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Appendix V. The Blood-Sweating Horses of Ferghana

The sending, by Emperor Wu, of an expedition to secure these horses has been one of the romances of history. Their nature has been much discussed. HS 96 A: 37a, b = de Groot, Die Westlande Chinas, p. 110 says, concerning Ferghana (Ta-Yüan), "Its horses sweat blood, and it is said that their forbears were foaled from heavenly horses. Chang Ch'ien first told Emperor Wu about them. The Emperor sent an envoy, [Ch'ê Ling], bearing [the equivalent of] a thousand [catties of] gold, together with a golden horse, in order to ask for the fine horses of Ferghana, [but] the King of Ferghana thought that China was not contiguous [with his own land] and was distant, so that a great army could not reach him. He loved his precious horses and [so] was unwilling to give [them to the Chinese]. The Chinese envoy said something improper, so [the people of] Ferghana attacked and killed the Chinese envoy and took his valuables. Thereupon [in Oct., 104 B.C. (6: 31b)], the Son of Heaven sent the General of Sutrishna (Erh-shih) [which city was where these horses were located], Li Kuang-li, to punish Ferghana, leading, in his former and later [expeditions], more than a hundred thousand men. In the fourth consecutive year [of the campaign], the people of Ferghana beheaded their King, Wu-ku, and presented [to the Chinese] three thousand head of horses. The Chinese troops accordingly returned. A discussion is in the `Memoir of Chang Ch'ien [and Li Kuang-li; 61: 6, 8-14]." (The fundamental account is to be found in SC 123: 32-42 = de Groot, ibid., 35-45. An account of these expeditions will be found in the Glossary, sub Li Kuang-li.)

As to the name, "heavenly horses," SC 123: 24 = HS 61: 6a = de Groot, ibid., p. 28 contains a significant statement: "Previously [before the Wu-sun had sent Emperor Wu some of their horses as tribute], the Son of Heaven had the Book of History and the Book of Changes [text doubtful] opened [in divination, and the diviner] had said, `Supernatural horses will presently come from the northwest.' When [Emperor Wu] secured the horses from the Wu-sun, he liked [for them] the name, `heavenly horses.' But when he secured the Ferghanan horses that sweat blood, which are even hardier [than the Wu-sun horses], he changed the name of the Wu-sun horses and called them `the horses from the western extremity [of the empire' and] called the Ferghanan horses, `the heavenly horses.' " Thus the statement that these horses from Ferghana were "foaled from heavenly horses" probably arose from a fancy of Emperor Wu's. (The name is from Shan-hai-ching 3: 9b.)

Li Kuang-li made two expeditions to secure these horses. The first expedition was unsuccessful, because of inadequate preparation. The company returned more than a year later, with only one or two-tenths of its members. Li Kuang-li was then sent out again, and was successful in getting the nobles of Ferghana to kill their King and offer the Chinese their horses, of which Li Kuang-li selected several tens of the best and more than three thousand ordinary stallions and mares. He returned in the spring of 101 B.C., bringing back successfully only a thousand horses. In the present account I shall endeavor merely to present the evidence concerning the nature of these horses and of their blood-sweating.

To begin with, we consider the early evidence concerning them. The first poem to the heavenly horses in HS 22: 26a, b, begins,

"A gift from the Supreme One---the heavenly horses have been sent down.
They are dampened by a red sweat---their foam flows red."

HS 22: 26b credits this poem to the horse secured from the Wu-wa River in 113 B.C. (The reference however gives an incorrect date, so that this attribution is doubtful; from the true nature of the "red sweat," it is however possible that the Wu-wa horse also contracted this disease.) Only in the second poem is unambiguous reference made to the Ferghana horses. In that poem, the only detail regarding the characteristics of the horses is the line:

"He had a double spine, [protruding like] a tiger's."
The implication is that these horses were very spirited. (Cf. Mh III, 620 for a translation of these poems.) HHS, Mem. 32: 13a (by Fan Yeh, 389-445) quotes a letter of Emperor Chang, dated in 78 A.D., in which he orders sent to two sons of Emperor Kuang-wu, "a pair of Ferghanan horses, whose blood comes out through small holes above their front shoulder-blades. You have formerly heard, in the song of Emperor Wu, that the heavenly horses were `dampened by a red sweat,' and now you yourselves may see that it was true."

Ying Shao (ca. 140-206), in a note to HS 6: 32b, says, "In Ferghana from ancient times there has been a race of heavenly horses. [They are able to] tread upon stones, and they sweat blood. Their sweat comes out from their front shoulder-blades like blood. They are called [horses able to travel] a thousand li in one day." Since in ancient times horses were not shod, except with straw or leather, and since horses bred upon the plains would wear out their hoofs in long journeys (which was the reason the Chinese armies needed such large supplies of horses), mountain-bred horses with firmer hoofs who could travel farther without needing rest for their feet to recuperate would be a great economy to the imperial purse and would give a decided advantage to the Chinese cavalry.

