An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

The Western Territories (xiyu 西域)

Oct 23, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

The Western Territories (xiyu 西域) roughly correspond to the area of the modern Autonomous Region of Xinjiang. The name came into being when the Han empire 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) gained control over the city states along the Silk Road. The name was still in use during the early Qing period 清 (1644-1911) although in the narrow sense it only refers to that region during the Han period. During the Tang period 唐 (618-907) the Western Territories were called the "Pacified West" (anxi 安西), and were given the modern name of "New Borderlands" (xinjiang 新疆) when the region was conquered by the armies of the Qing during the 18th century.

The Han Protectorate of the Western Territories (xiyu duhufu 西域都護府)

Under the emperors Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE) and Zhao 漢昭帝 (r. 87-74 BCE) the military agro-colonies (tuntian 屯田) of Luntai 輪臺 (near Qiuci 龜茲) and Quli 渠犁 were made seats of commandants for the envoys (shizhe xiaowei 使者校尉) who received and hosted the embassies of the Han court to the west. In 68 BCE Zheng Ji 鄭吉 was sent out to supervise the creation of the military colonies of Quli. He carried out a campaign against the steppe federation of the Xiongnu 匈奴 for the domination of the state of Cheshi 車師 northeast of Quli.

The victory over the Xiongnu opened the southern route of the Silk Road for the Han empire. In 60 BCE the Xiongnu sub-khan Ri-zhu 日逐 submitted to the Han, so that also the northern route came into the hands of the Han. The Han empire did not incorporate this region into the empire itself (as normally administered commanderies) but took over military control over the native states in the form of a protectorate.

The protectorate was first administered by a commandant of cavalry (jiduwei 騎都尉) who was given the title of protector-general (duhu 都護) and had his seat in Wulei 烏壘. During the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE) the protector-general was an especially consigned official. The commandant over the military colonies of Quli was subordinated to the protector-general. The staff of the protector-general consisted of a vice commandant (fu xiaowei 副校尉), two commanders (sima 司馬), two sub-commanders (hou 侯) and two battalion commanders (qianren 千人).

Apart from the control over the city states of the Silk Road, the protector-general also had the task to keep an eye on the activities of the peoples living further west, like the Dayuan 大宛, Wusun 烏孫 and Kangju 康居. He received their emissaries that were sent to present tributes to the court of the Han dynasty and organised their travel to the capital Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi). If there was a Chinese princess sent to the west to conclude "peace by marriage" (heqin 和親) the protector-general had to care for her safe travel. On several occasions Han princesses were sent to the Wusun. If there were disturbances or rebellions among the states of the Western Territories, these had to be put down by the garrisoned troops of the protectorate. The names of ten of the eighteen protector-generals of the Former Han period are mentioned in historiographical sources.

When Wang Mang 王莽 (r. 8-22 CE) usurped the throne of the Han empire, the whole Western Territories rose in rebellion, and the protector-general had to flee.

After the foundation of the Later Han dynasty, eighteen states of the Western Territories sent an group of envoys to the court of Emperor Guangwu 漢光武帝 (25-57 CE) with the request to reestablish the protectorate in order to bring peace to the region. Yet Emperor Guangwu refused. This was in 45 CE. Only in 74 CE Emperor Ming 漢明帝 (r. 57-75 CE) appointed Chen Mu 陳睦 as the new protector-general of the Western Territories. Yet Chen Mu was killed by the troops of the rebellious states of Yanqi 焉耆 and Qiuci.

In 91 CE Ban Chao 班超 was sent out as Chief Clerk in Command of Troops (jiangbing zhangshi 將兵長史) with the order to conquer the Western Territories. He was appointed protector-general and took seat in Taqian (or Tagan) 它乾 near Qiuci. His successors Ren Shang 任尚 and Duan Xi 段禧 were not happy enough to preserve the peace of the region. In 107 Duan Xi was killed, and the office of protector-general was finally given up. Instead, Ban Chao's son Ban Yong 班勇 was appointed Chief Clerk of the Western Territories (xiyu zhangshi 西域長史). This office had first been occupied by Xu Gan 徐幹, as a lieutenant of protector-general Ban Chao. There was no fix seat of the Chief Clerk. Xu Gan and Ban Chao set up their command in Shule 疏勒, Suo Ban 索班 in Yiwu 伊吾, Ban Yong in Liuzhong 柳中, and later Chief Clerks in Yutian 于闐.

Later Chinese dynasties of the Southern and Northern Dynasties 南北朝 (300~600) period followed this institution and appointed Chief Clerks of the Western Territories.

The Tang Protectorate of the Pacified West (anxi duhufu 安西都護府)

The Tang empire also set up a protectorate over the Western Territories, but with a different administrative structure than the Han. After the conquest of the kingdom of Gaochang 高昌 in 640 CE the Tang court established the Protectorate of the Pacified West with the seat in Jiaohe 交河 (near modern Turpan 吐魯番, Xinjiang) in the newly created prefecture of Xizhou 西州.

