Section 5 – The Kingdom of Xiye 西夜 (modern Karghalik or Yecheng)

1. Xiye 西夜 [Hsi-yeh] = Karghalik. Chavannes (1903), 397, n. 4, (1905), 554, n. 5, and (1907), n. 3, identifies this kingdom with modern Yularik, south of Yarkand. However, the directions given in the Hanshu and the population figures given in the Hou Hanshu make it almost certain that it represents modern Karghalik, as Aurel Stein first pointed out:

“.... we are necessarily led to identify Hsi-yeh as Karghalik ; for only on the assumption that this great oasis is meant can we account for the striking difference in population which the notice of the Later Han Annals indicates by stating the number of households as 2,500 at Hsi-yeh and only 350 at Tzu-ho. The proportion is about the same as a modern census would be likely to reveal between the oasis of Karghalik proper and the Beg-ship comprising Kök-yar, Yül-arik and Ushak-bashi. The identification of Hsi-yeh with Karghalik is in striking agreement with the statement in the Ch’ien Han shu that Hsi-yeh joined P’i-shan on the east and So-ch’ê on the north ; for Guma and Yarkand are the neighbours on these sides exactly as here represented.” See Stein (1921a), pp. 86-87.

          My only qualification to Stein’s analysis is that he locates Zihe 子合 [Tzu-ho] too close to Kharghalik. This was partly because he was unaware of the true length of the Han li. He estimated it to be about 1/5 of a mile or about 322 metres (ibid. p. 735), instead of the 415.8 metres we now know it to have been (see my Introduction under ‘Measurements’). But, even using these figures, the text would place Zihe some 322 km from Kashgar – a figure impossible to reconcile with his placement of Zihe not far south of Karghalik, around Kokyar (which is only about 50 km south of Karghalik), and the tiny oasis of Yularik, about 10 km. further east. Kokyar lies on the winter route (zamistani) between Yarkand and the Karakoram Pass. See von Le Coq (1928), p. 153.
          The text, however, states that it was in a gorge, some 1,000 li, or about 416 km from Kashgar. This would place it just about exactly at modern Shahidulla (or Xaidulla – Pinyin: Saitula), a strategically important centre on the way to the Karakoram Passes on the main route south to Ladakh. This shortcut to India via Ladakh was in regular use until the Chinese closed the borders soon after the Communist victory in 1949. 
          The main obstacle on the route was the high and dangerous Karakoram Pass (5,575 m. or 18,291 ft). Caravans would often rest and graze their animals in the fertile valley near Shahidulla until conditions were favourable to cross the less rigorous Sanju Pass also called the “Suget Pass’ (5,364 m. or 17,598 ft.) and then the notorious Karakoram.
          Shahidulla controlled the route north across the Sanju Pass from where one could head northwest to Pishan and Yarkand or northeast towards Khotan. Although the Suget is a difficult pass, it is possible to take laden yaks across it:

   “On the 5th of November, after passing through the gorge of the Karakash River, at the foot of the walls of the fortlet of Shaidullah, built by the Kashmirians and long since abandoned by them, we came at Toghrusu, into the midst of the gay tumult of a Kirghiz wedding….XishanchengOn the 7th, we left the Karakash Daria, the valley of which is impracticable in the downward direction, and began to ascend the gorge of one of its affluents which runs down from the Sanju Pass. Imagine an exceedingly narrow gorge, whimsically tortuous, deeply confined within tall peaked rocks, bare and strangely hewn and slashed and the whole gorge obstructed by flint rubbish. On reaching the end of this gorge, we found ourselves as though at the bottom of a well. With the assistance of some Kirghiz oxen, we scaled one of the walls of the well and thus reached the summit of the Sanju Pass, which is at a height of 16,800 feet. From there, according as one turns to the north or the south, the view offers a striking contrast. In the south is a monstrous chaos of gigantic snow mountains and dazzling glaciers, which the rays of the sun sometimes cause to look like great blue lakes slumbering amid a polar whiteness ; in the north, a few brown hills, beyond which stretches something like a vast ocean wrapped in a shroud of grey mist : this is the Kashgarian plain and its atmosphere laden with dust.XishanchengThe ascent of the pass was not easy, but the descent was worse. The slope is so steep that, in a league of horizontal projection, one descends 1,880 metres and, for a distance of 800 metres, the slope, at 45 degrees, is covered with a thick layer of ice. The yaks are really wonderful animals which, descending a mountain like this, carry over two hundred pounds on their backs without stumbling. Our horses, although carrying no burden, did three-fourths of the road in some other way than on their feet : one of them slipped so badly that it was hurled to the bottom of the valley and broke its spine….XishanchengFrom the foot of the pass, one follows a deep, grassy valley, here and there meeting the round tents of Kirghiz herdsmen. Little by little, the mountains grow lower, the valley wider, the grass disappears, the sand shows itself and one sees, between two dusky hills, the trees of the oasis of Sanju. Here there are some thousand houses, scattered on every side, and a considerable amount of ground under cultivation ; and it is easy for the traveller to procure all that he wants provided that his wants are modest.” Grenard (1904), pp. 28-30.

