Read this article to learn about the Turks.
Evolution of the Turks:
One of the Hunnish tribes was known as the Kau-She (Kankali, Ting- Ling, Tikalik ) tribe. Kau-She means large cart and the tribe acquired this name because they moved about with their belongings on large wheeled carts. Such carts were common among the Turks and the Mongols.
We first hear of this tribe in about 500 A. D. They lived in a state of constant strife with the Awars.
On one occasion Tai-Vu-Tu, a To-Ba Emperor who defeated the Awars, captured 50,000 Awars and seized several thousand carts and several hundred thousand animals as booty. Like the Awars, the Kau She constantly harried the Chinese borders. Avoiding a frontal assault on the Chinese mainland, they made the Chinese trade route their target. One of the To-Ba Emperors attempted the keeping of them in check by settling them on the southern borders of the Gobi desert, but they soon revolted and returned to the North.
The To- Ba dynasty was fairly successful in suppressing the nomadic tribes and tried their best to prevent the Jvan-Jvan from making alliances with them. The Ting- Ling Chieftains now began to live near Urumchi in small kingdoms of their own and they might even have succeeded in organising themselves into one large kingdom but for the fact they were never able to combine. Even in battle each one fought for himself without any overall plan or direction and that is why they could not consolidate themselves when victorious or protect themselves when defeated.
While giving their brides in marriage, cattle and horses were “offered as dowry.” They used neither grain as food nor alcoholic liquors for drinking purposes. They dressed in leather, ate animal flesh, took no steps to obtain warmth and were very dirty in their habits. The grazing of cattle and horses was their main occupation, and in course of time they were assimilated with the Turks.
Culture of the Turks:
The Turks embraced Buddhism quite early. The religion had a powerful influence over their lives and until their conversion to Islam this was their national faith, as it still is with the Mongolian people’s. But their faith did not interfere with many of their national customs, e. g., that of placing the corpse in front of the dead man’s tent where each one of his children, grand children and other kinsmen would come and present a horse or a sheep.
Grief was expressed by the slashing of the face with a knife so that the tears were mixed with blood. Corpses were buried in spring or autumn. Stones were set up on the graves as symbols of mourning and the number of stones placed on the grave denoted the number of the enemy slain by the dead warrior.
On that day all the members of the family were dressed in their best robes and ornaments and if any women caught the fancy of any of the men present a marriage proposal was sent to the girl’s parents. It was customary to accept such proposals. A similar custom was also current among the Syan-Pi.
Like the Huns the Turks had their pastures, which were situated on the Tu-Chin mountains. Like the Huns again they visited their pastures every year and offered sacrifices in honour of their ancestors. The whole tribe would collect at the time of these sacrifices, which were proffered during the period of the waxing moon. A hundred and fifty miles to the West of Tu-Chin stood Pu-Tengwi, a barren mountain.
According to the Chinese, the Turkish alphabet was Hu (Suriyani), but they had no calender. The Turkish menfolk were fond of dice, while women played a kind of football. Their favourite drink was koumiss, which was a fermented liquor prepared from mare’s milk.
By the sixth century A. D., the Turkish Empire had spread from the Altai mountains to the Pacific Ocean and the Black Sea. The hub of the Western Turkish Empire was the old Wu-sun land, the Saptanada, which included Central Asia. The Trade route from China to the West traversed their kingdom. Passing Tashkend, Aliya-Ata and the Chu River in Saptanada, it then followed the southern banks of the Issikul and the Vedel Dande till it came to the Oxus (Terim valley).
This was the route followed by Sven-Chang in his travels from Central Asia to the Oxus. At that time the Chu valley was mainly agricultural land and was inhabited by the Sogdhians, who came from Khojend. Before the arrival of Sven-Chang the entire region from the Oxus to the Chu valley had the same culture, language, script, religion, robes, ornaments, customs and manners.
They used thirty-two alphabets derived from the Suriyani script and, like that of the Mongols, it was written in vertical columns. The Sogdhians were farmers, as well as traders. They followed the Mani religion. Their main trading centre, Suiyan town, was situated on the banks of the Sui river, south of the Kestak and Dande and up to the seventh century Suiyan was inhabited by large number of foreign traders. There were other towns, too, south of Suiyan, which had accepted Turkish over-lordship. It was near Suiyan that, later on, the tribe of the western Khan was to settle.
Isi Gi or Is Te, was the son of Tu Min, the first member of the dynasty, but the Turkish nomads followed the democratic procedure in choosing a successor. Isi Gi did not continue very long, as Ki Gin, who was the younger brother of Tu Min, assumed the title of Mu-Yu-Khan and became the ruler. The descendants of Isi-Gi later succeeded in establishing the Western Turkish dynasty.
Mu-Yu-Khan did much to strengthen the Turkish Empire, but the Turkish nobles gradually grew accustomed to a life of ease and luxury. Like their Hun ancestors they raided and plundered the Chinese borders, while China continued to appease them by sending gifts and giving Chinese princesses in marriage to Turkish nobles.
The Eastern Turkish Empire:
After Mu Yu Khan, his brother To Ba succeeded as Khan. His nephew Dolabiyan bided his time while To Ba was alive, but after his death there was a conflict about the succession and the Turkish Empire split into two parts, the Eastern and the Western. The founder of the Western Empire was Dolabiyan. To Ba was the ruler of the Eastern Empire and had a hundred thousand troops under him. It was his habit to bully the Chinese Emperor every year into sending him presents, which included a hundred thousand bales of silk.
It was a common occurrence to find thousands of silk-clad Turkish nobles feasting for days together in the Chinese capital. To-Ba did not feel in the least embarrassed by this. “As long as both my sons, and Chinese Kings, continue to do their duty,” he boasted, “I shall not lack anything.”
The Spread of Buddhism:
When Chang-Kyan made his journey through Central Asia the Buddhist religion had spread to the Terim Valley. Even after nomads from the North had occupied this region the Buddhist religion continued to flourish. Ming an Emperor of the Eastern Han dynasty, sent his emissary to India to bring with him Buddhist scriptures and priests.
He returned to the Chinese capital with two of the latter, Kashyap Matung and Dharam Ratan, as well as a large number of Buddhist texts. The “Dwachatvarinshat Text“, translated into Chinese by Kashyap Matung, is still extant in China today. Even after the Han dynasty, Buddhist influence over the Chinese and neighbouring tribes was considerable. While on the one hand Chinese silk and other articles of manufacture carried Chinese material civilization to the nomadic tribes, the spiritual message of China spread through Buddhism. In 570 A.D. the To Ba Khan accepted the Buddhist faith.
The story goes that among the captives taken by the To Ba Khan was a Buddhist priest, who told him that the secret of the prosperity of the Syan Pi dynasty was their belief in Buddhism and that this led the Khan in accepting the Buddhist faith. A little earlier Buddhism had reached Japan via Korea. To Ba built a Buddhist Temple and sent his emissary to Honan in China to collect Buddhist literature.
At the same time he arranged for the training of Buddhist scholars in the country, erected many columns and organised numerous religious functions. He always lamented the fact that he had not been in a Buddhist country such as China. When the Chi dynasty was threatened with extinction its king came to To Ba for protection. To Ba planned an attack on Peking in his support, but when Chi’s rival sent his daughter to To Ba he did not hesitate to come to terms with the man and to hand over the refugee to him.
After the death of To Ba his son Ney Tu succeeded to the title and with the division of the Turkish Empire became Khan of the Eastern part. The Western Empire had already been formed under Dolabiyan’s leadership by the sons of Tu Min and Mu Yu Khan.
Tu Min was not of royal blood and had founded the Turkish Empire with the help of his nomadic tribesmen. Succession by heredity was consequently not a common practice with the early Turks, nevertheless the will of the reigning Khan influenced the choice of his successor. While subscribing to the principles of democracy, the Turks felt that the families of their ruling monarchs were in some way superior to those of the commonalty.
Tu Min himself had founded the Turkish Empire with the help of his brothers, so that his brothers were recognised as heirs in the direct line of succession. Before he died To Ba said to his son, “Even though sons are normally ‘considered the direct descendants of their fathers, my brothers did not place their sons on the throne but made me the King. After my death you should accept Dolabyan as your king.”
In deference to his wishes the tribe would have chosen Dolabyan as their Khan, but there was objection that his mother was not of noble family. In spite of this it was not Uan Lo, the eldest son of To Ba, who succeeded as Khan, but his second son, Ili Gui Lu, who called himself Se Mokhay Shobolio, or She Tu Shobolio.
He set up his camp near the Tu Kin mountains. Like the Huns, the Turks chose their Viceroys from the royal family and it was they who were considered the chief commanders and administrators of the provinces under them. Umroy the younger son of To Ba, became the second Khan of the Tula valley in Mongolia.
The attempt to placate Dolabyan by offering him the post of Viceroy did not succeed and the Turkish Empire split into two. Shobolio was a brave and popular leader and all the tribes, right up to the far North, accepted him as their ruler. However, he became involved in strife with his step- uncle Datu who, slew him and proclaimed himself an independent Khan.
Shobolio had loved freedom and had not been prepared to accept even the formal suzerainty of China. The Chinese Emperor Vin Ti had sent an emissary to persuade him to accept Chinese domination, but he had asked, “What is meant by domination?” One of his courtiers had replied “It is what we call slavery.” At that Shobolio’s blood boiled and with the exclamation,—”So the Chinese Emperor wants to treat me as a slave!” He rejected the Chinese proposal outright.
