. 8
( 15)


Hopkins Press, 1950), pp. 12“15; Desmond H. Martin, “The Mongol Army,”
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1943): 46“85.

Andreski devised three parameters to de¬ne social structures on the basis
of military organization: military participation ratio, subordination, and
cohesion. According to these criteria, the Inner Asian tribal society on the
eve of state formation can be characterized by a high military participation
ratio, a low degree of subordination, and a high degree of cohesion. Inten-
sive warfare, among other possible factors, would produce a higher degree
of subordination, resulting in a “widely conscriptive” (or “neferic”) society
marked by high levels of all three parameters. This is, in fact, a type of
social transition attributed by Andreski to Eurasian nomads.59
This analytical approach is useful as long as we realize its limits. As
the power and authority of the charismatic leader-to-be grew, members
of defeated tribes were incorporated into the future khan™s tribe, the level
of subordination rose, ranks were established, and commanders were
appointed. However, together with the increase in subordination, a quali-
tative difference in the military participation ratio also emerged. Whereas
in the pre-crisis situation of “normalcy,” con¬‚icts were limited even though
there was a high military participation ratio, during the period of “crisis,”
military ventures became, for a large part of the male population, a regular,
professional activity.
The creation of the state, then, did not produce a demobilization of the
military aristocracy and soldiery. On the contrary, it increased the size of
the army and turned part-time soldiers into full-time soldiers. Moreover, as
the royal clan strengthened its hold on power, it also tended to become
larger and larger. The frequent struggles for succession must have persuaded
the potential candidates to draft into their personal retinues and to retain
control of as many craftsmen, servants and personal troops as possible. The
proliferation of these non-producers increased the overall rate of con-
sumption. Because production could not have increased, and in fact prob-
ably decreased owing to the impact of militarization on an already critical
situation, heavy pressure emerged for the acquisition of external resources.
Compared with the resources produced within their own economic bases,
the political centers of steppe empires were enormously expensive.
According to tribal custom, the aristocracy exacted tribute from com-
moners and from subordinate or enslaved tribes. As the aristocratic class
required resources far greater that those provided by the traditional
economy, the ability to gain revenues external to a society™s productive base
was key to the emergence of the state apparatus, its survival, its foreign
relations, and its projection of force beyond its political and territorial
boundaries. As a solution the leaders would seek to incorporate, through
military force, other peoples into the state™s economy as tribute bearers, thus
supplying the revenues necessary to ¬ll the gap between the requirements

Stanislav Andreski [Andrzejewski], Military Organization and Society (London:
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968 [1954]), pp. 150“51.

of the state and the productive capacity of the social body. The tribute
would be monopolized by the supreme leader and the clans associated
with the government, in particular the khan™s lineage and the consort clan.
Their ¬nal objective was to strike a balance between incoming tribute and
expenses for the maintenance, rewards, and stipends of the aristocratic elite,
the army, and the state apparatus. The ability to extract revenues from trib-
utary sources was an imperative for Inner Asian “nomadic-type” states and
became a matter of overwhelming concern for the preservation of the uni-
tarian structure of the state. Before we tackle this issue, however, we need
to examine the political mechanism that produced the charismatic leader
and the new social order.


The sacral investiture of the “supra-tribal” leader was key to the process
of political centralization. During the crisis, and coeval with the on-
going militarization of society, the leader emerged from the pool of members
of the military aristocracy, either by defeating competing chiefs or by suc-
cessfully defending the interests of the tribe. In that process, he acquired
the support of other tribes, whose chiefs elevated him to the position of
supreme leader. The electors formally relinquished their authority as tribal
leaders and submitted to him. Isolated individuals could also ¬‚ock to join
the leader and then become part of the emergent new polity. The investi-
ture of a “supra-tribal” leader was sacral in the sense that it conferred
on the “khan” the right to proclaim himself “protected by Heaven,” or
“appointed by Heaven.” As a result, the authority of the assembly that
elected the leader (the Mongol khuriltai, or the populus in the Roman sense)
was transferred to the person of the khan, who became the charismatic
Although the appointment of the khan was not limited to a particular
length of time, or to the solution of a crisis, sometimes a system was adopted
that seems to indicate an attempt to limit the powers of the charismatic
leader to a ¬xed period of time.60 Türks and Khazars, for instance, had
the custom of depriving the khan of air by strangulation at the time of
his investiture until he reached a state of semi-conscious stupor, at which
point he would be asked how long his reign would last. The period of
his “dictatorship”would then be as long as the number of years “mur-
mured” by the khan. In most cases, however, no such limitation was

We may tentatively see an analogy here with the Roman institution of the dicta-
tor, a supreme military leader appointed for a limited period of time to resolve a


The sacral investiture points to the existence of an “ideology in reserve”
that was activated under special circumstances.61 Krader saw a distinct
dyadic opposition between the collegial, almost socialistic relations that
existed in the tribal society and the hierarchical, individualistic set of class
relations that emerged with the birth of an Inner Asian state and that was
imposed upon the ¬rst.62 This distinction helps highlight the fact that, as
soon as the sacral investiture takes place, a new ideology emerges, which,
by requiring unconditional subordination to the khan and the imperial clan,
transforms social and political relations from semi-horizontal to semi-
vertical. The activation of this notion is tantamount to a social revolution,
as it radically changes social and economic relations, as well as military and
civil organization.
After the appointment of the khan, a new political apparatus took shape
made up of permanently mobilized armies and bodyguard corps, a supra-
tribal justice administration, and a body of imperially appointed military
and civil of¬cials. The ¬rst task of the khan was to ensure the loyalty of
the populus and the establishment of a warless state (the Pax Nomadica),
of which the royal clan would be guarantor. Having accomplished this, the
khan wold need to consolidate rapidly the power of the imperial clan, which
he could achieve by monopolizing revenues and redistributing them to the
military aristocracy that had rallied around him. The military expansion
that followed the establishment of the new statelike polity was not the result
of fresh energies. Rather, it was part of the formative process of the state
itself. Military activity was necessary to acquire the means to reward mili-
tary leaders and to establish a hierarchy in which members of the royal clan
would be in a commanding position. If the dynastic founder could not place
the royal clan in ¬rm control of the state, then the foundation of the state
would forever remain weak, and the state itself might easily vanish at his
Although the political solution of the crisis that brought together the
members of various tribes was contingency bound and therefore inherently
temporary and anomalous, it resulted in the consolidation of the authority
of a single or double (with the consort clan) lineage. In this sense, the
newborn state resembled the tribe itself, which was often structured accord-
ing to a hierarchy of lineages among which only one was supposed to
provide political leaders. The perquisites of power, such as the right to
hereditary succession and the right to exaction of tribute, were then trans-
ferred to the “supra-tribal,” state level, and claimed by the charismatic clan.
The new polity, the “tribe-state,” was not a tribal state, that is, a state

For the notion of an “ideology in reserve” in nomadic societies, see Philip Carl
Salzman, “Introduction,” in When Nomads Settle: Processes of Sedentarization
as Adaptation and Response, ed. Philip Carl Salzman (New York: Praeger, 1980).
Krader, “The Origin of the State among the Nomads of Asia,” pp. 100“101.

