THE SONG AND THE MONGOLS

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This is a Song/Yuan dynasty merchant/warship. Very typical of Chinese merchant ships in the Middle Ages.

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In 1211, when Genghis Khan invaded North China, the Song was exhausted from a humiliating defeat in the Kaixi War (1205–08) it had deliberately provoked against the Jin. In 1217 the Jin court, having taken refuge south of the Huang (Yellow) River, began encroaching on Song territory. The Song thereupon began its own intervention in the savage proxy war the Jin and the Mongols were waging in the anarchic province of Shandong. The Mongols decisively defeated this fruitless eight-year effort by the Song to recover the north in 1225.

On his death in 1227 Genghis Khan bequeathed a plan to attack the inaccessible Jin capital by passing through Song territory, but arranging this plan with the Song proved difficult. At least one Mongol ambassador was killed in uncertain circumstances. Before receiving any reply, Mongol troops marched through Song territory to enter the Jin’s redoubt in Henan from the south. In December 1233 Song forces finally advanced into Henan with men and supplies to assist the Mongols in the siege of the last Jin emperor.

This belated cooperation did not advance peace between the Mongols and the Song. In 1234 ÖGEDEI KHAN (1229–41) declared war on the Song again, claiming that the murder of a Mongol ambassador and continuing border incidents showed hostile intent. In a series of winter razzias from 1235 to 1245, mixed Mongol-Chinese armies reached Chengdu, Xiangyang (modern Xiangfan), and the middle Chang (Yangtze) River, yet heavy losses due to climate and the sheer numbers of the Song troops always forced withdrawals. The only permanent gain was Chengdu. In the Huai River area the watery terrain favored the Song, and the MONGOL EMPIRE’s commanders, mostly Chinese, remained on the defensive.

In 1256 MÖNGKE KHAN (1251–59) proposed the final conquest of the Song by means of simultaneous attacks in Sichuan, Xiangyang, and Ezhou (modern Wuhan). Despite the massive preparations, coordination was weak. Möngke entered Sichuan in autumn 1258 with two-thirds of the Mongol strength, but progress against the well-prepared defenses was very slow. Prince Ta’achar and Möngke’s brother Qubilai, with one-third, likewise proved unable to take their objectives before the khan’s death of disease near the defiant city of Chongqing forced a general withdrawal.

The Song dynasty’s effective defense stemmed from able border commanders such as Lü Wende (d. 1270) and Zhang Shijie (d. 1279), who operated autonomously from the stifling central control of the Song court. Together they anchored the Song’s defense on three major buttresses: the Chongqing and Hezhou (modern Hechuan) fortresses in Sichuan, the Xiangyangfu- Fancheng double city on the Han River, and Yangzhou in the lower Chang (Yangtze). The width of the Chang (Yangtze) and the vast Song navies linked these fortresses into a formidable defense system. Nevertheless, central strategy remained weak. In 1259 the Song emperor Lizong (r. 1224–64) appointed Jia Sidao (1213–75), the brother of his favorite concubine, grand councillor. While revanchist accusations of appeasement lacked substance, strident attacks on Jia Sidao’s missing Confucian credentials and his notorious dissipation paralyzed the Song defense. The death of Lizong in 1264 delivered the throne to the crippled emperor Duzong (r. 1264–74), who was content to maintain Jia Sidao in office.

At first Qubilai Khan (1260–94) took a defensive stance in the South even after repeated frontier incidents and Jia Sidao’s detention of Qubilai’s ambassador Hao Jing. Li Tan, one of Qubilai’s Chinese generals in Shandong, defected to the Song in 1262, but his rebellion was soon crushed. In 1268, however, AJU and Liu Zheng (1213–75), a Song defector who initiated Mongol navy construction, began the siege of the Xiangyang-Fancheng fortress. Lü Wende, commanding the defense of the Middle Chang (Yangtze), had died in 1270, and Lü’s officers did not work well with Jia Sidao’s replacement, Li Tingzhi (d. 1276). After the Mongols broke into Fancheng, Xiangyang surrendered in 1273, breaking the first link in the Song defense.

Aju reported to the khan a definite weakening in Song defenses, and after a long debate in March 1274 Qubilai launched a full-scale offensive with 100,000 men, appointing BAYAN CHINGSANG commander. In the same year Emperor Duzong died, throwing the Song into a regency under Empress Dowager Xie Qiao (1210–83). The Song posture thus remained passive. Once the Mongol YUAN DYNASTY troops and navy reached the Chang (Yangtze), Aju and Bayan Chingsang moved east, while the Uighur general ARIQ-QAYA moved west. The Yuan navy, built by Korean and Jurchen shipwrights, defeated the Song flotillas at Yangluobao (January 12, 1275) and Dingjia Isle (March 19) despite Jia Sidao’s personal arrival at Dingjia Isle with 100,000 men. The surrender of key cities crowned this debacle. Empress Xie exiled Jia Sidao, and he was soon murdered. Under the loyalist Zhang Shijie’s command, a 10,000-ship Song flotilla was annihilated by Aju’s smaller Yuan force at Jiaoshan Mountain (July 26).

Despite desperate Song peace missions, the Mongol offensive resumed in November 1275. Aju besieged Li Tingzhi in Yangzhou, and Ariq-Qaya advanced into Hunan while Bayan and Dong Wenbing (1218–78) converged on the Song capital of Lin’an. Now patriotic militias commanded by fanatic loyalists such as Wen Tianxiang (1236–83) came to the fore. Resistance became stiffer, resulting in Bayan’s massacre of the inhabitants of Changzhou in December 1275 and mass suicide of the defenders at Tanzhou (modern Changsha) in January 1276. When Bayan and Dong Wenbing camped outside Lin’an in February 1276, the Empresses Dowager Xie and Quan Jiu (1241–1309) surrendered with the underage emperor and the imperial seal. On March 28 Mongol troops peacefully entered the Song capital.

Even so, Chongqing and Hezhou in Sichuan, Li Tingzhi in Yangzhou, and most of the far southern provinces still held out. In February Empress Dowager Xie had secretly sent the child emperor’s two younger brothers to Fuzhou (in Fujian). There, die-hard loyalists such as Zhang Shijie and Wen Tianxiang gathered. For the next two years Wen Tianxiang fought advancing Yuan forces in the mountainous Fujian-Guangdong-Jiangxi borderland, while Zhang Shijie guarded the two successive boy emperors at sea. The northern strongholds fell one by one: Yangzhou (August 1276), Chongqing (March 1277), and Hezhou (February 1279). On February 2, 1279, Wen Tianxiang was captured and taken to Beijing to be executed in 1283. On March 19, 1279, Yuan marines crushed Zhang Shijie’s forces at Yaishan Island in the Canton harbor. Zhang drowned, and a civil official, Lu Xiufu (1238–79), leaped into the sea with the last Song emperor. Thousands more followed him in suicide.

The influence of the Song on the Mongol Yuan dynasty was surprisingly slight. Despite the thousands of loyalist suicides, the Mongol conquest of South China did not cause the massive dislocation and depopulation that had engulfed North China. Demographically and economically, the newly won territories dwarfed the old. The southerners were the lowest ranked in the Yuan status hierarchy, and by the time of the conquest Mongol government forms had long been set. Perhaps the greatest influence was the eventual adoption by the Mongol court of Song neo-CONFUCIANISM as the guiding ideology of its examination system in 1315.

Further reading: Richard L. Davis, Wind against the Mountain: The Crisis of Politics and Culture in Thirteenth- Century China (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996).

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