Reference to term barbarians

One of our review questions is this: Discuss the conflict caused by “The Scripture of Laozi’s Conversion of the Barbarians”.

What is meant be the term 'barbarians' in this lesson? My understanding of the term is a people who are ruthless at war, people who have no compassion and kill indiscriminately.

In this lesson, I don't feel that the Indian people were barbarians in the sense of killers. So, what is the term 'barbarians' referring to?

Thanks in advance!


Reference to the term 'Barbarians'


I believe the full name of the text in chinese is 太上靈寶老子化胡妙經. And '化胡' (pinyin 'hua hu') literally means 'conversion of the Hu'.

In ancient China, whoever did not belong to the Han Chinese who occupied what is central China now, were called '胡人' (pinyin 'hu ren') or 'hu people'. And this included the many foreign tribes living at the borders of ancient China, such as the Tartars, the Mongols, the Huns and the Turks etc.

One version of the origin of the name is that for the Han Chinese, foreigners had always been seen to grow long thick beards. And since 'beard' in Chinese is known as '胡子' (pinyin 'hu zi'), they called foreigners '胡人' or literally 'beard people'. Whatever the case, the use of the word 'Hu' which was most likely neutral in its meaning initially, had overtime come to denote people who were less civilised and not as developed as the Han Chinese and hence they were viewed as barbaric, maybe not necessarily in terms of their being more ruthless but definitely in terms of their being more backward culturally. I think this is because China has always viewed itself as the centre of the world as it was an influential and powerful player throughout much of ancient history. '中国' actually means the 'middle kingdom'.

Hope this helps.

pspitze's picture

Very helpful

Thank you so much for this information! It is very helpful in clarifying the meaning and my understanding.