Ban Chao (32–102 CE), courtesy name Zhongsheng, was a Chinese general, explorer and diplomat of the Eastern Han Dynasty. He was born in Xianyang, Shaanxi. Three of his family members — father Ban Biao, elder brother Ban Gu, younger sister Ban Zhao — were well known historians who wrote the historical text Book of Han, which recorded the history of the Western Han Dynasty. As a Han general and cavalry commander, Ban Chao was in charge of administrating the "Western Regions" (Central Asia) while he was in service. He also led Han forces for over 30 years in the war against the Xiongnu and secured Han control over the Tarim Basin region. He was awarded the title "Protector General of the Western Regions" by the Han government for his efforts in protecting and governing the regions.
Control of the Tarim Basin
Ban Chao, like his predecessors Huo Qubing and Wei Qing from the Former Han Dynasty before him, was effective at expelling the Xiongnu from the Tarim Basin, and brought the various people of the Western Regions under Chinese rule during the second half of the 1st century CE, helping to open and secure the trade routes to the west. He was generally outnumbered, but skillfully played on the divisions among his opponents. The kingdoms of Loulan, Khotan and Kashgar came under Chinese rule.
Ban Chao was recalled to Luoyang, but then sent again to the Western Region area four years later, during the reign of the new emperor Han Zhangdi. He obtained the military help of the Kushan Empire in 84 in repelling the Kangju who were trying to support the rebellion of the king of Kashgar, and the next year in his attack on Turpan, in the eastern Tarim Basin. Ban Chao ultimately brought the whole of the Tarim Basin under Chinese control.
In recognition for their support to the Chinese, the Kushans (referred to as Da Yuezhi in Chinese sources) requested, but were denied, a Han princess, even though they had sent presents to the Chinese court. In retaliation, they marched on Ban Chao in 90 CE with a force of 70,000, but, exhausted by the expedition, were finally turned back by the smaller Chinese force. The Yuezhi retreated and paid tribute to the Chinese Empire. (Later, during the Yuanchu period, 114-120 CE, the Kushans sent a military force to install Chenpan, who had been a hostage among them, as king of Kashgar).
In 91 CE, Ban Chao finally succeeded in pacifying the Western Regions and was awarded the title of Protector General and stationed at Qiuci (Kucha). A Wuji Colonel was re-established and, commanding five hundred soldiers, stationed in the Kingdom of Nearer Jushi, within the walls of Gaochang, 29 kilometres southeast of Turfan. In 94 CE, Chao proceeded to again attack and defeat Yanqi [Karashahr]. Subsequently, more than fifty kingdoms presented hostages, and submitted to the Interior.
In 97 CE Ban Chao sent an envoy, Gan Ying, who reached the Persian Gulf and left the first recorded Chinese account of Europe. Some modern authors have even claimed that Ban Chao advanced to the Caspian Sea, however, this interpretation has been criticized as a misreading.
In 102 CE Ban Chao was retired as Protector General of the Western Regions due to age and ill health, and returned to the capital Luoyang at the age of 70, but the following month died there in the 9th month of the 14th Yongyuan year (30th Sept. to 28th Oct., 102). See: Hou Hanshu, chap 77 (sometimes given as chap. 107). Following his death, the power of the Xiongnu in the Western Territories increased again, and subsequent Chinese emperors were never to reach so far to the west.
A family of historians
Ban Chao also belonged to a family of historians. His father was Ban Biao (3-54 CE) who started the History of the Western Han Dynasty (Hanshu; The Book of Han) in 36, which was completed by his son Ban Gu (32-92) and his daughter Ban Zhao (Ban Chao's brother and sister). Ban Chao was probably the key source for the cultural and socio-economic data on the Western Regions contained in the Hanshu.
Ban Chao's youngest son Ban Yong (班勇 Bān Yŏng) participated in military campaigns with his father and continued to have a central military role in the Tarim Basin into the 120s.
Ban Chao's family
- Ban Biao (班彪; 3-54; father)
- Ban Gu (班固; 32-92; first son)
- Ban Chao (班超; 32-102; second son)
- Ban Zhao (班昭; 45-116; Ban Chao's sister) She's the one who petitioned the reigning Emperor to let his brother return home from his posting.
- "If you don't enter the tiger's den, how can you catch the tiger's cub?" (不入虎穴，不得虎子)
- "Clear water can not harbor big fish, clean politics (or strict enforcement of regulations) can not foster harmony among the general public" (水清無大魚，察政不得下和)
Ban Chao in idioms
- See four-character idiom:
- "Throw away your writing brush and join the military!" (投筆從戎) based on his words "A brave man has no other plan but to follow Fu and Zhang Qian's footsteps and do something and become somebody in a foreign land. How can I waste my life on writing? (大丈夫無他志略，猶當效傅介子、張騫立功異域，以取封侯，安能久事筆硯間乎？) in Hou Hanshu.
- "Clear water harbors no fish." (水清無魚)
Ban Chao of today
- Hill (2009), p. 43.
- Hill (2009), p. 5.
- Hill (2009), p. 5.
- Hill (2009), p. 5.
- Hill. (2009), p. 55.
- J. Oliver Thomson, A History of Ancient Geography, Cambridge 1948, p.311. Thomson cites Richthofen, China, 1877, I, 469 and some other authors in support of the claim that Ban Chao marched to the Caspian, and Yule/Cordier, Cathay and the way thither, 1916 p.40 (p.40f in vol.I of the 2005 edition by Asian Educational Services), Chavannes, Seidenstrassen, p.8, and Teggart, Rome and China as references for such claims being erroneous.
- Chavannes (1906), p. 243.
- Hill (2009), p. xv.
- Chavannes, Édouard (1906). "Trois Généraux Chinois de la dynastie des Han Orientaux. Pan Tch’ao (32-102 p.C.); – son fils Pan Yong; – Leang K’in (112 p.C.). Chapitre LXXVII du Heou Han chou." T’oung pao 7, pp. 210-269.
- Hill, John E. (2009). Through the Jade Gate to Rome: A Study of the Silk Routes during the Later Han Dynasty, First to Second Centuries CE. BookSurge. ISBN 978-1-4392-2134-1.
- The Tarim Mummies. J.P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair (2000). Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05101-1