Section 4 – The Kingdom of Yutian (modern Khotan or Hetian)

1. Yutian [Yü-t’ien] = Khotan. The identification of the ancient name of Yutian with the Khotan oasis has long been confidently established – the evidence from the ancient histories is overwhelming. See, for example, Pulleyblank (1963), pp. 91; 100; 213.

“Khotan (Khotana in Kharoṣṭhī script, Hvatäna in Brāhmī and Hvamna or Hvam in the later Khotanese texts) was known throughout its 1,200 years as a kingdom (Hvatäna-kshīra).” Zhang (1996), p. 284.

   “As the main source of jade, the Khotan envoys carried pounds (kīna) of the stone for presentation to the heads of states. They used the word īra- ‘stone’ for their stone par excellence, the ‘jade’, and the Bud. Skt. word śilā. Hence they could call their river the Śailodā and in Khotan-Saka ranījai ttāji ‘the river of precious stone (ratna-)’. The īra- in the adjective form īrīnaa- was also used to render the mountain name Vajraka. The rivers in Khotan were in Turkish times called the yörüng qaš öküš and qara qaš öküš ‘the white and black jade rivers’.” Bailey (1985), p. 14; also p. 58.

“The major oasis of the southern Tarim basin, Khotan, was favourably set amidst the Yurung-kāsh and the Qara-qāsh, the only two rivers to carry the melt waters of the Qurum (Kunlun) Mountains northwards to join the Tarim rather than, like so many others, dissipating into a sea of sand. The fertile loess soils of the Khotan oasis ensured that its agricultural foundation would support a major settlement, and when Aurel Stein and other explorers visited it at the turn of the [20th] century, they observed that the region was underpopulated given its agricultural potential (the population at that time was estimated roughly at c. 200,000, approximately ten times larger than that given in the Hanshu). But despite all its fertility, like all the other oases its agricultural potential depended entirely on irrigation.
          Khotan was also the centre of silk production in the Tarim Basin and Stein suggested that it might have been the actual Serindia of the ancient geographers (rather than China) whence the West learned of the product itself. The legend tells that at the time when the Chinese prohibited the export of silk worms, mulberry trees and the knowledge of the manufacture of silk, a wily king of Khotan requested the hand of a Chinese princess in marriage. Before she departed to her new land, her husband made it clear that if she expected to be kept in silks, she had better procure what was necessary for their production, so she secreted silkworms’ eggs and seeds of the mulberry tree in her headdress and carried them to Khotan.” Mallory and Mair (2000), p. 77.

For a fuller discussion of the early introduction of silk cultivation to Khotan, see: Appendix A: The Introduction of Silk Cultivation to Khotan in the 1st Century CE. Also see note 20.15 below.

 “The paper mulberry tree (Broussonetia papyrifera) is also found primarily in the region of Khotan and its bark was pulped into the earliest paper in the region [c. 110 CE], another gift of Chinese technology to the West. Both cotton and wool production have been major products of Khotan since antiquity, while Khotan was also a major supplier of jade to China (the ‘Jade Road’ between Khotan and China is considerably older than the Silk Road).
          Khotan also occupied a remarkably strategic position. To its south, the forbidding Qurum and Qaraqurum ranges were absolutely desolate and Stein could count but a mere 400 people scattered across a territory of 9,000 sq. miles [23,310 sq. km]. To its east one could follow the Silk road, but beyond Niya (Minfeng) the oases were so few and far between that it would have been difficult to facilitate any major approach to Khotan other than one that had been highly organized, such as might be found in Chinese military operations. To the north lay the full expanse of the Täklimakan Desert. Only the west provided a relatively easy route through which populations might have entered this region in deep antiquity. Khotan itself, despite its prestige, was surprisingly small. The sole historical source (Beishi) to provide a dimension of the town reckons its circuit at 8 or 9 li [3.4 to 3.7 km] and this is roughly confirmed by Aurel Stein’s own excavations at Yōtkan which discovered that the circumference of the town was merely about 2.5 to 3.2 km (1.5 to 2 miles).” Mallory and Mair (2000), pp. 77-78.