Notes on Sanju Pass adapted from : Merzliakova (2003): “The Pass leads to Shahidula. The uplift starts in the valley of Chibra.” “The uplift is not steep, but the terrain is rocky without any vegetation, covered with snow in some places. It is practicable for laden animals. The way down the Pass is steep into the deep and narrow valley.” “The ancient Lekh [sic] trade route lead over the Pass toward Kargalyk between India and China through Karakorum, Chuchu-Dawan, Sasser...”

          Shahidulla also controlled access to a lesser-known route which headed west, eventually passing by a settlement called Mazar and then through the Shimshal Valley and over the Shimshal Pass into the upper Hunza Valley. This provided an alternative to the route through Tashkurghan and Wakhan into northern Hunza and would have been shorter and more convenient for travellers coming from the east.

Notes on the Shimshal Pass adapted from Merzliakova (2003): “Height: 4735 m [or 15,535 ft.]. [From another source]: 4420 m [or 14,501 ft.]. “The route is not very difficult, it is practicable for ponies, but goes along the precipice in 800 m over the river.... The Pass is not under permanent snow. In winter the route to the Pass goes along the river Khunza, but in summer there is no road at all, because it is flooded. According to Younghusband the Pass is used in summer. [At present]: "There is an overgrazed high pasture around the Pass. The women of Shimshal graze here about 1000 yaks and 3000 sheeps and goats in July and August.”There is a collection of shepherds huts in one mile from summit. There are also two small lakes.”

          In the 19th and early 20th century this route was closed as it was the base of a band of notorious robbers who used to prey on the caravans travelling between India and the Tarim Basin over the Karakoram Pass. See the chapter on “The Raiders’ Stronghold,” in Younghusband (1924) pp. 127-141.
          There is one additional piece of supporting evidence, however, that Zihe was in the region of modern Shahidulla. The Hanshu remarks that “the soil of Tzu-ho produces jade-stone.” CICA, p. 101. This is of particular interest for, in 1868, Robert Shaw, a British trader based in India, set out on a journey from Ladakh to Yarkand. On his way, not far from Shahidullah, on the upper courses of the Karakash river, he passed a group of stone huts:

“We found out afterwards that this valley had formerly been frequented by the Chinese, who obtained jade from hence. This industry is now extinct, as the Mussulmans of Toorkistân have no taste for ornaments of this stone. A line in the Chinese ‘Thousand Character Classic,’ enumerating various productions, says, “Jade comes from the Kuen-lun Mountains” (which are those in question). I am indebted to Mr. Aston, of the India Museum, for this quotation.” Shaw (1871), p. 98, n. 1.

I suspect that Mazar (approx. 77o 0’E, 36o 26’N about 90 km west of Shahidulla) was the site of the tiny ‘kingdom’ of Dere mentioned in the text after Zihe (Shahidulla) but, unfortunately, there is not enough information given to locate it with confidence – see note 7.1 below.
          Mazar, like Shahidulla, was of strategic importance. It was at the junction of the route via the Shimshal Valley to Hunza, and another route which led directly north to Kokyar and Karghalik and then either northwest to Yarkand and Kashgar, or southeast to Pishan and Khotan. Note that the name ‘Mazar’ refers to a shrine of a Muslim saint. It is commonly also applied to communities neighbouring such a shrine, for example: the famous city of Mazar-e-Sharif (‘Tomb of the Saint’) in northern Afghanistan, named after the reputed discovery there of the tomb of Caliph ‘Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed.

2. Piaosha [P’iao-sha] translates literally as: ‘Drifting Sands.’ Chavannes (1907), p. 174, gives Lu-sha, but this is a mistake copied from the T’u-shu-chi-cheng, Shanghai edition. All earlier editions give Piao-sha, as Pelliot notes (1963), p. 880. However, Pelliot takes the form Qusha 渠沙 [Ch’ü-sha](= ‘Large Sands’ or ‘Spacious Sands’) as given in the Weilue as primary, for he sees the Hou Hanshu owing much to the Weilue. This, however, is very speculative. I think it is probably safer to accept the name as given in the Hou Hanshu, as it was presumably based directly on the report of General Ban Yong to Emperor An in 125 CE.

