Warfare in Chinese History

By Hans J. Van Der Ven | Go to book overview

TIBET IN TANG'S GRAND STRATEGY
DENIS TWITCHETT

At some time between 807 and 809 Bai Juyi (772–846), who was serving at Xianzong's court as a Hanlin scholar and as Omissioner of the Left (Zuo Shiyi), wrote a series of fifty political poems (Xin Yuefu) dealing with contemporary issues which he considered of major importance. He wrote these for presentation to the new emperor, Xianzong (r. 805–820), whom Bai Juyi, in common with many of his contemporaries, believed was presiding over a real dynastic revival. One of these poems deals with an apparently minor military event which had occurred almost twenty years before in an obscure and barely populated frontier district on the southern edge of the Ordos desert, but which Bai Juyi rightly perceived to have marked a turning point in Tang China's relations with their most powerful and aggressive neighbours.1


Walling Yanzhou

Yanzhou has been walled!

Yanzhou has been walled!

Its fortress standing on the summit of the Wuyuan highlands.2

The Bochanbu (Dpal-chen-po), Governor of East Tibet, Suddenly saw this new fortress placed on his main road into China: Dispatch riders bearing the Golden Bird insignia3 galloped to report to the Tibetan King (Btsampo).

____________________
1
The Xin Yuefu poems occupy juan 3 and 4 of Bai Juyi's collected works. For convenience I refer to the edition edited by Gu Xuejie, Bai Juyi ji (4 vols. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1979); for this poem see vol. 1, 4.67–8. A full textual apparatus can be found in Hiraoka Takeo and Imai Kiyoshi, Hakushi Monjū (Kyoto: Kyōto Daigaku Jimbungaku Kenkyūsho, 1970), unnumbered first volume (which includes juan 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, and 17), 45–47.
2
The Wuyuan highland formed the northern watershed between the northern tributaries of the Wei he and the arid region of the southern Ordos desert, with its various saline pools, from which Yanzhou took its name. The prefectural city was situated in Wuyuan county, the modern Dingbian in northern Shaanxi.
3
The golden bird was the tally carried by Tibetan royal dispatch riders, who were called 'bird messengers' niao shi or 'flying bird messengers' feiniao shi. Royal messengers wore a badge in the shape of a silver goose on their chest. In time of war their people were mobilized by a messenger carrying a golden arrow seven inches long as his insignia of authority. See Liu Xu et al., Jiu Tang shu (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1975; hereafter JTS), 196A.5219; Ouyang Yiu, Song Qi et al., Xin Tang shu (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju 1975; hereafter XTS), 216A.6072.

-106-

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