Jump to content
  • Sign Up

China's equivalence of Alexander the Great


Recommended Posts

Oliver Stone's new movie "Alexander the Great" is currently showing in the theaters in US.

Is there any Chinese historical figure that accomplished similar feat like Alexander the Great?

Yes, there was.

It was General 霍去病 in the Han Dynasty.

General Huo, who was assigned the rank Great General at the young age of under 20, pursued as north as Lake Baikal with numerically inferior forces against the Huns. General Huo, as well his uncle 衛青, had annihilated the threat of the Huns that had marauded China since the start of the Han Dynasty.

General Huo was great because:

(1) He led Han's cavalry against the Huns' cavalry. Cavalry was never the strong suit of Han military force. But under primitive equipment (remember the expeditions were launched over 2,000 years ago) and extremely hostile weather in Siberia, General Huo waged the long range military campaigns successfully with inferior forces. In fact, no other Chinese generals had launched as far north as General Huo did in the subsequent ethnic Han-led dynasties for the next two milleniums.

(2) General Huo's campaign led to the fall of the Roman Dynasty indirectly. Huns moved westward to Europe after fiercely pursued by the Han forces.

(3) The only Hun poems left in Chinese literature were those about the ruthlessness of General Huo's military campaigns. In some battles, General Huo killed over 50,000 Huns.

Of course, General 衛青 was also brilliant. But General Huo resembled more of Alexander the Great because they were both dying young.

He died at the young age of 24.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

General Huo had to meet high expectations because Han Wudi placed high standards on his generals. Either you achieve victory against the Xiongnu, or don't come back. Any general who came back defeated would be executed, or worse, his entire family will be executed as well.

I am not sure whether this applied to every general regardless of his prestige, or whether there were exceptions.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think there is one man is Chinese history whose feat was at least equivalent to, actually even a greater and more successful conqueror, Alexander the Great from the West.

Genghis Khan!

China has more than 50 ethnic groups although more than 90%, and culturally prevalent, of its population is Han. Mongol is an Chinese ethnicity too.

The Mongols took over China in 1264 and established the Yuan dynasty.

According to the History Channel, it showed a series of world conquerors a month ago or less, that not only was the Mongol ruled China worldly powerful (basically ruled the World). Even after Genghis Khan's death the empire kept expanding for another 150 years! China's Yuan dynasty, under Mongol rule, had its domain all the way from East to almost Western Europe (left out the parts with Italy, Spain, Portugal, German, France, Britain, adn a few more). One can imagine how vast a territory that is in contemporary geography.

Alexander's empire died with him. Nobody was powerful enough to replace Alexander's positon to rule the empire he created. Nobody dared! Napolean's empire met its debacle before Napolean's death.

I think many Chinese mention less about the Yuan dynasty because it was defeated by the Mongols. However, the Mongols were really assimilated into the Chinese culture and adopted the Chinese ways (basically Han Chinese ways in the ancient time).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Correction: I think there were exceptions to the "achieve victory or don't come back" rule, depending on the circumstances.

General Huo was a hero ten times over if you compare him to General 李陵. During a military campaign against the Xiongnu, 李陵's forces were entirely decimated and only 400 returned to the capital. To make things worse, 李陵 defected to the Xiongnu and transferred his allegiance to them.

Han Wudi got so pissed off that he had the disgraced general's mother, wife, and son executed.

When Sima Qian made the political mistake of defending the general, he got castrated.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He led Han's cavalry against the Huns' cavalry. Cavalry was never the strong suit of Han military force.

Two factors contributed to the defeat of the Xiongnu. The first was Zhang Qian's expedition west to seek help from the Yuezhi against the Xiongnu. It was on this trip that Zhang Qian learned about the "heavenly horses".

Zhang passed this information about the horses to Wudi upon his return to Changan in 125BC. These excellent horses were then used to transform the Han cavalry.

When General Huo waged battle against the Xiongnu in 121BC, he had everything. He had the brains, fearlessness, plus the "heavenly horses". This was a formidable combination, and the result was a smashing of the Xiongnu.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


During all those military expeditions launched in the Han Dynasties, most of the time fate dictated who is the winner and loser.

Considering that the Han military didn't have GPS to guide their direction, had almost practically no logistical support and got to finish the mission with a definite period and limited manpower, the mission of finding the wandering Xiong Nu in the great steppes beyond the Gobi was almost a mission impossible.

There was another General Li -- Li Guang -- who wasted all their time in searching the enemy and got worn out.

But luck was always with General Huo. He could always search the main component of his enemy in his missions.

I thought General Huo might be even a greater leader than Alexander since the latter had not crossed a great swathe of desert like Huo did.

Huo was definitely a winner in history except that he died young.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I consider Kublai Khan a Chinese emperor but not Genghis Khan.

