Princess Jieyou and the First Female Diplomat Feng Liao in the History of China
Liu Jieyou (121 BC — 49 BC), respected as Princess Jieyou, was a strong, influential, patriotic princess of the Han Dynasty.
She was assigned to marry the King of Wusun, to solidify the alliance between Wusun and the Han Empire.
Princess Jieyou, together with her maid Feng Liao, significantly affected the history of Wusun and contributed significantly to Han’s diplomatic influences.
They were exceptional politicians and warriors and were as brilliant and strong as those male heroes.
Uneasy Early Life of the Royal Princess Jieyou
Liu Wu (? — 154) was a grandnephew of Emperor Liu Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD).
He inherited his father’s title as the King of Chu and lived a great life in his fief.
A few years later, after having been weakened, Liu Wu allied with another king and rebelled, but committed suicide after they were defeated.
His kids then lived unstable, disturbed lives, as descendants of a rebellion criminal, including a little girl named Liu Jieyou, the granddaughter of Liu Wu.
Dragon Shaped Jade Decoration of the Han Dynasty, Unearthed from Mausoleum of Liu Wu — Xuzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
At that time, the biggest enemy of the Han Empire was Xiongnu (or the Huns). After great explorer Zhang Qian opened up the Silk Road, Han started to build diplomatic relations with kingdoms in the Western Regions (Xi Yu).
Soon, a strong nomadic kingdom located in the Pamir Mountains named Wusun wanted to ally with Han through marriage.
Hence, the current Emperor Wu of Han recovered Liu Jieyou’s princess’ title and sent her to Wusun, an important state along the Silk Road.
Struggles of Princess Jieyou in the Wusun Regime
After Princess Jieyou arrived at Wusun, she became an imperial concubine that was inferior to the queen that was originally from Xiongnu.
At that time, though Xiongnu was already extensively defeated by Han’s great marshals and had escaped northward, they were still quite influential to many other nearby countries.
Soon, the queen from Xiongnu gave birth to the king’s first son, who then was nominated as the heir of Wusun.
This made the force of Xiongnu within Wusun gradually got an advantage over the Han Empire.
Besides, Princess Jieyou didn't give birth to any children after she arrived, which made the king unsatisfied with her more.
Her husband’s indifference, the queen and the Xiongnu force's hostility, provocations, and strong homesickness, all made her life miserable during that period.
Fortunate Turnaround and Love of Princess Jieyou
A few years later, this old King of Wusun passed away and gave the throne to his younger brother, and commanded that after his brother departed, the throne should go back to his young heir, the child he and the queen of Xiongnu raised together.
According to Wusun's tradition, Princess Jieyou and the queen, then both married the old king’s brother named Weng Guimi, also called Fat King.
Fortunately, the new king Weng Guimi, Jieyou's second husband, loved her very much. He respected Jieyou as his new queen, and together they had five wonderful kids.
Their first son was nominated as heir, the second son was welcomed as a king of another small country, the third son served their country as a remarkable general, while their two daughters married to another king and a noble.
Brocade Barcer of the Han Dynasty, Unearthed Alongside the Silk Road — Xinjiang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
During this period, King Weng Guimi trusted and supported Jieyou heartily. He stopped the swing policy and completely complied with the Han Empire.
Meanwhile, Princess Jieyou tried her best to increase civilians’ well-being and opened up international trade with other countries. As an honorable queen, she did quite a good job developing Wusun’s economy and promoting its relation with the Han Empire.
One of Jieyou’s maids Feng Liao, a very beautiful and talented woman, was highly appreciated by a powerful marshal of Wusun, and then married him.
Feng Liao mastered the languages of many kingdoms in the Western Regions and assisted Princess Jieyou in many political and diplomatic activities. Soon, she was respected as Lady Feng by locals.
Blue Glaze Ear Decoration (Er Dang) of the Han Dynasty, Unearthed Alongside the Silk Road — Qinghai Antique Archaeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Difficult Defensive Wars Against Xiongnu
The situation of Wusun displeased Xiongnu, whose huge troop then marched there and commanded them to hand over the Princess Jieyou and cut out their connection with the Han Empire.
At that time, the current emperor of Han, the son of Emperor Wu of Han, was very ill; so the government of Han was busy preparing for shifting the crown and had no time nor energy to organize a long-term war.
Therefore, Princess Jieyou tried her best to persuade her husband and other nobles of Wusun to stay strong and fight back against Xiongnu. She also successfully organized enough brave warriors to defend their country.
Years of intense and difficult battles didn’t bring Wusun great success, but they did defend themselves against Xiongnu efficiently.
Unearthed Plant (Ju) of the Han Dynasty that was Used to Burn in Beacons of Great Wall and to Send Info — Dunhuang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
After Liu Xun the Emperor Xuan of Han ascended to the throne and had everything in the government under control, he finally got enough time to take care of those letters that Princess Jieyou sent before.
Then, Emperor Liu Xun sent 150, 000 soldiers of Han, commanding by an intelligent general Chang Hui (? — 46 BC), to help Princess Jieyou.
The moment that Xiongnu heard about Han’s big troop, they immediately decided to run away. But they were trapped in a huge mountain because of a snowstorm, which then took away countless of their soldiers’ lives.
