QIANG 羌 REFERENCES IN THE BOOK OF HAN 汉书
(Chapter 1 to Chapter 78)
My purpose here is to make available an English version of the material in the Book of Han that
relates to the peoples known as Qiang in the final two centuries BC. Before the main text I have
provided an overview to show the usefulness and diversity of these Qiang references and to
facilitate access to particular topics and chapters. I have omitted chapters which do not contain
direct references to the Qiang. Omissions within chapters are represented by ‘…’ Any paragraph
in my main text which begins or ends with ‘…’ may follow or be followed by an extensive
amount of omitted text, sometimes representing a significant passage of time so events in two
such adjacent paragraphs may not be consecutive. Most of the content is direct translation
although some is paraphrased. I have included modern geographical equivalents for place
names in the footnotes, as well as other pertinent information.
The Chinese text used for these Qiang references in the Book of Han (Han Shu) can be found at:
http://www.xysa.net/a200/h350/02qianhanshu/t-index.htm. The chapter numbers relate to
those used on this site.
- A useful map by Rafe de Crespigny can be found here
https://digitalcollections.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/42048/18/map01.pdf . Although
the map relates to 189 AD it is still useful as a rough guide for the commanderies
- A map of Western China including today’s Xinjiang in the late Western Han period can
be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Han_Civilisation.png .
- Good modern provincial maps of China which include most of the modern places names
below can be found here: http://www.chinatouristmaps.com/provinces .
I originally planned to publish this as one document, wanting to maintain continuity and
connection between the chapters, but the length was in danger of detracting from the content so
I have presented the material in two parts, with Part 2 to follow. The translation is not without
flaws but I hope it provides a useful insight into the Qiang of the early Han Period.
WQB: the Western Qiang Biography1 in the Book of the Later Han.
HHS: Hou Han Shu (Book of the Later Han)2
NAHS: New Annotated Han Shu3
1 For an English translation of this see my Qiang References in the Book of the Later Han, Chapter 117: The
Biography of the Western Qiang. www.qianghistory.co.uk or at www.slideshare.com.
2 See Qiang References in the Book of the Later Han. www.qianghistory.co.uk or www.slideshare.com.
OVERVIEW OF QIANG REFERENCES IN THE HAN SHU
Although the main author of the Han Shu was Ban Gu, (32-92 AD), it was started by his father
Ban Biao (3-54 AD) and completed by his sister, Ban Zhao (45-c.116 AD), in 111 AD, which,
coincidentally, was a time of major conflict between the Han and Qiang. Despite being
completed during the first half of the Eastern Han period, the Han Shu describes the Western
Han period (206 BC - 25 AD) including Wang Mang’s Xin dynasty of 9-23 AD. It is sometimes
referred to as the Book of the Former Han (前汉书) to distinguish it from the Book of the Later
1. A brief comparison of Qiang references in the Han Shu and the Hou Han Shu
There are some notable differences between Qiang references in the Han Shu and those in
the Hou Han Shu (HHS). The Han Shu describes a period of expansion and ascendancy for
the Han empire, with great territorial gains and an increase in tribute-paying neighbours as
well as rapid development of international trade. Much of this was to the west where the
Qiang were immediate neighbours so it is not surprising that there are Qiang references
throughout the Han Shu but there is, however, no specific Qiang chapter. The references
tend to be factual information, usually in the context of conflict with the Han, whether it be
uprisings of Qiang who have already submitted, or warfare between the Han and
independent Qiang groups. There is no attempt in the Han Shu to explain who the Qiang are
or where they have come from although they are clearly foreigners. The main issue at stake
is how to deal with them.
Although the HHS describes the Eastern Han period (25-220 AD) it was compiled by Fan Ye
in the 5th century AD so although it relied on earlier historical records, it was still a
retrospective work looking back to a time of Han unity and greatness from a period of
fragmentation which began with the demise of the Han and lasted from the Three Kingdoms
period until the late 6th century Sui period. This period included the emergence of several
states ruled by non-Chinese, such as the Di (氐) state of Former Qin, the Qiang state of Later
Qin, and the Jie (羯) state of Later Zhao, so the threat of China never regaining her grandeur
was very real and unification was a prized goal. Assimilation into what was perceived as the
higher culture of the ‘Central Kingdom’ was seen as a key to this unity.
Against this backdrop, the HHS has a chapter dedicated to the Qiang, which states
confidently that the Western Qiang originated from San Miao. San Miao was a pre-historical
tribal leader from somewhere in the Hunan region in the time of Shun (c.2200 BC). The
earliest extant reference to San Miao seems to be in the Canon of Shun in the Shu Jing (书经,
4th century BC or earlier) which states that Shun banished San Miao, probably with his
people, to San Wei (三危), thought to be in the Dunhuang region or possibly east of Qinghai
Lake. In the early 1st century BC, Sima Qian, in chapter five of the Shiji, reiterates that San
Miao and his people were banished to San Wei but adds that they became Western Rong.4
By the 5th century AD, when the HHS was written and when China was so badly fragmented,
San Miao’s banishment is placed in the Western Qiang chapter which states without
question that the Qiang originated from San Miao, which ‘proves’ that more than two
millennia earlier the Qiang had lived in the Hunan region. Despite the absence of any Qiang
connection to San Miao in the Shang Shu, and the Qiang clearly being very foreign in the Han
3 This is a four-part annotated pdf version of the Han Shu in Chinese. No author given. See 电子图书:学校
专集. 汉书新注 http://ishare.iask.sina.com.cn/f/7762054.html?from=like
4 In the WQB, p2 n.4 I translated 以变西戎 as ‘to reform the Western Rong’ but it seems to be more that
they were transformed into or became the Western Rong. For a discussion of San Wei see: Chen et al.
2011. <尚书>“三危”地望研究述评. http://www.turfanological.com/article/article.php?articleid=511.
Shu, the implication in the HHS is that the Qiang themselves had originated in China and
moved to the northwest where they became the Western Rong. The Han Shu contains no
According to Wang Mingke5 (2003:45-46) the term ‘Qiang’ was a shifting ethnic concept. It
emerged on oracle bones of the Shang dynasty indicating sheep herders who were enemies
west of Shang, then faded during the Western Zhou period when the term ‘Rong’ (戎) came
to embrace peoples roughly west and northwest of Baoji in Shaanxi. In around the 4th – 3rd
centuries BC (late Warring States period) the term ‘Di Qiang’ (氐羌) occurs in the writings of
Chinese thinkers indicating non-Chinese known of to the west of the Qin state. However, as
Wang points out, the Guoyu, Zuozhuan and Warring States Annals have no mention of these
‘Di Qiang.’ A modern day analogy could be made of terms changing as contact between
groups increases. For example, a Swede might be referred to simply as a ‘Westerner’ but
with more familiarity then become recognised as European, Scandinavian, Swedish, and
perhaps even further as Sami. In the same way, it seems that as groups to the west became
better known to the Chinese, the differences among those called ‘Rong’ then became more
discernible, including the Qiang, whose individual tribes or groupings gradually became
known to the Chinese. This was something which distinguished them from groups such as
the Xiongnu and Yuezhi, whose smaller named tribal groupings, if they existed at all, are not
The first part of ‘The Western Qiang Biography’ in the HHS refers to various non-Chinese
groups to the west of China, such as the Quan Yi (畎夷), the Quan Rong (犬戎), and the Yiqu
(义渠). Given the name of the chapter, one might assume that these are all Qiang-related but
this is not clearly stated and it is quite possible that the author is just giving a brief history of
groups immediately to the west of the Chinese. The first point of any clarity about the Qiang
is the story of Wuyi Yuanjian becoming a chieftain of the Qiang of Huangzhong6 in the mid-
5th century BC. Although the HHS emphasises that Wuyi Yuanjian’s own origins were
obscure, referring to him as Qiang but commenting that it wasn’t known what kind of Rong
he was,7 a record then follows of Yuanjian’s descendants down to the Shaodang Qiang of the
Han period so he seems to represent the starting point of any Qiang history reliably
connected with the Han era.
The contrast between the Han Shu and HHS in regard to the Qiang emphasises the
importance of reading beyond the ‘Qiang biography’ of the HHS for a comprehensive
understanding of Qiang history, to which the Han Shu makes an important contribution. It
was written with considerable first-hand knowledge of the Qiang of the Han period, who
were a consistent problem for the Chinese throughout the 400 years of the Han dynasty.
Sima Qian’s ground-breaking historical account (Shiji 史记) had been completed in 91 BC,
which was a valuable resource and included Qiang references and the journey of Zhang Qian
(d.114 BC) to the western regions. Added to this Ban Biao, the father of Ban Gu and Ban
Zhao, was a historian whose aunt had been a concubine of Emperor Cheng (r.33-7 BC) and
Ban Gu’s brother, Ban Chao (32-102 AD), was commander of the western regions during the
latter half of the first century AD. This all points to proximity both to historical events and
corridors of power as well as access to relatively fresh knowledge of the area west of the
Chinese. The Han Shu also has a certain simplicity compared to the HHS, portraying them
just as troublesome neighbours to the west rather than attempting to weave a pre-Han
history of the Qiang.
5Wang Mingke 王明珂. 2003. 羌在汉藏之间:一个华夏边缘的历史人类学研究. 台北:联经出版事业公司.
6湟中: Huangzhong was the Huang River region of today’s Qinghai, including the Xining area and
extending westwards towards Qinghai Lake.
7 戎, i.e. foreigners to the west of the Chinese. See WQB p6.
2. A summary of chapter content
Although much of the Qiang-related content in the Han Shu focuses on conflict between the
Qiang and Han there are other aspects which provide insight into things pertaining to the
Qiang. This introductory summary shows the diversity and the significance of some of these
Chapters 1-12 are a brief chronological summary of events during the reign of each
emperor. Later chapters, which are not all chronologically ordered, discuss these periods
and events in more detail.
Chapter 3 contains a reference to an earthquake in 186 BC in Qiangdao (羌道 – a Qiang
district) which is the earliest dated reference to the Qiang in the Han Shu. In Chapter 28
Qiangdao is mentioned as part of Longxi prefecture. This seems to have been the
southernmost extent of the Qiang at this time although Chapter 7 tells us that the Han used
Qiang fighters to quell disturbances further south and west in Yizhou and Wudu.
Chapters 6 and 24 record the first major Han period uprising of the Qiang in 112 BC when
100,000 Qiang plotted a coordinated invasion with the Xiongnu. The Qiang invaded the
Qinghai-Gansu border around today’s Linxia while the Xiongnu simultaneously came down
to the northern bend of the Yellow River.
Chapters 8 and 69 tell of a major conflict between the Qiang and Han in 61 BC which
resulted in the submission of many Qiang and the establishment of a vassal state for them in
today’s Qinghai province.
Chapters 9 and 79 record another major Qiang uprising in 42 BC in the Longxi region of
Gansu adjacent to eastern Qinghai. These Qiang had already submitted but then heard of
Han mistreatment of other non-Chinese and took fright. Many of them were captured or
beheaded but most fled beyond the borders creating a new wave of non-submitted Qiang.
