Xiongnu vs. Han China
In the 2nd century bce, the Xiongnu also subjected the Han Empire of China to tribute Peace and Peril: Sima Qian's Portrayal of Han–Xiongnu Relations, Silk Road M. J. Olbrycht, “Arsacid Iran and the Nomads of Central Asia—Ways of. Pre-Han Dynasty relations. type of marriage diplomacy; called for the marriage of a Han princess to the Xiongnu leader; annual payments to the. Xinjiang is the Chinese name for the Tarim and Dzungaria regions of what is now northwest China. At the beginning of the Han Dynasty ( BC AD), the.
Second, Di Cosmo has successfully synthesized archaeological materials with textual sources, taking into account new breakthroughs in textual criticism during the recent decades.
Third, Di Cosmo not only managed to reconstruct the basic dynamics of early Sino-nomadic contacts, but has also proposed novel explanations of Sino-nomadic relations in the age of the Han dynasty and before. These three major achievements turn Di Cosmo's book into a laudable scholarly model, the impact of which will be felt well beyond the narrow field of Northern Zone studies.
Ancient China and its Enemies combines the clarity and comprehensiveness of a textbook with the novelty and originality of the specialist-oriented study.
Ancient China and Its Enemies, a history book review
Some may dislike the mixture of two genres, but in my eyes this is an undeniable advantage of Di Cosmo's study. The book is neatly organized into four sections, which comprise two chapters each; each chapter and each section serve as a solid foundation for the subsequent discussion.
The narrative is clear and readable, and the author's arguments are based on dependable and transparent research. Di Cosmo does not hesitate to defy generations-old theories, as he does for instance in his brilliant and provocative explanation for the construction of the Great Wall see belowbut he is careful not to overstretch his sources and to leave certain questions open for further research.
He masterfully synthesizes broad range of archaeological, textual and, to a lesser extent, epigraphic sources, employing whenever needed an impressive amount of secondary materials, which include, aside from works written in Chinese and Western European languages, also studies in Japanese, Russian and - at least in one case - in Mongolian.
The first two chapters of Ancient China and its Enemies deal with the first appearances of nomads in the Inner Asian steppe in general Chapter 1 and in China's Northern Zone in particular Chapter 2. These are the less innovative parts of Di Cosmo's research, and the discussion here is largely based on a synthesis of recent archaeological discoveries along China's boundaries and beyond. Di Cosmo briefly surveys major theories that have tried to explain the rise of the nomadic way of life, concluding that there is no single key to this crucial question.
The emergence of nomadism may be rather explained as a combination of environmental, technological and social factors. Thus, advances with respect to horse-riding and, probably, chariots were crucial in allowing a shift from part-time pastoral economy to full-scale nomadic life. This development was apparently paralleled by the appearance of warring aristocrats who learned to utilize the advantages of their superior mobility and martial abilities.
This class in turn played a crucial role in the centralization of nomadic peoples and their further military expansion. Yet Di Cosmo is careful not to impose this model automatically on the early nomadic and semi-nomadic cultures of China's Northern Zone and he emphasizes that 'one cannot see, in the Northern Zone as whole, a linear evolutional continuum' pp. Instead, it is possible that several parallel pastoral societies were emerging in northwestern, north-central and northeastern sub-zones, inter-acting among themselves and with their semi-pastoral and sedentary neighbours.
Di Cosmo's cautious discussion shows that at the current stage of our knowledge an attempt to locate the Xiongnu back in history may be not only premature but generally untenable. What is possible is to outline, as Di Cosmo does, basic trends of developments in the steppe region to the north of China proper; but much more archaeological research is required before we can restore with sufficient clarity the sociopolitical dynamics in this area prior to the entrance of the steppe region into the orbit of Chinese history.
In analyzing the rise of the nomadic way of life, Di Cosmo laudably avoids simplistic linear schemes, and his caution invites the reader to consider further possible explanations for the advent of nomadism. Among them one could expect more emphasis to be given to climatic factors, which are mentioned only in passing p. This is regrettable, because the field of paleo-climatic studies has developed dramatically in recent years and much relevant data is now available.
The third chapter focuses on the intriguing issue of early Chinese attitudes toward the aliens. Heretofore this topic has never been systematically explored in Western research, resulting in sketchy and often highly misleading accounts of the origins of the 'Sino-Barbarian' dichotomy. Scholars often cite selected passages from pre-imperial texts out of their context, to prove that the Chinese viewed the aliens as inferior, marginal and insufficiently human.
Different, and at times contradictory, doctrines co-existed among ancient Chinese statesmen with regard to the proper treatment of the aliens: This diversity of approaches reflects not only a complex political situation, but also a deeper cultural reality. Di Cosmo's observation that the 'boundaries between presumed cultural communities in the Eastern Zhou BCE period appear to have been drawn ad hoc, according to ever-changing political circumstances' p.
Indeed, pace Han dynasty thinkers, Chinese statesmen of Chunqiu 'Springs and Autumns', BCE and Zhanguo periods were much more preoccupied with the struggle against their 'brethren' who shared a similar written and ritual culture, than with repulsion of the 'uncultivated' aliens.
Di Cosmo's contextualization of Chinese views of the aliens in contemporary political dynamics could have been even more insightful, had the author not confined himself exclusively to the relations of the Xia with their northern neighbours.
