KHOTAN ii. HISTORY IN THE PRE-ISLAMIC PERIOD

ancient Buddhist oasis/kingdom on the branch of the Silk Road along the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim basin, in present-day Xinjiang, China.

 

KHOTAN

ii. HISTORY IN THE PRE-ISLAMIC PERIOD

Earlier period. The documentation on the oasis/kingdom of Khotan started when the Chinese became aware of its existence. This was due to the report of the envoy Zhang Qian, who, some time after 140 BCE, was sent by the emperor Wudi (r. 141-87 BCE) of the Former (Western) Han dynasty to seek an alliance with the Greater Yuezhi against the Xiongnu. The story of his adventures (the capture by the Xiongnu, escape, and eventual return after more than ten years) is told vividly in the possibly spurious 123rd chapter on Dayuan (Farḡāna) in the Shiji, the first of the series of dynastic histories, as well as in the 61st chapter of the Hanshu, a dynastic history of the Former Han (the latter is translated in Hulsewé, pp. 207-28). The information on Khotan (Yutian) is incorporated in the Hanshu (dynastic history of the Former Han), where the relative position and the size of the kingdom famous for the abundance of jadestone are recorded (Hulsewé, pp. 96 f.). Under the Later (Eastern) Han, China sent a series of armies (Chavannes, 1906, pp. 221, 224, 228, 230, 231), beginning with the last quarter of the 1st century CE, to subdue the city-states located on the southern rim of the Tarim basin. At that time, Khotan was in constant conflict with the neighboring Yarkand and Kashghar in the west, while it was under the influence of a greater power of the Xiongnu in the north, and a rising power of the Kushans further west was beginning to penetrate the area which was later to be called the Chinese Turkestan. The history of the Later Han, the Hou Hanshu, records at least six names of Khotanese kings in the first two centuries CE (Chavannes, 1907, pp. 171 ff.). The history of the Liang, the Liangshu, adds two more during the Later Han and another one under Wei Wendi (r. 220-26), but it is impossible to recover an indigenous Khotanese form from any of these.

The earliest local documentation on Khotan possibly comes from the Later Han in the form of the so-called Sino-Kharoṣṭhī coins. These coins, discovered mostly in Khotan since the end of the 19th century, bear short legends in Chinese as well as in Prākrit in the Kharoṣṭhī script. If the reading of the Kharoṣṭhī legends as yuti/yudi rāja is correct (Cribb, 1984, pp. 130-35, and 137 f.), the coins were issued by Khotanese kings. On the other hand, the attempts to identify some of the names in the Kharoṣṭhī script with those Khotanese kings in the Hou Hanshu have been less successful (Cribb, 1984, pp. 139 f.; followed by Wang, pp. 37 f.). In fact, it is the absolute lack of matching between the two sources that led earlier scholars (cf. Enoki, 1965, p. 240; Idem, 1992, p. 394) to date these coins to either much earlier or much later periods. However, from what we know about the names of Khotanese kings in both Chinese and Khotanese forms during the Tang and Five Dynasties, apart from the royal family name Viśa’ (that is, Viźa), there is apparently no necessary connection between the two forms, no transcription or simple translation of the native name being used in Chinese. Considering this, the second half of the Later Han period (2nd to early 3rd century CE), when Khotan was under the influence of both China and the Kushans, would be quite adequate a dating for these coins.

Another piece of information on Khotan, equally difficult to locate chronologically, comes from the Kharoṣṭhī document No. 661 (Boyer et al., p. 249). This document, found by Aurel Stein in Endere between Khotan and Niya to the east, is unique in both script and dialect (Burrow, 1936, p. 430). It may or may not belong to the 3rd century CE, as do other numerous datable Kharoṣṭhī documents from Niya and Kroraina. This document, a contract of the purchase of a camel written in Prākrit, is dated to the third year of the reign of the Khotanese king Vijita-siṃha (Burrow, 1940, p. 137). In addition to the earliest local form of the king’s name, it gives an Iranian epithet hīnāza (army leader) as well as a few other, clearly Iranian, personal names. Thus it shows that the royal family, as well as a substantial part of the population, was Iranian at that time.

