An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Daqin 大秦 and Lixuan 黎軒

Nov 26, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Daqin 大秦 was the ancient Chinese name for Western Asia (the "Near East") and often identified with the Roman empire. According to the official dynastic history of the Later Han empire 後漢 (25-220 CE) , the Houhanshu 後漢書, Ban Chao 班超, protector-general (duhu 都護) of the Western Territories 西域, in 97 CE sent out Gan Ying 甘英 in a mission towards the west. Gan Ying arrived at the Persian Gulf without further advancing to the west because Persian merchants told him that the sea was unsurmountably difficult to sail.

In 120 CE the king of the state of Shan 撣 (in modern Yunnan and Myanmar) sent tributes to the Han court and reported of the economic relations of the country of Shan with that of Daqin. A tributary mission from Daqin finally arrived in China in 166, after passing the South China Sea. The king of Daqin was called Andun 安敦, and many scholars identify him with the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (r. 161-180 CE). According to the same report in the Houhanshu, the country of Daqin was located west of India.

Another name for Daqin was Lixuan 黎軒 or Lijian 犁鞬 (according to the Weishu 魏書, in other sources also transliterated as Lixuan 犁軒, Lijian 犛靬 or 驪靬), and it was located west of the Parthian empire (Anxi 安息) and Tiaozhi 條支 (the Arabian Peninsula) across the sea. It could be reached from southern China by sea (starting in modern Guangzhou 廣州 or what is today northern Vietnam), or by land and sea when crossing the South East Asian peninsula towards modern Myanmar, and then across the Indian Ocean, or by land and sea when following the Silk Road to Persia, and then from the Persian Gulf around the Arabian peninsula and across the Red Sea, or throughly by land along the Silk Road to Antioch.

It is therefore quite probable that Daqin or Lixuan was nothing else than the city of Alexandria in modern Egypt, but there are also other attempts at identifiying Lijian with a city in the Near East. The name of Lijian first appears in the biography of Zhang Qian 張騫 who was sent out to explore the western countries between 139 and 126 BCE. It is mentioned among the names Anxi (Persia), Yancai 奄蔡 (a country north of Persia), Tiaozhi and Shendu 身毒 (India, later commonly transliterated as Tianzhu 天竺, both derived from the word "Hindoo" or "River Indus"). At that time Egypt was still an independant kingdom before it was swallowed by Rome in 30 BCE.

Sun Yutang 孫毓棠 (1992). "Daqin 大秦", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 142.
Sun Yutang 孫毓棠 (1992). "Lixuan 黎軒", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, p. 546.
Zhang Yonglu 張永祿, ed. (1993). Handai Chang'an cidian 漢代長安詞典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 435, 440.
Zhongguo baike da cidian bianweihui 《中國百科大辭典》 編委會, ed. (1990). Zhongguo baike da cidian 中國百科大辭典 (Beijing: Huaxia chubanshe), 817.
Zhou Weizhou 周偉洲, Ding Jingtai 丁景泰, ed. (2006). Sichou zhi lu da cidian 絲綢之路大辭典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 129.