The Punisher, the Breaker of Armies Yue Fei: 岳飞 2. Homefront

Music: ← Red Lotus Theme

The realm had fallen, the capital and the entire government fell with it. The emperor was taken as hostage, along with his court of ministers. All corner of the empire was plunged into an information paralysis. There was no one to give the orders, there was no one to rely on. All must fend for themselves in the coming storm of total war. Only a defiant southern metropolis survived, a lone final bastion: a hasty new capital against the oncoming invincible foe.

All that's stood between the destroyers and the last remnants of the near vanquished people was a stubborn general and a ragtag resistance army of die-hard patriots. An army that (in their distant undreamed future) would not only expel the invaders, repeatedly save the realm, but also one day see themselves back on the very fields of their old homes, beneath the walls of their old capital in a climactic duel of empires. It was all or nothing and at its center was an undefeated general vowing to reclaim it all back- just as he vowed on the tattoo bearing his oath on his naked back.

It all sounded very...Hollywood, with equal parts Red Dawn, the Patriot, Braveheart, or video games like Killzone, Gears of War, and Homefront. The same cliched story sparks of the coming of foriegn oppressors, an invincible army of darkness, the valiant resistance of freedom loving patriots, the path to glorious reclamation, and a heroic mano-a-mano duel of champions.

His story might rings the same familiar beats of a Tom Clancy novel or the script of a Metal Gear Solid game. But this is very much the real story of the historical Yue Fei. Rest assured, his story will end with a duel, and settle the long paradox.of what happens between an immovable force and an unstoppable object. Rest assured also- that though the form is similar, the pathos at the end will be rather different to perhaps everything you know. Until now, Yue Fei's story has only been progressing parallel to the fate of his nation: in tandem, yes, but also insignificant.

But in this coming conflict, we well see how through skills and cunning, he comes to not only the forefront of the conflict but also at the forefront of two dueling empires. This chapter, we will cover the staggering rapid success of the invading Jin army- and bear witness to the grim fate that befell the general's nation.


In the year before Yue Fei (who was barely more than a recruit) was forced to return to the front, the Jin- declares war against the Song dynasty and dispatches two armies. Banking on the possibility that the Song armies were weak enough to be destroyed, the Jurchens made a sudden and unprovoked full scale attack into the Song dynasty's spine. Under their veteran general Prince Wuzhu launched a massive invasion into Yue Fei's homeland in Henan with his cavalry which numbered nearly 100,000. Charging at the head of his eastern army, Wuzhu breached into Central Plains and forced the 3,000 Song boarder defenders to surrender. The Song were not expecting an invasion and were caught off guard. The western Jin army, led by Wanyan Zonghan, departed from Datong and headed south towards Taiyuan through the mountains of Shanxi, intending to capture the Song's secondary capital at Luoyang.

Music: ← Beifong's Sacrifice

The tenacious Song defenders at Taiyuan fortress held out long enough for a full month so the western army was not able to breach from west into Luoyang, but it wasn't enough, to the east there wasn't any resistance against Wuzhu's cavalry fist at all. By the end of December 1125, the Jin army had seized control of two prefectures and re-established Jurchen (Jin Dynasty) rule over the Sixteen Prefectures. The Jurchen forces reached the Yellow River on January 27, 1126, two days after the New Year. Wuzhu's Eastern Army reached the Yellow River and attempted to cross, but the Song forces had already set the pontoon bridges on fire. In a suicidal brave charge, the Jin officer Helusuo (合魯索) led 70 horsemen to cross the river at a shallow point and killed 500 Song ill- prepared soldiers who were burning the bridges. The path to the heartland of China was wide open.

Having secured a bridgehead at the most vital crossing into central China, the Jin hurled southeastward and arced straight for the Song Capital of Kaifeng (Known then as Bianjing, but for the sake of clarity, we will be referring the city by its modern name of Kaifeng.) All of the Song heartland, the breadbasket of the empire vital to the survival of northern China was disrupted. In only weeks Wuzhu was on the outskirts of Kaifeng itself. Like a lightning bolt, Wuzhu led 100,000 and flanked and isolated the Song capital with the full might of the Jin hammer blow. Fearing the approaching Jin army, Song emperor Huizong planned to retreat south, but because IF the sitting emperor was seen to desert the capital- it would have been viewed as an act of capitulation and a major blow to both the morale and the legitimacy of the sitting government, court officials convinced him to abdicate and let his son deal with the fallout. Huizong fled Kaifeng the next day.

