The Han-Xiongnu War

The Han-Xiongnu War, 133 BC–89 AD: The Struggle of China and a Steppe Empire Told Through Its Key Figures

The Han-Xiongnu War (133 BC – AD 89) pitted the Han dynasty of China against a confederation of nomadic steppe peoples, the Xiongnu Empire. In campaigns waged on a huge scale by the standards of contemporary Western warfare (several hundred thousand soldiers were fielded at the Battle of Mobei in 119 BC), the two states fought for control of Central Asia, hungry for its rich resources and Western trade links. China’s victory set the stage for millennia of imperial rule and a vast sphere of influence in Asia.

Scott Forbes Crawford examines the war in a lively, engaging narrative. He builds a mosaic encompassing the centuries of conflict through biographies of fifteen historical figures: the Chinese and Xiongnu emperors who first led their armies into battle; ‘peace bride’ Princess
Jieyou, whose marriage to a steppe king forged a vital Chinese alliance and positioned her to feed intelligence to the Han Court; the explorer-diplomat Zhang Qian, who almost inadvertently established the Silk Road, among other pivotal individuals. Their stories capture the war’s
breadth, the enduring impact on Han society and statecraft in what became a Chinese golden age, and the doomed resistance of the Xiongnu to an ever-strengthening juggernaut.

– M. A. Aldrich, author of The Search for a Vanishing Beijing and Ulaanbaatar Beyond Water and Grass
“[A] fast-moving, readable narrative history [which] readily shifts from personalities to politics, geopolitics, espionage, military clashes, culture, and diplomacy (including marriage diplomacy).”
– The Asian Review of Books