Pei Ju, an Un­sung Hero

Trans­lated by Li Shasha Edited by Scott Bray The “Belt and Road” is China’s ini­tia­tive. The his­toric Silk Road isn’t only an an­cient com­mer­cial trade route con­nect­ing Asia, Africa and Europe, but also a road be­tween the East and West for eco­nomic, politic

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS -

When peo­ple speak of the Silk Road's golden age dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907), few re­mem­ber Pei Ju (AD 547– 627), who in his late years poured his heart and soul into restor­ing the Silk Road to its for­mer glory.

The his­tory of the Silk Road un­folds like a painted scroll, with its 2,000 years de­pict­ing pros­per­ity and an end­less stream of peo­ples trav­el­ling along its path. Most hard to re­alise was that many un­sung heroes devoted them­selves to es­tab­lish­ing the bustling Silk Road. To­day, that scroll un­rav­elled to an im­pe­rial ban­quet dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907), and

be­gins a tale of one such hero.

It was AD 626 when Li Shimin as­cended the throne at age 28 and be­came sec­ond Em­peror of the Tang Dy­nasty (reign: AD 626– 649), his­tor­i­cally known as Em­peror Taizong of Tang. Fol­low­ing his corona­tion, the em­peror held a grand ban­quet in Chang’an (present­day Xi’an). Pei Ju (AD 547–627), the sea­soned Min­is­ter of Fi­nance, a man in his eight­ies, at­tended in his finest dress.

Old as he was, a tune from the Western Re­gions brought Pei back some 20 years, to when he had first headed for Zhangye, full of am­bi­tion, and spared no ef­fort in com­pil­ing

Xi yu tu ji (“il­lus­trated an­nu­als of the Western Re­gions”). The som­bre notes tug­ging at Pei’s old heart­strings that day put his thoughts on the year AD 609, when he or­gan­ised a trade fair at the foot of Yanzhi Moun­tain for Em­peror Yang of Sui (reign: AD 604–618).

The Fu­ture of the West

Af­ter the ban­quet, Pei Ju as­cended a city tower and looked out west to­ward the sun­set. Look­ing over the hori­zon, his eyes seemed to pass over the mem­o­ries of a group of Hu mer­chants from the Western Re­gions, look­ing to en­ter Jin­guang Gate and ride on to­ward Xishi Av­enue. That had hap­pened in AD 604, then the 15th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the Sui Dy­nasty (AD 581–618) and the as­cen­sion of Yang Guang (Em­peror Yang of Sui), the dy­nasty’s sec­ond em­peror.

The first day Em­peror Yang of Sui took the throne, he be­gan to im­ple­ment his gov­er­nance on ex­pan­sion. To link the eco­nomic re­gions south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, the po­lit­i­cal re­gions in cen­tral Shaanxi Prov­ince, and the mil­i­tary re­gions of such prov­inces as He­bei and Liaon­ing, the em­peror or­dered a sec­ond cap­i­tal to be built in Luoyang, ly­ing to the east of Chang’an, and ini­ti­ated the SuiDy­nasty Grand Canal project.

Within four years, the 2,000 kilo­me­tres long ir­ri­ga­tion works were dug and com­pleted, con­nect­ing ma­jor river sys­tems and form­ing a trans­port net­work in China. Along the canal, many com­mer­cial cities emerged and flour­ished. One such ex­am­ple was Jiangdu (present-day Yangzhou in Jiangsu Prov­ince), which be­came the eco­nomic cen­tre of the Sui Dy­nasty.

The em­peror fo­cused equal at­ten­tion to de­vel­op­ment of the western econ­omy, and cast his eye over the Silk Road in a bid to build an eco­nomic route to the West. Ever since Em­peror Wu of Han (reign: 141–87 BC) had in­te­grated the Hexi Cor­ri­dor into Chi­nese ter­ri­tory, the cor­ri­dor, throat of the Silk Road it­self, had be­come an im­por­tant com­mer­cial re­gion. When Em­peror Yang of Sui took the throne, the Cen­tral Plains un­der­went 20 years of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and saw thriv­ing busi­ness de­vel­op­ment. From those ef­forts emerged pros­per­ous cities and wealthy traders who de­sired to do trade with Hu mer­chants.

Yet such trad­ing ex­changes be­tween the Cen­tral Plains and the Western Re­gions had been cut off for hun­dreds of years due to war­fare and chaos—many mer­chants from the Western Re­gions in­stead pru­dently took to the Hexi Cor­ri­dor to trans­fer their goods. Faced with this sit­u­a­tion, the em­peror racked his mind on how to take the Sui Dy­nasty’s first step in trade with the Western Re­gions. But once he found his an­swer, he knew that the right per­son for the task was none other than Pei Ju.