Chapter 28 contains geographical information and is of particular interest regarding the
location of various Qiang groups during the Western Han period. Regions which were later
connected with the Qiang such as Hanzhong, Guanghan, Shu, Tianshui, Wuwei, Anding, Beidi,
and Shangjun, have no mention of Qiang inhabitants at this point. Those with Qiang
inhabitants included Jincheng (today’s eastern Qinghai-Gansu border region), Zhangye,
Jiuquan and Dunhuang (all in the Gansu corridor with Qiang mainly in their southern
mountains), Longxi and Wudu (in southwestern Gansu). Wudu had a mixture of Di and
Qiang. The descriptions of the rivers flowing north into the western part of the Gansu
corridor from the Qilian range are particularly useful as the rivers are all described in
relation to the Qiang. Chapter 95 is also significant with regard to Qiang locations. It
contains an account of the non-Chinese in China’s southwest and the Qiang are notable by
their absence. The only Qiang reference is found in the name of a tribal chief called Dang
Qiang (当羌) who does not seem to be Qiang. It is however a valuable section because it
describes the peoples who were adjacent to or inhabiting today’s Qiang area during the Han
Chapters 54 and 69 have examples of a recurring theme of mistreatment of the Qiang by
Han officials, including 800 who were brought to submission by General Li Guang (d.119 BC)
and then beheaded and 30 of the Xianlian Qiang who were summoned and subsequently
beheaded by Yiqu Anguo in the 61-60 BC conflict with the Qiang. This is also seen in
Chapter 94 which is an account of the Xiongnu people and includes the observation that the
continual uprisings of the Qiang were the result of mistreatment, such as minor officials and
others stealing their wives and livestock.
Chapter 69 is a key document regarding the Qiang. It records the conflict of 61-60 BC
between the Han general Zhao Chongguo and the Qiang. Much of this chapter has been
translated and discussed by Edward L. Dreyer8 from the perspective of Zhao Chongguo’s
military strategies and achievements but it is also a valuable window on the Qiang of the
mid-1st century BC including the Han (罕), Kai (开) and Xianlian (先零) Qiang tribes. Much of
the conflict was centred on Qinghai with Han troops coming west from central Gansu as well
as south from the Gansu corridor. However a Qiang marquis called Langhe was also
involved who, with some Lesser Yuezhi, was southwest of the Yang Pass which would place
him in the region of the Altun Mountains on the Xinjiang-Gansu-Qinghai border. Despite his
rebellion against the Han, Langhe’s title of marquis shows that he had previously submitted
to them and this location indicates he may well have been connected to the Er Qiang
mentioned in Chapter 96 who were in today’s southeastern Xinjiang. Chapter 69 also
mentions 200 chiefs of the various Qiang and the weakness resulting from the disunity
among them. This disunity is reflected in several Qiang receiving titles from the Han for
killing rebellious Xianlian Qiang chiefs.
A speech in Chapter 78 illustrates a recurring theme, that the common people in the Han
empire were suffering from the expense of the ongoing conflict with the Qiang.
Chapters 61 and 96 have been translated in full and annotated by Hulsewé and Loewe
(1979)9 and are accounts of the western regions. Chapter 61 focuses on Zhang Qian’s
journey westward as a Han envoy (late 2nd century BC) and has little mention of the Qiang
except that their territory, which was connected with the southern route through the
western regions, was to be avoided if possible due to their hostility towards the Han.
Chapter 96 is far more informative with regard to the Qiang, noting their location in regard
to the large and small states to the west of China at that time. It is a vital source of
information despite the decrease of detail as the distance from China increased. It mentions
the wedge driven by the Han through the Gansu corridor between the Xiongnu and the
Qiang and then mentions Qiang groups distributed along the northern foothills of the
Kunlun mountains in Xinjiang, to the south of the various states on the southern route. The
only one of these groups mentioned in any detail is that of the Er Qiang whose chief bore the
title ‘quhulai’ (去胡来) which probably indicates he had switched allegiance from the
Xiongnu to the Han although there is some discussion about the meaning of this term.10 This
nomadic group apparently only numbered 1,750 people and was about 750km southwest of
the Yang Pass with Qiemo to the west and Shanshan to the northwest.
Qiang in other locations along the southern route continue to be referred to as Er Qiang but
are only mentioned in relation to other fixed locations: east of Xiao Yuan, south of Ronglu,
west of Qule, south of Yutian, all of which lay in the southern part of the Tarim basin. This
may indicate that these Qiang were roaming the foothills of the Kunlun and did not have
their own fixed locations or were moving between summer pastures in the mountains and
winter camps nearer these other settlements. The lack of detail may also suggest that the
1,750 Qiang nearest to the Yang Pass had in some measure submitted to the Han whereas
these others had not. The furthest Er Qiang are described as south of Nandou. Nandou
seems to have been in either Gilgit or Chitral, possibly extending north into Afghanistan’s
Wakhan corridor. Hill (2009:210)11 suggests it would have included Pakistan’s Swat valley.
8 Edward L. Dreyer. 2008. “Zhao Chongguo: A Professional Soldier of China’s Former Han Dynasty.” In The
Journal of Military History, Volume 72, Number 3, July 2008, pp. 665-725.
9 A. F. P. Hulsewé and M. A. N. Loewe. 1979. China in Central Asia: The Early Stage 125 BC – AD 23: an
annotated translation of chapters 61 and 96 of the History of the Former Han Dynasty. E. J. Brill. 1979.
10 See Part 2. Some have suggested ‘Quhulai’ (去胡来) is a transliteration of ‘Tocharian.’
11 John Hill. 2009. Through the Jade Gate to Rome: A Study of the Silk Routes during the Later Han Dynasty,
1st to 2nd Centuries CE. BookSurge, Charleston, South Carolina.
These Er Qiang south of Nandou would therefore have been in northern Pakistan and
marked the westernmost extent known to the Chinese of the people they referred to as
Qiang. How far west into Central Asia or south into today’s Tibet these Qiang tribes
extended or what they were called by other peoples is not known but it is clear that they
were scattered and possibly on the move along this southern route.12
Besides these Er Qiang there was a cluster of small states in the far west of today’s Xinjiang
and perhaps beyond whose inhabitants are described as Qiang-like. These included Xiye,
Zihe, Puli, Wulei and Yinai. Hill equates Xiye with Kargilik,13 Zihe with Shahidullah,14 Puli
with Tashkurgan, and Wulei with the Great and Little Pamir Valleys15 (2009:19, 33). Yinai,
close to Puli, was also probably in the Tashkurgan area.
Of note in this section is that although the discovery of Khotanese Saka documents along the
southern route should indicate the presence of Saka in the area,16 neither the Han Shu nor
the Hou Han Shu refer to any people along this route as Sai (塞) which is considered by
some to be the Chinese equivalent of Saka or Scythian. Instead these people in the south are
referred to by the name of the settlement, for example the people of Yutian, the people of
Jingjue, and the only other people mentioned are the Qiang.
Chapter 96 also contains an account of the Yuezhi people, neighbours of the Qiang, who
were pushed west out of the Dunhuang region by the Xiongnu and eventually established
their seat of government north of the Amu Darya from where they controlled Daxia (Bactria)
south of the river. At a similar time to this Yuezhi migration, the Sai (塞) peoples of today’s
northwestern Xinjiang and beyond had moved south to Jibin17 so the Qiang were
surrounded by and perhaps also involved in a significant amount of migration in late BC.
Some of the Yuezhi did not migrate westwards but stayed behind and allied themselves with
the Qiang of the southern mountains (南山), a term often defined by its context and used
variously for the Qilian, Altun and Kunlun mountains, where they became known as the
The last reference to the Qiang in the main body of Chapter 96 is to a large group called the
Chi Shui or Red River Qiang (大种赤水羌), not mentioned elsewhere in the Han Shu, who
were harassing a tribal leader called Tangdou during the Wang Mang era at the beginning of
the first century AD. Because Tangdou had the same title, Quhulai (去胡来), as the leader of
the Er Qiang, indicating that he had switched his allegiance from the Xiongnu to the Han, it
has been assumed that he was the leader of the Er Qiang to the southwest of Yang Pass but
evidence for this is inconclusive.18 Tangdou sought help from the Han protector general who
12 Today’s Qiang have stories of migrating from the northwest but no specific indication of where from.
See here for part of a Qiang performance depicting their migration:
13 Also known as Yecheng, Karghilik or Karghalik.
14 Also known as Shahidullah Mazar or Xaidulla (赛图拉 Saitula) which is in the mountains southwest of
Hetian (Khotan) on the upper Karakash River just north of the Karakoram Pass.
15 The Great Pamir is in the eastern part of the Wakhan valley including Zorkol Lake in the north. The
Little Pamir is to the east of the Great Pamir.
16 “Once one excludes all the languages imported by foreign missionaries, outside merchants, Chinese
administrators, and later Turkic invaders, we are effectively left with two main language groups in the
Tarim Basin that might be associated with at least some of the Tarim mummies of the Bronze Age and
Iron Age: Khotanese Saka (or any other remnant of the Scythians of the Eurasian steppe) and Tocharian.”
J. P. Mallory (2010:46). Bronze Age Languages of the Tarim Basin. In Expedition, Volume 52, No. 3, Winter
17 Jibin: Kapisha-Gandhara.
18 See Part 2 for a discussion of this.
was stationed in today’s Luntai, north of the Taklamakan desert. When help was refused he
went east to Yumen Pass (north of Yang Pass) but was turned back there by the Han and
eventually sought help from the Xiongnu with whom he had previously been allied. His fate
is described in Chapter 94 but with no reference to the Qiang.
Chapter 96 ends with the authors’ comments19 which reveal the fear that the Xiongnu
might once again annex the western states and form an alliance with the Qiang and Yuezhi
to the south. The inclusion of the Yuezhi indicates the Lesser Yuezhi remnant that had allied
themselves with the Qiang. The prevention of such an alliance still seemed to be a priority
at this time, presumably towards the end of the Western Han period. Although Shache and
Yutian on the southern route are recorded here as paying tribute to the Han, the states of
Shanshan and Jushi, which were closer to China, still maintained connections with the
Xiongnu and Shanshan was a neighbour of the Er Qiang so some Xiongnu and Qiang were
still in relatively close proximity. The authors also comment that the various states of the
western region each had their own ruler and were weak because there was no unity
between them. They clearly had horses, livestock and woollen felt fabric – all prized by the
Xiongnu – but the Xiongnu were not able to form them into a useful, unified fighting force.
Although this is not directed specifically at the Qiang, it resonates with Zhao Chongguo’s
description in Chapter 69 of the Qiang lack of unity being a military weakness so it seems to
have been a characteristic of the Qiang and of the Tarim states, despite the Qiang being
Chapter 98 has an unusual reference to the Qiang of the late first century BC possibly
aborting children in order to maintain racial purity. Although the claim is then retracted the
context points to there perhaps being some truth in it.