The Sui dynasty ruled China for a mere thirty-seven years, and the Emperor Vin Ti and his son Yang Ti contributed more to the glory of China than did any other dynasty. The roads and canals built by them brought prosperity to the country, and that was a great asset to subsequent dynasties. Vin Ti had sent his armies against Shobolio in 680 A.D. and forced the Turks to flee to the North from their fertile pastures. Famine overtook them and they were forced to live on the bones of dead animals.
The Chinese were not prepared to tolerate the rebellious Dolabyan either and he in his turn was forced to take shelter with Datu Buga, the Khan elect of the Westerm Turks. One of the tribes allied to the Buga Khan had seized the family of Shobolio and sent them to the Chinese Emperor, but Vin Ti was not cruel by nature. Himself a brave soldier he appreciated courage in others and he sent Shobolio’s family back to him.
In gratitude Shobolio had agreed to accept the desert as the boundary between China and the Turkish Empire She Tu Shobolio, the Mo Go Khan of the Great Turkish tribe Ili Ku I Lu— such were the high-sounding titles bestowed upon Shobolio.
Another indication of the might of the Turkish Empire at this period may be gathered from the fact that in 538 A.D. an ambassador from the Roman Emperor visited Mu Yu Khan. This took place twelve years before the defection of Dolobyan, while the Turks were encamped in the Altai mountains Roman historians have written at length on the glories of the Turkish Empire during this period and the Chinese Emperor Vin Ti entertained feelings of such profound respect for Shobolio that he declared a three days’ mourning in the Chinese court when he died.
Dulan Khan, the son of Shobolio, succeeded his father to the throne. In 588 A.D. he sent gifts to the Chinese Emperor which included ten thousand, twenty thousand sheep and hundreds of camels. The latter sent in return hundreds of thousands of bales of silk and other articles of luxury. Dulan Khan asked the Chinese Emperor to exhibit his gifts in the market place, a request that was willingly acceded to. A Chinese Princess was also sent to ‘ Dulan Khan, who had set up his camp in the Tu Kun hills not far from Northern Shansi, in the very place where Mau Dun the famous Hun Shanyu had once encamped.
The second son of She Tu Shobolio was jealous of his brother and conspired with Datu Khan to over throw him, so that Dulan Khan was forced to take refuge in China. The Emperor Vin Ti built an entire town for him in Shanshi and after the death of his wife sent him another Chinese Princess.
Dulan did not like the place selected for him and was therefore allowed to settle elsewhere, the district of his choice being the Aurdus Province near the Hwang-Ho, where with the help of several thousand slaves a canal was cut for his benefit. The Chinese were entirely on the side of Dulan and sent a large army against his brother, the second son of She Tu, who was ultimately slain by his own tribesmen, they holding him responsible for their plight.
The Ching Ling, Ting Ling and other tribes, rallied behind Dulan Khan and defeated his other rivals. Vin Ti honoured Dulan with the Title Chi Zen, white Yang Ti, the son of Vin Ti, heaped even greater honours upon him. When Dulan met the Emperor in North Shansi he was given a place above all the other nobles and was not merely exempted from prostrating himself before the Emperor but was permitted to march into court with his shoes on his feet and his sword in its scabbard.
Two hundred thousand bales of silk were distributed among the nobles who accompanied the Khan, and at a later date the Emperor himself visited his camp, where, going down on his knees, Dulan Khan held up his wine cup and swore an oath of loyalty to him. The following year he was received with even greater honour in the Chinese Court. He died in, 600 A.D.
With Datu Buga Khan’s ascent to the throne in 600 A.D., democracy came to an end with the Turks and feudalism was established. Datu Khan was-not an elected monarch and this practice continued since then. A number of important events took place in his reign. It was during this period that the Sui dynasty was replaced by that of the Thai (618-907 A.D.) founded by Kau Chu, a fierce warrior. Art and culture flourished and many of the Thai Emperors were themselves writers and patrons of art.
Their political power also increased. Sujon, their capital, was the largest town of the time in the world. The Thai dynasty strengthened the foundations of the Chinese Empire and preserved its unity. Bugu Khan also sent his emissary Kutluk De Le to the Chinese court during this period.
Within the last seventy five years of this era, Khe Li, Du Bi, Tu Li, Imi Nish, Si Bi Li, Siku Mo and Che Bi, succeeded each other as Khans of the Eastern Turks. In spite of the fact that the Thai dynasty was extremely powerful at this time the nomadic Turks could not entirely give up their old habits, although the Chinese tried their best to appease them with presents.
