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The Han-Xiongnu War, 133 BC–89 AD (Hardback)

The Struggle of China and a Steppe Empire Told Through Its Key Figures

Ancient History Military > Biographies > Military Biographies

By Mr Scott Crawford
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 176
Illustrations: 20 b/w
ISBN: 9781526790668
Published: 2nd November 2023

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“Scott Forbes Crawford has crafted a superb historical narrative about the clash between two ancient superpowers that influences Asia to this very day. For those who might wonder whether ancient history can be a page-turner, The Han-Xiongnu War assuredly answers that question in the affirmative.”

– M. A. Aldrich, author of The Search for a Vanishing Beijing and Ulaanbaatar Beyond Water and Grass


The Han-Xiongnu War (133 BC – AD 89) pitted the Han dynasty of China against a confederation of nomadic steppe peoples, the Xiongnu Empire. In campaigns waged on a huge scale by the standards of contemporary Western warfare (several hundred thousand soldiers were fielded at the Battle of Mobei in 119 BC), the two states fought for control of Central Asia, hungry for its rich resources and Western trade links. China’s victory set the stage for millennia of imperial rule and a vast sphere of influence in Asia.

Scott Forbes Crawford examines the war in a lively, engaging narrative. He builds a mosaic encompassing the centuries of conflict through biographies of fifteen historical figures: the Chinese and Xiongnu emperors who first led their armies into battle; ‘peace bride’ Princess Jieyou, whose marriage to a steppe king forged a vital Chinese alliance; the explorer-diplomat Zhang Qian, who almost-inadvertently established the Silk Road, among other key individuals. Their stories capture the war’s breadth, the enduring impact on Han society and statecraft in what became a Chinese golden age, and the doomed resistance of the Xiongnu to an ever-strengthening juggernaut.

“[A] fast-moving, readable narrative history ... The book’s narrative readily shifts from personalities to politics, geopolitics, espionage, military clashes, culture, and diplomacy (including marriage diplomacy).”

Asian Review of Books

About Mr Scott Crawford

Fascinated by China’s past since first studying Mandarin at a Chinese university, Scott Forbes Crawford has written extensively about Chinese and Asian history. His work, appearing in Ancient History Magazine, Medieval Warfare Magazine, The History Network podcast and elsewhere, has explored China’s military developments, the culture of its nomadic steppe neighbours, and the conflicts borne at the intersection of these areas. Also a novelist, Crawford brings narrative drive and an eye for character to the telling of history, making the ancient past vivid to modern readers. He has lived for more than a dozen years in Beijing and Taipei and will soon move to Japan with his wife and daughter.

Perfect Partner

Rise of the Tang Dynasty The Reunification of China and the Military Response to the Steppe Nomads (AD581-626) (Hardback)

Julian Romane examines the military events behind the emergence of the Sui and Tang dynasties in the period 581-626 AD. Narrating the campaigns and battles, he analyses in detail the strategy and tactics employed, a central theme being the collision of the steppe cavalry with Chinese infantry armies. By the fourth century AD, horse nomads had seized northern China. Conflict with these Turkic interlopers continued throughout the 5th and most of the 6th century. The emergence of the Sui dynasty (581-618) brought some progress but internal weakness led to their rapid collapse. The succeeding House…

By Julian Romane

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