Military of the Han dynasty

The military of the Han dynasty was the military apparatus of China from 202 BC to 220 AD, with a brief interregnum by the reign of Wang Mang and his Xin dynasty from 9 AD to 23 AD, followed by two years of civil war before the refounding of the Han.


Recruitment and training

At the start of the Han dynasty, male commoners were liable for conscription starting from the age of 23 until the age of 56. The minimum age was lowered to 20 after 155 BC, briefly raised to 23 again during the reign of Emperor Zhao of Han (r. 87–74 BC), but returned to 20 afterwards. Some convicts could choose to commute their service by serving on the frontier. Conscripts trained for one year and then served for another year either on the frontier, in one of the provinces, or at the capital as guards. A relatively small minority of these conscripts would also have served in the cavalry division in the north, which was primarily composed of volunteers from families of superior status, or water borne forces in the south.[1] Conscripts were generally trained to arrange themselves in a formation five men deep, but actual practice on the battlefield could be flexible with some commanders preferring ranks of up to 10 men deep.[2][3] Implementation of daily best practices was also highly dependent on each individual commander, with some like Li Guang eschewing administrative details while Cheng Buzhi always kept his men in tight formations.[3] After finishing their two years of service, the conscripts were discharged. During Western Han times discharged conscripts could still be called up for training once a year but this practice was discontinued after 30 AD.[4]

Certain nobles were exempt from military conscription. Those of ranks four to eight did not have to perform service in their locality and those of rank 9 and higher had full exemptions.[4] During the Eastern Han period, commoners were allowed to commute military service by paying a scutage tax.[5]

Frontier life

The efficiency of these garrisons was kept at a high professional standard. Officers arbitrated disputes between servicemen, who could plead for the recovery of debts. In the orderly rooms of the companies meticulous records were kept of the daily work on which men were engaged; of the preparation, dispatch, and receipt of official mail; of the regular tests in archery to which officers were subject; and of the inspectors’ reports on the state of efficiency of sites and equipment. Accurate timekeeping was a feature of service life, as may be seen, for example, in the records of schedules for the delivery of mail; of the observation of routine signals; and of the passage of individuals through points of control. Similarly, careful accounts were kept of the official expenditure and distribution of supplies; of payments made for officers' stipends or for the purchase of stores such as glue, grease, or cloth; of the rations of grain and salt to which men and their families were entitled; of the receipt of equipment and clothing by the men; and of the equipment, weapons, and horses consigned to the care of the units.[6]

Michael Loewe

Professional army

The Northern Army was a professional force of full-time soldiers which had existed since 180 BC. It originally consisted of eight regiments and around 8,000 troops, but was later reorganized from 31 to 39 AD into a smaller force of five regiments, around 4,200 troops. The five regiments were each commanded by a colonel: the colonel of garrison cavalry, the colonel of picked cavalry, the colonel of infantry, the colonel of Chang River, and the colonel of archers. A captain of the center inspected the Northern Army and their encampments.[7][8][9]

There was also a Southern Army, created in 138 BC, with a total force of 6,000 troops. However the soldiers rotated in and out every year so they are not considered a professional force[8][4]

In 188 AD an "Army of the Western Garden" was created from the private troops of a collection of warlords as a counterweight to the Northern Army.[10]

According to Rafe de Crespigny, the total number of professional soldiers in the Eastern Han, including all the smaller groups, amounted to some 20,000 soldiers.[11]

Command structure of the Northern Army in 39 AD
Army (軍 jun)InspectorCommanderRegiment (部 bu)Troops
Northern Army (北軍 beijun)Captain of the center (北軍中候 beijun zhonghou)Colonel (校尉 xiaowei)Picked cavalry (越騎 yueji)900
Colonel (校尉 xiaowei)Garrison cavalry (屯騎 tunji)900
Colonel (校尉 xiaowei)Archers who shoot at sound (射聲 shesheng)900
Colonel (校尉 xiaowei)Foot soldiers (步兵 bubing)900
Colonel (校尉 xiaowei)Chang River (長水 changshui)900
Other establishments and titles
Bearer of the gilded mace (執金吾 zhijinwu)Capital police2,000 cavalrymen
1,000 halberdiers
Colonel of the city gates (城門校尉 chengmen xiaowei)Gate garrisons2,000
Rapid as tigers (虎賁 huben)Hereditary guard1,500
Feathered Forest (羽林 yulin)Recruits from the sons and grandsons of fallen soldiers1,700


Neither the Qin or Han armies had permanent generals or field commanders. They were chosen from court officials on an ad hoc basis and appointed directly by the emperor as the need arose. At times several generals were given control of expeditionary forces to prevent any one general from obtaining overwhelming power and rebelling. A general's stipends were equivalent or slightly below that of the Nine Ministers, but in the case of failure on campaign, a general could face very severe penalties such as execution. Smaller forces were led a colonel (xiaowei) [12]

Command structure of the Han army on campaign
General (將軍 jiangjun)Lieutenant-general (偏將軍 pian jiangjun)
Commandant (都慰 duwei)
Colonel (校尉 xiaowei)Major (司馬 sima)Captain of the army (軍候 junhou)Platoon chief (屯長 tunzhang)


According to Zhao Chongguo who served in the first century BC, a force of 10,281 men required 27,363 hu of grain and 308 hu of salt each month, requiring a convoy of 1,500 carts for transport. One hu is 19.968 liters, meaning that each soldier required per month 51.9 liters of grain and 0.6 liters of salt. Another document at Juyan suggests 3.2 hu, or 63.8 liters, of grain.[13]


When imperial authority collapsed after 189 AD, military governors reverted to relying upon their personal retainers as troops. Due to the ensuing chaos of the Three Kingdoms period, there was no need for conscription since displaced peoples voluntarily enlisted in the army for security reasons.[14][15] The end of the Han system of recruitment eventually led to the rise of a hereditary military class by the beginning of the Jin dynasty (265–420).[16]

The internecine conflicts that dominated the Chinese scene during the century after 180 transformed the economy and gave rise to new relationships between elite families and the farming population; they greatly weakened, but did not destroy, the centralized structure of imperial government. At the same time, they also saw the emergence of new forms of military service and military organization. The most important of these changes were the creation of a dependent, hereditary military caste that was clearly distinguished from the general population, an increasing reliance on cavalry forces of non-Chinese, “barbarian” origin, and the development of command structures that left tremendous authority in the hands of local and regional military leaders. All of these developments amounted to the negation of the early Western Han military system that had been based on universal service and temporary, ad hoc command arrangements.[16]

David Graff

Chariots and horses

Although the chariot started losing prominence around the late Warring States period, it remained in use into the Han era until the Xiongnu war of 133 BC when they proved too slow to catch up to an all cavalry force.[17] However chariots were still used as defensive pieces several decades later.[18]

The Han's cavalry forces were fairly limited at the beginning of the dynasty. Their only large scale horse breeding programs existed in cities along northwest China: Tianshui, Longxi, Anding, Beidi, Shang, and Xihe. Emperor Wen of Han (r. 180–157 BC) decreed that three men of age could be exempted from military service for each horse sent by the family to the government. Emperor Jing of Han (r. 157–141 BC) set up 36 government pastures in the northwest to breed horses for military use and sent 30,000 slaves to care for them. By the time Emperor Wu of Han (r. 9 March 141 BC – 29 March 87 BC) came to power, the Han government had control over herds of roughly 300,000 horses, which increased to over 450,000 under Emperor Wu's reign.[19] On paper, the Han dynasty at its height was capable of fielding up to 300,000 horsemen, but was probably constrained by their immense upkeep. A cavalryman on average cost 87,000 cash, not including rations, while a regular soldier only 10,000 cash. The total expenditure of a 300,000 strong cavalry force would therefore have been around 2.18 times the entire government's annual revenue.[20]

Single mounting stirrups were used, but full double stirrups didn't appear until the later Jin dynasty (265–420).[21]

Cavalry as a total percentage of Chinese forces
Zhao (WS)Warring StatesQinHanMing


Han armour was similar to the armor used by the Qin dynasty with some variations and improvements. Soldiers wore suits of lacquered rawhide, hardened leather, bronze, iron, or steel, and came in varieties such as scale and lamellar. Helmets came as rawhide or hardened leather caps, or made of metals such as iron or steel. Some riders wore armour and carried shields and some horses were armored, but substantial cataphract-like horse armour is not attested to in writing until the late 2nd century.[22]

Han dynasty inventory list (13 BC)
ItemInventoryImperial Heirloom
Jia armour142,70134,265
Kai armour63,324
Thigh armour10,563
Iron thigh armour256
Iron lamellar armour (sets/suits?)587,299
Horse armour5,330

During the late 2nd century BC, the government created a monopoly on the ironworks, which may have caused a decrease in the quantity and quality of iron and armour. Bu Shi claimed that the resulting products were inferior because they were made to meet quotas rather than for practical use. These monopolies as debated in the Discourses on Salt and Iron were abolished by the beginning of the 1st century AD. In 150 AD, Cui Shi made similar complaints about the issue of quality control in government production due to corruption: "...not long thereafter the overseers stopped being attentive, and the wrong men have been promoted by Imperial decree. Greedy officers fight over the materials, and shifty craftsmen cheat them... Iron [i.e. steel] is quenched in vinegar, making it brittle and easy to... [?] The suits of armour are too small and do not fit properly."[23]

