' Yuan Dynasty in China fell in 1368, a new ethnic Han Chinese dynasty arose called the Ming. The Ming were able to assert control over Manchuria and forced the Jurchens and other local people to pay tribute to them. However, when unrest broke out in the late Ming era, the emperors invited Jurchen/Manchu mercenaries to fight in the civil war. Instead of defending the Ming, the Manchus conquered all of China in 1644. Their new empire, ruled by the Qing Dynasty, would be the last Imperial Chinese Dynasty and lasted until 1911.
After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Manchuria was conquered by the Japanese, who renamed it Manchukuo. It was a puppet empire, headed by the former Last Emperor of China, Puyi. Japan launched its invasion of China proper from Manchukuo; it would hold on to Manchuria until the end of World War II.
When the Chinese Civil War ended in a victory for the communists in 1949, the new People's Republic of China took control of Manchuria. It has remained a part of China ever since.