Han Zhao

Han Zhao

The Han Zhao (zh-stp|s=汉赵|t=漢趙|p=Hànzhào; 304-329) was a state of the Sixteen Kingdoms during the Chinese Jin Dynasty (265-420). It represented two state titles, the Han state (漢, pinyin Hàn) proclaimed in 304 by Liu Yuan and the Former Zhao state (前趙, pinyin Qiánzhào) in 319 by Liu Yao. (The reason it was referred to as Former Zhao was that when its powerful general Shi Le broke away and formed his own state in 319, he named it Zhao as well, and so Shi Le's state was referred to as Later Zhao.) Since they were both ruled by the partially sinicized Xiongnu Liu family, scholars with Chinese backgrounds often combined them into a single Han Zhao state. Numerous western texts referred to the two states separately; others referred to the Han state as the Northern Han (北漢), a nomenclature in diminishing use as the term now referring to the Northern Han in the Period of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. However, the reference to them as separate should be considered clearly erroneous, given that when Liu Yao changed the name of the state from Han to Zhao in 319, he treated the state as having been continuous from the time that Liu Yuan founded it in 304; instead, he was discontinuing the connection to Han Dynasty and reclaiming ancestry from the great Xiongnu "chanyu" Maodun.

All rulers of the Han Zhao declared themselves "emperors". Han Zhao rulers were all generally intelligent and articulate, but lacked self-control and showing excessive cruelty on the battle field. Particularly typical of this pattern of behavior was Liu Cong (Emperor Zhaowu), who was clearly able to discern good strategical plans from bad, but indulged himself in wine and women, and his patterns of erratic behavior often resulted in deaths of honest officials. Han Zhao was therefore a state that never fully realized its potential -- it had the right mix of talent among its officials, and its armies were powerful when properly used, but it would never complete the conquests that its emperors envisioned, and eventually fell to its formal general Shi Le.

Although chronologically the Han Zhao was not the first of the Sixteen kingdoms, its armies sacked the Jin dynastic capitals of Luoyang in 311 and Chang'an in 316. Emperor Huai and Emperor Min of the Jin were captured, humiliated and executed. Remnants of the Jin court fled to Jiankang, located eastward of Luoyang and Chang'an, and founded the so-called Eastern Jin Dynasty, under the Sima Rui the Prince of Langye, who later became Emperor Yuan. In 318, Liu Can and the ruling family resided at Pingyang were toppled and executed by the coup d'etat of Jin Zhun who was in turn eliminated by Shi Le and Liu Yao, who, as an imperial prince, claimed the throne and changed the name of the state to Zhao. Han Zhao lasted until 329 when Shi Le defeated Liu Yao at the river Luo. Liu Yao was captured and executed; his sons succumbed to the follow-up military advancement.

The Condition of the Xiongnu in Northern China and their uprising

By the 280s, a huge number (approximately 400,000) of Xiongnu herdsmen resided in the Ordos Desert and the Bing province, a political division including modern-day areas of the whole Shanxi province, southwestern part of Inner Mongolia and eastern part of Shaanxi province, after Cao Cao moved them there and split them into "five departments" (五部, pinyin Wǔbù) These Xiongnu seemed to substantially change from the nomadic lifestyles of the steppes to stockbreeding and to some extent, agriculture.

Sinicization was evident, especially among the elite; Liu Yuan, the hereditary chieftain of the "Left Department" (左部, pinyin Zuǒbù) was educated at Luoyang, capital of the Jin Dynasty, and proficient in Chinese literature, history, military strategies and tactics - expertise of a perfect person in the classical sense. Speculations had recounted that Liu Yuan was once considered the commander of the Jin forces in the conquest of the Kingdom of Wu; consideration was later dropped due to his Xiongnu ethnicity.

Nonetheless, among the Xiongnu elite and herdsmen, including Liu Yuan himself, a keen sense of separate identity from the Chinese was retained. Most herdsmen still kept their horseback raiding and combat skills. Discontent against the Jin dynastic rule and of their subordinate position prompted them to seek an independent or self-governing Xiongnu entity. As one of the elite adequately put it, "since the fall of [Han Dynasty|Han [Dynasty] ] , [Kingdom of Wei| [Kingdom of] Wei] and Jin [Dynasty] have risen one after the other. Although our [Xiongnu] king ("Shanyu") had been given a nominal hereditary title, he no longer has a single foothold of sovereign territory."

Developments in the War of the Eight Princes (also known as the Rebellion of the Eight Kings) finally favored the Xiongnu. Liu Yuan took advantage of a commission from the desperate Prince of Chengdu (Sima Ying), who was just being driven out of his base at Ye (near modern-day Linzhang County ch. 临漳县, Hebei province) to gather 50,000 Xiongnu warriors. Liu Yuan then proceeded to proclaim himself the "King of Han," the same title used centuries ago by Liu Bang (later Emperor Gao of Han and the founder of Han Dynasty) - a deliberate adoption of the long fallen Han Dynasty based on the earlier intermarriages of Xiongnu "shanyu" and Han princesses to render the Jin and Wei usurpers. Liu fully wished that such legitimist stance would earn him substantial support from the Chinese elite. His motives also explained the extent of his adoption of the ideology and political practices from the same elite.

Nevertheless such proclamation was to remain titular - his war effort would eventually outdo his legitimist plan. His Han state attracted the support of some chieftains of other non-Chinese Xianbei and Di and certain bandit forces including those of an ex-slave Shi Le of the Jie ethnicity. However the neighboring Tuoba tribe, the powerful Xianbei nomads in modern-day Inner Mongolia and northern parts of Shanxi province, intruded into the Xiongnu residence of the Han State under their chieftain Tuoba Yilu (拓拔猗盧, pinyin Tuòbá Yīlú). A powerful Xiongnu state would dash Tuoba's hope of migrating into the region.

On one hand the Tuoba would hence assist the Jin governor of the Bing region to launch counteroffensive against the Han state. On the other hand Xiongnu cavalry, successful in plundering the countryside, failed to capture the fortified Jinyang (modern-day Taiyuan city, the provincial capital of the Shanxi province), the provincial capital of the Bing region even though the former governor Sima Teng had fled to the North China Plain and left a mess. Liu Kun, the new governor, reorganized the defense and exploited the feud between the Han and the Tuoba to his advantage. His biography is in Jinshu 62. Allegiance between the Jin court and the Tuoba was sealed - five prefectures were rewarded in 310 to Tuoba Yilu, who was also made the Prince of Dai. The areas around Jinyang would remain in Jin hands until the death of Tuoba Yilu in 316 when Jinyang was captured after a disastrous counteroffensive. Liu Kun fled but was later murdered by a Xianbei chieftain Duan Pidi.

By 309, The Xiongnu armies defeated the Jin armies on the field and pushed all the way up to the gates of Luoyang.

Rulers of the Han Zhao

Note: Liu Xi was Liu Yao's crown prince who was thrusted into the leadership role when Liu Yao was captured by Later Zhao's emperor Shi Le, but he never took the imperial title.

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