Eastern/Western Han campaigns against XiongNu
Posted 27 September 2007 - 05:43 AM
"夫君子之行：靜以修身，儉以養德；非淡泊無以明志，非寧靜無以致遠。" - 諸葛亮
One should seek serenity to cultivate the body, thriftiness to cultivate the morals. If you are not simple and frugal, your ambition will not sparkle. If you are not calm and cool, you will not reach far. - Zhugeliang
Posted 26 August 2009 - 07:28 AM
Posted 22 July 2011 - 04:06 PM
c. 99 BC, the Han general Li Ling was surrounded and his force utterly vanquished by the Xiongnu. Sima Qian remarks of his bravery, but it was a defeat nonetheless. From the Burton Watson translation:
"Li Ling had already reached the point he was ordered to proceed to and had begun the march back, when the Shanyu with a force of 80,000 men surrounded his army and began to attack. Li Ling and his army of 5,000 fought a running battle for eight days, retreating as they fought, until all their weapons and arrows were gone and half the men had been killed. In the course of the fighting they managed to kill or wound over 10,000 of the enemy.
When they reached a point only 100 li or so from Juyan, the Xiongnu cornered them in a narrow valley and cut off their avenue of escape. Li Ling's food supplies were exhausted and no rescue troops were in sight, while the enemy pressed their attack and called on Li Ling to surrender. "I could never face the Emperor and report such a disaster," Li Ling told his men, and finally he surrendered to the Xiongnu. Practically all his soldiers perished in the fight; only some 400 managed to escape and straggle back to Han territory."
About the same year, the Han had also dispatched a substantially larger force under Li Guangli, but this one met with similar prospects:
"The Han sent Li Guangli with 30,000 cavalry north from Jiuquan to attack the [Xiongnu] Wise King of the Right in the Heavenly Mountains (Tian Shan). He killed or captured over 10,000 of the enemy before returning. The Xiongnu, however, surrounded him in great force and he was barely able to escape; six or seven out of every ten of his men were killed."
2 years later he met with even worse disaster:
"The Han again dispatched Li Guangli with 60,000 cavalry and 100,000 infantry to march north from Shuofang. Lu Bode led some 10,000 men to join them, while Han Yue advanced with 30,000 infantry and cavalry from Wuyuan. Gongsun Ao proceeded from Yanmen with 10,000 cavalry and 30,000 infantry. When the Shanyu received word of their advance, he moved all his family and wealth far to the North beyond the Yuwu River. He himself, with 10,000 cavalry, waited south of the river and engaged Li Guangli in battle. Li Guangli's lines broke and he began to retreat, fighting a running battle with the Shanyu for over ten days. But when word reached him that his entire family had been wiped out as a result of the witchcraft affair [a footnote remarks that this event is out of order so I'm unclear what to make of this], he and all his men surrendered to the Xiongnu. Only one or two out of every 1,000 men who set out with him managed to return to China. [Meanwhile] Han Yue did not succeed in killing or capturing any of the enemy, while Gongsun Ao, though he fought with the [Xiongnu] Wise King of the Left, was unable to win any advantage and likewise retreated. From all the parties that went out to attack the Xiongnu this year, among those who returned there were none to testify as to what degree of success the various generals had achieved and therefore no honors were awarded."
Though the numbers are quite possibly exaggerated, it's clear that there were times when the Western Han was unable to defeat the Xiongnu, even after winning scores of victories under generals such as Wei Qing and Huo Qubing. In fact the campaigns took a lot of lives of Han soldiers, and as noted above there were battles were Han forces were not only defeated but nearly completely decimated. Although Emperor Wu was able to shift the balance of power between Xiongnu and Han to favor the Han, I think it's worth noting that he wasn't able to completely destroy the bipolar power system. The Xiongnu lingered on until further rifts and military campaigns brought them to heel.
Edited by SlickSlicer, 22 July 2011 - 04:08 PM.
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