There are several reasons that I do so:

(1) Kublai Khan established a dynasty based on traditional Chinese format but Genghis Khan hadn't (The dynasty title "Yuan" was adopted from I-Ching);

(2) The lingua franca and the language used in court/official documents was Han Chinese during Kublai Khan's reign (and the subsequent Yuan Emperors);

(3) The people and land ruled by Kublai Khan more or less overlapped with current China.

But for the other three Khanates that straddled across Central Asia and Europe, they lacked the above attributes. So I don't consider them Chinese dynasties.

Technically speaking, it is correct that Mongol is a Chinese ethnicity (In PRC term, it is "nationality"). Mongols live in Mongolian Republic, Buryat Republic (Russia), Kazakhstan and China. However, the bulk of them live inside China.

So it is is right that Mongol is a Chinese ethnic group just like saying African is an American ethnic group.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Apologize for my hasty and unclear posting Yonglan.

You are right the Many Mongols may not see themselves as Chinese nowadays in Mongolia according to contemporary geography and politics.

Ian Lee's posts are much more complete it's true that there is still a lot of Mongolians living in Inner Mongolia of modern China today.

Inner Mongolia is one of the autonomous regions in China.

Ian's way of describing Mongolian as one of the ethnic group in China is indeed better.

Yes, indeed.

Genghis Khan's time was not Chinese time but true Mongol empire.

He defeated China and conquered much of the world.

A great conqueror. Nomadic people, but highly strategic and efficiently organized who totally scared some of the so called much more advanced people at the time--including the Han Chinese.

I am learning. A lot of interesting info. I am actually a bit surprised on this site.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, obviously Mongolians live in China, just as Chinese, Russians, and a number of other ethnic groups live in Mongolia. In Korea, there are ethnic Chinese. I am not aware of a country without minority ethnicities in it.

I was talking about political rather than ethnic matters. I was alluding to the fact that Inner Mongolia was part of Mongolia and post 1949 has been settled by Han Chinese by the Chinese government. Do the Mongolians there want to be "Chinese"? Nobody knows.

Although I realize it is not popular, I wish China to be subjected to the same historical scrutiny that other countries are. Thus far it seems that it generally has not been. It often seems historians don't want to do this. I'm not really sure why this is. But much of the writing on historical and current China seem to brush these questions aside, which is not commonly done with other countries.

I am interested in hearing anyone's thoughts on this subject.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Historically and geographically there are many differences between the people in Inner Mongolia and Mongolian Republic.

The banners in Inner Mongolia, like Chahar Mongols, were the first to make alliances with the Manchus even before the Manchus established the Qing Dynasty in 1644.

Most of these Mongol princes arranged marriage with the Manchu imperial families generation after generation. They settled down in Beijing and their fates were interwined.

On the other hand, the Mongols in Monolian Republic were mostly Khalka and Oirat Mongols who were suppressed by Qing about 100 years afterward as a result of many fierce military campaigns. And they were never trusted by the Manchus as those in the Inner Mongolia were.

Han settlers didn't go to Inner Mongolia until after PRC was established. After the Taiping Rebellion of 1860s when the real power of Qing fell into the hands of ethnic Han generals, the Qing court started to lift the migration ban on Hans into Manchuria and Mongolia.

Massive Han migration started into Inner Mongolia with most concentrated in the Yellow River loop area. The city Hohhot (Mongol word means green city) was in fact a Han settlement city with its former name called "Guisui".

Moreover, with most Mongol princes leading a decadent life in Beijing, most of their lands were first leased to Han settlers and later all mortgaged to those financial institutions based in Datong, Shanxi.

Han settlement also flooded into Mongolia (Outer) with the most concentrated on the northern plain which bordered on Russia. But the scale was much smaller because the two Mongolias are separated by the vast Gobi Desert.

In 1913, after Qing dynasty collapsed, the Mongol princes from various banners gathered in Urga (Ulan Bataar) to discuss about Mongolia's destiny. Those from Inner Mongolia refused to opt for independence because they had too much vested interest tied with the new Chinese Republic.

By 1928, the ROC government incorporated Inner Mongolia and divided it into 4 provinces: Chahar, Suiyan, Ningxia and Jehol.

But by 1949, PRC resurrected the term "Inner Mongolia'. The reasons are:

(1) During the early revolutionary period, there was a famous high ranking Mongol within CCP: Comrade Ulanfu. It might be his idea to resurrect the region.

(2) PRC was built on Soviet model which a country was formed with multi-nationalities whom had their own nominally self-rule administrative regions.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wasn't clear. The second paragraph of my last post was referring to the Israel-like settlement policy of the PRC in the "autonomous" regions.

But anyway, the last two sentences of that paragraph, particularly the last sentence, were I believe clear enough. Now we've hit on the topic of the third paragraph :mrgreen:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

One thing does signify the feat of Alexander the Great's.

He was a young man.

Thirty or just a little over.

At such a yong age his achievement sure is unrivaled I believe.

I don't know anyone else in human history to match up Alexander's feat when age is also considered.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry to digress from your original topic Ian Lee.