This limited perspective derives primarily from the author's desire to reach and discuss topics which became relevant in the Han period, when thinkers and statesmen were debating the proper policy toward the Xiongnu. This teleological selection, however, comes at the expense of an in-depth discussion of the other flank of Chinese world, which was by far more important, politically and militarily, throughout most of the Chunqiu period, namely the Southern and Southeastern frontier.
The brief hegemony of two 'semi-barbarian' southeastern superpowers, Wu and Yue, at the end of the Chunqiu period was a shocking experience for ritual purists, but in the long term it supplied the Chinese with a model of cultural interaction with militarily superior but culturally inferior powers - a model that was to remain highly relevant for future Chinese history.
Diplomatic and military needs encouraged the rulers of Wu and Yue to adopt aspects of Zhou ritual culture, and even forge a favourable pedigree that would further legitimize their hegemony.
Large-scale use of advisors of Xia origin further facilitated the erstwhile barbarians' adaptation to Zhou ways; and eventually southeasterners were adopted, even if reluctantly, into the Zhou world despite their preservation of significant traits of non-Zhou indigenous customs.
This example of acculturation from a position of power and not of weakness may be largely irrelevant to the Xiongnu of Han times, but it became highly important in later centuries.
The fourth chapter, which deals with the first contacts between the Chinese and the 'real' nomads, the ancestors of the Xiongnu, is one of the most novel and daring parts of the whole book. Di Cosmo tries to resolve the riddle of the sudden appearance of the nomadic menace after centuries of limited and largely peaceful relations across the then still indistinct Northern frontier.
Conventional wisdom, based on Han period stereotypes, holds that the nomads' inherent belligerence encouraged them to invade and plunder their southern neighbours, who in response built protective 'long walls'. Di Cosmo completely refutes this thesis. His careful reading of historic records, and combining them with archaeological evidence brings him to a radically different conclusion: The nomads were not the belligerents; it was the 'cultivated' Chinese who invaded nomadic pastures as a part of the process of territorial expansion characteristic of the Warring States era.
Zhanguo walls, just like their heir, the Qin Great Wall, did not mark an ecological boundary between the steppe and the sedentary realm, but rather were built deep inside the original nomadic territory. Far from being beast-like war-mongers, the nomads were victims of Chinese expansionism, which came as a direct consequence of the previous occupation and incorporation of the lands inhabited by the Rong and the Di tribes.
Di Cosmo's convincing reconstruction of the early stage of the Sino-nomadic encounter raises the question of the reasons for the sudden Chinese expansion into the fringes of the steppe in the late Zhanguo period. One possible answer may be the advent of iron technology, which allowed lands that were previously unsuitable for agriculture to be turned into arable fields.
All major Zhanguo states were preoccupied with reclaiming the wasteland, both within and beyond their boundaries. The northward expansion of the states of Qin, Zhao and Yan was part of this process; and the conquest of new territories was usually accompanied with settlement activities.
It might have taken some time before the Chinese learned that most although not all of the Northern Zone is largely unsuitable for agriculture and gave up the idea of incorporating it fully into farmland; in the Zhanguo period.
However, the hopes of establishing a viable agricultural base in the southern part of the steppe belt might still have been high, which explains the aggressive policy of the Chinese states. This policy culminated with Qin incursions against the Xiongnu in the Ordos area in BCE, which resulted in the erection of a large section of the Great Wall, which became the hallmark of Qin military achievements. Qin massive aggression against the Xiongnu had unexpected consequences for Sino-nomadic relations.
The Xiongnu reorganized and used the opportunity of the collapse of Qin in BCE to renew military pressure on China's boundaries; subsequently, Han military setbacks changed once and for all the nature of China's relations with the peoples of the Northern Zone.
These events are discussed in the fifth chapter. Scholars have long been fascinated by the almost simultaneous rise of two unified empires - Qin-Han and the Xiongnu - on both sides of the Great Wall, and have proposed numerous explanations for the connection between Chinese empire-building and the consolidation of the nomads' power.
Di Cosmo observes that many of the past theories cannot be adequately supported by historical evidence, and suggests an alternative model; the nomadic organization was a response to the crisis engendered by Qin incursions deep into Xiongnu territory.
The resultant militarization of nomadic society brought about the emergence of a military aristocracy, which sought to maximize its power through limited political centralization on the supra-tribal level, and continuous extortion of Chinese goods. When a brother dies, his widow is taken by a surviving brother. They neither wear cap nor sash, and know nothing of the rites of the entrance-hall or the guest-chamber. The flocks being dependent on the herbage and water, it is necessary, from time to time, to remove to fresh localities.
Hence, in time of danger, the men practice equestrian archery; and in the seasons of security, they live at ease and free from care. They have few restraints, and are unembarrassed by conventional forms. The intercourse of prince and subject is simple and durable; and the government of the nation is consoledated as that of a single body. When a father or elder brother dies, the son or younger brother takes the widow to wife, as the abhor the mixture of families.
Hence although there are disorders among the Hsiung-nu, yet they preserve the family stem untainted. Now in China, though they do not openly take the widows of their fathers and brothers to wife, yet while matrimonial etiquette requires more distant alliances, this is a fruitful source of murders; and even the change of the surname frequently arises from this custom.
