While analyzing the methods the Han Dynasty used, in order to protect China from nomadic tribes, some basic points on the Han period must be considered.
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First of all, it is necessary to point out that the Han period is recognized to be one of the most important eras in Han Chinese history. Nomadic Mongol and Turkic tribes were considered to be the biggest threat to the Han Empire; for this reason, the Han times are associated with chaos and social fragmentation.
Thus, it should be noted that nomadic tribesmen established numerous petty kingdoms on the territory of the northern China. They started large-scale ethnic migration, and soon joined the indigenous population.
This fact seems to be of particular concern, as representatives of a wide range of nomadic groups lost their ethnic independence when became a part of the Chinese.
Close interactions between the indigenous population and nomadic tribes were based on constant conflicts.
Due to the interactions the Huns, the Xianbei, the Tibetans, etc. lost their cultural identity. Most of nomadic groups disappeared from the history of China because of their disintegration.
The emperor Wu-ti vs. the Xiongnu
Generally, it should be pointed out that in times of the Western Han period, China’s strongest enemy was a nomadic tribe the Xiongnu.
Unfortunately, the Great Wall constructed by the Chinese, in order to protect their land from a Turkish-speaking nomadic tribe’s invasions was not strong enough to help people in the border. That is why the basic strategies the emperor Wu-ti decided to rely on involved defense and trade.
Despite the fact that nomadic groups started to settle the territory of the northern China without a strong military support, the Chinese had no opportunity to protect themselves.
The emperor Wu-ti tried to unite his military forces with the Yuezhi – people who were turned out of their own territory by the Xiongnu – the most aggressive representatives of nomadic population.
However, his attempts to enter into an alliance with the Yuezhi failed. Thus, one is to keep in mind that the Yuezhi decided to abandon their nomadic life and become civilized nation.
People who were driven out by the Xiongnu had no desire to revenge on their offenders. It was a military commander Zhang Qian whom the emperor sent on the mission.
Despite the fact that Qian’s attempts to enter into an alliance failed, the commander depicted in detail the use of the so-called Celestial horses much larger than the ponies the Xiongnu possessed.
For this reason, the Chinese supposed that they could stop the raiders using horses capable of carrying armor-clad fighters (“Civilization” par. 1). In times of the Han Dynasty, the inhabitants of China possessed small horses inappropriate for carrying soldiers into battle.
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As far as the Han Emperor Wu-ti heard about a new kind of large and strong horses named Celestial Horses from his military commander, he decided to forward his warriors to the king of Fergana.
However, it should be noted that the king did not agree to take gold coins and help the emperor. Later, Wu-ti’s warriors came to Fergana again and occupied the capital.
The Han Emperor obtained more than 3,000 Celestial horses. Thus, “The importation of these horses became a high priority to strengthen the Han military, and their successful implementation against the Xiongnu played an important role in the transfer of the western regions of China from Xiongnu to Han control” (“The Han Empire” par. 3).
A scientific overview: commercial policy
Generally, in times of the Western Han period, Chinese policies in relation to nomadic tribes were rather peaceful.
Thus, the authorities concluded numerous agreements with invaders and provided them with agricultural products. At that period, one of the most effective methods the Chinese used to protect themselves was commercial policy.
Farming as one of the strategic methods
Numerous investigations showed that farming was also one of the strategic methods the Chinese used to protect themselves.
Plant, dogs and pigs domestication played an important role in restraining nomadic tribes; although, the intensification of agriculture seemed to improve the strained circumstances the Chinese lived within.
For instance, there is an opinion that people’s social stratification in China started with domestication. Chinese policies fluctuated between peaceful and belligerent approaches to nomadic groups.
Adopting a sedentary lifestyle can be also regarded as one of the ways the government had to follow to resolve the problem of rule within ethnic nomadic tribes which were a part of heterogeneous population in the northern China.
Sinicization or Chinese customs development allowed to control invaders.
The importance of the ecological context
There are not only certain distinctions in political, economic and social organization of both societies – the Chinese and nomadic groups, which give us an opportunity to understand the peculiarities of their interactions.
The so-called ecological context cannot be ignored, as ecological conditions determined economic relations between the indigenous population and nomadic tribes.
Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, and Xinjiang were the major areas, which formed the northern frontier in China. Another widespread method, the Chinese used to protect themselves was a flight.
When the northern territory of China was overrun by nomadic tribes, people often escaped to the south, as “southern China was a region of lakes and rivers, with a warm humid climate that supported wet rice agriculture and was inhospitable to mounted cavalry” (Trey Eng 20).
