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General Ban Chao and Silk Road
During the reign of the Han Emperor Wudi (141 B.C.-87 B.C.), an envoy Zhang
Qian was sent to explore modern-day Xinjiang, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. He
even journeyed as far as Iran and Greece. He won many allies for the
Under Mingdi Emperor (57-75 A.D.), the Han Chinese armies under General Ban
Chao conquered all the Xinjiang Oasis states ruled by various Iranian kings.
Then, in 76 A.D., Gen. Ban Chao was recalled back to Louyang. On his
departure, the Iranian and Tocharian people (blond hair and blue eyes) of
the Xinjiang oasis, who had come to respect and admire the justice of Gen.
Ban Chao, and appreciated the peace and order which Han Chinese suzerainty
had introduced into their countries, were filled with despair, and implored
him to remain. Ban Chao, however, returned obediently to Louyang where a
new emperor, Zhangdi, was now reigning.
Four years later, Ban Chao managed to reverse the policy of the court, by
proposing to Emperor Zhangdi a strategic value of these oasis silk routes.
The emperor agreed to let him make the military pursuit.
For the next 17 years, Gen. Ban Chao carried out his plan with unbroken
success. One by one the Iranian and Tocharian kings and princes of the
Xinjiang oasis were reduced to obedience, until the whole region was under
the peaceful rule of the Han Dynasty Chinese. In 97 A.D., after beheading
the last contumacious prince, Ban Chao crossed the Tian Shan and Pamir
mountains with an army of 70,000 men to engage the Xiongnu (Huns) in an
all-out battle. The Chinese army advanced all the way into what is now
Ukraine (on the footsteps of Europe). They victoriously slaughtered all the
adult Xiongnu (Hun) males. They killed so many adult Huns, that mostly
children survived. The Hun children someday survived, and their remnants
(the Huns) moved into Rome in the 5th cent. under Attila and sacked Rome.
After the victories over the Huns, Gen. Ban Chao proved to us that never
before and never since, has a Chinese army encamped almost on the frontiers
of Europe. Han Chinese could have easily fought and beat the Romans, but
our ancestors were not greedy or land-hungry people. The whole stretch of
country between Xinjiang and Ukraine submitted to the Chinese without
violence. More than 50 Iranian and Tocharian "kings" acknowledged Chinese
overlordship and sent their heirs as hostages to Louyang. Encamped on the
Caspian shore (modern Turkmenistan), Ban Chao dispatched his envoy, Gan
Ying, to enquire into the nature and state of the western world.
Since ambassodor Zhang Qian visited Iran, many changes have occured in Iran
and the Roman Empires. The fact that Gen. Ban Chao advanced victorious and
conquered states that originally paid tribute to the Iranian king sent an
alarming shock wave to many others. Iran at that time was going through
internal and succession problems of its own, so they did not really opposed
the Chinese entry into many of their tributary states in Central Asia. The
2 world empires, the Han and the Roman were now separated only by the
Caspian Sea and the Armenian mountains.
The Han history (Hou Han Shu) contains an account of the western countries
visited by Ban Chao's envoy, Gan Ying. The identification of the countries
visited by Gan Ying has been the subject of considerable dispute, but recent
studies based upon the directions given in the Han history have established
that it was not the Persian Gulf, but the Black Sea, that Gan Ying reached.
After visiting An Shi (Iran), which Gan Ying describes as a populous land
with many towns and beautiful women, Gan Ying reached the coast of the
"Great Sea" probably at a point near the modern Batumi in Georgia. His aim
was to reach "Da Qin," that is to say, the Roman Empire. However, the
Iranian seamen at this port warned him of the dangers of the voyage, saying
that the journey takes 3 months in favorable winds. But, if bad winds, the
journey may take up to 2 years.
On hearing of this, Gan Ying went no further. There is little doubt that
the Iranians deliberately misled him into these lies, so as to prevent the
possible close relations between the Han Chinese and Romans. The Romans at
that time were in constant warfare against the Iranians. And, the trade
route would be jeopardized if the Chinese did established close relations
with the Romans.
However, some Chinese did managed to cross the Black Sea and reached Tiao
Chih, which is now located in the Ukrainian peninsula of the Crimea deriving
from the ancient Greek name "Taurica." Then, they reached "An Tu," which
they thought was the capital of the Romans. This was for long thought to
have been a rendering of Antioch city in Syria, a confusion which led to the
belief that Tiao Chih was Mesopotamia. It is now known that in the period
between 196-330 A.D., the old Greek city of Constantinople was officially
called "Augusta Antonina." And, it is the word "Antonina" that "An Tu" is
derived. The Chinese reported the people of Da Qin (Rome) as being tall,
long nosed and the women cheerful and sexually open but beautiful.
On his departure, Gan Ying left some Chinese officers, troops and
missionaries in Iran to safeguard the newly established silk routes. These
Chinese officers were sent on missions to various Middle Eastern lands.
>From them, the Han Dynasty learned a little bit more of the strange and
foreign lands to the west. Gan Ying and Ban Chao returned to Louyang.
General Ban Chao was one of my childhood heroes and he was a Chinese hero.
His body and his son's (also a general) body are reported to buried in
Xinjiang. There is a monument in Kashgar for Gen. Ban Chao today still
existing. The waterfalls nearby are named after his memory also. The local
people still remember this Chinese general.
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