In 662 the khan of the Western Türks (Xi Tujue 西突厥), Yi-pi-she-kui 乙毗射匱, surrendered to the Tang, and the city states formerly controlled by the Türks (Qiuci, Yutian, Shule, Zhujupo 朱俱婆, and five states in the Pamir Range), sent tributes to the Tang court. With the occupation of Qiuci, the seat of the protectorate was transferred to this city, and the four largest of the city states, disposing of fortified city walls and garrisons, were made defense-commands. These were the so-called four defense commands of the Pacified West (anxi sizhen 四鎮), namely Qiuci, Yanqi, Yutian (at that time also called Pisha 毗沙), and Shule.

In 650, when the Western Türks rebelled, the seat of the protector-general was shifted back to Xizhou, and the four defense commands were disbanded for a time. Only in 657, when the Türkish leader A-shi-na He-lu 阿史那賀魯 was defeated, Qiuci again became the seat of the protectorate. The next challenge came in the shape of the troops of Tubo 吐蕃 (Tibet) that occupied Qiuci in 670. At the same time the Türks again rebelled against the Tang empire. Ashina Duzhi 阿史那都支 who had formerly been appointed commander-in-chief (dudu 都督) of the area command (dudufu 都督府) of Fuyan 匐延 by the Tang court was defeated in 679 by Pacification Commissioner-in-Chief (anfu dashi 安撫大使) Pei Xingjian 裴行儉. Wang Fangyi 王方翼, the new protector-general, took seat in Suiye 碎葉, a garrison that replaced Yanqi as one of the four defense commands. In 686 again the Western Territories were lost to the kingdom of Tubo. General Wang Xiaojie 王孝傑 expelled the Tibetans and had garrisoned 24,000 Tang troops in the four garrisons in order to be better prepared for future conflicts.

During the reign of Emperor Xuanzong 唐玄宗 (r. 712-755) Prince Sisheng 嗣昇 of Shaan 陝 was bestowed the honorific title of Grand protector of the Pacified West, while the real business was done by vice protector Guo Qianguan 郭虔瓘. In 718 the emperor appointed Tang Jiahui 湯嘉惠 as the first military commissioner (jiedu jinglüe shi 節經略度使, short jiedushi 節度使) of the four defense commands. This measure corresponded to a general measure taken by the emperor to have a tighter military grip on the provinces of his empire.

The Protectorate of the Pacified West was from them on administrated by a the Military Commissioner of the Four Defense Commands (sizhen jiedushi 四鎮節度使), also called Military Commissioner of the Desert West (qixi jiedushi 磧西節度使). The seat of the commissioner was Qiuci. Shortly later the khan of the Ten Tribes (shixing 十姓) of the Western Türks asked to be permitted to take residence in Suiye. His request was answered positively, and Yanqi again became one of the four defense commands.

During the rebellion of An Lushan 安祿山, large contingents of troops from the west were sent to the east to put down the rebellion. The king of Tubo used this situation to conquer the Western Territories. Although the four garrisons could withstand the Tibetan troops, the contact between the garrisons of the protectorate and the capital Chang'an was cut down. Only in 781 Guo Xin 郭昕 was able to resume contact with the court. He was highly rewarded for being able to defend the four defense commands against the invaders. In 789, when the Buddhist monk Wukong 悟空 returned from India, he visited most of the four garrisons. Only shortly later the whole region fell into the hands of the king of Tubo and the Uyghurs 回鶻. The region was only conquered again by Chinese armies during the Qing period.

The territory of the Protectorate of the Pacified West was crudely divided into area commands (dudufu), the most important of which were the four defense commands.

The Protectorates of Beiting 北庭, Mengchi 濛池 and Kunling 昆陵

There were some more protectorates established in the western regions during the Tang period, namely the protectorate of Beiting 北庭 (administered from Tingzhou 庭州), the protectorate of Mengchi 濛池, and the protectorate of Kunling 昆陵.

The protectorate of Mengchi was administered from Suiye 碎葉 that was for a certain time itself one of the four defense commands. The office of protector-general was taken over by the Türkish khan A-shi-na Bu-zhen 阿史那步真 and his successors. The area was dominated by the Türkish people of the Türgiš 突騎施 so that in the late 7th century it was difficult for the Tang empire to enforce control. Mengchi was therefore only an indirectly administered (jimi 羈縻) protectorate. The area commands of Dayuan 大宛 (modern Toshkent, Uzbekistan; located on the ancient territory of Dayuan) and Kangju 康居 (modern Samarkand, Uzbekistan; the ancient site of the country of the Kangju), were located in the territory of the protectorate of Mengchi.

The protectorate of Kunling was located in the region of modern Yining 伊寧, Xingjiang, and likewise an indirectly administered protectorate. The office of protector-general was taken over by the local ruler Ashna Mishe 阿史那彌射 and then his grandson Xianceng 獻曾. The protectorate was later given up.