Composite bows were considered effective against unarmoured enemies at 165 yards, and against armoured opponents at 65 yards.[21]

References to "great shields" mention they were used on the front line to protect spearmen and crossbowmen. Shields were also commonly paired with the single edged dao and used among cavalrymen.[24]

Swords and polearms

The jian was mentioned as one of the "Five Weapons" during the Han dynasty, the other four being dao, spear, halberd, and staff. Another version of the Five Weapons lists the bow and crossbow as one weapon, the jian and dao as one weapon, in addition to halberd, shield, and armour.[25]

The jian was a popular weapon during the Han era and there emerged a class of swordsmen who made their living through fencing. Sword fencing was also a popular pastime for aristocrats. A 37 chapter manual known as the Way of the Jian is known to have existed, but is no longer extant. South and central China were said to have produced the best swordsmen.[26]

There existed a weapon called the "Horse Beheading Jian", so called because it was supposedly able to cut off a horse's head.[27] However, another source says that it was an execution tool used on special occasions rather than a military weapon.[28]

Daos with ring pommels also became widespread as a cavalry weapon during the Han era. The dao had the advantage of being single edged, which meant the dull side could be thickened to strengthen the sword, making it less prone to breaking. When paired with a shield, the dao made for a practical replacement for the jian, hence it became the more popular choice as time went on. After the Han, sword dances using the dao rather than the jian are mentioned to have occurred. Archaeological samples range from 86 to 114 cm in length.[29]

Han dynasty inventory list (13 BC)
ItemInventoryImperial Heirloom
Bronze dagger-axe632563
Long lance (pi)451,2221,421
Trident (sha)24,167
Halberd (ji)6,634
Youfang (Some type of halberd/polearm, its exact description is unclear)78,393
Sawing dao30,098
Great dao127232
Iron axe1,132136

An account of Duan Jiong's tactical formation in 167 AD specifies that he arranged "…three ranks of halberds (長鏃 changzu), swordsmen (利刃 liren) and spearmen (長矛 changmao), supported by crossbows (強弩 qiangnu), with light cavalry (輕騎 jingji) on each wing."[30]

The characters zu and mao both indicate lances or spears, but I suspect the changzu may have had two blades or points. Such weapons, commonly identified as 戟 ji, but also as 鈹 pi and 錟 tan, have been known from early times. Some bronze horsemen found in the tomb at Leitai 雷台 by present-day Wuwei are armed with halberds. An alternative rendering for changzu would be “javelin,” but javelins were not common in ancient China.[30]

Rafe de Crespigny


It's clear from surviving inventory lists in Gansu and Xinjiang that the crossbow was greatly favored by the Han dynasty. For example, in one batch of slips there are only two mentions of bows, but thirty mentions of crossbows.[31] Crossbows were mass-produced using material such as mulberry wood and brass; a crossbow in 1068 could pierce a tree at 140 paces.[32] Crossbows were used in numbers as large as 50,000 starting from the Qin dynasty and upwards of several hundred thousand during the Han.[33] According to one authority the crossbow had become "nothing less than the standard weapon of the Han armies" by the second century BC.[34] Han era carved stone images and paintings also contain images of horsemen wielding crossbows. Han soldiers were required to pull an "entry level" crossbow with a draw-weight of 76 kg to qualify as a crossbowman.[35]

The Huainanzi advises its readers not to use crossbows in marshland where the surface is soft and it is hard to arm the crossbow with the foot.[31] The Records of the Grand Historian, completed in 94 BC, mentions that Sun Bin defeated Pang Juan by ambushing him with a body of crossbowmen at the Battle of Maling.[36] The Book of Han, finished 111 AD, lists two military treatises on crossbows.[37]

In the 2nd century AD, Chen Yin gave advice on shooting with a crossbow in the Wuyue Chunqiu:

When shooting, the body should be as steady as a board, and the head mobile like an egg [on a table]; the left foot [forward] and the right foot perpendicular to it; the left hand as if leaning against a branch, the right hand as if embracing a child. Then grip the crossbow and take a sight on the enemy, hold the breath and swallow, then breathe out as soon as you have released [the arrow]; in this way you will be unperturbable. Thus after deep concentration, the two things separate, the [arrow] going, and the [bow] staying. When the right hand moves the trigger [in releasing the arrow] the left hand should not know it. One body, yet different functions [of parts], like a man and a girl well matched; such is the Dao of holding the crossbow and shooting accurately.[38]

Chen Yin

The crossbow was particularly effective against cavalry charges for two reasons. One, the crossbow could shoot further and harder than the bows of the Xiongnu, and two, even if the enemy went back to collect the quarrels, they had no way of using them because they were too short for their bows.

In 169 BC, Chao Cuo observed that by using the crossbow, it was possible to overcome the Xiongnu:

Of course, in mounted archery [using the short bow] the Yi and the Di are skilful, but the Chinese are good at using nu che. These carriages can be drawn up in the form of a laager which cannot be penetrated by cavalry. Moreover, the crossbows can shoot their bolts to a considerable range, and do more harm [lit. penetrate deeper] than those of the short bow. And again, if the crossbow bolts are picked up by the barbarians they have no way of making use of them. Recently the crossbow has unfortunately fallen into some neglect; we must carefully consider this... The strong crossbow [jing nu] and the [arcuballista shooting] javelins have a long range; something which the bows of the Huns can no way equal. The use of sharp weapons with long and short handles by disciplined companies of armoured soldiers in various combinations, including the drill of crossbow men alternately advancing [to shoot] and retiring [to load]; this is something which the Huns cannot even face. The troops with crossbows ride forward [cai guan shou] and shoot off all their bolts in one direction; this is something which the leather armour and wooden shields of the Huns cannot resist. Then the [horse-archers] dismount and fight forward on foot with sword and bill; this is something which the Huns do not know how to do.[39]

Chao Cuo

Special crossbows

In 99 BC, mounted multiple bolt crossbows were used as field artillery against attacking nomadic cavalry.[40]

In 180 AD, Yang Xuan used a type of repeating crossbow powered by the movement of wheels:

...around A.D. 180 when Yang Xuan, Grand Protector of Lingling, attempted to suppress heavy rebel activity with badly inadequate forces. Yang's solution was to load several tens of wagons with sacks of lime and mount automatic crossbows on others. Then, deploying them into a fighting formation, he exploited the wind to engulf the enemy with clouds of lime dust, blinding them, before setting rags on the tails of the horses pulling these driverless artillery wagons alight. Directed into the enemy's heavily obscured formation, their repeating crossbows (powered by linkage with the wheels) fired repeatedly in random directions, inflicting heavy casualties. Amidst the obviously great confusion the rebels fired back furiously in self-defense, decimating each other before Yang's forces came up and largely exterminated them.[40]

Ralph Sawyer

The invention of the repeating crossbow has often been attributed to Zhuge Liang, but he in fact had nothing to do with it. This misconception is based on a record attributing improvements to the multiple bolt crossbows to him.[41]

Beginning in the Han, Chinese warships had changed from clinker built (overlapping planks) to carvel built (side-by-side planks) construction, and multiple layers of superstructure were added. Anchors, rudders, sweeps and sails had become standard for warships. The navy was officially known as the “Tower ship navy" due to the importance of this type of warship in naval strategy. This was the first independently organised navy in China. The navy was deployed to defend and then incorporate the Dong'ou state in 138 BC, followed by the 100,000 men-strong conquest of the Nanyue state in 112 BC, and then the suppression of the Minyue state rebellion in 110 BC.[42]

The navy consisted primarily of two classes of ships: the deck ship (艦) and the spear ship (蒙衝). Deck ships resembled a cage with thick planking above deck, on deck and all around the hull as protection against projectiles. The spear ships were long and narrow, designed for ramming enemy ships. 200,000 seamen served in the deck ship fleet, divided into 3 squadrons, the Jianghuai Squadron in Yuchang (now Nanchang), the Kuaiji Squadron in Gouzhang (now near Ningbo) and the Qingqi Squadron in Shandong.[43]

Major campaigns and battles

Subduing the kings

After defeating Xiang Yu in 202 BC, Emperor Gaozu of Han's generals were made kings of their own semi-independent realms. Han Xin became King of Chu, Ying Bu King of Huainan, Peng Yue King of Liang, Xin King of Han, Wu Rui King of Changsha, Zang Tu King of Yan, Zhang Ao King of Zhao, Zou Wuzhu King of Minyue, and Zou Yao King of Dong'ou. Only Gong Wei and Zhao Tuo continued to resist at Linjiang and Panyu. Gong Wei was besieged by Liu Jia and Lu Wan for several months until he surrendered. Zhao Tuo, the founder of Nanyue, was too far away and thus ignored for the time being.[44]

