(WATSON, Burton (1993).Records of the Grand Historian.
Hong Kong. Columbia University Press. Vol. II., pp.: 231-246)
After the Han had sent its envoy to open up communications with the state of Daxia (Bactria), all the barbarians of the distant west craned their necks to the east and longed to catch a glimpse of China. Thus I made "The Account of Dayuan".
Zhang Qian was the first person to bring back a clear account of Dayuan (Ferghana). He was a native of Hanzhong and served as a palace attendant during the jianyuan era (140-135 BC). At this time the emperor questioned various Xiongnu who had surrendered to the Han and they all reported that the Xiongnu had defeated the king of the Yuezhi people (Indo-scythians) and made his skull into a drinking vessel. As a result the Yuezhi had fled and bore a constant grudge against the Xiongnu, though as yet they had been unable to find anyone to join them in an attack on their enemy.
The Han at this time was engaged in a concerted effort to destroy the Xiongnu, and therefore, when the emperor heard this, he decided to try to send an envoy to establish relations with the Yuezhi. To reach them, however, an envoy would inevitably have to pass through Xiongnu territory. (...) Zhang Qian, who was a palace attendant at the time, answered the summons and was appointed as envoy to the Yuezhi.
He set out from Longxi, accompanied by Ganfu, a Xiongnu slave who belonged to a family in Tangyi. They travelled west through the territory of the Xiongnu and were captured by the Xiongnu and taken before the Shanyu. The Shanyu detained them and refused to let them proceed. "The Yuezhi people live north of me," he said. "What does the Han mean by trying to send an envoy to them! Do you suppose that if I tried to send an embassy to the kingdom of Yue in the southeast the Han would let my men pass through China?"
The Xiongnu detained Zhang Qian for over ten years and gave him a wife from their own people, by whom he had a son. Zhang Qian never once relinquished the imperial credentials that marked him as an envoy of the Han, however, and after he had lived in Xiongnu territory for some time and was less closely watched than at first, he and his party finally managed to escape and resume their journey toward the Yuezhi.
After hastening west for twenty or thirty days, they reached the kingdom of Dayuan (Ferghana). The king of Dayuan had heard of the wealth of the Han empire and wished to establish communication with it, though as yet he had been unable to do so. When he met Zhang Qian he was overjoyed and asked where Zhang Qian wished to go.
"I was dispatched as envoy of the Han to the Yuezhi, but the Xiongnu blocked my way and I have only just now managed to escape," he replied. "I beg Your Highness to give me some guides to show me the way. If I can reach my destination and return to the Han to make my report, the Han will reward you with countless gifts!"
The king of Dayuan trusted his words and sent him on his way, giving him guides and interpreters to take him (...) to the land of the Great Yuezhi.
Since the king of the Great Yuezhi had been killed by the Xiongnu, his son had succeeded him as ruler and had forced the kingdom of Daxia (Bactria) to recognize his sovereignty. The region he ruled was rich and fertile and seldom troubled by invaders, and the king thought only of his own enjoyment. He considered the Han too far away to bother with and had no particular intention of avenging his father's death by attacking the Xiongnu. (...)
After spending a year or so in the area, he began to journey back along the Nanshan or Southern Mountains, intending to re-enter China through the territory of the Qiang barbarians, but he was once more captured by the Xiongnu and detained tor over a year.
Just at this time the Shanyu died (...)and a result of this the whole Xiongnu nation was in turmoil and Zhang Qian, along with his Xiongnu wife and the former slave Gan fu, was able to escape and return to China. The emperor honoured Zhang Qian with the post of palace counsellor and awarded Ganfu the title of "Lord Who Carries Out His Mission". (...) When Zhang Qian first set out on his mission, he was accompanied by over 100 men, but after thirteen years abroad, only he and Ganfu managed to make their way back to China.