Chapter 99 is a biography of Wang Mang, Western Han regent and then ruler of the short-
lived Xin dynasty (9-23 AD) at the end of the Western Han period. It reveals Wang Mang’s
frustration at not being able to control the Qiang. His hostility towards them and other non-
Chinese is already clear from his re-naming of places and from titles given to officials. In this
chapter he appoints an ‘Exterminator of the Hu’ (Xiongnu) and in Chapter 84 he appoints a
‘Terrifying the Qiang’ marquis. In Chapter 28 he renames Longxi commandery ‘Hate the
Rong 戎.’ In this chapter (99) he sends a general to offer gold and territory to the Qiang to
persuade them to move within the borders of the Chinese empire and submit. The general
sends a highly unlikely report back to Wang Mang that due to the high esteem with which
the Qiang hold the Han, a Qiang chieftain called Liangyuan is willing to hand over good
pasture land (in today’s Qinghai) and retreat to the difficult mountainous territory. In 6 AD
Wang Mang established the Western Sea commandery, moved convicts to the region and
introduced new laws. This resulted in an attack by the Western Qiang later that year, who
no doubt had never actually willingly agreed to these developments. The Han governor of
the new commandery fled but despite this early victory the Qiang were then defeated in 7
AD, ironically by the Han Colonel Protector of the Qiang. Some of these Qiang were then
given Han titles of nobility, a practice used to help the absorption of non-Chinese groups. Of
note is that some of those who helped defeat the Qiang adopted ‘Qiang’ (羌) as part of their
19 Possibly by both Ban Gu and Ban Zhao, these comments, 赞曰 in Chinese, appear at the end of most
chapters providing the authors with an opportunity to add their own views or emphasise key points in
20 It seems these people were not Qiang but rather those who had fought against the Qiang. This shows
the danger of assuming that the 羌 character within a name indicates that the person is Qiang. On the
contrary, it is rare in Chinese historical documents for a Qiang person to have the Qiang character as part
of their name.
The final Qiang-related comment in this chapter (99) and in the Han Shu overall refers to an
official under Wang Mang who is the ‘Appeaser of the Qiang’ (怀羌子). He is based in the
region of Chenggu (today’s Hanzhong) and given the role of guarding the territory west of
the Qian River and the Long Mountains (to the west of Ningxia and Hanzhong) and pacifying
the Qiang in the west. This is quite far east for anyone supposed to be pacifying the Qiang in
the west and suggests that in early AD Wang Mang did not have much control over the Qiang
at all. After his death the western regions were cut off.21
21 Communication with the western regions was not re-established until several decades later under Ban
Chao’s leadership. Qiang activity of the Eastern Han period is recorded in the WQB.
Chapter 3: The Annals of Empress Gao (高后记)
In around 186 BC there was an earthquake and Qiangdao22 had landslides.
Chapter 6: The Annals of Emperor Wu (武帝记, r.140-87 BC)
The first of two Qiang references is in a speech in 134 BC (the first Yuanguang year) which
mentions King Cheng and King Kang of Zhou (c.1042-1021 and 1020-996 BC) and that the Di (and)
Qiang23 came to submit in the Zhou period (11th century BC – 256 BC) because the Zhou ruled well.
The second reference:
In the 5th Yuanding year (112 BC), 100,000 of the Western Qiang multitudes rose up and were in
contact with the Xiongnu24 through their envoys. They attacked Gu’an and surrounded Fuhan.25
The Xiongnu entered Wuyuan26 and killed the governor. In the 10th month of the 6th year (111
BC), cavalry soldiers and officers were sent from Longxi, Tianshui and Anding,27 with 100,000
foot soldiers from Henan and Henei,28 and General Li Xi and the Langzhong official, Ling Xu,
were dispatched to attack the Qiang and the Qiang were pacified.
Chapter 7: The Annals of Emperor Zhao (昭帝记, r.86-74 BC)
In the 4th Yuanfeng year (107 BC) … there was an imperial edict saying, “Ming You, the Duliao
General, previously ordered the Qiang Cavalry Colonel to lead the Qiang kings, marquises, lords,
22 羌道: Qiangdao or ‘the Qiang district’ is listed in the geographical account of Chapter 28 as within
Longxi prefecture , which was in the Tao River region southwest of Lanzhou in Gansu prefecture, to the
north of ancient Wudu prefecture. It was established in the Western Han period.
23 The lack of punctuation in early Chinese leaves it unclear in many instances whether ‘Di Qiang’ entries
mean Di and Qiang or simply Di Qiang. The use of two characters together to indicate a broad region of
non-Chinese was a common occurrence, e.g. 蛮夷 (Man Yi) and 戎狄 (Rong Di). Di Qiang (sometimes
Qiang Di) seems to have been a term for various nomadic or semi-nomadic groups immediately to the
west of the Chinese. In Chapter 28 the Qiang and Di are referred to as separate groups and by the 3rd and
4th centuries AD there was a clear delineation in Chinese documents between them, particularly with the
formation of the Di state of Former Qin and the Qiang state of Later Qin. The 3rd century Weilue remnant
also differentiates between them. See Hill 2004:29 regarding the Di tribes in the Weilue. (John E. Hill.
2004. Draft English Translation of The Peoples of the West from the Weilue 魏略 by Yu Huan 魚豢 (A third
century Chinese account composed between 239 and 265 CE, quoted in zhuan 30 of the Sanguozhi,
published in 429 CE) http://depts.washington.edu/silkroad/texts/weilue/weilue.html
24 The Xiongnu were a powerful non-Chinese people to the north and northwest of the Chinese.
25 故安: Gu’an is unclear but possibly refers to Angu (安故) which was south of today’s Lintao county in
Gansu. 枹罕: Fuhan was in the region of today’s Linxia county in Gansu, west of Lintao and close to today’s
26 五原: in the Bayan Nur region of Inner Mongolia just north of the Yellow River. This meant the Han
were being attacked on two major fronts which shows just how dangerous the Xiongnu-Qiang
cooperation was for the Han.
27 陇西, 天水 and 安定: Longxi, Tianshui and Anding were all commanderies in today’s Gansu province.
28 See Rafe de Crespigny’s map for Henan and Henei. Henan (河南), meaning ‘south of the river,’ can be
misunderstood because in different contexts it refers to different stretches of the Yellow River. In this
context it indicates the region east of Tong Pass (Shaanxi-Henan border) and south of the Yellow River in
today’s Henan province. Henei was to the north of this ancient Henan. In the early period of Emperor Wu
(see Ch 24 below) Henan (河南) was used for the Shuofang region south of the most northern bend of the
Yellow River in today’s Inner Mongolia and it was also a name for the area south of the Qinghai section of
the Yellow River. There is still a place called Henan in southeastern Qinghai.
chiefs29 and their people to attack the enemies30 who were rebelling in Yizhou.31 Later, he again
led them to attack the rebellious Di of Wudu32…
Chapter 8: The Annals of Emperor Xuan (宣帝记, r.73–49 BC)
In the second Benshi year (72 BC), in the fifth month, an edict recalls that: “…in the time of
Emperor Wu (武帝 140-87 BC)… the Xiongnu fled far away and the Di, Qiang, Kunming,
southern Yue … were pacified.”
In the first Shenjue year (61 BC)…the Western Qiang rose up… troops from across the empire
were sent against them…33
In the 4th month (61 BC) Zhao Chongguo, General of the Rear, and Xu Yanshou, the Strongbow
General, were dispatched to attack the Western Qiang.
In the 6th month, Xin Wuxian, the commander of Jiuquan,34 was appointed as ‘Defeater of the
Qiang’ General and joined forces with the two other generals and advanced.
In the 5th month of the second Shenjue year (60 BC), the Qiang enemies surrendered and the
chief culprits, the main leaders Yangyu (杨玉) and Qiufei (酋非),35 were beheaded. Jincheng
vassal state was established as a place for the surrendered Qiang.36
Chapter 9: The Annals of Emperor Yuan (元帝记, r.48-33 BC)
In the 7th month of the second Yongguang year (42 BC), the Western Qiang rose up. Feng
Fengshi, the General of the Right, was sent to attack them. In spring of 41 BC the Western Qiang
were pacified and the army ceased its activity.
29 王, 侯, 君, 长: king (prince), marquis, lord (baron), and chief: these were often titles given to tribal
peoples subordinated to the Chinese. Direct translations are a problem here because English words
connote cultural preconceptions. In this context, these titled people seem to be submitted Qiang who
were being used by the Han to subdue other ethnic groups. It is likely they were from Qiangdao (羌道),
which lay to the north of Yizhou.
30 Although ‘lu 虏’ can mean captive it is also used for non-Chinese enemies and I have usually translated
it as the latter.
31 益州: The extent of Yizhou varied greatly over time but it was loosely equivalent to ancient Shu (蜀) and
Ba (巴), roughly today’s Sichuan. It was established by Emperor Wu in 106 BC as one of 13 provinces
across China (刺史部 – regions with a provincial governor) and its seat of government was north of
today’s Guanghan in Sichuan. In the Western Han period, the northern part of Yizhou extended to
Hanzhong in the Gansu-Sichuan-Shaanxi border region. Ch 28 regarding Han geography lists the
commanderies (郡) in Yizhou.
32 武都: Wudu was in today’s southern Gansu, north of Guanghan.
33 A detailed account of this uprising and the interaction between the Han General Zhao Chongguo and the
Western Qiang is given below in Ch 69. These Western Qiang extended from the Qilian mountains south
into Qinghai. As nomads, their territory would not have been clearly demarcated but they seem to have
roamed across much of today’s Qinghai and, as Ch 96 shows, southern Xinjiang.
34 酒泉: Jiuquan is in the western part of the Gansu corridor, just north of the foothills of today’s Qilian
35酋非: this could mean Chief Fei but as Qiang names usually have two syllables I have taken it as a name.
36 金城属国: this is not to be confused with Jincheng commandery which had been established in 81 BC
and extended from the Lanzhou region of Gansu towards Xining in Qinghai. The vassal state would most
likely have bordered Jincheng commandery to the west and was established in 60 BC. See Ch 69 for more
Chapter 24: Food and Commodities Records (食货志)
The first section of this chapter goes back to the period of Emperor Wu (140-87 BC). Although it
doesn’t all pertain directly to the Qiang it gives some useful background to the period in which they
started to clash with the Han as Emperor Wu expanded his empire westwards. It also shows tactics
used by the Han to win over or defeat non-Chinese groups and gain territory, e.g. the Xiongnu in
the north and the Qiong (邛) and Bo (僰)37 in the southwest.
(In 127 BC) Wei Qing38 led several 10,000 cavalry39 out to attack the Xiongnu and then took the
land south of the River and built Shuofang.40 At that time, with several 10,000 men, connections
were also made with the regions of the Southwestern Yi,41 carrying military food supplies over
1,000 li...distributing cash in Qiong and Bo to bring harmony. After several years they still hadn't
opened up this route (in the southwest) and the Man Yi (蛮夷) attacked them several times, so
the officials sent soldiers to suppress them. All the taxes raised in Ba and Shu were not enough
…more than 100,000 people were recruited to build Shuofang with supplies transported
extremely far by land and water, all brought from Shandong at a cost of several billion, and the
government coffers were empty.
Four years after this (124 BC), Wei Qing led more than 100,000 against the Hu (Xiongnu).42
More than 200,000 jin of gold was given in rewards to those who arrested or beheaded the
enemy, more than 100,000 of the Han soldiers and horses died, not to mention the cost of
transporting armour and weaponry…
…The following year (121 BC), the Piao cavalry again went out to attack the Hu (Xiongnu), with
victory and significant gains. The Hunye king43 led several 10,000 to surrender so the Han sent
30,000 wagons to welcome them. ... Total costs that year were more than 10,000,000,000.
A section follows describing government expenditure on embankments, irrigation and repairs
including field irrigation from rivers, transport along the Wei River (in Shaanxi), with a transport
channel built from Chang’an to Huayin (east of Xi’an near the Henan border) and irrigation
channels also built in Shuofang, which they had just captured from the Xiongnu. These projects
required huge numbers of labourers and massive government expenditure so to be simultaneously
engaging with the Qiang in the west and with other groups in the southwest meant the
government was sorely pressed. Natural disasters were adding to their woes.
