Short Response: “The Horseman’s Tale” and “The Princess’s Tale” in Life along the Silk Road

Summary

Various types of people moved in and out of Tang Dynasty Chang’an between 8th and 9th century. One of these types of people is Uighur, a Turkic tribe that bordered China. The horseman Kumtugh was one of the Uighur Turks who moved in and out of Tang Dynasty Chang’an. Uighur and China had an alliance as they established trade of horses and silk through their border markets. Uighur was also a nomadic community. Another type of people who entered Tang Dynasty was the Sogdian group which was referred to as the merchants of the Silk Road. They were also good builders and architects. Sogdians travelled with Uighurs to Tang Dynasty on their frequent embassies to the Capital of China. They went as merchants to trade their horses and silk. Another group of people who moved out of Tang Dynasty was Chinese women and concubines who were taken by Uighur and Sogdian merchants and soldiers back to Karabalghasun and Sogdiana. Uighur soldiers including Kumtugh also moved to Tang Dynasty in order to support Tang against the Tibetan war.

Sogdians and Uighurs considered Chang’an mainly mainly as a market for trade and a source of women and concubines for their soldiers. Uighur also considered Chang’an as good neighbours who would be good source of economic prosperity for them. For that reason, they supported them against Tibetans. They also viewed Chang’an as a weak dynasty with infant soldiers who were not capable of winning in wars. On the other hand, Tibetans considered Chang’an dynasty as an enemy, so they invaded them with wars. Sogdians also considered Tang Dynasty Chang’an as a good destination for their Manichean religion. Manichean priests went to Chang’an and converted some Chinese to Manicheanism.

Uighur people were nomads while sogdians were sedentary. Uighur moved from one place to another with a nomadic tradition. Uighur Kaghan built a tradition felt tent on his palace in Karabalghasun to remind him of their nomadic traditions. Before Uighur had setted, Sogdians had already designed buildings for their cities. They were architects who also helped Chang’an to build their cities. Therefore, Sogdian were sedimentary because they built their cities and settled down as opposed to the nomadic nature of Uighur. Around the wall in the city of Karabalghasun, the land was cultivated by Uighur farmers. At the same time, Sogdians were busy developing their cities and settling down. This shows that Uighurs were nomads while Sogdians were sedentary.

The relations between the Chinese empire and its neighbours were a mixture of misery and fortune. Uighur and Sogdian neighbors helped them in spiritually, economically, and politically. Sogdian mainly played political spiritual roles while Uighur mainly played economic and political roles in their relations with the Chinese empire. Uighur supported them in their wars against Tibetan incursion and Rokhshan’s rebellion while Sogdian influenced them with religion and city development. Tibet was the neighbor who brought misery. It was always in constant attack of Chinese empire.

Analysis

These readings provide a good understanding of Tang Dynasty Chang’an and its relations with neighbours. The readings use the story of a horseman (Kumtugh) and the tale of a Chinese Princess to explain succinctly about the relationship between Tang Dynasty and its neighbours. The first story is concerned with the political, economic, and spiritual roles of Tibet, Sogdian and Uighur in the Chinese empire.

From the story, it is clear that Sogdians and Uighur were Turkic groups who had special interest in Chang’an, especially in terms of trade. Uighur knew that Chang’an was not strong in wars, so they decided to support them in their battle with Tibetan empire. Being Turkic groups, Uighur and Sogdian were considered by Chang’an as their own because they were believed to be the descendants of their own people. If this belief is true, then the support that Chang’an received from Uighur in their war against Tibetans understandably natural.  However, the fact that Sogdians crossed the line through the Rokhshan’s rebellion despite Chang’an favoring Rokhshan is a debatable issue.

In terms of trade, I consider the Turkic groups as great partners for Chang’an, although they were not in good terms with each other. They only had a common partner – Chang’an, but they were not good partners themselves. With the Western markets serving outsiders from neighboring Turkey, Uighur has decided to take the opportunity. The merchants of Sogdian and Uighur traded in the dynasty and married Chinese women and concubines until Chang’an decided to send them to their cities. When this happened, Solgdians felt that they were going to be undermined by Uighurs in Karabalghasun. This shows that the two neighbours were not in good terms with each other.

Another aspect that demonstrates a key relationship between Chang’an and its neighbours is the marriage of Chang’an women to the Turkic communities. Taihe, the imperial princess who was the sister of reigning emperor of China in 821 was one of the women who were to be married off to the Uighurs.

From the readings, it is clear that Chang’an was a poor victim of other powerful dynasties and a fortunate beneficiary of support from powerful dynasties as well. Uighur is the powerful dynasty which supported them while Tibet was the powerful dynasty that sought to destroy them. Solgians provided both fortunes and misfortunes for them. The weakness of the dynasty is clearly indicated by the fact that its neighbours demanded their women in marriage in order to support them.

 

References list

Whitfield, S. (1999). Life along the Silk Road. John Murray Ltd: University of California Press.

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