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The Yuezhi (Chinese: 月氏; pinyin: Yuèzhī, Ròuzhī or Rùzhī; Wade–Giles: Yüeh4-chih1, Jou4-chih1 or Ju4-chih1;) were an ancient people first described in Chinese histories as nomadic pastoralists living in an arid grassland area in the western part of the modern Chinese province of Gansu, during the 1st millennium BC. After a major defeat at the hands of the Xiongnu in 176 BC, the Yuezhi split into two groups migrating in different directions: the Greater Yuezhi (Dà Yuèzhī 大月氏) and Lesser Yuezhi (Xiǎo Yuèzhī 小月氏). This started a complex domino effect that radiated in all directions and, in the process, set the course of history for much of Asia for centuries to come. The Greater Yuezhi initially migrated northwest into the Ili Valley (on the modern borders of China and Kazakhstan), where they reportedly displaced elements of the Sakas. They were driven from the Ili Valley by the Wusun and migrated southward to Sogdia and later settled in Bactria. The Greater Yuezhi have consequently often been identified with peoples mentioned in classical European sources as having overrun the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, like the Tókharioi (Greek Τοχάριοι; Sanskrit Tukhāra) and Asii (or Asioi). During the 1st century BC, one of the five major Greater Yuezhi tribes in Bactria, the Kushanas (Chinese: 貴霜; pinyin: Guìshuāng), began to subsume the other tribes and neighbouring peoples. The subsequent Kushan Empire, at its peak in the 3rd century AD, stretched from Turfan in the Tarim Basin in the north to Pataliputra on the Gangetic plain of India in the south. The Kushanas played an important role in the development of trade on the Silk Road and the introduction of Buddhism to China.
|Some 100,000 to 200,000 horse archers, according to the Shiji, Chapter 123. The Hanshu Chapter 96A records: 100,000 households, 400,000 people with 100,000 able to bear arms.|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Western China||(pre-2nd century BC)|
|Central Asia||(2nd century BC-1st century AD)|
|Northern India||(1st century AD-4th century AD)|
|Bactrian (in Bactria in the 1st century AD)|
The Lesser Yuezhi migrated southward to the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Some are reported to have settled among the Qiang people in Qinghai, and to have been involved in the Liang Province Rebellion (184–221 AD) against the Eastern Han dynasty. Another group of Yuezhi is said to have founded the city state of Cumuḍa (now known as Kumul and Hami) in the eastern Tarim. A fourth group of Lesser Yuezhi may have become part of the Jie people of Shanxi, who established the Later Zhao state of the 4th century AD (although this remains controversial).
Many scholars believe that the Yuezhi were an Indo-European people. Although some scholars have associated them with artifacts of extinct cultures in the Tarim Basin, such as the Tarim mummies and texts recording the Tocharian languages, the evidence for any such link is purely circumstantial.
|Timeline of the Yuezhi|
The Yuezhi are powerful near Dunhuang, near the western end of the Hexi corridor, and control the jade trade from the Tarim basin. Somewhere west are the Wusun, and further east near the Ordos plateau are the Xiongnu or their precursors.|
|215 BCE||The Xiongnu are defeated by the Qin dynasty and retreat northwards into the Mongolian Plateau.|
|207 BCE||The Xiongnu begin a campaign of raids against the Yuezhi.|
|The Xiongnu inflict a major defeat on the Yuezhi.|
|173 BCE||The Yuezhi defeat the Wusun.|
|The majority of the Yuezhi begin migrating west to the Ili valley; this faction is known later as the "Great Yuezhi". Most of the other faction, known as the "Lesser Yuezhi", settle on the Tibetan plateau and in the Tarim basin.|
|132 BCE||The Wusun attack the Great Yuezhi, forcing them southward from the Ili valley.|
|132–130 BCE||The Great Yuezhi migrate west, then south and settle in north-west Bactria.|
|128 BCE||A Chinese envoy named Zhang Qian reaches the Great Yuezhi.|
|One of five tribes comprising the Great Yuezhi tribes, the Kushana, become dominant and form the basis of the Kushan Empire.|