The following year, Shandong was flooded and the people were starving and worn out so the
emperor sent envoys to empty the granaries of the various commanderies to relieve their lack.
This still wasn't enough so he raised loans from the powerful and wealthy but he still couldn't
37 邛: in the Xichang region of Sichuan; 僰: in southern Sichuan and the Sichuan-Yunnan border region.
38 卫青 (d.106 BC): a Han general who led highly successful attacks on the Xiongnu.
39 数万: I have translated this literally as ‘several 10,000’ but it may also just indicate a very large number
in the way that we might say ‘tens of thousands.’
40 朔方: south of the northern bend of the Yellow River in today’s Inner Mongolia.
41 Roughly in the southern and southwestern part of today’s Sichuan and in northern Yunnan. See Chapter
95 - the Biography of the Southwestern Yi. This was the region through which Zhang Qian wanted to
develop a route to India in the late 2nd century BC.
42 胡: ‘Hu’ in its broadest sense seems to have been applied to non-Chinese from the northeast to the
northwest. In the Han period it often indicated the Xiongnu but at times was used for the Yuezhi. The
Qiang were sometimes referred to as the Qiang Hu, which may have referred to some kind of
confederation of Qiang and other peoples.
43 浑邪: Hunye was a Xiongnu tribal king of the Zhangye region in the Gansu corridor so this victory
contributed to separating the Xiongnu and Qiang. See Chapter 28 below for Hunye.
save the people so he moved more than 700,000 poor people to west of the passes, to fill the
area called New Qinzhong which stretched south from Shuofang44…
The next section, not translated here, details the problems of devalued currency, creation of new
money and the problem of coin casts being stolen so people could illegally mint their own coins.
This resulted in the emperor and his officials deciding to create more money.
The following year, the Major General and the Piaoqi General went out to attack the Hu
(Xiongnu) and were awarded 500,000 gold. More than 100,000 army horses died and all this
expenditure didn’t include transport of supplies and the expense of wagons and weaponry. At
that time there was little in the coffers and not enough for the soldiers’ wages…
The following year (112 BC), the southern Yue45 rebelled and the Western Qiang invaded the
borders. There were problems in Shandong, so the emperor granted a nationwide amnesty for
prisoners.46 In the south more than 200,000 Han troops were attacking the Yue on turreted
boats. The emperor also sent cavalry from west of Sanhe47 to attack the Qiang and several
10,000 people crossed the river to establish Lingju.48 Initially, Zhangye and Jiuquan
commanderies49 were established and agricultural officials were installed in Shangjun, Shuofang,
Xihe and Hexi,50 opening up the border regions with 600,000 people in agricultural garrisons.
China prepared to send provisions, 3,000 li was the furthest distance, the nearest was more than
1,000 li, all relying on gifts from the big landlords. The border troops were not enough so they
then sent weapon stores and makers of weapons to stabilise the situation. There was a lack of
wagons and cavalry horses and the county officials were low on funds so it was difficult to buy
For three years the Han were continually sending their troops out. They suppressed the Qiang
and utterly defeated the two Yue (in the south) and established 17 commanderies westwards
from Panyu to the southern part of Shu,51 but used the old customs of the locals to rule them and
there was no taxation.
This suppression of the Qiang was by no means final. The Qiang continued to cause huge problems
in the west and the impact was felt across China as extensive resources were required in order to
deal with the threat they posed.
44 The Shuofang region was dominated by the Xiongnu in late BC until General Meng Tian of the Qin
Dynasty conquered it, hence the name Qinzhong (among the Qin). However, in the late Qin and early Han
period it fell again to the Xiongnu until the time of Emperor Wu, who succeeded in pushing them out
again in 127 BC with the expedition led by Wei Qing. Shuofang literally means ‘the north.’
45 Southern China including part of Vietnam. This included 两粤: two small states in southern China – the
Southern Yue and the Min Yue.
46 The need to pardon convicts so as to use them as soldiers shows just what a drain the various conflicts
were having on the government.
47 三河: Henei, Henan and Hedong. Although the literal meaning of Sanhe is ‘three rivers’ these are three
districts along the Yellow River. (See Rafe de Crespigny map.)
48 令居: Lingju was northwest of Yongdeng in Gansu and east of Xining so it was relatively close to the
Western Qiang. This became the seat of the Colonel Protector of the Qiang in the Han dynasty.
49 张掖 and 酒泉: both in the Gansu corridor.
50上郡, 朔方, 西河 and 河西: a broad swath of territory stretching from northern Shaanxi across northern
Gansu and Ningxia into the Gansu corridor.
51 番禺: Panyu was in today’s Guangdong province in southern China. 蜀南: southern Shu was in today’s
Chapter 27: The Five Elements Records (五行志)
In the autumn of the first Shenjue year (61 BC) there was a great drought. General Zhao
Chongguo went on an expedition against the Western Qiang.52
Chapter 28: Geographical Records (地理志)
This geographical information is significant both for the areas inhabited by the Qiang and for
areas which in this period have no Qiang but are later associated with them. For example, the Book
of Later Han53 mentions Baima Qiang in Guanghan and also Xianlian Qiang being moved to
Tianshui but in the list below neither of these places mentions Qiang inhabitants. This is a long
chapter and I have only included places either directly connected to the Qiang or with later
connections to them, as, for example, mentioned in the Later Book of Han.
汉中郡: Hanzhong commandery in Yizhou (益州). (No mention of Qiang.)
广汉郡: Guanghan commandery in Yizhou. (No mention of Qiang but it had Di 氐 people). There
is a Gang Di district (刚氐道) and a Dian Di district (甸氐道).54
蜀郡: Shu commandery in Yizhou. Shu has the Huan River (桓水) of the Yu Gong55 which
emerges from the Shu mountains in the southwest, passes through Qiangzhong56 and then to the
southern sea. Shu commandery has 268,279 households.
Shu included Chengdu (76,256 households) as well as Pixian and Qionglai mountain, all in today’s
Sichuan province. A river called Qingyi (青衣) is mentioned in this section on Shu commandery.
This was a term later applied to a branch of the Qiang in the Ya’an region but the people in this
chapter are not specified as Qiang.57
巴郡: Ba commandery in Yizhou. (No mention of Qiang. Ba commandery was established in the
Qin period in the area of today’s eastern Sichuan.)
武都郡: Wudu commandery.58 (No mention of Qiang in Wudu at this point but there is a reference
at the end of this chapter to Di and Qiang in Wudu.) Established by Emperor Wu in 111 BC, Wudu
commandery contains the river of the Di district (氐道水), also called the Mian (沔) river.
52 See Chapter 69 for full details but it is noteworthy here that China was facing drought as well as major
Qiang issues in the west.
53 HHS Chapter 1, Records of Emperor Guangwu (r.25-57 AD).
54 A clear instance of the Di not being equated with the Qiang.
55 The ‘Yu Gong’ or ‘Tribute of Yu’ is found in the Shujing (also known as the Shangshu) and is a
geographical text thought to date to the late Warring States period (5th – 3rd century BC). The Huan River
most probably corresponds to today’s Bailong River (白龙江) which arises in the Min Mountains and
flows north and then southeast through Longnan in Gansu before turning south into northern Sichuan
and joining the Jialing River. The actual Yu Gong reference to the Huan River does not mention the Qiang.
56 羌中: this literally means ‘among the Qiang.’ In the context of the Huan River this would refer to the
Qiang district (Qiangdao - see n.22) indicating part of southern Gansu. However, the term always has to
be understood in context. In the description of Jincheng below, ‘among the Qiang’ refers to the Qinghai-
Gansu border region south of the Yellow River and in the description of Zhangye commandery it refers to
Qiang in the Qilian mountains south of the Gansu corridor so it generally denoted the dominant presence
of Qiang in a particular region.
57 Chapter 29 of the Book of Sui (隋书) mentions the establishment of a ‘Pacifying the Qiang’ prefecture
(平羌郡) in the Northern Zhou period (557-581) in the Ya’an – Leshan region, which was abolished at the
beginning of Sui (581) and in 589 became Qingyi county. That they needed pacifying suggests fairly
independent Qiang were in the Qingyi region in this later period.
58 In southern Gansu. The Di (氐) people and others who inhabited Wudu seem to have been less restive
than the inhabitants of Longxi - Wang Mang called Wudu ‘Happy Peace’ (乐平).
陇西郡: Longxi commandery59 was established by the Qin (i.e. pre-Han). Wang Mang called it
‘Hate the Rong (戎).’ It has 53,964 households and 236,824 people. There are officials for salt
and iron. It has 11 counties including:
- The Di district (狄道) which has White Stone Mountain (白石山) in the east.
- Shanggui, Angu, and the Di district (氐道) where the Yang River of the ‘Yu Gong’ emerges.
- Daxia (大夏), which Wang Mang called ‘the obedient Xia.’60
- The Qiang district (羌道)61 has the Qiang river (羌水) which emerges beyond the
borders (of Han China) and flows south until Yinping62 where it joins the Bai Shui (White
River), flowing for 600 li across three commanderies.
- The area of Lintao which has the Tao River. This river emerges from among the Western
Qiang63 and flows northwards to east of Fuhan where it enters the (Yellow) River.
金城郡: Jincheng commandery.64 This was established in the 6th Shiyuan year of Emperor Zhao
(81 BC). Wang Mang named it the Western Sea.65 It has 38,470 households and 149,648 people.
It has 13 counties. Heguan66 and Jishi Mountain67 are among the southwestern Qiang.68 Poqiang
59 Longxi, which included Qiangdao, seems to have been the main location of submitted Qiang in this
period. In the Qin and early Han periods Longxi was the westernmost Chinese border at this latitude. The
Great Wall of the Qin period started in and went north from Lintao county in Longxi. Wang Mang (王莽)
was founder and ruler of the Xin Dynasty (9-23 AD) at the end of the Western Han period. His renaming of
places can be very informative as in this case where he expresses his strong disdain for the Rong or non-
Chinese of Longxi, which would have included Qiang. Wang Mang’s reign was right at the end of the
Western Han period so terms used by him are in relation to the situation in the first few years AD.
60 大夏: it may be coincidental but this Daxia is the same name as the Chinese term for the area of ancient
Bactria south of the Oxus River which the Yuezhi controlled in the late 2nd century BC, having migrated
from the Dunhuang region. Wang Mang’s renaming of Daxia as Shun Xia (顺夏) or ‘obedient Xia’ seems to
suggest that the Daxia or Xia were a previously unsubmitted people. In the context of Bactria, some
scholars view Daxia as a possible transcription of *Toga(ra), pointing to a link with the Tokharians. (See:
Through the Jade Gate to Rome, pp318-319 and 532-558, for a detailed discussion of Daxia by John Hill.).
See also n.82 regarding the ‘obedient Yue’ (月顺).
61 See n.22
62 阴平: Yinping was west of today’s Wenxian in Gansu. The Bai Shui is most likely the river still known by
that name, which, like the Bailong River, flows north out of the Min Mountains and then southeast into the
Jialing River. There is a smaller tributary which flows slightly north of the Bai Shui and joins it at Wenxian.