The inner and outer city of the Song Capital of Kaifeng (known then as Bianjing)

There was also an effective use of Song Chinese war machines in the defense of Kaifeng in 1126, as it was recorded that 500 catapults hurling debris were used. As Jin forces officially besieged Kaifeng with their full forces, the Song dynasty slowly realized the futility to break out of the siege and agreed to cede most of its northern territories to the Jin dynasty in return for peace. The Song would submitted to Jin as an inferior vassal; forfeited the prime minister and an imperial prince as prisoners; cede most of its north and offered an indemnity of 50 million taels of silver, 5 million taels of gold, 1 million packs of silk, 1 million packs of satin, 10,000 horses, 10,000 mules, 10,000 cattle, and 1,000 camels. This monstrous indemnity was worth about 180 years of the annual gifts the Song had been paying to the Jin since 1123. After the conclusion of their victory, the Jurchen army ended the siege on March 5 after 33 days of siege back to their fortress in Yanjing (燕京; at present-day Beijing in the 16 provinces). 


Of the father and son Huizong and Qinzong, both were weak and inept rulers that made a series of fatal mistakes which not only ruined the Song state but ruined both of them as well. Of Huizong, although he was a terrible ruler, he was also one of medieval China's finest painters and calligraphers (far surpassing that of professional masters in his craft.)

But this was a ruse, the treasures and tributes had replenished Jin coffers, and even as the Jin pulled back, they were already planning and regrouping for another devastating blow. Just as well, for the Song too, were preparing to backstab the departing barbarians to avenge themselves from this debacle. 

When the Jin armies had left Kaifeng, in June the new Emperor Qinzong reneged on the deal and dispatched two armies to repel the Jurchen troops attacking Taiyuan (which even then still have not fallen and still proclaimed loyalty to the Song, and still- if reinforced, have a chance to win.) It should be point out, though hostility have concluded, if this trapped army behind enemy lines should fall: they would be slaughtered or enslaved as rebels rather than Song subjects. Whatever fighting capability they have, whatever threat they may still pose to the invaders would be abandoned to Jin slavers and executioners. Qinzong also ordered to swiftly bolster the defenses of Zhongshan and Hejian. However, the two army of 90,000 soldiers and 60,000 were defeated by Jin forces by the end of the month. A second expedition to rescue Taiyuan was sent but also unsuccessful. 


In the eighth month of the same year in 1126, the Jin would launch another invasion and Wuzhu would spearhead another plunge into the heartland of the Song territories. Again the Jin again divided their troops into two armies. Wuzhu, who had withdrawn from Taiyuan after the Kaifeng agreement and left a small force in charge of the siege, came back with his western army. After the defeat to reestablish contact with the north, the desperate Qinzong wanted to negotiate a truce with the Jin, but he committed a massive strategic blunder when he commanded his remaining armies to fan out and protect the various prefectural cities instead of Kaifeng itself. Thus, when the Jin army returned, the whole of Kaifeng was staffed with fewer than 100,000 soldiers. The Song forces were dispersed throughout central China, powerless to form a unified line of resistance. Overwhelmed, Taiyuan fell in September 1126, after 260 days of siege. The Jin proved themselves to be innovative siege masters during this battle as they employed 30 catapults and over fifty carts protected by rawhide and sheets of iron plating so that Jin troops could be ferried to the walls safely to fill in Taiyuan city's defensive moat.

To the total horror of the Song it was during this point that Wuzhu and his cousin Wolibu (斡離不; Wanyan Zongwang), the Right Vice-Marshal (右副元帥) unleashed and deployed thousands of a new secret shock troop they have been testing and perfecting. Wuzhu would deploy thousands of his best lancers and encase them in some of the heaviest armor the far east would have ever seen: His Iron Pagoda Horsemen. For a more detailed read out about these elite cavalry and a long biography of Wuzhu, please check out my previous two articles on them both respectively. 

The Iron Pagodas were completely armored from head to toes in heavy lamellar armor- with only their eyes and hands exposed, some historians have referred to these heavy cavalry with the Greco-Roman terms of "cataphracts" or "clibanarii," in reference to their near identical appearance to heavy Persian cavalry from the 4-7th centuries. Their horses were also completely encased in armor as well, covered on all sides with thick barding of lamellar plates and padded cotton.


When considering that these horsemen would be deployed in astoundingly large numbers, usually ranging from 3,000 to 6,000- compare them to western knights who were rarely ever deployed in units which numbered little more than a few hundred at most- their effectiveness and the deadliness of their charge became sharply apparent. Added to the fact that each wings of Iron Pagodas would be also supplemented with nimble horse archers, they were not only a danger as a single wedge but also devastating as a crescent shaped formation.


During the intense operations throughout 1126-1127, where the Song desperately attempted to hold on to their imperial heartlands against relentless waves of Jin onslaught. The Song had extreme difficulties in dislodging the Iron Pagodas, which were likened to arrow-proof wall of death.

