Profile: Chinese Woman General "Lady Red Jade" Liang Hongyu 梁紅玉


If she hadn't lived, if she hadn't been who she was, the history of China would have been very different. Lady Liang (1102? - 1135) was not only one of the most pivotal of Chinese heroines, but out of the great cast of Chinese women warriors, Lady Liang also probably led the most flamboyant life compared to the rest of them.

For those familiar with the Disney's Mulan, the story of Lady Liang's life would have read like an adult- rated Mulan story, or an intense Mulan sequel for the 90s audience. Now, without much ado- we'll began with her brilliant life.


1121 was a good year for Ms. Liang. For her, it must have seemed the world had suddenly turned in her favor, a returning of all that's lost, a real re-beginning. She sat alone in the bridal room, meticulously examined and reexamined every detail of her red wedding dress, surrounded only by a small stack of humble but loving gifts from friends- (her few friends who are her only family now) and her soon to be husband. The January wind was howling outside the couple's simple quarters but she was indifferent to them. After all, it's the new year of 1122, and she was a in a different position in her life now, and she could...finally walk away from that part of her past. All the things...all those black sentiments she once felt, the hoplelessness and the mournful disgrace from such hopelessness- well, she could finally have the means to stand over them and walk confidently toward a different, new life.

In 1122, in that room, she was simply glad that she had found- no, sought after the kind of man she had always wanted, and was content that she could have the chance restart life properly again.

Music: The Eternal Empire (Drums)


Did she know that a great calamity was about to befall upon her realm? Could she have guessed that after merely half a decade she would never see the very room where she sits now? That the heartland of China- of China's last two millennium of claim would be swept away by a horde of strangers-

That even the capital of the Song Emperor would be lost to those barbarians? That the Emperor- no, two Emperors would be enslaved by those merciless conquerors, that millions of her fellow countrymen, a third of the empire would never see their home again in their lifetime? 

Could she also imagine that a decade after her nuptial bed, she would see herself fighting to save her own nation beside the very man she chose- in a bloody battle of 8,000 vs 100,000 over a river gorge in flames?

~ and having herself at its head? 


NAME

Lady Liang's real given name was lost in time. She was simply referenced in the official Chinese history books as "Lady Liang" (梁氏), or "Hongyu" (红玉), the name given in folk legends which meant "Red Jade," thus her name: "Liang Hongyu" was almost a wrestler's moniker (see below: pun intended) something along the line of "Red Jade Liang."


THE BLACKGUARD'S REBELLION

Liang was a native of Chizhou (in today's Anhui Province). Her father and grandfather had both served the Song Dynasty as generals. Her father, who was a respected army commander, taught her from an early age how to fight and defend herself, and she became a master of the martial arts. She was reported to possess incredible strength and was a skilled archer.


Then, in the second year of the Xuanhe (1120) era, the Manichean rebel Fang La organized a revolt which quickly spread to involve tens of thousands of people. Nearly a dozen imperial columns were repeatedly beaten by the rebels, including those personally commanded by her father and grandfather- where the majority of their soldiers were wiped out. As a result, both Hongyu's grandfather and father were sentenced to death for their defeat.

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The Liang family thus fell on hard times and soon- without any means to support themselves, Hongyu was forced into indentured servitude, which in the case of her family and her status, meant Hongyu had to work as an army courtesan, -a common fixture of the Song army- it should be noted that though she technically lived as a "camp follower" the Song army's camp of followers was not collectively a debauched institution- as camp followers also included the wives and children of officers and generals- who by custom traveled with them on campaigns and had their own retinue of campaign servants.

It was also common place to find artisans and entertainers within the ranks of the camp followers. Since the soldier and the artisans were relegated to the bottom tier of the Confucian heirarchy, both often lived in the lifestyle of virtual nomads- often finding themselves rotated throughout the different corners of the empire. Often one would find whole troupes of actors following the army.


The world of the camp followers was a confusing and colorful mixture of the formal and the rough, doubly so because such a lifestyle was very ritualized, and aside from the expected sexual favors, courtesans also often entertained the soldiers with their singing, dancing and drumming.


Even so, Liang stood apart from the others who are no more than common prostitutes, as she was recorded- "she was highly literate and was naturally gifted with amazing physical strength. She could bend a strong bow and hit the mark with every shot. She always rolled her eyes at the young men and did not have the air of a courtesan."

More intriguingly, Hongyu was also a woman wrestler, as women’s wrestling was a popular spectator sport during the Song Dynasty that even attracted the Song emperors to view woman wrestling in public matches. This is significant in three ways.

Ukiyo E painting, Japan, 19th century  interior of a public bath, Utagawa Yoshiiku.
Song dynasty women fought like male wrestlers, which meant most only wore a 
loincloth in their engagements.

First is that during the Song dynasty the women fought like male wrestlers, which meant most only wore a loincloth in their engagements. Second is that the common prevalence of female wrestlers signified a relative rarity of footbinding of women in the middle to lower strata of the Song dynasty. The third is perhaps the most critical within the narrative, as there could be genuine confusion regarding the nature of her indentured servitude plus her role as a bare skinned female wrestler.


As most of legends about her sprang up from the Ming dynasty three centuries later, it is possible that the Ming- who are extremely prudish about what they would have regarded as no more than public "female indecencies" might have mistakenly thought she was a courtesan merely through associating that indentured servitude plus female wrestling equaled "prostitution." Thus, she might in fact have only been a female brawler and entertainer who led a libertine lifestyle while earning a meager wage to buy back her freedom.


Regardless, all would change in 1121, after two million civilians had been killed or displaced by the rebels, The court sent the veteran general, Wang Yuan (王淵), to lead an column to crush Fang La's rebellion.


Wang Yuan's subordinate, a minor field officer named Han Shizhong (韓世忠), was able to disguise himself and infiltrate alone into the rebel infested Qingxi County and personally capture Fang La and escape back to the Song camp with the hostage in chains. Suddenly, with their leader taken out, the whole rebel army began to panic. Anticipating a massive strategic retreat, another Song commander named Xin Xingzong (辛興宗) blocked the Qingxi County's exit route and flushed out the rest of the demoralized rebels. Fang La and 52 of his subordinates were rounded up and escorted to the imperial capital and executed in Kaifeng.


General Wang returned to the capital in victory and furnished a banquet for his troops. The army courtesans were summoned to serve wine to the soldiers. This was when Liang Hongyu first met Han Shizhong. He caught her attention because he alone was morose and silent in the midst of a raucous celebration.


Han was from the Shaanxi Province. Handsome, stoutly built, an honest man- too honest perhaps, but as such he often only had very few words and generally had a dark, thoughtful disposition. And as fate would have it, it was during the banquet that Liang and Han caught each other’s attention.

Did Han know then, that the reason he was promoted and celebrated, also happened to have alleviated the suffering of a disgraced woman he had never met? Did he knew then, that he avenged her family, her fate even before their first words? Did he know that he would later say he was drawn to Hongyu because she "possessed the demeanor of a hero?"


Liang approached Han and asked him why he wasn't showing any signs of joy in the banquet which was thrown in his honor. The morose Han replied that this was a small victory and that he was more worried about the hordes of Jurchens that had been showings signs of hostility near the Song borders.

