When the throne was passed on to his grandson 右渠, they lured many people to defect from and the king did not come to the court to pay homage to the Emperor. They also blocked neighboring states' envoys to the Emperor. In 110 BC the Emperor sent 涉河 to rectify 右渠, but to no avail. (<史記> “朝鮮列傳”)


It was the reason for the military expedition of to 朝鮮 in 109 BC. This record omits a couple of facts. The 朝鮮 king had not been in the habit of visiting the court to pay homage, and had been blocking neighboring states' envoys for quite a time. He did not do anything new to invite the expedition. The reason for the expedition was on the Emperor's side.

What reason did the Emperor have? Just as his honorary title 武帝 implies, he is known to have been fond of wars. He really made a lot of wars. Most of them were against 匈奴.

People say that 秦 始皇(r. 246-210 BC) built the Great Wall to ward off 匈奴, but 匈奴 was not such a great power during his time. It was 冒頓 單于(r. 209-174) who united many tribes into 匈奴 to build a great power. Several brilliant strategies he employed during his meteoric rise became famous in China. He killed his favorite concubine and his favorite horse (probably more precious than the concubine) to draw absolute loyalty from his followers. He made humiliating concessions again and again to the leader of a powerful neighboring tribe until his followers became nearly crazy to get even, and then made a sudden attack and destroyed his enemy in a single coup.

In 202 BC 高祖, the founding emperor of the Dynasty, led an expedition to attack 匈奴, but he was driven into a siege with his army in a desolate place. The exact conditions for the lifting of the siege are not known, but he began paying large sums of annual tribute to 匈奴 after returning safely to his capital. He also began sending high-standing ladies as concubines for 單于.

This "money for peace" policy continued for more than 70 years until 武帝 shifted to a policy of hostility in 129 BC. He kept sending large expeditions for 10 years, and the final expedition of 119 BC mobilized as many as 200,000 horses. This blow chased 匈奴 away to the North and to the West, so expeditions of 111 and 110 BC could not find any trace of 匈奴 in thousands of miles.

The expedition to 朝鮮 in 109-108 BC was made in a situation where 武帝 had a vast army, but no suitable place to send it to. It was much the same situation with that of the US after the end of the Cold War, with her archenemy gone, but with the military power left in hand.


朝鮮 was not alone. Another expedition had been sent to 南越 a couple of years before. 南越, occupying parts of present Guangdong and Hunan provinces, was a kingdom founded at the time of the unification by a former governor of the area sent by Qin. Ruled by fugitive groups from China, states of 南越 and 朝鮮 had similar characteristics.

The Emperor sent an order to 南越 king in 113 BC to come to the imperial court. Telling from the way armies were deployed at the sending of this order, the Emperor's intention was obvious. The order gave rise to serious conflicts between pro-and anti-factions in the 南越 court, and when the conflicts reached a violent stage in 111 BC, the army began marching and the dynasty collapsed the day the army arrived.

The sending of 涉河 was an announcement that it was 朝鮮's turn. On his way back, 涉河 killed the 朝鮮 official who was seeing him off, without a clear reason. Probably the real reason was to meet the Emperor's wish for a war. This guess is supported by the prizes and promotion 涉河 received from the Emperor.

It was quite easy to start a war with 朝鮮, but much more difficult to finish it, compared to 南越. The dynasty did collapse after a year's war, but it was not a victory for the army. The war was ended only by a feud among 朝鮮 nobilities. After the war, while prizes went to former 朝鮮 noblemen, many army commanders were severely punished.

What was the reason for the different strength of resistance between 朝鮮 and 南越? The degree of sinicization was probably an important one. In 南越, the Queen Dowager was of Chinese origin and became the center of the pro-faction. There was no such particular faction in 朝鮮 ready to welcome the army. This difference may have also worked on later developments in the two areas. counties established in the 朝鮮 area were expelled in the following centuries, whereas those in 南越 area were more successful and the area was incorporated into the Chinese empire.


's conquest of 南越 and 朝鮮 should not be seen as mere results of 武帝's excessive fondness of wars. They can be understood as rational policies needed at the time by the empire.

秦 始皇's unification marked the settlement of the early Chinese civilization into a political organization. The rapid development of productivity brought along by the propagation of iron tools led to the expansion of the market, which in turn led to the growth of the size of states. Through the course city states gave way to bigger and bigger territorial kingdoms, and finally to the world empire.

The size of an empire relies on its technological level. For its foundation, it is obvious that a big technological edge is needed to raise it through the competition for power. Once it is founded, the empire still needs a big edge in technology because its maintenance is expensive, having to defend a long borderline and to transport people and materials over long distances. Without a big enough edge, it will have difficulty defending itself from challenges from all directions all the time.

Like water, technology tends to flow to lower places. Even if a group of people acquires some outstanding new technology, makes use of it to grow a political organization, and finally succeeds in building an empire, the new technology will not be new forever. In peacetime, it will spread to the peripheries, and on to the outside, and some day the edge will be gone. Some people explain the rotation of 治亂 in Chinese history from this point of view.


It was not a coincidence that the rise of 匈奴 took place right at the time of Qin and unification. Toward the end of the Warring States period, a growing number of people, including those who possessed high level technologies, fled to the "barbarians" to avoid persecution. Most conspicuous among them were two kings, 韓王 信 and 燕王 盧綰, who fled to 匈奴 from the rule of 漢 高祖. Their followers must have included many experts on administration, taxation, military organization, iron casting, agriculture, and whatever.

匈奴 was able to build a great military power by combining the new technology brought by the defectors with indigenous conditions. At the height of its power, when 匈奴 leaders were enjoying luxury goods sent from , a high-ranking defector advised them not to indulge too much in the luxury.


At first 匈奴 people were very fond of silk, cotton, and various foods from , and 中行說 proceeded to 單于 to make an advice. "The population of 匈奴 is not so big as a county of . Still they are powerful because their food and clothes are different from those of people and they do not rely on for them. If they change the customs and indulge in goods, they will be absorbed to before consuming two tenths of the goods. When your Majesty acquires clothes of silk and cotton, put them on and wander through thorns and bushes to make sure that they are easily worn and torn. Show the people that they are not as good as woollen and leather clothes. When He acquires foods from , just throw them away and tell the people that milk and milk products are far better things for our eating." (<史記> “匈奴列傳”)


There was a small crisis during the reign of 呂后(195-180 BC) between 南越 and , which was instigated by the decision to put a ban on exporting ironware to 南越. Ironware was a commodity of strategic value at the time. Together with salt, it was the most important item of monopoly during the Dynasty.

The defection of people to 朝鮮 was an important reason for 's 109 BC attack, as was seen at the beginning of this section. As 衛滿, the founder of the dynasty, was himself a defector from China, it can be supposed that the kingdom was quite open to immigrants from China. Surely possessors of iron technology must have been among the most warmly welcomed.

Dynasty leaders learned through the encounter with 匈奴 in its early years that internal order was not sufficient condition for its security. They perceived as a potential threat to the dynasty the existence of barbarians who built up strong powers by importing parts of Chinese technology. The conquest of 朝鮮 and 南越 was part of the empire's first efforts towards a tributary system. The empire was awakening to the need of a world system, with ways of keeping surrounding areas, too far away for direct rule, under a certain degree of control.




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