Friendly Ties forged

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Deng Su­juan, pol­ished by Mark Zuiderveld

The sto­ries of an­cient China's first fe­male diplo­mat Feng Liao of the West­ern Han Dy­nasty (206 BC–AD 24) have been handed down and told widely.

“The Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive” is China’s na­tional strat­egy. The his­toric Silk Road is not only an an­cient com­mer­cial trade route con­nect­ing Asia, Africa and Europe, but also a road be­tween the East and the West for eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural ex­changes. Many Chi­nese en­voys once stepped on this road dur­ing the past 2,000 years or more, writ­ing le­gends in world diplo­matic his­tory, still com­mem­o­rated by later gen­er­a­tions along the Silk Road. Women hold up half the sky,” pro­claimed Chair­man Mao Ze­dong (1893–1976). His­tory tes­ti­fied to this. Dur­ing the West­ern Han Dy­nasty (206 BC–AD 24), heroic men emerged, and in the mean­time, many women played pivotal roles, with Feng Liao (once a maid­ser­vant, later an­cient China's first fe­male diplo­mat) and Liu Jieyou (a princess) as em­blem­atic.

Dur­ing the reign of Han Em­peror Wudi (141–87 BC), West­ern Han troops coun­ter­at­tacked Xiongnu (an an­cient na­tion­al­ity in

China), who then in­vaded south­wards over a lengthy pe­riod. Wusun was the most pow­er­ful state in Xiyu (the West­ern Re­gions, a his­tor­i­cal term for the re­gions west of the Yu­men Gate in present-day Gansu Prov­ince, in­volv­ing the south­ern area of to­day's Xin­jiang Uygur Au­tonomous Re­gion and parts of Cen­tral Asia).

To form an al­liance be­tween West­ern Han and Wusun against Xiongnu, Liu Jieyou (120–49 BC), known as Princess Jieyou, ar­rived at the West­ern Re­gions in 101 BC for heqin

(a his­tor­i­cal prac­tice of Chi­nese em­per­ors mar­ry­ing princesses, usu­ally mem­bers of mi­nor branches of the im­pe­rial fam­ily, to rulers of neigh­bour­ing states to bring peace to bor­der ar­eas). Feng Liao (birth­dates un­known), a maid­ser­vant of the princess, ac­com­pa­nied her to Wusun.

Ac­cord­ing to Han­shu ( Book of Han), Princess Jieyou was the only high-rank­ing lady em­pow­ered to take part in na­tional de­fence and ad­min­is­tra­tion. The princess mainly turned to Feng Liao for help in de­vis­ing schemes. The Tra­di­tions of the West­ern Re­gions in the Book of Han stated: “Feng Liao could read his­tor­i­cal records and once held an in­signia, and worked as an en­voy on be­half of the princess. She granted re­wards to peo­ple in var­i­ous states and was hon­oured as “Madam Feng.”

Es­tab­lish­ing an Al­liance

As a West­ern Han en­voy to the West­ern Re­gions, Zhang Qian (circa 164–114 BC) stayed in Wusun for long. Though the king of Wusun re­ceived Zhang and his es­corts warmly, the king avoided dis­cussing the found­ing of an al­liance. In 115 BC, Zhang took gifts pre­pared by the king for Han Em­peror Wudi, and left Wusun is dis­ap­point­ment.

Though Zhang had left, the king got more ner­vous. Ac­tu­ally, im­me­di­ately af­ter Zhang ar­rived at his state, the king be­came ner­vous. He was afraid that Xiongnu would hear of Zhang's ar­rival and cause trou­ble to Wusun. Con­sid­er­ing pres­tige of West­ern Han in the West­ern Re­gions, he re­ceived Zhang. In fact, he was too ner­vous to go to sleep at night, hop­ing that Zhang would leave as soon as pos­si­ble.

Wusun was cau­tious, but the news was dis­closed. Xiongnu couldn't put up with that any state in its ter­ri­tory would be­tray it. Though the king of Wusun didn't take any ac­tion to set up an al­liance with West­ern Han, Xiongnu was ir­ri­tated.