An incident that took place when Chu Lo was Khan of the Turks gives an idea of their characteristics. Chu Lo approached a certain border town with 2000 soldiers in support of the Thai Emperor, Tai Sung, who was fighting one of his rivals. The Chinese Emperor accorded him a great welcome, but the Turks repaid this by raping all the beautiful maidens they encountered on the way.
Khe Li Khan was the brother of the preceding Khan, who had married a Chinese princess. As her own son was extremely weak and ugly this Chinese princess did not allow him to succeed his father, but exerted her influence in favour of her brother-in-law, Khe Li. Khe Li became the Khan and married his sister-in-law. In the beginning Khe Li tried to pursue an independent policy, but he was soon made to feel the iron grip of the Thai dynasty.
He had tried to revolt, but was forgiven and presents were showered on him. However, by this time the Turkish Khans had come to regard presents as their due and were far from being grateful for them.
The Thai Kings had many rivals; Khe Li joined hands with one of them and adding his force of ten thousand to the six of his rival, began to plunder the North Shansi area. The Chinese armies inflicted a crushing defeat on them and the Khan was forced to sue for mercy. As a token of his new bonds of friendship with the Chinese he sent them a piece of gum, but the Chinese refused his. overtures, and clashes continued to take place.
In 622 A.D., when the Turks were facing a famine, the Chinese attacked them but were repulsed. From then on, Khe Li and Tu Li Khan continued to plunder and raid the Chinese borders for many a day to come.
The Thai Prince Tai Sung challenged Khe Li to a duel, but the latter merely smiled and declined to accept the challenge. Tai next tried to provoke his viceroy Tu Li in the same way, but he too refused the contest. Foiled in his efforts to beat them in this way Tai tried intrigues and succeeded in shaking the loyalty of Tu Li. This weakened Khe Li’s position, but for another two years he continued to ravage the Chinese borders and once even the Chinese capital Chang An was in danger.
The courier sent by Khe Li to the Chinese court began to brag about the greatness of his Khan and even went so far as to fling insults at the Chinese. Tai Sung thundered back at him, “Do you want me to kill you?” Where upon, seizing a horse and with hardly any bodyguard, he rode to the Wei River that flowed beside the Capital. At that time only this narrow stream stood between him and the Turkish forces and from there he addressed himself boldly to the Turkish Khan.
The Turkish generals were so much impressed by his courage that they dismounted from their steeds and welcomed him. Meanwhile the Chinese armies reached there. Disregarding all warnings, Tai Sung continued to talk to Khe Li, while the two armies looked on. A truce was at last arranged in 626 A. D., by which time Tai Sung had become Emperor. He had to explain later on why he had taken the risk of going ahead alone to face the Turkish armies. He had counted on the factor of surprise and he knew that if he could bluff Khe Li into submission in this way his position would be tremendously strengthened as against his internal rivals.
Following the tradition set by the Shanyus, the Chinese Emperor went with the Khan Khe li to a bridge west of the town and sacrificed a white horse to mark their friendship, while both swore to observe the treaty. But Khe Li broke the oath and went back with his army. Later on he tried for a rapprochement and sent a large number of horses and sheep as a tribute to the Chinese court, but these were refused.
In 627 A. D. he was to face trouble from the North. The Ting Ling tribes, Se Yun Da, Baikal and Uigur, revolted against the Turks and murdered all the Turkish officers in their region. By the second century A. D. these tribes had taken possession of the regions from the Bailak and Balkash Lakes to the Caspian Sea which had once been occupied by the Scythians. Khe Li sent his Viceroy Tu Li to suppress the revolt, but his army was routed and he himself had to flee to save his life.
Khe Li ordered his arrest but Tu Li appealed to the Chinese Emperor who had been waiting for just such an opportunity to send a Chinese ‘army against Khe Li. The part of the Turkish Empire north of the desert had been taken over by Bigu Khan, who was later succeeded by his son and nephew in turn, and all these three Khans harassed Khe Li, while a number of the Ting Ling tribes also went over to the Chinese.
While Khe Li’s empire was breaking up he tried to outdo the record of the Chinese and Iranian Emperors in the exploitation of his subjects. Many of his ministers and governors had started a reign of terror and that was causing serious discontent among their Turkish subjects. The Eastern Turkish Empire had been facing a number of severe winters, to meet the rigours of which the authorities had raised the rate of taxation almost fourfold. A revolt broke out. Just at this time Khe Li attempted to support a claimant to the Chinese throne, but Tu Li and other Turkish generals were already on the Chinese side.
