History Lessons

Yang Ye

Caught out by envy, not the enemy

Yang Ye

The Northern Song Dynasty under Emperor Taizung of Song (939-997), alternated between warfare and diplomacy in its dealings with the ethnic Khitans of the Liao Dynasty in the northeast.

In 986, the Song emperor launched an expedition against the Khitans with three armies. One was led by Pan Mei with Yang Ye as his second-in-command. Yang was known as “The Invincible” for his tactical prowess and gallantry on the battlefield.

Initially, the three armies advanced along their respective routes. But the main force – led by Cao Bin – was routed by Liao troops and Yang proposed that all the troops pull back.

Jealous of Yang’s rising stature, Wang Shen, the army supervisor, challenged the general: “Isn’t General Yang the fabled Invincible one? What could be the real reason behind this sudden battle-shyness, I wonder?”

Accused of being unpatriotic, Yang made the decision to press ahead. But knowing he was outnumbered, he told Pan he would lure his Liao enemies to Chenjiayu Valley (in southern Shanxi). Pan was to place infantrymen and archers for an ambush that would turn defeat into victory.

As the general had predicted, the Liao army soon attacked his troops. Yang drew them towards Chenjiayu Valley but when he arrived at the location of the ambush, the valley was eerily quiet. It turned out that Pan was so worried that Yang would claim credit for a victory that he decided to pull out all of the ambushing troops and leave Yang to his fate.

With no backup, Yang’s army was quickly captured. “I had wanted to perform my patriotic duty by defeating the enemy but I ended up losing all my men because of the actions of wrongheaded officials. I cannot live with this disgrace,“ Yang said.

He refused food water and died three days later.

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