Threat­ened by Xiongnu, the king of Wusun im­me­di­ately drafted an edict aimed at found­ing an al­liance with West­ern Han, and ex­pressed his wish for heqin with West­ern Han. Pon­der­ing that, Han Em­peror Wudi de­cided to marry Princess Jieyou to Junx­umi, grand­son of Liejiaomi, then Kunmo (king of Wusun). No spe­cific his­tor­i­cal ma­te­ri­als could be found to in­di­cate when each of them was born or died.

The princess was a grand­daugh­ter of Liu Shu (dates of birth and death un­clear), king of Chu who once took part in the Re­bel­lion of the Seven States to over­turn cen­tralised im­pe­rial author­ity. The princess was un­will­ing to go to the West­ern Re­gions. Con­sid­er­ing the re­bel­lion in­volv­ing her fam­ily, she agreed with heqin to show her loyalty to the West­ern Han. Af­ter re­ceiv­ing the im­pe­rial edict, she sub­mit­ted a writ­ten state­ment to the em­peror for per­mis­sion that her maid­ser­vant Feng Liao could ac­com­pany her to Wusun.

Though Feng was a maid­ser­vant of the princess, they treated each other as sis­ters. Feng could read, and had po­lit­i­cal tal­ent. Know­ing about Feng, the em­peror al­lowed Feng to go with the princess. To take good care of the princess, Feng re­ceived qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing be­fore head­ing for the West­ern Re­gions. She learnt lan­guages spo­ken in the West­ern Re­gions, as well as kung fu. In 101 BC, Princess Jieyou and Feng ar­rived at the West­ern Re­gions. Feng looked af­ter the princess, and helped to bet­ter re­la­tions be­tween the West­ern Han and Wusun.

At the be­gin­ning, Princess Jieyou couldn't get used to life in Wusun and felt lone­some. Home­sick, she of­ten cried when her hus­band wasn't around. Feng knew well about the princess and gave her ad­vice. At first, the princess didn't lis­ten. When her hus­band was ab­sent, she al­ways stared into the dis­tance, yearn­ing to re­turn to her home­town. Feng then thought of an idea.

Feng bought many books about myths, le­gends and of­fi­cial his­tory of the West­ern Re­gions at lo­cal fairs. The princess was im­me­di­ately fas­ci­nated by these books, be­cause she had never read such books. Grad­u­ally, the princess got used to life in the West­ern Re­gions, and con­trib­uted to main­tain­ing peace be­tween the West­ern Han and Wusun.

Un­der this cir­cum­stance, Feng be­gan to show her po­lit­i­cal tal­ent. At that time, the West­ern Re­gions were home to over 30 states. Ex­cept Wusun, all other states were con­trolled by Xiongnu. Feng re­alised that a grow­ing Xiongnu would do harm to the West­ern Han. With Wusun as the base, Feng held an in­signia for en­voys of the West­ern Han, and vis­ited states south of the Tian­shan Moun­tains on be­half of Princess Jieyou. Ev­ery time when Feng reached a place, she gave re­gards and gifts to peo­ple there, fully show­cas­ing West­ern Han eti­quette. Feng's de­meanour won the re­spect of peo­ple in the West­ern Re­gions, and she was hon­oured as “Madam Feng.”

When the view that men were su­pe­rior to women pre­vailed, it was rather hard for Feng to en­hance the in­flu­ence of West­ern Han in the West­ern Re­gions. As­sisted by King Fei­wang of Wusun and Princess Jieyou, West­ern Han and Wusun troops co­op­er­ated and de­feated Xiongnu. Feng also con­trib­uted to win­ning the bat­tle, be­cause Feng's en­hanced the pres­tige of the West­ern Han in the West­ern Re­gions.

When the West­ern Han and Wusun bat­tled with Xiongnu, many small states in the West­ern Re­gions didn't pro­vide Xiongnu with any prac­ti­cal aid. This bat­tle re­moved threats to the north of the

West­ern Han. Xiongnu once again be­gan to move about, tem­po­rar­ily keep­ing a dis­tance from the West­ern Han. It was this al­liance be­tween the West­ern Han and Wusun that en­sured vic­tory.

