WI: No Tang dynasty expansion?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by GauchoBadger, Sep 11, 2018.

  1. GauchoBadger Gang Weeder (in a society)

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    What if China never expanded to the borders it acquired during the era of the Tang dynasty, in the period between 600 and 751?
    How would the Korean kingdoms, Vietnam/Annam, Turks, and Tibetans take advantage of such a weaker China? Could the Indo-European populations of the Tarim Basin survive for longer?
     
  2. cmakk1012 Well-Known Member

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    I see you are a man of culture as well.

    The answer to that at least is...maybe? It wasn’t the Chinese that assimilated the Tocharians, it was the Uyghurs after them. That being said, no Chinese Governorate there could see the Tarim cities be stronger than IOTL so that the Uyghurs never conquer the region anyway.
     
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  3. Salvador79 Well-Known Member

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    Does that mean the Tang also never mess with the Göktürks the way they did IOTL, so their confederation can stay much more stable, maybe akin to the relative calm of the Rouran times? That has massive butterflies from Europe and Iran down to, of course, the Tarim Basin, where the Tokharian city states and their Buddhism would continue under Tibetan (in the South) and Göktürk (in the North) overlordship, at least at times. Annam stays where it is, but its culture is probably more akin to that of the neighboring Chenla and less Sinified, although that could come later.

    Without overstretching, Tang could be a lot more stable, and continue to exert greater cultural influence on the Korean and Japanese polities. Needless to say that Tibet, the Göktürks et al. are still in Tang's cultural orbit, even if Tang remains confined to the borders of 618.

    Question is: Why does this happen? The Tang were a dynamic military dynasty, what keeps them restrained?
     
  4. GauchoBadger Gang Weeder (in a society)

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    I'd guess that it would be because of multiple failed military campaigns against the Gokturks, dissuading the Tang emperors from focusing on Central Asian affairs. Or maybe a lack of military reforms early on, or even a lack of the Tang dynasty to begin with, replaced by a longer-lasting Sui.
    I'm curious as to the effects of a stabler Gokturk khanate on Greater Iran and Europe. Does this mean that the Sassanids are less hemmed in on both sides and, thus, better able to deal with the Arab Muslim threat?
     
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  5. Salvador79 Well-Known Member

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    Hm. Longer-lasting Sui is easy if you avoid the terrible mistake in Korea (or have it go more successfully). Its focus would be less Northerly at first, indeed. In the long run, controlling the Silk Road is a temptation that's hard to resist.

    Huh, more stabile Göktürks might as well finish off the Sassanids as help them - in the past, the Göktürks had allied with the Sassanids, but also with Constantinople against the Sassanids. No, the thing is, if the Western Göktürk Empire doesn't break apart, then OTL's Westward migrations are butterflied. An independent Khazar Khaganate would not arise, nor the On Oq confederacy. A united Göktürk Empire could probably repel the Muslims at Bukhara and later again. I mean, it's bound to disintegrate at some point, but if it holds in good shape until the late 8th century, then Central Asia is a much more stable, orderly and wealthy place, probably with quite a layer of Buddhist culture on top but very heterogeneous of course, and the Silk Road is secure. Maybe a common identity strong enough to remain as an umbrella arching over the tribal identities develops which holds even when the Empire ultimately comes tumbling down?
     
  6. GauchoBadger Gang Weeder (in a society)

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    Interesting. Does this mean that the Bulgars, for the time being, remain in the Pontic Steppe, instead of invading the Byzantine Balkans?
     
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  7. Salvador79 Well-Known Member

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    No Gokturk weakness means that Great Old Bulgaria never forms, or at least not around 630. Its state Formation was clearly a synthesis of leaders of a subordinate multi-tribal polity and members of the gokturk ruling dynasty, so some sort of vassals maybe, achieving independence when central gokturk rule collapsed. Duluo descent was praised as their rulers' ancestry just like more locally relevant Hunnic descent from Attila.

    So, no gokturk weakness means Great Bulgaria doesn't come into its own at that time. The population stays there o course, until some later crisis maybe. Or forever... ;)
     
  8. Salvador79 Well-Known Member

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    Coming back to that question: obviously the Göktürk Empire was way too large to handle all centrifugal tendencies, even after its split into a Western and an Eastern half. Ruling over all that land from Navekat and Suyab was practically impossible. So maybe even if the Tang don't play one clan and tribe against another, things might still untangle somewhat. So maybe the emergence of Great Old Bulgaria in some way or other is more or less still likely, especially considering that Constantinople, if they don't need united Göktürks anymore to hold down the Sassanids, might support the idea of splitting up the Turkic Khaganate and gaining a potential ally in the Bulgars (both against Avars and Muslims). BUT without the Khazar migrations, as you said, Bulgaria stays in the Northern Pontic. That changes the situation for the Avars greatly, of course - and for Byzantium, too.
     