Some mythology has grown up about these blood-sweating horses. Hsü Sung (1781-1848; this passage is quoted by Shen Ch'in-han in a note to HS 96 A: 37a) notes that the Yi-wen Lei-chü (by Ou-yang Hsün, 557-641) quotes the Shen-yi Ching (attributed to Tung-fang So, but probably composed some time in 265-618) as saying, "In the southwest, in Ferghana and Yüan-ch'iu, there are fine horses. They are twenty feet tall. Their manes reach to their knees; their tails sweep the ground; and their hoofs are like a thick wrist. They can travel a thousand li by the setting of the sun. When the sun is at its height, they sweat blood." (The present text of the Shen-yi Ching, p. 14b, 15a, is however significantly different, "In the great wilderness of the southwest there are horses, [etc.]. . . . Their whiskers reach their knees, [etc.]. . . . They can grasp the sun and travel a thousand li; when they reach the sun, they are wounded and sweat blood. [The person] who rides [in a carriage drawn by them] must bind his head with floss in order to avoid becoming ill with the wind, [but] the people of that country do not bind [their heads]." From the construction of the book, the first words of the present passage cannot have originally been "In the southwest, in Ferghana," but must have been, "In the great wilderness of the southwest.")

The true nature of this blood-sweating may be determined. Shen Ch'in-han (1775-1832) remarks caustically, "The stronger and sturdier horses of the present Ili constantly have small sores in front of their shoulder-blades and on their back, which [sores] exude blood. They are said to have been hurt by an emanation 傷氣. [These sores] are necessarily on the front of their shoulder-blades, because they are worked very hard. The earlier commentators did not [use] their eyes to investigate [this matter], hence did not understand its details."

Langdon Warner (in The Long Old Road in China, p. 124, 125) tells of securing near Tun-huang, Kansu, four Chinese Turkestan ponies which bled from various sores after a day's work and was told that all the western ponies did that and that it never for a moment slowed them down. He adds, "No traveler who had once used these sturdy, patient little beasts could fail to associate them with this curious disease, probably the result of some parasitic insect." Mr. C. W. Bishop suggested to me that this was the same phenomenon as that shown by the "blood-sweating" horses brought from Ferghana.

Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, Assistant Chief of the Zoological Division, U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, suggests in a letter that this disease "is produced by a nematode now known as Parafiliaria multipapillosa and formerly known as Filiaria haemorrhagica. These parasites occur under the skin of horses and other equines and produce in various parts of the skin small hemorrhages. The lesions consist of hemispherical elevations about the size of a pea. In about two hours after the elevations are formed, an opening appears at the summit of the elevation; from this opening there exudes blood which mats the hair surrounding the lesion. The lesions occur on the shoulder, on the back, and in other locations." Perhaps the famous "blood-sweating" Nesaean horses, mentioned by Greek writers as having bred in the upland pastures of Media (northeast of Ecbatana; cf. Herodotus III, 106; Strabo XI, 13, 7; 14, 9; Pliny, Hist. Nat. VI, 25 (29), 44) for the use of the Great Kings of Persia, with which these Ferghanan horses have sometimes been identified, had these same parasites.

Mr. Bishop has studied the evidence offered by Han sculptures concerning the difference between the type of Chinese horse before and after the introduction of this breed from central Asia. He says that before this time, Chinese horses were small, with large heads, coarse extremities, a ewe neck, and an inclination to paunchiness. This breed is still to be met with in out of the way places in China, Japan, and Korea. The type represented in the latter part of the Han dynasty is stocky, with a well-developed barrel, thick neck, short legs, and well-shaped head. It is also shown on a gold medal struck by Eucratides, a Graeco-Bactrian king of the second century A.D., and in the famous bas-reliefs of T'ang T'ai-tsung's chargers. It was apparently the same breed which the central Asian explorer, Vambery, found among certain tribes of Turkomans, and which he describes as being distinguished less for size and speed than for strength and endurance. [Cf. C. W. Bishop, "The Horses of T'ang T'ai-tsung," in Museum Journal, pub. by University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Sept.-Dec. 1918, pp. 244-272, which contains excellent illustrations; also W. P. Yetts, "The Horse: A Factor in Early Chinese History," Eurasia Septentrionalis Antiqua 9: (1934) 231 ff.] It is thus possible to determine both the nature of the horses secured by Emperor Wu and the reason for the curious epithet, "blood-sweating." (Cf. J. J. M. de Groot, Die Westlande Chinas, pp. 35-45; for the western Asiatic source of these horses, cf. W. W. Tarn, Hellenistic Military and Naval Developments, pp. 78-83, 156-9.)

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IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia