Sec. v] KAO HSIEN-CHIH'S EXPEDITION AND THE DARKÔT
Tibetan defeat at Lien- yün.
The location of Lien-yün near Sarhad, as originally proposed by M. Chavannes, is confirmed by the description of the battle by which the Chinese general rendered himself master of the Tibetan position and of the route it was intended to guard. But, as I shall have occasion to discuss the topographical details hereafter, a brief summary must now suffice. The stronghold of Lien-yün itself was occupied by a thousand Tibetans, and the river which lay to their front offered a serious obstacle, being then in flood. The main force of the enemy, comprising 8,000 or 9,000 men, was posted fifteen li, or about three miles, to the south, where advantage had been taken of the mountainous ground to erect palisades. Kao Hsien-chih, however, after offering a sacrifice to the river, succeeded with a picked body of mounted men in crossing unopposed and without loss. Encouraged by this success the Chinese general at once attacked, leading his troops up the mountain side and engaging the defenders in a fight which ended in their complete defeat with heavy loss, and the precipitate flight of the survivors during the night. In their pursuit the Chinese inflicted a loss upon them of 5,000 men killed and a thousand prisoners, while all the rest dispersed. Over a thousand horses and abundant stores and arms fell into the hands of the victors. It is clear that this battle was fought at the entrance of the valley which ascends south towards the Barôghil saddle from opposite Sarhad.6
As Pien Ling-ch`êng, the Imperial Commissioner, and certain other high officers feared the
from Kashgar in successive stages by the same route of which Tàsh-kurghan, ' the post of the Ts ung-ling Mountains ', was the advanced base or point d'appui. If Kao Hsien-chih moved ahead with the first column or detachment to Shighnan and was followed at considerable intervals by the other two detachments, the advantages gained as regards supplies and transport must have been very great. His own column would have reached a fresh base of supplies in Shighnan while the second was moving across the main Pamirs and the third arriving in Sarikol from the plains. Thus the great strain of having to feed simultaneously the whole force on ground absolutely devoid of local resources was avoided. It must be remembered that once on the middle Oxus the Chinese Commissariat could easily draw upon the abundant produce of Badakhshân, and that for the column left on the Pamirs the relatively easy route across the Alai would be available for drawing supplies from the rich plains of Farghana, then still under Chinese control.
By disposing his force en échelon from Shighnan to Sarikol Kao Hsien-chih obtained also a strategically advantageous position. He was thus able to concert the simultaneous convergent movement of his columns upon the Tibetans at Sarhad, without unduly exposing any of his detachments to separate attack and defeat by a superior Tibetan force ; for the Tibetans could not leave their position at Sarhad without imminent risk of being cut off from the Barôghil, their only line of communication. At the same time the disposition of the Chinese forces effectively precluded any Tibetan advance either upon Sarikol or Badakhshân. Difficult as Kao Hsienchih's operations must have been across the Pamirs, yet he had the great advantage of commanding two, if not three, independent lines of supplies (from Kashgar-Yarkand ; Badakhshân ; eventually Farghana), whereas the Tibetan force of about equal strength cooped up at the debouchure of the Barôghil had only a single line, and one of exceptional
natural difficulty, to fall back upon. Of the territories of Yasin, Gilgit, Baltistân, through which this line led we know that they could not provide any surplus supplies for an army (cf. Ancient Khotan, i. pp. t r sqq.).
The problem, as it seems to me, is not so much how the Chinese general succeeded in overcoming the difficulties of his operations across the Pamirs, but how the Tibetans ever managed to bring a force of nine or ten thousand men across the Darkôt to Sarhad and to maintain it there in the almost total absence of local resources. It is certainly significant that neither before nor after these events do we. hear of any other attempt of the Tibetans to attack the Chinese power in the Tarim Basin by way of the uppermost Oxus, constant, and in the end successful, as their aggression was during the eighth century A. D.
The boldness of the plan which made Kao Hsien-chih's offensive possible and crowned it in the end with deserved success, must, I think, command admiration quite as much as the actual crossing of the Darkôt. The student of military history has, indeed, reason to regret that the Chinese record does not furnish us with any details about the organization which rendered this first and, as far as we know, last crossing of the Pamirs by a large regular force possible. But whatever our opinion may be about the fighting qualities of the Chinese soldier as judged by our standards—and there is characteristic evidence of their probably not having been much more serious in Tang times than they are now—it is certain that those who know the formidable obstacles of deserts and mountains which Chinese troops have successfully faced and overcome during modern times, will not feel altogether surprised at the power of resource and painstaking organization which the success of Kao Hsien-chih's operations indisputably attests in that long-forgotten Chinese leader and those who shared his efforts.
ti See below, pp. 66 sqq.
Chinese Advance across Mount ran-chit.