In the summer, Zang Tu, the King of Yan, marched on Dai to annex the region. Gaozu immediately led an army against him. His general Zhou Bo defeated the Yan forces and Zang Tu was captured. Lu Wan became the new King of Yan while Fan Kuai was sent to occupy Dai.[44]

Li Ji, an ex-general of Xiang Yu, also revolted but failed to make any headway against Han forces and was forced to flee.[44]

In 201 BC, courtiers accused Han Xin of plotting treason. They urged Gaozu to pre-emptively attack Han Xin. However Han Xin was brought in under the pretext of attending a meeting and demoted to Marquis of Huaiyin. The Kingdom of Chu was divided into two realms ruled by Liu Jia and Liu Jiao. Gaozu also made his son Liu Fei the King of Qi. Han Xin was eventually transferred to the northern frontier to defend it against the Xiongnu.[44]

Now both the country and the tactics of the Huns are different from those of the Chinese. Their lands are nothing but mountain-slopes with ways going up and down and winding through gorges in and out; in such regions our Chinese horses cannot compete with theirs. Along the tracks at the edge of precipices still they ride and shoot; our Chinese horse-archers can hardly do the like. Rain and storm, exhaustion and fatigue, hunger and thirst, nothing do they fear; our Chinese soldiers can in these things hardly compare with them. Such are the merits of the Huns.[45]

Chao Cuo

In 200 BC, Xin, King of Han, surrendered to the Xiongnu at Mayi, Shuofang, Dai Commandery, and joined them in raiding Han territory. Gaozu led an army against them and scattered their forces, defeating them several times before they retreated. Later Xin set up Zhao Li as King of Zhao and marched south against Gaozu. They too were defeated. Seeing the influence the Xiongnu had on his vassals, Gaozu marched north with a large army to confront them. However his men suffered from inadequate clothing to ward off the cold and a lack of supplies, so Gaozu left them behind and advanced to Pingcheng with a smaller party. Modu Chanyu saw his chance to turn the tide and immediately surrounded the city, cutting the emperor off from the rest of his army. It's not clear why, but the Chanyu eventually withdrew some of his men. Sima Qian suggests his consort persuaded him to let the emperor escape. However a prolonged siege would have been impractical anyways since Xin's infantry never made it on time. Seeing the Chanyu's thinned lines, Gaozu sortied out and broke the siege. When Han reinforcements arrived, the Xiongnu withdrew. This came to be known as the Battle of Baideng. Gaozu's narrow escape from capture by the Xiongnu convinced him to make peace with his nomadic enemy. He sent one of his daughters to the Chanyu and offered him silk, wine, and food stuffs. The Chanyu accepted the offer and restricted himself to minor raids throughout the duration of Gaozu's reign.[46]

The hero, Modun, was a gifted child, but his father, Chanyu Touman, wanted the son of another of his wives to succeed him. To eliminate the competitor, he sent the young Modun to the Wusun people as a hostage; then he attacked the Wusun, hoping that they would kill their hostage in retribution. Modun escaped his fate and returned to the Xiongnu and his father, who was impressed with his ability as a warrior. This was to be Touman’s undoing. Modun gathered a group of warriors who were bound to remain absolutely loyal to him. To train them, as the story goes, Modun ordered each man to shoot Modun’s favorite horse, summarily executing any who refused; then he ordered each to shoot Modun’s favorite wife, but again a few hesitated, a mistake they paid for with their own lives. Once the lesson had been learned, Modun ordered his followers to shoot his father. Apparently this time no one failed to discharge his arrows. Having in this way eliminated his own father, Modun became the chanyu, and, immediately upon succeeding to the throne, proceeded to defend the Xiongnu from the aggression of other nomadic tribes. His success allowed him to create a large empire that would humiliate the Han dynasty in 198 b.c. and, over the next few decades, impose its rule widely: from Manchuria to northern and western Mongolia, to the Altai region, to the Tianshan region, and beyond.[47]

In 198 BC, Wang Huang of Zhao and Chen Xi of Dai rebelled. Gaozu ordered Peng Yue, King of Liang, to join him in battle against the rebel forces, but he refused.[48]

In 197 BC, Gaozu eliminated the Zhao and Dai rebels. Gaozu's son Liu Heng became the new King of Dai. Peng Yue feared that Gaozu would come for him for his refusal to aid the empire against the rebels, so he began preparations to rebel. When Gaozu received wind of this, he had Peng Yue arrested and executed. In the summer, Ying Bu, the King of Huainan, rebelled and seized the lands of Liu Jia, King of Jing. The King of Chu, Liu Jiao, fled his territory. Gaozu confronted him in battle and defeated Ying Bu's forces. Ying Bu fled but was defeated again and slain, however Gaozu was wounded in battle by an arrow.[49] Gaozu's son, Liu Chang, became the new King of Huainan.[50]

In 196 BC, Han Xin was arrested and executed despite some reservations from Gaozu, who still considered him to be the finest soldier of his era.[48] Xin was finally killed when he was cornered at the town of Canhe by Han general Chai Wu.[48]

In 195 BC, Han general Zhou Bo captured Chen Xi, who revealed that Lu Wan, King of Yan, had supported him in his rebellion. Zhou Bo stormed the Yan capital of Ji, forcing Lu Wan to seek refuge with the Xiongnu. One of Lu Wan's generals, Wei Man, fled east and usurped the throne of Gojoseon in Korea, beginning the era of Wiman Joseon. Meanwhile, Gaozu succumbed to the wound he received in battle against Ying Bu, and died on 28 February, 195 BC. He was succeeded by his 15-year-old son Liu Ying, posthumously Emperor Hui of Han.[51]

In 185 BC, the Han outlawed trade of iron with Nanyue, depriving them of the means to make weapons. In retaliation, Zhao Tuo proclaimed himself emperor and attacked Wu Rui, King of Changsha, taking a number of border towns.[52]

In 181 BC, a Han army marched south against Nanyue. However the hot climate and diseases of the region prevented them from advancing any further into mountains of Nanyue (in modern Guangdong and Guangxi).[52]

On Empress Lü's death in 180 BC, the Lü clan usurped the authority of the chief ministers. Liu Xiang, King of Qi, raised the banner of rebellion and called on the Liu clan to unite against the Lü. Zhou Bo overthrew the Lü clan and made Liu Heng, King of Dai, the new emperor, posthumously known as Emperor Wen of Han. Under the reign of Emperor Wen, the Han made peace with Nanyue and withdrew their army from the border. In return, Zhao Tuo announced that he only used the title of emperor in order to overawe the various kings of the south such as the Xiou (Western Ou), Minyue, and Luoluo. He received nominal vassalage from the Han court and the iron trade was resumed between the two states. [52]

In 179 BC, Modu Chanyu crossed the Yellow River and raided Yunzhong Commandery. An army of loyal tribes 85,000 led by Guan Ying managed to repel the Xiongnu invaders and forced them to withdraw.[53]

In 178 BC, Liu Xingju, King of Jibei, rebelled. Han general Chen Wu crushed the rebel army, after which Liu Xingju committed suicide. Meanwhile, the Xiongnu overran the Yuezhi in Gansu and the Tarim Basin.[53]

In 166 BC, Xiongnu forces under Laoshang raided within sight of Chang'an and carried off a large number of people and animals.[54]

In 165 BC, the Xiongnu returned and raided within sight of Chang'an again.[54]

In 164 BC, the Xiongnu under Laoshang overran Gansu and the Tarim Basin completely, driving out the Yuezhi and Sakas, who invaded Bactria and occupied Sogdia. The Yuezhi would be pushed out by the Wusun, forcing them further into Sogdia and driving out the Sakas. The Sakas went to Parthia and some to India. A group known as the Lesser Yuezhi fled into southern Gansu and merged with the Qiang population. Laoshang also defeated a group of people in northern Bactria known as the Hathal and turned their chief's skull into a drinking cup. From this western position the Xiongnu conducted yearly raids on the Han.[55]

In 155 BC, Chao Cuo convinced Emperor Jing of Han to take territory from the kingdoms of Chu, Zhao, and Jiaoxi.[56]

According to the Bingfa, where there are waterways fifteen feet wide, chariots cannot pass. Where rocks are piled up among the mountain forests, and rivers circulate between hills covered with woods and thickets; there the infantry arm comes into its own. Here two chariots or two horsemen do not equal one foot-soldier. Where there are rolling hills, wide open spaces and flat plains, there chariots and cavalry find their use, and ten foot-soldiers are not as good as one horseman. Flat places intersected with gorges, and abrupt declivities affording wide outlooks-commanding positions such as these should be held by archers and crossbowmen. Here a hundred men armed with hand-to-hand weapons are not equal to one archer. When two forces oppose one another on a plain covered with short grasses they are free to manoeuvre back and forth, and then the long bill (changji) is the right weapon. Three men with swords and shields are not as effective as one so armed. Among reeds and rushes and thickets of bamboo, where the undergrowth is rich and abundant, pikes and short spears are needed. Two men with long bills are not as good there as one with a pike. But among winding ways and dangerous precipices the sword and shield are to be preferred, and three archers or crossbowmen will not do as well as one swordsman.[45]

