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Four Barbarians is the common English translation of the Chinese term sìyí 四夷 for various peoples living outside the bo

Four Barbarians is the common English translation of the Chinese term sìyí 四夷 for various peoples living outside the borders of ancient China, namely, the Dōngyí "Eastern Barbarians", Nánmán "Southern Barbarians", Xīróng 西 "Western Barbarians", and Běidí "Northern Barbarians". Ultimately, all Four Barbarians tribe will be completely disappeared through by Sinicization and absorbed into the Chinese Civilization in the later Chinese Dynasties.

The complexities of the meaning and usage of Yi is also shown in the Hou Han Shu, where in its chapter on the Dongyi, the books describes the Dongyi countries as places where benevolence rules and the gentlemen do not die.

Chinese Yi "barbarian" and Siyi continued to be used long after the Han dynasty, as illustrated by the following examples from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644–1912).

The Dutch sinologist Kristofer Schipper (1994:74) cites a (c. 5th–6th century) Celestial Masters Daoist document (Xiaren Siyi shou yaolu 下人四夷受要

The Dutch sinologist Kristofer Schipper (1994:74) cites a (c. 5th–6th century) Celestial Masters Daoist document (Xiaren Siyi shou yaolu 下人四夷受要籙) that substitutes Qiang for Man in the Sìyí.

Sìyí guǎn Chinese: 四夷館 (lit. "Four Barbarians building") was the name of the Ming imperial "Bureau of Translators" for foreign tributary missions to China. Norman Wild (1943: 617) says that in the Zhou Dynasty, interpreters were appointed to deal with envoys bringing tribute or declarations of loyalty. The Liji records regional "interpreter" words for the Sìyí: ji for the Dongyi, xiang for the Nanman, didi for the Xirong, and yi for the Beidi. In the Sui, Tang, and Song Dynasties, tributary affairs were handled by the Sìfāng guǎn lit.: 'Four corners/directions building'. The Ming Yongle Emperor established the Sìyí guǎn 四夷館 "Bureau of Translators" for foreign diplomatic documents in 1407, as part of the imperial Hanlin Academy. Ming histories also mention Huárén Yíguān 華人夷官 "Chinese barbarian officials" (Chan 1968: 411) denoting people of Chinese origin employed by rulers of the "barbarian vassal states" in their tributary embassies to China. When the Qing Dynasty revived the Ming Sìyíguǎn 四夷館, the Manchus, who "were sensitive to references to barbarians" (Wild 1945: 620), changed the name from pejorative 夷 "barbarian" to "Yi people (a Chinese ethnic minority)".

In 1656, the Qing imperial court issued an edict to Mongolia about a territorial dispute (tr. Zhao 2006: 7), "Those barbarians (fanyi) who paid tribute to Mongolia during the Ming should be administered by Mongolia. However, those barbarians submitting to the former Ming court should be subjects of China"

After China began expansion into Inner Asia, Gang Zhao (2006: 13) says, "Its inhabitants were no longer to be considered barbarians, a term suitable for the tributary countries, and an error on this score could be dangerous." In a 1787 memorial sent to the Qianlong Emperor, the Shaanxi governor mistakenly called a Tibetan mission an yísh3 夷使 "barbarian mission". The emperor replied, "Because Tibet has long been incorporated into our territory, it is completely different from Russia, which submits to our country only in name. Thus, we cannot see the Tibetans as foreign barbarians, unlike the Russians".

The use of 夷 continued into modern times. The Oxford English Dictionary defines barbarian (3.c) as, "Applied by the Chinese contemptuously to foreigners", and cites the 1858 Treaty of Tientsin prohibiting the Chinese from calling the British "Yí". (Article LI) states, "It is agreed, that henceforward the character "I" 夷 ('barbarian') shall not be applied to the Government or subjects of Her Britannic Majesty, in any Chinese official document." This prohibition in the Treaty of Tientsin had been the end result of a long dispute between the Qing and British officials regarding the translation, usage and meaning of . Many Qing officials argued that the term did not mean “barbarians,” but their British counterparts disagreed with this opinion. Using the linguistic concept of heteroglossia, Lydia Liu analyzed the significance of in Articles 50 and 51 as a "super-sign":

The law simply secures a three-way commensurability of the hetero-linguistic sign 夷/i/barbarian by joining the written Chinese character, the romanized pronunciation, and the English translation together into a coherent semantic unit. [Which] means that the Chinese character yi becomes a hetero-linguistic sign by virtue of being informed, signified, and transformed by the English word "barbarian" and must defer its correct meaning to the foreign counterpart. ... That is to say, whoever violates the integrity of the super-sign 夷/i/barbarian ... risks violating international law itself. (2004:33)


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