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Jurchen campaigns against the Song Dynasty
Jinn and Sung Dynasties 1141
Song Dynasty (orange) and Jin Dynasty (blue)
Date November 1125–13th century
Location Northern China
  • Jurchens conquer northern China
  • Song court moves south to Hangzhou
  • Southern Song Dynasty period begins
Jin Dynasty Song Dynasty

A series of Jurchen military campaigns against the Song Dynasty began with a declaration of war in November 1125. The Jurchen Jin Dynasty had previously allied with the Song against the Khitan Liao Dynasty, but invaded the Song after a series of failed negotiations. The cities of Taiyuan and the Song capital of Kaifeng were besieged by the Jurchens, who briefly retreated from Kaifeng after the Song agreed to pay a large annual indemnity. The Chinese emperor was captured during the second Jurchen siege of Kaifeng in 1127.[1] A treaty in 1142 settled the boundary between the two empires, but conflicts ensued for the remainder of both dynasties.

The Song Dynasty lost most of northern China to the Jin Dynasty, marking the beginning of the Southern Song period in Chinese history. Battles between the Song and Jin brought about the introduction of various gunpowder weapons. The siege of De'an was the first recorded appearance of the fire lance, an early ancestor of the firearm. Jurchen migrants settled in the conquered territories and adopted the local culture, while the government instituted a centralized imperial bureaucracy modeled on previous Chinese dynasties. The Mongol invasions of the 13th century brought an end to both the Jin and Song dynasties.



A Song Dynasty painting of Khitan hunters.

The Jurchens were a Tungusic speaking group of semi-agrarian tribes inhabiting Manchuria. Many of the Jurchen tribes were vassals of the Liao Dynasty, ruled by the nomadic Khitans.[2] To the south of the Liao was the Han Chinese Song empire. The dynasty had been in power since 960, when it was founded by Zhao Kuangyin, later crowned Emperor Taizu.[3] In 1114, the chieftain Wanyan Aguda united the disparate Jurchen tribes and led a revolt against the Liao Dynasty.[2] The Jurchens negotiated an agreement with the Song and offered the Sixteen Prefectures to the Song in exchange for annual payments. Originally, the two sides had planned an attack against the Khitans by 1211–1212, but Aguda grew increasingly frustrated as he realized that the Song intended to seize a larger share of the territory than had been promised.[4]

China 11a

The Liao Dynasty (brown) and the Song Dynasty (red).

The Jurchens captured the main Khitan capital on 23 February 1122, while their Chinese allies suffered a series of military defeats against the Liao and were forced to retreat twice back to the Song capital of Kaifeng.[4] The Chinese general Tong Guan, who had led the Song forces against the Khitan, was later executed in 1126.[5] Following the Liao defeat in 1222, the Jurchens established the Jin Dynasty, adopting the Chinese name for gold.[2] In 1125, the Jurchens captured Tainzuo, the last emperor of the Liao Dynasty, near the Ordos Desert.[6] A Khitan leader of the Liao court, Yelü Dashi, declared himself a prince and fled west to Xinjiang where he established the Kara-Khitan Khanate, also known by the dynastic name of Western Liao.[7]

The collapse of the Liao led to new negotiations between the Song and the Jin. Jurchen and Song representatives debated the terms of a treaty, the first of the Song–Jin treaties.[8] The Jurchen success against the Khitans and control of the Sixteen Prefectures gave the Jurchens more leverage than the Song during the negotiations. Only a portion of the prefectures were returned to the Song, and the Song had to pay an annual indemnity of 300,000 packs of silk and 200,000 taels of silver. This sum included the indemnity that the Chinese previously paid to the Liao combined with the tax revenue that the Jurchens would have earned had they not returned the prefectures.[9]

Many factors contributed to the Song Dynasty's repeated military blunders and subsequent loss of northern China to the Jurchens. Early Song Dynasty emperors were eager to enact political reforms and revive the ethical framework of Confucianism, but the enthusiasm for reforms gradually died after the reformist Wang Anshi's expulsion as Prime Minister in 1076.[10] Corruption marred the reign of Emperor Huizong, enthroned in 1100, who was more skilled as a painter than as a ruler. Huizong was known for his extravagance, and funded the costly construction of gardens and temples while rebellions threatened the state's grip on power.[11] Song diplomatic oversights allowed the unimpeded rise of Jurchen military power. The state did not suffer a shortage of resources, but managed its assets poorly during battles.[12] Horses were an exception and the Song military lacked a consistent supply, giving the dynasty a significant disadvantage against the mounted steppe nomads. Unlike the expansive Tang and Han empires that preceded the Song, the Song Dynasty did not have a significant foothold in Central Asia where a large proportion of its horses could be bred or procured.[13]


Wanyan Wuqimai

Jurchen emperor Taizong, successor of Aguda.

The Jurchens conducted their campaigns against Song China soon after the capture of the last Khitan king.[6] The Jin emperor Taizong, successor and brother of Aguda, granted autonomy to the Jurchen generals, whose military actions no longer required the approval of the imperial court. The generals were angered by the military ineptitude of the Song and the series of failed diplomatic negotiations. They decided to end the Jin alliance with the Song and began preparations for an invasion.[5]

Siege of TaiyuanEdit

The Taizong emperor formally declared war against the Song in November 1125.[6] The Song forces were not expecting an invasion and were caught off guard by the news. The Chinese general Tong Guan, stationed in the provincial capital of Taiyuan, retreated from the city after he was informed of the military expedition by an envoy. The envoy reported that the Jurchens were willing to forgo an invasion, but only if the Song ceded their control of Hebei and Shanxi.[14]