Chao Cuo

In 154 BC, the Rebellion of the Seven States erupted. Liu Pi, King of Wu, was ordered to surrender two provinces. He immediately rebelled with the support of Liu Wu King of Chu, Liu Sui King of Zhao, and the Qi kings of Jiaoxi, Jiaodong, Zichuan, and Ji'nan. The court tried to appease them at first by executing Chao Cuo, however this did not mollify them, and they continued their march west. Opposing them were the emperor's brother Liu Wu King of Liang, and Liu Zhi King of Jibei. The rebel forces captured Jibei and moved south to besiege Suiyang, however they were met by a strong line of fortified towns which they failed to take, halting their advance. Han forces under Zhou Yafu retaliated by seizing Changyi, cutting off the rebel supply route, and advanced to Xiayi before digging in and refusing to do battle. He did however send light cavalry to raid the rebel lines. Without cavalry of their own, they could do nothing to stop him. Soon the rebel army was starving and in desperation they decided to storm Changyi, even managing to penetrate the town for a short while before they were repulsed. They tried a diversionary tactic, attacking one corner of the city with a small force while their main army assaulted the other side. Zhou Yafu anticipated this and concentrated his forces toward repulsing the main rebel assault. Having failed to defeat Zhou Yafu, the rebel army lifted the siege of Suiyang and marched south, only to be overtaken by Zhou and defeated. Liu Wu, King of Chu, committed suicide. Liu Pi escaped further south to Dong'ou (Eastern Ou) with only a few thousand men and was killed by the natives a few months later. The kings of Zhao and the four minor Qi kingdoms all committed suicide one by one as the Han army reached their capitals.[57]

In 139 BC, Minyue invaded Dong'ou, which appealed to the Han for help. An imperial army under Zhuang Zhu came to its aid and forced Zou Wuzhu of Minyue to withdraw south. However the people of Dong'ou were resettled north of the Changjiang and their territory was annexed by Minyue anyway.[58]

In 137 BC, Minyue invaded Nanyue. An imperial army was sent against them, but the Minyue king's brother Zou Yushan usurped the throne and sued for peace, disbanding the army.[58]

Defeating the Xiongnu

In the summer of 133 BC, the Xiongnu Chanyu Junchen led a force of 100,000 to attack Mayi in Shuofang, Dai Commandery. Wang Hui and two other generals attempted to ambush them at Mayi with a large force of 300,000, but Junchen retreated after learning about the ambush from a captured local warden. Wang Hui decided not to give chase and was sentenced to death. He committed suicide.[59] The Han army abandoned chariots after this point.[17]

Chariots were still used as the chief weapon in wars against the Xiongnu during the period of Emperor Wen, and their relative lack of mobility prevented the Han force from launching any distant expeditions or gaining major victories. This fighting method survived even into the early period of Emperor Wu. For example, in his first war against the Xiongnu, in 133 B.C., a large number of war chariots were mobilized as the chief military component. But when the chanyu of the Xiongnu, realizing that he had been tricked by misinformation provided by a Han spy, retreated to his territory, the Han forces were unable to overtake him. Emperor Wu then decided to give up completely the use of war chariots.[60]

Chun-shu Chang

In the spring of 129 BC, Wei Qing and three other generals led a cavalry force of 40,000 in an attack on the Xiongnu at the frontier markets of Shanggu. Wei Qing successfully killed several thousand Xiongnu and took 700 prisoners.[61] General Gongsun Ao was defeated and lost 7,000 men. He was reduced to commoner status.[62] Li Guang was defeated and captured but managed to escape by feigning death and returned to base. He was reduced to commoner status.[63] Gongsun He failed to find the Xiongnu.[61] That winter the Xiongnu attacked Yuyang in You Province in retaliation.[61]

In the autumn of 128 BC, Wei Qing and Li Xi led a force of 40,000 and defeated the Xiongnu north of Yanmen Commandery.[61]

In the spring of 127 BC, the Xiongnu raided Liaoxi and Yanmen Commandery. Han Anguo tried to stop them with 700 men but failed and retreated to Yuyang. When Wei Qing and two other generals arrived, the Xiongnu fled. Wei Qing pushed forward and successfully evicted the Xiongnu south of the Yellow River, killed 2,300 Xiongnu at Gaoque (Shuofang), and captured 3,075 Xiongnu and one million livestock at Fuli (Wuyuan).[64][65]

In 126 BC, the Xiongnu led a force of 90,000 under the Wise King (Tuqi) of the Right to attack Dai Commandery, killing its grand administrator Gong You. They also raided Dingxiang and Shang, taking several thousand captives.[66]

[In the Xiongnu state] there are the Left and Right Wise Kings, Left and Right Luli Kings, Left and Right Generals, Left and Right Commandants, Left and Right Household Administrators and Left and Right Gudu Marquises. The Xiongnu word for “wise” is tuqi, therefore they often refer to the Heir Apparent as the Tuqi King of the Left. Starting from the Wise Kings of the Left and Right, down to the Household Administrators, the most important ones [command] ten thousand horsemen, the least important a few thousand; altogether they are referred to as the twenty-four high dignitaries.[67]

In the spring of 124 BC, Wei Qing and four other generals led a force of 100,000, mostly light cavalry, against the Xiongnu. The Wise King (Tuqi) of the Right assumed they would turn back after he retreated, but they did not, and he was surprised at his camp. The Han emerged victorious, capturing ten petty chieftains, 15,000 Xiongnu, and one million livestock.[64]

In the spring of 123 BC, Wei Qing and others led 100,000 cavalry against the Xiongnu, killing and capturing 3,000 north of Dingxiang. However Su Jian and Zhao Xin advanced too far with only 3,000 and were cut down. Zhao Xin defected while Su Jian managed to escape.[68][64]

In 122 BC, a Xiongnu force of 10,000 raided Shanggu.[68]

In the spring of 121 BC, Huo Qubing led a force of 10,000 cavalry and killed 8,960 Xiongnu west of the Yanzhi Mountains (in modern Gansu). In the summer he and several others marched west. Huo made it as far as the Qilian Mountains south of Jiuquan, killing and capturing 33,000 Xiongnu. The Xiongnu also invaded Yanmen Commandery so Li Guang and Zhang Qian gave chase. Li Guang was suddenly surrounded by 40,000 Xiongnu under the Wise King (Tuqi) of the Left but was able to hold off repeated attacks for two days until Zhang Qian arrived and the Xiongnu retreated. Zhang Qian was demoted to commoner status for arriving late.[69][70]

Now the chanyu has recently suffered at the hands of the Han and as a result the region occupied by the Hunye king has been depopulated. The Manyi peoples are typically greedy for Han goods. If we now take this opportunity and send rich bribes and gifts to the Wu-sun and persuade them to move farther east and occupy the region which formerly belonged to the Hunye king, then the Han could conclude a treaty of brotherhood with them, and, under the circumstances, they would surely do as we say. If we could get them to obey us, it would be like cutting off the right arm of the Xiongnu. Once an alliance has been forged with the Wusun, states from Daxia (Bactria) to its West could all be induced to come to court and become our outer vassals.[71]

In 120 BC, the Xiongnu raided Youbeiping and Dingxiang, carrying off 1,000 captives.[72]

In the summer of 119 BC, Wei Qing and Huo Qubing led a large force of 100,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, and 140,000 supply horses against the Xiongnu. When the Han forces arrived, they found the Xiongnu already prepared and waiting. Wei ensconced himself into a fortified ring of chariots and sent out 5,000 cavalry to probe the enemy. The Xiongnu chanyu Yizhixie responded with 10,000 cavalry. The two sides skirmished until evening when a strong wind arose, at which point Wei committed most of his cavalry and encircled the Xiongnu. Yizhixie attempted to break out of the encirclement but lost control of his men and routed. Huo's forces advanced by another route and defeated the Wise King (Tuqi) of the Left. Li Guang failed to rendezvouz on time and committed suicide. A hundred thousand horses were lost during the campaign leading up to the Battle of Mobei, crippling Han cavalry forces for some time.[18]

The Xiongnu surrounded Li Guang's army and wiped out most of the men. Zhang Qian was accused of having arrived late at his rendezvous with Li Guang and was sentenced to execution, but on payment of a fine he was allowed to become a commoner. This same year the Han sent the swift cavalry general Huo Qubing against the Xiongnu. He defeated and killed 30,000 or 40,000 of the Xiongnu in the western region and rode as far as the Qilian Mountains. The following year the Hunye king led his barbarian hordes and surrendered to the Han, and the Xiongnu completely disappeared from the region from Jincheng and Hexi west along the Southern Mountains to the Salt Swamp. Occasionally Xiongnu scouts would appear, but even they were rare. Two years later the Han armies attacked the Shanyu and chased him north of the desert.[73]

Conquering south, east, and west

In 116 BC, the Xiongnu raided Liang Province.[74]

