Wei Qing

Wei Qing

Wèi Qīng (Zh-cw|c=衛青|w=Wei Ch'ing, d. 106 BC), born in Linfen, Shanxi, was a general during Han Dynasty of China, whose campaigns against Xiongnu (匈奴) earned him great acclaim. He was the younger half-brother of Empress Wei Zifu (衛子夫) and the uncle of Huo Qubing (霍去病), as well as the Emperor Wu (漢武帝)'s late brother-in-law.

Family background and early career

Wei was born from humble means, as an illegitimate child from an adulterous relationship. His father Zheng Ji (鄭季) was a low level official for Pingyang County (平陽縣, in modern Linfen, Shanxi) and was commissioned to serve at the estate of Cao Shou (曹壽), the Marquess of Pingyang (平陽侯), and his wife Princess Pingyang (平陽公主). There, he met and had a relationship with a female servant named Wei, and their relationship produced a son, Wei Qing, who took his mother's family name because of the illegitimacy (Wei Zifu was similarly born in illegitimacy, but of a different father). As an illegitimate child, the young Wei Qing was detested by his stepmother, father and half-siblings, and was made to live the life of lowly servants. [青為侯家人,少時歸其父,父使牧羊。民母之子皆奴畜之,不以為兄弟數] Unable to tolerate the maltreatment, Wei Qing eventually ran away back to his mother's side during his early teenage years, and served as a horsekeeper in the marquess's estate of Pingyang. [青壯,為侯家騎,從平陽主]

After Princess Pingyang offered the singer/dancer Wei Zifu to Emperor Wu as a concubine circa 139 BC, Wei Qing followed as an accompanying gift to serve as a palace horsekeeper. However, as his sister gained the Emperor's love, near disaster would strike for Wei. The powerful Grand Princess Liu Piao (劉嫖), the mother of Empress Chen Jiao (陳嬌), angry that Consort Wei had siphoned off the imperial favor that her daughter had previously enjoyed, kidnapped Wei Qing, and wanted to kill him privately as retaliation. [建元二年春,青姊子夫得入宮幸上。皇后,大長公主女也,無子,妒。大長公主聞衛子夫幸,有身,妒之,乃使人捕青。青時給事建章,未知名。大長公主執囚青,欲殺之] However, Wei was rescued at the last moment by his friends, a group of fellow palace horseman led by Gongsun Ao (公孫敖). [其友騎郎公孫敖与壯士往篡之,故得不死] In response to the incident, and as a show of his own annoyance towards Empress Chen and Grand Princess Liu, Emperor Wu made Wei Qing the head official of the household at Jianzhang Palace (建章宮), [上聞,乃召青為建章監,侍中] away from where the princess might be able to harm him, and awarded Wei Qing with great wealth.

Career as general

Great wealth would not be all that Wei would have. Emperor Wu saw qualities in him that he believed would make a great general -- brilliant horsemanship, archery, bravery, as well as excellent leadership qualities, including the ability to sympathize with his soldiers and obtain their loyalty. Emperor Wu would promote Wei Qing to be his closest consul/lieutenant for the next few years, until he had secured all the power of his throne.

In 129 BC, when Xiongnu attacked the Commandery of Shanggu (上谷, roughly modern Zhangjiakou, Hebei), Emperor Wu dispatched Wei Qing (with the title General Cheqi 車騎將軍), Gongsun Ao, Gongsun He (公孫賀) and Li Guang (李廣) against Xiongnu, each leading 10,000 cavalries. [元光六年,拜為車騎將軍,擊匈奴,出上谷;公孫賀為輕年將軍,出云中;太中大夫公孫敖為騎將軍,出代郡;衛尉李廣為驍騎將軍,出雁門。軍各万騎] Li Guang and Gongsun Ao suffered major losses at Xiongnu's hands, while Gongsun He failed to encounter and engage the enemy. Wei, however, distinguished himself by raiding Xiongnu's holy site Longcheng (龍城), killing over 700 Xiongnu soldiers guarding the place in the process. [將軍衛青出上谷,至龍城,得胡首虜七百人。公孫賀出云中,無所得。公孫敖出代郡,為胡所敗七千。李廣出雁門,為胡所敗,匈奴生得廣,廣道亡歸] As a reward for the victory (the first proper victory against Xiongnu in Han history), Wei was promoted to a higher command and created an acting marquess (關內侯).