Pei Ju was a prodigy in the clas­sic works and was a skil­ful politi­cian with a rich back­ground in gov­er­nance. Af­ter the found­ing of the Sui Dy­nasty, Pei Ju was put in an im­por­tant po­si­tion by Em­peror Wen of Sui (reign: AD 581–604) and took part in es­tab­lish­ing the na­tional cer­e­mo­nial sys­tem. In AD 588, Pei fol­lowed then Prince Yang Guang in the bat­tle against the South­ern Chen Dy­nasty (AD 557–589). For his out­stand­ing per­for­mance paci­fy­ing the post-war re­gion, Pei was awarded and pro­moted.

Af­ter­wards, Pei, us­ing so­phis­ti­cated po­lit­i­cal strat­egy, dis­united the Turkuts into the East­ern and Western Kha­ganates with­out blood­shed, and made the East­ern Tur­kic Kha­ganate sub­mit to the Sui Dy­nasty. Af­ter Yang Guang be­came the em­peror, Pei Ju was given a seat among the five pri­mary high-rank­ing of­fi­cials of the em­pire, along with the well-de­served praise from Em­peror Yang of Sui for his out­stand­ing diplo­matic capability and fa­mil­iar­ity with the eth­nic is­sues of the north­west.

Em­peror Yang of Sui sum­moned Pei

Ju to con­sult his opin­ion on the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in the west. Pei sug­gested un­block­ing the Silk Road to re­store trade, and en­hance the po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural ex­change with the Western Re­gions. The opin­ion struck a chord with the em­peror. In AD 605, Pei was dis­patched to Zhangye to ex­e­cute the task.

Once, Zhangye had been an im­por­tant town for trades along the Silk Road, the only route through which mer­chants from the Western Re­gions could trade with their Cen­tral Plains coun­ter­parts due to the tur­moil that fol­lowed the Wei King­dom (AD 220–265) and Jin Dy­nasty (AD 265–420). Pei Ju chose Zhangye as the em­pire’s base to con­duct fron­tier trades in the west, and ex­plored ap­proaches to de­velop Western econ­omy.

Upon his ar­rival, Pei Ju was de­lighted to see that trade was boom­ing there. Hu mer­chants were of­ten found in droves in the mar­ket, whose clothes and ap­pear­ance were in stark con­trast from their fel­low mer­chants of the Cen­tral Plains. They mar­keted spices, hand­crafts and car­pets—rare com­modi­ties in the Cen­tral Plains—and in turn pur­chased lo­cal silks, tea and pro­duce to sell across West Asia and the Europe.

Pei Ju care­fully recorded the in­for­ma­tion he gath­ered, and ver­i­fied it against his­tor­i­cal books and doc­u­ments. He later com­piled the three vol­umes Xi yu tu ji. In his com­pi­la­tion, Pei de­tailed the de­vel­op­ment con­di­tions of 44 coun­tries within the Western Re­gions along­side many maps drawn by his own hand.

Undy­ing Devo­tion to Restor­ing Trade

Garner­ing a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the Hexi Cor­ri­dor, Pei Ju re­alised the bar­ri­ers to lo­cal trade. Mer­chants from the Western Re­gions had their eyes on trad­ing within the mar­kets in Chang’an and Luoyang. In­stead the trades were done ad hoc with­out over­sight along the Hexi Cor­ri­dor, rather than stem­ming from a per­fect mech­a­nism to pro­mote and ad­min­is­trate such trades from the govern­ment.

The out­posts be­queathed from the Han Dy­nasty (206 BC–AD 220) along the Hexi Cor­ri­dor had been in dis­re­pair for many years and were un­able to pro­vide pass­ing mer­chants with food or ac­com­mo­da­tion.

With­out that sup­port sys­tem, for­eign mer­chants could go no fur­ther. The once bustling Silk Road was blocked.

Pei Ju’s thoughts turned to Cang Ci who had faced the same problem in his time. Cang Ci came from Dun­huang Pre­fec­ture dur­ing the Wei King­dom. Lo­cated on the western end of the Hexi Cor­ri­dor, Dun­huang Pre­fec­ture had once been a trad­ing area on the Silk Road be­gin­ning in the Han Dy­nasty (206 BC–AD 220), yet by the end of the East Han Dy­nasty (AD 25–220) had be­come di­lap­i­dated, and later iso­lated from the Cen­tral Plains due to the war­fare that raged dur­ing the Three King­doms (AD 220–280).

Although there were mer­chants who made the trek from the Western Re­gions, they were of­ten ob­structed and ex­ploited by lo­cal despotic forces. Cang Ci is­sued a no­tice that any mer­chants trav­el­ling from the Western Re­gions to Luoyang for trade would be granted with travel allowances by the state, those that did busi­ness in Dun­huang would be sup­ported to trade at state-set price, and that trade car­a­vans would be pro­tected by the govern­ment for their safety. Hexi Cor­ri­dor was ush­ered into an­other hey­day.

