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Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia

 

Chinese Protectorate to Pacify the West / Anxi / An-hsi (Tarim Basin)
AD 640 - c.790

The Tang dynasty of imperial China is adjudged to have begun in AD 617, although the fact that the last Sui emperor had been murdered in that year was kept secret until 618. One of the first great endeavours to be enacted by the Tang was the continuation of the construction of the Grand Canal.

In 627 the steppe-dwelling Göktürks made the mistake of attacking the Tang. Their khan was captured in 630 and the Göktürks were subjugated for a time. The Tang had proven that their version of the Chinese empire was strong and militarily capable, and several other victories would soon follow, including an invasion of Koguryo in 645.

The Tang also began taking a strong interest in events on their western borders. They established a western protectorate in 640 which was focussed on subjugating the Tarim Basin and its population of largely Tocharian descendants. This protectorate was generally known as the 'Protectorate to Pacify the West', or the 'Anxi Protectorate', although other variations of the title exist in Chinese records.

In its later years it became the 'Anxi Grand Protectorate', by which time it had been expanded considerably towards the west. The initial headquarters were located in Turfan (Turpan), to the north of the Tarim Basin, a depression which is situated to the north-east of the Takla Makan Desert (Taklamakan). It was later moved to Kučā (Kucha, now Qiuchi), a city which lies to the west of Turfan, in the centre of the northern boundary of the Takla Makan.

As the Tang grew in power on the eastern fringes of Central Asia, so the situation deteriorated to the west of this. Sassanid Persia was overrun by Islam in 651. Sassanid King Yazdagird organised a hurried alliance with the Hephthalites, before being defeated at the Battle of the Oxus and then murdered by a mill owner when in hiding.

With the Sassanids gone, the Islamic invaders swept into eastern Iran to come face to face with various small principalities and city states for them to conquer, notably those in Sogdiana and to its south.

Despite a restoration of Turkic power at the beginning of the eighth century following the collapse of the Western Göktürks, the Tang held nominal power in at least the northern parts of Sogdiana until 751. By that stage the successful Abbasid revolt in Greater Khorasan against the Umayyad caliphate was beginning to focus on a full and complete conquest of the lands to the south of the Oxus, and Chinese influence was gradually stamped out.

A Qin iron age sword

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from ONS No 206 (Journal of the Oriental Numismatic Society, Winter 2011), from The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 3, E Yarshater (Ed), from History of Humanity: from the seventh century BC to the seventh century AD, Joachim Herrmann, Erik Zürcher, & Ahmad Hasan Dani (International commission for a history of the scientific and cultural development of mankind, History of Mankind, Unesco, 1994), from History of Civilizations of Central Asia (Volume 3), Ahmad Hasan Dani (Motilal Banarsidass, 1999), and from External Links: Bukhara History Part 5: Bukhara under the Arabian Conquest (Advantour), and The Silk Road, and Encyclopaedia Iranica.)

640

In order to keep the Eastern Göktürks in order, in 639 or 640 Tang Emperor Taizong raises Qilibi Khan to the position of khagan of the Göktürks in a weakened recreation of their khaganate. In 640, the protectorate of Anxi is also established in the Tocharian-dominated Tarim Basim, seemingly as a way of finally subjugating and controlling this region.

Map of Central Asia AD 600-700
By the beginning of the seventh century AD, Göktürk power in southern Central Asia was waning while the Sassanids had established a degree of control over the southernmost parts of this region, and various city states had emerged in Sogdiana (click or tap on map to view full sized)

640 - 642

Qiao Shiwang

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

642 - 649

Guo Xiaoke

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

649 - 651

Chai Zhewei

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

651 - 658

Qu Zhizhan

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

651 - 661

The son and heir-apparent of late Sassanid King Yazdagird, named Peroz (Pērōz), is one of those who flees eastwards at the fall of the Sassanid kingdom in 651. He reaches the yabgu, the Western Göktürk viceroy in Tokharistan. From there he soon turns for support to the Tang court.

