During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 to 1279), China faced unceasing foreign invasions. In 1127 the Chinese were driven to the south of the Yangzi River. Few thought that China could resist the huge military machine of Jin (1115-1234), an alien nation north of China. Again during the latter part of the thirteenth century when the Mongol cavalry led by Gingis Khan (1162-1227) swept the Eurasian Continent, China still remained an insurmountable barrier. Their invasion continued until 1279, when the Mongols finally overran it. The survival of China can be attributed to many reasons, including the loyalty of the military forces and the able military commanders. However, during this period, the military wives of China also played an important role in China's survival.
Unlike the Tang dynasty (618-907), which utilized a system of conscription, the Southern Song Dynasty practiced a mercenary system. Military wives usually lived in military garrisons along with their husbands. During wartime, the wives of military men stayed by the sides of their husbands and thus had to deal directly with death. In fact, we found that many military wives, moreover, died during war time. We find ourselves asking: How did they die? Why did they die? In other words, what did they die for? What were their lives like in peacetime, and how did they live when they survived their husbands?
Military wives supported their husbands in facing their enemies. In a critical time for the nation, they encouraged their men to fight to the end for their country. Some of them threw themselves into the battle and fought the enemies beside their husbands. In some situations, military wives played a decisive role in the fighting.
The year 1129 was a critical time for the survival of the Southern Song, when the Jin military tried to eliminate the newly established dynasty. A large Jin force invaded the Yangzi River region, the borderline of Southern Song. The Southern Song general in charge of defending the river was so frightened that he fled, leaving it open to the Jin forces. The Jin troops then crossed the river without much resistance and occupied Linan, the Southern Song capital. But the Southern Song people and armies waged a guerrilla war, attacking the enemy from all directions. Lacking the capabilities to fight in an area so full of rivers and lakes, the Jin army withdrew to the north of the river.
General Han Shizhong (1089-1511) of the Southern Song then decided to fight the enemy on their way north. He consulted with his wife Liang Hongyu. Liang told Han Shizong that because he had only eight thousand soldiers, while the Jin had several hundred thousand soldiers, he had to rely on adroit strategy. Since the enemy soldiers would consume huge amounts of grain, and because they did not have much left, they would be afraid of being surrounded. To cross the river and return to the north, the Jin would adopt a double tactic, fighting the Song army as they were attempting to go across the river. Han agreed with Liang Hongyu's analysis. She had not only a clear mind about the movements of the enemies, she had also worked out a good strategy. Additionally, Liang Hongyu told Han that when the Jin came, she would lead the navy and stand on the watch tower of the flagship to provide intelligence on the actions of the Jin army. Han Shizhong would lead the army to attack the enemies; Liang Hongyu would relay to Han the routes which the enemy would take by raising flags in the day and lanterns at night. Han was delighted with his wife's strategies and decided to follow them.
On the day of the battle, Liang stood on the watch-and-drum tower of the flagship. When the Jin soldiers saw a female warrior standing on the tower, they were astonished at first, but they then rushed over to attack. Liang beat her drum. Heating the signal, the Southern Song soldiers shot thousands of arrows into the enemy. The cannons were so loud that the sky shook, the enemies' boats were destroyed, and the Jin soldiers were killed. When the Jin commander ordered the soldiers to rush to the east, Liang pointed her flag to the east, and Han led his troops to the east to fight against the enemies. The Southern Song forces fought according to her signals and the Jin forces could not break through. Even though later, with the help of a Chinese merchant, the Jin army found a way to escape to the north of the river under the cover of night, this battle led the Jin military commanders to believe that the Southern Song was unconquerable. This battle was decisive in the Southern Song's destiny; from then on, the Jin never sent their forces across the Yangzi River.
Liang Hongyu was, however, a special case; not many military wives had her military talent or her ability to command. Nonetheless, in the later period of the thirteenth century, after Mongol cavalry had rushed over the Eurasian continent and pointed their forces at the Southern Song, many military wives encouraged and inspired their husbands to fight against the Mongols. Many of them sacrificed their lives in the war against the Mongol invasion. These women were "good wives" to their husbands.
The standard for a "good wife" was defined by the Net-Confucianism ideology of the time which urged women to maintain their chastity for their husbands. This value was widely accepted by both military men and their wives, who believed that it was better to die than to surrender to, or be taken captive by, the Mongols..