controlled by tribal constituencies, but a state that was structured like a
tribe in terms of hierarchies and access to power.
The ambiguity of the system of imperial succession in Inner Asian poli-
ties re¬‚ects, then, the ambiguity inherent in the tribe itself. Succession could
be formally de¬ned as either linear or lateral, but, in effect, any of the sons
or brothers of the khan had a legitimate right to succeed him as long as the
aspirant had enough support among the populus. This phenomenon was
recognized by Joseph Fletcher, Jr., and named “bloody tanistry” after the
Celtic analogy. According to Fletcher™s interpretation, the tribal con-
stituencies had the power to elect a successor by siding with the one who
proved to be the most able, and the proof was provided by the leader-to-
be™s skill in defeating his competitors. Succession wars were necessary as a
means of selection of the leader.63
However, once the dynastic founder had been successful in using the
sacral investiture to consolidate the power of the clan, succession could in
fact take place with limited bloodshed, or with no bloodshed at all,
although the transmission of power by inheritance rather than by accla-
mation could create tension between the tribal populus and the new khan.
External wars were often fought as a means to release that tension and to
demonstrate, through victory, that the successor still enjoyed “divine”
support. When there was a struggle for succession, the outcome depended
not so much on the ability of the khan to please the tribal leaders as on his
ability to control the government of the state. The correct management of
state revenues could guarantee that members of the tribal aristocracy, now
appointed to positions within the military or even within the civil admin-
istration, pro¬ted from their loyalty to the khan. In this case, the old-style
tribal aristocracy, which still preserved a tribal constituency, was often pow-
erless to oppose the central government, and it is interesting to note that
time and again “nativistic” challenges were met successfully by the central
governments, thanks to their greater resources.64 The consolidation of the
supreme power of the leader also required that a number of those men
under arms be reorganized into permanent ¬ghting units under the direct
control of the royal clan and of the khan. However, loyal chieftains by and
large retained control of their tribal troops, even though they were
appointed to their positions by the khan.
Having examined in detail the process of state formation in the Inner
Asian tradition, we should now turn to the Hsiung-nu polity, and analyze

Joseph Fletcher, Jr., “Turco-Mongolian Monarchic Tradition in the Ottoman
Empire,” Harvard Ukrainian Studies 3“4 (1979“80): 236“51.
A well-known historical example of a “nativistic” challenge is the struggle
between the brothers Arigh Böke and Qubilai for control of the Mongol ulus
(“state”); see Morris Rossabi, Qubilai: His Life and Times (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1988), pp. 53“62.

it in the light of the same tradition. The essential postulate of this type of
analysis is that there be suf¬cient structural elements, as we have just seen,
to link the formation of the Hsiung-nu empire to the later history of so-
called steppe empires. These linkages do not rest exclusively on the pur-
ported “nomadic” nature of these empires, but on the similarity they display
in the political process and in the social and economic transformations that
accompany it.

State Formation among the Hsiung-nu

Scholars have emphasized that the Hsiung-nu emerged, as a uni¬ed polity,
immediately after the uni¬cation of China, implying an in¬‚uence of China
on processes of state formation among the nomads.65 Others, as we have
already mentioned, saw the Hsiung-nu empire as the political outcome of
a primarily economic situation, that is, the nomads™ need to extract agri-
cultural products from a powerful neighbor. Masao Mori has advanced the
thesis that the Hsiung-nu state was created by an internal political process,
whereby the central power of the ch™an-yü and his clan (together with the
consort clan) over the other tribes was increased.66 Others have seen the
Hsiung-nu as a loose political organization that could not be termed a
“state” but was rather a tribal confederation whose leader remained essen-
tially a tribal chieftain, however outstanding.67
The bare sequence of events as we have already described it suggests that
the struggle sustained by Modun was directed primarily against the tradi-
tional tribal aristocracy led by his father T™ou-man and was carried out by
the ef¬cient, totally loyal, disciplined bodyguard that he created and used
to seize power.68 This ¬ts in well with the transition from a looser tribal
structure to a more centralized political structure, which otherwise would
be dif¬cult to explain. This process of centralization occurred between the
invasion of the Ordos by Meng T™ien (215 b.c.) and the rise of Modun to
supreme leadership (209 b.c.). After the death of Meng T™ien, who was
forced to commit suicide in 210 b.c., and the collapse of Ch™in, the expan-
sion of the Hsiung-nu confederation unfolded to a large extent indepen-
dently of the events in the south and was directed against the Inner Asian
tribes that constituted the primary enemies of the Hsiung-nu.

Khazanov, Nomads of the Outside World, p. 25.
Mori Masao, “Kyôdo no kokka,” Shigaku zasshi 59.5 (1950): 1“21.
Nobuo Yamada, “The Formation of the Hsiung-nu Nomadic State,” Acta
Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 36.1“3 (1982): 575“82.
On the question of the Inner Asian guard corps, and their role in world history
see Christopher Beckwith, “Aspects of the History of the Central Asian Guard
Corps in Islam,” Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 4 (1984): 29“43.


The crisis ignited by China™s push into the northern steppes was, then,
the catalyst that led to the Hsiung-nu™s creation of a stricter hierarchy and
more cohesive military organization. According to Ssu-ma Ch™ien, before
the uni¬cation, “China, the land of caps and girdles, was divided among
seven states, three of which bordered the territory of the Hsiung-nu.”69 The
territory of the Hsiung-nu, therefore, extended over the entire northern
marches, encompassing the borders of the states of Ch™in, Yen, and Chao.
Later, Meng T™ien™s expedition drove the Hsiung-nu out of the Ordos
region, and forti¬cations were set up along this new borderline; at this time,
according to the Shih chi, “the Eastern Hu were very powerful and the
Yüeh-chih were ¬‚ourishing.”70 The Ch™in invasion is likely to have created
a shortage of pastureland, which upset the balance of power existing at that
time in the steppe and forest regions, with the main immediate effect of
weakening the Hsiung-nu. The Hsiung-nu became therefore the target of
other Inner Asian peoples, such as the Eastern Hu (perhaps formerly subject
to the Hsiung-nu) and the Yüeh-chih. Internally, this crisis produced a
drastic change of leadership, with the violent coming to power of Modun,
as well as a change in the military, which can be seen in the training of an
imperial bodyguard, perhaps analogous to those of the Persian, Scythian,
and, later, Turco-Mongol empires.71 Modun was therefore able to respond
ef¬ciently and swiftly to the critical situation.72
The internal unity of the Hsiung-nu body politic and the centralized
structure were primarily meant as political and military responses to the
Chinese invasion and threats from other nomads. Relying on their new mil-
itary structure, the Hsiung-nu managed to defeat their Inner Asian enemies
and consolidate their rule over the whole of eastern Inner Asia. At the same
time, the civil war in China relieved pressure from the south, thus making
it possible for Modun to concentrate his forces against his Inner Asian
enemies and to recover the land taken away by Meng T™ien.73 The rise of
Modun, however, need not coincide with the creation out of nothing of a
Hsiung-nu union of tribes, but with its reorganization and with a process
of centralization of political and military power.74 Hence the formation of

Shih chi 110, 2886. 70 Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2317.
The ancient comitatus of the Germanic tribes was also similarly structured; cf.
Beckwith, “Aspects of the History of the Central Asian Guard Corps in Islam.”
Berthold Laufer, Chinese Clay Figures. Part I: Prolegomena on the History of
Defensive Armor (Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History Publication no.
177, 1914), pp. 224“27.
Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2317“18.
As a loosely organized political entity, the Hsiung-nu had possibly existed for at
least a century before the uni¬cation of China. They are mentioned as part of a
coalition of states formed to attack Ch™in in 318 b.c., although commentators
have remained skeptical about this record on account of its early date and

the Hsiung-nu empire should not be directly related to the uni¬cation of
China per se. The origin of the con¬‚ict between Chinese and Hsiung-nu
that would later assume the shape of a war between a defensive China and
aggressive nomadic invaders must be sought, more precisely, in the expan-
sion of China into nomadic grazing grounds followed by events that can
be interpreted only within the context of steppe politics.

