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Domain and influence of the Xiongnu.[citation needed]
Chanyu of the Xiongnu Empire
Reignc. 220–209 BCE
Died209 BCE

Touman (Chinese: 頭曼; Turkish: Teoman; Mongolian: Tümen) or T'u-man, is the earliest named Xiongnu chanyu,[1] reigning from c. 220–209 BCE.


The name Touman is likely related to a word meaning '10,000, a myriad', which was widely borrowed between language families in, most plausibly, the order indicated by the following representative list of its forms: Modern Persian (which includes the Tajik and Dari dialects of it) tōmān ~ tūmān,[2] Mongolian tümen, Old Turkic tümän, East Tocharian tmāṃ, West Tocharian t(u)māne, which possibly even includes Old Chinese and later , whose pronunciation can be reconstructed as for instance an early Middle Chinese *muanʰ. Note however that our only certain evidence this number-word already existed around and before Touman's lifetime would be the Chinese; not until many centuries after he lived are the other languages with this word in them first attested.[3]


By the time the Qin dynasty had conquered the six Warring States and began its reign over a unified China in 221 BCE, the nomadic Xiongnu had grown into a powerful force in the north and started expanding both east and west. According to Sima Qian, there was a long line of Xiongnu leaders preceding Touman's son, but only from the start of his reign did information become available to historians in China.[4] Competing with the Xiongnu for supremacy were the Dōnghú (東胡) or 'Eastern Barbarians' and the Yuezhi. In 215 BCE, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, sent a 300,000-strong army headed by General Meng Tian into the Ordos region and drove the Xiongnu northward for 1,000 li (about 416 km).[5]

"Touman, unable to hold out against the Qin forces, had withdrawn to the far north, where he held out for over ten years."[6]

Some time after the death of Meng Tian in 210 BCE, the Xiongnu crossed the Yellow River and re-established themselves in their previous territory.[7]

Touman favored a younger son from another concubine. To get rid of his eldest son, Modu (冒頓), Touman sent him to the Yuezhi as a hostage, and then made a sudden attack on them. In retaliation the Yuezhi prepared to kill Modu, but he managed to steal a horse and escape back to the Xiongnu. Touman was impressed with his bravery and put Modu in command of a force of 10,000 horsemen. Modu was very successful in training his men to obey him absolutely. In 209 BCE, Modu commanded his men to shoot his father, killing him as well as his stepmother, younger brother, and the high officials who refused to take orders from him. Thereafter Modu became chanyu.[5]

The Book of Han (juan 94's "upper" section) recounts the end of Touman’s life in vivid language, as follows (literal English translation, then the Classical Chinese).

... The chanyu[, Touman,] had a son and heir, by name called Modu. Later, he had a beloved yanzhi [i.e. queen], who gave birth to a younger son. Touman wanted, casting aside Modu, to install the young son [in the position]. He managed to send Modun as a hostage to the Yuezhi. Upon Modu having become a hostage, Touman quickly attacked the Yuezhi. The Yuezhi wanted to kill Modu. Modu stole their good horses, rode, went away, and returned home. Touman took it as a show of strength and ordered that he have command of 10,000 riders. Modu managed to make whistling arrowheads and with them training his riders to shoot. He gave an order, saying: "Those who do not always shoot at something shot at by an arrow with a whistling arrowhead will be beheaded." He conducted hunting for game-animals. He had some not shooting at something the whistling arrowhead(s) [had] shot at, and he on the spot beheaded them. That being done, Modu with a whistling arrowhead shot at a good horse of his own. At [his] left and right, some did not at all dare to shoot. Modu straightaway beheaded them. [Next,] he waited, a while passed, [then,] again with a whistling arrowhead, he shot at his own beloved wife. At [his] left and right, he had some who were quite afraid and did not dare shoot, and he again beheaded them. A while passed. Modu went out hunting. With a whistling arrowhead, he shot at a good horse of [Touman,] the chanyu's. At [his] left and right, all shot at it. Modu thereupon knew that his left and right could be used [for the task]. He went along on a hunt of his father, the chanyu, Touman's, and with a whistling arrowhead shot at Touman. His left and right, all following the whistling arrowhead, shot at and killed Touman. They put to death both his stepmother and the younger brother and even some important retainers who did not obey and go along. Modu thereupon installed himself and became chanyu.[8]


  1. ^ Grousset, Rene (1970). The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University Press. pp. 26–27. ISBN 0-8135-1304-9.
  2. ^ Steingass (1892), p. 337.
  3. ^ Doerfer (1963-1975), vol. II, pp. 983 ff., and Beckwith (2009), pp. 387–388, n. 10; p. 390, n. 17, to cite only a very authoritative source and a recent one (respectively) among many that have discussed this borrowing.
  4. ^ Loewe 2000, p. 434.
  5. ^ a b Watson (1993), p. 133.
  6. ^ Watson (1993), p. 134.
  7. ^ Loewe 2000, p. 514.
  8. ^ 單于有太子,名曰冒頓。後有愛閼氏,生少子,頭曼欲廢冒頓而立少子,乃使冒頓質於月氏。冒頓既質,而頭曼急擊月氏。月氏欲殺冒頓,冒頓盜其善馬,騎亡歸。頭曼以為壯,令將萬騎。冒頓乃作鳴鏑,習勒其騎射,令曰:「鳴鏑所射而不悉射者斬。」行獵獸,有不射鳴鏑所射輒斬之。已而,冒頓以鳴鏑自射善馬,左右或莫敢射,冒頓立斬之。居頃之,復以鳴鏑自射其愛妻,左右或頗恐,不敢射,復斬之。頃之,冒頓出獵,以鳴鏑射單于善馬,左右皆射之。於是冒頓知其左右可用,從其父單于頭曼獵,以鳴鏑射頭曼,其左右皆隨鳴鏑而射殺頭曼,盡誅其後母與弟及大臣不聽從者。於是冒頓自立為單于。


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Preceded by
Not Known
Chanyu of the Xiongnu Empire
220–209 BCE
Succeeded by
Modu Chanyu