History Lessons

Emperor Qinzong

The last emperor of the Northern Song Dynasty

Emperor Qinzong (1100 – 1161) ascended to power at a time when the Song Dynasty was faced with invasion by the Jurchen of the Jin Dynasty. To fend off the Jurchens, Qinzong appointed Li Gang to direct the Song armies.

Li suggested that large numbers of troops ought to be garrisoned along the border of the Yellow River. Qinzong, however, rejected the proposal, thinking that the Jurchens would never come back. He even faulted Li for nagging and sent him into exile.

But Li was the most feared nemesis of the Jin Emperor. With him gone, the Emperor of Jin promptly issued an order of full scale attack on Song territories and shortly, the capital city Kaifeng (in Henan) was besieged.

As Qinzong panicked, a charlatan in the capital called Guo Jing claimed to possess supernatural powers by which he could assemble 7,779 “divine soldiers” from the Heaven to capture Jin generals alive. The desperate emperor urged Guo to quickly go ahead. Needless to say, the legion of “divine soldiers” crumbled as soon as it met the attacking Jin troops and the capital city was taken.

The Jin successfully captured Qinzong and the entire Song imperial family. Jin troops looted the imperial palace for 20 days and 20 nights, taking with them large amounts of gold, silver and other treasures. There was unprecedented loss of life.

The Humiliation of Jinkang (Jinkang was the name by which the Qinzong era went) ended the Northern Song Dynasty.

The story bears striking resemblance to a ‘barbarian’ invasion 700 years later: the looting of the Summer Palace in 1860 after the Second Opium War (see WiC4).

The palace was set ablaze and its treasures plundered and scattered by British and French troops. The incident was often cited as a proof of Western perfidy and the weakness of the Qing, the country’s last imperial dynasty, which had failed to prevent foreign barbarians from wreaking terrible humiliations on China, says the Economist.


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