Soon, armies of Han and Wusun severely defeated Xiongnu’s remaining forces, who lost about one-third of their population, countless land, and vassal states.
Unearthed Cavalry Figurines of the Western Han Dynasty — Xianyang Museum
Princess Jieyou's Third Marriage to A Rude King
Again, when everything was going very well, Princess Jieyou’s beloved second husband departed out of a sudden.
According to her first husband’s will, the throne should go back to Nimi, the son that he and the queen from Xiongnu raised.
After a series of schemes and competitions, Nimi and his forces won the crown.
Consequently, Nimi ascended to the throne, and he was also called Mad King.
Princess Jieyou couldn’t let her years of effort just fade away with her late husband, and the force of Xiongnu take back power in Wusun.
So, she married the Mad King, and then had another son with him.
Failed Assassination and Endless Vengeances
However, the Mad King was a rude and unkind tyrant. Hence, Princess Jieyou allied with a brother of the king named Wu Jiutu and emissary of the Han Empire and tried to assassinate him.
They wounded the king but failed to kill him.
Afterward, the Mad King escaped out of the palace, and his brother, the prince Wu Jiutu, run back to the Xiongnu.
The Mad King then sent his army, surrounded Princess Jieyou and her followers inside a city, but later was defeated by Han’s army.
Sometime after Han’s army left Wusun, Wu Jiutu claimed that the Xiongnu warriors would attack Wusun again and seek vengeance.
Soon, the forces of Xiongnu inside Wusun all inspired and started to build connections with Xiongnu’s warriors.
Then, the Xiongnu and the Han Empire again were confronted in the regime of Wusun.
Inlaying Gold and Silver Bronze Crossbow (Nu Ji) of the Han Dynasty — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
First Female Diplomat Feng Liao and Her Great Successes
When another big war was about to happen, Feng Liao stood up and came to Xiongnu’s base by herself.
As a loyal maid of Princess Jieyou, Xiongnu’s top enemy, Feng Liao encountered countless life and death moments.
However, she successfully persuaded prince Wu Jiutu to surrender to the Han Empire, kill the Mad King, and call back Xiongnu’s army.
Emperor Liu Xun of Han was impressed by Feng’s achievement and courage, so he summoned her back to ask for more details.
Picture of the First Female Diplomat Feng Liao of the Han Dynasty, Painted By Artist Liu Fufang.
Feng Liao impressed everyone in Han’s government using her great knowledge and insightful ideas; also, she gained most people’s great respect and sympathy for Princess Jieyou.
Soon, Feng Liao was nominated as the first female diplomat in the history of China by Emperor Liu Xun. She then became an excellent ambassador that was always decent, smart, and respectful.
Later, Kingdom Wusun surrendered to the Han Empire and was divided into two parts, the bigger one was granted to the first son of Princess Jieyou, while the smaller one was given to prince Wu Jiutu.
Bamboo Slips Unearthed from the Relic Site Xuanquanzhi of the Han Dynasty, Recorded Reception Activities of Princess Jieyou, General Chang Hui, and Lady Feng, Written By Chief Officer Hong of this Station — Gansu Antique Archaeology Institute
Returning to the Han Empire
Decades later, Princess Jieyou’s first son departed and her grandson inherited the throne, and Wusun had complied with Han for a long time.
Now, she was already 70 years old.
She then sent a letter to emperor Liu Xun, saying that she believed she had finished her mission and wished to be buried in her own country after she passed away. The emperor agreed.
Princess Jieyou left her country as a beautiful and passionate teenager, had married three kings of Wusun, and fought bravely for her country for over half a century.
Lacquer Wine Cup (Er Bei) of the Han Dynasty Decorated with Cloud Patterns and With "Drinkth From the Cup" (Jun Xing Jiu) Characters in Middle — Hunan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
After making such great contributions, she finally returned to her beloved home, covered with wrinkles and gray hair.
She and some of her grandsons and Feng Liao were welcomed by the Han Dynasty with honorable ceremony; she and Feng Liao were respected as great heroes by their people.
Seeing the capital city and the kingdom that she dedicated her entire life fighting for was as prosperous as before, the princess felt relieved and happy.
Princess Jieyou passed away two years after her return, peacefully.
Unearthed Glass Bowl of the Han Dynasty — Nanyang Cultural Relic and Archeology Research Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Descendants of Princess Jieyou
Princess Jieyou’s daughters had happy lives with their respectable and honorable husbands and made contributions in disseminating Han’s culture to the countries they lived in.
Her grandchildren that came back to the Han with her, enjoyed their lives there and blended into the Han Empire since after.
Jieyou’s first grandson, who inherited the throne of Wusun, was a weak monarch that gradually lost power and control to other nobles.
Therefore, the great diplomat Feng Liao, now an over 70-year-old lady, for the third time, represented the Han Empire and came to Wusun.
With her assistance, Jieyou’s grandson gained power back, and the relationship between Han and Wusun stayed stable and harmonious.
Princess Jieyou and Diplomat Feng Liao changed and influenced countless people’s lives in the history of China, just like many other intelligent male heroes.
Unearthed Eaves Tile of the Han Dynasty, With Inscriptions "Le Wei Yang" (Eternal Happiness) — Fujian Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
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