Zhang Qian

Zhang Qian was born in Chenggu (the present Chenggu County of Shaanxi Province) of Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD). He was an outstanding envoy and explorer in Chinese history, opening up the ancient Silk Road and bringing reliable information about the Western Regions. 

During the reign of the Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), the Huns (Xiongnu) often intruded into the northern borders of the Han Empire, so the emperor was making preparations to fight against the Huns. When he knew Da Yuezhi (an ancient state in Amu Darya) had a feud with the Huns, because its king was killed by the Huns' Chanyu (the headman of Hunnish tribes) and the head made into a goblet, he decided to unite with this state to combat their common enemy. Therefore, Zhang Qian was sent as a diplomatic envoy to the Western Regions.

In 139 BC, with about 100 people, Zhang Qian departed from Longxi (in Gansu Province). Unfortunately, he and the delegation were captured by the Huns when they reached the Hexi Corridor and detained for ten years as hostage. Finally, they found a chance to flee. They crossed deserts and the Gobi, and went over the snow-covered Pamirs. After about ten days, they arrived in Dawan (in Fergana Basin). Under the help of a Dawan's guide, they went through Kangju (between Balkhash Lake and the Aral Sea) and reached Da Yuezhi.

To Zhang's surprise, satisfied with their life, the Da Yuezhi people refused to make an alliance against the Huns. Besides, they thought it was impossible to resist the Huns together because they were far away from the Han Dynasty. Zhang Qian made an on-the-spot investigation in Daxia (Balkh) and other countries for more than one year. In 128 BC, He decided to return to Chang'an (the ancient name of Xi'an). On their return journey, they were captured by the Huns again and detained for more than one year. In 126 BC, Zhang seized the opportunity provided by internal disorder among the Huns. He escaped and reached Chang'an. Although he failed to finish the mission to make a military alliance with Da Yuezhi, he obtained a great deal of knowledge about the people, geography, culture and customs of 36 states in the Western Regions.

In 119 BC, Zhang Qian set off on his second journey to the Western Regions, in order to ally with Wusun (in Ili) Valley) against the Huns. At that time, the Huns had been expelled from the Hexi Corridor, so Zhang Qian reached Wusun easily. Then he sent other envoys to Dawan, Kangju, Da Yuezhi, Anxi (Parthia, in now Iran), Juandu (present India), Yutian (Hetian) and other countries. In 115 BC, the king of Wusun put an interpreter and a guide at Zhang's disposal. Moreover, Wusun's ten envoys convoyed Zhang to Chang'an. He died there in 114 BC. Then the diplomatic envoys he sent came back in droves. Finally, the Han Dynasty was able to build good relationships with states of the Western Regions.

 Further Reading:
 Tomb of Zhang Qian in Hanzhong, Shaanxi
 Silk Road in Western Han Dynasty

- Last updated on Apr. 22, 2022 -
Questions & Answers on Zhang Qian
Asked by Teymur from AZERBAIJAN | Apr. 14, 2022 21:32Reply
What goods did Zhang Qian trade?
What goods did Zhang Qian trade like silk, horses, grapes etc

please tell me I would like to know about it.
Answers (1)
Answered by Jimmy | Apr. 22, 2022 01:09

He introduced silk, tea, porcelain... to the west and brought grape, seasame, pomegranate,walnut... into China.

Asked by molly from USA | Oct. 12, 2015 09:50Reply
what was zhang qian trying to do when he discovered the places west of china?
Answers (1)
Answered by Mike from NEW ZEALAND | Oct. 12, 2015 22:22

Molly, he was sent by Emperor Wudi to persuade another country in Western Regions to unite with Han Empire to defeat the Huns. Unfortunately, he was caught by the Huns. They didn't kill him. Zhang Qian was detained for more than a year and finally escaped.
Asked by anjum shah from INDIA | Aug. 07, 2015 08:06Reply
did Zhang qian discover the Indian silk route?
Answers (1)
Answered by Smith from LATVIA | Aug. 07, 2015 21:51

Anjum, he had two expeditions to the West Regions. During his first expedition, he learnt that India was located to the southwest of China. In 122 BC, he sent four expeditions to reach India. However, they didn't make it because some minorities in the southwest part of China stopped them.

See, he didn't successfully find the trade route to India. However, he made Han people known of India.
Asked by fred from CANADA | Nov. 09, 2014 04:26Reply
Why is Zhang Qian important?
Answers (2)
Answered by Edward from HUNGARY | Nov. 10, 2014 00:00

Fred, he was the pioneer who explored the Western Regions and helped the leader found the Silk Road.
Answered by Altyn from KYRGYZSTAN | May. 11, 2018 07:39

He was first known to the "official" history, but not the first one to have known the regions west of then China. Historians are still to know more about the ancient history of the region, take Bactria, for an example, or numerous Chinese inventions that found their way to ancient Greece and the famous city of Millet.
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