Then as to defects in the rites, the ill-feeling that is generated by stringency in the intercourse between superiors and inferiors is such that it may be said, by the time the edifice reaches the summit, the strength of the builders is utterly exhausted. The husbandman spends his force in the labours of tillage and mulberry culture, to procure a supply of food and clothing; and you build cities and outposts for self-defence.
But in time of danger the people are not trained to warlike exercises; and in time of peace every one is taken up with his own business. The presentation of silks and grain from the Han to the Hsiung-nu is merely a clever device to estimate their numbers.
Nor are these gifts in themselves without their drawbacks. On the contrary, when tho grain is ripe, it is trodden down by mounted troops, and there is an end of their harvest, much misery and distress being the natural result. A few years of comparative peace followed, till BCEwhen the Shen-yu at the head of a hundred and forty thousand cavalry entered Chaou-na by the Seaou barrier, killed Sun Ngang the commandant of Pih-t'e, and carried off a great number of the people and cattle.
He then advanced on Pang-yang, whence he sent his mounted troops to set fire to the Hwuy-chung palace. On the return of his cavalry from the expedition, he marched on Kan-tseuen in the department of Yung. Wan-te on his part was adopting measures to meet the emergency. The high official Chang Woo was gazetted as general, with a force of a thousand chariots, and a thousand cavalry troops, distributed over the Ch'ang-an region, to ward off the Hoo banditti.
Liw King the Marquis of Chang was appointed territorial general of Shang-keun Under this leadership, a vast levy of carriages and cavalry set forward to attack the Hoo. The Shen-yu was more than a month inside the stockades, but he retired on the approach of the Chinese army, and the troops of Han returned, without a blow having been struck. The Hsiung-nu were becoming daily more overbearing; every year they crossed the boundary, killing and carrying off the people and cattle in immense numbers; more especially in Yun-chung and Liaou-tung; and up to the region of Tae, there was a loss in all of more than ten thousand persons.
The Chinese being exceedingly distressed by these proceedings, an envoy was dispatched with a letter to the Hsiung-nu chief. The Shen-yu sent a Tang-hoo with a return letter acknowledging favours, and power to discuss the renewal of the treaty.
In the Emperor again addressed a letter to the Shen-yu in the following terms: Your highness having sent a Tang-hoo, the Tseay-keu Teaou-nan, and the Gentliman-usher Han-Liaou, with two horses, these I have respectfully received.
When my imperial predecessor erected the Great Wal1, all the bowmen nations on the north were subject to the Shen-yu; while the residents inside the wall, who wore the cap and sash, were all under our government: No separations took place between fathers and sons; while princes and subjects lived together in peace, free from violence and oppression.
Now it is reported that there are certain disreputable people, who seeking to free themselves from their obligations, have turned their back on their duty as subjects and abandoned the treaty; disregarding the welfare of the people, and ignoring the condition of harmony between the two princes. But these are now matters of the past. The sages practised daily renovation, renewing their reformations and beginning afresh; giving rest to the aged and causing the young to attain maturity, each fulfilling his responsibility and completing his allotted span of life.
Should I, in concert with the Shen-yu, follow this course, complying with the will of heaven, then compassion for the people will be transmitted from age to age, and extended to unending generations, while the universe will be moved with admiration, and the influence will be felt by neighbouring kingdoms inimical to the Clinese or the Hsiung-nu. Now peace prevails all over the world; the myriads of the population are living in harmony, and I and the Shen-yu alone are the parents of the people.
On taking a retrospect of the past, I find trifling matters and minute causes have shaken the stability of subjects, and induced defective alligiance; all quite unworthy to mar the harmony that ought to exist between brethren. If you and I both forget the trifles of the by-gone, and walk together in the broad path, regardless of the evils that are past, uniting the people of the two nations as the children of one family, the great mass of the population will be blessed with peace and prosperity, while they will be preserved from perils; and the benefits will extend even to the lower creation, the denizens of tbe forest, the ocean and the firmament.
Hence, in the future, lit us not merely walk in the way of heaven, but overlook all that is past. I will freely pardon all my subjects who have run away or been carried captive; and lit not the Shen-yu seek the rendition of Chang-ne and others who have submitted to the Han. It is said that the ancient kings and emperors made clear stipulations in the treaties, and were ever true to their words. Let your highness ponder well. After the conclusion of the treaty of peace throughout the world, take notice, the Han will not be the first to transgress.
Let no man dispute the benefits either personally or as to territory. The Hsiung-nu shall not come within the stockades; Chinese subjects shall not pass beyond the stockades. Death is the penalty of transgression. Thus friendly relations may be long coutinued without a breach. I have sanctioned it; let it be widely circulated through the empire, that the matter may be clearly understood.
The new chief, however, had been little more than a year in power, when the treaty was thrown to the winds, and he poured thirty thousand cavalry into Shang-keun, and a similar force into Yun-chung, killing and taking captive immense numbers of the people.
Three Chinese generals were thereupon appointed, and the formation of military colonies was initiated Three other generals were appointed to important military posts When the Hoo cavalry crossed the border at Kow-choo in Tae, the news was telegraphed to Kan-tseun and Ch'ang-an by beacon fires. It was a matter of months by the time the Chinese troops reached the border.
