Section 22 – The Kingdom of Yanqi 焉耆 (Karashahr).

1. Yanqi 焉耆 [Yen-ch’i] has long been confidently identified with the region of modern Karashahr (‘Black City’). The Buddhist Sanskrit name was Agni-. For detailed discussions of the derivation of the name and its likely associations, see Bailey (1985), pp. 1-2; 137-138, and Pulleyblank (1963), pp. 99; 123.

   “The whole of this district round Kara-shahr and Korla is, from a geographical and political point of view, both interesting and important ; for whilst all other parts of Chinese Turkestan can only be reached either by climbing high and difficult passes – the lowest of which has the same elevation as Mont Blanc – or traversing extensive and dangerous waterless deserts of sand-hills, here we find the one and only convenient approach to the land through the valleys of several rivers in the neighbourhood of Ili, where plentiful water abounds in the mountain streams on all sides, and where a rich vegetation makes life possible for wandering tribes. Such Kalmuck tribes still come from the north-west to Tal. They are Torgut nomads who pitch their yurts round about Kara-shahr and live a hard life with their herds….
          Just as these Mongols wander about here at the present day, so the nomadic tribes of an earlier period must have used this district as their entrance and exit gate. The Tochari (Yue-chi), on their way from China, undoubtedly at that time passed through this gate to get into the Ili valley….” von Le Coq (1928), pp. 145-146.

          The Hanshu mentions that it “adjoins Wu-sun on the north.” CICA, p. 177, n. 588, p. 178. This was of particular concern to the Chinese as Stein makes plain in the following passage:

“These observations on the present conditions of Kara-shahr will make it clear that, while the territory has been favoured by nature in various ways, its geographical position must at all times have exposed it to a very serious drawback. I mean its close vicinity to, and its easy access from, mountain tracts which, as far back as history takes us, have always had a particular attraction for nomads. It is unnecessary here to explain in detail how the famous grazing uplands of Yulduz have been cherished haunts for all the great nomad nations, from the Wu-sun and Huns downwards, which held sway along the T’ien-shan, that natural spina, as it were, in the cycle of Central-Asian migrations. Situated as Kara-shahr is at the very mouth of the big valley leading down from Yulduz, it must have been like a gate specially inviting those who had their favourite summer camps on those grassy plateaus and necessarily looked to the oases on the south as their richest grounds for raids and exactions. Whenever Chinese power was firmly established from Turfan to Kashgar or beyond, the gate might be kept safely closed. The same is likely to have been possible during periods while internal feuds or conflict with nomad aggressors weakened the tribes in the north. But the danger must always have been close at hand, and from time to time Kara-shahr was bound to suffer from its onset. The oases further west would then be exposed, too, to plunder and heavy exactions of tribute. But the additional risk of prolonged occupation would be reserved for Kara-shahr, which alone could offer grazing grounds adequate for the maintenance of large nomad hosts.” Stein (1921), p. 1180.

 “Some distance before the town of Yanqi, soda-whitened marshes, tall grasses and grazing cattle indicate the proximity of the vast Baghrash Lake. Though today Yanqi is only the country seat of the Yanqi Hui Autonomous County, where one of the main industries is the making of reed screens for fencing and roofing, historically it was the very important oasis of Kara-shahr (Black Town), which in AD 11 revolted against Han domination by murdering the Chinese protector-general. The revolt was ruthlessly stamped out by the Han-Dynasty general Ban Chao, who sacked the town, decapitating 5,000 inhabitants and carrying away 15,000 captives and 300,000 head of livestock.” Bonavia (1988), p. 147.

“Yen-ch’i 焉耆, GSR 200a and 5521 : *ian/*iän or gian/jiän - g’ɛr/g’ji, traditionally identified with Karashahr. Huang Wen-pi (1958), p. 7, suggests that “the old walled town of Ha-la-mu-teng” 哈拉木登, a few li South of the modern settlement of that name and North of the Haidu River might have been the administrative centre of Yen-ch’i; the site is located on Huang’s map nr. 2 at circa 86o 5’ E and 42° 16’ N. – For different ancient misspellings of this name see Chavannes (1905), p. 564, note 2. Wang Ching-ju (1944), p. 91, believes that in Han-times Yen-ch’i was pronounced *ārgi, leading to a later *arśi; it is to be noted that the Αoρσoι mentioned by Strabo are usually identified with the people of Yen-ts’ai....” CICA: 177, n. 588.