This is a good indication of where these southernmost Qiang were. Qiangdao seems to have been in
63 洮水: This is instructive regarding the location of at least some of the Western Qiang. The Tao River
emerges in the Xiqing mountains to the north of Qinghai’s Anyemachen range and flows east to Min
County and then north to Lintao, both in Gansu. This passage suggests that some of the Western Qiang
were southwest of Lintao in the region of the Xiqing mountains. The extent of the Western Qiang at this
time is not known because much of their territory was beyond the reach of the Han.
64 金城: Jincheng commandery extended eastwards from the Lanzhou region. Despite there already being
a Qiang district (Qiangdao) in southwestern Gansu, more Qiang were clearly coming under Han
jurisdiction in the eastern Qinghai-Gansu border region. Qiang are recorded in the Huangzhong region
around Xining in the 5th century BC, the time of the Qiang ancestor, Wuyi Yuanjian, so the Han were
pushing into what had been Qiang pasturage for perhaps 3-400 years. (See WQB for more detail
regarding Wuyi Yuanjian.)
65 An easy assumption here would be that ‘Western Sea’ means Qinghai Lake. However, in the Biography
of Wang Mang (Ch 99), rather than meaning a literal sea or lake it simply means the region just west of
Han territory. Wang says: “We already have the eastern sea, the southern sea and the northern sea
commanderies, but we don’t have a western sea commandery…” Jincheng extended from today’s eastern
Qinghai into western Gansu so ‘Western Sea’ here refers to this broader area. Ch 108 of the Wei Shu says
that the 50 states which Ban Chao connected with extended west to the western sea – and the region
indicated is Xinjiang and beyond, suggesting again that the term indicated a region beyond China’s
66 河关: a pass on the Yellow River north of today’s Tongren county in Qinghai.
county69 was established by Emperor Xuan in the 2nd Shenjue year (60 BC). Linqiang70 is also a
county. Going northwest beyond the frontier there is the Queen Mother of the West’s stone
dwelling and the salt ponds. In the west are the Xudi Ponds, the Ruo River and the Kunlun
Mountain temple.71 Wang Mang calls this area the ‘salt Qiang’.72
天水郡: Tianshui commandery. (No mention of Qiang.) Wang Mang called it ‘Pacifying the
Rong.’73 Emperor Ming (57-75 AD) changed its name to Hanyang.
武威郡: Wuwei commandery. (No mention of Qiang.) It was previously the territory of the
Xiutu74 king of the Xiongnu and was opened up by Emperor Wu in his 4th Taichu year (101 BC).
张掖郡: Zhangye commandery was previously the territory of the Hunye king of the Xiongnu. It
was established in the first Taichu year of Emperor Wu (104 BC). It has 24,352 households,
88,731 people and 10 counties. The Qiang Valley river75 comes out from among the Qiang76 and
flows northeast until Juyan where it goes into (Juyan) lake, having crossed two commanderies, a
distance of 2,100 li (c.873km).
67 积石山: although there is a modern county of this name near the Gansu-Qinghai border, Jishi
historically indicated the Anyemachen range to the south of Heguan/Tongren.
68 河关，积石山在西南羌中. These ‘southwestern Qiang’ are not southwest in relation to all other Qiang.
The administrative centre of Jincheng at this time was Linxia and these Qiang would have been southwest
of Linxia. They were probably the Qiang mentioned in relation to the source of the Tao River. See n.63.
69 破羌: a place meaning ‘defeating/destroying the Qiang.’ Its administrative seat was in the Ledu region
of Qinghai, east of Xining.
70 临羌: a place name meaning ‘overlooking the Qiang.’ Linqiang still exists and is in Huangyuan county in
Qinghai, west of Xining.
71 These latter two sentences seem to be a general reference to areas beyond the western borders,
including western Qinghai, the Gansu corridor and eastern Xinjiang. (Suggested modern locations for
some of these places can be found at http://baike.baidu.com/view/2071921.htm) The Queen Mother of
the West’s ‘stone dwelling’ (石室) and the Kunlun ‘mountain temple’ (山祠) are picturesque descriptions
of the mountain regions rather than actual edifices. The terms date back at least to c. 4th century BC
stories of King Mu of Zhou (d. ca 920) and his travels to the west (e.g. 穆天子传: The Tale of King Mu, Son
72 盐羌: the description ‘salt Qiang’ must derive from where the Qiang lived. Qinghai Lake is China’s
largest salt water lake. West beyond the lake are the salt ponds of the Qaidam basin, which at this time lay
beyond the reach of the Han. Today, two routes go west from Qinghai Lake. Route 109 leads to Golmud
which is still an important area of salt production. From Golmud route 215 goes north between the Altun
and Qilian ranges to Dunhuang. The second route, the 315, goes directly across the northern part of the
Qaidam Basin and over the Altun Mountains to the area of today’s Ruoqiang in Xinjiang province. Lake
Ayakkum in the Altun is also a saline lake. The Er Qiang mentioned in Chapter 96 were in the Ruoqiang
region and it is seems likely that early connections existed via these routes between the Qiang of southern
Xinjiang and those in Qinghai.
73 平戎: this indicates a non-Chinese presence that may have included Qiang but that is not specified.
74 The Xiutu and Hunye kings had controlled territory in the Gansu corridor which lay to the north of the
Qiang in the Qilian and extended west of Wuwei along the Gansu corridor to eastern Xinjiang. The Hunye
king surrendered to the Han in 121 BC. The Xiutu king was killed and the tribes under both kings came
under Han control. The WQB contains several references to Qiang invading Wuwei.
75 羌谷水: This Qiang Valley River is most likely the Black or Hei River (黑河) which flows north out of the
Qilian mountains and through Zhangye, turning west along the Gansu corridor and then north where it
becomes the Ruo Shui (also called Ejin River or Etsin Gol) and flows into the Juyan Lake basin in Inner
Mongolia. (Khara-khoto, a city of the Tangut state of Western Xia, which was associated with the
Dangxiang Qiang, was in the Juyan area in the 11th century AD.)
76 羌中: see n.56. This is an example of Qiangzhong simply meaning ‘among the Qiang’ – in this instance
referring to the Qiang living in today’s Qilian range between the Gansu corridor and northern Qinghai.
酒泉郡: Jiuquan commandery was established in the first Taichu year of Emperor Wu (104 BC).
It has 18,137 households and 9 counties. In Lufu77 the Hucan River comes from the southern
Qiang and flows northeast to where it enters the Qiang valley.78
敦煌郡: Dunhuang commandery was established in the first Houyuan year of Emperor Wu (88
BC) having previously been part of Jiuquan. It separated out from Jiuquan at this time. It has
11,200 households and 6 counties. In Ming’an79 the southern Jiduan River comes from the area
of the Qiang to the south and flows northwest into its marshes, irrigating the farmland. There
are good crops and deep springs. The Yang Pass and the Yumen Pass80 are both in this
commandery. The Dizhi River81 comes from the southern Qiang northeast to the marshes,
irrigating the farmland
Although no Qiang are recorded here for the following three commanderies of Anding, Beidi and
Shangjun, during the Eastern Han period many surrendered Qiang were moved to them. In early
AD the Han centres of government in these regions had to be relocated because the Qiang there
were gaining in strength (see WQB).
安定郡: Anding commandery. (No mention of Qiang.) This was established in 113 BC and has a
Yuezhi district (月氏道), which Wang Mang calls ‘obedient Yue’ (月顺).82 Anding was originally
part of Beidi but was then divided off to form a separate commandery.
北地郡: Beidi commandery. (No mention of Qiang.) Beidi was established in the Qin dynasty.
上郡: Shangjun commandery. (No mention of Qiang.)
Following this list of individual places, Chapter 28 then gives a general overview of these areas:
The hills and mountains of Tianshui and Longxi have many forests and the people live in
dwellings made with wooden planks. Anding, Beidi, Shangjun and Xihe are all close to the Rong
77 禄福: today’s Suzhou district of Jiuquan municipality, towards the western end of the Gansu corridor.
78 呼蚕水出南羌中，东北至会水入羌谷. The reference to the southern Qiang here is descriptive of their
location to the south of Jiuquan in the Qilian range. The Hucan River is the Beida River which flows north
out of the Qilian mountains through Jiuquan and would have joined the Ejin River or Ruo Shui although it
doesn’t reach that far today. Nowadays there are several rivers in this area which flow down from the
Qilian mountains and form a web of waterways around Jiuquan.
79 冥安，南籍端水: Ming’an was in the area of today’s Anxi county, northwest of Yumen (Jade Gate), so
the southern Jiduan River is probably today’s Shule River which flows around the northwestern end of
the Qilian range. The Shule River used to flow into ancient Lop Nur lake in eastern Xinjiang. A map of the
Shule River system can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Shulerivermap.jpg
80 The Yang Pass (阳关) and Yumen Pass (玉门关), both at the westernmost end of the Gansu corridor,
were western frontier posts in the Han period.
81 氐置水: the Dizhi River is today’s Dang River which emerges in the western end of the Qilian and flows
northwest through Subei to Dunhuang . All the rivers mentioned here flow north or northwest from the
Qilian mountains into the Gansu corridor so these Qiang were in a mountainous area living along river
valleys which flowed into the flatter corridor and Dunhuang area. On the southern side of these
mountains lay the Qaidam and the area north of Qinghai Lake – part of the area Wang Mang called ‘salt
82 Anding was in the region of today’s Guyuan in Ningxia and Pingliang in Gansu. These Yuezhi are much
further east than the Han Shu references in Chapter 96 to the Lesser Yuezhi who were with the Qiang in
the southern mountains, i.e. today’s Qilian mountains and possibly extending into the Kunlun foothills.
This suggests that although the Yuezhi remnant had allied themselves with the Qiang when the majority
of Yuezhi moved west, some or all maintained their identity and gradually submitted to the Han. Wang
Mang’s re-naming them as ‘Obedient Yue’ is similar to the renaming of the Daxia people as ‘obedient Xia’ –
Di who are trained for war, very strong, and live mainly by hunting.83 The essays ‘Chariots
Rumbling’ (车辚), ‘Four Records’ (四载), and ‘The Lesser Rong’ (小戎) all speak of chariots and
horses, fields and hunting. … The people of these several commanderies have simple customs
and are not ashamed to invade and steal.
The territory west of Wuwei (武威) was originally the territory of the Hunye and Xiutu kings of
the Xiongnu. When Emperor Wu seized the area he established four commanderies to connect
China with the western regions, completely separating the Qiang to the south and the Xiongnu.
People had moved to this region with their family members, some because of poverty east of the
pass, some because of inappropriately avenged grievances (i.e. convicts), and others fleeing
from uprisings.84 The local customs of the region are very distinctive and the territory is
extensive but the population is sparse. There is water and grass suitable for raising livestock,
which is why the livestock of Liangzhou85 is the best in the empire. There are fortresses
protecting the frontier which are run by ‘2,000 dan’ officials,86 all with troops and horses. When
they have drinking times, the seniors and juniors are all together with no social hierarchy
observed. The officials and people have very good relations. Due to the fertile environment,
grain is inexpensive and there is little theft. They are friendly and polite and are worthy of living
within the interior.87 This tolerant governance is because the officials do not treat the people
Ba, Shu and Guanghan (all in Sichuan) were originally the territory of the Southern Yi but were
merged by Qin into commanderies. (There is no mention of Qiang here.)
