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Huo Qubing 霍去病

Sep 28, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Huo Qubing 霍去病 (d. 117 BCE) was an important general of the mid-Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE). He was a relative of general Wei Qing 衛青, who led successful campaigns against the steppe federation of the Xiongnu 匈奴 and was a nephew of Emperor Wu's 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE) consort Empress Wei Zifu 衛子夫.

Huo was therefore made palace attendant (shizhong 侍中). Because of his skills in riding and archery he accompanied Wei Qing in his campaign against the Xiongnu in 123 BCE as commander of the cavalry. His great military success was rewarded with the title of Marquis of Guanjun 冠軍侯. In 121 he was promoted to cavalry general (biaoji jiangjun 驃騎將軍) and successfully fight against the Xiongnu in six campaigns.

During the first campaign in 121 he captured the Xiongu khan Xiutu 休屠 and seized some religious bronze statues erected at Mt. Yanzhi 焉支山 (Shandong 山丹, Gansu). In the same year his army marched the long way across Lake Juyan 居延澤 and the Qilian Range 祁連山 where he again defeated a Xiongnu army. Angry about the successive defeat of his military leader Prince Xiutu, Prince Hunya 渾邪王 killed the former and defected with his hole army to the Han empire.

The territory in the west that had been secured (the modern Gansu corridor) was thus occupied and became part of the Han empire and was administered in commanderies. Huo Qubing's military successes thus prepared China's way to the west.

In 119 Emperor Wu launched another campaign that was to be led by Wei Qing and Huo Qubing. The latter commanded the division based in the region of Dai 代 and Youbeiping 右北平 (northern Shanxi and Hebei) and attacked the Xiongnu khans Tuntou 屯頭 Han 韓. He captured them, together with a great number of high military leaders. Huo Qubing's army ascended Mt. Langjuxu 狼居胥山 (east of Ulan Bataar, Mongolia), where the general brought a sacrifice to Heaven as representative of Emperor Wu, and came to the shores of Lake Baikal. Returned to the court, he was received with greatest honours and the Emperor bestowed him the highest titles for military leaders, Minister of War (da sima 大司馬).

Huo Qubing was an expert practicioner who dispised theoretical writings like the famous strategems Sunzi bingfa 孫子兵法. He renounced the Emperor's offer to built him a noble mansion, "as long as the Xiongnu are not defeated". As a general, Huo Qubing always demonstrated that he was the leader of his men, riding at the first front to provide an example of bravery and military virtue to his troops. Inspite of this good character, he was also known for his luxurious lifestyle and often did not care for the physical necessities of his soldiers.

Huo Qubing died unexpectedly, not even thirty-years old. He was buried with greatest honours.

Tian Renlong 田人隆 (1992). "Huo Qubing 霍去病", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Vol. Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 419.