Zhang Qian in person visited the lands of Dayuan, the Great Yuezhi, and Daxia, and in addition he gathered reports on five or six other large states in the neighbourhood. All of his intormation he related to the emperor on his return. The substance of his report was as follows:
The Great Yuezhi live some 2,000 or 3.000 li west of Dayuan, north of the Gui (Oxus) River. (...) They are a nation of nomads, moving from place to place with their herds, and their customs are like those of the Xiongnu. They have some 100,000 or 200,000 archer warriors. Formerly they were very powerful and despised the Xiongnu, but later, the Xiongnu killed the king of the Yuezhi and made his skull into a drinking cup. After they were defeated by the Xiongnu the Yuezhi moved far away to the west, beyond Dayuan, where they attacked and conquered the people of Daxia and set up the court of their king. (...)
Anxi (Partia) is situated several thousand li west of the region of the Great Yuezhi. The people are settled on the land, cultivating the fields and growing rice and wheat. They also make wine out of grapes. They have walled cities like the people of Dayuan, the region containing several hundred cities of various sizes. The kingdom, which borders the Gui River, is very large, measuring several thousand li square. Some of the inhabitants are merchants who travel by carts or boats to neighbouring countries, sometimes journeying several thousand li. The coins of the country are made of silver and bear the face of the king. When the king dies, the currency is immediately changed and new coins issued with the face of his successor. The people keep records by writing horizontally on strips of leather. To the west lies Tiaozhi (Mesopotamia).(...)
Tiaozhi (Babilònia) is situated several thousand li west of Anxi and borders the Western Sea (Persian Gulf). It is hot and damp, and the people live by cultivating the fields and planting rice. In this region live great birds which lay eggs as large as pots. The people are very numerous and are ruled by many petty chiefs. The ruler of Anxi gives orders to these chiefs and regards them as his vassals. The people are very skilful at pertorming tricks that amaze the eye. (...)
Daxia (bactria) is situated over 2,000 li southwest of Dayuan, south of the Gui River. Its people cultivate the land and have cities and houses. Their customs are like those of Dayuan. It has no great ruler but only a number of petty chiefs ruling the various cities. The people are poor in the use of arms and afraid of battle, but they are clever at commerce. After the Great Yuezhi moved west and attacked and conquered Daxia, the entire country came under their sway . The population ot the country is large, numbering some 1,000,000 or more persons. The capital is called the city of Lanshi (Bactra) and has a market where all sorts of goods are bought and sold.
Southeast of Daxia is the kingdom of Shendu (India). "When I was in Daxia," Zhang Qian reported, "I saw bamboo canes from Qiong and cloth made in the province of Shu. When I asked the people how they had gotten such articles, they replied: "Our merchants go to buy them in the markets of Shendu." Shendu, they told me, lies several thousand li southeast of Daxia. The people cultivate the land and live much like the people of Daxia. The region is said to be hot and damp. The inhabitants ride elephants when they go into battle. The kingdom is situated on a great river.
We know that Daxia is located 12,000 1i southwest of China. Now if the kingdom of Shendu is situated several thousand li southeast of Daxia and obtains goods which are produced in Shu, it seems to me that it must not be very far away from Shu. At present, if we try to send envoys to Daxia by way of the mountain trails that lead through the territory of the Qiang people, they will be molested by the Qiang, while if we send them a little farther north, they will be captured by the Xiongnu. It would seem that the most direct route, as well as the safest, would be that out of Shu."
The emperor was therefore delighted, and approved Zhang Qian's suggestion. He ordered Zhang Qian to start out from Shu on a secret mission to search for Daxia. The party broke up into four groups . (...) None of the parties were ever able to get through to their destination. They did learn, however, that some 1.000 or more li to the west there was a state called Dianyue whose people rode elephants and that the merchants from Shu sometimes went there with their goods on unofficial trading missions. In this way the Han, while searching for a route to Daxia, first came into contact with the kingdom of Dian.
Earlier the Han had tried to establish relations with the barbarians of the southwest, but the expense proved too great and no road could be found through the region and so the project was abandoned. After Zhang Qian reported that it was possible to reach Daxia by travelling through the region of the southwestern barbarians, the Han once more began efforts to establish relations with the tribes in the area.
During this time the emperor occasionally questioned Zhang Qian about Daxia and the other states of the west. Zhang Qian (...) replied, "When I was living among the Xiongnu I heard about (...) the Wusun people. The barbarians are well known to be greedy for Han wealth and goods. If we could make use of this opportunity to send rich gifts and bribes to the Wusun people, (...) then the Han could conclude an alliance of brotherhood with them (...). Then, once we had established an alliance with the Wusun, Daxia and the other countries to the west could all be persuaded to come to court and acknowledge themselves our foreign vassals."
The emperor approved of this suggestion and, appointing Zhang Qian as a general of palace attendants, put him in charge of a party of 300 men, each of whom was provided with two horses. In addition the party took along tens of thousands of cattle and sheep and carried gold and silk goods worth 100,000,000 cash. Many of the men in the party were given the imperial credentials making them assistant envoys so that they could be sent to neighbouring states along the way.
When Zhang Qian reached the kingdom of the Wusun, the king of the Wusun tried to treat the Han envoys in the same way that the Xiongnu treated them. Zhang Qian was greatly outraged and, knowing that the barbarians were greedy, said, "The Son of Heaven has sent me with these gifts, but if you do not prostrate yourself to receive them, I shall have to take them back!"
With this the king of the Wusun jumped up from his seat and prostrated himself to receive the gifts. The other details of the envoys' reception Zhang Qian allowed to remain as before.
But the Wusun people were split into several groups and the king was old. Living far away from China, he had no idea how large the Han empire was and Zhang Qian was therefore unable to persuade him to listen to his proposal. (...)
Zhang Qian dispatched his assistant envoys to Dayuan, the Great Yuezhi, Daxia, Anxi, Shendu, and the other neighbouring states, the Wusun providing them with guides and interpreters. Then he returned to China, accompanied by twenty or thirty envoys from the Wusun and a similar number of horses which the Wusun sent in exchange for the Han gifts. The Wusun envoys thus had an opportunity to see with their own eyes the breadth and greatness of the Han empire.
On his return Zhang Qian was honoured with the post of grand messenger, ranking him among the nine highest ministers of the government. A year or so later he died.
The Wusun envoys, having seen how rich and populous the Han was, returned and reported what they had learned to their own people, and after this the Wusun regarded the Han with greater respect. A year or so later the envoys whom Zhang Qian had sent to Daxia and the other states of the west all returned, accompanied by envoys from those states, and for the first time relations were established between the lands of the northwest and the Han. It was Zhang Qian, however, who opened the way for this move, and all the envoys who journeyed to the lands in later times relied upon his reputation to gain them a hearing. As a result of his efforts, the foreign states trusted the Han envoys. (...)
At this time the Han first built fortifications west of the district of Lingju and established the province of Jiuquan in order to provide a safe route to the lands of the northwest, and as a result more and more envoys were sent to Anxi, Tiaozhi, and Shendu. The emperor was very fond of the Dayuan horses and sent a constant stream of envoys to that region to acquire them.
The largest of these embassies to foreign states numbered several hundred persons, while even the smaller parties included over 100 members, though later, as the envoys became more accustomed to the route, the number was gradually reduced. The credentials and gifts which the envoys bore with them were much like those supplied to the envoys in Zhang Qian's time. In the course of one year anywhere from five or six to over ten parties would be sent out. Those travelling to distant lands required eight or nine years to complete their journey, while those visiting nearer regions would return after a few years. (...) By this time, however, so many envoys had journeyed to Daxia by the northern route out of Jiuquan that the foreign states in the area had become surfeited with Han goods and no longer regarded them with any esteem. (...) The envoys were all sons of poor families who handled the government gifts and goods that were entrusted to them as though they were private property and looked for opportunities to buy goods at a cheap price in the foreign countries and make a profit on their return to China. The men of the foreign lands soon became disgusted when they found that each of the Han envoys told some ditterent story and, considering that the Han armies were too far away to worry about, refused to supply the envoys with food and provisions, making things very difficult for them. The Han envoys were soon reduced to a state of destitution and distress and, their tempers mounting, fell to quarrelling and even attacking each other.