For the history between these earliest documentations and the period when, in the 8th to 10th centuries, we have relatively abundant local documents in the Khotanese language, as well as in Chinese (and to a lesser extent in Tibetan), we have to rely exclusively on the Chinese sources. These are basically of two groups. The first is the official dynastic histories which occasionally give records of tribute from Khotan in the annalistic part of successive emperors. In addition, they usually have a chapter on the Western Regions, which includes a section on Khotan (Yutian). The second group includes collections of biographies of eminent monks, who either traveled to the Western Regions and returned to China, or came to China from India (or from one of the oasis states in Central Asia). These writings, as well as catalogues of the Buddhist scriptures (Tripiṭaka) in Chinese, occasionally contain records on Khotan. As early as 1820, the French Sinologist Jean-Pierre Abel-Rémusat translated a section of Khotan in the Chinese encyclopedia Gujin tushu jicheng (Collection of Books Old and New)—a vast classified compilation in 10,000 volumes completed in 1725. This book contains records on Khotan from the histories of the Former (Western) Han, Later (Eastern) Han, Three Kingdoms, Jin, Liang, Northern Wei, Northern Zhou, Sui, Tang (including the source book Cefu Yuangui), Later Jin, Later Han (of the Five Dynasties), Song, and Ming dynasties. It also includes important sections on Khotan from the Travels of Faxian (around 400), Songyun (in 519), and Xuanzang (in 644). Abel-Rémusat’s translation is somewhat antiquated, and at times misleading, yet it was the main source for the chapter “Historical Notices of Khotan” in Aurel Stein’s Ancient Khotan published in 1907.

Of the three pilgrims who visited Khotan roughly 120 years apart, Faxian gives an elaborate description of Mahāyāna temples and Buddhist rituals in Khotan (Legge, pp. 16-20; Beal, 1888, pp. 8-12; Giles, pp. 4-6), but otherwise he hardly provides any historical information. Songyun (Chavannes, 1903b, pp. 395-97) reports on a legend of the conversion of a Khotanese king to Buddhism. He also states that the power of the Hephthalites in the west reaches Khotan. Xuanzang’s account (Beal, 1884, II, pp. 309-22; Watters, II, pp. 295-302) on Khotan is by far the longest. His remarks on the name of Khotan have been much discussed (Pelliot, pp. 408-18; Hambis, p. 37). According to Xuanzang, the country’s official name was Kustana (meaning ‘Earth-breast’ in Sanskrit), while the local population called it Huanna (which exactly reflects the Late Khotanese form hvaṃna- as opposed to the Old Khotanese form hvatäna-). The traditional Chinese name Yutian and/or forms similar to it are, according to him, either foreign or non-standard. The official name is justified in the foundation legend, which he tells at length. In the version of the Travels, it is the ministers of the son of King Aśoka (ca. 272-31 BCE) who fled India and founded Khotan, where the earth rose in the form of a breast. In the Life (Beal, 1888, p. 203) and in the Tibetan Prophecy of the Li (that is, Khotan) Country (Thomas, pt. 1, pp. 100 f.; Emmerick, 1967, pp. 19-21), it is the banished prince himself who, having been fed by the breast from the earth, later founded the kingdom. Although found in two independent sources, which shows that the story was widespread, it is a legend devised to claim a noble origin of the lineage and should not be confused with historical data (against this see Emmerick, 1979, p. 167; Idem, 1983, p. 263). No colonialization of Khotan by India in the 3rd century BCE is to be considered seriously. The same is true of the Tibetan Prophecy, which narrates the stories of fifty-six kings and one regent of Khotan (Emmerick, 1969, pp. 76-77) who founded monasteries. The purpose of the work being the commemoration of the pious foundation of each king, no exact dates are given in it, and there is also no guarantee that all the kings are listed. Even though the names of the kings and their sequence may mostly be accurate, it is difficult to use this text as historical data unless it is otherwise independently corroborated (cf. Pulleyblank, apud Emmerick 1969, p. 100).