  9. GauchoBadger Gang Weeder (in a society)

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    I was waddling a bit on articles about emperor Taizong of Tang recently, and thus decided to bump this thread to see if anyone has any more ideas.
    I implied Korea in the original post -- what would happen to the peninsula's states if the Tang are too busy still consolidating and warding off the Eastern Gokturks?
     
  10. John7755 يوحنا Lightweight Faqih

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    Why do you assume the Göktürks defeat the Umayyad? In otl, the Göktürks even with distractions for the Sassanid state, were unable to truly exert themselves upon the Sassanids. How does the Turkic lords defeat the more energetic Umayyad? In otl, the Umayyads and Abbasid outmatched the Tang, Tibetans and the Turkic successor states in this region.

    In other words, it takes more than just a nomadic army to defeat the Caliphate in this early period in the sense that you propose, where the Celestial Turks stop the most dynamic power in the region in otl simply because they are a powerful steppe empire. Not trying to insult the Cestial Turks either, but to assume that they defeat the Umayyad and Abbasid so easily, is perhaps hasty.
     
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  11. Salvador79 Well-Known Member

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    I didn't want to imply that I was sure that this would be the outcome. You are right about the dynamics of the Islamic conquests, of course. BUt consider that IOTL, the Umayyads only had to deal with half the Göktürk Empire, which had lost its momentum and was splintering under the consequences of Chinese meddling. Before the split, the Göktürks were good candidates for the title of the most dynamic power in Central Asia. And they don't have to defeat the Umayyads the way they were defeated by them IOTL - holding the forts would make quite a difference already.
     
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  12. Kaze Well-Known Member

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    There would be no An-Lushan Rebellion for one thing... and most likely the Tang would live for another decade.
     
  13. John7755 يوحنا Lightweight Faqih

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    Are we assuming that the Chinese empire in this tl does not take any interest in the west? I can imagine denying conquest, but do we come to the view that the Sui or this altered Tang simply neglects its west, despite the obvious wealth to be had from Tocharia? It was not so far from the memory of the Tang period, the venture of the Han dynasty toward the Xiongnu and the rise of the Kushanshah, allowing the creation of the flourishing Silk Road.

    If we assume that the Sui or altered Tang, still take an interest in the steppe, what is stopping a punitive attack by China in connection with the Muslim invasion? Does the Celestial Turkic Host have the staying power to withstand such a barrage? It also should be remembered, the Tibetans still exist, how doe the Tibetans face a world without the Anxi Protectorate? An interesting question, perhaps a more intense Tibetan focus upon its wars with the Umayyad and later Abbasid (which during the Abbasid were not so dramatic, the Tibetans and Umayyads crossed swords far more).
     
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  14. Practical Lobster scuttling across the floors of silent seas Donor

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    I know this is a little later than our target time period, but it's worth considering: A few decades before the Battle of Talas, the Gokturk Khaganate was receiving thousands of pieces of silk in tribute (sorry, trade, with the exchange rate being approx. 100,000 pieces of silk for 30 horses) from China and yet it still crumbled almost completely after Bilge's death. Why? Because the Turkic empire was fragile - it was a confederation based on shared interests and the moment anyone had a chance to break away, they almost invariably did. It didn't matter how much success their Khagans had - as soon as anyone smelled blood in the water, it was over - either the rebels lost and were forced to submit, or the Khaganate was over.

    They were bought off when they were strong and beaten hard when they were weak. As far as I can tell, the Gokturk focus was always a little bit more pointed Chinaward. And, like John says, the Chinese always had a huge incentive to bribe and cajole and otherwise try to control the barbarians. So you've got two potent factors here - a politically weak (and economically vulnerable too, if the constant famines of the era are anything to go by) but military strong nomadic state and the rising Umayyad threat in the west, and they're always going to be back as long as someone needs loot and victories.

    Circa 625, the Gokturks annexed Tokharestan and Gandhara, at the time basically Indo-Hephthalite kingdoms. No more than a generation later, they're pushed out by the Umayyads under Al-Ahnaf ibn Qais and Abdallah ibn Amir - whose conquest lasted as far as I can tell about three years before the Gokturks were back for another generation, and all this while the Turks are being turned against each other. Well into the 8th century the matter was hotly contested. The Arabs keep having to send armies up into the region and those armies keep getting mauled or looting, but either way failing to establish permanent footholds.

    The Umayyad, as I can recall, definitely struggled in Central Asia in the early days - these conquests were far harder than their comparative steamroll through the Near East and North Africa. However, those invasions weakened the Turks immensely. I'd even go as far as to say that they probably played a role in China and Tibet's ability to rise just as much as they did for the Arabs. All these new up and comers - the Tang dynasty, the Umayyad dynasty, the Tibetans, everyone benefited from seeing the Turks knocked down a peg. So if China is distracted for whatever reason, I have to concur - I think you're going to see a stronger and more dynamic Tibet.

