Zhang Qian, Envoy to the Western Territory-Sequel І
From the day it was founded, the Han Dynasty was beleaguered by a pastoral tribe from the north called the Xiong Nu, or Huns. Little could be done to stop these exploiting invaders, until the dynasty reached its zenith during the reign of Emperor Wu Di (r. 140-188 BC). An economic recovery policy characterized by little government intervention and light taxation, as adopted by previous emperors, meant that Emperor Wu Di was financially ready to act more aggressively on the issue of national security. Apart from sending troops to fight the Xiong Nu, the emperor also started appointing ambassadors to the Western Territory, a geographical term used during the Han Dynasty to refer to the states and people inhabiting today's Xinjiang and the regions beyond the Congling Mountains (Pamirs), with the objective of eliciting an alliance in the war on the Xiong Nu. Zhang Qian (born in Hanzhong, Shaanxi) was the first government envoy dispatched to the Western Territory.
In 138 BC, a Han delegation led by Zhang Qian started traveling west from Longxi. They did not travel long before they fell into the hands of the Xiong Nu, who detained them for ten years. The Xiong Nu gave a young woman in marriage to Zhang Qian, and they had children. But Zhang Qian still never stopped thinking of his mission. At last, together with his family and a few cohorts, he managed to escape the Xiong Nu. The group traveled west across the Congling Mountains into Ferghana (Dawan). The king of Ferghana recommended Zhang Qian and his delegation to another state, Kangju, from where they moved to Tukhara.
The political situation changed in a way that did not favor a Han-Tukhara alliance against the Xiong Nu. Zhang Qian spent over a year in Tukhara without ever being able to interest the king ofTukhara in what he had come to do. In 126 BC, Zhang Qian returnd in Chang'an, the capital of the Han Dynasty. He had left with a delegation of over a hundred, but returned with only one partner accompanying him.
The expedition into the Western Territory took 13 years. It did not bring about an alliance with Tukhara, but it allowed Zhang Qian to learn a great deal about the lands of the Western Territory and the peoples living there. In recognition of the useful knowledge that Zhang Qian had returned with, as well as of the pioneering political groundwork he had done for future diplomacy, Emperor Wu Di promoted Zhang Qian to be superior grand master of the palace and his assistant commissioner.