On the other hand, Khotan is prominent in the history of Chinese Buddhism. One of the earliest Mahāyāna scriptures translated from Sanskrit into Chinese, the Prajñāpāramitā-sūtra in 25,000 verses, was brought from Khotan in 282 CE. Since then, a great number of important translations were made from the Sanskrit texts brought from Khotan, made by Khotanese monks, or both. Dharmakṣema, who translated the Suvarṇabhāsa-sūtra, and Buddhabhadra, who translated the Mahāyāna-Mahāparinirvāṇa-sūtra and the Avataṃsaka-sūtra in sixty volumes (both active in the early 5th century), are among the most famous ones (for the list of translated works see Kumamoto, 1999; for the earlier period up to the 4th century see Zürcher, who goes in much greater detail). These facts, gleaned from collections of biographies of eminent monks, as well as from the catalogues of the Chinese Tripiṭaka, can tell about the religious situation of Khotan at respective times, but hardly about anything else. However, with the advent of the unified China in 618 under the Tang dynasty, which followed the short-lived Sui (581-618), the situation greatly improved.

Under the Tang, Five Dynasties, and Song. At the beginning of the 7th century, the Western Turks under Tong-yehu Kehan (that is, *Ton Yau Xaan) expanded their rule over the Western Regions, and Khotan became their vassal state also. The way the Western Turks ruled was that each king of such a vassal state was conferred the Turkish title of Iltäbär, and that a Turkish Tudun was stationed there to supervise the government and taxation. Tong-yehu Kehan was assassinated in 628 (or in 630, after arranging safe passage for Xuanzang on his way to India; see Chavannes, 1903a, pp. 194-95), and the fight for power ensued within the Turks resulting in the decline of their grip on the oasis states. It was the time when the emperor Taizong of the Tang dynasty was contemplating an expansion to the Western Regions. In 632 the king of Khotan named Yuchi Wumi for the first time sent to the Tang an envoy, who was warmly received there. In 640 the Tang conquered Gaochang in Turfan. In 644 Xuanzang, on his way back from India, was welcomed in Khotan and was cordially escorted to the border of China. In 646 Yipishegui Kehan of the Western Turks sent an envoy to the Tang asking for the hand of a Chinese princess. Taizong requested five countries including Kucha, Kashghar, and Khotan as a gift in exchange. In 648 the Tang defeated Kucha. The king of Khotan, Fushe Xin, being afraid of the Tang, sent his son to the Tang army, offering 300 camels. The Chinese general Xue Wangbei came to Khotan, and Fushe Xin then accompanied him to China, where the Khotanese king was conferred the title of Youxiaowei Dajiangjun (The Great General of the Right Brave Guard). He left his sons in the Tang capital Chang’an and returned to Khotan.

In 650 Ashina Helu of the Western Turks revolted against the Tang. It took the Tang until 657 to defeat the Western Turks and to establish their suzerainty over the Western Regions. In 658 the Tang moved the Anxi (Pacifying the West) Protectorate from Turfan to Kucha, with four garrison posts in Kucha, Khotan, Qarashahr, and Kashghar. The remaining forces that once constituted the Western Turks continued to attack the Tang even after that. In 659 and 665 Khotan was attacked and had to be rescued by the Tang army. Such attacks were supported by the Tibetans who started to expand to the north at that time. In 661 a Khotanese king, accompanying the emperor Gaozong, enjoyed music in Luoyang. He must have been forced to stay in China due to the fighting in Khotan.

In 670 the Tibetans occupied Khotan and then Aqsu, and the Tang had to abandon the Four Garrisons of Anxi. The next twenty years saw repeated restorations and losses of the Four Garrisons, during which period Khotan was alternately occupied by the Tibetans and the Chinese. Under the Chinese, in return to the services rendered by the Khotanese king Fushe Xiong in attacking the Tibetans, the territory of Khotan was made the Pisha Protectorate with ten subdivisions, and the king was made Pisha Dudu. Finally, in 692, the Tang succeeded in stabilizing the situation by permanently stationing 30,000 Chinese troops in the Western Regions. For about sixty years after that, these oasis states remained under the Chinese control. It was during this period that visits of Khotanese monks to China reached their peak, and they translated the Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit, current in Khotan, into Chinese. The most productive among them were Śikṣānanda, who translated the Avataṃsaka-sūtra in eighty volumes, and Devaprajña, who also translated a part of the Avataṃsaka-sūtra. A number of texts they translated into Chinese have come down to us in the Khotanese language as well, although in somewhat different versions.

From the end of the 7th to the middle of the 8th century, Khotan was ruled by the Vice Military Governor (Jiedu Fushi) of the Anxi Protectorate. The main forces of the army were stationed in Kucha. Khotan was next to it in importance; Korean pilgrim Huichao states that in 727 a large Chinese army was stationed in Khotan (Fuchs, p. 456; Yang et al., p. 57). The post of the Vice Military Governor was occupied either by a Chinese general, or by a Khotanese king (it is known that in 760 the Chinese court appointed Yao, the younger brother of the Khotanese king Yuchi Sheng, to be Vice Military Governor). In either case, the local administration was maintained by the Khotanese, with official titles both in Chinese (Ch. cishi, used in Khot. as tsīṣī; Ch. changshi, used in Khot. as cāṃṣṣī) and Khotanese (Khot. spāta, used in Ch. as sabo; Khot. pharṣa, used in Ch. as posha). From this period, numerous documents in Chinese and Khotanese concerning the local government of Khotan have survived; they were chiefly unearthed from the Domoko oasis to the east of Khotan and are preserved in the Hoernle and Stein collections in the British Library in London, in the Hedin collection in the Ethnographical Museum in Stockholm, and in the Petrovsky and Malov collections in the Institute of Oriental Studies in St. Petersburg. Among them are two Chinese documents, Hedin 24 (Pulleybank apud Bailey, 1961, pp. 136-38; new reading in Zhang and Rong, 1997, pp. 340-43) and M.T. c iii (Chavannes, 1913, pp. 216-17), both dated 786, which were issued from the office of Vice Military Governor. For this period we have a precious testimony by the Chinese pilgrim Wukong that in the year 787 the Khotanese king Yuchi Yao, whom we know to be Viśa’ Vāhaṃ in Khotanese documents and whose reign began in 767 (Zhang and Rong, 1997, pp. 351-56), was still reigning there (Lévi and Chavannes, p. 363).

Following the Chinese defeat by the Abbasid forces at Talas in 751, An Lushan’s rebellion began in 755. In 756 the Khotanese king Yuchi Sheng came to support the emperor with 5,000 of troops, most probably including the Chinese garrison forces. Khotan was thus exposed to other military threats, especially from the south. At that time the Tibetans under Khri srong lde btsan (r. 755-96) started to expand towards the east, and by 763 they captured the eastern part of the present-day Gansu, effectively isolating the Chinese garrisons in the Tarim basin from the central government. From 763 until the eventual occupation by the Tibetans, the Chinese administration in Khotan continued, as the documents bearing the dates in this period show. After fending off aggressions for more than thirty years, Khotan succumbed to Tibet in 798 or shortly after that, but before 801 (Zhang and Rong, 1997, pp. 348-50).

During the Tibetan rule, the royal house of the Viśa’ (usually transcribed as Yuchi in Chinese, but earlier also as Fushe, Pisha, etc.) family continued, as we have the panegyric to the king Viśa’ Kīrtti (a Khotanese manuscript in the British Library, IOL Khot 50/4; Skjaervø, 2002, p. 285), mentioning the 16th year (not “the 6th” as in Bailey, 1968, p. 91) of the Tibetan rule. However, the Tibetan document P.t. 1089 of the Pelliot collection from Dunhuang reveals that the rank of the king of Khotan was considered far more inferior than that of the Tibetan military governor stationed at Mazar Tagh. It seems that the unified military rule of the Tibetan empire rapidly disintegrated after their king Glang Darma was assassinated in 842. But locally the Tibetan influence upon Khotan lingered (see Uray, 1981, pp. 81-90; Idem, 1988, pp. 515-28; Takeuchi, 1990, pp. 175-90; Idem, 2004, pp. 341-48). A large number of Tibetan manuscript fragments from the Khotan area, originally studied by F. W. Thomas and later catalogued by Takeuchi in 1997-98, belong to this period. We find some personal names, previously attested in Khotanese manuscripts, written there in the Tibetan script.

