Monday, November 21, 2016
Battlefield Royal Profile: Princess Pingyang of China
He had earlier married Pingyang to the son of the Duke of Julu, Chai Shao and when he determined to rise against the Sui, he wrote to his children, who were in the capital of Chang’an, asking them to come join him in Taiyuan. Princess Pingyang sent her husband along first, knowing that, as a woman, she would arouse less suspicion and could join him later and perceiving that if they all suddenly moved at the same time it could alert the authorities that something was up. At first, Pingyang went into hiding but was all the while working to support her father in his effort to claim the Mandate of Heaven. The Sui Emperor Yang, a rather brutal man who lacked the ability to back up his ambitions, being beaten in separate campaigns by the Koreans in the north and the Vietnamese in the south, provided the final push for the rebellion by ordering the execution of Li Yuan. His daughter was prepared to do everything in her power to prevent that order from being carried out and proved herself cunning and courageous in the process.
It is extremely remarkable that a woman such as her was able to accomplish all of this, in a very traditional society based on Confucian morality but also that she was doing so at the tender age of only 20. Veteran, battle scarred bandits and warriors followed her into battle and she demonstrated an amazing range of talent by how she was able to raise such an army, by bribery, inspiration or political maneuvering and then to also lead to victory on the field of combat. She also showed great diplomatic skill in winning widespread support for the cause of her father by distributing food to the peasants as she conquered towns and villages while also keeping her very colorful collection of soldiers from looting or molesting the locals as was often the case with other armies.
Near the end of 617 her father, Li Yuan, crossed the Yellow River into the capital district of Chang’an to threaten the Sui seat of power. With 70,000 men in her “Army of the Lady”, Pingyang represented a threat that the Sui Emperor could not ignore. Unfortunately for him, she crushed every loyalist force sent to oppose her. As her father gathered his forces together, she commanded one wing of his wider army. Her husband has his own troops but each had their own commands and Pingyang was subordinate only to her father and had her own generals serving under her. Together, their combined forces crushed the remaining Sui loyalists. Emperor Yang fled and was finally killed by one of his own disgruntled generals. It was left to his grandson, Emperor Gong, to preside over the final downfall of the Sui, the only significant event of his brief reign. He formally handed over the Mandate of Heaven to Li Yuan who thus became Emperor Gaozu, founder of the Tang Dynasty. His daughter then officially became Princess Pingyang of the Great Tang Empire. Although the new Emperor had eighteen other daughters, none were ever shown as much favor as Princess Pingyang who had played such an important part in the founding of the Tang Dynasty.
The life of Princess Pingyang may have been short but it was certainly unforgettable. Her victories were critical, the public support she won was essential and her inspiration was no small part of how the Tang Dynasty was able to establish itself. As it happens, the Tang period would go on to be one of the higher points in Chinese civilization and over all the years since the part played by Princess Pingyang has never been forgotten. To this day she remains a popular figure in art, literature and works of drama for stage and screen. Even so many centuries later Princess Pingyang is one of the most famous and easily one of the most admired women in Chinese imperial history.