The protectorate of Beiting supervised the area commands of Damo 大漠州 (around Fuhai 福海, Xinjiang), Yinshan 陰山州 (near Lake Alakol, Kazakhstan), Xuanchi 玄池州 (near Lake Zaysan, Kazakhstan), Yanbo 鹽泊州 (near Karamay 克拉瑪依, Xinjiang), Fuyan 匐延州 (near Hoboksar 和布克賽爾, Xinjiang), Jinman 金滿州 (near modern Jimsar 吉木薩爾, Xinjiang), Jinfu 金附州 (near Qitai 奇臺 and Mulei 木垒, Xinjiang), Shuanghe 雙河 (near Wenquan 溫泉, Xinjiang), Yanmian 咽麪 or 咽麵 (around Taldykorgan, Kazakhstan), Wenlu 嗢鹿 (modern Yining, Xinjiang), Jieshan 絜山 or Jieshan 潔山 (north of Lake Issyk Gul in modern Kirgizstan), and some other short-lived area commands whose location is not known, like Yingsuo 鷹娑, Yanlu 鹽祿, Gexi 哥係, Gushu 孤舒, Xiyan 西鹽, Dongyan 東鹽, Chile 叱勒, Jiase 迦瑟, Pingluo 憑洛, Shatuo 沙陀, or Dalan 答爛.

Outside the territory directly controlled by protectors-general, the Tang general Wang Mingyuan 王名遠 established 16 area commands (dudufu) in the region beyond the Pamir Range. Part of their rulers were appointed commanders-in-chief (dudu), while others were only made prefects. All these territories were further divided into indirectly administered prefectures (jimizhou 羈縻州). This means that the Tang empire relied on the loyalty of the native rulers and did not appoint any Tang officials. In return for the official titles as administrators of the Tang empire, the native rulers had to offer tributes to the Tang court. Formally, these area commands were subordinated to the Tang Protectorate.

Table 1. Extraterritorial Area Commands of the Protectorate of the Pacified West
Yuezhi 月氏都督府 Tokhara (modern Uzbekistan) around the city of Yehuan 遏換 or Yehuo'ahuan 葉護阿緩, named after the people of the Tokharians (Yuezhi 月氏; modern Kunduz, northern Afghanistan)
Taihan 太汗都督府 or Dahan 大汗 former territory of the Hephthalites (Yeda 嚈噠), the city of Huolu 活路 (modern Mazār-e Sherif, Afghanistan)
Tiaozhi 條枝都督府 country of Hedaluozhi 訶達羅支, city of Fubaosedian 伏寶瑟顛 (modern Ghazni, Afghanistan)
Dama 大馬都督府 or Tianma 天馬 country of Jiesu 解蘇, city of Suman 數瞞 (modern Dushanbe, Tajikistan)
Gaofu 高附都督府 country of Guduoshi 骨咄施, city of Yaosha 妖沙 (modern Danghara, Tajikistan)
Xiuxian 修鮮都督府 or Youxian 脩鮮 country of Jibin 罽賓, city of Yege 遏紇 (modern Mektar Lam in northeastern Afghanistan)
Xiefeng 寫鳳都督府 country of Shiyuanyan 失苑延 or Fanyan 帆延, city of Fuli 伏戾 or Luolan 羅爛 (modern Bamiyan, central Afghanistan)
Yuepan 悅般都督府 country of Shihanna 石汗那, city of Yan 豔 (border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan)
Qisha 奇沙州都督府 country of Huotejian 護特健 or Huoshejian 護時犍, city of Yemi 遏密 (modern Sar-e Pol, northern Afghanistan)
Hemo 和默州都督府 or Gumo 姑墨 country of Damo 怛沒, city of Dacheng 怛城 or Damo 怛沒 (modern Termiz, northern Afghanistan)
Yi'ao 挔𢳆州都督府 (or Lü'ao 旅獒) country of Wulahe 烏拉喝, city of Mojie 摩竭 (modern Andikhoy, northwestern Afghanistan)
Kunxu 崑墟州都督府 country of Huomiduo 護密多 or Duolejian 多勒建, city of Dibaona 抵寶那 (modern Maymana, northwestern Afghanistan)
Zhiba 至{揗-目+又}州都督府 or Zhiba 至拔 country of Jumi 俱密國, city of Cuose 措瑟 or Chuse 褚瑟 (modern Obigarm, southern Tadjikistan)
Niaofei 鳥飛州都督府 country of Huomiduo 護密多, city of Moting 摸廷 or Mokui 摸逵 (modern Zebak, northeastern Afghanistan)
Wangting 王庭州都督府 country of Jiuyuedejian 久越得犍, city of Bushi 步師 (modern Qabodiyan, southern Tajikistan)
Bosi 波斯都督府 on the territory of Persia, city of Lingcheng 陵城 or Jiling 疾陵 (modern Zābol, SE Iran; some Chinese nationalists identify Jiling with Teheran)
Chen Guocan 陳國燦 (1992). "Anxi sizhen 安西四鎮", 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, 7.
Ma Yong 馬雍 (1992). "Xiyu duhu 西域都護" (1282), "Xiyu zhangshi 西域長史" (1282), 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. 3.
Qian Boquan 錢伯泉 (1992). "Kunling duhufu 昆陵都護府" (252-253), "Mengchi duhufu 濛池都護府" (252).