For the second half of the 9th century we have virtually no information on Khotan. This was the time when, on the one hand, the Chinese in Dunhuang regained independence from the Tibetans after the successful campaign, which started in 848 and was headed by Zhang Yichao who had the title of the Military Governor of the Return to Righteousness Army (Guiyijun Jiedushi) conferred upon himself by the Tang in 851. On the other hand, a group of the Uighurs, who had been driven away from Mongolia around 840 (Drompp, pp. 7-8), came to the south to settle in Ganzhou (Zhangye) by 880. The founding of the Uighur kingdom in Ganzhou to the west of China (for the history of this group of Uighurs see Hamilton, 1955; for the period of the Five Dynasties [907-60] and for the period of the early Song [960-1028] see Pinks, 196), which later included Suzhou (Jiuquan), resulted in the isolation from China of Shazhou (Dunhuang) which lay further westward. In order to survive on the trade route between Khotan and Ganzhou, the rulers of Shazhou had to maintain a working relationship with both. We have four or five important Khotanese documents from Dunhuang, which probably belong to the late 880’s and concern the difficulties on the road of the Khotanese envoys which were entrusted with escorting Khotanese princes in their pilgrimage to the Wutaishan (a “Mecca” of the Mañjuśrī belief) in China. During this time, however, no mention of Khotan or the Khotanese (princes or otherwise) is made in the numerous Chinese documents from Dunhuang. Neither is there any record of Khotanese envoys in the official Chinese sources which are regrettably defective regarding this period.

It is only in the 10th century that we are relatively better informed on Khotan and the Khotanese. The sources are divided into four groups: 1) Chinese dynastic histories and classified collections of their sources, which record the arrivals of envoys from Khotan and occasionally the dispatch of the Chinese envoys to Khotan, a fragment of the Travel to Khotan by Gao Juhui, which survives as a quotation in the Xin Wudai-shi, deserves special mention (Pulleyblank); 2) Khotanese texts found in Dunhuang, from which the names of the Khotanese kings and their regnal years can be obtained; 3) Inscriptions of patrons and donors in the cave temples of Dunhuang; 4) Chinese documents from Dunhuang, which occasionally mention Khotan and the Khotanese. It should be mentioned that no Khotanese texts, which can be considered to belong to this period for sure, have come out from the Khotan area. All available materials come from Dunhuang, and the texts are all in the variety of the Khotanese language that is called Late Khotanese. Among them is one official letter from the Khotanese king Viśa’ Śūra, which is dated 970 and addressed to Cao Yuanzhong, the ruler of Shazhou. It had certainly been sent from Khotan and was found in Dunhuang (Pelliot collection in Paris, Khotanese MS P 5538 recto). A fragment of another official letter (Pelliot collection in Paris, Khotanese MS P 4091), with expressions similar to those in MS P 5538, must also have come from Khotan. All other manuscripts probably also derive from Dunhuang, as some of them explicitly state that they were in fact written there.