Just like to put a few sentences regarding territory and politics.

Ethnicity is really used as an identity in preception in relation to both biological features and mental selection.

The way I used Mongolian Chinese applies to both ethnicity & nationality.

Yonglan is right that sometimes Chinese might have projected impressions unintentionally, in some cases maybe deliberately, that they try to shy away from certain topics in history. May that be of different culturally induced perception difference and expressions or just different thinking and opinions (in here I am not talking about deliberatly concocted deceptions).

For example, many Westerners, including my good British friends, think that Tibet is not a part of China. In here we are talking about Inner Mongolia, and there seems to be a similar preception difference.

The majority of Chinese, globally speaking, do take Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and Xingjing as all parts of China. According to contemporary geography and politics those remain the same facts. Many may argue about democracy and human rights. China does have its own standard of treating people, different from Western standard but so are cultures and human history for different nations.

Ian Lee presented some good points for real Chinese history.

When it comes to human politics it really goes down to 2 determinants.

A. Economy B. Military Power.

The stronger a country in those 2 aspects the more powerfully internationally. It does not necessarily mean that they will always do arbitrarily "right" things or care for all life in the process.

Do I like that? No, but that's a part of our human world and history.

Yes, we define human history. Looks like we still have a lot of sad stuffs going on, although we are making progress. Chinese have long been educated that the nation is consisted of Han, Manchurian, Mongol, Huwei (Xingjing), Tibetean, Miao, Youw (don't know if I spelled the last 2 correctly), and actually more. Isn't ethnicity also a human created division in concept? The Mongol ethnicity in China is considered as a part of the Chinese nation, that's different from e.g. ethnic Chinese staying in Korea.

China's border region with Korea also has the Chinese "Trou Shen" tribe (Korean)--more than 100,000. They are close to Korean, have similar culture and costumes, but a part of the Chinese nation. Not all Chinese look like the Han Chinese especially as one goes westward. In Xingjing, you will find Eurasian who look more like people with Middle East origin or Caucasians. Of course, one can argue do those Chinese ethnic minorities want to be classified as Chinese. Many actually do because of different interests, and in the news we can learn that many seem to be labeled as dissidents too. I must say that sometimes the West does use that kind of issues to divide China or with the intention to do so for various reasons.

Then that will bring in international politics. What's best for each country's interests.

Historically what I learned, same as Ian Lee put, the different Chinese ethnicities really got mixed from long ago. Some Chinese may want to prove to be pure Han Chinese and many may laugh at them.

Geographical locations really don't matter much in politics.

Think about Falkland outside of Argentina, Puerto Rico, and more places.

A. Economy B. Military Power count in territories and politics.

If people are living well things get easier and pride get developed.

Otherwise, divisions and foreign interventions may occur.

China learned that from its modern history and Chinese will try their best to not face the same fate again.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would suggest that Alexander is remembered mostly for the following two reasons: 1) the size of the area he conquered compared with the size of the area he started with, and 2) his barbarism spread Greek culture so that even centuries later, areas that had no subsequent Greek control were speaking Greek and in very many ways being Greek. For example, the Greek Buddha sculptures of what is now Afghanistan. The term "Hellenism" refers to the post-Alexander Western world in those places.

Certainly his age also made his legend more interesting. Being a savage miscreant didn't hurt his legend either.

I'm curious why no one said Qin Shihuang? Is it because he conquered primarily Chinese, not foreign places? Alexander also conquered Greek places.

I'm also curious how Ghengis & Kublai Khan can be considered Chinese? They conquered China. They and their people did adopt some Chinese ways., but they were not originally Chinese. China eventually was ruled by the Han people again.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't want to leave the impression that I am saying that it is only Chinese trying to paint a rosy picture of Chinese history and current situation. Western scholars often do this out of romance or to get a visa.

China does have its own standard of treating people, different from Western standard but so are cultures and human history for different nations.

Not sure what you mean.

The Mongol ethnicity in China is considered as a part of the Chinese nation, that's different from e.g. ethnic Chinese staying in Korea.

I'm not talking about Chinese expats. I mean there are Chinese in Korea for generations. Same in Mongolia, and elsewhere as I posted earlier. My suggestion is let's compare to other situations in the world and see if it makes sense.

In Xingjing, you will find Eurasian who look more like people with Middle East origin or Caucasians. Of course, one can argue do those Chinese ethnic minorities want to be classified as Chinese. Many actually do because of different interests, and in the news we can learn that many seem to be labeled as dissidents too. I must say that sometimes the West does use that kind of issues to divide China or with the intention to do so for various reasons.

Then that will bring in international politics.

My point is just that we can't know. They are not allowed to make the decision or even voice their opinions. Your British friends talk about Tibet because it is a country with a long history separate from China, and only some history involuntarily connected to China. So you can ask them about Northern Ireland or the Falklands and see if they're consistent. You can ask your American friends about Guam or Puerto Rico.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...