A LULL ON THE NORTHERN MARCHES
25-16 B.C.: Conspicuous State, Han Dynasty; Conspicuous Rival, the Huns.
THE RANDOMLY chosen decade from 25 to 16 B.C. was one of the quietest in the struggle between the Chinese emperors of the Han Dynasty and the nomadic Huns who periodically raided their northwestern frontier. The struggle had begun in 220 B.C. During this period of more than two hundred years, the emperors of the Han Dynasty had tried in every way possible to protect their frontiers against the Huns. Sometimes they were successful, but whenever they were, the Huns retreated beyond the Gobi desert, where it was almost impossible for the Chinese to pursue them. During most of the long struggle, there was continual fighting, but there was one extended period of peace, from 51 B.C. to A.D. 9, and the decade under study took place during that long period when both sides were more concerned with internal than with external problems.
The partial peace which was established in 51 B.C. was completed in 36 B.C., and allowed the Chinese to relax somewhat their constant vigilance over the northwest. By 25 B.C., the former Han Dynasty had begun to crumble. Imperial power had been weakening from the time of the Emperor Wu Ti partly because of the incompetence of the rulers and partly because of the corruption which had infested the administrative system. Emperor Ch'eng Ti, who acceded to the throne in 32 B.C. was devoted to pleasure, and preferred to leave imperial duties to the most able and willing of his maternal uncles. Consequently, the power of his uncle and his mother's lineage increased until they held power in fact if not yet in name, and by A.D. 9 Ch'eng Ti's (maternal) nephew actually seized the throne.