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Exchange of greetings soon led to hearty conversations, which in turn led to frequent rendezvous. Their relations grew from admiration to love and eventually to wedlock. And here is where we began in the section above: the new Mrs. Han's "second founding" of her life: a proper second chance to do it right. In the year 1122, the death of Fang La joined those two strangers by the strangest and the blackest of tragedies.


TOGETHER

From that day on Liang worked as an aide in her husband's army. As most of the territories assigned to Han included both naval and land contingents, she took an interest in attempting to coordinate the both elements. And it was here we see her particular military doctrine emerging.


It was said that during her decade long tenure, she was able to codify a squadron-wide system of communication through drums and battle banners. It should be noted that although the tradition of battlefield drums, and battlefield banners were both ancient fixtures of the Chinese military tradition both dating earlier than 2000 BC. Liang advocated for a specific set of signals that allowed troops to execute complex maneuvers (most often, and most critically in the thick of combat) and other times, employed to coordinate simultaneous land-sea assaults, able to pace out divergent blows as to break the foe in unison.



Diagram of a Song dynasty command banner and illustration of an ensign of a crow's nest atop a Song warjunk's mast. from 武经总要 Wujing Zongyao- or known in English as the "Complete Essentials for the Military Classics"


Like the legendary Dutch Admiral Michiel de Ruyter- who took down the nearly invincible English Navy using his own set of naval battle banners despite being out numbered and outgunned. Liang's doctrine should be regarded as nothing less than a potent force-leveller in any lopsided engagement. 

For- to have the ability- and to have a proficient crew able to execute complex orders on command in the thick of battle is critical in disrupting the standard enemy progression of battle, and when timed with sudden unpredictable maneuvers could easily regain initiative and turn the tide of battle (not to mention the demoralizing effect of the ominous drums.) 


A few years later, they had a son and named him Han Liang. General Han- now promoted due to his heroics and his Lady Hu. Very prim, very proper, and very promising for them both. Soon, whether on campaigns or on official postings they were everywhere together. 



~HISTORICAL NOTE


A historical note: there are scholars who have argued that her origin story, her coincidental meeting with Han, and their eventual marriage seemed a bit too convenient- ala just perfect enough and sentimental enough for Chinese opera and sweeping ballads (like with that "Mulan") to make every body happy. Thus many have called the entire narrative a retroactive storytelling to tie up these strangers against a key historical "villain," some have further suggested that she may have simply been a nameless wrestler that the general Han admired and thus married~ whatever her backstory was invented later to fill up the missing exposition.


BUT it should be noted that the Liang clan had indeed not only existed but had been vanguards of the Northern Song court since the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, and the historical lady Liang herself did possessed military prowess- evidence of a life long regiment of professional practice and exercise taught by a soldier or a general- the depth of her knowledge also bellied some wealth, education and privileged status to practice regularly without spending too much of her formative years with menial chores, she was also quite "in-the-know" of military jargon, behavior and insight. The flashy "Red Jade" was very likely the moniker of the Lady Liang's wrestling career, and that she was personally ruined by the upheavals caused by the endless rebellions that exploded through out 1116-1121.


As for Han, nearly all of his facts related thus far are all from historical records, he did personally snuck into Qingxi County and personally capture Fang La and escape back to the Song camp with the rebel in chains, he was treated by the Emperor with a victory celebration, it was because of this extraordinary achievement that Han was promoted to a general, and he did marry Liang "Red Jade" Hongyu. Ultimately, though we don't know exactly whether Liang was born of two illustrious generals or merely a disgraced soldier who may have bore the clan name of "Liang," it seemed that the narrative we have come to know still holds up with only minor deviations. 


For both~ Since their names will be made in the decade to come, at this point of our story we could confidently say , that no matter how we regard the origin story of Liang Hongyu's life, the decade to come will be based on solid historical records.

Music: ← Anthem of a Tyrant


CALAMITY

Then in 1125, disaster struck which plunged the whole Chinese realm onto the brink of total collapse. In a series of massive diplomatic blunders, the naive and vacillating Song Huizong Emperor and his corrupt court antagonized the emerging Jin empire (A nomadic people- will be examined in detail in the next section) on its northern borders.


Though the Song and the Jin had initially been allies, in 1123, the Song court gave asylum to a defecting Jin governor-general named Zhang Jue (張覺) and- as he was the governor general in charge of the juicy Pingzhou Prefecture right on the shared border between the Song and the Jin territories, the whole of the Pingzhou Prefecture was also merged into Song territory.


The Song imperial court initially welcomed the defection and awarded Zhang Jue an honorific title and land. The Jin dynasty, on the other hand, sent a small army aimed to overturn the defection but was defeated by Zhang Jue's local troops.

Soon after that, the Song imperial court realised that Zhang Jue's defection would only result in hostility from the north. Zhang Jue was executed in the winter of 1123. This came too late: in the fall of 1125, the Emperor of the Jin dynasty ordered a full-scale attack on Song territories.

Gold represents the emerging Jin state, Red represents the deterioating Song state, Orange marks the critical Song losses to the Jin in 1126. The Northern Plain and the Yellow River Basin, were all lost to the invaders, including the Song capital of Kaifeng. 

In 15 years since their founding from mere landless hunters and herders, they would have held mastery over a domain the size that from the west to the east corresponded to the distance from France to Poland, and north to south corresponded to the distance of Denmark to Sicily- in short, greater than the Frankish Empire under Charlemagne and the First French Empire under Napoleon.


The Jin northern army took swift action, sacked Qinhuangdao in October 1125, then ramped up their speed with terrifying sucess, in merely months, the Jin sacked Baoding, Dingzhou, Zhengding and Xingtai in January 1126. This army did not meet much resistance as most of the Song generals surrendered themselves and the cities as soon as the Jin army arrived.

In February 1126, the Jin northern army crossed the Yellow River in full 150,000 strong force, and began the siege of the Song Capital of Kaifeng. On 9 January 1127, the Song capital fell to Jin forces. Emperor Qinzong and his father, Emperor Huizong, and many members of the imperial family and officials of the Song imperial court were captured by the Jin army.



FALL OF THE NORTHERN SONG

The Northern Song dynasty- which had reigned from 960–1126 came to an end, this bloody humiliation would be known as The Jingkang Incident 靖康事变, also known as the Humiliation of Jingkang 靖康之耻.

On 20 March 1127, Jin troops summoned the two captured emperors to their camps. Awaiting them was a directive from the Jin Emperor that they were to be demoted to commoners, stripped of their ceremonial trappings. This was just the beginning of weeks of looting, rape, arson and execution of prisoners of war and civilians. According to The Accounts of Jingkang, Jin troops looted the entire imperial library and the decorations in the palace. Jin troops also abducted all the female servants and imperial musicians. The imperial family was abducted and their residences were looted.


All the female prisoners were ordered, on pain of death, to serve the Jin aristocrats no matter what rank in society they had previously held. To avoid captivity and slavery under the Jin horde, thousands of women committed suicide. The captives were force marched to the Jin capital, over 14,000 people, including the Song imperial family, went on this journey, many never made it. Upon arrival, each person had to go through a Jurchen ritual where the person has to be naked and wearing only sheep skins. Men were sold into slavery in exchange for horses with a ratio of ten men for one horse. Women were kept in a part of the Jin palace called Huanyiyuan (浣衣院) or offered for public bidding. The 25 year old Empress Zhu committed suicide because she could not bear the humiliation.