Sta­bil­is­ing the Sit­u­a­tion

When the West­ern Han and Wusun peo­ple were still ex­cited at the vic­tory over Xiongnu, King Fei­wang died in 60 BC. The king and Princess Jieyou had a son named Yuan­guimi (date of birth un­known, died in 51 BC). The king once promised to make Yuan­guimi his suc­ces­sor, be­cause he loved Princess Jieyou and their son, and had an in­ti­mate friend­ship with the West­ern Han. How­ever, their son didn't as­cend to the throne as smoothly as ex­pected.

Nimi (birth­date un­known, died in 53 BC) and then Wu­ji­utu (birth­date un­known, died in 30 BC) suc­ceeded to the throne. Wu­ji­utu, son of King Fei­wang and an­other wife from Xiongnu, was al­ways treated as a mi­nor­ity. The king didn't fo­cus on Wu­ji­utu or care about him.

Wu­ji­utu hated Princess Jieyou since child­hood. In­flu­enced by his mother, Wu­ji­utu trusted Xiongnu. Af­ter killing Nimi, Wu­ji­utu con­vened fol­low­ers, and went to Beis­han Moun­tain, threat­en­ingn­ing to in­vite Xiongnu troops to Wusun. If so, the al­liance be­tween West­ern Han and Wusun against Xiongnu would split.

Sup­pos­ing that the West­ern Han took no mea­sures, Wu­ji­utu would de­stroy the al­liance. There­fore, the West­ern Han sent 15,000 troops to Dun­huang (in to­day's Gansu Prov­ince) to keep close watch on Wusun. Zheng Ji (birth­date un­known, died in 49 BC) served as Xiyu Duhu ( West­ern Han's high­est of­fi­cer gov­ern­ing the West­ern Re­gions) at that time. Zheng was fa­mil­iar with Wusun's sit­u­a­tion, the good re­la­tion­ship be­tween Wu­ji­utu and the Right Gen­eral, hus­band of Feng, and Feng's ca­pa­bil­ity. So, Zheng asked Feng to change Wu­ji­utu's mind.

Feng agreed to ful­fil what she had been asked to do. Af­ter ar­riv­ing at Wusun, Feng, with Princess Jieyou's per­mis­sion, par­tic­i­pated in po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties, mainly diplo­matic events, and came up with ideas that the princess liked. Feng tried to solve the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis be­tween the West­ern Han and Wusun as wife of the Right Gen­eral of Wusun rather than as a maid­ser­vant of the princess.

When Feng came to the West­ern Re­gions with Princess Jieyou, she was still a young girl. Af­ter sev­eral years, Feng mar­ried with the Right Gen­eral of Wusun. Both the Left and Right gen­er­als were im­por­tant to the king of Wusun. The king ng re­gard­e­dregar the Right Gen­eral highly, of­ten turn­ing to the gen­eral for ad­vice. They got along well in pri­vate. Think­ing of these, Zheng Ji chose Feng to per­suade Wu­ji­utu.

Prior to the found­ing of the govern­ment of­fice of Xiyu Duhu in 60 BC, Feng, over 50 years old, trav­elled across snowy moun­tains and end­less deserts to visit more than 30 states, re­gard­less of se­vere win­ters and hot sum­mers. In each of the states, Feng pro­moted moral­ity, and helped to solve its in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal trou­bles. In this way, Feng gained peo­ple's re­spect, bet­tered their un­der­stand­ing of the West­ern Han, and con­trib­uted to es­tab­lish­ing the govern­ment of­fice of Xiyu Duhu.

This time, Feng de­cided to per­suade Wu­ji­utu. To make sure of the sit­u­a­tion, Han Em­peror Xuandi (reign: 74–49 BC), called Feng back to Chang'an (to­day's Xi'an, cap­i­tal of Shaanxi Prov­ince). The em­peror lis­tened to Feng's re­port, and asked her for ad­vice. To im­prove re­la­tions be­tween West­ern Han and Wusun, Feng was ap­pointed as the prin­ci­pal en­voy to Wusun, while Zhu Ci and Gan Yan­shou (dates of birth and death un­known) as as­sis­tant en­voys. At that time, Wu­ji­utu, a cross man, was too im­pa­tient to wait for Feng's news, threat­en­ing to take ac­tion. Hear­ing of this, Feng, Zhu and Gan im­me­di­ately left for Wusun.