In the summer ofthe Emperor Wan-te died, and was succeeded by his son King-te. Scarcely had the new prince ascended the throne, when disaffection began to manifest itself among the feudal states. Suy the king of Chaou sent a messenger secretly to enter into communication with the Hsiung-nu. Woo and Tsoo rebelled, and wished to unite with Chaou in a plot to invade the border. The emperor however surrounded and disabled Chaou; while the Hsiung-nu declined to join the confederation.
Amicable relations were renewed between the Shen-yu and the Chinese court. A treaty was again signed, and a market was opened at the barrier. Presents were forwarded to the Hsiung-nu, and an imperial princess was sent to cement the alliance with the Shen-yu. The treaty was tolirably well observed throughout the reign of King-te ; towards the close there were some petty incursions on the borders, though there was no serious raid.
Relations with the Hsiung-nu in the Reign of Emperor Wu-ti [ BCE] Wu-ti ascended the throne inthe early years of his reign being marked by occasional irruptions of his northern neighbours. Inhowever, they requested a renewal of the treaty of peace, which was agreed to by the emperor after some deliberation, and an explicit declaration as to the stringency of the stipulations.
The Hsiung-nu were treated liberally; the market at the barrier was continued, and handsome gifts were forwarded; so that from the Shen-yu downwards, the Hsiung-nu all became firmly attached to the Chinese, and confined their excursions to the outside of the Great Wall.
An influence in an opposite direction, however, was at work at court, and within two years of the signing of the treaty a deep laid plot was set on foot by the Chinese, for cutting off the great body of the Hsiung-nu. Nee Yih, an old man, a native of Ma-yeh, was sent as it were clandestinely to negotiate with the Shen-yu. He pointed out to the latter the wealth that might be obtained by the capture of Ma-yeh, and pretended to sell the city to him.
Allured by the prospect of gain, and trusting to the representations of Nee, the bait began to take. The Shen-yu entered the Woo-chow stockade with a hundred thousand mounted troops, while the Chinese had more than three hundred thousand troops lying in in ambush in a valley near Ma-yeh. The high dignitary Han Gan-kwo was general of the covering force, to protect the four generals who were to draw the Shen-yu into the ambuscade.
When then Shen-yu had entered thee Chinese stockade, before he was within a hundred li of the Ma-yeh, he was astonished to see the cattle spread over the hills and no one to look after them. He attacked a military post, which was defended by the Commandant of Yed-mun, who happened to be then making his circuit. At this revelation the Shen-yu became greatly alarmed, and exclaimed: The Chinese troops having confidently reckoned on the Shen-yu entering Ma-yeh, had relaxed their vigilance; but as he did not come, their scheme proved a great collapse.
Discovering the state of matters, the general Wang Kwei led forward his forces beyond Tae, intending to overtake and capture the Hsiung-nu store waggons; but on hearing that the Shen-yu had returned, the greater part of the troops refused to proceed.
Considering that Wang Kwei was the originator of this plot, and now having failed to follow up the fugitives, he was condemned to death by the emperor. From that time the treaty was abandoned by the Hsiung-nu, who attacked the stockades on the high road, and were constantly committing acts of brigandage on the border, too numerous to mention. They were very glad, however, to avail themselves of the market at the barrier, having become fond of Chinese commodities; and the Chinese were very desirous to cultivate this barrier traffic, as a means of enfeebling their rivals The Mission to the West by Zhang Qian.
What follows is the account of that mission by Zhang Qian Chang K'ienwhich is generally considered to have influenced significantly the Han decision to expand signficantly to the West and develop the "Silk Road. Chang K'ien was a native of Han-chung [in the south of Shen-si province] ; during the period of K'ien-yuan [ BCE] he was a lang [a titular officer of the imperial household; a yeoman].
At that time the Son of Heaven made inquiries among those Hsiung-nu who had surrendered [as prisoners] and they all reported that the Hsiung-nu had overcome the king of the Yue-chi and made a drinking-vessel out of his skull. The Yue-chi had decamped and were hiding somewhere, all the time scheming how to take revenge on the Hsiung-nu, but had no ally to join them in striking a blow. The Chinese; wishing to declare war on and wipe out the Tartars, upon hearing this report, desired to communicate with the Yue-chi; but, the road having to pass through the territory of the Hsiung-nu, the Emperor sought out men whom he could send.
Chang K'ien, being a lang, responded to the call and enlisted in a mission to the Yue-chi; he took with him one Kan Fu, a Tartar, formerly a slave of the T 'ang-i family, and set out from Lung-si [Kan-su], crossing the territory of the Hsiung-nu.
The Hsiung-nu made him a prisoner and sent him to the Shan-yu [Great Khan or King], who detained him, saying: If I wished to send ambassadors to Yue [Kiangsi and Ch'okiang], would China be willing to submit to us?
All this time Chang K'ie'n had kept possession of the Emperor's token of authority, and, when in the course of time he was allowed greater liberty, he, watching his opportunity, succeeded in making his escape with his men in the direction of the Yue-chi. Having marched several tens of days to the west, he arrived in Ta-yuan.
The people of this country, having heard of the wealth and fertility of China, had tried in vain to communicate with it. When, therefore, they saw Chang K'ien, they asked joyfully: I have now escaped them and would ask that your king have some one conduct me to the country of the Yue-chi; and if I should succeed in reaching that country, on my return to China, my king will reward yours with untold treasures.