This is where the story, the story of the entirety of her nation truly linked up with her destiny/ Now- because she had chosen to follow one of the few remaining stalwart generals of the Song remnants, Liang was brought squarely into the heart of this great (and yet developing conflict) As the Jin horde arrived shortly at the mouth of the Huai river. The only natural barrier that separated the Song heartland of the Henan Province, and the only divide between the millions of Song refugees fleeing south and the half- million murderous horde on their heels.

For Liang- her father's home, and her grandfather's ancestral home in Anhui- merely a prefecture away on the northern bank of the Huai river would be lost to her.

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A NEW HOME

Against this backdrop of national calamity, some members of the Song imperial family, Zhao Gou (who would become the future Emperor Gaozong,) in late 1127 managed to escape down the Grand Canal to Yangzhou in southern China with his entire court where he reestablished the Song dynasty. The transition of imperial capitals and the massive- million people exodus that followed the new imperial court officially marked the beginning of the distinct "Southern Song" period of Song history.


Unlike the flat Northern China Plains and the endless horizon of farmlands in Yellow River basin, Southern China- especially the lands along the Huai and Yantze Rivers are notoriously difficult to traverse for the Jin invaders. Where as they had dominated the north with their massed cavalry that virtually ran unopposed on ideal terrain for such a cavalry charge- Southern China was a morass of uneven hills, jagged mountains and a network of interlinked river and canals. 



It was also the breakwater for many invading armies from the north and a favorite point of resistance for southern defenders. After all, how could anyone forget the great Cao Cao's massive army was once annihilated trying to cross into the south in the Battle of Red Cliff, how could anyone forget that in the hundred years of chaos and disunity, how for centuries nearly all of the steppe- blooded Northern kingdoms broke impotently against this barrier in vain against a resilient south?


Despite the massive early successes of the Jin, their vangard was beaten off by a brilliant Song general, Yue Fei, in a series of running battles. However, despite the critical respite Yue Fei's battles offered, it did little to stymie the southward momentum of the Jin army. Days later, even the Gaozong Emperor himself narrowly escaped capture on horseback, just a few hours ahead of Jin vanguard troops. 

Though the general lack of ships stopped the Jin army along the shores of the Huai river, they were determined to come back. If anything, the Jin court in the north doubled down and immediately sent out a muster call for an even more massive army for the compete subjugation of Southern China. 


THAT NOBLE LADY OF YANG


It seemed to many if not all, from the highest nobles to the thousands of suffering refugees that their escape from the Song heartlands was merely a temporary and ultimately futile flight against the inevitable Jin juggernaut. The whole of the Jin southern army, all quarter million of them was merely two rivers away from the new Imperial capital at Nanjing.

In 1129, while Han Shizhong was stationed in Xiu Prefecture, Liang and her son had to stay behind in the capital.  In Han's absence, two officers Miao Fu and Liu Zhengyan, displeased at the immense power held by the court eunuchs, launched a palace coup.


They overran the palace, massacred all the eunuchs, and ordered the emperor to step down. It was there Liang and her infant son were held hostage with the emperor and the court by Miao Fu and Liu Zhengyan. While Emperor Gaozong was under house arrest, the Premier Zhu Shengfei negotiated with the rebels, pretending to accede to their demands.


In reality, Zhu Shengfei and the Emperess Dowager were stalling for time as they were instructed. Earlier in the midst of all the chaos, Liang Hongyu had not panicked, instead, she came up with an idea. With the consent of Prime Minister Zhu Shengfei and Empress Dowager Longyu, Hongyu went to the rebel leaders. She told them that with her persuasion, her husband would be glad to surrender and his mighty troops would be a valuable addition to the rebels.


They agreed to let her give it a try and sent her off to summon Han Shizhong. Secretly carrying her son on her back, Hongyu galloped out of the capital and reached Xiu Prefecture after a day and a night of riding.


Liang and Han returned with other loyal generals and pacified the revolt. The Emperor welcomed the couple back in person; Liang was rewarded with noble rank of "Noble Lady of Hu Guo" (护国夫人), meaning "Lady Protector of the Nation" plus "The Noble Lady of Yang," and her husband was promoted to "General of the Left Flank of the Imperial Army". These titles- especially her enoffment with the fief of Yang were unique and significant as her titles were uniquely enoffed to her and independent of her husband’s titles, thus she held it in her own right.


Her joy, and the intimacy she garnered from the imperial family would prove to be brief. For in 1129, the Jin renewed their attacks by advancing beyond the Huai River. This time, the Jin had regrouped with a massive invasion force that numbered no less than 100,000, led personally by a Jin Prince named Wuzhu (兀术). Worse yet, this time they have came with their own navy which was numbered in the hundreds. It would be their death blow against the south.




THE JIN JUGGERNAUT

   

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Extremely heavy lamellar armor of a Jin "Iron Pagoda 
horseman" Some historians have referred to these heavy 
cavalry as cataphracts or clibanarii, in reference to their 
near identical appearance to heavy Persian cavalry
from the 4-7th centuries.

So who were the "Jin Dynasty" that we have been referring to? Well, in short, they were a steppe people called the Jurchens who emerged from Manchuria, between the vast northern forests between modern China and Russia.


More detail of the Jin heavy cavalry called "Iron Pagoda Horsemen." They were instrumental in many of the Jin victories, in fact, around this era, they were known to employ a formation where rows of densely packed clibanariis would link heavy chains together to mow down any unfortunate Song infantry caught in their way. Because of the abundance of these iron horsemen, the Song were forced to rely of massed pavised crossbowmen, billmen, two handed swordsmen and firelance troopers armed with primitive guns.


According to tradition, the Jin 金 state was created by the Jurchen tribal chieftain Aguda in 1115. Aguda adopted the term for "gold" 金 as the name of his state, itself a translation of the "Anchuhu" River the ancestral place of the Jurchen people, which meant "golden" in their native tongue.


Genealogically, they were the ancestors of the modern Manchus. In fact, when the 17th century Jurchen Chieftain Nurhaci established his own pan- Jurchen dynasty (that would become the Qing dynasty) he called it the "Later Jin" dynasty as an homage to the territorial greatness of his own Jurchen ancestors.

Initially, both the Song and the Jin were allies. However, with a combination of mutual weariness and the Song court giving asylum to a renegade Jin governor (see above) the alliance ended in 1125 when the Jin invaded southward and eventually captured the Song capital of Kaifeng in 1127.

The Jin virtually doubled in size in 1126, having taken out the Liao dynasty
and then completely displacing the Song armies, taking over key Song heartlands
including the former imperial capital at Kaifeng. By 1129, the stage was set
for a complete sweep to claim all of the south and bring all of 
southern China into the Jin fold. 

In nearly five years, the Jin, who had been upstarts have doubled the size of their empire, had captured the Song heartland and displaced the entire Song court into a massive southern exodus. The Jin, who quickly sensed the logistical nightmare of such a disorganized retreat- promptly organized a massive invasion of the south to utterly crush the demoralized Chinese remnants and claim all of southern China for themselves. 



