An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Ban Chao 班超

Nov 1, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Ban Chao 班超 (32-102 CE), courtesy name Zhongsheng 仲升, was an important general of the early Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE). He was a son of Ban Biao 班彪 and a younger brother of Ban Gu 班固, both historians that compiled the official dynastic history of the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE), the Hanshu 漢書.

Their family came from Anling 安陵 (near modern Xianyang 咸陽, Shaanxi) and moved to the capital Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan), where they lived as scribes for various state institutions. Ban Chao was a senior scribe of the magistrate (ling 令) of Lantai 蘭臺 but he had to leave this post because of some minor offense he committed. In 73 CE he was appointed commander (sima 司馬) of Commandant-in-chief of the chariots (fengche duwei 奉車都尉) Dou Gu 竇固 during the latter's campaign against the steppe federation of the Xiongnu 匈奴. He took part in the conquest of Yiwu 伊吾 and Pulei 蒲類 and was then sent out to liberate the southern route of the Silk Road from the domination of the Xiongnu. When he arrived in the city state of Shanshan 鄯善 with only 36 men, he met an envoy of the Xiongnu and decided to kill all Xiongnus. This coup forced the king of Shanshan into submission, so that the way to the southern route was open.

Ban Chao was promoted to Cavalry commander of the army (jun sima 軍司馬). He advanced to Yutian 于闐 and then to Shule 疏勒 at the western end of the Tarim Basin. In Shule he deposed King Douti 兜提, a foreigner that had been enthroned by the king of Qiuci 龜茲, and enthroned the brother of the former king as the new ruler of Shule. In 75 CE the states of Yanqi 焉耆 and Qiuci rose in rebellion against the Han empire and killed protector-general (duhu 都護) Chen Mu 陳睦.

At that time Ban Chao was still in Shule but was ordered by Emperor Zhang 漢章帝 (r. 75-88 CE) to return to the capital Luoyang. When Ban Chao arrived in Shule, the king weeped and urgently asked him not to leave the Western Territories. Ban Shao returned to Shule, where he prepared a campaign against Qiuci, Yanqi and Gumo 姑墨, to be conducted mainly by native troops from Shule and Yutian. At the same time, the court dispatched commander Xu Gan 徐幹 to attack the rebellious states from the east.

In 83 CE Ban Chao was appointed Chief Clerk in Command of Troops (jiangbing zhangshi 將兵長史). In this position as the highest military commander of the protectorate he led imperial and native troops against the rebellious cities, with which Shule meanwhile had aligned. Based in Yutian, he was able to submit all rebellious states in 87 CE. At that occasion the king of Guishuang 貴霜 (Kushana) sent tributes to Ban Chao and asked to be given a Chinese princess to his wife. Ban Chao declined and so caused the anger of the king of Guishuang who immediately sent out his troops across the Pamir Range to attack Ban Chao. The experienced general defeated the troops of Guishuang.

In 91 CE Ban Chao was made protector-general of the Western Territories and took residence in Qiuci. The murder of Chen Mu was revenged when Ban Chao executed the king of Yanqi in 94 CE. Ban Chao was for his military merits given the title of Marquis of Dingyuan 定遠侯. Two years later he sent out Gan Ying 甘英 to visit the land of Daqin 大秦 (Rome?), but he only came as far as Anxi 安息 (Parthia) before he returned.

In 102 Ban Chao retired and returned to Luoyang where he was at last formally appointed Commander of the bowmen shooters by sound (shesheng xiaowei 射聲校尉). He died shortly after.

Ma Yong 馬雍 (1992). "Ban Chao 班超", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 22.