Uwei Chanyu

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Domain and influence of the Eastern Huns
Reign c. 114–105 BCE
Predecessor Ichise Chanyu
Successor Ushylu
Dynasty Maodun
Father Ichise Chanyu

Uwei Chanyu (aka Wū wéi Chinese: 烏維 单于; r. 114–105 BCE), whose full title is unknown, was a Chanyu of the Xiongnu Huns, the successor to Ichise Chanyu (伊稚邪 单于).


Uwei Chanyu ruled during the reign of the Han emperor Wudi Liu Che 武帝 劉徹 (r. 141–87 BC), after Wudi broke the heqin 和親 peace and kinship treaty with the Huns. His reign was marked by relative peace, with intensive diplomatic activities. The Huns intended to restore the heqin peace and kinship treaty with the Han empire. In turn the Han Empire wanted to weaken, isolate, and bring the Huns into submission. Neither party succeeded in their main objective, but the Chinese further undermined the Huns' situation by splitting off their Wusun branch. Uwei Chanyu was a son of Ichise Chanyu, and came to the throne by agnatic primogeniture succession. The Chinese annals did preserve his title before the enthronement.[1]

Tense relations[edit]

Shortly before his succession, the Chinese sent Jen Chang as an envoy with an inappropriate proposal that demanded the Hun Chanyu submit to the Han Empire. The aggravated Ichise Chanyu detained him. Because the Han empire had already detained a number of the Hun emissaries, and Huns detained an equal number of the Chinese envoys, the mutual relations between the two were strained. The Chinese Court started again assembling an army and horses, but the commander Huo Qubing (霍去病) died, and for a long time the Chinese Court could not mount a northern campaign against the Huns. The Huns also stopped attacking the borders of China after suffering devastating war losses of 300,000 military and civilian people between 124 and 119 BC.

Two years into Uwei Chanyu's reign, the Chinese resumed their harassment. In 112 BC the Chinese sent He Gun-sun with 15,000 cavalry and Zhao Ponu with 10,000 cavalry, but both campaigns ended without any battles.

In 110 BC Wudi assembled in Shuofang (朔方城) a 180,000-strong cavalry army, and sent Go Gi to notify Chanyu about the mobilization. When Go Gi arrived in the Han court, the Chanyu's master of ceremony asked him about the purpose his arrival. Go Gi, with polite evasion, said that he wished to disclose it personally to the Chanyu. Chanyu admitted him. Go Gi told him: “If the Chanyu is in a position to mount a campaign and fight with the Chinese state, the Son of Sky himself, he is waiting for you at the border with an army; and if he is not in a position to fight, he should turn his face to the south and recognize himself a vassal of the House of Han.” Chanyu was so enraged by this ultimatum that he immediately beheaded his master of ceremony and arrested Go Gi, sending him off to Baikal in exile.[2] In spite of that, Chanyu was not inclined to attack the borders of China. Instead he gave rest to the troops and horses, and went hunting.

Peace offers[edit]

Uwei Chanyu sent envoys to the Chinese Court a few times with polite offers of peace and kinship. The Chinese Court sent Wan Wu to spy on the condition of the Huns. The Huns had a custom that allowed a Chinese envoy into the Chanyu yurt only if the envoy would leave his bunchuk (his staff) in front of the door and paint his face with black ink. Wu, a native of the Bei-di province, knew well the customs of the Huns. He left the bunchuk, painted his face, and was received in the yurt. The Chanyu had grown fond of him. In 110 BC Wu diplomatically suggested to the Chanyu to send his successor to the Chinese Court as a hostage, and by that to restore the heqin peace and kinship treaty.

But at the same time, behind the backs of the Huns, the Chinese Court opened connections with the Yuezhi who were located at that time in present Uzbekistan and Bactria, occupied Zu-cuan to block the Huns from Qiangs, and married a Chinese Princess to the Usun ruler (in Jeti-su) to separate the allied states in the west from the Huns. The Chinese Court then sent Yan-sin to the Huns.

The Chinese state officials believed that the Huns, at their present weakness, could be swayed to submit to China. Yan Sin was a firm, direct person; and because he had a middle rank, Chanyu did not treat him nicely. Chanyu offered to receive him in the yurt, but Sin did not agree to leave his bunchuk at the door, so Chanyu received him sitting outside of the yurt. Sin, appearing before the Chanyu, told him: “Chanyu, if you wish for peace and kinship, send the successor to the Chinese Court as a hostage”. Chanyu answered “That is contrary to the former (heqin) treaty. Under that treaty the Chinese Court, as a token of their peace and kinship, normally sent a Princess with silk fabrics, cottons and different provisions, and the Huns on their part agreed to not disturb the borders of China; and now you wish that I, contrary to the former treaty, send a successor as a hostage”?

The Huns had a custom that if a Chinese envoy had no high rank, and was a scholar, they would interrupt his eloquence; and if he is young, they would egg his quick temper with caustic remarks. Each embassy sent by the Chinese Court to the Huns, the Huns would reciprocate with an embassy of their own to the Chinese. If the Chinese Court detained the Hun envoys, the Huns also detained an equal number of Chinese envoys.

As soon as Sin returned from the Huns, the Chinese Court sent Wan Wu again. Chanyu even expressed a desire to go to Chinese Court to be introduced to the Son of Sky and personally agree to be brothers. After his return, Wu notified the Court, and the Court ordered to build in Chang'an an estate for the Chanyu.

Envoy to Huns[edit]

A Hunnu envoy of noble origin arrived in the Chinese Court, fell ill, and died. The Court appointed Lu Chun-go as an envoy to the Huns to return the deceased envoy and provide for a rich burial. Lu Chun-go was given a seal with cords, 2,000 salary bags, and a few thousand lans (approx. 80-110 kg) of silver to finance the burial. But Chanyu did not believe him and said: “The Chinese Court exterminated our noble envoy. And the ambassador is a Chinese noble.” So he detained Lu Chun-go.

Death and successor[edit]

In 105 BC Uwei Chanyu died on the 10th year of his reign. His son Ushylu, who was still a child, was proclaimed a Chanyu according to their custom of agnatic primogeniture succession, and was named Err Chanyu.[3] Possibly there were no elder eligible candidates.


  1. ^ Bichurin N.Ya., "Collection of information on peoples in Central Asia in ancient times", vol. 1, p.42
  2. ^ Bichurin N.Ya., "Collection of Information on Peoples in Central Asia in Ancient Times", vol. 1, p.43
  3. ^ Bichurin N.Ya., "Collection of Information on Peoples in Central Asia in Ancient Times", vol. 1, p.46


  • Bichurin N.Ya., "Collection of information on peoples in Central Asia in ancient times", vol. 1, Sankt Petersburg, 1851, reprint Moscow-Leningrad, 1950 (Shiji ch. 110, Qian Han Shu ch. 94a) [1]
Preceded by
Ichise Chanyu
Uwei Chanyu of the Xiongnu Empire
114–105 BCE
Succeeded by
Ushylu Chanyu