Cang Ci’s mea­sures in­spired Pei Ju. He be­gan to travel along the Hexi Cor­ri­dor across cities like Zhangye, Wuwei and Dun­huang, built new out­posts, or­dered of­fi­cials to lower or ex­empt mer­chants from tar­iffs, grant­ing mer­chants from the Western Re­gions as much com­mer­cial prof­its as pos­si­ble. He also en­cour­aged mer­chants to trade di­rectly with the govern­ment, in­creas­ing both the scope and vol­ume of trade.

The se­ries of in­cen­tive mea­sures spurred on more mer­chants from the Western Re­gions to the Sui Dy­nasty. Mer­chants bring­ing their car­a­vans from the Western Re­gions were granted pro­tec­tion by the govern­ments along the Hexi Cor­ri­dor, and pro­vided food and ac­com­mo­da­tion as well. For the Hu Mer­chants, it was nearly a dream come true.

Among mer­chants from the Western Re­gions, the Sog­di­ans were the most nu­mer­ous. Re­search has shown that Sog­dian an­ces­tors most likely came from Zhaowu City at the foot of the Qil­ian Moun­tain. Most liv­ing in Zhaowu were sur­named Kang, Shi, An, Cao, Shi, Mi, He, Huoxun and Wudi, dubbed the “nine sur­names of Zhaowu” by the peo­ple of the Cen­tral Plains.

They lived around present-day Uzbek­istan, be­long­ing to a purely com­mer­cial na­tion; yet with­out its own king­dom. From Mid­dle Asia to Chang’an, they left their tracks in many key towns at the east­ern sec­tion of the Silk Road, and were also known to some as the “Jews of the Ori­ent.”

To­day, the Sog­di­ans have be­come a mys­te­ri­ous tribe lost to his­tory. How­ever, at the time pot­tery, sil­ver­ware, silk, and ar­mour were highly sought af­ter. The Sog­di­ans were skilled at turn­ing com­modi­ties into coins.

Ac­cord­ing to Tang huiyao (“in­sti­tu­tional his­tory of the Tang Dy­nasty”), a Sog­dian would be­gin learn­ing busi­ness from at child­hood. Sog­dian boys, for ex­am­ple, would start to read at the age of five, and study busi­ness as soon as he could read. More than merely sell­ing their prod­ucts, they nearly mo­nop­o­lised all in­ter­na­tional trade along the Hexi Cor­ri­dor.

It was the call of bountiful trade that the Sog­di­ans trav­elled thou­sands of miles to reach China, yet there were risks on the road to the East. The Tur­kic and Tuyühu tribes, both en­trenched along the Hexi Cor­ri­dor, were par­tic­u­larly feared for ex­ploit­ing and plun­der­ing pass­ing mer­chants. Th­ese raids most con­cerned Pei Ju, who was to re­port this back to the em­peror.

An An­cient ‘World Expo’

In AD 606, Pei Ju re­turned to Luoyang with his Xi yu tu ji. Af­ter re­port­ing what

he had ac­com­plished thus far in Zhangye, Em­peror Yang of Sui asked Pei what plans should fol­low in the area. Pei sug­gested de­feat­ing the Tuyühu, who of­ten ha­rassed coun­tries in the Western Re­gions and cut off roads for traders en­ter­ing the Cen­tral Plains. In do­ing so, the em­peror could re­store nor­mal po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic ex­change be­tween the Western Re­gions and the Sui Dy­nasty.

Pei’s sug­ges­tions de­lighted the em­peror. Im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing their dis­cus­sion Pei Ju was ap­pointed as im­pe­rial as­sis­tant min­is­ter to host the work in Zhangye. Upon re­turn­ing to Zhangye, Pei Ju re­dou­bled his ef­forts, act­ing on the em­peror’s be­half. He first gath­ered of­fi­cials and mer­chants from the Western Re­gions, invit­ing them to Chang’an and Luoyang and fur­ther pro­claim­ing that diplo­matic and trad­ing corps would en­joy pref­er­en­tial treat­ment. Pei then en­treated the princes of Gaochang and Yiwu to travel to Luoyang to of­fer sac­ri­fices at Heng­shan Moun­tain with the em­peror. Once ev­ery­thing was pre­pared, Em­peror Yang of Sui had a great na­tional plan in mind. In early AD 609, Em­peror Yang of Sui de­clared that he would tour west­ward along the Silk Road and in­vite na­tional lead­ers in the Western Re­gions to at­tend a grand gath­er­ing. The em­peror would also lead his troops in wip­ing out the re­main­ing Tuyühu forces.