Wudu has a mixture of Di and Qiang … Wudu is near to Tianshui so the people’s customs are
quite similar to those of Tianshui.88
Chapter 45: The Biography of Kuai, Wu, Jiang, Xi and Fu (蒯伍江息夫传第十五)
In a speech recalling past events: the southern Yue submitted, the Qiang (羌)89 and Bo (僰)
brought tribute, the Eastern Ou came to court, Changyu was extended, Shuofang was opened up,
and the Xiongnu were turned back and suffered losses.
There is also a brief reference in a speech to the difficulties caused by the Xiongnu, Wusun (乌孙)
and Western Qiang.
83 戎狄: usually a term for non-Chinese to the west (戎) and north (狄). Today’s Inner Mongolia lay to the
north of these four commanderies so this is more likely to refer to hunting peoples there than any Qiang,
who are usually described as having their own livestock and not primarily dependent on hunting.
84 I.e. this is Han people moving west for various reasons and populating the Gansu corridor after the
Xiongnu had been pushed out. This would have brought more Han people into closer proximity to the
Qiang in the Qilian.
85凉州: a Han province in the Gansu corridor region, centred on Wuwei. Like Yizhou, the extent of its
86 二千石: a ‘dan’ was a dry grain measure equal to about 100 litres. Such official titles reflected the grain
allowance of the official. A 2,000 dan official held a senior rank.
87 The inhabitants of this region included those Han who had moved west and probably some of the
surrendered peoples who had previously been ruled by the Xiongnu kings, Hunye and Xiutu. Whether it
included any Qiang is unclear but the Qiang of the Qilian would have been their southern neighbours and
no doubt their trading partners too. Lack of social hierarchy was a characteristic of the Qiang.
88 The earlier description of Wudu commandery does not mention Qiang. Tianshui was the hub of the pre-
Han state of Qin and in early AD became a significant area of Qiang activity.
89 The Qiang in this context would probably be the submitted Qiang of Qiangdao in southern Gansu rather
than the Western Qiang who were still a problem for the Han.
Chapter 51: The Biography of Jia, Zou, Mei and Lu (贾邹枚路传第二十一)
In a speech in the 2nd century BC, Mei Cheng, an early Han poet (枚乘 d.140 BC), compares the Qin
and Han periods and recalls:
“…in earlier times the Qin started the troubles with the Hu Rong (胡戎) in the west and
established defences at Yuzhong Pass90 in the north. At a distance to the south (of the state of
Qin) were the border passes of the Qiang and Ze (笮)91 and in the east the Qin accepted the
submission of the six states. … Nowadays the Han occupy the whole of the Qin territory and
have also annexed the multitudes of the six states. The Rong Di (戎狄) are being taught the way
of the Han and in the south the Han face the Qiang and Ze (笮).92
Chapter 54: The Biography of Li Guang and Su Jian. (李广苏建传第二十四)
General Li Guang93 was talking to a diviner called Wang Shuo and asked why it would be that he
had never greatly advanced in his career. Wang Shuo asked if General Li had ever done anything
he later regretted. General Li Guang replied, “I was in charge of affairs in Longxi and the Qiang
once rebelled so I tempted more than 800 people to surrender but I deceived them and on that
day I killed them. That is my only regret.” Shuo tells him this is why he has never advanced.
Chapter 55: The Biography of Wei Qing and Huoqu Bing (卫青霍去病传第二十五)
An early reference about attacking the Qiang and the southwestern Yi:
Wei Qing died (106 BC) 14 years after he had surrounded the Shanyu (the Xiongnu leader) and
actually never again attacked the Xiongnu because the Han didn’t have enough horses and also
troops were being sent against the two Yue in the south. There were expeditions against
Chaoxian (Korea) in the east and attacks on the Qiang and the southwestern Yi so therefore
there were no expeditions against the Hu (Xiongnu) for a long time.
90 榆中: Yuzhong county in the region of Lanzhou.
91 As in n.89, the Qiang mentioned here may have been those of Qiangdao who seem to have been earlier
arrivals than those in the northwest who were often referred to as Western Qiang. However, it may
indicate Qiang further south in the Ran and Mang area which was in northern Sichuan. Mei Cheng died in
140 BC just as Emperor Wu was coming to power so this description is prior to Wu’s expansion of Han
territory. The Ze (笮) are mentioned in the Southwestern Yi biography in the Shiji as being to the
southwest of the Ran and Mang people. The Southwestern Yi biography of the Han Shu (Ch 95) adds that
the area of the Ze (or Zedu 筰都) became Shenli commandery, which was centred on today’s Ya’an region
in Sichuan. The Ran and Mang region was in Wenshan prefecture whose seat of power was north of
modern Mao county in Sichuan’s Aba prefecture. There is some question as to whether the northernmost
Ze were the equivalent of the Ge people in the Qiang legend, “The Great Battle of the Qiang and the Ge.”
This legend tells of the defeat of the local Ge people by the Qiang who were seeking territory after their
migration from the northwest (Qinghai and Gansu). Liu Hong suggests that stone coffins found in western
Sichuan belonged to the Ze culture, some of which are in today’s Qiang area including Jiashanzhai and
Luobozhai, both near Wenchuan. (See:
http://hi.baidu.com/roomx/blog/item/ba2549fb8931c074024f5672.html). Cheng Te-kun also discusses
archaeological finds in relation to this legend of Ge displacement by the Qiang. Cheng Te-kun (Zheng
Dejun). 1946. The Slate Tomb Culture of Li-Fan. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, June, 1946, Vol 9, No2,
92 Emerging in c. 900 BC, the Qin state was centred on Tianshui and along the Wei River valley. It did not
initially control southern Gansu or the Gansu-Sichuan-Qinghai border regions. In 316 BC Qin breached the
Qiling mountain range and conquered Shu, going south from today’s Gansu into Sichuan.
93 李广 Li Guang (d. 119 BC). A Han dynasty general much feared by the Xiongnu. This account of him also
occurs in Chapter 109 of the Shiji and is one of several occasions when the Qiang were persuaded to
surrender and then dealt with unjustly. Another example is Yiqu Anguo’s behaviour below in Chapter 69.
HHS Chapter 95 also relates the killing of surrendered Qiang.
Chapter 57: The Biography of Sima Xiangru (司马相如传第二十七)
A descriptive comment by Sima Xiangru94 referring to the troubles represented by their non-
“The Hu and Yue are rising up under our wheel hubs and the Qiang and Yi are catching hold of
the carriage crosspiece, how could this not be dangerous!”
Chapter 60: The Biography of Du Zhou (杜周传第三十)
The Western Qiang rebelled during the Yongguang period (43-39 BC, Emperor Yuan).
Chapter 61: The Biography of Zhang Qian and Li Guang Li.95 (张骞李广利传第三十一)
This contains the account of the Han envoy, Zhang Qian, who was sent westwards by Emperor Wu
to make an alliance with the Yuezhi against the Xiongnu but was captured en route by the Xiongnu.
After several years of captivity he managed to reach the Yuezhi who were by then north of the Amu
Darya (in today’s western Tajikistan) and controlling the region of Bactria south of the Amu Darya
(in today’s northeastern Afghanistan).
After more than a year he returned [from the Yuezhi], skirting the southern mountains, wanting
to come back through the Qiang region, and was again captured by the Xiongnu.96 Zhang Qian
recorded many invaluable details during his trip. He said that when he was in Daxia,97 he saw
bamboo from Qiong and cloth from Shu.98 When he asked about it the merchants said it came
from Shendu (the Indus region). They explained that Shendu was several thousand li southeast
of Daxia (Bactria), with customs similar to Daxia but the area was low, hot and humid. People
rode elephants into battle and their state overlooked a great river. Zhang Qian gave advice
about sending Han envoys to Daxia (Bactria): “If we send envoys to Daxia via the Qiang, the
region is difficult to access and the Qiang hate us going through their territory. If the envoys go
slightly to the north they will be captured by the Xiongnu, so it is better to go via Shu where
there are no bandits.”99
94 Chapter 117 of the Shiji contains a biography of Sima Xiangru (179-117 BC).
95 For an annotated translation of chapters 61 and 96 of the Han Shu see China in Central Asia: The Early
Stage 125 BC – AD 23: an annotated translation of chapters 61 and 96 of the History of the Former Han
Dynasty by A. F. P. Hulsewé and M. A. N. Loewe. E. J. Brill. 1979. Both chapters contain much information
about China’s relationship with various states to their west.
96 南山: in this context these southern mountains probably included the Kunlun, the Altun and the Qilian,
which formed a line of mountains to the south of the main Han routes to the west. From the geographical
information in Chapter 28 we know that there were Qiang inhabiting the western end of today’s Qilian
range near Dunhuang, Jiuquan and Zhangye. We also know from Chapter 96 that there were Qiang
scattered along the southern route that lay between the Kunlun foothills and the Tarim Basin. Zhang
Qian’s return journey was before Emperor Wu had established the Han commanderies in the Hexi/Gansu
corridor so his only options were to pass through either Xiongnu or Qiang territory. It seems that he
followed the southern route between the Kunlun mountains and the Tarim basin perhaps even hoping to
go via the Altun and Qilian and return by way of the southern Qilian slopes or the Qaidam basin to Qinghai
Lake, all of which was Qiang territory. Before he could attempt this he was recaptured by the Xiongnu
who held significant sway over the Tarim settlements at that time.
97 Daxia (Bactria) was south of the Amu Darya, i.e. today’s northern Afghanistan. (See n.60)
98 Qiong (邛) and Shu (蜀) were both in today’s Sichuan.
99 This advice was followed with the aim of reaching Bactria from southwestern China via Burma and
northern India but the Han envoys were blocked by the Kunming tribes in today’s Yunnan-Sichuan border
Chapter 64: The Biography of Yan, Zhu, Wuqiu, Zhufu, Xu, Yan, Zhong, Wang and Jia (严硃
A general comment similar to Chapter 45 above:
“Today the southern Yi have submitted, the Yelang go to court, the Qiang and Bo have
There is also a historical reference in a memorial presented by Jia Juanzhi (贾捐之) to Emperor
Yuan (r.49-33 BC) when he came to the throne, telling of China’s ancient boundaries during the
Shang and Zhou periods:
“Wu Ding and King Cheng100 were the great benevolent ones of the Yin and Zhou dynasties but
in the east their territory didn’t extend across the Jiang (Yangtze River) or the Huang (Yellow
River) and in the west they didn’t cross (the territory of) the Di and Qiang.101 In the south they
didn’t cross the Man Jing102 and in the north they didn’t cross Shuofang (朔方).”
In the same speech there is a reference to earlier costly encounters with the Qiang:
“To speak of this, may I humbly use the example of armies who went out against the Qiang. The
troops were stationed in the wilds for a year, the soldiers didn’t advance more than 1,000 li, the
expense was more than 4,000,000,000 and all the money of the Great Minister of Revenue was
completely used up …
Chapter 69: The Biography of Zhao Chongguo and Xin Qingji (赵充国辛庆忌传第三十九)
This chapter gives a very detailed account of the complex relationship in the mid-first century BC
between the Han and their western Qiang neighbours.103 Zhao Chongguo was from Shanggui in
Longxi and later moved to neighbouring Jincheng. Originally he was a cavalryman. In the time of
Emperor Wu (141-87 BC) and then under Emperor Zhao (87-74 BC) and Emperor Xuan (74-49 BC)
he was continually promoted and was very successful in expeditions against the Xiongnu. He was
then given the task of tackling problems with the Qiang. Despite being under orders to defeat and
procure the submission of the Qiang, he seems to have been a particularly wise and fair military
man with longsighted perspective, willing to resist his equals and superiors when their strategy
against the Qiang was a case of the end justifying the means.