Hsiung-nu Expansion under Modun

After Modun became supreme leader (ch™an-yü), the Hsiung-nu engaged in
a policy of military expansion that led them to establish their sovereignty,
or at least their in¬‚uence, over an immense territory encompassing
the steppes, desert, and mountains from Manchuria to Central Asia. The
Hsiung-nu ¬rst expanded in the east, so that the eastern (left) wing of the
empire extended from the territory that would later become the Han Shang-
ku commandery75 to the land of the Hui-mo and Ch™ao-hsien.76 This whole
area had previously been inhabited by the Eastern Hu (Tung Hu), who were
thoroughly defeated by Modun.77 There is no doubt that the nomadic
peoples defeated by the Hsiung-nu were responsible for paying tribute to
them and that these payments, probably exacted at ¬xed times from the
various tribal leaders, were essential for the support of the Hsiung-nu court,
military machine, and general economic well-being.78
Before the campaign against the Yüeh-chih, in the 170s b.c., the west-
ernmost extension of the Hsiung-nu does not seem to have gone much

isolation; see Shih chi 6, 207 (William H. Nienhauser et al., ed., The Grand
Scribe™s Records, vol. 1: The Basic Annals of Pre-Han China [Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1994], p. 112). It is interesting, however, that the record
says that the ¬ve states of Hann, Chao, Wei, Yen, and Ch™i led the Hsiung-nu to
attack Ch™in. In other words, the Hsiung-nu were used by these states against
Ch™in. In this case, the Hsiung-nu of the record need not be an imperial confed-
eration; they could have been cavalry troops from tribes drafted in the Central
States™ armies or persuaded through diplomatic means to serve them. Both ways
would be consistent with the Eastern Chou utilization of foreign peoples as
Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 9“10, 2“4.
Shih chi 110, 2889. The Hui-mo are regarded as an ancient people that lived to
the north of the Korean Peninsula (see Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2318). The Ch™ao-
hsien kingdom was located in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.
Shih chi 110, 2889“90.
To appreciate the importance of nomadic tributes to the Hsiung-nu we may note
the argument made around 50 b.c. by Hsiung-nu leaders favorable to peace with
China that, because their former tributaries (such as the Wu-huan) had recog-
nized Chinese authority, it was better to submit to China (Han shu 94B, 3797).


beyond the western limit of the Yellow River Bend, although we do not
know exactly how far west it extended north of the Yellow River, into
present-day Inner and Outer Mongolia. The Ordos area, east of Shang com-
mandery,79 was occupied by the right (i.e., western) wing of the Hsiung-nu,
whose territory also joined with that of the Yüeh-chih, Ti, and Ch™iang
peoples.80 In the north, Modun subjugated peoples known as the Hun-yü,
Ch™ü-yi, Ting-ling, Ko-k™un, and Hsin-li, who were located in northern
Mongolia and western Siberia.81 In the south, he recovered the land previ-
ously occupied by Ch™in and pushed the border south of the Yellow River,
and conquered the lands of the Lou-fan and of the king of Po-yang.82
Modun also extended his realm to include the counties of Chu-na, located
southeast of present-day Ku-yüan county, in Ning-hsia, and Fu-shih, south-
east of today™s Yü-lin county, in Shensi.83 Then he invaded the territories of
the former states of Yen and of Tai.84 This means that the territory includ-
ing present-day Ning-hsia, the northern parts of Shansi, Shensi, and Hopei,
and the whole of Liao-ning was either controlled by the Hsiung-nu or open
to their incursions.
At this time the court of the ch™an-yü was located in the area where the
commanderies of Tai and Yün-chung were later established.85 This was
probably the ch™an-yü™s personal domain, and it extended from the north-
eastern corner of the loop of the Yellow River, north of the Ordos Desert,
to the northern parts of Shansi and Hopei.86 Another important place within
the Hsiung-nu state was Lung-ch™eng, located probably southwest of Ulan
Bator, in present-day Mongolia, where religious ceremonies and political
gatherings were held.87 This was the site where, in the ¬fth month of the

Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 5“6, 2“6/3“6. 80 Shih chi 110, 2891.
Shih chi 110, 2893; cf. also Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2319; Han shu 94A, 3753.
Shih chi 110, 2889“90. The Lou-fan were a people located to the east outside the
Great Bend of the Yellow River (Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 9“10, 3“3). The
Po-yang were a Hsiung-nu tribe that inhabited the territory to the south of the
Great Bend of the Yellow River (Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2318).
Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 5“6, 4“5 and 3“6.
Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 9“10, 2“4/3“4. 85 Shih chi 110, 2891.
Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 5“6, 1“7/2“9.
Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 67, 2“4; also Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2319. Possibly
the Lung-ch™eng mentioned in this passage was not located in Outer Mongolia.
Evidence against this identi¬cation, according to Wang Wei-mao, include the
following points: (1) the Hsiung-nu were nomads and had no ¬xed settlements;
(2) their political center was at that time to the south of the Gobi; (3) there are
other passages that mention other Lung-ch™eng places that seem to be located in
different areas. According to this author, the Lung-ch™eng mentioned in this record
was located to the south of the Gobi and to the north of Shang-ku prefec-
ture. See Wang Wei-mao, “Hsiung-nu Lung-ch™eng k™ao-pien,” Li-shih yen-chiu
1983.2: 142“44.

year, the ch™an-yü performed sacri¬ces to the ancestors, Heaven and Earth,
and to the deities.88
To acquire the external revenues they needed to counterbalance the
militarization of society and the growing size of their courts and political
apparati, the Hsiung-nu adopted a purely tributary system. Through mili-
tary pressure and formal treaties they forced weaker states as well as van-
quished nomadic states to pay tributes to the Hsiung-nu leadership. Besides
the tribute paid by China, the city-states and other polities in the Tarim
Basin paid the Hsiung-nu ruler in ¬xed amounts of luxury goods and staples
that went to support the court and its military establishment and then
“trickled down” to the more distant aristocratic lineages. Defeated nomads
such as the Wu-huan were also forced to pay a price to their overlords. The
tributary system soon revealed its limits, however, for the unity of the polit-
ical system could survive only as long as tributes kept coming in. Consid-
ering the chronic instability of the royal clan, which could be easily disabled
by its internal struggles, the state establishment was obviously extremely

Early Han Relations with the Hsiung-nu

Han Kao-tsu™s Treaty of 198 B.C.

At the outset of the Han dynasty, the military situation was extraordinar-
ily complex because of semi-independent potentates with whom the
emperor vied for full political control. In 200 b.c., the seventh year of Han
Kao-tsu™s reign (206“194 b.c.), the Hsiung-nu attacked Hsin, the king of
Hann (a northern satrapy not to be confused with the Han dynasty), at Ma-
yi.89 Hsin made a pact with the invaders, and planned a rebellion against
the emperor in T™ai-yüan. The Hsiung-nu, once they had obtained the
support of Hsin, led their army to the south across the Kou-chu Moun-
tains,90 attacked the T™ai-yüan commandery, and reached the walls of Chin-
yang.91 Kao-tsu personally led the troops to attack the Hsiung-nu and quell
the rebellion of Hann, but his forces met with frigid weather, and twenty

Shih chi 110, 2892.
Ma-yi: the then-capital of the Han kingdom, it was located in present-day Shuo
county, in Shansi; see Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 17“18, 3“10.
Kou-chu Mountains: today called Yen-men Mountains, a mountain range located
to the southeast of Ma-yi, near present-day Tai county, in Shansi (Chung-kuo li-
shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 17“18, 3“10). In ancient times it was known as one of the nine
Great Fortresses (Chiu Ta Yao-sai).
Chin-yang: placed to the south of present-day T™ai-yüan city, in Shansi (Chung-
kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 17“18, 5“10).
Distribution of

Nomadic Groups During

Khingan Range
Y en
the Warring States


and Han Periods



y sh R.