The Ta-yuan believed his account and gave him safe-conduct on postal roads to K'ang-ku [Soghdiana], and K'ang-ku sent him on to the Ta-yue-chi. The king of the Ta-yue-chi having been killed by the Hu ['Tartars'; in this case the Hsiung-nu], the people had set up the crown prince in his stead [in the Ts'ien-han-shu it is the queen who is appointed his successor].
They had since conquered Ta-hia [Bactria] and occupied that country. The latter being rich and fertile and little troubled with robbers, they had determined to enjoy a peaceful life; moreover, since they considered themselves too far away frorn China, they had no longer the intention to take revenge on the Hu [Hsiung-nu]. Chang K 'ien went through the country of the Yue-chi to Ta-hia [Bactria], yet, after all, he did not carry his point with the Yue-chi.
After having remained there fully a year, he returned, skirting the Nan-shan. He wished to return through the country of the K'iang [Tangutans], but was again made a prisoner by the Hsiung-nu, who detained him for more than a year, when the Shan-yu died and the 'Left' Luk-li [possibly Turk.
Ulugla,'highly honored'] prince attacked the rightful heir and usurped the throne, thus throwing the country into a state of confusion. Kan Fu], escaped and returned to China. Chang K'ien was a man of strong physique, magnanimous and trustful, and popular with the foreign tribes in the south and west.
T'ang-i Fu was formerly a Hu [Tartar; Hsiung-nu? Being an excellent bowman, he would, when supplies were exhausted, provide food by shooting game. When Chang K'ien started on his journey, his caravan consisted of more than a hundred men; thirteen years later, only two lived to return. The following countries were visited by Chang K'ien in person: Ta-yuan [Ferghana], Ta-yue-chi [Indoscythians], Ta-hia [Bactria] and K'ang-ku [Soghdiana]; there were besides, five or six other large adjacent countries concerning which he gained information and on which he reported to the Emperor in the following terms.
Ta-yuan [Ferghana] is to the southwest of the Hsiung-nu and due west of China, at a distance of about 10, li.
The people are permanent dwellers and given to agriculture; and in their fields they grow rice and wheat. They have wine made of grapes p'u-t'au and many good horses. The horses sweat blood and come from the stock of the t'ien-ma [heavenly horse, perhaps the wild horse]. They have walled cities and houses; the large and small cities belonging to them, fully seventy in number, contain an aggregate population of several hundreds of thousands.
Their arms consist of bows and halberds, and they shoot arrows while on horseback. North of this country is K'ang-ku [Soghdiana]; in the west are Yue-chi; in the southwest is Ta-hia [Bactria]; in the northeast are the Wu-sun; and in the east Han-mi and Yu-tien [Khotan]. All the rivers west of Yu-tien flow in a westerly direction and feed the Western Sea; all the rivers east of it flow east and feed the Salt Lake [Lopnor].
The Salt Lake flows underground. To the south of it [Yu-tien] is the source from which the Ho [Yellow River] arises. The country contains much jadestone. The river flows through China; and the towns of Lou-lan and Ku-shi with their city walls closely border on the Salt Lake.
The Salt Lake is possibly li distant from Chang-an. To the south they are bounded by the K 'iang [Tangutans], where they bar the road [to China]. Of archers they have several tens of thousands, all daring warriors. Formerly they were subject to the Hsiung-nu, but they became so strong that, while maintaining nominal vassalage, they refused to attend the meetings of the court. It also is a country of nomads with manners and customs very much the same as those of the Yue-chi.
They have eighty or ninety thousand archers. The country is coterminous with Ta-yuan. It has fully a hundred thousand archers.
The country lies close to a great sea [ta-tso, lit. The Ta-yue-chi [Indoscythians] are perhaps two or three thousand li to the west of Ta-yuan. They live to the north of the K'ui-shui [Oxus]. They are a nomad nation, following their flocks and changing their abodes. Their customs are the same as those of the Hsiung-nu. They may have one to two hundred thousand archers. In olden times they relied on their strength, and thought lightly of the Hsiung-nu; but when Mau-tun ascended the throne he attacked and defeated the Yue-chi.
Up to the time when Lau-shang, Shan-yu of the Hsiung-nu, killed the king of the Yue-chi and made a drinking vessel out of his skull, the Yue-chi had lived between Dunhuang [now Sha-chou] and the K'i-lien [a hill southwest of Kan-chou-fu].
But when they were beaten by the Hsiung-nu, they fled to a distant country and crossed to the west of Yuan [Ta-yuan], attacked Ta-hia [Bactria], and conquered it.
Subsequently they had their capital in the north of the K'ui-shui [Oxus] and made it the court of their king. The minority which were left behind and were not able to follow them, took refuge among the K'iang [Tangutans] of the Nan-shan, and were called Siau-Yue-chi Small Yue-chi.
The people live in fixed abodes and are give to agriculture; their fields yield rice and wheat; and they make wine of grapes. Their cities and towns are like those of Ta-yuan. Several hundred small and large cities belong to it. The territory is several thousand li square; it is a yery large country and is close to the K'ui-shui [Oxus]. Their market folk and merchants travel in carts and boats to the neighboring countries perhaps several thousand li distant.
They make coins of silver; the coins resemble their king's face. Upon the death of a king the coins are changed for others on which the new king's face is represented. They paint [rows of characters] running sideways on [stiff] leather, to serve as records. West of this country is T'iau-chi; north is An-ts'ai. It [referring to T 'iau-ch'i] is hot and damp. The inhabitants plow their fields, in which they grow rice. There is a big bird with eggs like jars. The number of its inhabitants very large and they have in many places their own petty chiefs; but An-si [Parthia], while having added it to its dependencies, considers it a foreign country.
They have clever jugglers. Although the old people in An-si maintain the tradition that the Jo-shui and the Si-wang-mu are in T'iau-chi, they have not been seen there.
Ta-hia [Bactria] is more than li to the southwest of Ta-yuan, on the south bank of the K'ui-shui [Oxus]. The people have fixed abodes and live in walled cities and regular houses like the people of Ta-yuan.
They have no great king or chief, but everywhere the cities and towns have their own petty chiefs. The population of Ta-hia may amount to more than a million. Their capital is called Lan-shi, and it has markets for the sale of all sorts of merchandise. To the southeast of it is the country of Shon-tu [India]. Chang K'ien says [in his report to the Emperor]: When I asked the inhabitants of Ta-hia how they had obtained possession of these, they replied: The people there have fixed abodes, and their customs are very much like those of Ta-hia; but the country is low, damp, and hot.
The people ride eliphants to fight in battle. The country is close to a great river. According to my calculation, Ta-hia must be 12, li distant from China and to the southwest of the latter. Now the country of Shon-tu being several thousand li the southeast of Ta-hia, and the produce of Shu [Ssi-ch'uan] being found there, that country cannot be far from Shu.
Suppose we send ambassadors to Ta-hia through the country of the K'iang [Tangutans], there is the danger that the K'iang will object; if we send them but slightly farther north, they will be captured by the Hsiung-nu; but by going by way of Shu [Ssi-ch'uan] they may proceed direct and will be unmolisted by robbers. Ta-yuan and the possessions of Ta-hia and An-si are large countries, full of rare things, with a population living in fixed abodes and given to occupations somewhat identical with those of the Chinese people, but with weak armies, and placing great value on the rich produce of China; in the north the possessions of the Ta-yue-chi and K'ang-ku, being of military strength, might be made subservient to the interests of the court by bribes and thus gained over by the mere force of persuasion.
In this way a territory 10, li in extent would be available for the spread among the four seas of Chinese superior civilization by communicating through many interpreters with the nations holding widely different customs. As a result the Son of Heaven was pleased to approve Chang K'ien's proposal.
He thereupon gave orders that, in accordance with Cliang K'ien's suggestions, exploring expeditions be sent out from Kien-wei of the Shu kingdom [the present Su-chou-fu on the Upper Yangtzi] by four different routes at the same time: These several missions had each traveled but one or two thousand li when those in the north were prevented from proceeding farther by the Ti and Tso tribes, and those in the south by the Sui and K'un-ming tribes [placed by the commentators in the southwest of Si-chou-fu], who had no chiefs and, being given to robbery, would have killed or captured the Chinese envoys.
The result was that the expeditions could not proceed farther. They heard, however, that about a thousand li or more to the west there was the 'elephant-riding country' called Tien-yue [possibly meaning 'the Tien,' or Yunnan, part of Yue or South China], whither the traders of Shu [Ssi-ch'uan] were wont to proceed, exporting produce surreptitiously.
Thus it was that by trying to find the road to Ta-hia [Bactria] the Chinese obtained their first knowledge of the Tien country Yun-nan.
The original idea to penetrate from China through the country of the southwestern barbarians was abandoned, because, in spite of the heavy expense incurred, the passage could not be effected; but it was in pursuance of Chang K'ien's report regarding the possibility of finding a road to Ta-hia [Bactria] that attention had again been drawn to these barbarians.
It had been due to Chang K'ien's knowledge of their pasture-grounds, when following, in the capacity of a subcommander, the general-in-chief sent out against the Hsiung-nu, that the army did not fall short of provisions.
For this the Emperor invested him with the title 'Marquis of Po-wang. For this he was liable to the penalty of death; but, on payment of a ransom, his punishment was reduced to degradation to the rank of a private. In the same year China sent the Pian-ki general Ho K'u-ping to conquer the western ordu [capital] of the Hsiung-nu.
He took several tens of thousands [of troops] and pushed forward as far as the K'i-lien-shan [a hill in the south of the present Kan-chou-fu]. In the following year BCE the Hun-sho prince with all his people tendered his alligiance to China, and in the west of Kin-ch'ong [Lan-chou-fu] and in Ho-si [in the west of Kan-su] all along the Nan-shan as far as the Salt Lake [the Lopnor] there remained no Hsiung-nu. The Hsiung-nu would from time to time come there to waylay travelers, but such visitations were of rare occurrence indeed, and two years later the Chinese forced their khan to retreat into the north of the desert.
The Son of Heaven thereupon consulted Chang K'ien several times about Ta-hia and other countries, and since K'ien bad lost his marquisate he submitted the following report: The Hiung-nn attacked and killed his father, and the K'un-mo, at his birth, was cast away in the wilderness, where meat was brought to him by a blackbird and a she-wolf nursed him with her milk.
