History Lessons

Song Taizu

How greatest dynasty began

Song Taizu

Before becoming emperor, Song Taizu, the founder of the Song Dynasty, was a general-in-chief in the service of the preceding dynasty.

Similar to most of the dynastic founders who’d preceded him, Taizu then seized the throne through military mutiny. But unlike those who’d come before him, he was not an aristocrat but from an army officer’s family.

When Taizu came to power, he realised that he needed to secure his authority by controlling the military. So he held a celebration dinner for all of his generals. After several drinks had been downed, Taizu suddenly began to weep bitterly. Taken aback, his generals asked him why he was crying. The emperor responded that he could not bear the thought that his own military comrades might one day rebel against him.

Each of the others present then protested that this would never happen and sought to console Taizu, who was still depressed. Eventually, they agreed that to cheer his spirits they would formally turn their military authority over to him. Unlike his generals, Taizu wasn’t drunk and quickly took them up on the offer. So in one momentous toast he curtailed their military autonomy – starting an era of great prosperity. The story is often called the “exchange of military authority for a cup of wine” and later became a Chinese idiom. One lesson: drink less than your associates at business dinners.

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