A large army, led by General Ching Ling, made a sudden attack on Khe Li and surrounded him, but he managed to get away and crossed the desert towards the iron mountains of the Kirulon valley, from which point he offered to cede his entire kingdom to the Chinese Emperor. The Emperor’s reply was to order his generals to pursue Khe Li who now fled for shelter to his nephew. Sho Bolio Su Ni Sir, but was arrested on the way.
The Chinese Emperor spared his life and offered him the governorship of a province, but as Khe Li did not care to accept this post he was made a commander of the frontiers and it was while serving in this capacity that he died in 628 A. D.
His corpse was cremated on the banks of the Wei river near the Capital and a slave who had come to him as part of his mother’s dowry cut his throat in order to follow his master to the grave. This slave was buried beside his master and a memorial inscribed with eulogies of both of them was erected to their joint memory.
After the defeat of Khe Li his nephew Tu Li succeeded to the throne. In his early days this nephew had been the ruler of the region north of the Sira Muren River and Khe Li’s chief lieutenant. South of this river lived the Khitai tribe, which was not of Turkish origin. It was this tribe that was later to conquer China and thus give it another name Khitai.
We are reminded of this till to-day when we use the term “Nan-Khitai” (Chinese hand-made bread; nan, hand-made bread). During this period two Syan Pi tribes, Kumuk Khe Li and Siv, were under the domination of Tu Li. Of these, the Kumuk Khe Li tribe was descended from the eastern branch of the Awars, while from the Siv tribe originated the name Sivo Mongol. It was the Mu Jung dynasty that pushed the Kumuk Khe Li and the Khitai tribes back into the region between Jangaruja and the Gobi desert.
The To Ba Emperor only extended his conquests as far as the Amur River (388 A.D.). Among the one hundred thousand animals received by him as gifts, pigs are mentioned. For the next two centuries the Kumuk Khe Li tribe paid its tribute to the Chinese Court in conjunction with the Shir Vi and Matsya-Charm tribes. Chinese writers describe the members of these tribes as barbarians who tended pigs and were at a very low cultural level. After the fifth century they dropped the Kumuk before their name and adopted Turkish manners and customs, but like the Khitai, they still hung their dead on trees. These tribes were under Tu Li before he became Khan.
Tu Li lived in Swen Chan, near what is now Peking, where he died in 632 A.D. at the age of twenty-nine. The Chinese Emperor treated him as his brother and was so fond of him that he engraved an epitaph on his tomb as a mark of love and respect. The Siv and the Khe Li tribes now merged with the Khitai and began to pay taxes to the Chinese authorities.
Tu Li’s son I Vi Ni Shu, became Khan of the Eastern Turks, and called himself Su Bi Li Khan. In 634 A.D., in a bid for complete independence, he conspired with his uncle and other nobles to attack the Chinese Emperor, but they were defeated and taken prisoners. Si Bi Li Khan was banished north of the Hwang Ho, while his uncle and the other nobles were executed.
After their defeat, some of the Khan’s men fled to Turkestan, others sought refuge with Se Yun Da, while others again, preferred to settle in China, The Turks were a constant source of trouble to the Chinese. Although crushed and destroyed again and again, in the course of a few years they would gather sufficient strength to return in their hordes.
With them, treachery was a matter of policy and they used threats and cajolement alternately in order to secure their objectives. Wei Chang, an important Chinese statesman of that period, gave it as his advice that they should be sent north of the Hwang Ho and many were inclined to agree with him. But the Chinese Emperor, Tai Sung, was an extremely just and generous ruler, so that, in spite of their treacherous nature he was not prepared to deny the Turks those rights as human beings which he considered could be claimed universally by all, irrespective of race or creed.
“These poor remnants of a defeated race have sought shelter with me”, he said, “and if I can teach them to change their ways I do not think they will do any harm. When we gave shelter to the Huns they did not harm us, and if we trust the Turks and allow them to live in their own way, using their military services when necessary, no harm can come of it. On the other hand if we try to force Chinese customs on them we shall be making a grave mistake, because that will render them suspicious.”
From 647 – 82, a local Khan, Che Bi, ruled the Irtish valley, his kingdom including the Khirgiz living north and south of the valley. Che Bi sent his son to the Chinese court but refused to go himself whereupon the Chinese Army was sent against him and brought him to the Court by force (649 A.D.). At this time the three Kurlok tribes had occupied the Turbagtai territory and on different occasions had come under the domination of the Eastern and Northern Turks, but now they decided to acknowledge Chinese suzerainty.
It was in this very year that Tai Sung died and was succeeded by Kau Sung Thang, but as the latter was a minor the kingdom was actually controlled by Tai Sung’s mistress, Wu Ke. For the next twenty years peace reigned in China, but in 679 A.D, the Turks again revolted against their Chinese overlords.
