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Subject: List of ethnic groups, Demographics of Russia, Manchuria, Sakhalin, Heilongjiang, Tungusic languages, Northeast China, Human Genome Diversity Project, Ethnic groups in Russia
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Na people
Alternative names:
Hezhen, Nanai, Hezhe;
Golds, Samagir

nanio, nabəi, nanai, kilən, χədʑən
Nanai children
Total population
18,000 (est.)
Regions with significant populations
Russia, China Heilongjiang
 Russia Khabarovsk Krai 12160[1]
 China Heilongjiang Province 4245[2]
 Ukraine 42[3]
Nanai, Russian (in Russia), Mandarin Chinese (in China)
Tibetan Buddhism, Shamanism

The Nanai people (self-designation нани, Nani means 'natives'; self-designation Hezhen means 'people of the Orient'; Russian: нанайцы, nanaitsy; Chinese: 赫哲族, Hèzhézú; formerly also known as Golds and Samagir) are a Tungusic people of the Far East, who have traditionally lived along Heilongjiang (Amur), Songhuajiang (Sunggari) and Ussuri rivers on the Middle Amur Basin. The ancestors of the Nanais were the Jurchens of northernmost Manchuria.

The Nanai/Hezhe language belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic languages.


Own names are [kilən] ([nanio] and [nabəi]) and [χədʑən] ([nanai]).[4] [na] means native and [nio], [bəi], [nai] means people in different dialects.

The Russian linguist L.I. Sem gives the self-name [xədʑən] in the Cyrillic form, хэǯэ най ( Hezhe nai ) or хэǯэны (Hezheni), and explains it as the self-name of the Nanais of the lower Amur, meaning, "people who live along the lower course of the river".[5] It is the source of the Chinese name for the Nanais, formerly "黑斤" (Heijin), "赫哲哈喇" (Hezhehala), and modern Chinese name "赫哲" (Hezhe).[6]

Traditional lifestyle and culture

Some of the earliest first-hand accounts of the Nanai people in the European languages belong to the French Jesuit geographers travelling on the Ussury and the Amur in 1709. According to them, the native people living on the Ussury and on the Amur above the mouth of the Dondon River (which falls into the Amur between today's Khabarovsk and Komsomolsk-on-Amur) were known as Yupi Tartars (fish-skin tartars), while the name of the people living on the Dondon and on the Amur below Dondon was transcribed by the Jesuits into French as Ketching.[7] The latter name may be the French transcription of the reported self-name of the Nanais of the lower Amur, [xədʑən], which was also applied to the closely related Ulch people,[8]

According to the Jesuits, the language of the "Yupi" people seemed to occupy an intermediate position between the Manchu language and that of the "Ketching" people; some level of communication between the Yupi and the Ketching was possible.[9]


As described by early visitors (e.g., Jesuit cartographers on the Ussury River in 1709), the economy of the people living there (who would be classified as Nanai, or possible Udege people, today) was based on fishing. The people would live in villages along the banks of the Ussuri, and would spend their entire summers fishing, eating fresh fish in the summer (particularly appreciating the sturgeon), and drying more fish for eating in winter. Fish would be used as fodder for those few domestic animals they had (which made the flesh of a locally raised pig almost inedible by visitors with European tastes).[10]

The traditional clothing was made out of fish skins. These skins were left to dry. Once dry, they were struck repeatedly with a mallet to leave them completely smooth. Finally they were sewn together.[10] The fish chosen to be used were those weighing more than 50 kilograms.[11] In the past centuries, this distinct practice earned the Nanai the name "Fish-skin Tartars" (Chinese: 鱼皮鞑子, Yupi Dazi). This name has also been applied, more generically, to other aboriginal groups of he lower Sungari and lower Amur basins.[12]

Agriculture entered the Nanai lands only slowly. Practically the only crop grown by the Yupi villagers on the Ussuri River shores in 1709 was some tobacco.[10]


The Nanais are mainly Shamanist, with a great reverence for the bear (Doonta) and the tiger (Amba). They consider that the shamans have the power to expel bad spirits by means of prayers to the gods. During the centuries they have been worshipers of the spirits of the sun, the moon, the mountains, the water and the trees. According to their beliefs, the land was once flat until great serpents gouged out the river valleys. They consider that all the things of the universe possess their own spirit and that these spirits wander independently throughout the world. In the Nanai religion, inanimate objects were often personified. Fire, for example, was personified as an elderly woman whom the Nanai referred to as Fadzya Mama. Young children were not allowed to run up to the fire, since they might startle Fadzya Mama, and men always were courteous in the presence of a fire.

Nanai shamans, like other Tungusic peoples of the region, had characteristic clothing, consisting of a skirt and jacket; a leather belt with conical metal pendants; mittens with figures of serpents, lizards or frogs; and hats with branching horns or bear, wolf, or fox fur attached to it. Bits of Chinese mirrors were also sometimes incorporated into the costume.

