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I already know that the Han Chinese never conquered Korea because they fabricated the locations of the Han Commanderies which was originally in modern day Liaoxi, China as Professor Mark E. Byington of Havard University stated. However, if Han China’s territory in Korea was fabricated by the Chinese, how would I trust their statement about conquering the Vietnam to the South, the Uyghur to the West, and the Xiongnu to the North?

Steven Kim



Dear Mr. Kim,

Books on Chinese history, including the Han Dynasty, are too numerous to mention and easily accessible in libraries and bibliographies on the respective subjects. René Grosset’s The Empire of the Steppes is a good starter for the peoples northwest of China. The Book of the Later Han is the dynasty’s own account, which (no surprise) devotes only a short passage to the Trung sisters, who are written about in greater detail (with the inevitable legend thrown in) by the Vietnamese.

The Han fought off incursions by the Xiongnu (one of those “barbarian” peoples against whom the Great Wall had been built) from 133 BC through AD 89, by which time Emperor Wu and his successors were sending military expeditions on their side of the Wall, with the objective of gaining control of the eastern segment of the Silk Road. This ongoing conflict was an on-and-off affair, however, with diplomacy brought into play as often as armed combat. Ultimately, as the Chinese prevailed, civil war fatally weakened the Xiongnu confederation. The Han never did make any significant inroads into Xinjiang against the Uyghurs, who retained their own khaganate.

The Han were very much in evidence in Indochina, starting with what the Vietnamese call the First Domination in 111 BC, when Emperor Wu of Han conquered Nam Viet (most of northern Vietnam) and held sway over it until AD 40, when Trung Trac and Trung Nhi drove them out and established their own kingdom. The Han returned in AD 43, however, and General Ma Yuan defeated the Trung sisters, who either died fighting, committed suicide or were beheaded, depending on whose version you read. The Second Domination lasted from 43 to 544, by which time the Han kingdom had split in three in 220, though the Wu continued to administer Vietnam until 544, when they were finally driven out by Ly Nam De, who the Vietnamese recognize as their first king, even though he was ethnically Han Chinese himself. In fact, the Han had such an ethnic, cultural and linguistic influence over those centuries that the southern Vietnamese of the 20th century were known to refer to their northern countrymen (not so affectionately) as “Han.”


Jon Guttman

Research Director

World History

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