Be­fore that, Han Em­peror Xuandi had or­dered Chang Hui (birth­date un­known, died in 46 BC, a diplo­mat and gen­eral) to lead troops to open up a waste­land and grow food grains in the city of Chigu (“red val­ley”), cap­i­tal of Wusun, to gar­ri­son bor­der ar­eas. Im­me­di­ately af­ter Feng ar­rived in Wusun, she con­vened Zhu Ci, Gan Yan­shou and Chang Hui to dis­cuss how to re­solve the cri­sis.

Re­ceiv­ing the em­peror's edict given by Feng, Wu­ji­utu came to Chigu. Feng spoke with him sin­cerely. Feng said, “I ad­vise you to lay down weapons and stop this blood­shed. To seize power, you un­ex­pect­edly slaugh­ter your re­la­tions. What you have done will ben­e­fit your en­emy. If you won't fol­low my ad­vice, you will be de­stroyed af­ter of the Han troops ar­rive.”

Shocked at Feng, de­terred by the West­ern Han troops, and op­posed by do­mes­tic peo­ple, Wu­ji­utu changed his mind. He said to Feng, “Madam Feng, please for­give me. I agree to a truce, only beg­ging for a ti­tle as a mi­nor king.” Af­ter ne­go­ti­at­ing, Yuan­guimi be­came Da Kunmi (great king) of Wusun, while Wu­ji­utu be­came Xiao Kunmi (mi­nor king). Wusun had more than 100,000 house­holds.

The great king gov­erned 60 per­cent of them, while the mi­nor king 40 per­cent. An end was put to the in­ter­nal chaos of Wusun. Feng re­ported the re­sult to the Han Em­peror Xuandi at once. The em­peror or­dered to in­form Gen­eral Po­qiang of the edict that there was no need to at­tack Wusun. Mean­while, the em­peror sent an en­voy to Wusun to grant the great and mi­nor kings of­fi­cial stamps and cos­tumes, and to an­nounce their ti­tles.

To avoid the great and mi­nor kings from fight­ing for power, Feng sub­mit­ted a writ­ten state­ment to Han Em­peror Xuandi to sug­gest strength­en­ing con­trol over Wusun. The em­peror sent troops to the Chigu to be sta­tioned there, and or­dered the great and mi­nor kings to rule Wusun in­di­vid­u­ally. From then on, the po­si­tion of the great king of Wusun was al­ways taken by off­spring of Princess Jieyou. This stim­u­lated Wusun's de­vel­op­ment, and laid a solid foun­da­tion for friendly ties be­tween West­ern Han and Wusun. It was Feng that did a lot to make the West­ern Han and Wusun troops to lay down weapons and coex­ist in peace, and thus cre­ated a colour­ful his­tory fea­tur­ing har­mony among dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups.

Con­tin­u­ous Ef­forts

In 51 BC, Yuan­guimi and Chimi, sons of Princess Jieyou, both died of ill­ness. About 70 years old then, she missed her home­land and wrote to Han Em­peror Xuandi, ex­press­ing hope that she could re­turn to her home­town. Con­sid­er­ing the princess had lived in the West­ern Re­gions for sev­eral decades and con­trib­uted to the West­ern Han, the em­peror or­dered to take the princess and Feng back to Chang'an. The princess was treated well in her ev­ery­day life. Feng was revered, and granted valu­able ma­te­ri­als. Two years later, the princess died of ill­ness, and was laid to rest.

Af­ter Yuan­guimi died, his son Xingmi (birth­date un­known, died in 33 BC) be­came the great king of Wusun. Xingmi was too young to rule a state. Feng was wor­ried about that she wrote to the em­peror, hop­ing to go back to Wusun to sup­port Xingmi. At that time, the Han Em­peror Xuandi died, Liu Shuang as­cended to the throne, known as Han Em­peror Yuandi (reign: 49–33 BC). Though the em­peror didn't aim to bother Feng, al­ready over 70 years old, he al­lowed send­ing Feng back to Wusun for the sake of sta­bil­is­ing the West­ern Re­gions.