    If China doesn't replace the Gokturks in their sphere however, you're more likely to see Central Asia become a battleground of local Turkic, Tibetan, Hepthalite, Indian, Sogdian, Arab, etc. factions who all want a piece of the pie. This was devastating in OTL. It could be even worse here.
     
  15. John7755 يوحنا Lightweight Faqih

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    @Practical Lobster

    This is partly the issue here, the Celestial Turks, when defeated by the Tang, never seemed to lack initiative or major logistic defeats. Instead, the Tang came bearing gifts and willing to play power broker between grudging tribes. If I remember correctly, the Turkic tribes played a certain power grab wherein they would imprison daughters and family members of tribes within the empire, as sort of battles of tribal dispute and vendetta. The Tang would defeat a certain force and release the prisoners and gain new allies, essentially inserting themselves as the king maker, this oddly made no kings, instead it was simply a tempered and fearsome tactic utilized by the Chinese agents and armies to divide the steppe into a chaotic mess with which the Tang could break into pieces.

    The Umayyad may have struggled in the east, this is true in the early stages. However, much of this can be waved by the amount of success that the Umayyads did gather and their successor the Abbasids. Many planned invasions of the Arab forces were infiltrated and compromised and the situation in the Caliphate entailed wars on many different fronts. Despite this, generally, the Umayyad found themselves in the power position against the Turkic states and the main force along with Tibet, which was to stop the Tang expansionism in the east. This is evident by the interest that the Tang took into countering the Umayyad and the submission that the Caliphates began to receive from the Sogdian lords and other similar states nearby. Ultimately, the Turks will have to counter the Caliphates despite an exposed east and southern threat (Tibet), they have no allies (their only ally could be the Byzantines and they are not much help) and the clock is ticking for them as we stated, the steppe horde mentality requires loot and plunder, being on the defensive against the Caliphate is a losing proposition (as I understand it, this was the status of the front, the Umayyad and Muslim were always on the offensive), the Caliphate can sustain wars of attrition, can the Celestial Turks?

    EDIT: A point, is it not within the realm of possibility, to imagine the Sui or altered Tang preforming the same dividing tactics upon the Celestial Turks, without conquering these realms or creating the Anxi protectorate? It does not seem unreasonable in my opinion.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2019
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  16. Practical Lobster scuttling across the floors of silent seas Donor

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    I just think it was a new type of situation for the Arabs. Their early victories against foreign powers were against large empires whose collapse meant a power vacuum. In Central Asia by contrast you had an absurd patchwork of city-states and small kingdoms and nomadic polities all pressed up against one another. You couldn't just win a couple battles and change the whole power structure.

    The Turks are not in a good position in this scenario, I agree. It's just going to be a total mess. I don't think I could predict who would end up on top - probably the Abbasids as OTL but in a timeline that does even more damage to the cultural and material output of the region than OTL (and OTL did a lot). The whole region would just be a massive battleground. Personally, I think it would be interesting to see Tibet exert authority in Gandhara and Balkh as they did in the Tarim basin, and I don't think that's implausible (I mean a scenario where we're discounting China has to put China pretty much out of the picture). However, the Abbasids are probably still going to end up controlling the region in the long term, even if a Turkic Khaganate that doesn't have to deal with a Chinese threat would be more stable and probably able to deal at least a few more reversals to the Arabs.
     
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  17. John7755 يوحنا Lightweight Faqih

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    Tibet had some success against the Umayyad in the region of Bactria, Kashmir and Kabul, however, their clashes led ultimately to Caliphal victories and assertion of Islamic control in the region, including forced conversions and the like. This Tibetan failure is odd too, considering the existence of the Zabul state in Zwambinar to the south of Kabul, in the modern Pashto lands. Caliphal armies generally had difficulty subduing this state, partly due to the presence of Khawarij rebels that lurked in Balochistan and who co-opted the famed Peacock army intended to conquer the Zabul. Tibet could do some damage to the Caliphate had they been able to push southward before northward in terms of the Caliphate. In the case of Bactrian and Kabul incursions made by Tibet, they were at least making the offensive initiative, rather than playing the game of defense and this is certainly to the advantage of Tibet. It is also imperative that Tibet is able to push the Caliphate out of its immediate south in time for the Tibetans to use their Buddhist practice as a method to rule more freely and create opposition to the Caliphal tide.

    Ultimately, we may agree that the Tibetans and Caliphate have a fair amount of wars to be had in this tl. Perhaps I can expand more on this later, some more nuanced opinions, as opposed to the current general statements and narratives.
     
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  18. Practical Lobster scuttling across the floors of silent seas Donor

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    Yeah, that'd be interesting and appreciated.

    And yes, it seems that being on the defensive against the Abbasid Caliphate rarely worked out in the favor of those Indo-Turkic dynasties who attempted it.
     
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