In this book I have aimed to establish a basis for the study of the early relations between China and Inner Asia. Looking for a beginning often means approaching the goal from multiple avenues. Hence, I have examined the archaeological record, which can yield information lost to the written sources; the textual materials, which required placing the information provided by them in their historical contexts; and the ancient historians' methods and intentions, which can enlighten us of the intellectual and historical background of historiography. In my conclusions, even when presented as partial critiques of earlier theories, I have tried primarily to offer interpretations that are consistent with the evidence not only internal to a single set of sources but also drawn from multiple sources.
Yet the subject of this book is crossed by too many open questions, and thus arguments can be only offered tentatively; there is no doubt that much will need to be corrected as more materials and new interpretations become available. Archaeology is the area in which most of these advances may be expected in the short term, for the materials already accumulated are vast (and growing daily) and new archaeological projects are being negotiated and carried out as we write. Moreover, the study of historiography in China is far from obsolete; finally, texts excavated from ancient graves are adding new dimensions to our knowledge of the early history of China, and of its social and intellectual life.
The picture of the early history of the relations between China and Inner Asia that I have presented is a composite formed by four related and yet relatively independent narratives, each of which not only corresponds to a distinct “phase” in a historical process of change of the frontier but also presents a special quality determined by the particular sources and problems that we must consider. These four narratives are not fully compatible, and seeking to present a single “master narrative” would have forced such