As Pulei General104 in the Benshi period (73-70 BC), he attacked the Xiongnu and beheaded
several hundred of the enemy, and on his return he became General of the Rear and Minor
Treasurer (a senior minister). The Xiongnu sent more than 100,000 cavalry south towards the
border. They reached Fuxilu Mountain105 and wanted to invade and plunder. … Zhao Chongguo
was dispatched in command of 40,000 cavalry to station them along the edge of the nine
commanderies. When the Shanyu (Xiongnu ruler) heard this he departed.
100 Wu Ding of Shang (r.1250-1192 BC) is the first ruler mentioned on Chinese oracle bones. King Cheng
(r.1055-1021 BC) was an early western Zhou ruler.
101 It is unclear whether this reference refers to actual Qiang and Di of the Shang and Zhou periods or if
this is a Han description of territory to the west that later became referred to as the Qiang Di region, in
the same way that the north became the Rong Di (戎狄) region and the southwest became the Man Yi (蛮
102 蛮荆: roughly the middle-Yangtze region.
103 For a full discussion of this chapter and Zhao Chongguo’s encounters with the Qiang see “Zhao
Chongguo: “A Professional Soldier of China’s Former Han Dynasty.” Edward L. Dreyer. The Journal of
Military History, Volume 72, Number 3, July 2008, pp. 665-725. The WQB of the HHS also includes an
account of Zhao Chongguo’s forays against the Qiang.
104 蒲类: Pulei was in eastern Xinjiang in the region of Barkol Lake, north of the Turpan basin.
105 符奚庐山: the location seems to be unknown.
At that time, Yiqu Anguo,106 who was the Guanglu Dafu,107 went as an envoy to the various Qiang
and the chief of the Xianlian108 said he wanted to cross to the north of the Huang (湟) River109 in
pursuit of uncultivated land where his people could pasture their livestock. Anguo viewed this
favourably but Zhao Chongguo accused him of disrespect for his post. After this, the Qiang
collaborated with each other regarding what had initially been said (i.e. Anguo’s positive
response) and boldly crossed the Huang River and the commanderies and counties were unable
to stop them. In the 3rd Yuankang year (63 BC) the Xianlian succeeded in forming an alliance
with more than 200 of the various Qiang-type chieftains,110 who resolved their mutual enmity
and exchanged hostages, swearing oaths of alliance. A report about this was submitted to the
court and Zhao Chongguo was asked about it. He responded thus, “The reason the Qiang people
are easy to control is because each kind has their own chieftain and they often fight each other,
so they do not have the power that comes from unity. More than 30 years ago,111 when the
Western Qiang rose up, they also first resolved the enmity among themselves, made a treaty and
attacked Lingju112 and there was a stand-off with the Han that was only settled after five or six
years. In the 5th Zhenghe year (90 BC), the Xianlian chief, Fengjian,113 and his people sent an
interpreter to communicate with the Xiongnu and the Xiongnu then sent an envoy to the Lesser
Yuezhi to convey a message to the various Qiang114 saying, “The Ershi General115 surrendered to
106 义渠安国: This could read An Guo of the Yiqu. The Yiqu people are mentioned in the Western Qiang
biography of the Book of the Later Han in the area of the Jing River 泾河 in eastern Gansu. They are not
specified as Qiang but their presence in the biography suggests they were non-Chinese in the west. They
came into conflict with the Qin state and, like the Qiang, were described as ‘Rong 戎.’
107 The position of Guanglu Dafu was a senior ‘2,000 dan’ rank. For a comparative list of how official titles
have been translated into English see:
108 Although the Chinese characters read Xianling, the original pronunciation would have been ‘lian’ so the
name is often written as Xianlian (Dreyer 2008:670, n.11). They are at times referred to as Xianlian Qiang
and at times just referred to as Xianlian. They were a relatively large group and seem to have had little
‘fellow feeling’ with other Qiang groups with whom they came into conflict from time to time. This is the
first mention of the Xianlian in the Han Shu but in this same paragraph there is mention of earlier Xianlian
activity. (There is a similarity with the Dangxiang of the Tang period who seem to have been some kind of
Qiang but were also often referred to in the Old Book of Tang simply as Dangxiang and who seem to have
been a large group with little connection to other Qiang groups.)
109 湟水:The following present day quote indicates why this territory was so desirable and therefore so
contested by the Qiang and the Han. “The Huangshui River, also called the Xining River, is 374 kilometres
long and the largest tributary in the upper reaches of the Yellow River. The region is home to 60 percent
of Qinghai's population, 52 percent of its arable land, and more than 70 percent of its industrial and
mining enterprises. Consequently, the Huangshui is known as the "Mother River" of Qinghai.” Rinsing
Away the Failures of Hydropower. A report by Liu Hongqiao, June 28, 2012.
(http://www.tew.org/archived/2012/01072012_7.htm) Crossing the Huang river would have brought
the Xianlian to the northeast and probably also north of Qinghai Lake, bringing them closer to the Qiang in
the Qilian mountains south of the Gansu corridor.
110诸羌种豪: this could read ‘chieftains of the various Qiang clans’ but the literal meaning of ‘zhong 种’ is
more in the sense of race or type so I have generally used ‘type’ or ‘kind’ to leave the meaning more open.
诸羌: ‘the various Qiang’ is an expression frequently used of the Qiang but not of other groups, for
example the Xiongnu, Yuezhi or Wuhuan, which suggests that individual Qiang clan groups were
somehow clearly demarcated or that there was actually some ethnic difference between the groups. The
ensuing reference to ‘resolving their mutual enmity’ also points to the independence and lack of affinity
between Qiang groups. We know that the Xianlian had crossed to the region north of the Huang (Xining)
River so these 200+ groups would also have been to the north.
111 Dreyer (2008:676) suggests this refers to the Western Qiang uprising in 112 BC.
112 令居: northwest of today’s Yongdeng in Gansu. See n.45.
113 先零豪封煎: Fengjian is the first Qiang personal name mentioned in the Book of Han.
114 先零豪封煎等通使匈奴，匈奴使人至小月氏，传告诸羌曰… This is a revealing process of
communication and may suggest that these Lesser Yuezhi lay between the Xiongnu and the Qiang. Before
the Yuezhi were pushed out of the Xinjiang-Gansu border area by the Xiongnu a century before (c.162 BC)
the Xiongnu with more than 100,000 people. The Qiang have suffered at the hands of the Han.
Zhangye and Jiuquan were originally my territory and are very fertile. We can attack together
and occupy it.” From this it can be seen that the desire of the Xiongnu to cooperate with the
Qiang was not limited to one era. …. We suspect that the Xiongnu are sending more envoys to
the Qiang region via the route which goes from the hidden desert area to beyond the salt swamp,
crossing the ‘long gap’ and entering the arid pass,116 reaching the vassal state in the south117 and
connecting directly with the Xianlian.I am afraid the Qiang will not put a stop to this but will
once again unite with this other people group, so we should prepare for this before it all
This is a key passage regarding the location of the Qiang. The Han occupation of the Gansu
corridor had obviously been effective, causing the Xiongnu to make a significant detour over to
Lopnor in today’s eastern Xinjiang, rather than cutting straight across the Gansu corridor from the
desert region of Juyan in the north to the Qiang in the Qilian and further south in Qinghai. We
know from the geographical section (Chapter 28) that the Qiang occupied the western end of the
Qilian range along today’s Danghe and Shule Rivers. This area may well have included the ‘long
gap’ through which the Xiongnu messengers entered the Qilian, out of sight of the Han in the Gansu
corridor. From there they could have continued through the mountains down to the Qiang of the
Qinghai Lake region. The next paragraph below refers to Langhe, a Qiang marquis,118 wanting
help from the Xiongnu to attack Shanshan and Dunhuang to cut off the Han route. The state of
Shanshan was previously called Loulan and had become a puppet state of the Han in 77 BC.
However, Shanshan was not particularly loyal to the Han and provided useful information to the
Xiongnu. In this period its capital was near today’s Ruoqiang which was close to the Er Qiang (婼
羌) who are mentioned in the description of the western regions in Chapter 96.
More than a month later, the Qiang marquis, Langhe, did indeed send an envoy to the Xiongnu
asking for troops to help attack Shanshan119 and Dunhuang and cut off the Han route. Zhao
Chongguo stated his view, “Langhe and the Lesser Yuezhi are southwest of Yang Pass,120 but
they don’t have enough power alone to carry out their plan. I suspect the Xiongnu envoy has
they had been neighbours of the Xiongnu and Qiang. A remnant of the Yuezhi went to live among or
adjacent to the Qiang instead of moving west and became known as the Lesser Yuezhi. This perhaps
implies that some had become familiar with the Xiongnu and Qiang languages and served as interpreters.
The WQB of the HHS says of the Yuezhi who didn’t move west, “Their clothing, food and language were
quite similar to that of the Qiang’.
115 The ‘Ershi General’ was a Han general called Li Guangli who surrendered to the Xiongnu in 90 BC.
General Li’s biography is in Chapter 61 but does not directly relate to the Qiang.
116道从沙阴地，出盐泽，过长坑，入穷水塞，南抵属国，与先零相直. Edward Dreyer explains this
route thus: “The Land Hidden in the Sands is present-day Juyan, where the river now called the Edsin Gol
runs out in the desert; the Salt Swamp is Lop Nor; the Long Gap apparently lay between Jiuquan and
Dunhuang, where the Great Wall had only a notional existence during Han; and the Waterless Pass refers
to the arid region of the Qilian Shan, in northern Qinghai due south of Jiuquan. The Han presence in the
Gansu panhandle and Xinjiang obliged the Xiongnu messengers to avoid the direct route, which would
have been south along the Edsin Gol to Jiuquan.” (Dreyer: 2008:678 n.38).
117 Jincheng vassal state. See n.36. The loyalty of this vassal state to the Han seems to have been fairly
118 羌侯狼何果: The title of Qiang marquis suggests that Langhe had previously submitted and received
this title from the Han but then rebelled. It is not clear whether he is associated with the Xianlian, Han or
Kai, but his location and the comment re his weakness and his proximity to the Lesser Yuezhi may
indicate some association with the Er Qiang of Chapter 96.
119 Dreyer: “The territory of Shanshan occupied the broad desert region west of Dunhuang and south of
Turfan. It was known as Loulan until 77 BC, when a coup by the Han brought it firmly under Chinese
control. The city of Loulan was a major centre for trade.” (2008:678, n.39)
120 The Yang Pass was about 70km southwest of Dunhuang and had been fortified by Emperor Wu as a
already arrived among the Qiang121 and the Xianlian, the Han (罕) and the Kai (开)122 have
resolved their feuds and made an alliance. In the autumn the horses are healthy so that will be
when they rise up. We should dispatch envoys to the troops along the border to prepare the
troops in advance and command them to watch the various Qiang and prevent them resolving
their feuds, in order to detect their plans.”