Ob R
Ri v er



ge R len
A S e len eru
LT Ulan Bator

Tung Hu
L. Balkash
W Shan Jung
I li R

iver O

er Alma-Ata
Urumchi t Hsiung-nu
eser Peking

Gobi D

T™I E N Lou-
Wu-sun Lin fan

Yellow River
Warring States Period
Tarim River
Lop Nor
Yü-men Yellow
akan Lou-fan
lam Sea
Ta k NS Lin Hu
K Yüeh-chih
ak Koko Nor Shan Jung
um Wu-sun

Han Dynasty
0 400 mi
0 400 km

Map 4

or thirty percent of the soldiers are said to have lost their ¬ngers because
of frostbite.92 Despite these problems, the army pressed on to P™ing-ch™eng.93
Modun then moved against Kao-tsu with an army of cavalrymen said to
number four hundred thousand,94 blocked the emperor at the mountain of
Pai-teng, and then surrounded the Han soldiers at the locality of P™ing-
ch™eng.95 The Han were allowed to withdraw after seven days. Having
in¬‚icted on the Han a crushing defeat, the Hsiung-nu imposed tributary
conditions that led to rati¬cation of the ¬rst-known treaty between the two
Hsin became a Hsiung-nu general. Together with others who had simi-
larly defected, such as Chao Li and Wang Huang, he ignored the peace
treaty signed by Kao-tsu and the head of the Hsiung-nu and repeatedly
invaded and plundered the commanderies of Tai and Yün-chung.96 At that
point, disaffected Han generals and local lords had become a major threat
to Kao-tsu, who had to wage war against them to protect the integrity of
the empire. Thus he sent Fan K™uai to attack them and regain control over
the prefectures and counties of Tai, Yen-men, and Yün-chung.97 After the
dramatic defeat suffered by Han Kao-tsu at P™ing-ch™eng, and the numer-
ous defections of Han generals and provincial “kings,” the Han emperor
was forced to realize that the Chinese infantry and charioteers were no
match for the Hsiung-nu cavalry and to resort to diplomatic means. Expen-
sive gifts, tantamount to a yearly tribute, then had to be awarded to the
ch™an-yü, and China had to acknowledge a position of inferiority vis-à-vis
its northern neighbor.98 The type of treaty concluded at this time was termed
ho-ch™in, that is, “peace through kinship relations.”

Shih chi 8, 384“5; Shih chi chu-yi 8, 214.
P™ing-ch™eng: located to the northeast of present-day Ta-t™ung city, in Shansi
(Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 17“18, 2“11).
This is an obviously exaggerated number, especially because not all the northern
nomadic peoples had yet been included in the Hsiung-nu confederation. On the
basis of later military encounters, I would estimate that this ¬gure is in¬‚ated by
a factor of ten.
Pai-teng: mountain located to the east of P™ing-ch™eng (Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u
chi, 2: 17“18, 2“11).
Yün-chung and Tai: these territories, along with Yen-men, were being constantly
fought over, and often shifted hands. They were by no means in ¬rm possession
of the Han dynasty and in some ways constituted a broad frontier belt between
the two states (Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 17“18, 2“8/2“9/2“11/3“10/2“
Shih chi 110, 2894“5; Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2319“20.
Manfred Raschke, “New Studies in Roman Commerce with the East,” in Auf-
stieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, II Principat, ed. H. Temporini and
W. Haase, vol. 9.2 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1978), p. 614.


The Ho-ch™in Treaty Policy and the Principle of Equality

The ho-ch™in policy is usually regarded as a pure and simple policy of
accommodation, a means of buying peace in exchange for goods.99 In fact,
it was more than this. Although in essence this policy implicitly paci¬ed the
nomads through bribes, it also included elements that could reconcile it, in
spirit if not in substance, with previous frontier policies. The architect of
the ho-ch™in policy was Liu Ching, the councillor who had advised Kao-tsu
against attacking the Hsiung-nu. The policy he proposed instead consisted
of sending an imperial princess “ Kao-tsu™s oldest daughter “ to become the
legitimate consort of Modun. According to Liu Ching™s plan, once a rela-
tion of kinship had been established, and Modun had become the emperor™s
son-in-law, then Modun™s son “ the heir-apparent to the Hsiung-nu throne
“ would be Kao-tsu™s grandson and thus placed in a position of subordi-
nation to China. Liu suggested that this policy be coupled with two other
strategic moves. The ¬rst was a “corruption” campaign, whereby the Han
would periodically send to the Hsiung-nu those valuable things that they
craved, and of which the Han had a surplus. The second was an “indoc-
trination” campaign, whereby the Han would send rhetoricians to the
Hsiung-nu to explain the rules of proper conduct. Because, according to
proper Confucian conduct, a grandson could not treat his grandfather as
an equal, the superiority of the Chinese emperor to the Hsiung-nu ruler
would thereby be established, and, ¬ghting no battles, the Hsiung-nu would
gradually become Han subjects. This policy was accepted in 199 b.c., and
began to be implemented with the treaty of 198 b.c.100
The ho-ch™in treaty of 198 b.c. signaled Han acceptance of equal diplo-
matic status with the Hsiung-nu and the inauguration of a bipolar world
order. Such a recognition of equal status rested on two elements: (1) a mar-
riage alliance was contracted by the two ruling houses; and (2) the Han

On the ho-ch™in policy during the early Western Han, see Ying-shih Yü, Trade
and Expansion in Han China: A Study in the Structure of Sino-Barbarian
Economic Relations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), pp. 10“12;
Arthur Waldron, The Great Wall of China: From History to Myth (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 40“41; Luo Ta-yün, “Hsi Han ch™u-ch™i
tui Hsiung-nu ho-ch™in te shih-chi,” Yün-nan Min-tsu Hsüeh-yüan Hsüeh-pao
1985.4: 44“9; Shih Wei-ch™ing, “Kuan-yü Hsi Han cheng-fu yu Hsiung-nu ho-
ch™in jo-kan wen-t™i,” Hsia-men Ta-hsüeh Hsüeh-pao 1985.4: 21“9; Chang
Ch™ang-ming, “Shih-lun Hsi Han te Han Hsiung kuan-hsi chi he-ch™in cheng-
ts™e,” Chiang-huai Lun-t™an 1983.6: 83“8. For the period after Han Wu-ti, cf.
Ch™en Po, “Shih-lun Hu-han-yeh Ch™an-yü tsai yü Han “ho-ch™in” chung te
chu-tao tso-yung,” Hsi-pei Ta-hsüeh Hsüeh-pao 1990.4: 36“9.
Shih chi chu-yi 99, 2144; Shih chi 99, 2179.


agreed to send a yearly tribute of silk, cloth, grain and other foodstuff.101
Later treaties were based on the same principles, which were sometimes
expressed even more emphatically; for instance, the title of ch™an-yü
received the same diplomatic status as that of huang-ti (the Chinese
emperor), and relations between the two rulers were de¬ned as “brotherly.”
In 162 b.c. Emperor Wen wrote to the Hsiung-nu ruler in the following
I and the ch™an-yü are the father and mother of the people, problems that
have emerged in the past owing to the bad deeds of subordinate people should
not ruin our brotherly happiness. I have heard people say that Heaven does
not cover just one side, and Earth is not partial to anyone. I and the ch™an-
yü should cast aside the trivial problems of the past and together follow the
Great Tao.102
The metaphors used (father and mother, Heaven and Earth) imply com-
plementarity between two independent entities rather than submission or
even subordination of one to the other. However, diplomatic recognition
of equal dignity did not re¬‚ect actual power relations in military terms:
the Han also needed to pacify the Hsiung-nu with payment of a tribute.
The initial treaty between Han Kao-tsu and Modun stipulated a yearly
payment to the Hsiung-nu of silk, wine, and grain and marked a funda-
mental change in the Chinese conception of foreign relations. Such a policy,
which clearly placed the Han in a position of political inferiority, was
unprecedented for the Chinese. Insult was added to injury when Modun
extended a marriage proposal to the empress dowager Lü Hou.103 This