In 48 BC, Feng once again set foot on the Silk Road, and headed for Wusun, ac­com­pa­nied by more than 100 es­corts. Hear­ing this, many Wusun peo­ple rode horses, and cov­ered sev­eral hun­dred miles to greet Feng. In Wusun, Feng helped Xingmi to han­dle state af­fairs in the day­time, while teach­ing him Con­fu­cian clas­sics and his­tory in the evening. Feng did her ut­most to make Xingmi a great ruler, bol­ster Wusun's de­vel­op­ment, and strengthen friendly ties be­tween the West­ern Han and Wusun in her re­main­ing years.

Dur­ing Feng's life­time, she con­trib­uted to the es­tab­lish­ment of the mil­i­tary al­liance be­tween the West­ern Han and Wusun, and the vic­tory of their al­lied forces over Xiongnu. With her tal­ent and ef­forts, Feng per­suaded Princess Jieyou to take her ad­vice, paci­fied of­fi­cers and of­fi­cials of Wusun, ed­u­cated off­spring of the princess and the Wusun peo­ple. Her pres­tige ben­e­fit­ted both the West­ern Han and Wusun, as her speech and be­hav­iour helped to main­tain peace and unity be­tween West­ern Han and the West­ern Re­gions, earn­ing re­spect by peo­ple from other states.

In his­tory, peo­ple had to fight hard bat­tles or com­mu­ni­cate calmly. Feng was de­voted to in­tan­gi­ble bat­tle­fields, solved crises be­tween the West­ern Han and Wusun many times, and laid a solid foun­da­tion to de­velop friendly re­la­tions be­tween the West­ern Han and Wusun. From a young girl to an el­derly woman, Feng spent most of her time in the West­ern Re­gions. Fac­ing com­pli­cated po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions, even the kings of Wusun had no idea. How­ever, Feng, un­der pres­sure, played an ef­fec­tive role po­lit­i­cally.

A Chi­nese say­ing goes, “The fe­male can be as ex­cel­lent as the male.” Due to Feng's ef­forts, the al­liance be­tween West­ern Han and Wusun was es­tab­lished, their al­lied forces were formed, and Xiongnu was de­feated and weak­ened. In the mean­time, the West­ern Han strength­ened its ties with the West­ern Re­gions. As an­cient China's first fe­male diplo­mat, Feng has been revered from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, and her sto­ries have been handed down and told widely.

No chap­ter for Feng can be found alone in the Book of Han. How­ever, her de­scrip­tion in the Tra­di­tions of the West­ern Re­gions of the Book of Han re­flects her con­tri­bu­tions to the West­ern Re­gions. Dur­ing the West­ern Han, Xiyu Duhu were sent 18 times. Of them, only Zheng Ji and Duan Huizong (84–10 BC) could be com­pa­ra­ble to Feng, when judged from their per­for­mances in sta­bil­is­ing and de­vel­op­ing bor­der ar­eas.

Though once a maid­ser­vant, Feng wasn't bound by class. She read many his­tor­i­cal records, and un­der­stood folk cus­toms of the West­ern Re­gions. With an in­signia for en­voys of the West­ern Han, she vis­ited states in the West­ern Re­gions, ex­erted her wis­dom, and be­came a sig­nif­i­cant his­tor­i­cal fig­ure.

Feng was nom­i­nated as an of­fi­cial en­voy sev­eral times, a one-of-a-kind in China's sev­eral thou­sand years of his­tory. She de­voted her life to strength­en­ing unity be­tween the Han and other eth­nic groups in the West­ern Re­gions, leav­ing be­hind a no­table chap­ter in China's his­tory of na­tional sol­i­dar­ity.

Feng Liao was con­sid­ered an­cient China’s first fe­male diplo­mat, whose life ex­pe­ri­ence was recorded in Han­shu(bookofhan).

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