By December, the victorious the victorious Jurchen army that captured Taiyuan arrives in Kaifeng. To utterly subdue the Song heartlands and capture the Song capital, Wuzhu personally led five thousand "Crutched Horse"- cavalry archers and a thousand Iron Pagodas to the Central Plains along with the 150,000 of his cousins forces. After a series swift Jin victories, again, all the cities that laid between the Jin borders and the Song capital were taken by Wuzhu's forces. Wuzhu and his cousin Wolibu then promptly encircled the beleaguered Song capital. Although the Song were equipped with fragmentation grenades, bombs, explosive mines and flamethrowers, Kaifeng was quickly breached.

The Jin assault commenced on mid December 1126. The Jin used siege towers taller than Kaifeng's walls in order to lob incendiary bombs into the city. The besieged city was captured by the Jurchens in less than two months. On January 9, 1127, the Jurchens broke through and started to loot the conquered city. Emperor Qinzong tried to appease the victors by offering the wealth of the capital. The royal treasury was emptied and the belongings of the city's residents were seized. The Song emperor offered his unconditional surrender a few days later. Wuzhu and Wolibu's forces would conquer the imperial Song capital of Kaifeng and rather than one Emperor, the Jin would have captured two Song emperors- the retired Emperor Huizong and the sitting Emperor Qinzong and would proceed to enslave of the whole of their trapped royal court. 

→ Music: ← The Greatest Change


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. According to The Accounts of Jingkang, on 20 March 1127,  Jin troops looted the entire imperial library and the treasuries in the palace. Jin troops also abducted and enslaved all the female servants and imperial musicians, including over 600 young girls younger than 13. 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, Wuzhu ordered that two women of noble rank be given to each of his soldiers as slaves. 

Recorded in the Accounts of Jinkang, the Imperial Concubine Zhao Fujin, along with Concubines Xu Shengying, Yang Diao'er and Chen Wenwan are hereby bestowed upon a Jin Princeling. For eight pieces of gold, a Jin soldier purchased a singer who had been a prince's granddaughter, prime minister's daughter-in-law, and minister's wife. The "maiden martyrs" Madame Zhang and Madame Cao resisted the Second Prince's pretensions (Wanyan Zongchao, Wuzhu's commander,) they were impaled with metal rods and placed in front of a tent where they bled to death for three days. On the 7th day of the month, the other concubines for forced to enter the stockade. The prince used the gibbetted example of Madame Zhang and Cao as a warning. Thus, frightened they all begged for their lives. To avoid captivity, rape and subsequent slavery under the Jin horde, thousands of women committed suicide and were not buried for weeks while the capital was looted.

The rest of the captives were force marched to the Jin capital in Manchuria, over 14,000 people, including the Song imperial family, went on this journey, many never made it. They were divided into seven groups when the march commenced. The first group, composed of imperial family members and nobles, contained 2,200 males and 3,400 females and departed on the 27th day of the third month from the Qingcheng stockade. When it arrived in Yanshan on the 27th day of the following month, just over 1,900 females survived. Nearly a fourth of all who had departed died on the forced march.

Upon arrival, each person had to go through a Jurchen ritual where the person has to be naked and wearing only sheep skins. Naked Princes and great lords- including the two former Emperor were sold into slavery in exchange for horses with a ratio of ten men for one horse. Women, especially former Song princesses, were kept in a part of the Jin palace called the "Laundry Hall" (浣衣院) (or more sinisterly, also the exact homonym of "Hall of Wet Dresses") and violated or offered for public bidding. Several concubines were killed or died right within this hall. The 25 year old Empress Zhu committed suicide when she was told that she would have to undergo the same humiliation.

The mechanical clock tower designed by Su Song and erected in 1094 was also disassembled and its components carted back north, along with many clock-making millwrights and maintenance engineers that would cause a setback in technical advances for the Song court. According to the contemporary Xia Shaozeng, other war booty included 20,000 fire arrows that were handed over to the Jurchens upon taking the city.


All of it, all of the calamity had been easy for the invaders. It should be pointed out- that since the founding of the Jin dynasty in 1114, it would have effortlessly destroyed two giant neighboring empires and captured a total of three rival Emperors (1 Liao and 2 Song) in merely 13 years, the favor of Heaven- it would have seemed, was upon them. The Jin leadership had not expected nor desired the sudden and effortless fall of the Song dynasty. Their intention was to weaken the Song in order to demand more tribute, and they were utterly unprepared for the magnitude of their victory. To them, it would seem they had become an unstoppable force.


For the victorious Jurchen invaders in 1127, they were faced with a rather peculiar situation. And it was one of the rare instances in history where having won too much and in such a spectacular manner actually became a hindrance and a fatal problem. The best adage to describe the Jin would be one that was attributed in reference to the Roman Republic, "They had carved out an empire by accident." 