Han shu 94A, 3754; Shih chi 110, 2895; Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2320.
Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2324“5; Han shu 94A, 3762“3.
During the reign of Emperor Hui (194“188 b.c.) Fan K™uai had suggested that
the Han replied with military means to an insulting letter sent by Modun to the
empress dowager Lü Hou. The text of the letter, and of Lü Hou™s reply, is not
recorded in the Shih chi, but in Han shu 94. The ch™an-yü™s letter read: “I, who
am alone but still vigorous, a ruler who was born amidst lowlands and swamps,
and who was raised in ¬elds with oxen and horses, have several times approached
the borders, wishing to be friendly with the Central States. You. Your Majesty,
sit alone on the throne, and I, alone and restless, have no one beside me. We are
both bored, and are both bereft of what could console us. I would like to
exchange what I have for what I do not have.” Lü Hou replied: “I who stand
at the head of an impoverished domain was frightened and withdrew in order
to think about the letter. I am old of age, my soul has grown decrepit. My hair
and teeth have dropped out and my stride has lost ¬rmness. You, Shan-yü, have
probably heard about me. You ought not sully yourself. I, who stand at the head
of an impoverished domain, am not to blame [for refusing] and should be
pardoned. I have two imperial chariots and two teams of four coach horses
which I present to you with two ordinary turn-outs.” Cf. L. Peremolov and


affront might have spurred China to adopt a more aggressive stance in the
name of preserving the honor of the country, yet for decades the ho-ch™in
policy continued to be endorsed, and the Han withdrawal of political
and diplomatic recognition from even a single Hsiung-nu leader was never
seriously considered.
Although the ho-ch™in policy was dictated by the military inferiority of
the Chinese, we should not underestimate the presence of elements that link
this policy, in spirit, to those policies adopted by Chinese states toward
northern peoples before uni¬cation. These elements were, ¬rst, the argu-
ment for peaceful relations to preserve the strength of the nation, and
second, the exchanges of gifts and hostages and the intermarrying, which
were not uncommon in the earlier relations with Ti and Jung. Even Li Ssu,
the “legalist” minister of Ch™in Shih Huang-ti, had proclaimed the unsuit-
ability of military confrontations with the nomads.104 These precedents left
ample space for more ¬‚exible diplomatic policies and seem to indicate that
concerns about effectiveness were more important than displays of superi-
ority. Even on the eve of the abandonment of this policy, at a debate held
at Wu-ti™s court in 135 b.c. (described in Chapter 6), the ho-ch™in policy
was ¬ercely defended by Han An-kuo, and had initially obtained the con-
sensus of the majority of ministers.
China™s weakness at the time of Han Kao-tsu was, of course, the result
of military developments that had made the nomads far more dangerous
than they had been. Waging wars against their nomadic foes, the Hsiung-
nu had expanded over a territory that extended from Manchuria to the land
west of the Yellow River. In the process, they had absorbed other nomadic
tribes, which led to the further growth of their armed forces within a mil-
itary organization made more effective by its centralized structure. On the
Han side, the ef¬cacy of Kao-tsu™s army was hopelessly undermined by
the soldiers™ lack of experience in ¬ghting the nomads and by the lack of
discipline of the commanders, members of a nobility whose loyalty to the
emperor could not be taken for granted. These factors made the Han army
objectively inferior to the Hsiung-nu, and forced Kao-tsu to adopt a con-
ciliatory attitude, which in the long run allowed the Han to buy time and
to build up a strong economy and a “modern” army that would eventually
enable China to ¬ght back. Brides and bribes did not prevent the Hsiung-
nu from launching raids and swift attacks along the border, or from re-
questing repeatedly that the “tribute” paid by China be increased, but it
preserved a substantial balance on the border and, compared with full-scale
war, imposed a lighter burden on the state™s ¬nances. The ho-ch™in policy

A. Martynov, Imperial China: Foreign-Policy Conceptions and Methods
(Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1983), pp. 64“65.
Sechin Jagchid and Van Jay Symons, Peace, War and Trade along the Great Wall
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), pp. 56“57.


became therefore the conditio sine qua non for the preservation of the
economic strength and territorial integrity of the reborn Chinese empire.

A New World Order

At the beginning of the second century b.c., Han and Hsiung-nu were by
no means the only players on the international scene. Other protagonists
included those nomadic peoples that had not been conquered by the
Hsiung-nu nor had voluntarily joined them, and the small kingdoms and
oasis-states of Central Asia, which became a bone of contention in the
armed struggle between Han and Hsiung-nu at the time of Wu-ti (141“
87 b.c.).
During the reign of Wen-ti (179“157 b.c.) the Hsiung-nu empire reached
the acme of its expansion, and in a diplomatic communication to Emperor
Wen the ch™an-yü declared:
With the assistance of Heaven, the talent of of¬cers and soldiers, and the
strength of the horses the wise king of the right has succeeded in destroying
the Yüeh-chih, and in unsparingly killing them or bringing them into sub-
mission. Lou-lan,105 the Wu-sun,106 the Hu-chieh107 and other twenty-six
states contiguous to them are now part of the Hsiung-nu. All the people who
draw the bow have now become one family and the northern region (pei
chou) has been paci¬ed.108
The same principle was con¬rmed a few years later, in 162 b.c., in the treaty
concluded by Emperor Wen. This treaty stipulated that, in accordance with
the tradition ¬xed by former emperors, the Hsiung-nu should rule over the
nation of the archers to the north of the Great Wall, and the settled people
living in the south, those who wore hats and sashes, should be ruled by the
Chinese emperor.109 This implies the recognition of a divide between a
northern and a southern region that both powers had pledged to respect.
This new world order can be said to conform to what we might call the
principle of great-power primacy, which is rooted in the belief that posses-

Kingdom in the Western Regions, located to the west of the Lop Nor (in
Sinkiang); its king™s residence was in the city of Yü-ni (Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u
chi, 2: 37“38, 5“11).
Pastoral people who originally occupied the area between the Kansu and
Ch™ing-hai provinces and later moved to the region of the Ili River and Issik
Kul. Their capital was Ch™ih-ku city (Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 37“38,
People that inhabited the area between the Kansu and Sinkiang provinces and
later moved to the north (Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 39, 2“2).
Shih chi 110, 2896; Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2321; Han shu 94A, 3756“3757.
Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2324“5; Han shu 94A, 3762“3; Shih chi 110, 2902.


