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  • Writer's pictureArmored History



Setting background : The Song Dynasty(ies) was a crossroads and zenith point in the history of Chinese civilization, and era for which imperial China was well-known. It was marked by many inventions/ innovations, as well as commercial, economic, and proto-industrial revolutions, making it one of the most progressive powerhouse nations on earth for hundreds of years, picking up where the preceding Tang Dynasty left off.

It was marked by: 1) population explosion 2) the rapid growth of urban centers 3) the rise of the literati class over the aristocracy 4) expansion of overland and maritime commerce + trade 5) "introduction of paper currency and financial/ credit institutions 6) and prosperity on many levels of society." (Hok-Lam, 2002)

The Song Dynasty was not without its problems. Most notably, China was surrounded by many enemies and rivals around its borders: Mongols, Khitans, Jurchens, Liao, Tanguts, etc. who continually challenged China's civilizational dominance in Asia by conducting wars, raids, and sieges within China's borders.

While many aspects of domestic life blossomed and prospered however, the Song military suffered under the weight of imperial bureaucratism, political factionalism and corruption, and overall disdain for military pursuits. These political state of affairs negatively affected China's military might in the Song Dynasty. In fact, large swathes of Chinese territory were eventually lost to the Jurchens who established their own "Jin Dynasty" in northern China. The Jin and Southern Song Dynasties maintained extremely volatile relations.

THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND: The warrior who rose above the circumstances

According to his official biography, Yue Fei was born to a poor farming family in a village in Henan province. He was supposedly gifted with incredible strength, able to draw from the heaviest bows and crossbows. He began martial arts training early in life, purportedly learning archery, various martial arts skills, and military drills from two masters. Non-scholarly, yet popular, accounts detail that Yue Fei mastered the Eighteen Weapons of War and was a master of the martial arts. He eventually joined the army at the age of 19, having already mastered archery and the spear, and following in his late father's footsteps. He worked his way up from the lowest rank of Private all the way to OVERALL COMMANDER OF IMPERIAL FORCES. He waged war against China's enemies (local warlords, peasant rebellions/ uprisings, and the Jurchen-Jin), supposedly leading and participating in 126 engagements without a single loss during his twenty year career, and at a time when Song China's very existence hung in the balance.

Yue Fei fought long and hard against the Jurchen in an attempt to retake the old Northern Song capital of Kaifeng and reclaim northern China. However, corrupt officials desired to sue for peace with the Jurchens and convinced the emperor to recall Yue Fei to the capital. The emperor listened to the officials, fearing that the previous emperor (in Jurchen custody) would be released and reclaim the throne from him. Yue Fei was arrested and imprisoned on false charges by Qin Hui and later died (possibly executed). It was truly an ant-climactic end to one of the greatest soldiers in history. Politicians and politics have been the soldier's greatest adversaries. Sources: CHAN, HOK-LAM. "COMMERCE AND TRADE IN DIVIDED CHINA: THE CASE OF JURCHEN-JIN VERSUS THE NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN SONG." Journal of Asian History 36, no. 2 (2002): 135-83. Accessed February 25, 2020. Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Henning, Stanley E., M.A. Chinese General Yue Fei: Martial Arts Facts, Tales and Mysteries. Journal of Asian Martial Arts. Vol. 15 #4, 2006: 30–35

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