3. Baicao 白草 [pei-ts’ao], literally, ‘white grass’ or ‘white herb.’ It is identified in CICA, p. 85, n. 89 as being either the common bittersweet or woody nightshade (Solanium dulcamara L.), or the creeper Ampelopsis serianaefolia, “identified by the Japanese as the sorrel vine.” However, I can find no evidence that either of these plants has ever been used to make arrow poison, although the woody nightshade is, of course, poisonous.

   “ACONITUM :– Ts’ao-w’u-t’ou 烏頭 [Caowutou or Ts’ao-wu-tou] : – These are the mixed tuberous roots of more than one highly poisonous species of aconite, brought from Kiangnan and Chêkiang, and formerly used to poison arrows for military and hunting purposes. The addition of the character tsao to the generic term wu-t’u is partly explained by the fact that the plant, which may be the Aconitum ferox, grows wild, or from portions of the stem or rootstock being generally attached to the roots. The specimens vary a good deal, being sometimes ovoid, oblong and tapering to a point, or bifid or even rounded at the extremities. They vary from three-quarters of an inch, to one inch and a-half in length, are covered with a smoothish or wrinkled, dark cuticle, and are very frequently worm-eaten. Internally, they are whitish and starchy, have very little, if any, colour, but the taste is very acrid and benumbing. Liautung is said to yield the plant, from which a very powerful sun-dried extract is said to be prepared. The deadly properties of this preparation have been confirmed by Dr. Cristison. A country west of China is said to prepare an arrow poison from a species of Aconite called Tu-po-ts’ao,  白草 :– All the drugs above mentioned, as obtained from certain species of aconite, are only used in medical practice after they have been prepared in various ways, so as to diminish the poisonous of medicinal properties of the plants. Ch’uun-wu-t’u, is not used as a medicine here, although it is mentioned in the Pen-Ts’ao, but according to Hanbury, the powdered root is employed as a means of producing local anaesthesia, when mixed with Ts’ao-wu-t’u, and the flowers of the Azalea or Hyoscyamus. Stimulant, diaphoretic, arthritic, sedative, expectorant, deobstruent, alterative and diuretic properties are attributed to Fu-tz’ŭ, Tien-hiung, and Fu-p’ien. They are accordingly used in fevers, ague, apoplexy, rheumatism, leprosy, neuralgia, headache, dysuria, dropsy, cholera, and dysmenorrhoea. Some of the uses are identical with those of the Aconitum hetrophyllum of the Indian Pharmacopoeia. (See Wolfsbane)” Mesny ( 1905), pp. 32-33.

          Aconite species (also known in English as ‘monkshood’ or ‘wolfsbane’) that are commonly found across Europe and Asia. They are known to have been used as arrow poisons right up until modern times amongst the Ainu in northern Japan, and the Minaro in Ladakh (Peissel, Michel, 1984: 99-100). They were also used as a poison in the region of Lake Issyk-kol in modern Kyrgyzstan. St. George (1974), pp. 167, 170.
          The Chinese were quick to make use of their knowledge of arrow poison. We find in the Biography of Geng Gong in Chapter 49 of the Hou Hanshu that in 75

“The Xiongnu then conquered and killed Ande, the king of the Further Tribe. Then they attacked the town of Qinpu (near Guchen). (Geng) Gong climbed onto the ramparts, and led his soldiers into battle. He coated his arrows with a poison, and spread the rumour among the Xiongnu that the Han had sacred arrows, and the wounds of those who were hit would certainly be extraordinary. Then he used powerful crossbows to shoot these arrows. The barbarians who were hit noticed that their wounds were all frothing up. They were very frightened then.
   At this moment, a hurricane of wind and rain broke loose. (Geng Gong and the others) took advantage of the rain to attack the enemy. They killed and wounded a very large number. The terrified Xiongnu said to each other: “The Han soldiers are supernatural. Truly they are to be feared.” They disbanded then and retreated.” Adapted from the French translation of Édouard Chavannes (1906), pp. 226-227.

The baicao of the Hou Hanshu must surely refer to one of the wild species of aconite which were used to prepare arrow poisons and are reported as being abundant in the mountains surrounding the Tarim Basin. The following Chinese account from the 17th century briefly describes how they were prepared:

“In making poison arrows for shooting wild beasts, the tubers of wild aconitum are boiled in water. The resulting liquid, being highly viscous and poisonous, is smeared on the sharp edges of arrowheads. These treated arrowheads are effective in the quick killing of both human beings and animals, even though the victim may shed only a trace of blood.” Sung (1637), p. 267.

See also note 19.3 below.

4. For a translation of this passage from the Hanshu see CICA, pp. 100-101.