In 113 BC, chief minister Lü Jia of Nanyue prevented its king Zhao Xing from visiting the Han court. Han Qianqiu was sent to kill Lü Jia. He advanced into Nanyue with only 2,000 men, capturing several towns, until his local allies turned on him, slaying him and his men.[75]

In 112 BC, the Han invaded eastern Tibet with 25,000 cavalry on grounds of Qiang raiding.[75]

In the autumn of 111 BC, Gongsun He and Zhao Ponu led 25,000 cavalry against the Xiongnu, but failed to engage them. Lu Bode and Yang Pu led a force of 35,000 against Nanyue.[76]

In 110 BC, Han forces defeated Nanyue and annexed the region. The king of Minyue, Zou Yushan, thought he would be attacked as well, and pre-emptively attacked Han garrisons. In the winter the Han sent another force and defeated Minyue. The area was abandoned however until further colonization in 200 AD. Emperor Wu of Han assembled his forced in Shuofang and challenged Wuwei Chanyu to meet him in battle. Wuwei declined.[77]

In 109 BC, the Han sent a force of 5,000 under Guo Chang and Wei Guang to Yelang and Dian Kingdom, forcing them to submit to the Han. A Yue rebellion led by Wu Yang resulted in the removal of all the people in Minyue further north. A Han envoy returning from Gojoseon slew his escort and claimed to have slain a general. Gojoseon retaliated by invading Liaodong.[78]

In 108 BC, a Han army of 57,000 under Xun Zhi and Yang Pu invaded Gojoseon. Xun Zhi advanced too far and was defeated. Yang Pu made it to Wanggeom-seong and was defeated. In spring they regrouped and laid siege to Wanggeom-seong. Xun Zhi got into a fight with Yang Pu and had him arrested, combining both their forces under one general. Eventually the people of the city killed their king, Ugeo of Gojoseon, and surrendered. Zhao Ponu sallied out with 25,000 cavalry against the Xiongnu but could not find them. He then attacked Loulan Kingdom and Jushi Kingdom with only 700 cavalry, subjugating them.[79]

In the autumn of 104 BC, Li Guangli led a force of 20,000 convicted conscripts and 6,000 cavalry against Dayuan. The oasis states refused to provide food so they had to attack them to procure necessities.[80] Han deserters who surrendered to Dayuan taught them how to cast metal into coins and weapons.[81]

In the summer of 103 BC, Zhao Ponu attacked the Xiongnu with 20,000 cavalry, but was surrounded and captured. Li Guangli reached Yucheng (Uzgen) but could not take the city and returned to Dunhuang.[82]

In the autumn of 102 BC, Li Guangli led a much larger army of 60,000 men, 100,000 oxen, 30,000 horses, and 20,000 supply animals against Dayuan. The oasis states surrendered and provided food upon seeing the overwhelming force. The only state which resisted was Luntai, so the entire populace was massacred. The army bypassed Yucheng (Uzgen) and headed straight for Dayuan's capital Ershi (Khujand). There the Han crossbowmen easily defeated Dayuan's army and laid siege to the city. After 40 days and diverting the river from the city, removing their water supply, the inhabitants killed their king and provided the Han army 3,000 horses. A scout force under Wang Shencheng was defeated at Yucheng (Uzgen), so Li sent a detachment under Shangguan Jie to storm Yucheng, whose king fled to Kangju. Yucheng then surrendered. Li returned with only 10,000 men.[83]

In 101 BC, the Xiongnu raided Dingxiang, Yunzhong, Zhangye, and Jiuquan.[84]

In the summer of 99 BC, Li Guangli and three other generals led a force of 35,000 against the Xiongnu in the Tian Shan range. Initially successful, Li Guangli killed some 10,000 Xiongnu, but was surrounded and had to fortify. They sortied out and managed to drive back the Xiongnu before making a run for it. The Xiongnu gave chase and dealt heavy casualties on the Han army. Li Guangli only returned with 40% of his forces. Li Ling and Lu Bode had been left further back earlier as a rear guard, but Lu Bode objected to serving under Li Ling and left. Li Ling decided to advance by himself with only 5,000 infantry, confident that his force of crossbowmen would be able to handle any force they encountered. He was confronted with a force of 30,000 Xiongnu and had to fortify behind a wagon laager between two hills. The Xiongnu made repeated charges on his position, but failed to overcome Li Ling's crossbow and shield/spear formation, suffering heavy casualties. When Li Ling's forces made a break for it, the Xiongnu chased after them, harassing them until nightfall. Only 400 men made it back and Li Ling was himself captured.[85]

In the spring of 97 BC, Li Guangli and two other generals led a force of over 160,000 against the Xiongnu. Li's forces were supposedly routed by only 10,000 Xiongnu and fought a running battle for ten days. Gongsun Ao fought an inconclusive battle with the Wise King (Dugi) of the Left. Han Yue failed to encounter any Xiongnu.[86]

In the summer of 94 BC, Xu Xiangru led a force of auxiliaries from the Western Regions against Suoju (Yarkant County) and killed their king, capturing 1,500 people.[87]

In the spring of 90 BC, Li Guangli and two other generals led a force of 79,000 against the Xiongnu. Initially successful, Li overextended and his supplies ran out, exhausting his men and horses. The Xiongnu outpaced them and dug ditches across their line of retreat. When they tried to cross the ditches, the Xiongnu fell on them, routing the entire army. Li Guangli surrendered. The other generals Shang Qiucheng and Ma Tong managed to return safely. Cheng Wan attacked Jushi Kingdom with a force of 35,000 and secured their king's surrender.[88]

In 87 BC, Wen Zhong subjugated a city near modern Islamabad.

In 83 BC, Han relinquished control over Lintun Commandery and Zhenfan Commandery.[89]

In 78 BC, Fan Mingyou led 20,000 soldiers to aid the Wuhuan against the Xiongnu, but they arrived too late, and attacked the Wuhuan instead.[90]

In 75 BC, Goguryeo took some territory from Xuantu Commandery.[91]

In 71 BC, Chang Hui and two other generals led a force of 100,000 to aid the Wusun against the Xiongnu. The majority of the forces failed to find any Xiongnu, but Chang Hui successfully aided the Wusun in defeating a Xiongnu invasion. However the Xiongnu came back in winter and took many captives. On the way back across the Altai Mountains, the Xiongnu suffered heavy casualties from a sudden blizzard, devastating their army. The next year the Xiongnu were attacked on all sides by Wusun, Wuhuan, and the Han. One third of all Xiongnu died.[92]

In 68 BC, Chang Hui led 45,000 auxiliaries from the Western Regions against Qiuci, which surrendered. Zheng Ji also subdued the Jushi Kingdom, its king having fled to the Wusun.[92]

In 65 BC, the Qiang revolted in eastern Tibet and Suoju rebelled as well. Feng Fengshi was sent in with 15,000 men and subdued Suoju.[93]

In 64 BC, the Xiongnu raided Jiaohe.[93]

In 61 BC, Zhao Chongguo advanced into eastern Tibet and set up colonies near Qinghai Lake. He also advocated for reduction of cavalry forces to reduce military expenditure.[94]

Western protectorate

In 60 BC, Xianxianchan, the Rizhu King of Jushi Kingdom, surrendered to Zheng Ji. The Protectorate of the Western Regions was created and the Han gained hegemony over the western oasis states.[95]

In 58 BC, Woyanqudi Chanyu died and the Xiongnu split up into five warring factions.[95]

In 55 BC, the Xiongnu coalesced into two groups, one under Zhizhi Chanyu and the other under his brother Huhanye.[95]

In 51 BC, Huhanye was defeated by Zhizhi Chanyu and fled to the Han.[95]

In 50 BC, Zhizhi Chanyu nominally submitted to the Han.[96]

In 48 BC, Zhizhi Chanyu declared independence after seeing the Han favor his brother Huhanye. He attacked the Wusun and based his operations in Zungaria.[96]

In 43 BC, Huhanye moved back to the north, starting the era of Western and Eastern Xiongnu.[96]

In 42 BC, the Qiang rebelled and defeated a force of 12,000 under Feng Fengshi.[97]

In 41 BC, Feng Fengshi returned to eastern Tibet with 60,000 men and crushed the Qiang rebellion.[97]

In 36 BC, Gan Yanshou and Chen Tang led a force of 40,000 against the Xiongnu. They reached Wusun territory and then advanced on Kangju. Kangju attacked them and took their wagons, but a counterattack drove off their forces, and the Han army was able to recover their supply train. Upon reaching Kangju (around modern Taraz), the army started constructing a fortified camp, but the Xiongnu attacked them. After driving off the Xiongnu with crossbows, they secured their camp and advanced on the enemy city in a shield and spear formation in front and crossbowmen behind. The crossbowmen rained down on the defenders manning the walls until they fled, then the spearmen drained the moat and started stacking firewood against the palisade. A Kangju relief force made several attacks on the Han position at night, delaying the assault and allowing the defenders to repair their walls. When the Han army attacked, the city fell with ease and Zhizhi Chanyu was stabbed to death. During this battle, an infantry unit on the Kangju side used a formation described as having the appearance of fish scales, which has caused speculation that they were Roman legionnaires captured at Carrhae. Evidence is inconclusive.[98]

In 12 BC, Duan Huizong led a force to Wusun and resolved a dispute.[99]

In 6 AD, a petty king in the area of the former Jushi Kingdom defected to the Xiongnu, who turned him over to the Han.[100]

In 7 AD, the Han convinced the Wuhuan to stop sending tribute to the Xiongnu, who immediately attacked and defeated the Wuhuan.[100]

In 9 AD, Wang Mang proclaimed himself emperor of the Xin dynasty.[100]

In 10 AD, some officers of the Protector General Dan Qin rebelled, slew him, and fled to the Xiongnu.[101]

In 11 AD, Wuzhuliu Chanyu of the Xiongnu attacked Yunzhong, Yanmen, and Shuofang commanderies.[102]

In 16 AD, an army under Li Chong and Guo Qin was sent to subdue Yanqi. One contingent was ambushed and defeated but the other massacred the population of Yanqi. Other regions remained loyal along with Suoju.[103]

Eastern Han

In 23 AD, Wang Mang's Xin dynasty was defeated and 12 years of civil war ensued.[104] The Protectorate of the Western Regions was left to its own devices. In the absence of the Han, Xian of Suoju became Hegemon King of the Western Regions and was even able to extend its power over Dayuan to the west. In 50 AD, Suoju attacked Dayuan with an army of 10,000 when their king, Yanliu, failed to send tribute. Yanliu was brought back to Suoju while King Qiaositai of Jumi was sent to rule Dayuan. However Qiaositai suffered from repeated attacks by Kangju and abandoned Dayuan. Yanliu was sent back to Dayuan.[105] In 60 AD, Xiumoba of Yutian rebelled against Xian but died in the assault on Suoju. Xiumoba's nephew Guangde captured Suoju in 61 AD. When the Northern Xiongnu learned of this, they attacked Yutian and enthroned Xian's son, Bujuzheng, as king of Suoju. After Dou Gu defeated the Northern Xiongnu in 73 AD, Guangde joined the Han forces in subjugating Suoju. Guangde's brother, Qili, became the new king of Suoju in 87 AD.[106]

In 35 AD, Emperor Guangwu of Han, also known as the "Bronze Horse Emperor,"[107] reunited the Han dynasty.[104]

In 40 AD, Jiuzhen, Jiaozhi, and Rinan commanderies rebelled under the Trung sisters.[108]

In 42 AD, the Trung sisters' rebellion was defeated by Ma Yuan.[109]

In 49 AD, the Qiang tribes retook the Qinghai region[110]

In 50 AD, Bi chanyu and the Southern Xiongnu settled in Bing Province.[111]

In 57 AD, the Qiang led by Dianyu raided Jincheng Commandery.[112]

In 59 AD, a Han army defeated Dianyu.[112]

In 62 AD, the Northern Xiongnu made a major raid but was repelled.[113]

In 69 AD, Liumiao the King of the Ailao, submitted to the Han dynasty. His territory was incorporated under eight new counties, extending Han territory into modern Myanmar.[114]

In 73 AD, Dou Gu led a force of 12,000 against the Xiongnu and defeated Huyan in modern northeastern Xinjiang.[115]

In 74 AD, Dou Gu led another expedition to the Western Regions and gained the submission of Jushi, restoring the Protectorate of the Western Regions.[115]

In 75 AD, the Xiongnu besieged Jushi and Chen Mu was killed by the locals.[115]

In 76 AD, Lei'ao the King of the Ailao, gathered 3,000 men and attacked the headquarters of Yongchang Commandery and drove out Han administration. Nine thousand Han militia and non-Chinese auxiliaries were called up from surrounding commanderies and defeated him in the following year. His head was sent to Luoyang.[116]

In 77 AD, the Protectorate of the Western Regions was abandoned again.[117]

In 78 AD, Ban Chao defeated Gumo, which was aided by Kangju.[118]

In 84 AD, Ban Chao brought forces against Shule, but could not defeat them due to reinforcements from their ally, Kangju. Ban Chao sent gifts to the Kushan Empire and they influenced the Kangju troops to retreat. The king of Suoju went with them.[119]

In 87 AD, Ban Chao attacked Suoju with 25,000 men. They were heavily outnumbered due to 50,000 reinforcements from Suoju's ally, Qiuci, but Ban Chao made a false retreat and deceived the army of Qiuci into giving chase. Ban Chao then rounded back and made a surprise attack on the Suoju camp, defeating them. The army of Qiuci withdrew.[119]

In the summer of 89 AD, Dou Xian led an army of around 45,000 against the Northern Xiongnu and defeated them. This marked the effective end of Xiongnu power in the steppes and the rise of the less organized but more aggressive Xianbei.[120]

The ideal situation on the frontier was to have a non-Chinese ruler so powerful within his own lands that his orders were obeyed but so dependent on Chinese goodwill, or vulnerable to Chinese threats, that he kept his people from troubling imperial territory. By destroying the Northern Shanyu, the Han removed a potential client and found itself faced with the incoherent but spreading power of the Xianbi, while the Southern regime was overwhelmed by its new responsibilities. So the empire destroyed a weak and all but suppliant enemy for the benefit of a junior ally who could not make good use of the victory, to the ultimate profit of a far more dangerous enemy.[121]

Rafe de Crespigny

In 90 AD, the Protectorate of the Western Regions was restored under Ban Chao.[117] Qiuci, Gumo, and Wensu submitted to the Han. The Kushan Empire sent the general known as Xie with an army of 70,000 against Ban Chao in Shule. Ban Chao fled and implemented a scorched earth policy which left the Kushan army with no supplies. Xie sought to purchase supplies at Qiuci, but Ban Chao anticipated this, and laid an ambush for the Kushan messengers, killing them. Realizing that they could advance no further, Xie retreated.[122]

In 96 AD, Han forces attacked the Xiongnu king Wujuzhan and killed him.[123]

In 107 AD, Dianlian of the Qiang Xianlian attacked Liang Province. As a result, the Protectorate of the Western Regions was abandoned. The Han court sent Deng Zhi and Ren Shang against the invading army, and although the Qiang forces suffered significant casualties, they were defeated at Hanyang Commandery. Having achieved victory against the Han army, Dianlian proclaimed himself emperor at Beidi Commandery. Qiang forces now threatened Han territory as far south as Hanzhong Commandery and as far east as Ji Province.[117][110]

In 109 AD, Dianlian conquered Longxi Commandery.[124] The Wuhuan and Xianbei attacked Wuyuan Commandery and defeated local Han forces.[125] The Southern Xiongnu chanyu Wanshishizhudi rebelled against the Han and attacked the Emissary Geng Chong but failed to oust him. Han forces under Geng Kui retaliated and defeated a force of 3,000 Xiongnu but could not take the Southern Xiongnu capital due to disease among the horses of their Xianbei allies.[125]

In 110 AD, Dianlian defeated and killed the Administrator Zheng Qin in Hanzhong Commandery.[124] The Southern Xiongnu raided Changshan Commandery and Zhongshan Commandery. The Wanshi Chanyu engaged in battle with a Han army of 8,000 under Liang Qin. The Xiongnu surrounded the Han army, but Liang Qin broke through the encirclement, killing 3,000 and defeating the Xiongnu forces. The Wanshi Chanyu surrendered and was given amnesty.[125]

In 112 AD, Dianlian died and was succeeded by his son Lianchang. Lianchang was too young to exercise authority and another man of the tribe, Langmo, took charge of strategy. The new regime was significantly less effective under the regent and failed to make any headway against Han forces.[126]

In 116 AD, the Han general Deng Zun led 10,000 Southern Xiongnu cavalry in a raid on Lianchang's headquarters from the north. Meanwhile, Ren Shang attacked from the south and killed Lianchang's wife and children.[126] Hill peoples under Chentang and Yangsun led a rebellion in Wuling Commandery but were quickly put down by local tribal auxiliaries.[127]

In 117 AD, Lianchang was assassinated and forces under Ren Shang ended Qiang raids.[128]

In 120 AD, the Qiang chieftain Jiwu attacked Jincheng Commandery and was defeated by the general Ma Xian.[129]

In 121 AD, the Xianbei under Qizhijian raided Han territory.[130] The Qiang Shaodang tribe under Manu raided Wuwei Commandery but were defeated by the general Ma Xian the following year.[131] Go Suseong of Goguryeo attacked Xuantu Commandery but was defeated by a combined Han-Buyeo army.[132]

In 126 AD, Ban Yong invaded the Western Regions and conquered Yanqi. Qiuci, Yutian, and Suoju submitted to Han. The Protectorate of the Western Regions was however not re-established and only a chief clerk was appointed to deal with the western states. The Han attempted to colonize Yiwu several times in the following decades but these efforts were cut short in 157 AD by other disturbances to the far south. Official administration over the Western Regions was not re-established by another Chinese state until the Tang dynasty in the 7th century AD.[133] Qizhijian of the Xianbei attacked Dai Commandery and killed the Administrator Li Chao.[134]

In 127 AD, the Xianbei raided Liaodong Commandery and Xuantu Commandery.[135]

In 128 AD, the Xianbei attacked Yuyang Commandery.[135]

In 136 AD, people known as the Qulian from beyond the southern frontier attacked Rinan Commandery, causing turmoil and confusion.[136]

In 137 AD, a rebellion occurred in Rinan Commandery and was peacefully quelled without resorting to arms.[137]

In 140 AD, the Qiang rebelled.[128] Wusi and Cheniu of the Southern Xiongnu rebelled.[138]

In 141 AD, Wusi and Cheniu were defeated. Cheniu surrendered while Wusi was killed by his followers in 143.[139]

In 142 AD, the Qiang rebellion was put down.[128]

In 144 AD, a rebellion occurred in Rinan Commandery and was peacefully quelled without resorting to arms.[137]

In 145 AD, the Xianbei raided Dai Commandery.[140]

In 157 AD, a rebellion occurred in Jiuzhen Commandery and was defeated.[141]

In 166 AD, the Xianbei started conducting annual raids.[142]

In 167 AD, Duan Jiong conducted an anti-Qiang campaign and massacred Qiang populations as well as settled them outside the frontier.[128]

In 169 AD, Geng Lin attacked Goguryeo forced the king to offer submission.[143]

In 168 AD, the Xianbei under Tanshihuai raided Han territory.[144]

In 177 AD, Xia Yu, Tian Yan and the Tute Chanyu led a force of 30,000 against the Xianbei. They were defeated and returned with only a quarter of their original forces.[142]

In 178 AD, Liang Long rebelled in the south.[145]

In 181 AD, Zhu Juan defeated Liang Long's rebellion.[145]

In 182 AD, the Xianbei khan Tanshihuai died and his weak successor Helian failed to keep the confederacy intact.[146]

In 184 AD, the Yellow Turban Rebellion and Liang Province rebellion erupted, leading to the fragmentation and downfall of the Han dynasty.[147]

Campaign list

Han–Xiongnu War

Han-Xiongnu War
YearAggressorForcesCommanderTitlePlace of departureResult
200 BC
Battle of Baideng
Han320,000Emperor Gaozu of HanBesieged for four days until the emperor's wife bribed the Xiongnu to go away
197 BCXiongnuRaided Dai Commandery
196 BCXiongnuRaided Dai Commandery (Canhe)
195 BCXiongnuRaided Shanggu and eastward
182 BCXiongnuRaided Longxi Commandery (Didao) and Tianshui (Ayang)
181 BCXiongnuRaided Longxi Commandery (Didao) and abducted 2,000 people
179 BCXiongnuRaided Yunzhong Commandery and plundered tribes loyal to Han
177 BCXiongnuConducted massacre at He'nan and Shang
169 BCXiongnu
166 BCXiongnu140,000Raided Anding (Chaona and Xiaoguan), Beidi, Anding (Pengyang), and Liang (Ganjuan Palace)
Burned Huizhong Palace
158 BCXiongnu30,000Raided Shang, Yunzhong Commandery, and Dai Commandery (Gouzhu)
148 BCXiongnuRaided Yan Province
144 BCXiongnuStole horses from Yanmen Commandery, Yunzhong Commandery (Wuchuan), and Shang
142 BCXiongnuAttacked Yanmen Commandery and killed Governor Feng Jing
133 BC (Summer)
Battle of Mayi
Han300,000Wang Hui
Han Anguo
Gongsun He
Li Guang
Li Zi
Failed to ambush Xiongnu
Wang Hui committed suicide
129 BC (Spring)Han40,000Wei QingGeneral of chariot and cavalryShangguVictory: Killed several thousand Xiongnu
Captured 700 Xiongnu
Gongsun AoCavalry generalDaiDefeated: 700 men lost
Gongsun HeGeneral of light chariotYunzhongFailed to find Xiongnu
Li GuangGeneral of resolute cavalryYanmenCaptured by Xiongnu, but escaped and returned
129 BC (Winter)XiongnuRaided Shanggu, Yuyang, and killed the governor of Liaoxi
128 BC (Autumn)Han40,000Wei QingGeneral of chariot and cavalryDaiVictory
Li XiGeneralDai
127 BCXiongnuRaided Liaoxi and killed its governor
Raided Yanmen and carried off several thousand men
Defeated Han Anguo
127 BC (Spring)HanWei QingGeneral of chariot and cavalryYunzhongKilled 2,300 Xiongnu at Gaoque (Shuofang)
Captured 3,075 Xiongnu and one million livestock at Fuli (Wuyuan)
Hao XianGovernor of ShangguYunzhong
Li XiGeneralDai
126 BCXiongnu90,000Wise king (Dugi) of the rightRaided Dai Commandery, Dingxiang, and Shang, taking several thousand slaves
Killed the grand administrator of Dai Commandery, Gong You
124 BC (Spring)Han100,000 (mostly light cavalry)Wei QingGeneral of chariot and cavalryShuofang (Gaoque)Captured ten petty chieftains, 15,000 Xiongnu, and one million livestock
Hao Xian
Li SuoColonel
Zhao BuyuColonel
Gongsun RongnuColonel
Dou YiruColonel
Li XiGeneralYubeiping
Zhang CigongGeneralYubeiping
Gongsun HeCavalry generalShuofang
Su JianScouting and attacking generalShuofang
Li CaiGeneral of light chariotsShuofang
Li JuGeneral of crossbowmenShuofang
Han YueChief commander
123 BC (Spring)Han100,000 cavalryWei QingGeneral in chiefDingxiangKilled over 3,000 Xiongnu north of Dingxiang
Hao XianGovernor of Shanggu
Huo QubingSwift colonelKilled and captured 2,228 Xiongnu
Gongsun AoGeneral of the center
Gongsun HeGeneral of the left
Zhao XinGeneral of the vanguardDefeated and surrendered to Xiongnu
Su JianGeneral of the rightDefeated and escaped alone
3,000 Han soldiers killed
Li GuangGeneral of the rear
Li JuGeneral of crossbowmen
122 BCXiongnu10,000Raided Shanggu
121 BC (Spring)Han10,000 cavalryHuo QubingGeneral of swift cavalryLongxiKilled and captured 8,960 Xiongnu west of the Yanzhi Mountains (in modern Gansu)
Zhao PonuHawklike attacking marshal
121 BC (Summer)Han20,000+ cavalryHuo QubingHawklike attacking marshalBeidiKilled and captured 33,000 Xiongnu south of Jiuquan
Zhao PonuHawklike attacking marshal
Gao BushiColonelCaptured 1,768 Xiongnu
Pu PengColonelCaptured five Xiongnu kings
Gongsun AoMarquis of HeqiBeidiGot lost and failed to make contact with Huo
24,000 cavalryZhang QianCommander of the Palace GuardYubeipingWas late
4,000 cavalryLi GuangChief of palace attendantsYubeipingKilled 3,000 Xiongnu bu lost nearly his entire force and escaped alone
120 BCXiongnuRaided Youbeiping and Xingxiang, carrying off 1,000 captives
119 BC (Summer)
Battle of Mobei
Han50,000 cavalry
140,000 volunteer cavalry
200,000+ infantry
Wei QingSupreme commanderDingxiangKilled 19,000 Xiongnu
Seized the fort of Zhaoxin
Guo ChangColonel
Xun Zhi
Chang HuiGovernor of Xihe
Sui ChengGovernor of Yunzhong
Li GuangGeneral of the vanguardLate and rendezvouz and committed suicide
Zhao YijiGeneral of the rightLate at rendezvouz
Gongsun AoGeneral of the center
Cao XiangGeneral of the rear
Gongsun HeGeneral of the left
50,000 cavalryHuo QubingSupreme commanderDai, Yubeiping
Li GanColonel
Xu ZiweiColonelKilled and captured 12,700 Xiongnu
Lu BodeGovernor of Yubeiping
Wei ShanChief commander of BodiCaptured a Xiongnu king
Zhao PonuCongpiao Marquis
JieGovernor of Yuyang
Zhao AnjiMarquis of Changwu
Fu LujiColonel
Yi Jixian
116 BCXiongnuRaided Liang Province
111 BC (Autumn)Han15,000 cavalryGongsun HeGeneral of FujuWuyuanFailed to find Xiongnu
10,000 cavalryZhao PonuGeneral of Xiong RiverLingjuFailed to find Xiongnu
110 BC (Winter)Han180,000 cavalryEmperor Wu of HanFailed to find Xiongnu
108 BCHan25,000 cavalryZhao PonuFailed to find Xiongnu
103 BC (Summer)Han20,000 cavalryZhao PonuGeneral of JunjiKilled and captured 2,000+ Xiongnu but got surrounded and surrendered
102 BCXiongnuWise king (Dugi) of the rightRaided Jiuquan and Zhangye, capturing several thousand people
99 BC (Summer)
Battle of Tian Shan
Han30,000 cavalryLi GuangliErshi GeneralShuofangKilled and captured 10,000 Xiongnu but was surrounded on the way back and most of his forces were killed
Gongsun AoGeneral of YinyuXihe
Lu BodeChief commandant of crossbowmenJuyan
5,000 infantry/cavalryLi LingChief commandant of cavalryJuyanKilled and captured 10,000 Xiongnu but was defeated and surrendered
Only 400 survived
97 BC (Spring)Han50,000 cavalry
70,000 infantry
Li GuangliErshi GeneralShuofangDefeated
10,000 infantryLu BodeChief commandant of crossbowmenJuyan
30,000 infantryHan YueScouting and attacking generalWuyuan
10,00 cavalry
30,000 infantry
Gongsun AoGeneral of YinyuYanmenDefeated
90 BC (Spring)Han9,000 cavalry (with auxiliaries)Li GuangliErshi GeneralWuyuanSurrendered
30,000 cavalryShang QiuchengGrand secretaryXiheVictory
40,000 cavalryMa TongMarquis of ChongheJiuquan
71 BCHan150,000 cavalry
50,000 Wusun
Chang HuiSpecial envoyCaptured 39,000 Xiongnu and 650,000 livestock
64 BCXiongnuAttacked Jiaohe and repelled by Han reinforcements
36 BC
Battle of Zhizhi
Han40,000Gan YanshouProtector generalWestern RegionsVictory: Killed Zhizhi Chanyu and 1,518 Xiongnu
Captured 145 Xiongnu
Chen TangDeputy ColonelWestern Regions
44HanMa YuanGeneralDefeated
45XiongnuRaided Changshan

Northern and Southern Xiongnu

Han-Xiongnu War
YearAggressorForcesCommanderTitlePlace of departureResult
62Northern XiongnuRepelled
Battle of Yiwulu
Han12,000 cavalryDou GuJiuquanPushed the Northern Xiongnu back to Barkul Nor (Lake Pulei)
74Han14,000 cavalryDou GuCaptured Jushi (Turpan)
75Northern XiongnuEvicted the Han from the Western Regions
Battle of the Altai Mountains
Han8,000 cavalry
30,000 Xiongnu cavalry
8,000 Qiang auxiliaries
Dou XianKilled 13,000 Northern Xiongnu
81 Xiongnu tribes (200,000) surrendered
Captured Yiwu
96HanKilled the Southern Xiongnu king Wujuzhan
109-110Southern Xiongnu13,000Wanshi ChanyuRaided Changshan Commandery and Zhongshan Commandery but was ultimately defeated by Liang Qin
140-143Southern Xiongnu8,000Wusi and CheniuRebelled against the Southern Xiongnu Xiuli Chanyu and raided Han territory
Overran Tiger's Teeth encampment (near Chang'an)
Cheniu was defeated by Zhang Dan in Yanmen Commandery and surrendered
Wusi was defeated by Ma Xu in Xihe Commandery and was killed by his followers

Southern wars

Southern wars
181 BCNanyueChangsha
113 BCHanNanyue2,000Han QianqiuDefeated
112-111 BC (Autumn)
Han conquest of Nanyue
Han campaigns against Minyue
35,000Lu Bode
Yang Pu
Han Yue
Wang Wenshu
Captured the capital Panyu and killed their king, Zhao Jiande
The people of Minyue killed their own Zou Yushan
Cangwu submitted
109 BC
Han conquest of Dian
HanDian Kingdom
Guo Chang
Wei Guang
Annexed Dian, Yelang, and other tribes in Yunnan, establishing Yizhou Commandery
40 AD
Trung sisters' rebellion
Trung sistersJiaozhi, Jiuzhen, and Rinan commanderiesTrung sistersRebelled
42 AD
Trung sisters' rebellion
HanTrung sisters8,000 regulars
12,000 militia
Ma YuanVictory
136 ADQulianHanSeveral thousandPeople known as the Qulian from beyond the southern frontier invaded Rinan Commandery, causing turmoil and rebellion
137 ADNativesHanPeacefully quelled
144 ADNativesHanPeacefully quelled
157 ADChu ĐạtHan2,000Chu ĐạtChu Đạt rebelled in Jiuzhen Commandery and was defeated
178 ADLiang LongHanLiang LongRebelled in Nanhai, Hepu, Jiuzhen, Jiaozhi, and Rinan commanderies
181 ADHanLiang LongZhu JuanVictory

Korean wars

Korean wars
109 BCHan50,000Yang PuDefeated
7,000Xun ZhiDefeated
108 BC (Spring)HanXun Zhi
Yang Pu
Besieged Wanggeom-seong for several months before their officials killed Ugeo of Gojoseon and surrendered
Annexed and reorganized into the Four Commanderies of Han
75 BCGoguryeoAttacked Xuantu Commandery
23KoreansTook slaves from Lelang Commandery
106GoguryeoTook some territory from Xuantu Commandery
121GoguryeoGo SuseongAttacked Xuantu Commandery but was defeated by a Han-Buyeo army
132HanRetook some territory in Xuantu Commandery
149GoguryeoRaided Xuantu Commandery
169HanGeng LinForced Goguryeo into submission

Western regions

Han campaigns against the Western Regions
YearTargetForcesCommanderTitlePlace of departureResult
108 BC
Battle of Loulan
Loulan Kingdom700Zhao PonuGeneral of the Xiong RiverSubjugated Loulan Kingdom and Jushi Kingdom
104-103 BC (Autumn)
War of the Heavenly Horses
Dayuan6,000 auxiliary cavalry
20,000+ convicted conscripts
Li GuangliGeneral of SutrishnaDefeated and very few made it back alive
Zhao ShichengDirector of martial law
Wang HuiExpedition guide
Li CheColonel
102-101 BC (Autumn-spring)
War of the Heavenly Horses
Dayuan60,000 infantry/cavalry
100,000 oxen
30,000 horses
20,000+ donkeys, mules, and camels
Li GuangliGeneral of SutrishnaDunhuangMassacred the city of Luntai
Killed the king of Dayuan and captured 3,000 horses
Captured a city called Yucheng (Uzgen)
Reached Kangju before turning back
Only 10,000 men survived
Wang ShenchengColonelKilled
Zhao ShichengColonel
Li CheColonel
Shangguan JieChief commandant of foraging
Hu ChonggeFormer grand herald
94 BC (Summer)Suoju (around modern Yarkant County)Auxiliaries from the Western RegionsXu XiangruImperial inspectorKilled King Fuluo of Suoju and captured 1,500 people
90 BCJushi Kingdom5,000 Han soldiers
30,000 auxiliaries from the states of the Western Regions
Cheng WanMarquis of KailingSubjugated Jushi Kingdom and captured its king
Marks formal presence of the Han in the Western Regions
87 BCA city near modern IslamabadWen ZhongChief commandantSubjugated a city near modern Islamabad
69 BCQiuci47,500 auxiliaries from the Western RegionsChang HuiQiuci submitted to Han suzerainty
68-67 BC
Battle of Jushi
Jushi Kingdom1,500 conscripted convictsZheng JiGentleman in attendanceQuliAttacked Jushi Kingdom twice, succeeded the second time and started colonizing the area while the king fled to Wusun
Sima XiColonelQuli
65 BCSuoju (near modern Yarkant County)15,000 auxiliaries from the Western RegionsFeng FengshiMarquis of WeiYixunForced the king of Suoju to commit suicide and enthroned another king
16YanqiGuo QinThe city is massacred
78GumoBan ChaoConquered
84ShuleBan ChaoConquered
87Suoju (near modern Yarkant County)25,000Ban ChaoConquered
90Han dynastyXie (Kushan Empire)Repelled by Ban Chao


Qiang wars
YearAggressorForcesCommanderPlace of departureResult
112 BCHan20,000 cavalryAttacked Qiang in eastern Tibet
65 BCQiangRevolted in eastern Tibet
61 BCHanZhao ChongguoAdvanced into eastern Tibet and established colonies near Qinghai Lake
42 BCQiangRevolted and defeated a force of 12,000 under Feng Fengshi
41 BCHan60,000Feng FengshiCrushed the Qiang rebellion in eastern Tibet
49QiangRetook modern Qinghai
57QiangDianyuRaided Jincheng Commandery
59HanDefeated Dianyu
107-112QiangDianlianConquered significant territory in the north
117HanRen ShangDefeated the Qiang invasion
121QiangManuRaided Wuwei Commandery
142HanPut down rebellion
167-168HanDuan JiongAndingMassacre of Qiang


Wuhuan wars
YearAggressorForcesCommanderPlace of departureResult
78 BCHan20,000Fan MingyouOriginally sent to aid the Wuhuan against the Xiongnu, they were too late, and attacked the Wuhuan instead
109WuhuanDefeated Han forces in Wuyuan Commandery


Xianbei wars
YearAggressorArea invadedCommanderForcesResult
109XianbeiWuyuan CommanderyDefeated local Han forces
126XianbeiDai CommanderyQizhijianKilled Administrator Li Chao
127XianbeiLiaodong Commandery and Xuantu Commandery
128XianbeiYuyang Commandery
145XianbeiDai Commandery
177HanXia Yu
Tian Yan


Notable military leaders

Western Han

Eastern Han


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