Tongwancheng was the capital city of the Southern Huns, the only city of the Huns
The Huns were a group of nomadic people who, appearing from east of the Volga River, migrated into Europe c. AD 370 and established the vast Hunnic Empire there. Since de Guignes linked them with the Xiongnu, who had been northern neighbours of China 300 years prior to the emergence of the Huns,...

 (in Chinese called Xiongnu
The Xiongnu were ancient nomadic-based people that formed a state or confederation north of the agriculture-based empire of the Han Dynasty. Most of the information on the Xiongnu comes from Chinese sources...

) that has ever been found. The city is well preserved and is located in contemporary China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

's Shaanxi Province, Inner Mongolia
Inner Mongolia
Inner Mongolia is an autonomous region of the People's Republic of China, located in the northern region of the country. Inner Mongolia shares an international border with the countries of Mongolia and the Russian Federation...

. The city is at the southern edge of the Maowusu Sands of the Ordos Desert
Ordos Desert
The Ordos Desert is a desert and steppe region lying on a plateau in the south of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China . The soil of the Ordos is a mixture of clay and sand and, as a result, is poorly suited for agriculture. It extends over an area of...

, on what was formerly a strategic site in the centre of the Ordos plateau. The city has been surveyed and some elements restored, but not yet excavated.

The city was built by around 100,000 Huns of the Xia (Sixteen Kingdoms)
Xia (Sixteen Kingdoms)
Tiefu was a pre-state Xiongnu tribe during the era of Sixteen Kingdoms in China. Its chieftain Liu Bobo established the state of Xia in 407 and changed his family name into Helian....

 Hun Da dynasty under the command of Helian Bobo
Helian Bobo
Helian Bobo , né Liu Bobo , courtesy name Qujie , formally Emperor Wulie of Xia , was the founding emperor of the Chinese/Xiongnu state Xia...

 (aka: He lian bo bo, Liu Bobo, or Helianbo) in the year 419, the Huns having founded their steppe empire in the 3rd century B.C. Helian Bobo died in 425, and Helian Chang
Helian Chang
Helian Chang , courtesy name Huan'guo , nickname Zhe , was an emperor of the Chinese/Xiongnu state Xia. He was the successor and a son of the founding emperor Helian Bobo . After his father's death in 425, he tried to expand Xia further, but soon his state began to collapse in light of pressure...

 succeeded him as ruler of the city.

The Great Wall of China
Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is a series of stone and earthen fortifications in northern China, built originally to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups...

 was built to contain the Hun threat, and Tongwancheng was the main Hun capital that stood on other side of that wall. The city was largely of wood construction and had very thick outer walls which were made white with white clay earth and powdered rice. From a distance the white city was said to have had the appearance of a giant ship. At its centre the city had a lake. Jin Shu gives us a contemporary eyewitness description of the city...
"The hill is beautiful, in front of it the plain is wide, and around this there is a lake of pure water. I have wandered in many places, but I have not seen a land whose beauty can compare with that of this place".

At its height the population was around 10,000, likely to have been greatly supplemented by an encircling encampment of nomadic kin groups at certain times of the year. White cities were generally ceremonial and status centres built following conquest, rather than outright military positions, white being a blessed colour for the Huns. Yet the thickness of the walls was certainly required since the city was originally built at a time of perpetual warfare. The threat was also internal as well as from the Chinese - for instance, Helian Bobo was attacked with an army by his deputy Helian Gui in 424 following a dynastic dispute.

In 426, the Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei
Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei
Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei , personal name Tuoba Tao , nickname Foli , was an emperor of the Chinese/Xianbei dynasty Northern Wei...

 made a surprise attack on Tongwancheng. Although a brief incursion into the city succeeded only in burning the main temple, the surrounding hinterland was devastated. The city's site was on the fertile upper reaches of the Wuding River
Wuding River
The Wuding River begins in the Ordos Desert in Shaanxi Province, Inner Mongolia and flows south into loess canyons and farmland. After around 100 miles it flows into the great Yellow River. The Wuding has its own tributaries, such as the Dali River, Hailiutu River, Hanjiang River, and the...

, but the river and lake died up, possibly due to deforestation that might be traced back to Taiwu's devastation. The city was then gradually buried by the sands of the desert. This 'wandering' (Wuding) gave the river its current name.

Huns continued to live in the region until the 7th or 8th century. In 786 the city was besiged by Tibetan forces, and it was invaded by Jurchen soldiers in 1206. There is no record of the site in Chinese records after the early 1400s.

The city was found by Western explorers in the 19th century, but was only properly surveyed by the Chinese in the 2000s. The city's Yong'an Platform, a military forces inspection platform for dignitaries, has been restored.

The city is also referred to in the literature variously as Tong Wan Cheng, Tongwan-cheng, Baichengzi, Xia Zhou, Tongwan, or Bai Cheng (the latter meaning in the ancient Hun language 'White City').

Further reading:

Obrusanszky, Borbala (2009). "Tongwancheng, the city of Southern Huns". Transoxiana 14, August 2009. (Also published in the Journal of Eurasian Studies, No.1 Vol.1, January–March 2009)

Yong-jian, Hou (2005). "Ruins of Tong Wan Cheng" [in Japanese]. Journal of Asian Cultures 7.

Xinjiang, Rong (2004). "Tongwancheng in the History of Relations between China and The West in Medieval Times" [in Chinese], to be found in the Chinese volume General Research on the Site of Tongwancheng.

Hui, Deng (2003). "Restudy of Tongwan-cheng City in the Light of Color Infrared Aerophotographic Films" [in Chinese]. Archaeology, 2003, 1.

Xue, Zheng-chang (2003). "He Lian Bo Bo and Tong Wan Cheng" [in Chinese]. Journal of Tianshui Normal University.
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