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Countries described in Zhang Qian's report. Visited countries are highlighted in blue.

Kangju (Chinese: 康居; pinyin: Kangju; Wade–Giles: K'ang-chü) was the Chinese name of an ancient kingdom in Central Asia which became for a couple of centuries the second greatest power in Transoxiana after the Yuezhi.[1] Its people, the Kang (Chinese: ) were an Indo-European semi-nomadic people probably identical to (or closely related to) the Iranian Sogdians.


"Kangju 康居 = the Talas basin, Tashkent and Sogdiana. It is not clear whether the Chinese name 康居 Kangju was intended to transcribe an ethnic name, or to be descriptive. 居 ju can mean: 'to settle down,' 'to take up one’s abode,' 'residence,' or 'to occupy (militarily).'... The term, therefore, could simply mean "the abode of the Kang," or "territory occupied by the Kang."... However, the character kang 康 literally means 'peaceful,' 'happy,' so Kangju could alternatively be translated as the: ‘Peaceful Land,' or 'Abode of the Peaceful (people).'... Even if the name Kangju was originally an attempt to transcribe a foreign name, it would have at least carried some sense of it being a peaceful place to Chinese speakers, and the name Kang would have had overtones of a peaceful people."[2]

Kangju was referred to as the State of Kang (康国) during the Sui and Tang dynasties, though by that time the area was ruled by the Göktürk Khaganate.[3]


According to 2nd century BC Chinese sources, Kangju lay north of the Dayuan and west of the Wusun, bordering the Yuezhi in the south. Their territory covered the region of the Ferghana Valley and the area between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, with the core territory along the middle Syr Darya.[1] Since historians of Alexander the Great do not mention the existence of any political power in the area except the Khwarezmians, the Kangju must have appeared a little later.[1] It is likely that the state of the Kangju emerged during the great upheaval in Central Asia following the withdrawal of the Yuezhi from Gansu and then the Ili Valley after their defeat by the Xiongnu and Wusun respectively.[1] Chinese sources state that the Kangju were tributiaries of the Yuezhi in the south and the Xiongnu in the east.[1]

Kangju was mentioned by the Chinese traveller and diplomat Zhang Qian who visited the area c. 128 BCE, whose travels are documented in Chapter 123 of the Shiji (whose author, Sima Qian, died c. 90 BC):

"Kangju is situated some 2,000 li [832 kilometers] northwest of Dayuan. Its people are nomads and resemble the Yuezhi in their customs. They have 80,000 or 90,000 skilled archers. The country is small, and borders Dayuan (Ferghana). It acknowledges sovereignty to the Yuezhi people in the South and the Xiongnu in the East.[4]

Qian also visited the land of Yancai 奄蔡 (Vast Steppe), who resided north-west of the Kangju and were said to resemble them in their customs:

Yancai lies some 2,000 li (832 km) northwest of Kangju (centered on Turkestan at Beitian). The people are nomads and their customs are generally similar to those of the people of Kangju. The country has over 100,000 archer warriors, and borders a great shoreless lake, perhaps what is now known as the Northern Sea (Aral Sea, distance between Tashkent to Aralsk is about 866 km

By the time of the Hanshu (which covers the period from 125 BCE to 23 CE), Kangju had expanded considerably to a nation of some 600,000 individuals, with 120,000 men able to bear arms. Kangju was clearly now a major power in its own right. By this time it had gained control of Dayuan and Sogdiana in which it controlled “five lesser kings” (小王五).[5]

In 101 BCE, the Kangju allied themselves with the Dayuan, helping them preserve their independence against the Han.[1]

The account on the 'Western Regions' in the Han Dynasty Chinese chronicle, the Hou Hanshu, 88 (covering the period 25–220 and completed in the 5th century), based on a report to the Chinese emperor c. 125 CE, mentions that, at that time, Liyi 栗弋 (= Suyi 粟弋) = Sogdiana, and both the "old" Yancai (which had changed its name to Alanliao and seems here to have expanded its territory to the Caspian Sea), and Yan, a country to Yancai's north, as well as the strategic city of "Northern Wuyi" 北烏伊 (Alexandria Eschate, or modern Khujand), were all dependent on Kangju.[6][7]

Y. A. Zadneprovskiy suggests that the Kangju subjection of Yancai occurred in the 1st century BC.[1][8] Yancai is identified with the Aorsi of Roman records.[1] Scholars have connected name Alanliao to Alans.[8] The Yan people of the Urals, paid tribute to the Kangju in furs.[1] The Kangju established close connections with the Sarmatians, their western neighbors. The westward expansion of the Kangju obliged many of the Sarmatians to migrate further west, and it may therefore be concluded that the Kangju played a major in the great migrations of the time, which played a major role in world history.[1] Through this expansion the Kangju gained control over key parts of the Silk Route.[1] The Kangju state came to unite a number of regions which had sedentary, agricultural and nomadic populations.[1] Although their territory was small, the fertility of the land and their sophisticated civilization enabled the Kangju to maintain a large population, becoming a major military power.[9]

The Kangju were in frequent struggles with the Wusun, during which they in the mid 1st century BCE allied themselved with the northern Xiongnu.[1] The Kangju ruler gave his daughter in marriage to the northern Xiongnu ruler Chih-Chih while Chih-Chih married the daughter of the Kangju ruler.[10] The Xiongnu and Kangju were initially successful, besieging the Wusun in 42 BCE. The Han however intervened, defeating and killing the northern Xiongnu ruler in at Talas in 36 BCE. The Kangju ruler was subsequently forced to send his son as a hostage to the Han court.[1] Nevertheless, the Kangju continued to send embassies to the Han court and pursued an independent policy, which they were able to maintain until the 3rd century AD. Evidence of Kangju independence can be seen in the coinage issued in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, during which they issued their own currency which was similar to that of Khwarezm.[1]

