YUE-CHI (or YUEH-CHIH), the Chinese name of a central Asiatic tribe who ruled in Bactria and India, are also known as Kushans (from one of their subdivisions) and Indo-Scythians. They appear to have been a nomad tribe, inhabiting part of the present Chinese province of Kan-suh, and to have been driven W. by Hiung-nu tribes of the same stock. They conquered a tribe called the Wusun, who lived in the basin of the Hi river, and settled for some time in their territory. The date of these events is placed between 175 and 140 B.C. They then attacked another tribe known as Sakas, and drove them to Persia and India. For about twenty years it would seem that the Yue-Chi were settled in the country between the rivers Chu and Syr-Darya, but here they were attacked again by the Hiung-nu, their old enemies, with whom was the son of the defeated Wusun chieftain. The Yue-Chi then occupied Bactria, and little is heard of them for a hundred years. During this period they became a united people, having previously been a confederacy of five tribes, the principal of which, the Kushans (or Kwei-Shwang) , supplied the new national name. They also to some extent gave up their nomadic life and became civilized. Bactria about this time was said to contain a thousand cities, and though this may be an exaggeration it was probably a meeting-place of Persian and Hellenic culture: its kings Demetrius and Eucratides had invaded India. It is therefore not surprising to find the warlike and mobile Yue-Chi following the same road and taking fragments of Persian and Greek civilization with them.
The chronology of this invasion and of the history of the Kushans in India must be regarded as uncertain, though we know the names of the kings. Indian literature supplies few data for the period, and the available information has been collected chiefly from notices in Chinese annals, from inscriptions found in India, and above all from coins. From this evidence it has been deduced that a king called Kozulokadphises, Kujulakasa or Kieu-tsieu-k'io (? A.D. 45-85) united the five tribes, conquered the Kabul valley and annihilated the remnants of Greek dominion. He was succeeded, possibly after an interval, by Ooemokadphises (Himakapisa or Yen-kao-tsin-tai),who completed the annexation of N. India. Then followed Kanishka (? c. A.D. 123-53), who is celebrated throughout eastern Asia as a patron of the Buddhist church and convener of the third Buddhist council. He is also said to have conquered Kashgar, Yarkand and Khotan. His successors were Huvishka and then Vasudeva, who may have died c. A.D. 225. After Vasudeva's reign the power of the Kushans gradually decayed, and they were driven back into the valley of the Indus and N.E. Afghanistan. Here, according to Chinese authorities, their royal family was supplanted by a dynasty called Ki-to-lo (Kidara), who were also of Yue-Chi stock, but belonged to one of the tribes who had remained in Bactria when the Kushans marched to India. The subsequent migration of the Kitolo S. of the Hindu Kush was due to the movements of the Jwen-Jwen, who advanced W. from the Chinese frontier. Under this dynasty a state known as the Little Kushan kingdom flourished in Gandhara (E. Afghanistan) about A.D. 430, but was broken up by the attacks of the Huiias.
Some authorities do not accept the list of Kushan kings as given above, and think that Kanishka must be placed before Christ and perhaps as early as 58 B.C.: also that there was another king with a name something like Vasushka before or after Huvishka. In any case the invasion of the Yue-Chi cannot have been very long before or very long after the Christian era, and had an important influence on Indian civilization. Their coins show a remarkable union of characteristics, derived from many nations. The general shape and style are Roman: the inscriptions are in Greek or in a Persian language written in Greek letters, or in Kharoshthi: the reverse often bears the figure of a deity, either Greek (Herakles, Helios, Selene) or Zoroastrian (Mithra, Vata, Verethraghna) or Indian (generally Siva or a war god). One figure called Sarapo appears to be the Egyptian Serapis, and others are perhaps Babylonian deities. On the obverse is generally the king, who, in the earlier coins at any rate, wears a long open coat, knee boots and a tall cap clearly the costume of a nomad from the north. The Gandhara school of sculpture, of which the best specimens come from the neighbourhood of Kanishka's capital, Purushpura (the modern Peshawar), is a branch of Graeco-Roman art adapted to Oriental religious subjects. The Yue-Chi were probably the principal means of disseminating it in India, though all movements which kept open the communications between Bactria and Persia and India must have contributed, and the first introduction was due to the short-lived Graeco-Bactrian conquest (180-130 B.C.). The importance of the Gandharan influence on the art of India and all Buddhist Asia is now recognized. Further, it is probably in the mixture of Greek, Persian and Indian deities which characterizes the pantheon of the Kushan kings that are to be sought many of the features found in Mahayanist Buddhism and Hinduism (as distinguished from the earlier Brahmanism). Kanishka and other monarchs were zealous but probably by no means exclusive Buddhists, and the conquest of Khotan and Kashgar must have facilitated the spread of Buddhist ideas to China. It is also probable that the Yue-Chi not only acted as intermediaries for the introduction of Greek and Persian ideas into India, and of Indian ideas into China, but left behind them an important element in the population of N. India.
It is hard to say whether the Yue-Chi should be included in any of the recognized divisions of Turanian tribes such as Turks or Huns. Nothing whatever is known of their original language. Such of the inscriptions on their coins as are not in Greek or an Indian language are in a form of Persian written in Greek uncials. In this alphabet the Greek letter /> (or rather a very similar letter with the loop a little lower down) is used to represent sh, and there are some peculiarities in the use of o apparently connected with the expression of the sounds h and w. Thus PAONANO PAO KANHPKI KOPANO is to be read as something like ShAhanan ShAh Kanishki Koshan : Kanishka the Kushan, king of kings. This Persian title became in later times the special designation of the Kushan kings and is curiously parallel to the use of Arabic and Persian titles (padishah, sultan, etc.) by the Ottoman Turks. The physical type represented on these coins has a strong prominent nose, large eyes, a moderately abundant beard and somewhat thick or projecting lips. Hence, as far as any physical characters can be formulated for the various tribes (and their validity is very doubtful) the Yue-Chi type is Turkish rather than Mongol or Ugro-Finnic. In such points of temperament as military ability and power of assimilating Indian and Persian civilization, the YueChi also resemble the Turks, and some authorities think that the name Turushka or Turukha sometimes applied to them by Indian writers is another evidence of the connexion. But the national existence and name of the Turks (q.v.) seem to date from the sth century A.D., so that it is an anachronism to speak of the Yue-Chi as a division of them. The Yue-Chi and Turks, however, may both represent parallel developments of similar or even originally identical tribes. The Mahommedan writer Alberuni states that in former times the kings of the Hindus (among whom he mentions Kanik or Kanishka) were Turks by race, and this may represent a native tradition as to the affinities of the Yue-Chi. Some authors consider that the Yue-Chi are the same as the Getae 'and that the original form of the name was Yut or Get, which is also supposed to appear in the Indian Jat.
See Vincent Smith, Early History of India (1908) ; Hoernle and Stark, History of India (1905); Rapson, Indian Coins (1898); Gardner, Coins of Greek and Scythian Kings in India (1886) ; Franke, Beitrage aus Chinesischen Quellen zur Kenntnis der Turkvolker und Skythen (1904), and numerous articles by Cunningham, Fleet, A. Stein, Vincent Smith, Sylyian Leyi, E. H. Parker and others in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Journal asiatique, Asiatic Quarterly, etc. Owing to the new evidence which is continually being brought forward, the most recent writings on this subject are generally to be preferred. (C. EL.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)