Nanman flag
The Nanman, also known as the Nan tribesMan, or Mang were indigenous peoples who lived in southern China, south of the border with the Han Empire. The Nanman were the ancestors of the Zhuang, Tai, and the Miao-Hmong peoples, and they were never a united polity. "Nanman" was a colloquial term referring to a collection of small groups living in the Nanzhong region of southern Jing Province, not a single nation. They posed a great threat to Central China in the Three Kingdoms era, but were subdued by Shu Han in 225 in the Nanman Campaign. The Nanman were a large collection of peoples, as shown by their recruitment of 100,000 troops to fight the Chinese in the Nanman Campaign.


Nanman parade

Nanman soldiers parading

The Nanman tribes resided in southern Jing Province in the jungles, a mix of Southeast Asian ethnic groups. The Nanman people lived in the tropics of Northern Vietnam and southern China and were used to the intense heat and all of the insect-borne illnesses that the tropics brought. They used spears as their weapons-of-choice and introduced war elephants to Chinese warfare. In 208 AD, these elephants were discovered in the Defense of Nanman when the Dong Wu punitive expedition met the ground-shaking beasts, some of which they were able to capture. The elephants were key in their warfare, using archers mounted on the elephants to skirmish with their foes. Their spear warbands were their main infantry. Each army was commanded by a King, leading his tribe into battle. The Nanman were a large tribe, as they could call upon an army of 100,000 troops to fight Shu Han in 225 AD. 

Wars with China

Nanman troops

Nanman troops in battle

The Nanman people lived in peace in their jungles, but were often threatened by the northern kingdoms of Shu Han, Cao Wei, and Dong Wu during the Three Kingdoms Era. They posed a great threat to Central China. Meng Huo, King of the Nanman Tribe, raided southern Jing and Jiao provinces. The two provinces suffered the wrath of the Nanman in 208 AD, with the rebellion of Meng Huo against Wu, and again in 225 AD, with the rebellion against Shu. The first rebellion was crushed in a single battle, while the second rebellion was subject to a whole campaign that lasted seven battles. Meng Huo was captured each time and was forced to pay homage to Prime Minister Zhuge Liang of Shu Han and the two became close allies. The Nanman threat to southern China continued after the Wei conquest of Shu in 263, but were subdued by further military expeditions.

In the early 8th century, the Nanman people of southwestern China gained full independence as Nan Chao, only to be conquered by the Kingdom of Dali in 937 AD, and their last chance for independence came with the decline of the Tang Empire. They gained unofficial autonomy but were assimilated by later dynasties and later moved to Dai in China, Burma in Shan State, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and to the Ahom area of Assam in India. The people blended with the Tai peoples and Ahom peoples, and disappeared.