2. The capital at this period was called Nanhe 南河 or ‘South River,’ presumably inferring that it was on or near the Konche Darya or ‘Peacock River’ which flows south out of Lake Baghrash past Korla and across the desert to Lop Nor. The account of the Hanshu gives the name of the capital as Yuanqu, but it is not clear whether this is the same town.

3. This distance of 800 li or 333 km between Karashahr and Lukchun is just about exactly what I measure on modern maps.

4. The lake is the Bagragh or Baghrash Kol (or Bositeng Hu in Pinyin). It is the largest lake in Central Asia covering an area of about 1,000 square kilometres. The Hanshu (CICA, p. 178) notes that “there is an abundance of fish.” Stein (1921), p. 1179 says:

“It is nowhere of great depth, but holds fresh water for the greatest portion of its area and abounds in fish. Its water is supplied mainly by the Khaidu-gol [Konche Darya], a considerable river which drains the Yulduz plateaus and the high T’ien-shan ranges around them. The volume of this is increased above Kara-shahr by an affluent from the north which drains distant snowy mountains between Kara-shahr and Urumchi.”

“Twenty-four kilometres (15 miles) east of Yanqi lies the largest lake in Central Asia, Baghrash Kol (Bositeng Hu in Chinese), with a surface area of 1,000 square kilometres (400 square miles). It is fed by the Kaidu River and is a source of the Konche Darya (or Peacock River), which flows right across the northern wastes of the Taklamakan Desert to Lop Nor. During the summer months Mongol fishermen construct makeshift shelters along the shore and fish the waters from boats, but it is a poor living.... There are 16 small lakes in the vicinity, one of which is a breathtaking mass of pink and white water lilies in the summer.
          A number of ancient Silk Road ruins are scattered around the area, including the earth-rammed walls of a city dating from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). Within are large grassy mounds yet to be excavated.” Bonavia (1988), p. 150.

   “The prosperous town of Korla lies on the Baghrach Kol, a large lake, through which the Kaidu river pursues its course. The water of the lake is of fabulous transparency, and enlivened by endless numbers of large fish, most of them belonging apparently to the barbel family. There are, however, shad as well – ugly creatures as long as a man and with enormous mouths.
          Herr Bartus, as an old sailor, could not resist throwing his line in here…. He had flung into the water a pound of meat on a gigantic hook and strong line, and an antediluvian monster had swallowed the bait. With great effort he dragged it out of the water, to the intense delight of the entire population, who were watching the visitors’ doings. It weighed about fifty pounds, had a smooth skin – brown spotted with white – and was something like our eel-pout. In spite of my warning – for some of the fish here are dangerous eating – Herr Bartus persisted in having some of it for dinner and found it excellent….
          There are only two districts in the whole country where fish are often eaten, viz. round about Maralbashi, where the River Tarim brings down enormous quantities, which are enjoyed by the Dolans living there ; and, secondly, in the neighbourhood of Lake Lop-nor, where the whole population, apparently differing in many respects from the other Turks, live chiefly on fish, either fresh or dried. It is remarkable that both the Dolans and the dwellers round Lop-nor are looked upon as people of another race by the Turks.
          The lake at Korla is the playground, too, of innumerable flocks of water-birds, and is the breeding-place of swans, whose plumage is in much demand by the Chinese as an edging for valuable robes. Geese and ducks of different kinds frequent the shores and surface of water in great quantities, and we always saw numbers flying in their hook-shaped flocks across the sky. Herons of every kind are also to be found there, but we could never inspect them closely as they always took to timid flight at the approach of men on horseback.” von Le Coq (1928), pp. 109-110.

5. fu xiaowei 校尉 [fu hsiao-wei] = Vice Commandant. fu: “Vice: common designation, especially from the T'ang on, of officials who were the principal assistants or deputies to the head of an agency. Most commonly occurs as a prefix....” + xiaowei: “Commandant, normally prefixed with functionally descriptive or laudatory terms. (1) HAN–SUNG: title of functioning military officers in a wide range of ranks....” Hucker Nos. 2032, 2456.