As of 1127, the ascension of the Jin had been nothing less than meteoric, they were able to cast off their former overlords, drive then off completely, take away their lands, and imprison their emperor. And when they felt cheated by their new southern neighbor that's several times their size, to also within the same decade take away all of their heartlands, capture their capital, and steal away not one but 2 emperors but also a whole court of ministers and noble women as spoils. They had sucked the narrow as well as the soul of the Song in one fell swoop. 

The Jin dynasty in 1142, Flashforward, although in 1127 the Jin were thoroughly uninterested
in occupying much of China Proper and Northern China Plains, they would eventually come 
back and resettle their tribesmen in much of the Chinese heartlands. By 1142 they would 
have held all of the lands from Siberia and the Pacific Coast of modern Russia to 
the south of Henan- demarcated at Huai River which would for a full century 
act as the boarder btw the Jin and the Song.

In 15 years since their founding from mere landless hunters and herders, by 1127 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.

But as they celebrated their victory, their unimaginable (including human) spoils and looked around, they must have came to a rather nagging realization...What happens now? They were an elite, but foreign people who had penetrated too deeply into the heartland of a huge mob of riled up native population. Despite their easy victories (in smashing inept armies,) in terms of numbers, even with their whole race in Manchuria they were but 10% against 90% of the Han and other local ethnic groups. They were surrounded, they were understaffed, worse yet, they were completely incapable of inheriting the complex Song administration. Song China in 1120 already has roughly twice (118 million) the total population of Europe at the time (65) million. The thankless nightmare of being responsible for all of them was something they were neither prepared for nor wanted. 

They can't feed the locals, locals have no government to turn to, locals will starve, locals will blame the Jurchens, starved peasants will form huge mobs of rebellions, and all of them outnumbers the Jin. And if push come to shove, they certainly could push the Jin out first because the Jurchens themselves were the ONE single group of people all the locals hated above everyone else. It was only a matter of time before an unwinnable fight began and have the Jin be attacked from all sides. 

So as to say, despite the Jurchen's status as successful raiders, looters, conquerors, there's still not a fair chance in hell they could really keep these lands in Henan as theirs- not without putting down endless rebellions with forces and resources that they simply don't have. On top of these elements, they never originally had the intention of inheriting the responsibilities to govern the natives either. Beyond all of those practical limitations that would prevent their total control of the region, another factor creeped in. 

Namely, if the Song Emperors WERE the government, what happens when you ended and have already disbanded the government? If you want to make peace with the local population, who's there to represent the Song remnant and make peace to? What happens when the illusion of control and unity be stripped away from a disgruntled populace? 


The Jin's solution was simple and conservative. Make a new puppet state to impose order on the native population. The whole area from Henan to Jiangnan, overlapping the territories of Hunan and Hubei all the way to where Nanjing is today. It was named 大楚 "Great Chu," they would inherit old Kaifeng and rule from Nanjing, they would pay annual tributes nonrthward to the Jin, and they would repress and oppress their own people while serving as a buffer state to any neighboring Chinese polities that might emerge from the south. 

Effectively, the Jin had adopted the age old Chinese strategem of "Using barbarians to control barbarians," except this time, they- the barbarian overlords, where appointing Chinese puppets to control other Chinese. If all of southern China were ever to decent into a chaotic battle for supremacy, this paper tiger would at least function like a human shield...that regularly paid tributes.

On April 20th 1127, the Jurchens installed a former Song official, Zhang Bangchang (張邦昌; 1081–1127), as the first puppet emperor of Great Chu.  The offer of enthronement was too attractive for Zhang to resist, but he had reservations about his new role. Jiankang, modern Nanjing, became the capital of Chu. The support of Empress Dowager Yuanyou, who was dismissed as Empress by her former spouse Emperor Zhezong (Elder brother of the captured Huizong and uncle of Qinzong) was enlisted to bolster the legitimacy of the puppet government.

The puppet state would be composed mostly of former Song generals who had either surrendered or surrendered to the Chu regime. Its court would be mostly staffed by various provincial ministers that had not sent north in the death march. For the time being, they were all the Song remnants could bow their head to (and cut down if they should rise that head too high.) Finally, satisfied with their loot and the new security provided by the newly consecrated Chu state, the Jurchen horde marched northward to enjoy their spoils. But if they thought they had truly subdued the natives, they were dreadfully mistaken. 


→ Music: ← Liu Bang's Army

For them, Henan was nothing, it was but a rich mark for loot and easy source of slaves, but for the locals, it was something else entirely.  For them, Henan was homefront. When the first series of rebellions against Jin rule would erupt out in 1128, the Jin would not only come back, but slaughter hundreds of thousands in retaliation.

In all, millions would be driven off from the Central Plains forever. But one of the outraged locals would one day return and take it all back- not for him but for the memory of the Song and his countrymen. 

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