From the first kind of sources above, combined with the information on the names and years of reign of the Khotanese kings from the second, we learn that the Khotanese king Viśa’ Saṃbhava (called Li Shengtian in the Chinese sources) sent envoys with tribute to China (Later Jin) in 938, and China in return sent envoys led by Gao Juhui to Khotan. Zhang and Rong pointed out (1993 [reprint of an article originally published in 1989], p. 120) that the Xin Wudaishi records an earlier visit of a Khotanese priest to China during the period of 923-26, which may be the earliest record of a Khotanese in China after the Tibetan rule. From the inscriptions in the cave temples, as well as from some Chinese documents, we know that the relations between Dunhuang and Khotan became very close after the Cao family came to power in the former around 920 (Cao rulers bore the title Jiedushi, or Military Governor, but they were practically kings of Dunhuang). The daughter of Cao Yijin (920?-934 or 935) was married to Viśa’ Saṃbhava, and the third daughter of the latter was married to Cao Yuanzhong (one of the sons of Cao Yijin and the Jiedushi in 946-74). Viśa’ Saṃbhava (Li Shengtian) is the patron of Cave No. 98 of Dunhuang, and the picture of his third daughter depicted as Queen of Shazhou is found in Cave No. 61. Another cave, No. 444, has an inscription of two Khotanese princes, who were most probably younger brothers of the Prince Tcūṃ-ttehi, who, among all other, writes in his verses in Khotanese “my mother, the great Chinese Queen” (Pelliot collection in Paris, Khotanese MS P 3510, fol. 7, line 6; published by Bailey, 1951, p. 52). Similarly, another daughter of Cao Yijin was married to the Uighur Khagan of Ganzhou. Cao Yuande, the eldest son of Yijin and the Jiedushi in 934/4-940?, treated the Uighur Khagan as a son, to whom Cao Yuanshen, Yuande’s younger brother and the Jiedushi in 940?-945, was an elder brother(-in-law). Cao Yuanzhong, the youngest brother, married his daughter to a Uighur Khagan, to whom he acted as father-in-law.

According to Zhang Guangda and Rong Xinjiang (Zhang and Rong, 1993, p. 112), the earliest datable document that attests to the existence of the Khotanese in Dunhuang is the Chinese MS P 4640 from the Pelliot collection in Paris. It is a series of records of expenditure on cloth and paper from the storehouse official of the Guiyijun. Closer to the end of the document, where transactions of the year 901 are recorded, Khotanese envoys are listed as recipients. Next comes the Chinese MS S 1366 from the British Library, which is a series of records of expenditure of flour and oil by the reception official of the Guiyijun. It is dated around 920 and, among other, records the payments made after a funeral to a Khotanese priest and a Khotanese envoy.

Documents like these—recording the payments for flour, oil, cotton, millet, wine, and firewood to the Khotanese—are found among the Dunhuang Chinese manuscripts, the latest of which, MS P 2744 dated 980-82, mentions two Khotanese envoys and a Khotanese priest. In addition to them, we have a few Chinese documents from Dunhuang, which are dated not by the Chinese but by the Khotanese eras (nianhao) in the Chinese style (for the discussion of these eras see Zhang and Rong, 1999, pp. 181-92). These are letters written by persons with Chinese names. It still remains questionable whether they were Chinese employed by the Khotanese government, or rather Khotanese with Chinese names (at least when writing in Chinese).

Songshi, the official history of the Song, records that in 971 a Khotanese envoy arrived at the court with the tribute of a captured elephant when Khotan defeated Kashghar. The above-mentioned letter of the Khotanese king Viśa’ Śūra to Dunhuang also refers to the war with Kashghar. According to the Khotanese sources, the king Viśa’ Dharma, who succeeded Viśa’ Śūra in about 978, was still ruling in 982. Zhang and Rong (1993, p. 122) point out that as late as in 994 a Khotanese priest Jixiang came to China. The prolonged war with Kashghar ended up with the conquest of Khotan by the Turkish Qarā-khanids (see ILAK-KHANIDS). Islamic sources record that by 1006 Yusof Qāder Khan (r. 1026-32) was calling himself the ruler of Khotan (Barthold, p. 273, p. 281, fn. 2; Pritsak, p. 295, fn. 3; Samolin, pp. 80-82). In 1009 the ruler of Khotan sent tribute to China under the name of the Heihanwang King (Black Khan, that is, Qarā Khan). If this mission came through the ordinary route, it means that the new regime of Khotan had established a relationship with the Cao family in Dunhuang, which lasted, according to the Chinese official histories, at least up to 1023. Ganzhou was conquered by the Tangut Xixia dynasty in 1026, and Guazhou near Shazhou in 1028. Although the Chinese sources record several missions from Shazhou between 1030 and 1052, it is likely that by 1030 Shazhou was already under the control of the Tanguts.

 

See also CHINESE-IRANIAN RELATIONS i. In pre-Islamic times; CHINESE TURKESTAN ii. In pre-Islamic Times.

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March 20, 2009

(Hiroshi Kumamoto)

Originally Published: April 20, 2009

Last Updated: April 20, 2009