Global Times: Popular History Book Unravels Complicated History Of Exchanges Between Han Dynasty, Xiongnu Tribe


(MENAFN- PR Newswire) XINJIANG, China
, July 2, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- Born in
Urumqi, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, writer Li Dong has long been enchanted with the historical culture of his birthplace.

The region was once a thoroughfare for the ancient Silk Road, a time when it was referred to as the "Western Regions," but now it is a major hub for modern China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The popular history book 400 years of Western Regions, published earlier in 2023, was Li's gift to the region. The work focuses on the exchanges between the Han people and the ancient nomadic Xiongnu tribe.

Both sides of history

Examining the history of the region during the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220), the book gives a detailed picture of 29 Han Dynasty emperors, 36 ancient kingdoms in the Western Regions such as the mysterious Loulan Kingdom and also 39 chanyu, an exclusive title for the tribal chiefs of the Xiongnu people.

Comprising five chapters such as "The Rise of Powerful Han" and "Dominating Xiongnu," Li's book maps out the Han-Xiongnu political relationship while also including the "subtle and always shifting attitudes" of the several small kingdoms caught between the two strong forces.

"The prosperity of the Central Plains sparked infinite longing among the Western Regions. The trade route expanded upon by [Han ambassador] Zhang Qian was under control of the Xiongnu people, who enslaved those small ancient kingdoms," Li told the Global Times.

Sun Yijun, an expert in Silk Road history, told the Global Times that the nomadic Xiongnu tribe, which originated from the Mongolian Plateau, had several "back and forth rivalries" with the Han Dynasty in the region.

While Li's book is similar to many other publications that touch upon "ancient Xinjiang," Zhang Pan, the book's chief editor, told the Global Times that its narrative angle is unique as it puts "the stories of both the Han and Xiongnu people parallel to each other."

This design allows readers to see how the developments of the Central Plains had a "direct impact on the Western Region."

"Many books would take the Han people's power as a main thread, but this one covers the Han, Xiongnu and Western Kingdoms' cultural characteristics and their different strategies for coping with each other," Zhang noted.

She emphasized that these "historical complexities" are an important part of depicting how the two sides' relationship changed from "hostile to integrated."

Although the book is based on rigorous historical research, Li ­categorizes his book as a "popular history" that aims to reach regular readers and tell stories from history that resonate today. Many of these real historical events reveal the Han people's generosity and belief in unity and harmony.

Li wrote about the story of a Han princess named Liu Jieyou. The princess' marriage to the leader of the Wusun Kingdom has been seen as contributing greatly to bringing the Han Dynasty and the Western Regions closer.

Li described the courage of the princess as part of the "Han spirit," adding that Han people, even in ancient times, have always held values such as "sacrificing oneself for righteousness" and "promoting world peace."

Ancient trade

In the book's preface, Tang Yongcai, a 90-year-old expert in Xinjiang culture and history, wrote how the Central Plains and the Western ­Regions mutually nurtured each other.

"Without the Central Plains, the Western Regions could never have prospered; without the Western Regions, the Central Plains would not have had a shield of safety," Tang noted.

Li also emphasized the ancient Silk Road's importance in establishing this mutual relationship.

Over 400 years of time, trade along the ancient Silk Road was "extensive and continuous," Sun told the Global Times. Led by imperial envoy Zhang Qian, Central Plains' products such as silk, ceramics and tea were introduced to the Western Regions.

Ma Shangwen, a cultural researcher, told the Global Times that trade not only contributed to economic prosperity for both sides, but also enhanced the "mutual cultural and people-to-people understanding" between the Central Plains and Western Regions.

In the book, Li writes about a special artwork discovered in Xinjiang - a brocade armband embroidered with the characters "Five stars rise in the East, benefitting China."

The artifact refers to the ancient belief that when the five planets - Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter appear in the sky together they will bring victory to China. Ma told the Global Times that this was only one example of the many discoveries in Xinjiang that show how "social systems and beliefs" from the Central Plains had made their way to the Western Regions.

In the book's final chapter - "Peace, China's best contribution to the world" - Li wrote about how Zhang Qian's mission started with "military purpose" but ended up achieving far more culturally.

"Peace has never been begged for or given," Li noted, adding that China, as a country with the biggest population in the world, has the goal of safeguarding peace.

SOURCE Global Times

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