The Shan-yu regarded this as a wonder and, having raised the child to manhood, made him a military leader, in which capacity he distinguished himself on several occasions. The Shan-yu restored to him the people of his father and made him governor of the western ordu [city, or fortified camp]. On receiving charge of his people, the K'un-mo attacked the neighboring small states with tens of thousands of bowmen, gained experience in warfare, and, after the Shan-yu's death, withdrew his forces to a distant retreat, declining to appear at the court of the Hsiung-nu.
The latter dispatched a force of picked troops to attack him, but, being unable to conquer him, regarded him as a spirit whom they had better keep at a distance and whom they would not seriously attack, though they continued to claim [nominal] jurisdiction of the Shan-yu over the K'un-mo. Now the Shan-yu has recently been defeated by China, in consequence of which the Hun-sho prince's former territory has become deserted; and since the barbarians covet the rich products of China, this is an opportune time to bribe the Wu-sun with liberal presents, and to invite them to settle farther east in the old Hun-sho territory.
Should they become attached to the Chinese as a brother nation by intermarriage the situation would be in favor of their listening to our proposition, and if they do this, it would be tantamount to the cutting off of the right [i.
He also provided him with gifts of gold and silk stuffs worth millions, and with assistant envoys, holding credentials, whom he might send to and leave behind in other nearby countries. When Chang K'ien arrived at Wu-sun, be keenly resented the humiliation offered to him, the ambassador of China, by a mere king of the Wu-sun, K'un-mo, in receiving him in audience with court ceremonial like that adopted with the Shan-yu of the Hsiung-nu.
Knowing the greed of these barbarians, he said: Chang K'ien explained the Emperor's ideas as follows: Moreover, his own country was also nearer them, so that his ministers, who were afraid of the Tartars, did not wish to move away, and, since the king was not free to arrive at a decision of his own choice, Chang K'ien was unsuccessful in inducing him to adopt his suggestion.
The K'un-mo had more than ten sons, the second of whom, called Ta-lu, was an energetic leader of the masses. In this capacity he set himself up in a separate part of the country with more than ten thousand horsemen. Ta-lu's elder brother, the crown prince, had a son called the Ts'on-ts'u [a title]. When the crown prince met with an early death, his last words to his father, the K'un-mo, were: Ta-lu was angry at being prevented from acting as crown prince and, having imprisoned his brothers, rose with his people in rebellion against the Ts'on-ts'u and the K'un-mo.
The latter, being old, was in constant fear that Ta-lu might kill the Ts'on-ts'u; he therefore gave the latter more than ten thousand horsemen to settle elsewhere, while retaining the same number of horsemen for his own protection. The population was thus divided into three parts; and, notwithstanding that the majority were under his authority, the K'un-mo did not dare to take it upon himself to conclude that treaty with Chang K'ien. Wu-sun furnished guides and interpreters to accompany Chang K'ien on his return, and the latter, traveling with several dozen natives and as many horses sent by the people of Wu-sun in acknowledgment [of the Emperor's gifts], thereby afforded them the opportunity to see China with their own eyes and thus to realize her extent and greatuess.
On his return to China Chang K'ien was appointed Ta-hing ['Great Traveler,' or head of the office of foreign affairs] with rank as one of the nine ministers of state.
More than a year after this he died. The envoys of Wu-sun, having seen that China was a very populous and wealthy country, reported to this effect on their return home, and this increased the estimation in which she was held there. More than a year later, some of the envoys whom Chang K'ien had sent to the Ta-hia countries returned with natives of those countries, and after this the countries of the Northwest began to have intercourse with China.
Since Chan K'ien had been the pioneer in such intercourse, envoys proceeding to the West after him always referred to the Marquis of Po-wang as an introduction in foreign counries, the mention of his name being regarded as a guaranty of good faith.
After the death of K'ien, the Hsiung-nu heard of China's relations with Wu-sun, at which they became angry and wished to make war on it.
When China sent missions to Wu-sun, her ambassadors continually passed through the south of that country to Ta-yuan [Ferghana] and Ta-yue-chi [Indoscythians], and since the people of Wu-sun were afraid, they sent ambassadors and tribute horses, expressing their wish to bring about family relations by marriage with a Chinese imperial princess.
The Son of Heaven consulted his ministers, who all said: Thus more embassies were despatched to An-si [Parthia], An-ts'ai [the Aorsi, or Alans], Li-kan [Syria under the Seleucids], T'iau-chi [Chaldea], and Shon-tu [India], and as the Son of Heaven had such a fancy for the horses of Ta-yan, ambassadors [sent to procure these horses] followed upon one another's heels all along the route.
Such missions would be attended by several hundred men, or by a hundred men, according to their importance. The gifts carried by them emulated in the main those sent in the time of the Marquis of Po-wang; but later on, when they had ceased to be a novelty, they were made on a smaller scale. As a rule, rather more than ten such missions went forward in the course of a year, and at the least five or six.
Those sent to distant countries would return home after eight or nine years, those to nearer ones, within a few years. This was the time when China had extinguished Yue, in consequence of which the barbarians in the southwest of Shu Ssi-ch'uan became alarmed and asked that Chinese officers be appointed, and attended court. Thus were created the districts of I-chou, Yue-sui, Tsang-ko, Shon-li, and Won-shan, [the government] being guided by the wish that these territories should form a link in the development of the route to Ta-hia [Bactria].