It is significant that Zhao Chongguo describes Langhe and the Lesser Yuezhi as southwest of Yang
Pass. Yang Pass was a Han frontier pass about 70 km southwest of Dunhuang so Langhe and these
Lesser Yuezhi would have been even further southwest of Dunhuang, beyond the Han border in the
region of the eastern end of the Altun Mountains. Zhao Chongguo implies that Langhe and the
Lesser Yuezhi were fairly isolated and didn’t have enough power on their own to cut off the Han
route. However, with the help of other Qiang, i.e. the Xianlian, Han and Kai,123 who were further
east in today’s Qinghai, they would be more powerful. This would have brought the Xianlian, Han
and Kai westwards across Qinghai to unite with Langhe and the Lesser Yuezhi who would then all
attack the Han controlling Dunhuang and Shanshan from the south as the Xiongnu simultaneously
attacked from the north. It seems likely that Langhe was associated with the Er Qiang mentioned
in Chapter 96 as southwest of the Yang Pass.124 Today’s route 215 from the Qaidam basin to
Dunhuang and route 315 from the Qaidam to Ruoqiang may well follow ancient trails used by the
Qiang, trails which would have connected the Qiang of Qinghai with those like Langhe and the Er
Qiang in southeastern Xinjiang.125
Consequently, the two senior ministers again sent Yiqu Anguo to watch the Qiang and
distinguish those who were good from those who were bad. When Anguo arrived, he summoned
more than 30 Xianlian chiefs and with craft and cruelty had them all beheaded.126 He then
released his soldiers to attack the Xianlian people and more than 1,000 were beheaded. As a
result, the various surrendered Qiang and the Qiang marquis, Yangyu, who had submitted to the
Han,127 were fearful and angry and fled the places where they had put their trust in the Han.
They then coerced small groups to join with them, rebelling and attacking the border passes.
They attacked the towns and cities, killing the high officials. Anguo ordered the cavalry
commander to lead 3,000 troops and station them in readiness for the Qiang but when they
121 This is another instance of Qiangzhong (羌中) which, at this point, was clearly a general description of
being ‘among the Qiang’ rather than indicating a very specific location. See n.56.
122 The Han and Kai Qiang tribes were north of Qinghai Lake at this point but later in this chapter (see
n.158) the territory of the Greater and Lesser Kai is noted as southeast of the lake so it seems the Kai had
moved northwest to join the alliance. The WQB states that in 141 AD more than 1,000 Han (罕) Qiang
invaded Beidi (a region covering parts of Ningxia, Gansu and Shaanxi), which shows how far some Qiang
groups migrated between late BC and early AD.
123 开: some versions of the Han Shu have ‘幵’ (Qian) instead of 开 (Kai).
124 See my comments in Chapter 73 below.
125 Discussing the location of Xiao Yuan (Tura) in the southern Tarim, Hill (2009:75) mentions a route to
the west that avoided Dunhuang. “It went west from Lanzhou via Xining and Koko Nur, past Dzun (or
Zongjiafangzi) – where a road branches south towards Lhasa – and across the Qaidam [Tsaidam] marshes
through Bash Mulghun and Tura to Cherchen (Qiemo).”
126 This betrayal of the Qiang is similar to Li Guang’s deception in Chapter 54, when he had 800
surrendered Qiang killed. (See n.93)
127 归义羌侯杨玉. The term ‘gui yi’ was commonly used to indicate that a person or group had “returned
to righteousness,” i.e. submitted to the Chinese empire. Seals have been found in Xinjiang and Gansu
bearing these inscriptions: 汉归义羌长 and 晋归义羌侯. Like Langhe, it seems Yangyu of the Xianlian
Qiang had previously submitted to the Han and received the title of Qiang marquis but then rebelled. This
shows the tenuous nature of their submission. It is perhaps important to note that although ‘归义 – gui yi’
indicates a return, this is not necessarily literal. Because China saw itself as the ‘central kingdom’ with a
mandate from heaven, anyone submitting to them was ‘returning to righteousness’ even if they had never
come under Chinese rule before.
reached Haomen128 they were attacked by the Qiang and lost supply wagons, weapons and men.
Anguo retreated to Lingju. This was in spring of the first Shenjue year (61 BC).
At that time Zhao Chongguo was over 70 years old and the emperor considered him too old for
military service but sent Bing Ji, the Imperial Censor (御史大夫), to ask who would be a capable
commander and Chongguo replied, “Don’t pass me over because of my age.” The emperor sent
to ask, “How is the general going to cross over to the Qiang enemy and how many men will be
necessary?” Chongguo replied, “One person seeing something is better than a hundred hearing
about it. It is difficult for the soldiers to cross over (i.e. the Yellow River between Lanzhou and
Xining) but I am willing to gallop to Jincheng and draw up a plan. Although these Qiang Rong,
these little barbarians,129 defy the laws of nature130 and turn traitor, they will be wiped out
before long. May Your Majesty consider this elderly subject and not see him as a worry.” The
emperor smiled and consented.
Zhao Chongguo reached Jincheng and waited until he had at least 10,000 riders. He wanted to
cross the river but was afraid he would be blocked by the Qiang so at night he sent three officers
with their men gagged so that they would stay silent, to cross the river in advance. They crossed
over and set up camp, finishing by dawn, and then the others all crossed over in order. Several
thousand enemy riders came and rode up and down close to the army.131 Chongguo said, “My
soldiers and horses are new and weary and they cannot gallop in pursuit. These are all excellent
cavalry who are difficult to control and I also fear that they are trying to lure us into an ambush.
There will be a time to attack the enemy so as to wipe them out. A small gain will not satisfy
what we want.” He ordered the army not to attack and sent cavalry to lay wait in the Siwang
gorge132 and avoid the enemy. At night he led soldiers up to Luodu133 and summoned all the
various officers and ministers of war, saying, “I know the Qiang enemy are not skilled soldiers.
How could we gain entrance like this if they had sent several thousand people to guard and
block the Siwang gorge.” … The enemy often challenged them to battle but Chongguo held fast.
He captured some prisoners who said that the Qiang chiefs were frequently criticizing one
another saying, “You told us to flee and rebel and now the emperor has sent General Zhao who
is 80 or 90 years old and good at warfare. Now you say you want go into battle but the moment
we fight we will die. What a disaster!”
Chongguo’s son, Zhao Ang, who was Zhonglang General of the western division … arrived in
Lingju and the enemy joined forces and cut off their supply route. Ang reported this and he was
instructed to lead eight colonels and commanders of elite cavalry together with a few enemies
who had been captured in the mountains and were under the governor of Jincheng, and connect
the supply route via the ferry crossing.
Initially, Mi Dang’er,134 the chief of the Han (罕) and Kai, sent his younger brother Diaoku135 to
explain to the (Chinese) commander that the Xianlian were planning to rise up and several days
128 浩亹: in the Minhe-Ledu region east of Xining. (Also translated as Gaomen.)
129 羌戎小夷: This seems here to be a derogatory term for the Qiang.
130 I.e. the mandate of heaven that the Han should reign supreme.
131 This conjures up a fascinating scene: thousands of Qiang showing off their horsemanship and trying to
draw the Han soldiers into premature conflict.
132 四望峡: in today’s Ledu county, Qinghai.
133 落都: Most likely the Ledu area east of Xining
134 靡当儿: ‘Mi’ seems to have been a fairly common clan name among the Qiang. Miwu (迷吾) and his son
Mitang (迷唐) are Qiang of the 1st century AD mentioned in the WQB. The Qiang are not known to have
had their own script so it was possibly left to the Han to transcribe Qiang names into Chinese characters
which may have resulted in different characters being used for the same syllables.
135 Diaoku (雕库) is mentioned here as younger brother of Mi Dang’er who is the chief of the Han and Kai.
However, when Zhao Chongguo is later recounting this episode to the emperor he refers to Diaoku as
later they did indeed rebel. Diaoku’s clansmen were supportive of the Xianlian so the
commander at once kept Diaoku as a hostage. Chongguo viewed this as a serious crime and
released Diaoku back to his chief with this report, “The imperial troops punish those who have
committed crimes and they know how to differentiate (between those who have and those who
haven’t). Do not bring destruction on yourselves. The Emperor says to the various Qiang that
their own crimes will be excused if they arrest and behead those who violate the law. They will
receive 400,000 cash for beheading a guilty main chief, 150,000 for a mid-level chief, 20,000 for
a lower level chief, 3,000 for an adult male, and 1,000 for a woman, child or elderly person. To
this would be added all the wives, children and property they had captured.” Zhao Chongguo
wanted to build credit and gain trust to bring the Han and Kai and other plunderers to
surrender and destroy the plans of the enemy. He then planned to go to the furthest boundaries
and attack them.
At that time the emperor had already sent 60,000 troops including convict troops under the
Sanfu and Taichang officials, reservists from Sanhe, Yingchuan, Peijun, Huaiyang and Runan, and
cavalry from Jincheng, Longxi, Tianshui, Anding, Beidi and Shangjun, as well as some Qiang
cavalry.136 Together with the troops stationed under the governors of Wuwei, Zhangye and
Jiuquan, the total number was 60,000. The governor of Jiuquan, Xin Wuxian, presented a
memorial to the emperor saying, “The prefectural troops are all stationed and ready to set forth
in the south but the north side is empty, a situation which will be untenable before long. Some
say we should not advance our troops until the winter solstice, planning that the enemy will
then be beyond the border. But today they invade and plunder from morning till night, the land
is desolate, the Han horses can’t stand the winter and the more than 10,000 cavalry soldiers
stationed in Wuwei, Zhangye and Jiuquan are all thin and weak. It would be of benefit to feed
the horses and early in the 7th month give sufficient provisions for thirty days and divide the
soldiers to set out from Zhangye and Jiuquan and together attack the Han (罕) and the Kai above
Qinghai Lake (i.e. crossing the Qilian range). The enemy are dependent on the produce from
their livestock and at the moment they are all scattered and their soldiers are divided up so
although we can’t kill them all, we can seize their livestock, capture their wives, and again draw
the soldiers back. Then we can attack them again in the winter and if the imperial troops still go
out, the enemy will certainly suffer a terrifying defeat.”
The emperor sent Wuxian’s letter to Chongguo, ordering him to discuss things with the officials
and soldiers who were under the colonels and who were familiar with things pertaining to the
Qiang. Chongguo and Dong Tongnian, a senior official (长史), regarded the matter thus, “Wuxian
rashly wants to send 10,000 cavalry, dividing them into two parts to ride out of Zhangye along a
tortuous and remote 1,000 li route.137 They will have difficulty pursuing the enemy if each
horse has to carry 30 days provisions, 14 dou of rice, 8 hu of wheat, along with clothing and
weapons. However hard they try, the enemy will observe and discuss the army’s comings and
goings, and will venture out a little seeking water and pasture and then enter the mountain
forests. If the soldiers follow them deep into these areas, the enemy will immediately occupy the
narrow passes ahead and guard the strategic places behind, in order to cut off the food
transport routes and then there will be the worry of danger and injury. The (Chinese) troops
will be the laughing stock of the non-Chinese far and wide,138 from which they won’t recover in
chief of the Kai (see p24). It may be that they were actual brothers or cousins but the term ‘younger
brother’ (弟) can apply more loosely to a younger male of the same generation and of the same clan or
people group. Either way, it seems the two groups were closely connected, whereas the Xianlian were less
136 There is also a reference on p24 below to Marquis Fengshi of Jiuquan commanding 4,000 Er Qiang and
Yuezhi. Such situations were setting submitted Qiang against unsubmitted Qiang.
137 1,000 li is often used to imply a great distance and should not necessarily be taken literally.
138 夷狄: This juxtaposition of the Yi and Di encompasses a particularly broad array of non-Chinese
implying that news of the poor Han military strategies would spread far and wide among them.