The Turkish Prince Hu Pei had proclaimed himself heir to Si Bi Li Khan. He was the direct descendent of Khe Li Khan, but as he was not fair-complexioned like the Turks, he was looked upon as being no true Turk but as a member belonging to the Hu tribe. He was given land in the area between the northern bend of the Hwang Ho and the Gobi desert and his tribe was thought to have consisted of a hundred thousand souls of whom forty thousand were regular soldiers.
The internal revolt in China had not yet been quelled. Meanwhile the Thang dynasty made a successful attempt to annex Korea and Hu Pei joined the battle to prove his loyalty. This was China’s first victory over Korea. Hu Pei was mortally wounded in the battle for although Tai Sung himself sucked the blood from the wound he could not save his life.
The Chinese Emperor caused his grave to be dug beside his father’s tomb and built a memorial for him in his former kingdom near the banks of the Pe Tau River. Ho Pei was the last of the To Ba Khans. He was not accepted as Khan of the entire Eastern Turkish Empire, but was only a local Khan who ruled over the Irtish valley.
The Turkish Ashena Dynasty:
We may gain an idea of the depths to which the Turks of this period had sunk from the following stone inscriptions:
“After Tu Min his brothers Mu Yu and To Ba succeeded as Khans and later his sons came to the throne. Among the Turks one brother fought against another, the son intrigued against the father. The Khans were generally stupid and cowardly and were looked upon with suspicion by the people. In such a situation it was easy for the Chinese to incite the people against the Khans and to divide their forces. The Turks were thus responsible for their own ruin which ultimately forced them to a status of slavery under the Chinese.”
The inscriptions go on to lament the fate of the Turks and to deplore the fact that in spite of the great sacrifices made by the Turkish people they had sunk so low.
Il Te Res or Gu Du Lu Khan (682 – 93 A. D.), was an Ashenian Prince. Distantly related to the Li and one of his important chieftains, he took advantage of the discontent prevailing among the Turks. While the people had their grievances against the Chinese, they had lost all confidence in the Khans of the To Ba dynasty. Using bribery and intrigue as his weapons II Te Res succeeded in placing himself at the head of a number of Turkish tribes.
Then he organised many successful raids and was able to amass huge wealth. He soon proclaimed himself Khan and distributed titles to his brothers. He himself was called Gu Du Lu Khan. Finding that his growing strength was becoming a source of danger, the Empress Wu sent an army against him but it was defeated by the Khan. He then turned his attention to the Western Turks who lived in the Sujia, Ili and Issikul valleys and while engaged in war against them he met his death.
At that time the capital of the Western Turks, Ju Ju, was situated on the banks of the Chu River. Ton Yu Kuk, one of the trusted advisers of Gu Du Lu dreamed of restoring the old glories of the Turks. The Chinese had released him in the hope that he would. Work against the Turks, but Ton Yu Kuk decided to throw in his lot with Gu Du Lu, though with the Khan’s death his influence waned.
Mo Cho, the Bold:
During the reign of Mo Cho, the brother of Gu Du Lu, the Turkish Empire recovered some of its old glory. Gu Du Lu had been an elected king but Mo Cho was a believer in dictatorial methods. From the day he succeeded as Khan he began to plunder Shansi. The Empress Wu sent an army against him led by eighteen officers under the command of a Buddhist monk, but their campaign ended in failure, many of the soldiers and officers of the Chinese army being captured and the Buddhist monk being whipped to death.
In 694 A.D., to the great delight of the Empress, Mo Cho paid a visit to the Chinese court, and was immediately given a dukedom and presented with five thousand bales of silk. The latter sent his emissaries to negotiate a treaty and became a powerful ally of the Chinese. In 696 A.D., when the Khitai ruler rebelled and declared himself the Supreme Khan, it was Mo who fought against him even after the defeat of the Chinese and succeeded in routing the rebel army and in annexing his kingdom.
Most of the Uigur tribes surrendered to him, while others fled beyond the Gobi desert. Under the powerful blows of Mo Cho the Western Turkish Empire also began to break up. Their last Khan, Asin Sin, was killed in Kulan (modern Tarmi) in 708 A.D. Mo Cho was the most honoured man at the Chinese Court and the Emperors awarded him the titles “The Great Shanyu and The Religious Khan”.
In 709 A.D., Mo Cho sent a proposal to the queen mother Wu that she should give her daughter in marriage to him, adopt him as her son and that all Turks in China should be placed at his disposal together with seeds and implements for cultivation. Mo Cho was far-sighted enough to realise that as long as the Turks were not made to give up their nomadic life and forced to settle down to that of the cultivator they could not be tamed.