The date of his first embassy to the Tang is before 661. This is before the formal submission of the yabgu to the Tang following the downfall of the western Göktürks, but after the formation of the protectorate of Anxi in the Tarim Basin, which quickly expands westwards.

653

According to Tang sources, in 653 the Chinese emperor formally installs the Nezak ruler, Ghar-ilchi, as king of Jibin (Kabul). It is probably this king who has been facing off against the young Islamic general, Al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra, in an heroic battle.

Sassanid troops fighting off Arabs during the Islamic invasion of Persia
This modern illustration (uncredited) shows Sassanid troops fighting off Arabs during the Islamic invasion of Persia, with the Islamic conquest gaining them entry to eastern Iran and the Indo-Iranian provinces there

In the 650s, Kabul's well-provisioned troops are able to hold their own and the two leaders subsequently agree to peaceful coexistence. Al-Muhallab later becomes governor of Khorasan (in 698).

658 - 662

Yang Zhou

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

659 - 665

A seemingly partial occupation of Transoxiana by Tang dynasty Chinese is effected in 659, but is ended in 665. This is part of a Tang effort to defend its western approaches after centuries of barbarian incursions and also to provide buffer districts between it and the strife which is engulfing Central Asia.

The occupation is part of the extended protectorate of Anxi to encompass, partially or totally, the Pamir region, Ferghana, Sogdiana, and Tokharistan, plus Herat in post-Sassanid Aria.

661 - 662

A second embassy on the part of Peroz is received shortly after April 661 by the Tang court. As a result, during the largely nominal reorganisation of the former Göktürk dominions into 'area commands' by the Tang in the same year, Peroz is appointed head of the 'Persia area command' which exists on paper only.

Map of Central Asia AD 550-600
As was often the case with Central Asian states which had been created by horse-borne warriors on the sweeping steppelands, the Göktürk khaganate swiftly incorporated a vast stretch of territory in its westwards expansion, whilst being hemmed in by the powerful Chinese dynasties to the south-east and Siberia's uninviting tundra to the north (click or tap on map to view full sized)

His seat is claimed to be in Zaranj in Sakastan. Finally, in 662, Peroz is formally invested as 'king of Bosi' by the Tang. Also in 661, the Chinese protectorate of the 'Western Regions' is formed which includes Jibin (Kabul), and the Tang emperor confirms the Nezak ruler, Ghar-Ilchi, as Kabul's ruler.

However, a Turkic dynasty soon reigns in Zabulistan, apparently seizing power in Kabulistan from Ghar-ilchi. This occurs at a point after 661, and perhaps even during 661.

662

Su Haizheng

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

663

Gao Xian

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

664

Pilou Shiche

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

665 - 667

Pei Xingjian

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

665 - c.706

Increasingly frequent embassies sent by Peroz between 665-671 show his increasing desperation at being able to hold back the encroaching Islamic armies in Sakastan. By 673-675 his position has become untenable and he flees to the Tang court.

Tonggusi Baxi in the Xinhe Aksu region of China
The city of Tonggusi Baxi in the Xinhe Aksu region in what is now north-western China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region provided the capital of the 'Anxi Grand Protectorate' under the Tang dynasty

In 679 his son, Narse, returns west to Tokharistan until about 705-706. He may be coordinating his efforts with the kingdoms of Kabulistan and Zabulistan, which staunchly resist the Islamic advance for a century.

667 - 669

Tao Dayou

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

669 - 671

Dong Baoliang

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

671 - 677

Yuan Gongyu

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

677 - 679

Du Huanbao

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

679 - 681

Wang Fangyi

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

681 - 682

Du Huanbao

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

683 - 685

Li Zulong

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

686 - 687

Wang Shiguo

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

687 - 689

Yan Wengu

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

689 - 690

Jiu Bin

Commanding general of the Zhou protectorate.

690 - 693

Tang Xiujing

Commanding general of the Zhou protectorate.

693 - 695

Xu Qinming

Commanding general of the Zhou grand protectorate.

695 - 698

Gongsun Yajing

Commanding general of the Zhou grand protectorate.

698 - 704

Tian Yangming

Commanding general of the Zhou grand protectorate.

705 - 708

Guo Yuanzhen

Commanding general of the Wei grand protectorate.

708 - 709

Zhou Yiti

Commanding general of the Wei grand protectorate.

709 - 710

Guo Yuanzhen

Commanding general of the Wei grand protectorate.

710 - 711

Zhang Xuanbiao

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

712 - 715

Lu Xuanjing

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

715 - 717

Guo Qianguan

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

715

The rebellion by the ikhshid of Ahsikent is short-lived. He is quickly dealt with by Qutaiba ibn Muslim, governor of Greater Khorasan, although the city shortly falls to the Chinese General Zhang Xiaosong of Anxi, probably adding to the Umayyad governor's frustrations.

Early Turk warriors
This modern artist's impression shows three early Turkic warriors, from left to right, a Göktürk armoured cavalryman, an eastern Turk tribesman, and a Türgish 'tarkan' champion

716

Li Cong

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

717 - 719

Tang Jiahui

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

720 - 721

Guo Qianguan

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

721 - 724

Zhang Xiaosong

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

724 - 726

Du Xian

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

726 - 728

Zhao Yizhen

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

728

Xie Zhixin

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

728 - 735

Li Fen

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

728 - 729

Zhao Hanzhang

Assistant Tang general.

729 - 730

Lu Xiulin

Assistant Tang general.

730

Tang Jiahui

Assistant Tang general.

730 - 731

Lai Yao

Assistant Tang general.

731 - 733

Xu Qinshi

Assistant Tang general.

733 - 735

Wang Husi

Assistant Tang general. Commanding from 735.

735 - 738

Wang Husi

Became commanding general from 735.

738 - 739

Ge Jiayun

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

740 - 741

Tian Renwan

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

741 - 747

Fumeng Lingcha

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

747 - 751

Gao Xianzhi

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

751 - 752

Wang Zhengjian

Commanding general of the Tang grand protectorate.

752 - 755

Feng Changqing

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

755 - 756

Liang Zai

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

756

When General An Lushan declares his rebellion against the emperor for the killing of his son, he rides straight into Ch'ang-an with his Tibetans. Tang Emperor Xuanzong is forced into ignominious flight with his bodyguard.

Tang Emperor Xuanzong
Tang Emperor Xuanzong was forced by his own bodyguard to sacrifice his concubines in order to effect his flight to safety, a loss which apparently never left him, so much so that he soon abdicated his lost throne in favour of his son

This is the point at which the 'Protectorate General to Pacify the East', largely the territory of the former Korean kingdom of Koguryo and the still extant kingdom of Silla, is abandoned, although the Tang recover by 761, having defeated General An Lushan's Greater Yen rebellion.

756 - 759

Li Siye

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

759 - 761

Lifei Yuanli

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

761 - 762

Bai Xiaode

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

762 - 765

Sun Zhizhi

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

765 - ?

Zhu Mou

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

765 - 778

Er Zhumou

Commanding general of the Tang protectorate.

762 - 778

Guo Xin

Assistant Tang general. Commanding from 778.

778 - 808

Guo Xin

Became commanding general from 778.

790

The last years of the protectorate's existence are shrouded in doubt. The Tibetans have severed direct communications with the Tang, and it seems they conquer much of the protectorate's territory in this year.

Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo
Songtsen Gampo, king of all of Tibet, led a force of mighty horsemen which generally outmatched his Chinese opponents in the seventh century AD

808

Recent warfare against the Tibetan empire has meant a gradual withdrawal of troops from whatever has remained of Tang-controlled Anxi and a loss of position there. Of Anxi's four garrisons, all either become free or are conquered by others by the middle of the ninth century.

Karasahr and Kucha are occupied in 843 by the kingdom of Qocho. Kashgar falls under the domination of the Kara-Khanid khanate. Khotan may be independent by 851, only later to be conquered by the Kara-Khanid.

 
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