The deceased were normally buried in the ground with the exception of children who died prior to the first birthday; in this case the child's body was wrapped in a cloth or birchbark covering and buried in the tree branches as a "wind burial". Many Nanai are also Tibetan Buddhist.

Modern population


In Russia the Nanais live on the Sea of Okhotsk, on the Amur River, downstream from Khabarovsk, on both sides of Komsomolsk-on-Amur, as well as on the banks of the Ussuri and the Girin rivers (the Samagirs). The Russians formerly called them Goldi, after a Nanai clan name. According to the 2002 census, there were 12,160 Nanais in Russia.

In the Soviet Union, a written standard of the Nanai language (based on Cyrillic) was created by Valentin Avrorin and others. It is still taught today in 13 schools in Khabarovsk.


The Nanais are one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People's Republic of China where they are known as "Hezhe" (赫哲族 Hèzhé-zú). During the Manchukuo period, the Nanais were practically wiped out in China by the Japanese. They had been confined to prisoner camps and in 1949 they numbered about 300 in China. According to the last census of 2004, they numbered 4,640 in China (mostly in Heilongjiang province). Chinese Nanais speak the Hezhen dialect of Nanai. They also have a rich oral literature known as the Yimakan.[13] The dialect does not have a written system in China and Nanais usually write in Chinese. (Second language literacy is 84%.) However as of 2005 teachers have recently finished compiling probably the first Hezhe language textbook.[14]


By province

The 2000 Chinese census recorded 4.640 Nanai in China.

Provincial Distribution of the Nanai
Province Nanai Population % of Total
Heilongjiang 3.910 84,27 %
Jilin 190 4,09 %
Beijing 84 1,81 %
Liaoning 82 1,77 %
Inner Mongolia 54 1,16 %
Hebei 46 0,99 %
Others 274 5,91 %

By county

County-level distribution of the Nanai

(Only includes counties or county-equivalents containing >0.45% of China's Nanai population.)

Province Prefecture County Nanai Population % of China's Nanai Population
Heilongjiang Jiamusi Tongjiang City 1.060 22,84 %
Heilongjiang Jiamusi Jiao District 657 14,16 %
Heilongjiang Shuangyashan Raohe County 529 11,40 %
Heilongjiang Jiamusi Fuyuan County 468 10,09 %
Heilongjiang Jiamusi Xiangyang District 131 02,82 %
Heilongjiang Jiamusi Qianjin District 97 02,09 %
Heilongjiang Harbin Nangang District 88 01,90 %
Jilin Jilin Changyi District 71 01,53 %
Heilongjiang Jiamusi Huachuan County 67 01,44 %
Heilongjiang Jiamusi Fujin City 65 01,40 %
Heilongjiang Hegang Suibin County 52 01,12 %
Heilongjiang Jiamusi Dongfeng District 51 01,10 %
Heilongjiang Harbin Yilan County 45 00,97 %
Beijing Haidian District 43 00,93 %
Heilongjiang Heihe Xunke County 43 00,93 %
Heilongjiang Jiamusi Huanan County 42 00,91 %
Heilongjiang Jiamusi Tangyuan County 30 00,65 %
Jilin Jilin City Yongji County 29 00,63 %
Jilin Changchun Chaoyang District 27 00,58 %
Heilongjiang Qiqihar Jianhua District 26 00,56 %
Heilongjiang Qiqihar Longjiang County 26 00,56 %
Inner Mongolia Hulun Buir Evenk Autonomous Banner 22 00,47 %
Heilongjiang Shuangyashan Baoqing County 21 00,45 %
Other 950 20,47 %

Notable Nanais

  • Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's 1975 film Dersu Uzala, based on a book by Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev, describes the friendship of a Russian explorer and his Nanai guide named Dersu Uzala.
  • Nanai female shaman Tchotghtguerele Chalchin performed an incantation recorded in Siberia for the song "The Lighthouse" (an adaptation of the poem "Flannan Isle" by English poet Wilfred Wilson Gibson) on French producer Hector Zazou's 1994 album Chansons des mers froides (Songs from the Cold Seas). Lead vocals were performed by Siouxsie Sioux and background music included performances by the Sakharine Percussion Group and the Sissimut Dance Drummers.
  • Kola Beldy (Russian: Кола́ Бельды́) (1929–1993) was a popular singer in the Soviet Union and Russia, particularly known for his rendition of "Увезу тебя я в тундру" (I will take you to the tundra).
  • Han Geng, a Chinese pop singer, and a former member of Korean boy band Super Junior.

Autonomous Areas

(or equivalent)
Prefecture level County level Township level
Heilongjiang Shuangyashan
Sipai Hezhe Autonomous Township
Jiejinkou Hezhe Autonomous Township
Bacha Hezhe Autonomous Township
Khabarovsk Krai Nanaysky district


  • Ethnolog on Nanai
  • Notes on the Nanai
  • [3]
  • Template:1911

External links

  • The Nanai National Mentality and World Model by Tatyana Sem
  • "Dersu Uzala" a film by Akira Kurosawa about a Goldi (Nanai) and a Russian Army Officer.
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