In the early winter of 1129, after having constructed a massive fleet with conscripted slaves and POWs, the Jin invaders started to swarm down the Yangtze River. In early 1130, after having plujndered every major city along the way unchecked, the 100,000 strong combined invasion force began to dive toward the Song capital of Nanjing.

The southward invasion of the Jin forces from the heartlands of former Song China (Henan, Anhui, Shandong) in the Huai Basin (lightly shaded area) where they sailed downward through Lake Hongze and Lake Gaoyou until the massive fleet converged into the Yantze river. The triangular Yantze- Huai tributary on the right side of the map indicates where the Jin fleet turned westward to besiege the exposed Song capital of Nanjing- located right on the south bank of the Yantze river. 

In march 1130, Han and Liang led their own fleet near the capital in a desperate bid to stymie the enemy advance. A big stand off was imminent. Unfortunately, Han and Liang only had a shoestring detachment of 8,000 men and only no more than 150 ships, in all manners they were far outnumbered by the enemy.

The stage was thus set, 100,000 vs 8,000 right outside the exposed capital.  For the moment, the fate of the emperor, the fate of the entire empire were in their hands.


NAVAL WARFARE OF THE 12TH CENTURY

The two paintings above depicts contemporary Song Junks, the first is by a Japanese artists depicting the crafts used by the Mongols in their failed invasion of Japan. The Chinese Junks were sturdy and from the 2nd century BC - early 19th century the largest ocean going ships in Asia, Unfortunately for Kublai Khan- (and very fortuitous for Japan) the hastily assembled Mongol invasion fleet was largely composed of shallow drafted river junks~ hence their near complete annihilation by the typhoon in both of the invasions. Most of the Jin fleet in 1130 would be composed of similar river going junks. 




THE SONG TRUMP CARDS

During the Song dynasty there were great amount of attention given to the building of efficient automotive vessels known as paddle wheel craft. The latter had been known in China perhaps since the 5th century, and certainly by the Tang dynasty in 784 with the successful paddle wheel warship design of Li Gao. In 1134 the Deputy Transport Commissioner of Zhejiang, Wu Ge, had paddle wheel warships that were so large that they were constructed with a total of nine wheels and others with thirteen wheels on each side of the vessel.

Escalation of riverine warfare in the Song- Jin wars and the Song-Mongol wars. 1st image: An ambush craft/ blockade runner, powered by a crew of paddle rowers. Commonly used as a stealth transport that's launched out at night behind enemy lines (because of their low profile, lack of sails and their ability to sail in bad weather or windless weather independent of any wind. Often they would carry crack troops to be released behind enemy siege lines and supply depots. 

2nd: A heavy Song warship- some have attributed Liang Hongyu's "Tiger Ships" as these trebuchet ships. Although they came into prominence later than this battle, the Song still may have smaller iteration of these destroyers. These ships are heavily fortified like a floating fortress and equipped with 12 paddle wheels on either side, plus a main paddle wheel as its main power. It's five counter weight trebuchets fires lime bombs and fragmentation grenades called "thunder crash bombs."

3rd: "Tower ships" An ancient invention dating all the way to the Han and the Warring States period. Often imperial armies or regional warlords would construct large- multi layered tower ships to patrol the Yantze River and its many tributaries to check aggressive invaders and rebel armies. In the ancient times these ships would have acted as the flagship and drumship of the commanders, by the 12th century, these ships would act as siege ships and crossbow firing platforms. They are frequently depicted with over hundreds of crossbowmen and several counter weight trebuchets above them. Note the jet from a flame thrower in the bow of the ship.


But the greatest advantage presented by the armed paddle boats is that they can virtually ignore all of the effect of the wind and river flow. Thus in the linear and labyrinthine water corridors of the Southern Chinese rivers, they became the fastest ships in any engagement. Often, while their foes are still adjusting to the narrow twist and turns within the great river gorges, the Song would position these crafts in ambush, waiting until the enemy fleet have been slowed down by the elements, or have moored along the shores for respite, then quickly send out these ships to close in and attack with naptha bombs, grenades, and flamethrowers.



FIREPOWER


The true danger of the Song dynasty lies in its deadly gunpowder weapons. If would do well for us to conceptualize the Song dynasty and by extension the Song army as an army of tinkers and siege experts. By the 12th century, the Song army would have been very familiar with such weapons as rockets, to be more precise: massed rocket arrows, firebombs, grenades, land mines, naval mines, rocket bombs, and even rocket flamethrowers.

 
Examples of Song gunpowder weapons from the Houlongjing, or "Fire Drake Manuel," 
1st: a "nest of bees" rocket barrage, useful against unarmored enemy but mostly used by the line infantry to intimidate dense cavalry formations. During this era, the Jin repeatedly used densely packed heavy cavalry to devastating results, sometimes the confident Jin commanders would even chain his horsemen together to "mow" down Chinese formations. But with these weapons, the noise and powder would completely unnerve the Jin horses, giving time for the Song to counter charge them with hook (bill) wielding infanty.

2nd, a multi staged rocket in the sape of a dragon, the first documented use of multi- stage- propulsion rocketry in world history- the very same technology that was used to put an astronaut into space and made the moon landing possible. Often these rockets would have a carved dragon head in its front and would be filled with a bundle of mini rockets/ arrows or have a tube of naptha (napalm) that would be released after detonation. In the straight and narrow river corridors of southern China, these weapon could be blind-fired and be sent toward dense enemy fleet formations. 

3rd, a fire rocket arrow launcher, basically a mini volley of arrows and iron darts that could be deployed in ambush and then quickly fired in succession against an area. In effect, they would act as "mini Hwachas" Very useful in ambushing marching enemy columns.


But the most devastating weapon in this context would be the Song mastery of a continuous jet of fire. The first documented use of a flamethrower in China was the double-piston pump naphtha flamethrower used in 919 CE in China, during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The flamethrower was carefully documented and illustrated in the Chinese military manual known as the Wujing Zongyao, compiled in the 1044. 

 In 919 AD, the siphon projector-pump was used to spread the 'fierce fire oil' that could not be doused with water, as recorded by Lin Yu (林禹) in his Wu-Yue Beishi (吳越備史, "The History of Wu and Yue"), hence the first credible Chinese reference to the flamethrower employing the chemical solution of Greek fire Lin Yu mentioned also that the 'fierce fire oil' derived ultimately from China's contact in the 'southern seas', with Arabian merchants. 


 



But unlike the greekfire used by the Byzantine empire, the Chinese version was able to project out a continuous streak of fire without the need to take an interval to recharge the devise. using a bent "U" shaped double pump, the machine was able to charge itself on one side while the other side fired, thus it will always be able to fire as long as the naptha within was still in abundance. 

Lady Liang's squadron implemented a special type of assault ships called "Tiger Ships" that were all outfitted with these flamethrowers on the ship's prow.'


Daoist magicians performing "spells" using gunpowder, including miracles such as siphoning streams of fire from their fingertips. Historically, they were the first to discover the properties of gunpowder.


RED WATERS, YELLOW SKYS


During the night of the Lantern Festival of 1130, Han led about 8,000 soldiers near Nanjing and built their encampment near Jiaoshan Temple. They arranged their fleet in a semi circle and waited for the Jin fleet to come. 

