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Chau Kwang-yin --The Founder of the Sung Dynasty

Chau Kwang-yin --The Founder of the Sung Dynasty

The Birth of the Founder of the Sung Dynasty

The historian tells us that the birth of the founder of the Sung dynasty was marked by very unusual natural phenomena. Immediately after he was born the sky was filled with reddish clouds that overhung the house where the child was, and for three days the dwelling was pervaded by a most fragrant odour. People at the time remarked to each other that all this portended a great future for the boy, and his mother believed that he would one day occupy a distinguished position amongst his fellow-men.

Willing to Die For Their Emperor

In the year of A. D. 954, the founder of "After Chou" dynasty, Kwo-wei, died and and was succeeded by his son.

No sooner had the news gone abroad that Kwo-wei was dead than Liu-tsung, the Prince of the Northern Han, moved forward his own army of thirty thousand men, and a considerable force of Khitans as allies with him, and began the siege of the important city of Luchow. When the Emperor heard of this he insisted upon leading his own army to the scene of warfare, though his generals strongly dissuaded him from doing so. When he arrived there he at once marched to where the enemy was and engaged with him, but his troops were not successful. A series of engagements took place, which were all disastrous to Shih Tsung, and things began to look serious for the royal cause. At last he was surrounded by a large force of the enemy, and his fate seemed to be sealed, when one of his captains, Chau Kwang-yin, cried out in a loud voice to his men, "Those who are willing to die for their Emperor follow me." His words flashed like lightning amongst those of his own command, and in a few minutes two thousand soldiers, prepared to sacrifice themselves, followed him to where the great fight was raging around Shih Tsung. In a short time the tide of battle turned, for nothing could withstand the impetuosity of this devoted band. The Emperor was rescued from his perilous position, and the enemy was soon flying in great disorder before the imperialists, whose enthusiasm had been excited by the gallant rescue, and who were now sweeping everything before them. The enemy was compelled to retreat in every direction. Liu-tsung made his way back to Tsin-yang, and his allies hurriedly retired to their own territory. For the signal services that he rendered on this memorable occasion Chau was made a marquis, and was appointed commander of the palace guard, a position that put him in the way of further preferment.

Towards the end of the year (A. D. 956) a military expedition was sent against the Prince of the Southern T'ang, as he termed himself, but it was not entirely successful. Next year another army, under the command of Chau Kwang-yin, again entered his territories, when a decisive victory was gained, but not sufficiently so to make the prince submit to the Emperor.

A. D. 960. sovereign was dead, and his son, who was only seven years old, became Emperor in his stead.

Ch'en Bridge mutiny

The young Emperor had not been long seated on the throne when the news reached the capital that the Khitans were again on the move. Chau Kw'ang-yin, who by this time had become commander-in-chief, was sent with an army to meet them in the field and to drive them from Chinese territory.

Even before starting there had been considerable dissatisfaction amongst the officers and soldiers at the present political state of things, and this did not disappear as they marched further from the capital. "What have we to hope," they said, "from this boy Emperor of ours ? He does not understand what campaigning means and what dangers we have to pass through, and therefore he will not know how rightly to reward those who have ventured their lives, or have done heroic deeds. The man who ought to be our ruler is Chau Kwang-yin, and we will acknowledge none other as our sovereign." Very soon matters came to a crisis. One morning, shortly after midnight, whilst the army was halting at "The Bridge of Ch'en," and Chau was still under the effects of the liquor he had been drinking the previous evening, a party of his officers tumultuously broke into his tent, and hastily wrapping him in a yellow robe, which none but an Emperor was allowed to wear, they woke him out of sleep with the cries, " Long live the Emperor! Long live the Emperor !" Soon the cry spread throughout the camp, and every soldier in it knew that a revolution had been accomplished, and that night the After Chow dynasty had ceased to exist.

Next morning Chau agreed to become Emperor on certain conditions. These were that the lives of the royal family should be spared, as well as those of the ministers in the palace, and that there should be no robbing of the treasury, but the question of rewards to those that had been faithful to him should be left to his own discretion. These were agreed to by acclamation, and in a few hours the army was on its return march to K'ai-fung-fu, and from that moment the great Sung dynasty was virtually established.

The Sung Dynasty

THE first act of Chau Kwang-yin when he reached K'ai-fung-fu was to depose Kung Ti, and, giving him the title of Prince Ching, have him removed to Fang-chow, where he was treated with the greatest kindness and consideration. He then called his dynasty the Sung, from the district of which he had been governor in Honan, and ordered that the royal colour should be brown.

