[KS] "cutting the left arm of Hsiung-nu"

Byington, Mark byington at fas.harvard.edu
Wed Feb 26 10:43:51 EST 2014



Hello,



Regarding the Han claim that the campaign against Chosŏn was intended either to break an alliance between the Xiongnu and Chosŏn or to prevent one from forming (“cutting off the left arm of the Xiongnu”), there are at least two general views among scholars specializing in that period. The first sees it as an accurate description of a real alliance, while the other sees it as an unrealistic pretext for an attack that was actually launched for other reasons that might not make Han look very good if presented openly. The problem is that there are no historical records clearly indicating the existence of an alliance between Chosŏn and the Xiongnu, and in my view there are geographical limitations that may have made such an alliance unlikely to begin with. Some scholars used to argue that the elaborate “northern-style” belt buckles excavated from tombs in Pyongyang indicate relations with the Xiongnu, but more recent scholarship has suggested that those buckles were actually manufactured in Han China specifically for the frontier market (there is some convincing discussion of this in the 2006 book 낙랑군연구 by O Yŏng-ch’an). So there doesn’t seem to be any historical or archaeological evidence for a real alliance between Chosŏn and the Xiongnu, which invites consideration of the possibility that the Han claim was simply rhetoric to justify a campaign launched for other reasons (and there are many ideas concerning what those other reasons might have been – Han expended considerable resources in the process of subjugating Chosŏn, so the motivations must also have been considerable).



Two chapters in a new Early Korea Project volume titled “The Han Commanderies in Early Korean History” (which I edited) may be useful in understanding the range of possibilities for the Han conquest of Chosŏn – those by Kwon O-jung and Kim Byung-joon. These are interesting in that they adopt very different but equally convincing views.



Your description of the 12 AD incident in which Koguryŏ troops were dispatched against the Xiongnu seems to warrant some clarification. These were troops conscripted by Wang Mang to be used in a campaign against the Xiongnu. The Koguryŏ ruler did not reject the request for troops (“demand” might be a better word, as it was probably a requirement based on the formal relations between Koguryŏ and Han) – instead, the troops were dispatched as required, but they fled en route to the battlefield, as indicated by the fact that it was the Governor of Liaoxi who was tasked with chasing them down. In response to this defection (and the subsequent death of the Governor of Liaoxi at the hands of the Koguryŏ conscriptees he was pursuing), Wang Mang held the Koguryŏ king responsible and, against the advice of certain of his ministers, had the Koguryŏ king lured to Xuantu commandery and executed. It was due to this act that the Koguryŏ and their neighbors (including the various Mark groups and, possibly, Puyŏ) reacted by raiding Han’s borders for several years. Very similar events were taking place at the same time on Han’s southern frontier. So to conclude, there was no implied connection between Koguryŏ and the Xiongnu in the account of the 12 AD incident.



Lastly, with regard to the Sui/Tang campaigns against Koguryŏ, these should not be seen as due primarily to the threat of a Koguryŏ alliance with the Turks, though that would have been a realistic concern during the Tang period. The initial Sui attack on Koguryŏ was a complex matter that had more to do with an ongoing attempt by Sui to compromise Koguryŏ’s western and northern flanks by entering into formal relations with Mohe (Malgal) groups neighboring Koguryŏ. To prevent this, Koguryŏ sent a large campaign to purge the Sumo Mohe (Songmal Malgal) leaders from the old Puyŏ region (around modern Jilin); when Sui took in these displaced Mohe and settled them at Yingzhou, Koguryŏ responded with a strike on Yingzhou, in Sui territory, which gave Sui the excuse it needed to launch the first large-scale assault against Koguryŏ (the first of several military failures). Under the Tang the Koguryŏ relations with the Turks would have been a concern, but so would the unfinished business left between Koguryŏ and Sui following the latter’s collapse.



I hope this is helpful – I am afraid that it is difficult to make such clean comparisons as you propose, though these examples are all useful illustrations of the complexities involved in multi-state relations in early northeast Asia.



Best Regards,



Mark Byington



________________________________
From: Koreanstudies [koreanstudies-bounces at koreanstudies.com] on behalf of Yi, Hyunhwee [spcltn at gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, February 24, 2014 5:08 PM
To: koreanstudies at koreanstudies.com
Subject: [KS] "cutting the left arm of Hsiung-nu"

Dear Sirs,

I would like to ask you some questions concerning Han China Wu-ti's grand strategy, "cutting the left arm of Hsiung-nu."

Nichola di Cosmo said in his book, Ancient China and its Enemies, like this: "... Unless we understand the relationship between the Hsiung-nu and the oasis people, we cannot properly assess how Han conquest of the region affected the war between the two empires. ... the only reason for the Chinese expansion in Central Asia was the desire to stop the invasion of the Hsiung-nu, or, as the ancients said, to 'cut off their right arm,' i.e., to deprive them of their western bases. The territorial conquests of the Han were dictated by the military necessity to cut off the Hsiung-nu from those areas that supplied them with provisions: the Kansu Corridor, the oases of Central Asia, and southern Manchuria. ... The Chinese military and political presence in Central asia therefore became vital to the Han overall strategy of weakening the nomads and was accomplished mainly through the establishment of farming colonies managed by the military. ..." (pp. 249-250).

I would like to understand the strategic meaning of "cutting the left arm" of the Hsiung-nu, too. In the fall of 109 B.C., Han Wu-ti started to launch a campaign against Chosen (Korea). After the conquest of Chosen, Wu-ti established four Chun in the Northeast area, Hsuan-tu, Lo-lang, Chen-p'an, and Lin-t'un, for the purpose of cutting the left arm of hsiung-nu. Then, did 'cutting the left arm of Hsiung-nu' imply any politico-military connections between Chosen and Hsiung-nu? Were there just some possibilities of alliance between Chosen and Hsiung-nu?

Let's us review other similar case. in 12 CE, Goguryeo (Korea) rejected the request of Wang Mang for Goguryeo to join China in a military campaign against the Hsiung-nu. Instead, Goguryeo chose to attack Wang Mang. Why? Were there also politico-military connections between Goguryeo and Hsiung-nu?

In my view, Sui and T'ang's persistent campaigns against Goguryeo is comparable to Han Wu-ti's campaigns against the Western regions. Can I understand the ultimate purpose of Sui and Tang's campaigns in the context of 'cutting the left arm' of the Turkish?

Your sincerely,
Yi, Hyunhwee from Kyung Hee University, Seoul Korea.
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