Episode 84 – Tang 3: The Khan of Heaven


Li Shimin assassinated his two brothers and put his father out to pasture in order to snag the top job as Emperor Taizong. But a mere three weeks into his reign, this “rock star” monarch will face an existential challenge to his reign and the future of the Tang Dynasty as a whole: the wrath of the Göktürk Khaganate. It will prove to be a wild ride to determine whether Tang China will be doomed to remain a vassal of the Turks, or whether Taizong’s “true vision” will prove enough to rise to the challenge.

Time Period Covered:
626-630 CE

Major Historical Figures:

Prince Li Shimin [Emperor Taizong]
Retired Emperor Gaozu

Göktürk Khaganate:
Illig Khagan
Tölis Khan

Liang Dynasty (Turkic Vassal):
Emperor Liang Shidu (d. 628)

Xueyantuo Tribe (alt. Se-Yento, Syr-Tardush)
Uyghur Tribe (alt. Huige, Hui-ho)
Khitan Tribe

Works Cited:
Drompp, Michael. Tang China And The Collapse Of The Uighur Empire: A Documentary History
Grousset, René. The Rise and Splendor of the Chinese Empire.
Weschler, Howard. The Cambridge History of China, vol. 3


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8 thoughts on “Episode 84 – Tang 3: The Khan of Heaven

  1. maybe an episode can be devoted to göktürks? contrary to hsiung-nu, göktürks had a written tradition and they developed their own alphabet. many inscriptions belonging to them had been discovered in mongolia, inner china, kazakhstan etc, written by the göktürk script. hence we have some inkling about how they viewed the world aroun them..
    an episode from the “göktürk perspective” would be interesting..

      1. Oh, stupid me.. I already gave the same wikilink in my previous message. You can ignore my last message. Sorry for the confusion..

  2. Quick note about pronunciation. 吐蕃 is pronounced as “tǔbō”, close to Tibet. Here’s a note from 现代汉语规范词典:
    蕃:用法说明读 bō,只用于“吐蕃”(公元7—9世纪我国古代藏族在今青藏高原建立的政权)。

    I consider myself a victim of the language’s notoriously rich polyphonic characters. I was never asked to pronounce this name but had always thought it was “tǔfān” well after college. Then one day I was casually browsing my dictionary and saw this special sound. All in a sudden some of the radio broadcasters’ words began to make sense. Even then, I didn’t make a connection with the English word Tibet, as my English reading was mostly limited to science. But I did wonder why this ancient name is so different from the modern Chinese name, 藏. By the time I began to read about Tibetan affairs from newspapers (and wire news), I had long forgotten the Chinese word. Only in recent years did it occur to me that this ancient name is related to the name the Tibetans call themselves.

    I do not have reference as to whether this character acquired this sound only in modern times. The other pronunciation that is somewhat related to this is fān, as an ancient alternative form of 番 as in 番邦. (A third pronunciation is unrelated.)

    To illustrate how foreign names can dictate pronunciation, I went through a similar revelation about 秘鲁. In my entire youth I had been wondering why those radio and TV broadcasters kept talking about bìlǔ when we call a 秘书 a mìshū. It wasn’t until I came to frequent encounter with English word “Peru” did this fully resolve.

    To make things worse, my Sichuan native teachers (who teach in Sichuan dialect) as well as my parents always said mìlǔ. Only those teachers who came from another province and had to teach in Mandarin would say bìlǔ and occasionally make fun of native Sichuanese.

    Now if you listen to 土豆 (Tudou, the Chinese podcast service) and some local radio and TV broadcasters today, no doubt some of them will say mìlǔ for 秘鲁 in Mandarin; even more will say tǔfān for 吐蕃.

    1. Somewhat related: I remember that you took length to clarify sinonised Xiongnu names in early episodes. Whereas this was out of necessity as Xiongnu did not have their written history, to a person brought up in China, it helps a great deal to associate any native name with sinonised name that I may have heard of. Though names such as Songtsen Gampo maybe easy for me to associate with 松赞干布, other names may sound too different from their sinonisations, or the sinonised name may have become unfamiliar after many years. I’d appreciate a refresher when appropriate.

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