A Filial Son

In the second year of T'ai Tsu's reign his mother, to whom he was devotedly attached, and whom he had always honoured with the most perfect filial piety, became alarmingly ill. Feeling that she was about to die she summoned her son and his prime minister Chau-p'u to her bedroom, in order to convey her dying wishes to the Emperor. Addressing herself to him she said, " Have you ever thought how it is that you were able to obtain the throne of China?" He meekly replied "that it was no doubt owing to the powerful protecting influences of his ancestors, but especially to hers." "No, it has not been so," she promptly answered. "It has been entirely due to the fact that Kung Ti was a child. If he had been a full grown man you would not be Emperor to-day. I want you now, therefore, to promise me that after your death your younger brother Kw'ang-yi shall succeed you, and your third shall occupy the throne after him, and then your own sons shall come next in the succession. Your dynasty will then avoid being ship-wrecked by having boys, who don't know how to rule an empire, on the throne." T'ai Tsu at once agreed to this proposal of his mother, who ordered Chau-p'u to draw up a document containing an account of this singular agreement and to sign it as prime minister. It was then put away in a golden casket, to be produced at some future time when the occasion might require it.

Relieving the Generals of Their Commands at a Feast

As a reward for the services which many of his generals and captains had rendered him in making him sovereign of China, T'ai Tsu had bestowed upon them titles and positions which gave them the command over considerable bodies of troops. In the present transition stage of the country this was a dangerous state of things to be in existence, and none was more conscious of it than T'ai Tsu himself. He felt that his throne was unsafe so long as so many military adventurers had the means at their command of initiating a rebellion whenever their ambition prompted them to do so, and lie determined by a vigorous stroke of policy to put an end to a danger that threatened the state.

He invited them all to a great dinner in the palace, and when the meal was over he said to his assembled guests, "If it had not been for you my captains I should never have been Emperor. It was your valour and fidelity that raised me to the high position I now occupy. You must not think, however, that it is an easy thing to be a king. I sometimes think I should be happier if I were only a governor. Now lately I have not been able to sleep at night for thinking of the great military power that each of you possess. " At these words a shade of anxiety flashed across the faces of his hearers, and voices were instantly heard exclaiming, " The empire is at peace. Who dares think of rebellion now?" "You are true men I have no doubt," he continued, when the excitement had abated, "and I don't question any of you. I myself was as loyal as any of you, till the yellow robe was thrown around me when I was asleep, and then I became a rebel." "The life of man," he continued, " is short at the best, and the great object of us all is to gather riches and to live happily, and then leave what we have to our children. Now what I propose is that you should all resign your military appointments. I'll give you positions where you can make money, and where you can buy lands to leave to your posterity, and in the meantime you can enjoy life to the fullest and drink day and night. Any man that is willing to accept my proposal I shall treat as my friend, and our families shall intermarry." This gen- erous speech touched the heart of every one present, and one by one they resigned their commissions into his hand, and thus the great danger that had threatened the stability of his crown passed away.

The death of Chau Kwang-yin

In the year of A. D. 976, Chau Kwang-yin became seriously ill. As he approached his end he sent for his brother to give him his last instructions, for in obedience to the promise exacted from him by his mother he had appointed him to succeed him on the throne. What these last words were the royal historian has not been able to record, for there was no one present to witness the interview. No member of the privy council, or even of his own family, was called to hear the last words of the dying sovereign. What is known with certainty is that when Kw'ang-yi emerged from the sick chamber his brother was dead.

As no one was allowed to enter the sick chamber but his brother some of the ladies and eunuchs of the royal household peered through the crevices in the partition wall to try and see what was going on within. The words were too low for them to catch, but by and by they saw the sick man rise and seize an axe, and then there was the sound of it, as it clanged to the ground, and one sentence was heard distinctly, "Very well, I'll let you be it," and he dropped back on his bed and was dead.

T'ai Tsu was a man whose character contained many loveable features. He was manly and straightforward. He was also tender-hearted and careful of human life. He seemed to have a deep sense of the responsibility of his exalted position. One day he was observed to be very sad and cast down. One of the mandarins spoke to him about it and asked him the reason. His reply was, "Do you think it an easy thing to be a king? I remember that in my audience with my privy council this morning I decided a case wrongly. I have just found out that I did so, and I am grieved." He died at the early age of fifty.

(J. MacGowan, The Imperial History Of China )

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