6. Weixu [Wei-hsü] = modern Hoxud (Heshuo) or Chokkur. Stein (1921), Vol III, pp. 1230 ff.; (1928), Vol. II, pp. 777 ff) places Weixu at Korla. However, the Hanshu (CICA, p. 178) states that Weixu is 500 li (208 km) from the seat of the Protector General at Wulei whereas Weili or Korla is only 300 li or 125 km from Wulei. It also says it is 100 li (42 km) from Yanqi (Karashahr). It must, therefore, have been located past Karashahr, on the route to Turfan, rather than in the direction of Korla.
          This identification finds support from the Shuijingju [Shui-ching chu] which indicates that the Yulduz river used to have another branch, a northern one, flowing into the northwest corner of Lake Bosten, to the west of Weixu. This old course of the river is now indicated by the network of irrigation channels, to the west of the present town of Hoxud, that service this region, the water being used up before it can flow into the lake.

“The Shui-ching chu 2.30ff., says that the Tun-hung [Yulduz] river’s ... eastern tributary flows southeast and then divides into two [although the present-day does not]; coming from Yen-ch’i (i.e. Karashahr), it is led West of Wei-hsü and then flows southeast to end in the Tun-hung Marsh.... The latter is identified with Bostang Lake or Bagrash Kul and the former with the Hai-tu or Yulduz. Hsü Sung locates Wei-hsü to the Southeast of Bostang Lake; Chavannes (1905), p. 552, note 6, seems to accept this localization, criticizing Wylie for following the Hsi-yü t’ung-wen chih (see note 585 above) and placing Wei-hsü at Chagan-tungi, Northeast of Karashahr.” CICA: p. 177, n. 587.

7. Weili = Korla. See note 20.16 above.

8. Shanguo 山國 [Shan-kuo], literally ‘Mountain Kingdom’, in the western Kuruk mountains). Chavannes (1905), p. 552, n. 7, points out that this kingdom is the same as the kingdom of Shan 山國 in the Hanshu and undoubtedly also with the kingdom Shangwangguo of the Weilue and of Moshan kingdom 山國 or ‘(Black) Ink Mountain Kingdom’ in the Shui ching. He says that it must have been located between Lake Bagrach and Lop Nor and that Grenard’s proposal to locate it at Kyzyl sanghyr, 130 km southeast of Korla, is “very plausible.”
          The Shuijing [Shui-ching] places Weili, which I have identified as Korla above, 240 li (100 km) to the west of Moshan or ‘(Black) Ink Mountain(s).’ Stein (1928), Vol. II, p. 724.
          The Hanshu places Shanguo only 160 li (67 km) southeast of Yanqi (Karashahr) so it must be located near the extreme western end of the Kuruk-t
āgh, although its exact position remains to be determined. Stein (1921), p. 334 says it “can only roughly be located in the Western Kuruk-tāgh,” although he does consider the possibility that it might have been located at Singer (= Xindi or Kyzyl sanghyr); but this is much further than 67 km to the southeast of Karashahr. See also: ibid. p. 420; (1928), pp. 724-725; CICA: pp. 85, n. 85, and 182, n. 615.

9. xiyu zhangshi = Aide of the Western Regions. See note 21.10 above. 
            According to Ban Yong’s biography, he was given this title in the second
yanguang year (123 CE) and was sent with 500 soldiers to establish a military colony at Lukchun. In the first month of the “following year” (3 February-3 March, 124 CE), he arrived in Loulan and rewarded the king of Shanshan with three new ribbons for his submission. Then the kings of Gumo (Aksu) and Wensu (Uch Turfan) presented themselves with their hands tied behind their backs to make submission. He then put the soldiers of these kingdoms numbering 10,000 infantry and cavalry on campaign and before the court of the king of Nearer Jushi put the Yili King of the Xiongnu to flight in the Yihe Valley and won over more than 5,000 men of Nearer Jushi to his cause, and communications between Nearer Jushi and China were reopened. Then he established a military colony at Lukchun.
            In the following year (125
CE) Ban Yong, with more than 6,000 cavalry from the commanderies of Dunhuang, Zhangye (Gansu), and Jiujuan (Suzhou), as well as soldiers from Shanshan, Shule (Kashgar) and Nearer Jushi (Turfan) defeated the king of Further Jushi (near Jimasa) and beheaded him as well as a Xiongnu envoy and sent their heads to the capital. He also captured more than 8,000 of he enemy and 50,000 horses and cattle.
            In 126
CE, Ban Yong received the submission of all the “Six Kingdoms of Jushi.” In 127 CE he subdued Karashahr and then Kucha also submitted (thus opening the route all the way to Kashgar and, therefore, opening communications once again to the countries further west such as Ferghana, Kangju and the Da Yuezhi). See Chavannes (1906), pp. 252-253.