At first the queen mother hesitated and sent her emissary to temporize. This threw Mo Cho into rage and as he threatened to kill the emissary the queen was forced to give in and thousands of Turks were sent to Mo Cho along with a hundred thousand maunds of grain for seed and a large number of agricultural implements. Mo Cho prospered and his military strength grew.
Later on in response to Mo Cho’s desire to marry his daughter to a Thang Prince the Empress sent him her step-nephew, but Mo Cho felt insulted. He had wanted a Thang Prince and not this upstart from the Wu family, so he placed the Wu prince under arrest and marched out his armies to Kalgan and Peking.
After defeating the Chinese armies that had been sent to stop his advance he burnt and looted town after town in Shansi province, and slew every living being who crossed his path. The Empress nicknamed him “The Butcher”, but Mo Cho was not to be deterred by this in his campaign of loot and slaughter. The Empress tried to rally her forces once more under the command of her step-son Baklol, but Mo Gho was irresistible. The following year he again sent his army on a campaign of loot and plunder and in a raid on. Kansu he seized ten thousand horses and annexed vast territories.
In 710 A.D., Mo Cho once again sent his ambassador to ask for a Thang Prince for his daughter and as by this time the Empress had been cowed into submission she sent both Princes to the ambassador who chose one of them. The queen mother’s days were coming to an end and plots were being hatched against her. As a result Kau Chung seized the throne.
At this precise juncture Mo Cho raided Ling Chao from which place he seized ten thousand horses and in 711 A.D., he defeated the Turgis and killed their Khan. His kingdom now extended the 3000 miles from Korea to Central Asia and the Khitai and the Khe Li tribes began to send tribute to the Turks, just as had their ancestors to the Huns. By the beginning of the 8th Century A.D. Mo Cho had become the most powerful man in Central Asia and the Chinese Emperor was at his mercy.
This was the period when the Arab Empire also had spread from the Indus as far as Spain and embraced parts of the three continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. These were then the two largest empires in Europe and Asia. But they never came into conflict.
Mo Cho’s army could boast of a corps of four hundred thousand mounted archers and in 714 A.D. he launched an attack on Urum Chi (modern Sinkiang). This was an important administrative centre for the Chinese as it not only controlled the Silk Route, but, was an outpost against the Northern Nomads.
Mo Cho was unvanquished till the last, but his conquests had turned his head and even some of his closest friends could not tolerate his high-handedness and left him. The Chinese gave shelter to all such refugees and settled them in Aurdus Province.
In 714 A.D. Mo Cho led a successful expedition against the Ting Ling north of the Gobi desert. These fierce tribes in Siberia were a menace to Mo Cho and in 716 A.D. he inflicted a crushing defeat on them. According to certain historians Mo Cho, careless as always of his personal safety, was waylaid and killed while returning from this battle by the Baikals who sent his head to the Chinese.
Other sources state that it was his nephew Baigu who was responsible for his death. It is also possible that while the Baikals actually killed him it was Baigu, who was the instigator of his death. Again it is thought that though Mo Cho’s son Vi Ga (Vo Gu) was unable to succeed to the throne he was the rightful heir to his father’s territories.
Having killed his uncle, Kyul Te Gin raised his elder brother, Gu Du Lu’s son, to the throne (716 A.D.). He was called Mo Gil Yan. During the reign of Gu Du Lu democracy had prevailed among the Turks and it was this that helped Gu Du Lu to succeed. Mo Cho, however, had no sympathy for such sentiments and completely ignored the rights of the people. Discontent was rife among the Turks for the loss of their liberties.
Mo Cho did not trust them in positions of authority, but preferred to man his administration with people from some of the more developed tribes in his empire. He would also have liked to turn the Turks into agriculturists, but although some of them were not averse to it the nobles, who were used to a life of loot and plunder which brought them thousands of slaves to look after their cattle, tend the land and perform other services, resented the change.
It was the slaves who were the source of the prosperity of the Turks. In the reign of Mo Cho the noble had lost much of his freedom and was obliged to play the role of cringing courtier, but Mo Cho’s nephew, Kyul Te Gin, followed in the footsteps of his father and organised a revolt against his uncle.
Mo Gil Yan (716-35 A.D.):
After the murder of Mo Cho, Kyul Te Gin the king-maker, called a meeting of all the Turkish nobles, incited them against Mo Cho’s family and succeeded in getting the latter’s sons and other members of his family killed. Mo Gil Yan, Te Gin’s brother, a man of mild temperament, had been the ruler of a province. He was content with the post and would have preferred that his brother should be the Khan, but circumstances compelled him to take control of the kingdom.
Taking advantage of the weakness of the Turkish central authority at this time, the Turgis, the Khitai and the Gheris, broke away from the Turkish Empire and declared themselves independent. The Turgis tribe grew so powerful indeed that the Chinese Court began to accord their ambassador first place at the court and the Turks were never able to establish their domination again over the eastern tribes.