sion of superior military power and, in the case of China, also of moral and
cultural superiority, went hand in hand with international leadership. In the
relationship between the two major powers this principle was manifested
in two ways: ¬rst, in the equal status of the rulers participating in this rela-
tionship; and second, in the de¬nition not only of the borders between the
two countries “ which guaranteed their territorial integrity “ but also of
their respective “areas of in¬‚uence,” which in turn implied the great powers™
mutual recognition of the right to keep an unchallenged political supremacy
over those peoples and states included in those areas.
In the dualistic conception of foreign relations that dominated the ¬rst
period of the Han dynasty, it is not surprising to see that the known world
was effectively split into two halves. Hsiung-nu and Chinese rulers allowed
each other not only effective authority over the people of their own state
(i.e., those living within the territorial boundaries directly under the admin-
istrative, political, and military control of each ruler) but also an overlord-
ship, or primacy, over the other independent communities and states living
in the respective areas of in¬‚uence. The concepts of great power primacy
and areas of in¬‚uence are vital for understanding the political events
that took place as Han Wu-ti began to expand militarily in the Western
Regions toward the end of the second century b.c. When the famous
explorer and imperial envoy Chang Ch™ien was sent by Emperor Wu to
seek an anti-Hsiung-nu alliance with the Yüeh-chih nomads in 139“138
b.c., he was captured by the Hsiung-nu, who expressed their displeasure in
the following terms: “The Yüeh-chih lie to the north of us, how can the
Han send their envoys there? If I wished to send envoys to Yüeh [a state
to the south of China] would the Han allow me to do so?” Clearly Chang
Ch™ien was found in violation of the agreement that de¬ned separate areas
of in¬‚uence.
The Hsiung-nu™s political and economic domination of Central Asia
(the hsi-yü, or Western Regions of the Chinese records), as far as the Tarim
Basin and beyond, may have been the result of their offensive againt the
Yüeh-chih, who originally lived near Tun-huang and Ch™i-lien.110 Escaping
from the Hsiung-nu, they ¬‚ed westward, where they attacked Ta-hsia
(Bactria). Subsequently, their king established his court north of the Kuei
River.111 The Hsiung-nu exercised their supremacy over these regions in no
uncertain terms. The people to the east of Samarkand were obliged to serve
the Hsiung-nu, and the states of Lou-lan and Ku-shih, which lay on the
trade routes, “often acted as the ears and eyes for the Hsiung-nu, enabling

Territory to the east of Tun-huang and to the west of the Ch™i-lien Mountains
(Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 33“34, 2“3/3“5).
Shih chi 123, 3162; Shih chi chu-yi 123, 2593. The Yüeh-chih settled in Tran-
soxiana, to the north on the upper course of the Amu Darya; Kuei is the name
of the Amu Darya (Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 13“14, 3“2).

their troops to intercept the Han envoys.”112 The Hsiung-nu overlordship
in the Western Regions was secured with ruthless means. Whenever
they heard that one of their tributary states had surrendered to the Han
they would immediately send a military force to attack it. After the Han
began sending diplomatic missions to the Western Regions, the Chinese
envoys complained that when a Hsiung-nu messenger carrying tokens of
credence from the ch™an-yü arrived, all the states along his route provided
him with relays of escorts and food and did not detain or harm him. In
contrast, Han envoys could not obtain food or horses without paying
for them. Clearly, then, the Hsiung-nu regarded the north as their domain,
and the tribute they exacted from the subordinate polities was instru-
mental in the political consolidation and economic well-being of their
The peoples of the Western Regions, whether nomadic tribes or oasis-
states, were organized in independent political communities, and their rulers
regarded themselves as the sole authority over their people and territory.
Because they could not compete with the two “superpowers” of the day,
however, in time they were forced to establish relations with either China
or the Hsiung-nu “ and sometimes with both “ that implied a degree of sub-
ordination. The system of international relations in which they all partici-
pated comprised therefore essentially two types of relations: those between
the two great powers, and those between the great powers and the lesser
Lesser states acquired certain obligations when they pledged allegiance
to either one of the two great powers. First, a hostage had to be sent from
the lesser state to the great power™s court; preferably he had to be someone
eligible to inherit the throne. Then there was a tribute in kind “ foodstuff,
clothing, horses, and so on “ to be paid regularly. The rulers of the states
that pledged allegiance to the Han were also given Chinese titles to mark
the type and degree of their vassal relationship. Those states that were
caught in between the two powers found themselves in a most unfortunate
position, with their fate often depending on sheer luck. The state of Lou-
lan (Kroraina, in the Tarim Basin), for instance, had to juggle in keeping
“tributary” relations with both powers, as Hsiung-nu and Han required
it to send hostages to their courts. Although the Hsiung-nu at ¬rst won
the diplomatic battle by being quicker in installing on the throne their
prot©g©, the Han won the war by sending a secret agent to assassinate the
unfriendly king.
One of the tactics later used by China in the struggle against the Hsiung-
nu was to undermine the Hsiung-nu™s authority as a “great power.” This is
expressed clearly in a speech by Chang Ch™ien to Wu-ti:

Han shu 96A, 3876 (Hulsew© and Loewe, China in Central Asia, pp. 85“86).


Now the ch™an-yü has recently suffered at the hands of the Han and as a
result the region occupied by the Hun-yeh king has been depopulated. The
Man-yi peoples are typically greedy for Han goods. If we now take this oppor-
tunity and send rich bribes and gifts to the Wu-sun and persuade them to
move farther east and occupy the region which formerly belonged to the Hun-
yeh king, then the Han could conclude a treaty of brotherhood with them,
and, under the circumstances, they would surely do as we say. If we could
get them to obey us, it would be like cutting off the right arm of the Hsiung-
nu. Once an alliance has been forged with the Wu-sun, states from Ta-hsia
(Bactria) to its West could all be induced to come to court and become our
outer vassals.113
Opening “brotherly” “ that is, equal status “ relations with the Wu-sun
would have undermined Hsiung-nu paramountcy in the region and opened
the door to Han diplomatic and political penetration. Hence the Han sent
a princess to wed the Wu-sun king, so “to separate the Hsiung-nu from
their allied states (yüan kuo) of the west.”114 One point is clear: at least
until the power of the Hsiung-nu was broken, and the Chinese consolidated
their control over the Western Regions, in the mid-¬rst century b.c., rela-
tions between greater and lesser powers are the only ones that can be
de¬ned as “tributary” because they implied a degree of subordination and
dependence in foreign affairs, while allowing virtually complete autonomy
in internal affairs. The relations between greater powers, on the other hand,
were based on the mutual recognition of equal status.

The Ho-ch™in Policy during the Reigns of Emperors
Wen and Ching

For the new world order to be effectively preserved, a substantial equality
between the two “superpowers” needed to be achieved also on the military
plane. Emperor Wen began to take measures that were intended to rebuild
the military forces on a more modern basis. First steps in this direction were
the appointments of Palace Military Commander Chou She and Chief of
Palace Attendants Chang Wu as generals “in command of a force of a thou-
sand chariots and a hundred thousand horsemen to garrison the vicinity of
Ch™ang-an and guard the capital from the nomadic invaders.”115 Clearly the
ho-ch™in policy did not prevent the Hsiung-nu from attacking the very heart
of China™s political power, but Han Wen-ti was gradually adapting to the
enemy™s tactics and replacing infantry troops with cavalry. Although still

Shih chi 123, 3168 (Watson, Records, 2: 238).
Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2331; Shih chi 110, 2913.
Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2324; Shih chi 110, 2901.