For the location of the inevitable coming battle, Liang and Han both chose a strategic D shaped inlet in the Yantze river directly north of the Nanjing city called the 黄天荡 Huangtiandang Bulge (Huang tian dang, meaing "Yellow Sky Bend" or "Yellow Sky Bulge") where the river flow became so erratic it seemed to almost move backward during certain time of day. 


Both were confident that the inexperienced Jin sailors would have little luck sailing upward against the downflow of the sea-going Yantze, the twists and turns along the Nanjing shores + the bulge at Huangtiandang would have slowed their advance into no more than a swaying mass of over- congested wooden crates. In these "traffic" waters numbers became a detriment to the hulking Jin fleet.
→ Music: ← Returning the Sword

Night fell, the couple were sleepless, racking their brains to find a strategy that could somehow give them a victory. Then Liang said to her husband, “We cannot win if we fight them head on. How about dividing our troops into three divisions and ambush the enemy from all directions? Let me command near the center to frighten them-

The 黄天荡, or "Yellow Sky Bend" is a D shaped bulge located right northward of Nanjing

-When they come, we will first use our guns, arrows, and catapults so that we can destroy them without them coming close to us. Then, surely the Jin army will try to break my encirclement from the flanks. At that time, you should lead the other two divisions to attack their new flanks according to the signals I give you. I will be in my boat among the middle troops. I will beat the drum and wave the flag. When I beat the drum, your men will move forward. When I stop, your men will stop and take their positions. When I point my flag to the west, you lead them to the west. When I point my flag to the east, your men will charge in the east."  

Battle of Huantiandang: Yellow lines represent Jin fleet movements and initial landing deployments. Red represents Liang and Han's ambush from their staging points. First, Liang would shadow the Jin fleet then suddenly attack them from the vulnerable flank with her tiger ships and trebuchet ships- wrecking as much havoc as they can before the Jin could recover from their confusion and turn their forces around to face her. Then, she would beat her drums, commanding her husband's troops to attack the now turned Jin forces, further confusing them and masking the numerical discrepancy of Song combat forces. 

This map further illustrates the river and the waterways around the Huangtiandang Bulge. The exposed city of Nanjing lay at the lower left corner right below the bulge. It is through the analysation of this battle that we appreciate Lady Liang's complex joint-forces doctrine, as well as her preference to utilize every advantage the Song navy possessed that allowed her to negate the treacherous waters around this natural obstacle. 



Now it was time to sail for battle, Liang sent off her ships and ordered them to shadow the massive Jin fleet. 

Though they were severely outnumbered, they rested their fate on several factors: first~ is that Han's fleet is composed of several ocean going vessels, which allowed the marines to shoot down without too much worries from enemy boarding parties, second is that the more nimble elements of their fleet are geared with the aforementioned paddleships, thus even in the extremely treacherous waters near the bulge, they are utterly unaffected by the difficult currents. Third is that this engagement would see the first deployment of "Tiger Ships," no matter how bad the battle might go for the Song sailors, even at the prospect of dying- at least they are confident they will give their foes a nasty surprise.


On the pre-dawn of April 24, Liang's fleet snuck behind the flanks of the Jin fleet as they were still navigating the unfamiliar waters upward along the Yantze, she watched as the massive flotilla struggled and bumped along the congested flow, as their densely packed numbers actually hampered their progress. They were like a herd of confused and annoyed wooden cows, and its long head mst be somewhere near Huangtiandang, and it is when they began to enter into the twisting gorges that led toward the shores of Nanjing and the Bulge- when they became utterly confused at the treacherous waters that Liang ordered her entire fleet to swiftly close in. 


→ Music: ← Fury, Hammer, and Tongs

Within minutes, Liang's thin lines of ships positioned behind the Jin flotilla. Before the Jin marines fully realized what had happened, the Song fleet had already began with their prearranged bombardment. Bombs- some with a comet like fizzling tails that crackled in all directions, then crashed exploding upon the board. Bombs of all kinds, some were clay pots that shattered then exploded out into a shower of iron darts, others were crackling fragmentation grenades that ripped armor to shreds, others yet were filled with lime dust which rendered the entire ship's crew screaming in shrieking terror,


Just then, behind the massive barrage of bombs and catapults, came a second, more ominous barrage. Even in the dense smoke and wood chips of the initial explosion none could mistaken the sound of thousands of rockets fired simultaneously. Suddenly, the entire river was lit up as endless fire arrows- that were in reality rockets twisted in all directions, careening from ship to ship, then exploding in a resounding pop. To the wounded Jin sailors, it must have seemed that the Song navy was desperately firing blind, as the Jurchen have long dismissed the effectiveness of such weapons. However, none of them- except perhaps the most cunning among them realized that all the sound and fury from these rockets were but a preeamble- a covering screen for something much more sinister than any of them have ever encountered. The thousands of rockets were the light for the Tiger Ships. 


The rockets served two purposes, first it marked the specific locations of the Jin ships, secondly it also rendered the entire crew of the Jin ships- those that are still on-board to scramble for cover rather than retaliate against the encroaching Tiger Ships. 

It was too late, in seconds the entire flank of the Jin fleet was lit up, as long streams of yellow flame gouts covered everything they stuck on. Whether they're wooden panes or men in armor, like the napalm of the Vietnam War, leaping from ship to nearby ship like a fiery plague, whatever it touched it burned, whatever it stuck to it stuck to like a perverse lover, and whatever amount of water poured on it only made it burn harder, brighter. 


But the Jurchen did not know such things, and thousands leapt into the water only to have themselves turned into floating charring pyres.

For what seemed like hours, the Song navy watched the massive pyre burn, watched as even some that have sunken under the waves still burned- ghost lights beneath the black waves. Then, as the wind turned, all heard it. The loud command of Lady Liang's drums.

→ Music: ← Ambush from Three Sides




All the Liang navy would've been familiar signal that boomed across the black waters, soon her drumming were followed by the drummers upon the towers of each war ship, banging in fatal, portentous unison. The rowers picked up their pace, and sang their rowing song in unison, up on the boards, the marine officers inspected their men, while lone soldiers occasional flicked and unflicked their dao sabers to make sure they're ready to kill.


As the ships came closer and closer, subofficers ordered the closing of ship's shielded panes and hatches, on and on the drum beat carried the Liang fleet closer and closer into a full frontal attack, the last streams of fire and the charging ships behind. 


Soon, against the first pale light of dawn there came shouts and the swinging of boarding hooks. All that was left was given to the turning wind.



Dawn arrived, and the situation is not going well for the Jin flotilla, a great potion of their ships have been sunk, and those that have not yet been boarded are panicking and were at risk of routing form the waters. Those who braved through the relentless Song assault braced themselves together in a protective circle,- though paced enough so as to not be collectively ignited by the Tiger Ships. In this manner, the ships essentially "corralled" themselves into a shield ring against attacks from all directions at the expense of any mobility they have left.




Worse yet for the Jin, the narrow D shaped inlets near the Huangtiandang bulge virtually prevented the possibility of any Jin break out further upward along the Yantze River. For all intents and purposes, unless the Jin fleet would risk being destroyed piecemeal through the bulge, they have to seek safety in numbers.

