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Wei Qing 衛青

Dec 2, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Wei Qing 衛青 (d. 105 BCE), courtesy name Wei Zhongqing was a high military leader of the mid-Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) and the first general sent out against the steppe federation of the Xiongnu 匈奴.

His father Zheng Ji 鄭季 hailed from Pingyang 平陽 (modern Linfen 臨汾, Shanxi) and had an affair with a lady-in-waiting of Princess Pingyang 平陽公主 which resulted in the birth of Wei Qing. His half-sister Wei Zifu 衛子夫 was a consort of Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE), so that he had the chance for a career, first as a cavalier of the Princess, and later, when Wei Zifu became the favourite of the Emperor, as director (jian 監) of the Jianzhang Palace 建章宮, palace attendant (shizhong 侍中) and then as Superior Grand Master of the Palace (taizhong dafu 太中大夫).

Harassed by raids of the steppe federation of the Xiongnu in the border regions, the Han empire had traditionally reacted with a politics of "appeasement by marriage" (heqin 和親), sending the Xiongnu khan tribute silk and a princess. Yet Emperor Wu decided to make a change in the diplomatic relations to the steppe people, and to make use of the fortune amassed and the military forces built up during the reigns of his predecessors. In 129 BCE he appointed Wei Qing General of chariots and cavalry (cheji jiangjun 車騎將軍). He would eventually lead seven campaigns against the Xiongnu.

His first campaign began in 128. His troops marched from Yunzhong 雲中 (around modern Hohhot 呼和浩特, Inner Mongolia) north of the Yellow River bend into the region of modern northern Gansu, where he was able to capture several thousand people and their cattle. He so expelled the Xiongnu khans (wang 王 "kings" or "princes") Baiyang 白羊 and Loufan 樓煩 and seized the region of Henan 河南 (modern Hetao 河套, Inner Mongolia) that was transformed into the commandery (jun 郡) of Shuofang 朔方 (modern Ulateqian League 烏拉特前旗, Inner Mongolia) and protected by a provisional wall of defense that was later strengthened to a part of the Great Wall. For this victory, Wei Qing was given the title of Marquis of Changping 長平侯.

Because the Xiongnu continued with their border raids, Wei Qing undertook a second campaign in 124 BCE. He commanded his lieutenant generals Su Jian 蘇建, Li Ju 李沮 and Gongsun He 公孫賀 and defeated the Youxian khan 右賢王 of the Xiongnu, caputred several nobles around khan Bi 裨王 and 15,000 people and their cattle. For the second victory, Wei Qing's appanage was raised, and even his three under-age sons were given the title of marquis. Wei Qing himself was allowed to bear the title of General-in-chief (da jiangjun 大將軍).

A third campaign was undertaken in 119 BCE, together with Huo Qubing 霍去病. At the head of 40,000 cavarlymen and around the same number of infantrymen they left Han China. Wei Qing marched from the Dingxiang Pass 定襄塞 far into inimical territory. He was able to surround khan (chanyu 單于) Yitixie 伊穉斜 and heavily defeated him. Wei Qing used the victory and advanced to the city of Zhaoxin 趙信 at Mt. Tianyan 寘顔山 (modern Mt. Hang'ai 杭愛山, Inner Monglia) and returned. His army had conquered a large stretch of land between Zhangye 張掖 and Juyan 居延 that was to be incorporated into the territory of the Han empire as the commandery of Zhangye.

Both Wei Qing and Huo Qubing were highly rewarded, but the success of the latter overshadowed that of Wei Qing, although Wei had been granted the prestigious title of General-in-chief serving as Commander-in-chief (da sima da jiangjun 大司馬大將軍). Wei Qing was still one of the selfless persons that did not try to interfere into governmental affairs, in spite of his enormeous prestige and power. He was married to Princess Pingyang and died in 105 BCE.

Tian Renlong 田人隆 (1992). "Wei Qing 衛青", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 3, 1205.