And so the envoys Pai Shi-ch'ang and Lu Yue-jon were sent out in more than ten parties in a single year from these newly founded districts for Ta-hia [Bactria], but again and again they were held up by the K'un-ming tribes, who killed them and robbed them of the presents they carried, so that they were never able to reach Ta-hia.
Thereupon China raised an army from the convicts of the metropolitan district san-fu and sent the two generals Kuo Ch'ang and Wei Kuang in command of tens of thousands of soldiers of Pa and Shu [Ssi-chi'uan], to fight the K'un-mings who had intercepted the Chinese ambassadors, when several tens of thousands of the tribesmen were beheaded or made prisoners by the Chinese army before it withdrew.
After this ambassadors sent to the K'un-ming were again robbed, and a passage through this country was still found to be impracticable. On the other hand, missions to Ta-hia [Bactria] by the northern route, via Tsiu-ts'uan, had by their frequency caused the foreign countries to be less and less interested in the Chinese ambassadorial gifts, which they no longer appreciated.
Since the work of the Marquis of Po-wang in preparing the way for intercourse with foreign countries had earned for him rank and position, officials and attendants who had accompanied him vied with one another in presentmg to the throne memorials in which they discussed the wonders, advantages, and disadvantages of certain foreign countries; and when the memorialists asked to be nominated as envoys, the Son of Heaven, on account of the extreme distance of the countries to be visited and owing to the scarcity of men expressing a willingness to go, would comply with such requests and would even provide credentials to candidates for ambassadorial posts without asking any questions as to whence they had come.
In order to encourage enterprise in this direction numbers of embassies were fitted out and sent forward, though among those who returned there were bound to be some who had either purloined the presents entrusted to them or failed to carry out the imperial instructions.
The Son of Heaven on account of the experience of these quasi-envoys, would merely investigate cases as being highly criminal and punishable in order to stir up a feeling of resentment. By causing them to atone for their guilt [by payments? Chances for such appointments now becoming numerous, those concerned in them made light of infringements of the law, and the lower officials connected with them would also give exaggerated accounts of the conditions of the foreign countries in question.
Han Dynasty China and Imperial Rome, 300 BCE–300 CE
Those who reported on some great projects in connection with foreign countries would be given plenipotentiary posts, whereas reports on less important ones would be rewarded with mere assistantships, for which reason reckless and unprincipled men became eager to follow examples thus set. The ambassadors, being mostly sons of poor families, appropriated the gifts sent by the government, and would undersell them for their private benefit. Foreign countries, in their turn, got tired of the Chinese ambassadors, whose tales consisted of conflicting accounts.
They imagined that a Chinese army would not be near enough to reach them, and that they were free to annoy the Chinese ambassadors by cutting off their food supplies. The ambassadors were thus reduced to a state of starvation, and their exasperation took the form of actual hostilities. Lou-lan and Ku-shi, which, though merely small countries, were thoroughfares to the West, attacked and robbed the Chinese ambassadors [Wang K'ui and others] more than ever, and unexpected troops of the Hsiung-nu would at all times intercept westbound envoys.
Ambassadors would therefore strive to outvie one another in spreading reports of the calamities threatening China from those foreign countries, which had walled cities and towns, but whose armies were weak and could easily be vanquished. On this account the Son of Heaven sent the Tsung-piau marquis [Chau] Po-nu to lead some tens of thousands of cavalry of the feudal states and regular troops toward the Hsiung-nu River, wishing to engage the Tartars, but the latter retreated without giving battle.
Xiongnu - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History
In the following year Po-nu attacked Ku-shi. He took the lead with more than seven hundred light cavalry, captured the king of Lou-lan, and defeated Ku-shi. He then displayed the prestige of his army in order to 'corner' Wiu-sun, Ta-yuan, and other countries. On his return, he was raised to the rank of a marquis of Tso-ye [in BC]. Wang K'ui, who had been repeatedly ill-treated as an ambassador by Lou-lan, had reported this to the Son of Heaven, who raised an army and ordered him to assist Po-nu in bringing Lou-lan to terms.
For this, Wang K'ui was made Marquis of Hau. A line of military stations was now established between Tsiu-ts'uan and the Yu-mon [Yumen] Gate. Wu-sun now presented a marriage gift of a thousand horses, upon which China sent a relative of the emperor's, the Princess of Kiang-tu, as a consort for the king of the Wu-sun.
The latter, the K'un-mo, appointed her his right [i. The Hsiung-nu, on their part, also sent a daughter in marriage to the K'un-mo, who appointed her his left [i.
The K'un-mo said 'I am old,' and he induced his grandson, the Ts'on-ts'u, to marry the [Chinese] princess.
The Wu-sun had a great store of horses; rich men had as many as four or five thousand each. Once, when a Chinese ambassador had come to An-si[Parthia], the king of that country caused twenty thousand horsemen to welcome him at the eastern frontier, which was several thousand li distant from the royal capital. When he reached the capital he found that he had passed some dozens of walled cities, densely populated When the ambassador returned to China they in their turn, sent envoys to accompany the mission back to China, in order that they might see China's greatness with their own eyes.