After years of civil unrest within the Sui dynasty, a rebellion took place to remove Emperor Yang of Sui from the throne. Leading these brave rebels into battle was an unlikely heroine named, Princess Pingyang. Read on to find out how she rallied an army of 70,000 soldiers and became the most influential woman in the Tang dynasty, brought to you by American BladesPro.
Early Years and Lineage
The daughter of hereditary nobleman Li Yuan and Duchess Dou, Princess Pingyang lived with her three sisters and four brothers for the majority of her early life. Historians believe she was born in the late 590s but couldn't find an exact birth record. When she was of reasonable age, her father Li Yuan gave Chai Shao, the son of the Duke of Julu, Chai Shen, his blessing to marry the princess.
Well before the attack on the Sui dynasty took place, Pingyang and her family had a poor relationship with Emperor Yang despite being royalty. This feud began when Emperor Yang's misuse of resources and tyranny caused various peasant revolts which led to many Chinese aristocrat's questioning his leadership. Emperor Yang's lust for power reached new heights when he attempted to imprison Pingyang's father, Li Yuan because he feared his strong military influence.
An ancient painting of the tyrannical Emperor Yang of Sui (middle).
Hiding in Plain Sight
In 617, Li Yuan started to realise that the Emperor was plotting against him and decided to form a plan that would remove the leader from his seat of power. Li Yuan wanted to make sure his ploy to rise against Emperor Yang wouldn't be exposed, so he sent messengers to tell his daughter Princess Pingyang and son-in-law Chai Shao, to return his district of Taiyuan urgently. Since Chai Shao was a bodyguard to the crown prince who resided in the Sui capital, Chang'an, he feared that authorities would catch the couple trying to escape.
Concerned about her husband's safety, Princess Pingyang told Chai Shao that she would stay in the capital and hide while he fled because it would be easier for a woman to hide within the district. Agreeing to his wife's idea, Chai Shao met with warriors from Hedong, Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji who were also summoned by Li Yuan before returning to the outpost in Taiyuan.
Once Chai Shao had arrived back her home, Princess Pingyang came out of hiding and began distributing her family's grain reserves to many citizens within the dynasty that were malnourished. As a result of her charitable gesture, over 100 men decided to join her father's rebellion. Shortly after, the princess tasked her servant, Ma Sanbao with persuading agrarian rebel leader He Panren to join the resistance. Along with convincing the rebel the leader, she also managed to rally estranged Sui commanders, Li Zhongwhen, Xiang Shanzhi and Qui Shili to stand alongside Li Yuan against the Emperor.
Avenging Her Father
With an army of talented soldiers at her disposal, Princess Pingyang decided to command the rebellion she organised despite being a woman in a male-dominated era. Even though she successfully captured cities surrounding Chang'an, the Sui dynasty wasn't phased by the army's advances since they were led by a woman.
Princess Pingyang was so influential, after her death many artists painted or drew portraits of the fearless commander similar to the one above.
Disregarding the threat of Pingyang's army caused the rebellion to grow in numbers. When the Emperor finally took the revolt seriously, it was already too late. Around 70,000 warriors had joined forces with the Princess and the Sui dynasty's forces were convincingly defeated on the battlefield.
Shortly after celebrating the army's triumph, Pingyang crossed the Yellow River with her forces and sent her husband, Chai Shao to inform Li Yuan about the rebellion's victory. In late 617, Chai and Pingyang decided to form separate outposts for their armies following the capture of the former Sui capital Chang'an. Princess Pingyang's outstanding leadership didn't go unnoticed and her army was soon dubbed, the 'Army of the Lady'.
Short Life, Lasting Legacy
Despite the warrior princess achieving so much at a young age, she sadly passed away aged 24. Even though Pingyang died young, her legacy lived on through her two sons, Chai Zhewei and Chai Lingwu and loyal husband, Chai Shao. Li Yuan, who changed his title to Emperor Gaozu after forming the Tang dynasty, insisted that his daughter received a funeral fit for a high general. Initially, the dynasty's Ministry of Rites declined his request but the Emperor stood firm and was quoted saying, "She participated in many battles, and her help was decisive in founding the Tang dynasty... She was no ordinary woman."
Princess Pingyang was not only an extraordinary leader but a great combatant too. Find out what sword will forge your path to heroism using our Sword Guide.
Following his passionate explanation, Emperor Gaozu's was allowed to give his daughter the farewell she deserved. Princess Pingyang's rise to frontlines reminds us that foresight and determination will always be the greatest weapons on a battlefield.