When the Han envoys first visited the kingdom of Anxi, the king of Anxi dispatched a party of 20,000 horsemen to meet them on the eastern border of his kingdom. The capital of the kingdom is several thousand li from the eastern border, and as the envoys proceeded there they passed through twenty or thirty cities inhabited by great numbers of people. When the Han envoys set out again to return to China, the king of Anxi dispatched envoys of his own to accompany them, and after the latter had visited China and reported on its great breadth and might, the king sent some of the eggs of the great birds which live in the region, and skilled tricksters of Lixuan, to the Han court as gifts. In addition, the smaller states west of Dayuan, such Huanqian and Dayi, as well as those east of Dayuan, such as Gushi, Yumi, and Suxie, all sent parties to accompany the Han envoys back to China and present gifts at court. The emperor was delighted at this. (...)
At this time the emperor made frequent tours east to the seacoast, and at such times he would take all the visitors from foreign lands along in his party, passing through large and populous cities on the way, scattering gifts of money and silk among the visitors, and supplying them with generous accommodation in order to impress upon them the wealth of the Han empire. He would hold great wrestling matches and displays of unusual skills and all sorts of rare creatures, gathering together large numbers of people to watch. He entertained the foreign visitors with veritable lakes of wine and forests of meat and had them shown around to the various granaries and storehouses to see how much wealth was laid away there, astounding and overwhelming them with the breadth and greatness of the Han empire. After the skills of the foreign magicians and tricksters had been imported into China, the wrestling matches and displays of unusual feats developed and improved with each year, and from this time on entertainments of this type became increasingly popular.
In this way party after party of envoys from the foreign lands of the northwest would arrive in China and, after a while, take their leave. Those from the states west of Dayuan, however, believing that their homelands were too far away from China to be in any danger, continued to conduct themselves with great arrogance and selfassurance; it was impossible to make them conform to proper ritual or to compel them to obey the wishes of the Han court.
The lands from that of the Wusun on west to Anxi were situated nearer to the Xiongnu than to China, and it was well known that the Xiongnu had earlier caused the Yuezhi people great suffering. Therefore, whenever a Xiongnu envoy appeared in the region carrying credentials from the Shanyu, he was escorted from state to state and provided with food, and no one dared to detain him or cause him any difficulty. In the case of the Han envoys, however, if they did not hand out silks or other goods they were given no food, and unless they purchased animals in the markets they could get no mounts for their riders. This was because the people considered the Han too far away to bother about. They also believed that the Han had plenty of goods and money and it was therefore proper to make the envoys pay for whatever they wanted. As may be seen, they were much more afraid of the Xiongnu envoys than of those from the Han.
The regions around Dayuan make wine out of grapes, the wealthier inhabitants keeping as much as 10,000 or more piculs stored away. It can be kept for as long as twenty or thirty years without spoiling. The people love their wine and the horses love their alfalfa. The Han envoys brought back grape and alfalfa seeds to China and the emperor for the first time tried growing these plants in areas of rich soil. Later, when the Han acquired large numbers of the "heavenly horses" and the envoys from foreign states began to arrive with their retinues, the lands on all sides of the emperor's summer palaces and pleasure towers were planted with grapes and alfalfa for as far as the eye could see.
Although the states from Dayuan west to Anxi speak rather different languages, their customs are generally similar and their languages mutually intelligible. The men all have deep-set eyes and profuse beards and whiskers. They are skilful at commerce and will haggle over a fraction of a cent. Women are held in great respect, and the men make decisions on the advice of their women. No silk or lacquer is produced anywhere in the region, and the casting of coins and vessels was formerly unknown. Later, however, when some of the Chinese soldiers attached to the Han embassies ran away and surrendered to the people of the area, they taught them how to cast metal and manufacture weapons. Now, whenever the people of the region lay their hands on any Han gold or silver they immediately make it in to vessels and do not use it for currency. (...)
The emperor had already taken a great liking to the horses of Dayuan and (...) he dispatched a party (...) to go to the king of Dayuan and ask him for some of the fine horses. (...) Dayuan by this time was overflowing with Han goods (...) and at the end they refused to give the Han envoys any horses (...) and they attacked and killed the envoys and seized their goods.
When the emperor recieved word of the fate of the envoys he was in a rage (...) and he dispatched general Li Guang with a force of 6.000 horsemen recruited from the dependant states, as well as 20 or 30.000 young men of bad reputation rounded up from the provinces and kingdoms, to launch an attack on Dayuan.