Consequently, many military wives died in the war against the Mongol invasion, for ideological reasons such as preserving their chastity, as well as for patriotic or political reasons. The causes and reasons for their deaths varied, and may be viewed categorized as follows:
Cause of Death/Reasons for Death
1. Killed by husbands when the situation became hopeless
Maintain chastity for husbands
2. Committed suicide
Maintain chastity for husbands; loyalty to the emperor
3. Killed by husband's orders when the situation became hopeless
Maintain chastity for husbands
4. Killed by enemies For the nation and the people
5. Killed by Song armies Punished by her own country
First: military wives who were killed by their husbands when the situation became hopeless. In 1262, Li Tan rose up to fight against the Mongols in Shandong. When he was defeated and had no way to escape, he killed his wife and then committed suicide by jumping into the Daming Lake.(1)
Second: military wives who committed suicide. In the later period of Southern Song, Zhao Angfa remained in Cizhou. When the Mongol troops attacked the city, Zhang Lin, the Military Commander, thought that it would be impossible to defend the city so he decided to surrender to the Mongol troops. Realizing the predicament, Zhao told Yong Shi, his wife, "The city will be indefensible. Being an officer appointed by the imperial court, I can not flee. You must leave the city as soon as possible." Yong said, "You are the appointed officer and I am your wife. You can be a loyal officer to the imperial court. Why can I not be a loyal wife?" Zhao said it would be improper to ask women to protect the city. Yong said "Then I will die in front of you." Zhao hurried to stop her. The Mongol cavalry occupied the city. Zhao and his wife committed suicide by hanging.
Another example shows that in 1275 Yang Ting, one of the staff in Military Command, was helping Li Pei, the Military Commissioner of Tanzhou, to defend the town. When Tanzhou was taken by the Mongols, Yang and his wife as well as the whole family of Li Pei committed suicide.(2) Another case happened in the same period when the Mongols invaded China. Chen Yin was sent to defend Hexi City. He tried every means to safeguard the city but the Mongols were so powerful that the city soon fell. He asked Du Shi, his wife, to escape from the city. Du said, "How can husband and wife who have enjoyed a rich and luxurious life together not go to hell together?" After finishing her statement, she drank poisoned wine and died.
Third: husbands who asked their subordinates to kill their wives when the situation became hopeless. In 1275, Li Fu, the Military Commissioner of Hunan, ordered Shen Zong, his subordinate, "I have tried my best and would die in a minute. My family should not receive insults(3) from [the Mongols]. Go ahead and kill all of them. After that you kill me." Zong then killed Fu's whole family, his own wife, and jumped into the flames of the fire he had set.
Fourth: Military wives who were killed by their enemies. The case of Li Shi, the wife of Xie Fangde, reveals that a military man's wife sacrificed herself to save the lives of other people. Li Shi was from An Ren. Her husband led an anti-Mongol force and was defeated. He escaped to Fujian. The Brigade Commander Wu, the Mongol official, chased Xie Fangde and his family. Li took her two sons and hid in the Guixi Mountains. In 1277, the Mongol armies came to the mountains to capture them. The Mongols could not find Li and decided to kill all the residents in the mountain area. Hearing the news, Li thought that it was not right that other people should suffer because of her, so she came out of the mountains to let the Mongol soldiers take her away. Later she was put in prison in Jiankang and died there.
Fifth: Military wives who were killed by the Southern Song armies. In 1218, Shi Gui in Shandong joined the Song armies. During the next year, he did not satisfy the Song imperial court policy which was to weaken his forces and he sent one of his trusted followers to go to the west region to meet Gingis Khan (1162-1227). The Song army sunk his wife into the Hui River in 1220. Another case discloses that Liu Tongzi, the Military Commissioner in Fujian, gathered an army to fight against the Mongols. Later Liu Tongzi died, and Lin Shi, his wife, was arrested by the government on the charge of rebellion. Lin said that both the Lin Family and the Liu Family were loyal families and were ministers of the Song empire. Her husband had tried to dedicate his life to the service of his country, but he had failed. She then asked "How can one accuse him of rebellion? You know that last year someone wrote his will on the wall with his blood. That man was my older brother. How can I allow you to dishonor [us]?" After that Lin Tongzi was executed.
