Yelang, initially known as Zangke (Chinese: 牂柯), was a conglomeration of agricultural tribes first described in the 3rd century BC that inhabited in what is now western Guizhou province, China. Estimated to have been active for over 200 years, The state is known to modern Chinese from the idiom, "Yelang thinks too highly of itself." (Yèláng zì dà)
Tribes in the Western Han Dynasty
The ancient Chinese historian Sima Qian described Yelang located west of the Mimo and Dian, south of Qiongdu (in what is now southern Sichuan), and east of the nomadic Sui and Kunming. Some people have identified the seat of the kingdom as Bijie (Chinese: 毕节) in today's Liupanshui area, in modern Guizhou province, whilst others suggest the capital moved throughout the region over time.
The Yelang were a primarily a confederation of agricultural farming tribes.
Yelang people wore their hair up and decorated themselves with jewellery such as bracelets and necklaces.
Archaeologists have retrieved relics from Yelang graves including "bronze swords, U-shaped bronze hairclips, turquoise bracelets and jade necklaces", as well as "various bronze, porcelain and stone vessels visibly different from those belonging to other cultures studied in China, like the Han, Dian and Bashu cultures".
Tomb excavations show a unique burial custom in some Yelang tombs, in which the head of the deceased is placed into a bronze pot. This custom is unknown elsewhere in China.
According to Chinese records the Yelang had strong armies.
Han envoy Tang Meng met with Yelang ruler Duotong to negotiate a military alliance against the Southern Yue of Guangdong. At this time, Yelang was said to be capable of fielding 100,000 crack soldiers. The outcome of these negotiations is not known.
Later, a "marquis of Yelang" is recorded as visiting the Han capital Changan. In 27 BC, there was an uprising in which King Xing was defeated and killed by Han soldiers.
Yelang had a close relationship with Nanyue ("Southern Yue") kingdom and used the Zangke River (now known as the Beipan River) as a means of inter-polity communications. The kingdom of Yelang declared their allegiance to Nanyue rule from the start of 183 BC until the end of 111 BC.
Yelang is best known to modern Chinese because of an incident said to have occurred in the 120s BC. According to the story the king of Yelang, convinced that his kingdom was the greatest in all the world, inquired rhetorically of the Han emperor's envoy, "Which is greater, Yelang or Han?" This gave rise to the Chinese idiom, "Yelang thinks too highly of itself" (Chinese: 夜郎自大; pinyin: Yèláng zì dà). Other sources suggest that Yelang's king was simply copying an earlier statement by a ruler of the adjacent Kingdom of Dian.
Other Chinese sources describe the Yelang people as possessing supernatural powers.