North China was recognized to be an important area in times of the Han period. Thus, keeping in mind that the ecological zones of Manchuria were physically isolated, one can conclude that this part of China was vulnerable for nomadic tribes’ attacks.
For instance, the western steppe of Liaoxi, which also belonged to Manchuria, was placed not far from agricultural regions the Chinese possessed; so, this area was of particular concern for nomadic tribes.
The biggest ecological zone between Korea and Siberia was mostly appropriate for hunters; so, a wide range of nomadic groups was also interested in the part of Manchuria.
It should be noted that the primary reason of nomadic tribes’ attacks was Manchuria’s mixed environment. Nomadic tribes carried out a raid on the parts of the northern China and established mixed agricultural economies.
Nomads were also interested in Inner Mongolia. As far as the area of north China provided nomads with access to Chinese commodities, it becomes evident that the zone was one of constant tension.
The viewpoints on the interactions between the Chinese and nomadic tribes seem to be rather ambiguous. On the one hand, the importance of agriculture cannot be ignored, as the practice of farming can be regarded as one of the primary reasons of Chinese social stratification.
Nomadic tribal organization seems to be inconsistent with the activity of growing crops and centralized bureaucratic government. For this reason, constant political and military problems China experienced can be probably explained by nomads’ different social organization.
The strategies of voluntary donations and marriage treaties
Generally, Jacqueline Trey Eng is of the opinion that the strategies the Chinese used to deal with nomads depended upon new rulers’ ideological thoughts.
There were not only ecological, but also political and economic conceptions, which determined the relations between the Chinese and nomadic tribes.
Ethnic majorities regarded new polities as well as political conceptions as barbarian; so, representatives of various nomadic groups had an opportunity to intrude on the areas of the northern China.
Taking into account the fact that each government was deeply interested in fortifications along the borders of the northern areas, the reasons of conflicts seem to be obvious. When dynasties had no opportunity to deal with nomads, the only way to avoid conflict was to pay expensive tributes.
This strategy is explained by some historians as an act of a voluntary donation. To maintain peace, the rulers also relied on the strategy of the so-called marriage treaties.
In other words, one can conclude that various forms of interactions between China’s rulers and powerful nomadic tribes were formed on the basis of ecological, economical and sociopolitical conditions.
Culturally-based perception of the world and the five-zone theory
Culturally-based perception of the world is considered to be one more important point, which should be analyzed in detail.
Generally, China realized that there were other civilized countries all over the world; however, in times of the Han period, the Chinese stayed sinocentric in the politico-cultural sense.
Such attitude determined how the dynasty managed their interactions. Some of the historians say that the so-called five-zone theory can be used to explain internal and external interactions the dynasty managed.
Thus, the key area was mostly associated with the royal domain. It was the first or the central area. According to the theory, nomadic tribes were placed on the controlled area or the fourth and fifth zones.
The analysis of the inner and outer areas gives us an opportunity to trace back the basic conceptions of the Chinese world order.
Furthermore, the above-mentioned dichotomy or “the scheme not only identified foreigners based on geographic distance, but also differentiated those foreigners who were either allies, or at least assimilated, from those who were hostile” (Trey Eng 35).
The strategies the Chinese used to deal with nomads were of wide range. For instance, when the Chinese were unable to deal with barbarian tribes, they relied on peaceful techniques.
Nomads were given agricultural and farming products. Sometimes peaceful strategies were replaced by belligerent practices.
While analyzing the strained circumstances the Chinese lived within, one can also notice that the strategy of escape was rather widespread among those who were exposed to attack.
Keeping in mind the policies and motivations of the rulers, it becomes evident that each government negotiated their relations with nomadic tribes in their own way.
There were ecological, economical, sociopolitical and cultural conditions, which determined the strategies of interaction between the Chinese and the aggressors.
The social organization of nomadic tribes as well as nomads’ proximity to agriculturists also shaped the relations between civilized and barbarian populations.
“Civilization.” Sjsu.edu. 2000. Web.
“The Han Empire.” Washington.edu. n.d. Web. <http://depts.washington.edu/silkroad/exhibit/han/han.html>.
Trey Eng, Jacqueline. “Nomadic Pastoralists and the Chinese Empire: A Bioarchaeological Study of China’s Northern Frontier.” University of California. 2007. Web. <http://homepages.wmich.edu/~jzy8882/docs/JackieEngDiss_sub_final.pdf>.