In peacetime, military wives regarded filial piety as one of the goals of their lives and they encouraged their husbands to be loyal to the emperor and the nation. Likewise, military wives were good helpers to their husbands in domestic affairs, such as taking care of their aged parents-in-law and managing a tight family budget. The wives stood behind their husbands and handled crises when their husbands were not present in the military garrisons. Some wives extended their support of their husbands by their active involvement in suppressing rebellions.
For example, some military wives supported their husbands by inspiring their husbands to suppress internal rebellions and bandits. In 1129, two generals, Miao Fu and Liu Zhengyan, waged a coup and usurped the imperial power. They forced Emperor Gaozong (r.1127-1162) to abdicate the throne to his son, who was their puppet. At that time Liang Hongyu was in the capital. Miao and Liu sent Liang Hongyu as a special agent to persuade her husband to support the rebellion. When Liang encountered her husband she encouraged him to suppress the rebellion. Later Han Shizhong, together with other generals, suppressed the rebellion and had Miao and Liu killed.
During the period from 1205 to 1207, Li Haoyi, the general of Xingzhou, was ordered to suppress the rebellion waged by General Wu Yi in Sichuan. Before departing, Li told Ma Shi, his wife, "You should take good care of yourself. I may not be able to come back and see you again. We part now forever." Ma answered him loudly, "You are going to suppress the bandits for the imperial court. I will never bring any dishonor to the Li Family." Li Haoyi was very happy and said, "If a woman can be concerned about the imperial court and not about herself, I should try my best for the court." Later Li came back victorious.
We also find that some military wives used their wisdom to handle crises when their husbands were not around the garrison. One day, Li Wa, the wife of General Yue Fei, heard the news that some military men were planning to desert from the fortification. She remained calm and invited the generals involved to a party. During the party she told the general to kill the traitors. Thus Li Wa successfully put down the deserters' rebellion.
Other military wives played the role of a good helper to their husbands. For instance, General Yue Fei often asked his wife to console his subordinates. She would often visit the wives of subordinate officers and soldiers and try to find way to help them. In domestic matters, some military wives took good care of their aged parents-in-law. General Yue Fei's wife took good care of her mother-in-law when Yue was fighting.
Still other military wives managed family life on a very tight budget. The average family of the military men was three to four persons. The soldiers were only paid a very small amount of money for food.(4) So military wives lived a hard life along with their husbands. Besides managing family affairs, they had to serve their husbands' needs. The wives of the cavalry, for example, had to clean their husbands' armor. Clearly, as military wives, they were more likely to lose their husbands due to the nature of their husbands' careers. Many military wives became widows. According to the social tradition and their husbands' last wish, those widowed military wives were expected to remain widowed in order to show their chastity and allegiance to their late husbands. We find that some wives remained widows, while others did eventually remarry. Interestingly enough, the central government supported their remarriage, which was opposed by the Neo-Confucianists.
Family finance was the key to survival; the widowed military wives had to have sustainable economic conditions in order for them to remain widowed. Many military wives did remain widowed. The question, then, is how these widows were able to live alone.
There were basically three types of widowed military wives who were financially secure in the later years of their lives. First, there were some who received some government support. Fan Tianshun, the Circuit Commander-in-Chief of Jinghu Prefecture, died fighting and his wife was given an honorary title. She also was given five hundred liang of silver and five hundred mu of farmland by the government. Their two sons were given public positions.(5) Second, there were some wives who were supported by their grown up children. Ouyang, the wife of Wen Tianxiang, was supported by her son when she became old and lived with her son in Yanjing.(6) Third, there were those widowed military wives who were not lucky enough to get support from government or their children had to work out their own way to become self-sufficient. Some of them opened up their own businesses. In 1197, the wife of the deceased Fang Wu remained a widow and opened a brewery. She hired boats to transport her wine to the bars in the cities.(7) In Panyang another military man's widow ran a business to make a living.(8) Supervisor Sun's wife remained a widow after Sun died. She worked hard to bring up their two sons and five daughters.(9)
