Modun Chanyu (Modu, Maodun, Maotun, Maodun) was born c. 234 BCE was the fourth known emperor and founder of the Hunnu Empire after he killed his father in 209 BCE. The years of his rule were 209 BCE to 174 BCE. He was a military leader under his father Touman, and later the Chanyu (King) of the Hunnu, centered in modern day Mongolia.
Once he had secured the throne, he established a powerful Hunnu Empire by successfully unifying the tribes of the Mongolian steppes and hence posed an imminent threat to the Chinese Qin Dynasty. His Hunnu Empire was one of the largest of his time – the eastern border stretched as far as the Liao River, the western borders of the empire reached the Pamir Mountains whilst the northern border reached Lake Baikal.
Origins and rise to power
The only details of his early years is recorded in chapter 110 of the Shiji, but, although they are based on history, they seem to contain some legendary elements.
He was the eldest son of Touman, the leader of the Hunnu at the time. Since his childhood, Modun was well-known for his outstanding courage and valor. He was so valourous that he was regarded as one of the most heroic men in the realm. However, a beauty called E'shi was the favourite wife of Touman and he decided to raise her son to be his successor. Touman's new wife had wanted to kill Modun so she adopted a cruel plot to kill Modun by another person's hands: his father sent him to the Yuezhi, a different tribe of peoples, as a hostage and then he waged wars against them, to make Modun the victim. Fortunately, Modun had sensed something suspicious so he pretended to be seriously sick when he was staying in the Yuezhi camp. His guards then slackened their guard. In the evening when Touman was massing his troops to attack the Yuezhi tribe, Modun killed the guards, stole the Yuezhi's precious horse and fled. To avoid the pursuit of the Yuezhi tribe and a surprise attack by his father, Modun disguised himself and was able to return.
Later for his bravery his father gave him a tumen of soldiers. He controlled his 10,000 men strictly, and trained them hard every day for battle. According to Sima Qian he had some arrows made that whistled in flight and trained his men to shoot at anything his whistling arrow struck. One day he shot at one of his best horses and executed any man that failed to follow suit. Later, when on a hunting expedition with his father, he shot a whistling arrow at his father, as did all his men.
Also his father's wife and the rival heir were executed. After this he gained the leadership of all the tribes his father had controlled and he was crowned as the new Hunnu ruler. He disciplined all the tribes for warfare and to follow his every command. He was respected by his men, and none would challenge his authority. After his army was ready for war, he began his conquests.