How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

The following article is from the History School, and the author is undecided

Author: Undecided Jun Editor: Lilith

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For practical or ornamental purposes, China actually began the history of introducing animals from outside the territory very early, including livestock, wild beasts, birds, and so on. There are generally three ways for alien animals to be imported, one is to move naturally with the evolution of species, the other is to pay tribute and trade, and the third is to war and plunder.

Among the many animals in circulation, the most common and well-known is the import of good horses. Horses were the most widely communicated and disseminated species in the Han and Tang dynasties, and the importance of horse trade rose sharply because the number of war horses directly affected the consolidation of state power and frontier construction.

In the Han Dynasty alone, lions, rhinoceros, white elephants, resting birds, camels, monkeys, peacocks, white pheasants, giraffes and parrots were imported.

In the Tang Dynasty, it was even more numerous, and for specific details, in a paper by Mr. Schaeffer "Alien Civilization in the Tang Dynasty", 170 species of exotic animals were summarized, divided into 17 categories.

In fact, about exotic animals, it can be simply divided into two categories,

One is the different breeds of animals, such as horses, that were originally found in Nakaku, but were introduced from the Western Regions and other places at different times.

The second is the animals that are not in the first place, such as lions, elephants, etc.

How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

1. Horses

However, compared with large-scale horse trade, it is more common to pay tribute, and the northern steppe peoples such as Xianbei, Gaoche, Rouran, Turkic and Western Regions have records of paying tribute to the Central Plains.

For example, at the end of the Han Dynasty, Cao Cao laid down the southern skin, and he was in the limelight for a while, so "Taizu broke the southern skin, and the Rou generals and Xianbei offered famous horses to serve the army, and conquered the three counties of Karasuma, and sealed the customs with merit." Such records, after the Han Dynasty, are countless, and the sacrifices of horses at that time are often thousands, and they can form a strong army, which is all thanks to the strong strength of the country at that time.

In addition to sacrificing horses, there were also political gifts, for example, in order to get rid of the control of Rouran, the Turks turned to the Central Plains and sent envoys to send gifts, and the gifts sent by the Turks at that time were also many good horses. There is actually a difference between political gifts and horse sacrifices, and the sacrifices of horses after the Han Dynasty are often just gifts sent spontaneously because of the fear of the "divine power of the Heavenly Empire". The gifts of the Turks in the later period of the Northern Dynasties included the code words of political transactions.

How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

Of course, when there is strength, there is naturally a time to pretend to be a grandson, in the early Han Dynasty, the Huns were strong and the Han were weak, and the Han Dynasty had to pay tribute to the Xiongnu every year. At the same time, the Han Dynasty made great efforts to raise and train the "Qin horses" in the Hexi Corridor, and introduced the "Dai Ma" of the Xiongnu, and gradually accumulated an elite cavalry force, which led to the Han Dynasty's martial arts.

History here there is a wonderful contrast, when the Qing army entered the customs, was beaten by firearms, so after entering the country, the Qing people hated it, and then the development of firearms came to a standstill and even began to regress, the firearms taken out of the Opium War are almost all grandfather goods.

How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

In the Han and Tang dynasties, it was completely different, even after gaining the advantage, the Han Dynasty people who were beaten by the cavalry were more enthusiastic about introducing good horses and establishing more sophisticated cavalry units, which was completely different from the Qing people.

In the tenth year of Yuanzhen, Zhang Qian sent an envoy to the Western Regions and brought back dozens of Wusun famous horses.

Li Guangli went on an expedition to Dawan and brought back 3,000 Dawan "Tianma". This slender, tall and handsome horse immediately conquered the hearts of the Han Dynasty and became the beloved of the nobles of Chang'an.

The current storytelling says that the world's good horses can't get around Dawan's sweat and blood, and it was from this time that they were introduced to the Central Plains.

The introduction of good horses was also a strategy of the Tang Dynasty, although the time was different, but the Han and Tang dynasties adopted the same strategy. According to incomplete statistics, from the Han and Tang dynasties, the introduced horse breeds include more than 50 kinds of good horses, such as Guligan horses, knotted horses, Simi horses, Tongroman, fire-spitting Rome, and Dashi horses.

So much so that during the Tang Tianbao period, the historical records said that "the war horses of all armies moved tens of thousands"

Of course, although horses are the most important part of the import of animals outside the territory, they are not the whole of animal imports.

How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

2. Camels

The influx of animals other than horses is mainly presented as a gift for exotic animals. For example, camels are usually sent with famous camels or strange camels with different coat colors, and of course, dromedary camels are also exotic beasts. In the first year of Wei Zhengping, he sent an envoy to offer a black camel. "Here, the Mystery Nation treats dromedaries as exotic beasts.

How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

3. Lions

The lion's impression of the big cat living in the African savannah actually flowed into China as early as the Han Dynasty. At that time, there was a country of ten thousand jin in the Western Regions, and the record in the Book of Wei was "all ten thousand jin city, in the west of Mimi." ... And in the south of the country there is a mountain, whose name is Gazna, and out of the mountain is a lion. Every envoy tributary". This Siwanjin country is about to the west of present-day Xinjiang, and every time it pays tribute, it sends lions, so the historians at that time recorded the country's specialty as lions.