Yet, some widowed military wives received no support from the government or from their children, and had no ability to be self-sufficient. The only choice for them was to construct a new family. Constructing a new family needed both courage on the part of the widowed military wives and the legal support of the government. Modesty, chastity, conjugal fidelity, and filial piety towards the parents-in-law were the feminine virtues most admired by almost any husband. Like other husbands, military men made the same demands of their wives and required that their wives remain living alone and assume the responsibility of bringing up their children without remarriage. Military men clearly regarded chastity and filial piety as highly important. If military men found that their wives had not remained chaste or had failed in filial piety, they would punish the women very severely. Yue Fei often cursed his former wife for her unfilial behavior.(10) Liu Xi, a lower rank officer, killed his wife by burning her after he found that she had committed adultery.(11) Also, clearly, this requirement of the military men was defended by the government, for, in the above case, Liu Xi, the military man who killed his wife, was "free from legal punishment of any kind."(12)
Even though military men demanded that their wives be chaste, some wives still demanded the right to remarry after their husbands died. Indeed, their demands were so strong that the emperor bowed to them: in 1256 the imperial court promulgated a law that allowed military wives to remarry. In addition, the government gave military widows subsidies such as money, silk, wine and grains in order to support their remarriages. In the early period of Shaoxing (1131-1162), the wife of Zhou You, a soldier who died, asked the Prefect to permit her to remarry because she could not make a living by herself. Cheng Pingguo, the Prefect, not only granted her request but also gave her some money. Yue Fei's (1104-1142) former wife remarried twice. One of the remarriages was to a lower ranking officer in General Han Shizhong's army.(13)
Based on the above analysis we can arrive at the following conclusions: a military wife's destiny was heavily influenced by the values of Neo-Confucianism. In wartime she would die for her husbands' and her own reputation. This action would enable her husband to maintain his glory as he had a chaste wife. In peacetime a military wife would sacrifice herself for her husband's family and for her husband. She was expected to serve her husband and parents-in-law well. A military wife had to be chaste throughout her life. When her husband was still alive she was not to commit adultery. A military wife could not remarry after her husband died and was to remain faithful to him until her own death. Faithfulness was not only because of military men's demands on their wives, it was also because their military wives accepted the social norms propagandized by Neo-Confucianism.
Finally, it should be pointed out the maintenance of widowhood was only expected by Neo-Confucianism. The social reality was that neither all of the military wives nor the central government was entirely affected by the Neo-Confucian standard. A more inclusive picture of the military wives in Southern Song shows that both idealistic and realistic standards for military wives co-existed. Some military wives tried to follow the values of Neo-Confucianism. They tried hard to shape themselves according to an ideal model for the roles of wives of military men. The central government, however, was realistic and kept a distance from Neo-Confucian ideas. It had its own practical interests to consider. The government never forced widowed military wives to remain alone but supported their remarrying.
Chia-lin Pao-Tao is professor of East Asian History and Women in the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Arizona. Xueliang Wang, Ph.D., is Instructor of East Asian Civilization at the Extended University, University of Arizona. This paper is adapted from their Military Wives in China project.
(1.) To To; Han Shizong zhuan; vol.364; Chen Minniu.
(3.) Zhu Yunming.
(4.) Wang Shizheng, vol. 10.
(5.) To To, vol. 450 and vol. 128.
(6.) Wang, Shizheng, vol. 10
(7.) As for the word "insult," what was in my mind when I composed this paper was that rape was probably the worst of many forms of insult the military wives could receive. Nowadays, we have the term "****** harassment." I thought those kinds of things would happen frequently in the time and the environment. As a result, the military wives would have been under tremendous pressure from a society dominated by Neo-Confucianism to control their own mental and physical desires. (X.Wang)
(8.) Ke Weiqi, vol. 180, Lie Guano 122, Lie Nu.
(9.) To To, vol. 403; Sung Lain, vol. 193 Shi Gui Zhuan.
(10.) Ibid., vol. 460, Liezhuan, 219, pp. 13492-13493
(11.) To To, vol.364; Chen Minniu.
(12.) Wang Shizheng, vol. 10.
(13.) Li Hanhun, p.36.
(15.) Xu Mengxin, vol. 180.
(17.) To To, vol. 450, Liezhuan 290, Zhongyi 5. p. 13256.
(18.) Huang Yusheng, p.14.
(19.) Hong Mai, vol. 9.
(20.) Ibid., vol. 10.
(21.) Ibid., vol. 21.
(22.) Li Hanhun.
(23.) Fan Zhengmin, p.2207.
(25.) Zhou Yinghe, vol. 14.
(26.) Hong Mai, vol. 12.
(27.) Xu Mengxin, vol. 207.
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