Those ships that have yet been boarded quickly detached themselves and raced toward the corral of ships. In this ever worsening catastrophe, Wuzhu- the Jin Prince, admiral, and overall commander of the Jin invasion ordered that the flotilla reposition themselves. The Jin's own trebuchet ships would race toward the rear to return fire against Liang's fleet, same goes for the heaviest Jin assault ships- which had thus been completely left out of the engagement.

The Jin navy's disastrous failure against the Song navy forced them to form a large  
protective ship- corral which looped over the Huangtiandang and covered the shores
that lead up to Nanjing itself.  

As the massive fleet turned to face Liang, Wuzhu, terrified of another fiery Song ambush- specially against his hundreds of densely packed transports- ordered a desperate all out amphibious assault of the Song capital. Historians may never know the true motivation for his hastily gambit, but some have speculated that he likely did so in hope of taking the entire city as hostage and fortify its shores while waiting for a Jin relief column to dislodge the Song encirclement.


In a dizzy array, the boat- sick men and horses unloaded themselves from the still swaying- poorly anchored ships and trot out onto the shores right out of Nanjing. There were the standard hails of arrows and crossbow bolts, it was a Chinese style siege after all, nothing they haven't seen a dozen times before, and despite some losses, they were on familiar footing again. Rows, then columns began to form in their usual siege orders. All that was left was Prince Wuzhu's order. 

→ Music: ← Warriors of the East

It was not Wuzhu's command they heard. There was that drum again, from the center of the battlefield this time beating faster in a harder rhythm with a much tighter cadence.



Without warning at all, Han's elite cavalry bursted out of two fortified hillocks around the Nanjing outskirts- and before the Jin forces could have realized what had happened, plunged deep into the widely paced- still disorganized enemy formations. Panic- the panic of the sudden appearance of the Song forces in ambush yet again, the panic of the already demoralized amphibious force breaking and dying in mass, plus the panic induced by that damned drumming utterly shattered the Jin forces.


Waves after waves began to collapse and the disembarked army- which numbered in several thousands in an attempt to envelop the city swiftly disintegrated into mobs of fleeing men. Those with enough courage ran with their arms and shields and put up stubborn, but ultimately futile defenses, including Wuzhu and several of his commanders near a mountain temple. Others were cut down by the thousands by Han's cavalry.


All of this carnage would eventual lead to a popular saying of the time, " a hundred thousand lured to a trap, and it takes only eight thousand riders to cut them off." 十萬敵兵來假道,八千驍騎截中流. And just as the Jin amphibious assault crumbled, Liang's drum could be heard again, sending the might of her fleet against the stunned Jin flotilla in the distance.


The mopping up of this battle would went on until evening as small pockets of resistance disintegrated one by one. Wuzhu would have barely managed to reach back to his fleet with only a percentage of his landing forces, and would have lost several important sub- commanders on the battle near the mountain temple, in total, over  50,000 of Jin marines, soldiers, and crew perished that day. The flotilla became the only refuge for the remnant of the Jin army.

THE STALEMATE

The combat phase of the battle ended that day. What happened next two monthes became something quite unique to this historical battle, where the Jin and Song fleet literally formed an actual siege of fleets. With the Song blocking either side of the Huangtiandang Bulge, the Jin flotilla was forced into lockdown in its corral mode. Han's fleet of seagoing vessels were large and stable, and his subordinates made many big iron hooks for dragging rails of the Jin ships. On May 20, the Jin navy started to attack, and within a short time many of the Jin ships were sunk.


For forty-eight days, the Jin fleet could not move, every day they became more desperate to break out of the blockade. During the long wait, situation deteriorated from bad to utterly hellish for the Jin soldiery trapped onboard (what it must have been for them) their own floating (flammable) coffins. They must have guessed that the Song navy had ran out of fuel for their flamethrowers, or else they would have committed another head on assault. They must have also guessed that Han and Liang are running out of soldiers to send against them, but that doesn't make it any easier for them. As steppe nomads and conscripts from the Central Plains, none of them had much experience on water and the ship-sickness is killing them hourly, if not the dwindling amount of grain on each ship, not to mention that they have to endure- let along sleep in the accumulated vomit and barely cleaned defecation for nearly two months- that is if your ship is not suddenly sunken by a lucky trebuchet shot from a Song ship or a Song catapult along the shores.



Worse yet, Han could besiege him again as soon as he gets his hands on a batch of new troopers. Same goes for that damnable Liang's drumming and her refueled Tiger Ships. As the situation became utterly hopeless, even Wuzhu even sent messengers to the Chinese commanders and offered bribes to beg for mercy. But Han and Liang rejected all talks of such negotiations. It seemed they were commited to burn the entire fleet to the bottom of the river and thus far they were content to starve out the crew before his reinforcements arrived.

THE NARROW ESCAPE


The Jin commanders- now at their breaking point resorted to part a large portion of their previous loot to bribe a Song local to reveal to them a nearby river that happened to run parallel with the Yantze River and ultimately ran back into the Huai River to the Central Plains. Having slowly maneuvered their flotilla near that point on the river, the Jin would send out nightly "raids" of diggers to slowly, night by night dig a man-made canal that would allow the fleet to slip away. At the canal's completion, the Jin commanders calculated that they must sally out to cause enough havoc so the rest of their flotilla could ran the course of the canal and escape northward.


Thus, on the 48th day, Wuzhu lit up a dozen of his smaller ships- packed with kindling and gunpowder and ran those demolition ships straight into Han's sitting fleet, as Han and Liang reacted to the battle, the Jin forces bombarded them with many fire arrows which burned the sails of many of Han's ships- causing chaos among the Song fleet. Just then, right when the Song ships were still distracted trying to put out their blazing fires, the Jin fleet raced full speed into the canal's narrow passage. The Jin fleet- although large, was largely composed of smaller- river borne ships, while Han's fleet were let by sea-going vessels thus unable to enter the canal at all- allowing the Jin to barely run away.


Even so, the Jurchens was checked by General Yue Fei and almost entirely routed before they get back to Jin territory. The supposed death blow against the Song Remnants would end in a total disaster for the Jurchens. In the years to come, the Jin would wage a twenty- year long near- constant state of war to subjugate the Southern Song dynasty, but unlike the year 1130, no Song army hence would ever be so unmanned or under-supplied. In each of the subsequent engagements with the Jin, the Song would utilize variations of the tactics and inventions employed in this historical battle. The first, and perhaps the most momentous battle since the massive Song exodus was over.

→ Music: ← Shu Requiem by Henry Lai



POLITICAL AFTERMATH

Because the decisive nature of this battle, the Southern Song would not only survive, but endure. Though in terms of military strength the Jin still vastly surpassed the Song remnants, the Battle of Huangtiandang effectively sent the Jin forces into remission. Having secured their foothold in the south, the Song court formally entrenched itself- and with time, a sense of norm returned to its beleaguered people.

Southern Song painting of toy peddlers and fawning children that chase after the cart.


Perhaps the most surprising to them was that Song China would resurge after this. Yes, the Jin would continue its endless southern ventures, but in the decades following Huangtiandang, strong and daring generals like Yue Fei, Zhang Jun, and our Han Shizhong would time and time again annihilate continual Jin invasions and make Southern China a virtual fortress against steppe agression for centuries to come- including against the coming of the Mongols a century later.  