unable to establish military supremacy over the nomadic armies, the
Chinese could successfully repel invading parties and even pursue them
beyond the borders. Yet this new army ful¬lled a defensive function, was
concentrated around the capital, and continued to be unable to mount long-
range expeditions into Hsiung-nu territory. As a result, Han Wen-ti con-
tinued to base his foreign policy on peace treaties and to send the Hsiung-nu
large amounts of “millet, leaven, gold, silk, cloth, thread, ¬‚oss and other
These treaties should have guaranteed the paci¬cation of the border
areas. In reality, no matter how many treaties were concluded, and regard-
less of the amount of tribute paid to the nomads, the agreements were
repeatedly ignored. During the last period of Wen-ti™s reign, new measures
were taken to protect the borders with additional garrisons, more evenly
distributed, as part of a gradual but constant reorganization of the Chinese
military. This step was intended to accomplish two tasks: the reinforcement
of the border garrisons and the creation of a central standing army, posi-
tioned around the capital, which could intervene whenever and wherever a
major Hsiung-nu invasion might be attempted.
The Hsiung-nu ability to threaten the heart of Han political power, and
the failure of the “appeasement” strategy to relieve the Han of the threats
of invasion, made the situation at the frontier a virtually permanent crisis.
An attack by the Hsiung-nu against the western border forti¬cations at
Chu-na, in the winter of 166 b.c., ended with the defeat of Han forces
and the death of Sun Ang, the chief commandant of Pei-ti.117 Rather then
mere raiding incursions, the Hsiung-nu attacks against the Han northern
commanderies resembled migrations of tens of thousands of people, who
invaded a certain area for several months; in consequence, a large number
of Han troops needed to be mobilized to repel them. Here is a telling
example of such a “raid”:
In the winter of the sixth year of the latter part [of Emperor Wen™s reign,
i.e., 158 b.c.] thirty thousand Hsiung-nu invaded the Shang Commandery,
and thirty thousand invaded the Commandery of Yün-chung. In order to
defend against the Hsiung-nu, [the emperor] appointed the Palace Counselor
Ling Mien as General of Chariots and Cavalry to garrison Fei-hu Pass;118
the former Chancellor of Ch™u, Su Yi, was made a general and sent to guard
Kou-chu; General Chang Wu was stationed at Pei-ti; the Governor of the
Ho-nei Commandery Chou Ya-fu was made a general, and stationed at

Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2325; Shih chi 110, 2903.
County located to the southeast of today™s Ku-yüan county, in Ning-hsia province
(Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 33“34, 5“9). See also Shih chi chu-yi 10, 261;
Shih chi 10, 428.
Mountain pass located between the present-day counties of Lai-yüan and Yü, in
Hopei (Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 17“18, 3“12).


Hsi-liu;119 the Director of the Imperial Clan Liu Li was made a general and
sent to Pa-shang;120 the Marquis of Sung-tzu [Hsü Li] was sent to garrison
Chi-men.121 Several months later the Hsiung-nu left, and the armies were
The northern borders were equally unstable during Emperor Ching™s reign
(156“141 b.c.), and the northern provinces of Yen and Yen-men were
subject to continuous raids and attacks.123 More concessions were granted
to the Hsiung-nu in the peace treaties, which included the establishment
of markets along the border, and possibly a permissive attitude about
control over contraband trade.124 This produced favorable results, down-
grading border con¬‚icts to minor clashes and circumscribed skirmishes;
morever, from this point on the Hsiung-nu do not seem to have carried
out attacks as deeply into China™s territory as they had done during Wen-
ti™s time.

Chia Yi and Ch™ao Ts™o

The position of the statesman Chia Yi (201“169 b.c.) best exempli¬es the
deep ideological discomfort felt by some Han politicians with the ho-ch™in
policy and the pressure to replace a “horizontal” system of foreign rela-
tions with a “vertical” one. Chia Yi represented the relationship between
China and the Hsiung-nu with a body metaphor, whereby China was the
head and the Hsiung-nu were the feet. The failure of such a “proper” rela-
tionship resulted, according to him, in the inversion of these two elements,
whereby, as a consequence of “appeasement,” China ended up at the
bottom and the nomads on top.125 His position argues strongly for the
restoration of a hierarchical world order and the alignment of foreign policy
with the idea of universal emperorship, and yields evidence of the “ideo-
logical” pressures against appeasement present within the Han political
debate. His views regarding the divide between a cultured Hua-Hsia com-
munity and a cultureless foreign world cast the Hsiung-nu into a position

Located on the northern bank of the Wei River, in Shensi, to the southeast of
the city of Hsien-yang (Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 15“16, 7“11).
Area (also called Pa-t™ou) located to the east of Hsi-an, by the Pa river. In ancient
times this was a strategic military place to control the area of Hsien-yang and
Ch™ang-an (Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi 2: 15“16, 7“12).
Place located to the northeast of the city of Hsien-yang, in Shensi (not marked
in Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi).
Shih chi chu-yi 10, 263“4; Shih chi 10, 431“2. (Watson, Records, 1: 304“305).
Shih chi chu-yi 11, 277 and 279; Shih chi 11, 444 and 448.
Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2326, Shih chi 110, 2904“905.
Han shu 48, 2240/2241“2; Yü Ying-shih, Trade and Expansion, p. 11.

of polar opposition to the Han dynasty. The strongly ideological stance
advocated by Chia Yi, however, was not tempered by any notion of molding
the enemy through the example of virtuous behavior. For him, rituals,
music, and the other achievements of the Chinese cultural sphere were not
just a sign of a superior society, nor were they the “sugar-coated bullets”
to be used to dazzle and corrupt, if possible, their primitive enemies.
Instead, they were the means through which the two opposite “camps”
came to be differentiated: those with rituals on the one side, those without
on the other, with no possibility of dialogue between the two. It is inter-
esting to note that this position, while echoing Spring and Autumn and
Warring States positions, is singularly blunt in its formulation and lacks an
articulation at the political level, in a situation in which it was obviously
imperative that the Han ¬nd a diplomatic “voice” with which to engage
the Hsiung-nu.126 Mostly, he despised the Han defectors who would aid and
abet the Hsiung-nu cause, and even go so far as to justify it. These traitors
to Chinese civilization were the object of several devastating statements in
which he suggested that people such as Chung-hang Yüeh, the notorious
counselor of the ch™an-yü, should be made to kneel and then ¬‚ogged. This
type of highly ideological stance to an extent foreshadowed the positions
assumed by Wang Mang, the “usurper” of the Hsin dynasty (9“23 a.d.),
who would address the head of the Hsiung-nu (an independent, if tribu-
tary, nation) as “Submitted Caitiff of the Surrendered Slaves.”127 But Chia
Yi™s unwillingness to compromise appears to have been dictated more by
blind, and somewhat powerless, rage than by rational thinking. Not sur-
prisingly, his position, advocating the submission of the Hsiung-nu without
suggesting how that would be accomplished, remained without in¬‚uence,
and the ho-ch™in policy continued to be carried out without being affected
by it.
An entirely different view would be taken by Ch™ao Ts™o (d. 154 b.c.),
the champion of centralization and relentless persecutor of separatist “sub-
ordinate kings,” who seems to have been alone in addressing the issue of
foreign relations in practical terms and in recognizing the unworkability of
ho-ch™in not based on ideological grounds, but as a result of its failure to
meet expectations. He clearly identi¬ed the economic and military issues at
stake and made the most comprehensive contemporary military study of
the relations with the Hsiung-nu. His suggestions focused on a reform of
the military as a whole and on socio-economic reforms for the border

Modern commentators tie Chia Yi™s position to the ju-chia position of drawing
the line between Hua and Yi that ¬nds some sparse mention in Confucius™s
Analects. See Wang Hsing-kuo, Chia Yi p™ing chuan: fu Lu Chia Ch™ao Ts™o p™ing
chuan (Nan-ching: Nan-ching Ta-hsüeh, 1992), p. 169.
De Crespigny, Northern Frontier, p. 205.


