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Chang K'ien

Chang K'ien (张骞) was a native of Han-chung in the south of Shen-si province ; during the period of K'ien-yuan [140-134 BCE] he was a lang, which was a titular officer of the imperial household; a yeoman.

At that time the Son of Heaven made inquiries among those Hsiung-nu who had surrendered as prisoners and they all reported that the Hsiung-nu had overcome the king of the Yue-chi and made a drinking-vessel out of his skull. The Yue-chi had decamped and were hiding somewhere, all the time scheming how to take revenge on the Hsiung-nu, but had no ally to join them in striking a blow. The Chinese, wishing to declare war on and wipe out the Hsiung nu, upon hearing this report, desired to communicate with the Yue-chi; but, the road having to pass through the territory of the Hsiung-nu, the Emperor sought out men whom he could send. Chang K'ien, being a lang, responded to the call and enlisted in a mission to the Yue-chi; he took with him one Kan Fu, a Tartar, formerly a slave of the T 'ang-i family, and set out from Lung-si which is now Kan-su province, crossing the territory of the Hsiung-nu. The Hsiung-nu made him a prisoner and sent him to the Shan-yu, the Great Khan or King, who detained him, saying: 'The Yue-chi are to the north of us; how can China send ambassadors to them? If I wished to send ambassadors to Yue which is at the south of China would China be willing to submit to us?' He held Chang K'ien for more than ten years, and gave him a wife, by whom he had a son.

All this time Chang K'ien had kept possession of the Emperor's token of authority, and, when in the course of time he was allowed greater liberty, he, watching his opportunity, succeeded in making his escape with his men in the direction of the Yue-chi. Having marched several tens of days to the west, he arrived in Ta-yuan. The people of this country, having heard of the wealth and fertility of China, had tried in vain to communicate with it. When, therefore, they saw Chang K'ien, they asked joyfully: 'Where do you wish to go?' Chang K'ien replied: 'I was sent by the Emperor of China to the Yue-chi, and was made prisoner by the Hsiung-nu. I have now escaped them and would ask that your king have some one conduct me to the country of the Yue-chi; and if I should succeed in reaching that country, on my return to China, my king will reward yours with untold treasures. The Ta-yuan believed his account and gave him safe-conduct on postal roads to K'ang-ku (Soghdiana), and K'ang-ku sent him on to the Ta-yue-chi. The king of the Ta-yue-chi having been killed by the Hu Hsiung-nu, the people had set up the crown prince in his stead. They had since conquered Ta-hia (Bactria) and occupied that country. The latter being rich and fertile and little troubled with robbers, they had determined to enjoy a peaceful life; moreover, since they considered themselves too far away frorn China, they had no longer the intention to take revenge on the Hsiung-nu. Chang K 'ien went through the country of the Yue-chi to Ta-hia, yet, after all, he did not carry his point with the Yue-chi. After having remained there fully a year, he returned, skirting the Nan-shan. He wished to return through the country of the K'iang [Tangutans], but was again made a prisoner by the Hsiung-nu, who detained him for more than a year, when the Shan-yu Great King died and the 'Left' Luk-li prince attacked the rightful heir and usurped the throne, thus throwing the country into a state of confusion. At this time Chang K'ien, with his Tartar wife and T'ang-i Fu [i. e. Kan Fu], escaped and returned to China.


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