In AD 609, Em­peror Yang of Sui set out from Chang’an with civil and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, con­cu­bines, at­ten­dants and a 100,000 sol­dier army. Two months later, they ar­rived at Ledu County in Qing­hai, and launched an all-out at­tack on the Tuyühu. With their over­whelm­ing force, the Sui Dy­nasty won a com­plete vic­tory. Some 100,000 Tuyühu soldiers sur­ren­dered; only their khan and a few dozen fol­low­ers had been left flee­ing around Qing­hai Lake. Af­ter the bat­tle, the Tuyühu were no longer a threat to the Silk Road.

While the Sui army waged war with the Tuyühu, Pei Ju along with the no­bil­ity and en­voys of the Western Re­gions were pre­par­ing to wel­come Em­peror Yang of Sui in Zhangye. An un­prece­dented gath­er­ing awaited the em­peror. It was when Em­peror Yang of Sui led his mas­sive host at the foot of the Yanzhi Moun­tains out­side Zhangye that the trade fair, an amal­ga­ma­tion of lead­ers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 27 coun­tries in the Western Re­gions, of­fi­cially opened.

Chaired by the em­peror him­self, na­tional lead­ers and en­voys, busi­ness­men and civil­ians alike swarmed into Zhangye’s trade fair to see Em­peror Yang of Sui. The no­bil­ity of Gaochang and Yiwu in par­tic­u­lar ex­pressed their will­ing­ness to seek alliance with the Sui Dy­nasty.

Although he had just re­turned from a fierce bat­tle, the em­peror was dig­ni­fied in his meet­ings with the princes of Gaochang and en­voys from the Western Re­gions. He or­dered maid­ens of lo­cal of­fi­cials in Wuwei and Zhangye to at­tend the fair in their finest, rep­re­sent­ing the peace and pros­per­ity of the Sui Dy­nasty.

Im­pe­rial mu­si­cians from the Cen­tral Plains along­side folk singers and dancers from the Western Re­gions gave the fair a joy­ous at­mos­phere. Hand­crafts of all kinds from the Cen­tral Plains were dis­played in the palace set in the fair, im­press­ing all at­ten­dants from the Western Re­gions.

Sog­dian mer­chants in par­tic­u­lar weren’t about to miss this golden op­por­tu­nity. They came to the fair, un­loaded var­i­ous com­modi­ties from their camels and sold them in Zhangye’s mar­kets to buy­ers from var­i­ous coun­tries. The whole of Zhangye be­came a sea of peo­ple, and the bustling scenes lasted a month.

No trace of the grand event along the Hexi Cor­ri­dor still stands to­day, but the mag­nif­i­cent “world expo” ex­erted a far-reach­ing im­pact on Chi­nese his­tory.

To­day, more than a thou­sand years later, a va­ri­ety of ex­po­si­tions have come into vogue all over the world. The Expo 2010 Shang­hai China was held on April 30, 2010, where the Mo­gao Caves at Dun­huang and the “world expo” 1,400 years ago were “moved” to Shang­hai’s Gansu Pav­il­ion. This mod­ern World Expo may owe its be­gin­nings to that day at the foot of the Yanzhi Moun­tain along the Silk Road.

In AD 610, Em­peror Yang of Sui ap­proved to open the routes from Zhangye to Chang’an, Luoyang and to other cities in the Cen­tral Plains as Pei Ju had pro­posed. Mer­chants, aris­to­crats, even kings and princes from the Western Re­gions en­tered the Cen­tral Plains, trav­el­ling along the Hexi Cor­ri­dor.

The sta­ble Silk Road fa­cil­i­tated the busi­ness trip for mer­chants, while lower tar­iffs made trade in the Cen­tral Plains more at­trac­tive to for­eign mer­chants. The Silk Road again be­came one of the most im­por­tant chan­nels for eco­nomic and cul­tural ex­change in the world.

Amid sta­ble pol­i­tics and open poli­cies set dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty, ex­change along the Silk Road flour­ished as it never had be­fore, di­ver­si­fy­ing the cul­tures within the Cen­tral Plains. As it con­tin­ued to in­te­grate with sur­round­ing na­tions, China stepped into a global cul­tural spot­light, demon­strat­ing un­prece­dented vigour. It was then dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty that the Silk Road en­tered its golden age.

To­day, when peo­ple speak of the golden age of the Silk Road dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty, few re­mem­ber Pei Ju, who in his late years had con­tin­ued to pour his heart and soul into restor­ing the Silk Road to its glory. Even if his name is rarely men­tioned in his­tor­i­cal records, the name Pei Ju de­serves its place among the an­nals of the Silk Road.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.