The Siege of Baideng-白登之围

After the establishment of the Han Dynasty, Liu Bang began to manage various affairs of the country and encountered a troubling situation. In the northern grasslands and deserts, there lived a large number of ethnic minorities referred to as the Xiongnu by the Han Chinese. During the reign of Qin Shi Huang, the Xiongnu were confronted by the Qin Dynasty’s General Meng Tian, who reclaimed the Ordos region. As the Qin Dynasty declined, the Xiongnu, under the leadership of Modu Chanyu, expanded their territory and seized the Hedong region again during the Chu–Han Contention, as well as occupied areas such as Chaona (present-day southeastern Ningxia) and Fushi (present-day southern Yulin, Shaanxi), casting covetous eyes on the Central Plains.

After the Han Dynasty was established, Han Wangxin was rewarded for his military achievements and was enfeoffed by Liu Bang, establishing his capital in Yangdi.

In 201 BC, Liu Bang, concerned about the proximity of Han Wangxin’s fiefdom to the northern nomadic tribes, specifically the Xiongnu, requested Wangxin to relocate from Yangdi (present-day Yuzhou, Henan) to Jinyang (present-day Taiyuan, Shanxi) under the pretext of defending against Xiongnu invasions. However, Wangxin requested to be stationed in Mayi (present-day Shuozhou, Shanxi) instead, to which Liu Bang reluctantly agreed. Shortly after Wangxin’s relocation to Mayi, the Xiongnu began attacking the city, deepening Liu Bang’s suspicions. Wangxin, conspiring with Modu Chanyu, joined forces with the Xiongnu, and willingly surrendered Mayi to Chanyu. Wangxin then led Xiongnu troops to break through Yanmen Pass, capturing Taiyuan Commandery.

In 200 BC, Han Gaozu Liu Bang personally led an expedition to pacify the Xiongnu and suppress Han Wangxin. Initially, the Han army achieved consecutive victories, severely damaging Han Wangxin’s forces in Tongdi (near present-day Qinxian, Shaanxi). Wangxin’s army suffered heavy casualties, and he fled repeatedly, seeking refuge among the Xiongnu. Several of his subordinates sought out Zhao Li, a descendant of the royal family of the State of Zhao during the Warring States period, and proclaimed him king, rallying their remaining forces to continue fighting against the Han army.

The Xiongnu established a long defensive line from Guangwu (near Yangmingbao Town, Daixian County, Shanxi) to Jinyang to obstruct the Han army’s northward advance. However, the Han forces breached the line, resulting in the defeat of Han Wangxin and the Xiongnu in Jinyang. Following this victory, Han forces defeated Han Wangxin and the Xiongnu for a third time at Lishi (present-day Lishi District, Lvliang, Shanxi). Subsequently, the Xiongnu reorganized their troops northwest of Loufan and were again defeated by Liu Bang’s cavalry. Despite these victories, Liu Bang became complacent and underestimated the Xiongnu’s remaining strength.

Desiring more information about the Xiongnu’s current situation, Liu Bang dispatched several scouts to gather intelligence. However, Modu Chanyu became aware of this and deployed his elite troops to the rear, disguising the front lines with less capable soldiers. The scouts, deceived by the appearance of weakness, reported back to Liu Bang, urging him to attack immediately. Disregarding the warnings of his advisor Liu Jing, Liu Bang chastised him for cowardice and ordered his imprisonment in the prison of Guangwu. Liu Bang then led his cavalry to the front lines at Pingcheng (present-day Linfen, Shanxi) to prepare for battle, but when the infantry arrived, they found themselves encircled by the Xiongnu at Baideng Mountain.

During the seven-day standoff at Baideng Mountain, Liu Bang sought advice from his generals on how to break the siege. Chen Ping suggested bribing Modu Chanyu’s favorite concubine, Yanzhi, to persuade him to retreat. Liu Bang agreed, and Chen Ping, along with another general, secretly infiltrated the Xiongnu camp, presenting Yanzhi with jewels and a portrait of a beautiful woman. Yanzhi, fearing the loss of favor if the woman were presented to Chanyu, convinced him to withdraw his forces and let Liu Bang escape. Chanyu complied, allowing Liu Bang’s cavalry to break through the encirclement and return to the capital. Upon his return, Liu Bang executed those who had advocated for attacking the Xiongnu and released Liu Jing from prison, bestowing him the title of Marquis within the Passes and rewarding him with considerable wealth.

Though Chanyu allowed Liu Bang to leave, the Xiongnu continued to harass the northern border towns. Liu Jing proposed a marriage alliance, suggesting Liu Bang marry a princess to Chanyu to maintain peace along the border. However, Empress Lü refused to send her daughter to marry Chanyu. Instead, a girl was sent in place of the princess, accompanied by large quantities of gold, silver, and cloth, under the escort of Liu Jing. Additionally, Liu Bang promised to annually provide the Xiongnu with a certain amount of grain and daily necessities. This measure helped alleviate tensions between the Han Dynasty and the Xiongnu, sparing the Han subjects from the horrors of war.


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