Mo Gil Yan appointed his old father-in-law Tun Yu Kuk as his adviser. Mo Gil Yan had sought shelter with the Chinese in the reign of Mo Cho, but the Turks now felt the need for him and he was sent for. The Chinese had disarmed the Turks who had settled in the Aurdus province of China and sent them beyond the Hwang Ho, but without arms the Turks could neither hunt nor defend themselves, and when they presently rose against the Chinese they were massacred in large numbers. Mo Gil Yan was anxious to loot and plunder the Chinese borders in revenge, but was dissuaded from doing so by Tun Yu Kuk who reminded him that the crop that year had been good and that the Turks needed rest.
Mo Gil Yan was a Buddhist which is the probable explanation of his extraordinarily mild temperament. He would have liked to erect Buddhist shrines and build fortified towns, but was again dissuaded from doing so by Tun Yu Kuk, who told him that the secret of the strength of the Turks lay in their being nomads who were able to attack and loot when necessary arid to retreat and hide when outnumbered by the enemy. If they were to construct towns the enemy would succeed sooner or later in subjugating them entirely.
Moreover, he explained, Buddhism made men weak and he alone could rule who was strong and ready to fight. Tun Yu Kuk’s advice was much appreciated both by the Turkish court and by the King.
Though himself a man of peace, Mo Gil Yan was the Khan of a tribe that could not live without war and bloodshed and the Chinese were never free of menace of warfare because of them. In 720 A.D., the Chinese Minister in Aurdus, advised the Emperor to attack the Turks living on the banks of the Kera River and the Khitai and the Gheris of the East and the Bismirs of the West sided with the Chinese in the campaign.
Mo Gil Yan succeeded in defeating the armies sent against him and won back much of the former empire of Mo Cho. He then sent a demand to the Emperor that he should be recognised as the Emperor’s heir and given the King’s daughter in marriage. The first of these demands was complied with, but the second was refused.
The Chinese considered the combination of Tun Yu Kuk, the wise minister, Mo Gil Yan the young king and Gu Du Lu’s elder son, the warrior, a danger for them, so they laid a trap for the three Turkish leaders by inviting them to a journey to the summits of the Thai Shan mountain for sacrificial rites.
When the Chinese emissary entered the tent of Mo Gil Yan with this proposal he found that the king’s wife and father-in-law were also there and ready to pour out their complaints. “The Chinese have given their daughters to the foul Tibetans and even to the Gheris and Khitai who were once our vassals. But they did not agree to enter into an alliance with us.” “The Khan sought to be recognised as the Emperor’s son.”
Replied the Chinese emissary. “How then he could expect the Emperor’s daughter in marriage?” “That could also have been said of the Khitai and the Gheris.” Objected Mo Gil Yan, “besides, we know that it is not the Emperor’s own daughters who are sent in marriage.”
The reference here was to the marriage of the Chinese Princess, an adopted daughter of the Emperor Jui Sung, to a Tibetan king. From this marriage was born Swen Chang, the Emperor who gave his daughters in marriage to the Khitai and the Gheri.
The Chinese emissary assured the Turkish leaders that he would represent their complaints to the Emperor. But nothing came of them.
The Tibetans were also dissatisfied with the Chinese, so they sent a secret letter to the Turks asking them to join in an attack against the Chinese. Mo Gil Yan, however, handed over the letter to the Chinese. The Emperor was delighted by this and agreed to start trade relations with the Turks and to pay them a sum of money every year. It is in this period that we find tea being used as an object of trade and barter instead of horses.
Mo Gil Yan’s rule was highly beneficial to the Turks. Although they had lost both the Ili valley and Manchuria, which had been part of Mo Clio’s empire, Turkish power had not declined. With his death, however, the Empire began to break up rapidly.
Four khans succeeded Mo Gil Yan: Izanya, (735-39 A.D.), the son of Mo Gil Yan, Vigya Gu Du Lu (739-42 A. D.), brother of Izanya, Ozmish (742-44 A. D.), son of the Eastern Khan and Wai Mei Khan Khulun Phu (744-47 A.D.). This was a period of assassinations and coups during which there were repeated risings against the luxury-loving Khans. The Uigurs, Karloks and Bismirs joined hands, revolted under the leadership of the Uigur Chief Moyun Chura and murdered Wai Mei.
Thus for two centuries the Turks ruled over a vast Empire. After their downfall in 743 A.D. the Uigurs took their place, but as far as the common people were concerned this made no difference. The very tribe that had been called Turkish now began to be called the Uigur tribe. In fact, from the point of view of language and culture there was hardly any difference between the two.
The Turkish tribe was organised according to the following pattern: