125-116 B.C.: Conspicuous State, Former Han Dynasty; Conspicuous Rival, The Huns.
THIS randomly chosen decade proves to be the turning point in the long struggle on the northwestern frontier between the Chinese emperors of the Han dynasty and the Huns. For almost four hundred years the Huns had conducted devastating raids into China, pillaging, burning, and taking slaves. Their victims did not desire the Hun territory for its own sake; their problem had been to deter these raiding nomads. Thus, the Chinese had been continually in a defensive stance. In previous years they had tried everything they could think of to pacify the Huns: they had built the Great Wall, sent their princesses to marry Hun leaders, made alliances with third parties, paid the Huns subsidies. But nothing had worked for long. Now, under the great Han Emperor Wu Ti, the Chinese resolved to protect their frontiers by smashing and utterly destroying the power of the Huns, and in a series of brilliantly conducted campaigns, inflicted great injuries on them. But heavy losses, especially of horses, kept the Chinese from following up their victories and achieving their goal of utter destruction of the Huns. As the decade ended, a hard-won truce held along the frontier while both sides were recuperating. In the coming decades repeated Chinese attacks upon the Huns were at last to bear fruit, but that is beyond the scope of our study.
The empire of the Huns and the Han dynasty were established at almost the same time. The consolidation of the Huns into an empire began about the year 215 B.C., when their leader, Touman,