Princess Pingyang was decidedly more fearsome than her name might suggest. She led an army that helped to establish one of China’s greatest dynasties, and as her father said, ‘she was no ordinary woman’.
Born in 600 AD, Pingyang was the daughter of Li Yuan. Li was born a peasant and had risen through the ranks of the army to become a military commander. The Emperor at the time was the second leader of the Sui Dynasty and was known as Yangdi. Yangdi was not a popular ruler. The people of China saw him as a villain and grew increasingly unhappy with his rule, the things he spend money on and the rising taxes. The whispers of rebellion began to stir as more and more people grew opposed to him.
Yangdi began to grow suspicious of everyone as thoughts of overthrowing him spread. He thought that Li Yuan was plotting against him and decided he needed him taken out. Li Yuan’s hand was forced: rebel now or live in fear and possibly face death. The time was right and Li decided to lead a rebellion to topple Yangdi’s rule and establish order and peace across the land. But first he had to defeat Yangdi’s armies.
When Li Yuan decided to rebel, Pingyang was living with her husband Chai Shao, who happened to be the leader of the palace guard! Li Yuan managed to get word to Pingyang and Chai Shao to warn them that he was planning a rebellion and they might want to distance themselves from the Emperor. Chai Shao immediately left to gather the cavalry and ride out to join Li Yuan. He was worried about what would happen to Pingyang, but she made it clear she could look after herself.
She actually did quite a bit more than just ‘look after herself’. She escaped to her family’s estate where she used their money to feed the starving people who were in the surrounding area. Her compassion won their loyalty and soon the strongest of them came together under her leadership to form an army.
She proceeded to go with her army from province to province, convincing other groups of rebels to join her and help in her father’s rebellion (you could call it a rebel alliance..ahem). Eventually she commanded an army of over 70,000 troops. They became known as ‘The Army of the Lady’.
She had very strict rules about the behaviour of her soldiers. She banned them from looting, pillaging and raping. Instead they distributed food to the hungry, winning the people’s affection and loyalty . Across the land they were seen as liberators, not conquerers.
Until this point the Emperor hadn’t really taken her army seriously because it was led by a woman (his mistake!) Now he was beginning to get worried as Li Yuan and Pingyang’s armies eroded more and more of his power. He sent a battalion to try and destroy The Army of the Lady, and Pingyang along with them, but they were swiftly defeated.
In the final battle for the capital city Pingyang joined forces with her husband and defeated the last remnants of the Sui Dynasty. Emperor Yangdi fled, but was eventually killed.
Li Juan became the new emperor, calling himself Emperor Gaozu of Tang and established what is known as the Tang Dynasty, which became one of the most prosperous times in China’s history and has been described as a ‘golden age’. He gave Pingyang the titles of Princess and ‘Zhao’, which means very wise & virtuous.
Sadly the young Princess Pingyang died only a few years after her father became Emperor. She was only 23 at the time of her death, which reminds us how young she had been when raising & leading an entire army! Her father gave her a grand, military funeral, including a band, which was unheard of for a woman in those days in China (and kind of against their rules). When offcials questioned his decision to do so he said
“As you know the Princess mustered an army that helped us defeat the Sui Dynasty. She participated in many battles, and her help was decisive in founding the Tang Dynasty. The Princess personally beat the drums and rose in righteous rebellion to help me establish the dynasty…She was no ordinary woman.”
Find out more….
Find out about other female warriors from China’s history here.
This book, Princesses Behaving Badly mentions Pingyang amongst other rebellious and awesome princesses from history.
Find out more about what life was like for women under the Tang Dynasty here.
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