The biography of the Chinese General Ban Chao in the Hou Hanshu says in 94 CE that the Yuezhi were arranging a marriage of their king with a Kangju princess. The Chinese then sent "considerable presents of silks" to the Yuezhi successfully gaining their help in pressuring the Kangju to stop supporting the king of Kashgar against them.[11]

The 3rd century Weilüe states that Kangju was among a number of countries that "had existed previously and neither grown nor shrunk," but by then the kingdoms of Liu, Yan and Yancai/Alan were no longer vassals of Kangju.[12][13] The Kangju subsequently declined. Around 270 AD they were subdued by the Xionites.[14] Like other Central Asian peoples, the Kangju probably became subsumed into the Hephthalites.[1]

Kangju was later known as the State of Kang (康国) during the Sui and Tang dynasties. In the 8th century, some of them seem to have been adherents of Manicheanism.[15]


The Book of Han describes the way of life of the Kangju elite. Its ruler spent his winter in the capital city of Pi-t'ien, and his summers at his steppe headquarters, which was a seven days' journey away on horseback.[1]

The Kangju are regarded as an Indo-European people, and are generally held to have been an Iranian people identical with the Sogdians.[1][9][16][17][18][19] Sinologist Edwin G. Pulleyblank has however suggested that the Kangju could have been Tocharians.[20]

The ruling elite of the Kangju consisted of nomadic tribes whose customs were very similar to those of the Yuezhi. Kangju burials of the early period have been excavatated at Berk-kara and Tamdî, in which the dead were placed in pit-graves, often covered with logs, under kurgan mounds. These graves often contain hand-made pots, iron swords, arrow-heads and jewellery. The burials show that the traditional culture of the Kangju resembled characteristics of the Saka.[1] From the beginning of the Christian era "catacomb graves" (in shaft and chamber tombs) became widespread. This is seen from the burials of the Kaunchi and Dzhun cultures of the 1st to the 4th centuries AD, which are generally accepted as having belonged to the Kangju.[1] The Kangju regarded the ram as a noble animal.[21]

References from written sources and archaeological finds show that the Kangju reached a considerable level of agricultural sophistication. Much of the population consisted of a sedentary farming population.[1] Wide canals from the Kangju period have been discovered, with the land area under irrigation of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya being four times greater than today.[22] The irrigation systems of Central Asia reached their highest levels of development under the Kangju-Kushans and was in fact superior to those fully developed in the Middle Ages.[22]


Some important inscriptions were discovered recently that provide information about the Kangju and their contacts with China.

Firstly, a dozen wooden slips with Chinese writing were found at the Xuanquan site in Dunhuang, China. They are dated to the late Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE-24 CE).

Also, there's a set of Sogdian inscriptions from Kultobe in Kazakhstan; they were analyzed and deciphered by Nicholas Sims-Williams. They complement the existing Chinese historical records about the Kangju. Sims-Williams also assigned a likely date to these inscriptions.[23]

There are also several fragmentary Sogdian inscriptions discovered by A. N. Podushkin in his excavations at Kultobe. They contain archaic features which shed light on the development of the Sogdian script and language.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Zadneprovskiy 1994, pp. 463–464
  2. ^ Hill (2009), p. 171.
  3. ^ Tangshu chapter 221b, p. 1, translated (into French) by Édouard Chavannes in Documents sur les tou-kiue [turcs] occidentaux, pp. 132-147. Paris. (1900).
  4. ^ Watson 1993, p. 234
  5. ^ François & Hulsewé 1979, pp. 126, 130–132
  6. ^ Hill (2009), pp. 377-383.
  7. ^ François & Hulsewé 1979, p. 129
  8. ^ a b Zadneprovskiy 1994, pp. 465–466
  9. ^ a b Benjamin, Craig (October 2003). "The Yuezhi Migration and Sogdia". Transoxiana Webfestschrift (Transoxiana) 1 (Ēran ud Anērān). Retrieved 29 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Zadneprovskiy 1994, p. 468
  11. ^ "Trois généraux chinois de la dynastie des Han orientaux," by Édouard Chavannes, p. 230. In: T'ouang pao 7 (1906)
  12. ^ Hill (2004),
  13. ^ Hill (2009), p. 383.
  14. ^ Harmatta 1994, p. 21
  15. ^ The Chinese encyclopaedia Cihai (辞海) under the entry for "seven luminaries calendar" (七曜历/七曜曆, qī yào lì) has: "[The seven-day week ] was also transmitted to China by Manichaeans in the 8th century from the country of Kang (康) in Central Asia." (translation after Bathrobe's Days of the Week in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese, plus Mongolian and Buryat (cjvlang.com)]
  16. ^ Kyzlasov 1996, pp. 315–316
  17. ^ Sinor 1990, p. 153
  18. ^ Sinor 1990, p. 174: "... the Sogdians, known as K'ang-chii to the Chinese..."
  19. ^ Wood 2004, p. 94
  20. ^ Loewe & Shaughnessy 1999, pp. 87–88 "On the basis of both linguistic and historical evidence , Pulleyblank has identified the Yuezhi, the Wusun, the Dayuan, Kangju, and the people of Yanqi, all names occurring in the Chinese historical sources for the Han dynasty, as Tocharian speakers."
  21. ^ Mukhamedjanov 1994, p. 277
  22. ^ a b Mukhamedjanov 1994, p. 270
  23. ^ New Evidence from Dunhuang, China and Central Asia for the Kangju nyu.edu