Unfortunately, since late in the 19th century the identical name, Yutian , has been used for the subprefecture centred in Keriya, which has, naturally, caused some confusion. See note 3.1 above and Stein (1907), pp. 166-172; CICA p. 96, n. 147.

2. Xicheng 西城 [Hsi-ch’eng] means, literally, ‘Western Town.’ It presumably refers to the ancient site of Yotkan, some 10 km (6 miles) west of the present town of Hetian where extensive ruins and coins dating back as far as the Former Han Dynasty have been found. See Stein (1907), pp 191 ff.

“The Tangshu (chap. CCXXI, a, p. 10a) calls this town Xishancheng 西山城 [Hsi-shan-ch’eng – literally: ‘Western Mountain Town’]. Cf. Document sur les T’ou-kiue occidentaux, p. 125.” Translated and adapted from Chavannes (1907), p. 171, n. 2.

3. Ligui 驪歸 [Li-kuei] is otherwise unknown, but was possibly a small town near Khotan. See also Section 20 where there is a reference to this same event.

4. The name, Xiu Mo 休莫, is followed by the character ba [pa] = hegemon, tyrant, usurper; rule by force. Chavannes (1907), p. 171 included it as part of the name but I have translated it here, because of the context, as ‘usurper.’

5. Hu is a rather vague term used for northern and western peoples of non-Chinese stock. It was commonly used for people of Persian, Sogdian, Turkish origin, Xianbi, Indians, and the Kushans and even, occasionally, for the Xiongnu (who, however, are usually clearly differentiated from the Hu). Pulleyblank (1991), p. 126 gives as definitions: “dewlap; interrogative adverb, why?, how?; general name for horse-riding nomads (Han); for Iranians from Central Asia (Tang); foreign, western.”
          On this subject I am greatly indebted to Thomas Bartlett of Latrobe University in Melbourne, Australia who, in a private communication dated 14th April 2002, wrote:

“Etymologically, the graph “hu(2)” means literally “old flesh.” According to the Shuo-wen dictionary, this character originally meant the dewlap – loose skin that hangs down from the neck of an ox. Later the word was used to refer to certain central Asian peoples, perhaps because the heavy beards of such men may have seemed to Chinese to resemble the flesh hanging down from the necks of oxen (dewlaps). Such central Asian peoples were usually cattle-raising pastoralists, so the classifying epithet “Hu” may have pejoratively implied a fundamental affinity between the people and their animals. Many ancient Chinese names for foreign peoples had such uncomplimentary implications.
   Later, “Hu” in China became a general term for “northern barbarians,” whether they were of central or east Asian origin. This usage apparently has less to do with beardeness than with non-Chineseness. Thus, for example, Han period historians refer to a certain Tungusic people as “eastern Hu.” In the 17th and 18th centuries, one purpose of the literary inquisition carried out in China by the Manchus, a Tungusic people not known for heavy beards, was to remove derogatory remarks to “Hu” in extant Chinese literary works.”

Hulsewé’s translation of hu as “nomad” (CICA: 80, n. 71) cannot be justified, as is proven in his own translation from the Hanshu on the state of Xiye [Hsi-yeh]. Ibid. p. 101. See also note 5.1 below. To say that the people of a ‘land of nomads’ are ‘different from the nomads’ is meaningless. I have translated the word as “Westerner” with considerable hesitation, but feel that this, at least, represents fairly accurately the rather loose meaning of the word as it is used in the Hou Hanshu.

6. hou-jiang 侯將 [hou-chiang] = Commandant-Leader. hou: “(3) HAN: Commandant, a military title with many uses, commonly with rank of 600 bushels.... ” + chiang: “(3) HAN: Leader of the expectant and unassigned officials who attended the emperor as courtiers with the title of Court Gentleman (lang).” Hucker Nos. 2205 and 690.