This Siwanjin country is relatively low-known, but there is another one that has also given lions to be more famous, which is Persia. In order to commemorate the actions of these countries to send lions, a lion workshop was built on Luoyang Yongqiao South Road. In the "Luoyang Jialan Chronicle", the adventures of the Persian lion in China are recorded, "The lion is also offered by the king of Persian Hu." It was obtained by the rebel thief and the ugly slave, and he was left in the prison. At the end of Yong'an, the ugly slave was broken, and he reached the Beijing Division. ”

At that time, owning a lion was obviously a lot of face, so what should a dynasty that no one send a lion to?

The answer is to write a letter to ask for one.

How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

Liu Yilong, the emperor of the Southern Dynasty, wrote a letter to Shiziguo (now Sri Lanka) in the fifth year of Yuanjia, "Newspaper Shizi King Edict" "I heard that there are many teachers in the neighborhood, and this dedication has not been seen, but it can be understood." ”

However, it is a pity that Liu Yilong did not get his wish, the reason is very simple, as we all know, Sri Lanka, nicknamed the lion country, has no lions, although Sri Lanka is called Shizi country, but there is no lion in the territory, Shizi country is just a paraphrase of "Sanskrit sinhala". As for the nickname of the Lion Country, it is because the lion is too similar to the master, and it has been completely confused in the long-term circulation process.

However, the Sogdian State (present-day Republic of Uzbekistan) gave Liu Yilong a lion, but unfortunately, the lion was lost halfway through.

"If you meet in the road, you will miss it. ”

A tragic word was given to Mr. Liu Yilong.

How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

Fourth, the elephant

In fact, elephants have many practical uses in Southeast Asia, for example, 5,000 elephants were requisitioned during the construction of Angkor Wat, but in China, they are used for ornamental purposes just like lions. Therefore, the elephants presented to China are generally giant elephants, white elephants or dancing elephants.

During the period of the Three Kingdoms, the landlord of Jiaozhou, the old rich man Xie, gave Sun Quan more things every year, "Xie sent every envoy to the right, to the miscellaneous fragrance and fine arrowroot, thousands of them, pearls, shells, exiles, jade, tortoiseshells, rhinos, elephant treasures, strange things and fruits, bananas, evil, longans, all years old." ”

Among Shi Xie's gifts, elephants were included, and then Sun Quan gave elephants to Cao Cao as gifts, which is the earliest record of elephants arriving in the Central Plains. By the way, because Sun Quan sent the elephant, it also led to a very well-known allusion - Cao Chong called the elephant.

"When Sun Quan once sent a giant elephant, Taizu wanted to know its weight, and when he visited the group, he could not make sense. Taizu Yue, that is, to carry out Yan."

How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

Even in the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties, elephants could still sometimes be received from countries in the Western Regions, or some overseas countries. Among the many elephants, the most prized is the white elephant. The white elephant was not a special breed of elephants, but an elephant with albinism, which was considered auspicious at the time.

It is still recorded in the "Luoyang Jialan Record", "There is a white elephant (fang) in the east of Yongqiao South Road, the white elephant, in the second year of Yongping, the king of Qianluo Hu offered"

After the elephant is domesticated, it can perform, which is the so-called elephant dance, and there are records of elephant training during the Three Kingdoms period. "Seven years of dedication to the emperor Jian'an, and dedication to the training of elephants in the country of Khotan".

How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

About elephants, the most interesting is the two emperors of Jin Kang and Jin Mu, when Funan came to send training elephants, Emperor Jin Kang felt that the plaything was demoralized, so he returned it. When Emperor Mu of Jin ascended the throne, Funanguo came to send the elephant again, but it was returned by Emperor Mu of Jin.

But this Funan country still does not give up, to break through thousands of difficulties, must send elephants, in the Tang Dynasty, the subject country of Funan Zhenla, the white elephant alone sent thirty-two, these white elephants have undergone special training, will kneel and dance, every festival in the palace performance.

Funan sends elephants, and the mission must be achieved.

Why are these countries so active in giving gifts to China?

In fact, because the Chinese are more particular about the number of gifts, those who come to give gifts will definitely return the gift with a higher value than the gift.

How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

5. Rhinoceros, parrots, and martens

Contrary to what most people think, the rhinoceros is actually native to China, but it has become a rare animal in the Han Dynasty, so it has also become a gift choice. In order to show off his martial virtues, Wang Mang once wrote to the king of Huangzhi to ask for a rhinoceros.

As for parrots, they are often sent because of different coat colors, such as five-colored parrots. "There is a rising sea in the east of Funan, there is a continent in the sea, there are five-colored parrots, and its white one is like a hen", this strange bird is also very pleasing to the Central Plains people.

Then there is the mink, produced in northern Asia, famous for its fur in the sea, and Sun Yuan, the Taishou Gonggong of Liaodong during the Three Kingdoms, sent mink to the Central Plains. "Wei Liaodong Taishou Gong Sun Yuan sent the school captain Su Shu and Lang Zhong to order Sun Zong to call Yu Quan and offer mink horses."

As for more animals, I wanted to elaborate, but there were too many words, so I had to stop here abruptly. In fact, there are many animals imported from abroad, it is really difficult to explain in detail, however, the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties because the rulers like rare and exotic beasts too much, so that it has caused the scene of "boats and cars one after another, camels and donkeys tail", which has been criticized by historians.

The mistakes of the car ahead should be taken as a lesson.


[1] "The Import of Extraterritorial Animals and Medieval Society", Shi Yuntao

[2] "Foreign Civilization in the Tang Dynasty" Schaefer

The text was created by the History University Hall team, and the pictures came from the Internet, and the copyright belongs to the original author

(This article only represents the author's point of view and does not represent the position of this number)

How did lions, elephants, camels, and other animals be imported into China in ancient times?

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