It would be critical to point out, that in the next 40 years of struggle, the de facto border would remain demarcated at the Huai and Yantze Rivers.

In the twenty years to come, Jin forces would be stymied by the strongly fortified cities and the nighmarish canal-intersected rivers of southern China.

Three decades later, another Jurchen invasion, led by another Jin Prince named Wanyan Liang (the Prince of Hailing) also failed to conquer the Southern Song. In 1161, gunpowder bombs and paddle wheel crafts were used effectively by General Li Bao at the Battle of Tangdao and the Battle of Caishi along the Yangtze River against the Jin. In fact, the Song paddle ship navy would be a permanent obstacle to Jin ambition to conquer the Southern Song.


It would be critical to point out, that in the next 40 years of struggle, the de facto border would remain demarcated at the Huai and Yantze Rivers. The Battle of Huangtiandang not only stopped the most dangerous Jin southern thrust at the most critical time of Song dynasty's history, but also- as the later history would point out, gave the time needed to shore up a semi- permanent border of defenses.

This long duel would finally end some forty years after Huangtiandang when the Jin court formally acknowledged the legitimacy of its southern rival and offered to normalize diplomatic relations. By then- the Southern Song had long proved it's here to stay. However, most of our heroes, many of the warriors who fought in this battle would have not lived to see that day.



OUR HEROES

As with before in aiding the Emperor from the palace coup, the couple was warmly received by the Emperor fresh after their victory at Huangtiandang. Both were promised promotions and additional titles, but in private, the Emperor was reported to have asked Lady Liang of her opinion toward the outcome of the battle- and her thoughts about her husband's conduct. Knowing that- though Huangtiandang was initially a victory, Han- as the overall commander of the battle did fail to destroy the enemy fleet and allowed them to slip past his watch.



Liang knew that in the rigid morality of the army- Han should be punished for such an oversight- any literallist of the law would have demanded it, Liang had also heard that there are some officers who have spread the rumor that Han was blind drunk at the time of the Jin fleet's escape, Liang argued thusly to the Emperor. First: she spoke as a woman of the army and an officer- she conceded that her husband should be subjected to fair punishment as the failure demanded. Then, speaking as a dutiful wife and the mother of Han's son, and co- contributor to such a failure, she begged the Emperor for his forgiveness.

The Emperor simply laughed and confessed he had never blamed Han nor Liang for any so called failures, and that he was merely asking in a tongue-and-cheek manner. However, he went to to further state that though initially he was jesting, he was doubly (and unexpectedly) impressed by her dutiful reply and moral arguments.


Flushed after further promotions, Liang and Han would spend the next five years fighting the Jin invaders. Liang and Han rebuilt the fortress of Chuzhou and increased its defense. They and their soldiers also worked on the rebuilding of local peasant's houses and the planting of fields.

In 1131, tradition has it that Liang was stationed at Zhun'an when her troops ran low on supplies. By chance, she saw horses feeding on the stem of the calamus plant. She was able to solve the food supply problem with the calamus, and the local people named the plant the 'Jin resistance vegetable'. In addition to training troops with her husband, Liang also created and trained an all-female corps that accomplished many feats in the battles to come.


THE END

Unfortunately, it was also here that conclusive information in regards to Lady Liang's later life became somewhat divergent. It is truly tragic, that despite Lady Liang's great achievements, -achievements that were not only lauded by the historians and the common people, the details of her life looked something in the shape of a vertical ellipse- where the beginning and the end were shrouded in darkness, only the middle remained- proportional to her distance from the imperial capital where the court officials kept such detailed records. It seemed she came out of obscurity, flashed suddenly, and was gone before we- her audience are truly ready for it.



But one can look at her story it in a positive light as well. Looking at the same set of factors one can also argue that- like all people who had contributed greatly to world history, like all who imparted meaning and change, like all who were- men (women) of action, she was history, change, and action all in one. She was the right person right when her own nation needed her the most. She was there, at the climax of a life and death struggle of millions, where the honor, freedom, survival, and the very soul of her nation was in her and her husband's hands, inextricably linked with the fate of her people. Yes, her narrative may be the shape of a vertical ellipse- but what an ellipse it was! The height of that fatal strife in the face of certain doom, she was there and she was beating drums so loud that the 8,000 of her own, the 100,000 invaders, and the entire imperial capital all knew that she was there. If that's not a mark on history, I don't know what is.

There are three versions of Lady Liang's later life. For academic purposes we should only give credence and precedence to contemporary consensus about our Lady Liang. Thus~ I should began and continue from the least credible to the most agreed-upon. Don't worry though, the most agreed-upon is also the most memorable of the pack.


The least agreed upon version stated that after a decade of successful raids and military postings, Lady Liang retired with her Husband after the Song court persecuted and executed their mutual friend, General Yue Fei on a trumped up charge. Eventually the Southern Song court initiated a massive purge of its own generals- generals that had saved the dynasty a decade earlier, against such a backdrop of paranoia, both returned to Chuzhou and lived a private life together, Liang would spend the rest of her days training her son Han Liang until she died of old age in 1151, her husband would follow in her footsteps only a month later. There are several holes to this narrative as many contemporary chronicles have failed to point out that Liang was still alive around this time, in fact, few of the documents have straight up hinted that Lady Liang had died in an earlier date. It seemed this tradition emerged because Han had historically died in 1151, thus this narrative effectively pegged Liang's fate with her husband's demise to tie up the ending of their lives. Sentimental and some what boring though many academics have dismissed this theory.


The second version stated that Liang died of sickness while following Han's tour in 1131, barely a year after the battle and her promotions. This version maintained that she failed to recover and instructed her soldiers to fight on after her death. Although the subdued nature (and the stark abruptness of such a narrative) did lend some credence to her fate- after all, many historical figures HAVE indeed died of sudden illnesses, even titans like Alexander, Attila and Tamerlane, many contemporary documents did not agree with both the date and the nature of her condition. Many of the accounts from 1131-1135 seemed to still referred to the Lady of Yang and her activities in the Jin- Song front. Not to mention their reference of "her heroic death in combat."



Which leads us to the third version of her death- it's certainly both the most flamboyant and the most grotesque. During her deployment in the Chuzhou area, from 1131- 1135 Liang led many campaigns against the Jin. She won nearly every battle, and became quite feared among her enemies. Thus, a bounty was put on her head by the Jurchens. In order to retaliate against her, the Jin army set up an ambush.



On October 6th, 1135, Liang led a raid on one of their supply caravans. This was a trap, and her warriors soon had to face enemy forces that severely outnumbered them. She led the charge against the enemy, but was pierced with the arrows. Then, in trying to detach herself from a line of enemy bill men (pole hooks) one of the bills slashed open her abdomen and ripped opened inches of her intestines. Realizing that this would be her final battle. Lady Liang did her best to bandage up her wound and remounted and charged again in the direction of the enemy formation. After being shot with several more arrows Liang fell from her horse and died.


She was promptly beheaded and the victorious soldiers would march off with their prized trophy upon a long pike or a cattle prod. What was written next in no less than five sources is both chilling and sensationalized and may have been perpetuated by the Song court to stoke retalitary hatred against the Jurchens. It was said that due to the high reward for the proof of her death, the Jurchens fought over her, cutting her headless body to halves and separate limbs to split the money and accolades.