regions and mostly hinge on the need to update military thinking and make
it relevant to the current circumstances.
Ch™ao Ts™o was particularly concerned with security and the military
aspect of confrontation with the nomads, and his writings deal squarely
with frontier management and issues of military strategy. The following
passage, from a memorial presented to Wen-ti in 169 b.c., which is also
one of the ¬rst studies of the military capabilities of nomadic cavalry, illus-
trates the extent of Han knowledge of Hsiung-nu military matters unques-
tionably available to Ssu-ma Ch™ien and to his contemporaries.
The con¬guration of terrain and ¬ghting ability of the Hsiung-nu differ from
those of China. Going up and down mountain slopes, and crossing torrents
and streams, the Hsiung-nu horses are better than the Chinese. On danger-
ous roads and sloping narrow passages they can both ride and shoot arrows;
Chinese mounted soldiers cannot match that. They can withstand the wind
and rain, fatigue, hunger and thirst; Chinese soldiers are not as good. These
are the qualities of the Hsiung-nu. However, on a level terrain in the plains,
using light chariots and swift cavalry, the Hsiung-nu rabble would easily be
utterly defeated. Even with strong crossbows that shoot far, and long hal-
berds that hit at a distance, the Hsiung-nu would not be able to ward them
off. If the armors are sturdy and the weapons sharp, if the repetition cross-
bows shot far, and the platoons advance together, the Hsiung-nu will not be
able to withstand. If specially trained troops are quick to release (their bows)
and the arrows in a single stream hit the target together, then the leather out¬t
and wooden shields of the Hsiung-nu will not be able to protect them. If they
dismount and ¬ght on foot, when swords and halberds clash as [the soldiers]
come into close quarters, the Hsiung-nu, who lack infantry training, will not
be able to cope. These are the advantages of China. If we look at this situa-
tion, the Hsiung-nu have three advantages, while China has ¬ve.128
The description of the military capabilities of Han and Hsiung-nu is lucid
and eloquently presented and based on a realistic appraisal of the respec-
tive strengths. This type of information has no analogies in pre-Han mili-
tary writings and provided Ssu-ma Ch™ien with ¬rst-hand information.
Probably there was no other politician, in his age, who had such a good
grasp of the military imperatives facing China.
In the same memorial, Ch™ao Ts™o requested the formation of a corps of
light cavalry to ¬ght the Hsiung-nu because of the obvious inadequacy of
infantry and chariots. He also proposed that surrendered Hsiung-nu or
other nomadic peoples, such as the Yi-ch™ü, be used to guard the frontiers
Ch™ao Ts™o chi chu-yi (Shanghai: Jen-min, 1976), p. 8. For another translation
of this memorial and for its military implications, see Joseph Needham et al.,
Science and Civilization in China, vol. 5: Chemistry and Chemical Technology,
Part VI: Military Technology: Missiles and Sieges (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 1994), pp. 123“25.


against other tribesmen, under the leadership of Chinese generals with
experience and understanding of their customs and usages, a policy that
went under the name of “using foreigners to attack foreigners” (yi man-yi
kung man-yi).129 This strategy, more commonly known as “using ˜bar-
barians™ to control the ˜barbarians™ ” (yi yi chih yi), during the Former
Han meant simply the incorporation of foreigners within the Han military
forces as a defense against the northern nomads. The subsequent estab-
lishment of self-supporting military units would be key to Wu-ti™s offensive
Regardless of the peace treaties and use of foreign auxiliaries, the situa-
tion at the border remained critical, while the Hsiung-nu continued to
expand to the west and to the north. In the ¬fth month of 177 b.c. the
Hsiung-nu entered undisturbed the Pei-ti130 and Shang commanderies,131
and withdrew only after a force of eighty-¬ve thousand cavalry was sent to
Kao-nu,132 led by Chancellor Kuan Ying, marquis of Ying-yin. In the course
of the incursion the Hsiung-nu were reported to have plundered and
harassed foreign peoples (yi) who were used by the Han as frontier
guards.133 Whereas this is an indication that the policy suggested by Ch™ao
Ts™o was already being implemented at this time, it is also clear that it was
not working.134 The Hsiung-nu offensive was carried out not by the ch™an-
yü himself, but by a subordinate leader, bearing the title of wise king of the
right.135 The attack must have been extremely critical, as the emperor
himself then visited the border areas, which ran from the Kan-ch™üan
Palace136 to Kao-nu, in order to inspect the defenses of T™ai-yüan.137 The
situation was complicated not only because of the constant Hsiung-nu pres-
sure, but also because of the continuing disaffection of Han aristocrats,

Han shu 49, 2281. Cf. also Ch™ao Ts™o chi chu-yi, pp. 8 ff.
Commandery located in the southwestern part of the Great Bend of the Yellow
River, did not cover the same territory as the prefecture bearing the same name
of the Ch™in period. It administered an area that included the northeastern part
of present-day Kansu, and the southeastern part of Ning-hsia. Its administrative
center was at Ma-ling (Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 17“18, 4“4/6“4).
Commandery located in the northern part of Shensi province (Chung-kuo li-shih
ti-t™u chi, 2: 17“18, 4“7/6“7).
District located to the northeast of the present-day city of Yen-an, in Shensi
(Chung-kuo li-shih ti-t™u chi, 2: 17“18, 6“7).
These are possibly the same as the Yi-ch™ü mentioned previously.
For an analysis of Ch™ao Ts™o strategy against the Hsiung-nu, see AA. VV.,
“Ch™ao Ts™o k™ang-chi Hsiung-nu te chan-lüeh ssu-hsiang,” Li-shih yen-chiu
1975.1: 74“8.
Shih chi chu-yi 110, 2320“1; Shih chi 110, 2895.
Kan-chüan Palace: located in the Kan-ch™üan Mountains (Chung-kuo li-shih
ti-t™u chi, 2: 15“16, 4“4).
Shih chi 10, 425; Shih chi chu-yi, 10, 259“60.


ready to take advantage of the military trouble at the border to set off an


The Hsiung-nu appeared as a wholly new force in Chinese history, one that
imposed itself upon the consciousness of Han rulers and statesmen, as well
as intellectuals, military leaders, and common people, with an urgency and
a sense of real threat that nomadic peoples had never elicited before. In the
north, China™s thus far ever-expanding cultural and political space reached
a seemingly unbreachable “wall” of alien peoples and lands that could not
be conquered. Even more alarmingly, the nomads were able to sap the
strength and resources of the empire, whether directly, through tribute and
looting, or indirectly, by attracting seditious Han leaders and forcing the
empire to expend much energy and resources in the pursuit of military
In this chapter we have explored the key factors that led to the creation
of the Hsiung-nu empire. The crisis following the Ch™in expedition into the
Ordos and the leadership struggle that occurred at the same time, as well
as the increased militarization of Hsiung-nu society, are the plausible sce-
nario that explains the process of centralization and the creation of a wholly
new political structure. However, contemporary Han military weakness,
which forced Kao-tsu to enter a tributary relationship with the Hsiung-nu,
also provided the bulk of those external revenues without which the
Hsiung-nu leadership would not have been able to support the impressive
court, military apparatus, and tribal loyalty, and which arguably were
critical to the survival and expansion of the Hsiung-nu empire.
It was at this point that China accepted the reality of a world order that
was essentially bipolar, even though it included several minor polities with
formal independence but that were de facto in a relationship of political
subordination to one or the other power. The equilibrium on which this
system of international relations was based “ borders guaranteed by treaty,
yearly payment, diplomatic marriages, de¬nition of areas of in¬‚uence “
entered a critical stage as it became apparent that the ho-ch™in policy no
longer provided stability. Understanding the factors that contributed to the
crisis will be central to our analysis of Han Wu-ti™s abandonment of
“appeasement” and inauguration of an aggressive foreign policy.

For instance, following the Hsiung-nu invasion, the king of Chi-pei rebelled, and
the Han court was forced to stop the army sent against the Hsiung-nu, cf. Shih
chi 95, 2673.


. 8
( 15)