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6.6.4 Chinese Silk Given to Xiongnu

Statistical data

Yu, Ying-shih

Yu, Ying-shih, Trade and Expansion in Han China: A Study in the Structure of Sino-Barbarian Relations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 47.

The Han government also gave lots of silk cloth to the Xiongnu as a bribe, that is, so that Xiongnu would not raid Chinese land. The Xiongnu knew that they could get very high prices for silk cloth in the trade cities of the Kushan Empire and Persia. Xiongnu merchants began taking the silk west and selling it. A modern historian read old Chinese records to find this information. He added up all the separate gifts to the Xiongnu in each year and wrote the total figures on a chart. This excerpt is part of that chart. What does each column show? Do the numbers in each column increase or decrease as you go down the chart? What interpretation can you make about how much silk cloth the Chinese were giving to the Xiongnu?

This chart gives students an opportunity to draw an interpretation (or identify a pattern) from the collected data. The first column shows the year, and it progresses in time (increases) as you go down the chart. Students may need assistance in remembering that BCE dates go backward; that is, higher numbers represent years farther in the past. Years with smaller numbers occurred after years with larger numbers. The second column shows numbers of silk cloths given by the Chinese to the Xiongnu. This number increases dramatically in the roughly 50 years of time represented on the chart. Students should draw the interpretation that the Chinese were sending more and more silk cloth to the Xiongnu in this period. Historians also draw the interpretation that the Xiongnu were selling the bulk of this cloth in the Kushan Empire, Persia, and other Central Asian trade cities rather than consuming it themselves. Show students on a map the locations of the Kushan Empire, Persia, and Central Asia, and remind them of where and how products were sent from there all over Afroeurasia.

Year Number of Silk Cloths
51 BCE 8,000
33 BCE 18,000
1 BCE 30,000