In order to dishearten the many (hidden) Song loyalists still under the yokes of Jin control, who might be inspired by her example, her head was put on public display in the city center of Huaibei, suspended from a rope from a tall red pole for three days. Thousands came to see the head of the famous (infamous) Lady Liang. Then, as fate would have it, Wuzhu, after having heard what the local governor's soldiers have done became outraged at their conduct and promptly ordered that the fallen Liang be treated as an honorable warrior rather than the lowest of criminal. By his orders, she was stitched up by the Jurchen and sent back to the Song courts for burial. She was posthumously awarded the title “The Heroic and Valiant Lady of Yang” by the Song Emperor, as well as given a funeral of the highest honor, and a temple built in her name.


→ Music: ← Longing (Erhu)

Han would mourn her for the rest of his life- and although he had been the fortunate one in this conflict, what fate would have in store for him might not have been any better than his wife. Han would dedicate the rest of his life protecting the Song front, fighting in no less than several dozen of battles and rear guard actions against many Jin invasion forces. Despite his endless services, he would also live to see the very Emperor he and Liang saved kill one of his best friends, the fellow general- and national hero Yue Fei with trumped up charges, he would see nearly all of his comrade commanders die either in a decade long purges or die unaided on the frontlines. The dynasty that he saved- that he hoped would be better than the paranoid- neglectful Northern Song that spawned devils like Fang La, had lived again in all its corruption in its Southern incarnation.


His last act in office was a direct disobedience- where he neglected an imperial edict to arrest Yue's family, and instead escorted the Yue Family to safety far away from the Imperial reach. It was said that before Han died he became a sullen, bitter man, drunk and utterly blasphemous, lamenting the fate of his comrades. People often saw Han riding a donkey along the West Lake, take a bottle of wine, sit, and sprinkle a bit of it upon Yue and other comrade's grave, regardless of the weather; be it rain or snow. When he died in 1151. he ordered his body buried next to Liang Hongyu's grave.

They were buried together at Lingyan Mountain in Suzhou. Today, a shrine to Liang Hongyu still stands in Zhun'an.




LEGACY


Among the pantheon of Chinese women warriors, Liang Hongyu is remembered not as a heroine of the Amazon type (in the case of Fu Hao) nor a lifelong soverign Queen (in the case of Lady Xian). In the eyes of the Chinese, she was often depicted as both a dutiful soldier and a virtuous wife.

In a legend recreated in a recent Beijing Opera, she is depicted as trying tenderly to persuade her husband to let her fight side by side with him. In another episode of the opera, she is found in great agony, being pulled by the general in her that had to punish her own husband because of his offence and by the wife inside that could never bear doing it. Probably that is why her popularity could endure a male-dominant culture for ages.


Ballad of Liang Hongyu: Beijing Opera

For all her heroism, she did not break loose from the traditional bounds set for a woman: getting married and producing heirs to her husband. Another reason that she could be accepted by her contemporaries is that in the face of foreign foe, patriotism may well have overridden the society’s concern over her venture into the male’s world of combat. In fact, the model she set is even contemporarily significant: a successful woman that is a good mother and husband at the same time.


Most interesting is the fact that Chinese of all generations have been tolerant of her brief experience as a courtesan- be they the conservative Nationalists or the ultra- liberal Communists. It could be it was generally understood that back in those days that being a courtesan might be the only means for a young woman to survive when all others ways of existence had been exhausted.


Above: Liang "constrained" in her role as a courtesan, with chains 
binding her freedom, 2nd: Liang liberated as a woman general.

→ Music Epilogue, the Eternal Empire

The story of Liang was renewed from generation to generation, often to a fervent level whenever China was endangered by a foreign invader, when the Mongols invaded the Southern Song, her story was renewed by the frightened Song subjects, when the Ming was endangered of falling to the Manchu horde in the 1600s, her story was again revived and retold. Her story lived as a symbol of native resistance during the 3 century of Manchu Qing rule- the fact that the Qing themselves having been the descendants of the Jurchens made her story extra poignant. Finally, when the new Chinese Republic challenged, and toppled the Manchus, the first wave of Chinese feminists and nationalists were chanting her story. Even today, the story of Liang Hongyu- "Red Jade" remained popular among both the Chinese Communists and the Chinese Nationalists in Taiwan. On the legal tender for the People's Republic of China's 50 yuan, the coin bears a motif depicting the Beijing Opera "Liang Hongyu" where an image of a beautiful woman in a Beijing opera costume is standing at the center, beating a drum, the banners on her back indicating her status as a field commander.




Comments

Old Beast said…
Source for Liang's Death in battle:

《英烈夫人祠记》原文:
梁氏数战金军于山阳,宿迁,皆胜。于是意少懈。八月丁卯,率轻骑袭金人粮道,遇伏。金以精兵铁浮图十倍围之。梁氏身被数创,腰腹为敌刃割裂,肠流三尺,忍 痛纳回,以汗巾裹腹。知不免,乃顾左右曰:“今日报国”。语毕再突敌阵。敌矢如雨,猬集甲上。梁氏血透重甲,入敌阵复斩十数人,力尽落马而死。金人相蹂践 争其首级,裂其五体,后得其首者进两阶,得其四肢者进一阶。

梁氏既死,金人曝其胴于淮市三日,函其首以报北国,金帝命悬于都门。兀术闻之,感其忠勇,敛梁氏遗体,遗世忠。拼合之际,验梁氏全尸,创伤数十,致命者七,皆在身前也。世忠大恸。朝廷闻讯大加吊唁,诏赐银帛五百匹两,追封“英烈杨国夫人”。立祠。

翻译:
梁红玉数次在山阳、宿迁等地打败金军,于是有些大意起来。(绍兴五年,1135)农历八月丁卯日,她率轻骑袭击金人粮道,中了金兵的埋伏。被金军用十倍兵力的铁浮图(重甲兵)包围。突围中梁红玉多处负伤,腰腹部被敌军的兵器割破,肠子流出三尺,她忍痛将肠子塞回腹腔,用汗巾将腹部简单包扎。梁红玉自知今天无法幸免,于是对左右说:“今日报国”。说罢再次冲入敌阵。敌军的箭如雨下,集中在她的盔甲上,将她射得像个刺猬。梁红玉的鲜血浸透了身上的铠甲,冲入敌阵又杀死十几名敌人。最终寡不敌众,力尽落马而死。死后金军为了抢功互相践踏,争夺她的首级,导致她的尸体被肢解。最后得到梁红玉的人头的金兵升了两级,得到她一节肢体的升一级。

梁红玉牺牲后,金兵将其无头碎尸在淮市口暴尸示众三日,将她的首级放入盒子里送到北方报功。金国皇帝下令将梁红玉的首级挂在首都的城门上示众。金兀术听到梁红玉阵亡的过程,感念其忠勇,收敛了梁红玉的遗体,送还给韩世忠。在将梁红玉的尸体拼合起来的过程中,验看她的全身,发现数十处伤口,致命伤有七处,都是生前(或译身体正面)所受的。韩世忠悲恸欲绝。朝廷闻讯大加吊唁,(赵构)下诏赐银帛五百匹两,追封梁红玉为“英烈杨国夫人”。为她建立祠堂纪念。

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