A Maidservant Becomes China’s First Female Diplomat

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It certainly was a unique sight to behold—a woman dressed in Han Dynasty clothing, an Imperial Decree in hand, traveling on a horse carriage… This woman, who had begun life as a humble maidservant, had gone on to make history by becoming the first official diplomat to the Western Regions—the regions of Central Asia, west of the Yumen Pass, through which the Silk Road passed.


It all began around the Han-Xiongnu War (133 BC to 89 AD)—a series of military conflicts that erupted as the Xiongnu Tribe invaded the Han territory. In defence, the Han Emperor reinforced military presence on the borders and tried to foster alliances with tribes in the Western Regions.
In 101 BC, seventeen-year-old Princess Jieyou of the Han Dynasty was strategically married off to the King of Wusun—a nomadic country geologically important along the Silk Road, which is today’s Xinjiang Lli River Basin in Kazakhstan.


Fourteen-year-old Feng Liao, the maidservant to Princess Jieyou, accompanied her to Wusun on her bridal journey. The pair was as close as sisters.


Feng Liao was intelligent and eager to learn. She avidly studied the policies of the Han Court, as well as the people of the western regions. Within a few years, she had mastered their language and traditional customs, and often acted as the princess’ envoy.


Feng Liao had political insight and generosity, and helped to bring unity between the Hans and the region’s various minority groups. She was given the honorable title, “Madame Feng” and later married an influential Wusun general who was in good standing with General Wujiutu.


Entrusted to Settle a Power Struggle in Wusun


When the King of Wusun died, those in power divided into two factions—one side leaned towards allying with Xiongnu and the other, with the Han. The Han Imperial Court hoped for Princess Jieyou’s son to become the new king; however, Prince Wujiutu—whose mother was a Xiongnu—seized power.


Fears arose that Wujiutu would allow Wusun to become a vassal state, thus bringing disaster to both Wusun and the Han. The Han Emperor thus ordered the urgent deployment of 15,000 troops—almost triggering a war.
However, the governor of the Western Regions advised the emperor to send Feng to talk with Wujiutu, to persuade him to ally his kingdom with the Han.


Feng went alone to the camp in the Northern Region to meet Wujiutu, who wanted his mother to send him a backup of Xiongnu troops.


“The Han and Wusun are like one family. Using the Xiongnu troops will cause a mutiny and going to war will cause the people to suffer. The generals will also lose their reputation. They would have sinned against Wusun for not putting its interest first,” Feng told Wujiutu.


“I don’t care about forming an alliance with the Xiongnu. All I want is to become the King. I hope you will advise the Han Court to confer me a small title,” he replied.


With courage, intelligence and dignity, Feng successfully persuaded Wujiutu to change his course, thus, avoiding a war. “Feng Liao fixed the case” is a phrase passed down through history.


Journeying the Silk Road Three Times


Discovering that Feng had successfully accomplished her mission, the Han Emperor summoned her back home.


Feng returned to her Han homeland, which she hadn’t seen for 40 years. The Emperor praised her for her loyalty, sharp judgement and diplomacy, and appointed her the official envoy to Wusun.


Feng returned to Wusun with the imperial decree. She announced the Han Court’s wish to grant Wujiutu the title, “The Slight King of Wusun”, while the late king’s brother would take the title, “The Great King of Wusun”.


In 51 BC, the King of Wusun died and his son, Xingmi—Princess Jieyou’s grandson—took over. The princess had turned 70 years old and had returned to her homeland in Chang’an, together with Feng.


Under the new King, Wusun was in turmoil. King Xingmi had a weak character and ruled the kingdom ruthlessly. Feng, who still held Wusun in her heart, asked to return in order to help the young successor.


The Han Emperor sent a team of 100 soldiers to escort Feng, who was in her old age. It was the third time for Feng to return to Wusun. She negotiated for all the Wusun tribes to be united, and taught the policies of the Han Court to Xingmi, as well as how to govern the Kingdom. Xingmi gained wisdom, allowing Wusun to become prosperous again. The people lived in harmony, and the relationship between the Han and Wusun stayed positive.


Feng Liao’s heroic story of maintaining the peace at the border has been passed down through the ages and is remembered to this day.