In 128 BC, Wei would have a larger victory against Xiongnu, killing thousands of Xiongnu soldiers. [青复將三万騎出雁門,李息出代郡。青斬首虜數千]

In 127 BC, Wei had a major victory against Xiongnu's Princes of Loufan (樓煩王) and Baiyang (白羊王) after totally outmaneuvering and surrounding the Xiongnu forces, killing thousands of Xiongnu soldiers and capturing over a million Xiongnu cattles. [青复出云中,西至高闕,遂至于隴西,捕首虜數千,畜百余万,走白羊、樓煩王。遂取河南地為朔方郡] The Han recapture of the territory forced the two Xiongnu clans to withdraw from the fertile Hetao region (河套, modern western central Inner Mongolia centering Ordos), and dealt devastating blow to the economy of these Xiongnu tribes. The City of Shuofang (朔方城) was built, and would later become a key stronghold from which offensive and defensive campaigns against Xiongnu would be launched. For his achievement, Wei was created the Marquess of Changping (長平侯), and his subordinates Su Jian (蘇建, father of the great Han patriot Su Wu) and Zhang Cigong (張次公) were also created marquesses. [青校尉蘇建為平陵侯,張次公為岸頭侯]

In 124 BC, Wei would be the vital part of the greatest Han victory over Xiongnu to date. When Xiongnu's Worthy Prince of the Right (右賢王, literally meaning "Wise King of the Right") made harassing raids against Shuofang, Wei and his other generals surprised them by launching a crushing night assault on Xiongnu's main camp, surrounding them from the rear. [漢兵出塞六七百里,夜圍右賢王] Not only did they sent the Worthy Prince running for his life from his drunken sleep (with only his own concubine following), [右賢王惊,夜逃,獨与其愛妾一人騎數百馳,潰圍北去] they also took about 15,000 captives, including large numbers of Xiongnu princes and nobles, and great herds of cattles. [得右賢裨王十余人,眾男女万五千余人,畜數十百万] At this compaign, his nephew Huo Qubing distinguished himself in battle and was given his own command. For this victory, Wei was made the Grand Commander of all armed forces (大將軍), and his march was enlarged. His three young sons Wei Kang (衛伉), Wei Buyi (衛不疑), and Wei Deng (衛登) were also made marquesses (an offer later refused by Wei Qing), as were seven generals under Wei's command.

In 123 BC, Wei would fight a relatively inconclusive battle. After initially killing or capturing thousands of Xiongnu soldiers, part of his vanguard forces, a 3,000-strong regiment commanded by Generals Su Jian and Zhao Xin (趙信), was surprised and surrounded by the forces led by Xiongnu's Chanyu Yizhixie (伊稚斜單于), and almost annihilated. [悉复出定襄,斬首虜万余人。蘇建、趙信并軍三千余騎,獨逢單于兵,与戰一日余,漢兵且盡] Zhao defected, while Su escaped after losing all his men in the desperate fighting. [信故胡人,降為翕侯,見急,匈奴誘之,遂將其余騎可八百奔降單于。蘇建盡亡其軍,獨以身得亡去,自歸青] Showing compassion on Su, Wei spared him even though some advocates advised that Su be executed on the spot after court martial to enforce Wei's commanding authority. [青問其罪正閎、長史安、議郎周霸等:“建當云何?”霸曰:“自大將軍出,未嘗斬裨將,今建棄軍,可斬,以明將軍之威。”閎、安曰:“不然。兵法‘小敵之堅,大敵之禽也。’今建以數千當單于數万,力戰一日余,士皆不敢有二心。自歸而斬之,是示后無反意也。不當斬。”青曰:“青幸得以肺附待罪行間,不患無威,而霸說我以明威,甚失臣意。且使臣職雖當斬將,以臣之尊寵而不敢自擅專誅于境外,其歸天子,天子自裁之,于以風為人臣不敢專權,不亦可乎?”官吏皆曰“善”。遂囚建行在所]

Despite his great honor and power, Wei remained humble in many ways. Because of the great favor Emperor Wu showed him, all of the other officials at court flattered him, except for Ji An (汲黯), who treated him as an equal. Wei was impressed by Ji's integrity in face of pressure and respected Ji greatly, often requesting Ji's opinion on important matters. Throughout his career, he refused to hire scholars to praising him and create favorable public opinions, [蘇建嘗說責:“大將軍至尊重,而天下之賢士大夫無稱焉,愿將軍觀古名將所招選者,勉之哉!”青謝曰:“自魏其、武安之厚賓客,天子常切齒。彼親待士大夫,招賢黜不肖者,人主之柄也。人臣奉法遵職而已,何与招士!”] and tried to maintain a relative low-profile fashion of life. Despite his humble way of life, Wei's status in the Han army made him a distinguished figure in the country, attracting admiration, jealousy and hostility alike. [青仁,喜士退讓,以和柔自媚于上,然于天下未有稱也] Emperor Wu's uncle, the Prince of Huainan Liu An (淮南王劉安), who had been conspiring military coup for a long time, saw Wei as his prime political obstacle that must be removed. [一日發兵,使人即刺殺大將軍青]