Translated by: Chua BC
Edited by Emiko Kingswell

漢朝侍女 成為中國最早的女外交家

一個身著漢服的女子,手持漢節,乘坐駟馬錦車,代表朝廷到屬國宣詔,這是幾千年來絕無僅有的一幅景象。她本是一位侍女,後來她被朝廷任命為正式使節,成為中國最早的女外交家。


漢朝時,匈奴南下擾民,漢武帝與西域強國烏孫國聯姻,對抗匈奴。


公元前101年,漢武帝把十七歲的解憂公主嫁給了烏孫國烏孫王,即今天的新疆伊犁河流域。


當時馮嫽十四歲,作為為公主侍女,隨其遠去和親。她與解憂公主親如姐妹。兩人相互勉勵,立志安居烏孫,不負使命。


馮嫽生性聰慧,敏而好學,熟知中國古代的歷史與儒家經學,只用幾年時間,就通曉了西域的語言文字及風俗習慣。公主非常信任她,經常讓她代表公主出使西域各國。開朗樂觀的馮嫽,很快就折服了西域諸國,她被尊稱為「馮夫人」。


烏孫右大將軍仰慕馮嫽的美貌與才幹,向她求婚,志在漢烏千古友邦的馮嫽同意了婚事。自此,漢朝與烏孫兩國更為和睦相融。


臨危受命 化干戈為玉帛


烏孫國國王死後,烏孫國分為兩股勢力,一股親匈奴,另一股則親漢朝。大漢朝廷原本想讓解憂公主的兒子元貴靡繼承王位的,但北山大將烏就屠奪取了權力。
因烏就屠的母親是匈奴人,如果他棄漢親匈,必將給烏孫帶來災難,匈奴可能乘虛而入,奪取烏孫的控制權,從而危及西漢在西域的利益。


烏孫國內局勢風雲突變,漢宣帝急令破羌將軍辛武賢率一萬五千兵馬進駐敦煌,戰爭一觸即發。


這時,西域都護鄭吉建議朝廷,派馮嫽前去與烏就屠戰前談判。鄭吉久聞馮嫽大名,而且,馮嫽的丈夫與烏就屠又是至交。


毅然領命的馮嫽,隻身趕赴北山烏就屠的營地。開始,烏就屠不給馮嫽好臉色看,叫囂要請母親孃家匈奴派兵,給自己做後盾。


馮嫽曉之以理,向其申明大義:「漢烏親如一家,兩國陣仗,百姓遭殃,生靈塗炭,將軍也必身敗名裂,幾成烏孫國千古罪人,還望將軍您縝思慎行。」


烏就屠最後做出讓步:「我並不想聯通匈奴,只是想當個封王,夫人說得很有道理,我願讓位於元貴靡,但求夫人動議大漢給我個小封號。」


馮嫽以自己過人的膽識、才智和威望,成功勸降了烏就屠,避免了一埸箭在弦上的戰爭,一場兵亂化解於無形,史稱「馮嫽定局」。


三使絲綢之路


得悉馮嫽出使平亂功成,漢宣帝驚歎其膽識與才幹,欣然詔令其回國。


從大漠孤煙到輝煌長安,馮嫽回到了闊別四十年的大漢王朝。漢宣帝盛讚馮嫽的忠膽英豪與遠見卓識,封她為正使,再次出使烏孫。


於是,馮嫽手持漢節,駟馬錦車,再越五千多裡回到烏孫國。她面召烏就屠,宣讀大漢詔書,封元貴靡為大昆彌(王號),烏就屠為小昆彌,實現了當初對烏就屠的承諾。


公元前 51 年,元貴靡病故,其子星靡即劉解憂之孫即位。年近七十的解憂公主思念故土,奏請朝廷落葉歸根,漢宣帝感嘆她五十年如一日的報國分憂之奉獻,派人將公主迎回,與公主情同姐妹的馮嫽也一起榮歸故國。


後來,烏孫局勢再起動盪,而國王星靡生性懦弱,治國無方。身居長安、心掛邊疆的馮嫽,上書朝廷,希望出使輔政。


漢元帝准奏,選派一百名士兵的隊伍,護送年逾古稀的馮嫽第三次出使烏孫。在烏孫,馮嫽以她的威望與才幹,遊說烏孫各方,消除嫌隙、精誠團結。她教導星靡學習漢史典籍及為君之道,幫助他治國安邦,烏孫得以國泰民安,漢朝與烏孫的友好關係也得以繼續。


馮嫽一生維繫大漢邊境的和平,將中華傳統文化遠播西域文明,千古留芳。

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