The Battle of Mobei and Involvement in Li Guang's death

In 119 BC, Wei, as the Grand Commander of the armed forces, would be involved in a battle controversially leading to the death of another famous general, Li Guang. In this engagement, Emperor Wu broke the normal pattern of reaction against Xiongnu attacks by making a major excursion against Xiongnu's headquarters in the north of the Gobi Desert. This is known to history as the Mobei Campaign ("campaign of the desert's north"). Wei and Huo were in command of the two main armies. Under Wei's command were four other generals Li, Gongsun He, Zhao Yiji (趙食其) and Cao Xiang (曹襄). Contrary to the arrangements promised to Li by Emperor Wu, where he would command the advance division, Emperor Wu secretly told Wei not to assign Li to important missions due to Li's history of "bad lucks". [大將軍陰受上指,以為李廣數奇,毋令當單于,恐不得所欲] Wei, after the army had already departed, merged Li's forces with Zhao's and ordered them to take an eastern side route through a barren region. According to the historian Sima Qian (司馬遷), Wei had done this to give his old friend Gongsun Ao, who had recently been stripped of his title, a chance to win a major battle and be re-promoted. However, it should be noted that sending Generals of Front (前將軍, namely Li) and Right (右將軍, namely Zhao) on flanking routes was Wei's typical tactical arrangement. This was evidented by his deployment of Zhao Xin and Su Jian, who were Generals of Front and Right respectively [翕侯趙信為前將軍,衛尉蘇建為右將軍] during the less-than-successful 123 BC campaign.

Wei's army unexpectedly encountered on Chanyu Yizhixie's main forces, who was waiting in anticipation of ambushing the Han army. Despite being significantly outnumbered and fatigued after the long journey, Wei was able to counter Xiongnu's cavalry charge with archery defence created by heavy-armored chariots arranged in ring formations, which was reinforced with cavalry counteroffensives. [而适直青軍出塞千余里,見單于兵陳而待。于是青令武剛車自環為營,而縱五千騎往當匈奴,匈奴亦縱万騎] (This defence would be evaluated as one of the most effective against cavalry by many Chinese tacticians later, including Yue Fei.) Late into the battle, seizing the moment of a sandstorm (with poor visibility), Wei broke the stalemate and launched bilateral flanking attacks with his cavalries. [大風起,沙礫擊面,兩軍不相見,漢益縱左右翼繞單于] This decisive move shattered the Chanyu's line, nearly capturing him and completely overrunning his forces, killing over 10,000 Xiongnu soldiers in the process. [会明,行二百余里,不得单于,颇捕斩首虏万余级] The Han army pursued all the way to the modern Ulan Bator region, destroying the Xiongnu stronghold Zhao Xin Castle (趙信城) [遂至窴顏山趙信城,得匈奴積粟食軍。軍留一日而還,悉燒其城余粟以歸] before returning in triumph [青軍入塞,凡斬首虜万九千級] with a total of about 30,000 enemy kills. Chanyu Yizhixie was forced to escape with very few men, lost communication with his tribe for days, and did not return until his clan presumed his death and installed a new Chanyu. [單于久不与其大眾相得,右谷蠡王以為單于死,乃自立為單于。真單于复得其眾,右谷蠡乃去號,复其故位] This was a narrow but critically significant victory for the Han empire. Xiongnu was greatly weakened to the point that they would huddle up into the barren northern Gobi desert (leading to decline of their population), and unable to raid south for the next few decades. The next major Xiongnu invasion did not occur until after the Han dynasty collapsed, some 400 years later during the Jin Dynasty.

Meanwhile, Li and Zhao got lost in the desert and failed to arrive in time for battle, [前將軍廣、右將軍食其軍別從東道,或失道] despite meeting little Xiongnu resistance. As the battle ends, Li and Zhao were both summoned for court martial on the charge of failure to accomplish orders. Feeling humiliated over the charges against him and frustrated over missing his final chance at martial glory, Li committed suicide rather than facing the court. [青欲使使歸報,令長史簿責廣,廣自殺] Many people blamed Wei for causing Li's death, including historian Sima Qian as well as Li's younger son Li Gan (李敢). Li Gan later went to Wei's home and attempted assassination but only managed to injure him. [怨大將軍青之恨其父,乃擊傷大將軍,大將軍匿諱之] This incidence resulted in Li Gan's superior Huo Qubing personally killing Li Gan for insulting his uncle. [票騎將軍去病怨敢傷青,射殺敢]

Late career and death

After the 119 BC battle, Wei would see little combat action himself. He largely remained at the capital Chang'an (長安) to advise Emperor Wu on military and sometimes political matters as the Chief Defence Minister (大司馬大將軍), and also assisted his nephew Crown Prince Liu Ju (劉據) in governing the state when Emperor Wu was away on official tours.

Wei died in 106 BC and was buried at large tomb built to be a model of Mount Lu (盧山, a mountain previously in Xiongnu-occupied territory). [起冢象盧山云] The tomb was connected to that of his nephew Huo Qubing, who had died in 117 BC, and the future tomb for Emperor Wu. Wei would not live to see the destruction of his clan (nobody survived except his youngest son Wei Deng (衛登) and his great grand-nephew Liu Bingyi (劉病已)), as well as the tragic fate of his sister Empress Wei and his nephew Crown Prince Liu, during the political turmoil in 91 BC.


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