A Jurchen army, one of two sent to capture the Khitan Southern Capital in 1126, was dispatched towards Kaifeng, capital of the Song Dynasty.[6] By December, the army had seized control of two prefectures and re-established Jurchen rule over the Sixteen Prefectures.[14] The second army headed towards Taiyuan through the mountains of Shanxi.[6] They reached the city in January 1126 and defeated the Song forces defending Taiyuan.[14]

Jingkang IncidentEdit


Emperor Huizong abdicated as the Jurchen army approached Kaifeng

First Siege of KaifengEdit

The Jurchen forces sent to Kaifeng reached the Yellow River on 27 January 1126. On 28 January, Emperor Qinzong was enthroned after the abdication of Emperor Huizong. Huizong, fearing the approaching Jin army, departed the capital and escaped southwards.[6]

Kaifeng was besieged on 31 January 1126.[15] The commander of the Jurchen army promised to spare the city if the Song submitted to Jin as a vassal, forfeited the prime minister and prince as prisoners, ceded the Chinese cities of Hejian, Taiyuan, and Zhongshan, and offered an indemnity of 50 million taels of silver, 5 million taels of gold, 1 million packs of silk, 1 million packs of satin, 10,000 horses, 10,000 mules, 10,000 cattle, and 1,000 camels.[16] The inhabitants of Kaifeng resorted to cannibalism after the city's supplies were exhausted.[17] The defeat of a Song army near Kaifeng forced Emperor Qinzong to meet the Jurchen demands. The Jurchen army retreated, ending the siege on 5 March after thirty-three days.[15]

Emperor Qinzong reneged on the deal and dispatched two armies to repel the Jurchen troops attacking Taiyuan and bolster the defenses of Zhongshan and Hejian. Both the Song army of 90,000 soldiers and the other army of 60,000 were defeated by the Jin forces by June. The second expedition that tried to rescue Taiyuan was also unsuccessful. The siege of Taiyuan ended after 260 days, and the provincial capital fell to the Jurchens. By 15 December, the Jurchen army that had conquered Taiyuan arrived in Kaifeng, where it joined the Jurchen forces besieging the Song capital.[15]

Second Siege of KaifengEdit

Emperor Qinzong, who wanted to negotiate a truce with the Jurchens, left the capital Kaifeng barely defended with less than 100,000 soldiers. Qinzong committed a massive strategic blunder when he, unaware of the importance of the capital city, commanded that the armies of the empire must protect the prefectures instead of Kaifeng. The Song forces were dispersed throughout China, powerless to stop the second Jurchen siege of Kaifeng.[15] The Jin, realizing the weakness of the Song, accused the Song of violating the peace treaty and launched a second military expedition.[1] The Song did not dispose the corpses of those who had died during the siege. Morale among the Song soldiers declined as the siege continued.[15] The city capitulated on 9 January 1127, and the Jurchens looted the conquered city.[1] Emperor Qinzong tried to appease the victorious Jurchens by offering the remaining wealth of the city. The royal treasury was emptied and the belongings of the city's residents were seized.[18] Qinzong, the former emperor Huizong, and members of the Song court were captured and imprisoned by the Jurchens as hostages.[1]

The Jin Dynasty did not expect or desire the fall of the Northern Song Dynasty. Their intention was to weaken the Song in order to demand more tribute, and they were unprepared for the magnitude of their victory.[19] The Jurchens installed a former Song Dynasty official, Zhang Bangchang, as the puppet emperor of a newly established Da Chu dynasty. Zhang's reign did not last long, and he was coerced into suicide.[20]

The Jin had hoped that a puppet state was capable of administering northern China and collecting the annual indemnity for the Jurchens without provoking a rebellion by the native Han Chinese. The move did not deter the resistance of the Han Chinese, who were motivated by their anger towards the looting by the Jurchens rather than by a sense of loyalty towards the inept Song court.[19] A number of Song commanders, stationed in towns scattered across northern China, retained their allegiance to the Song and militias were organized by armed volunteers opposing the Jurchen military presence. The insurgency slowed the southern advance of the Jin Dynasty.[21]

The Jin sought to completely destroy the Song after their victory at Kaifeng. The attempt to displace the Song was not successful. At least one prince of the Song Dynasty had escaped capture,[19] and the remainder of the Song court retreated south after the conquest of northern China. The move marked end of the Northern Song and the beginning of the Southern Song era of Chinese history,[2] with the city of Nanjing as its first capital.[21]

Campaigns against the Southern SongEdit


Emperor Gaozong supported negotiating a peace treaty with the Jurchens

After the fall of Kaifeng in 1127, Jurchen forces crossed the Yangtze River and invaded southern China. The Song court fled further south and moved the capital from Nanjing to Shaoxing in Zhejiang. The continuing insurgency in northern China hampered the Jurchen campaigns south of the Yangtze. Reluctant to let the war drag on, the Jin decided to create a new puppet state, the state of Qi, in northern China. The Jurchens believed that the new state, nominally ruled by someone of Han Chinese descent, would be able to attract the allegiance of disaffected members of the insurgency. The Jurchens also suffered from a shortage of skilled manpower, and controlling the entirety of northern China was not administratively feasible.[21]

In the final months of 1129, the Jurchens enthroned Liu Yu as the emperor of the Qi state. Liu was a Song official from Hebei who had been a prefect of Jinan in Shandong before his defection to the Jin in 1128.[21] Daming in Hebei was the first capital of Qi prior to its move to Kaifeng, former capital of the Northern Song, in 1132.[22] The Qi government instituted military conscription, made an attempt at reforming the bureaucracy, and enacted laws that enforced the collection of high taxes.[23]

General Yue Fei's counteroffensiveEdit

The Jin's push southward was halted by a Song campaign led by the general Yue Fei.[23] His defense of the Southern Song made him a national hero.[24] The son of an impoverished farmer, he had joined the military in 1122.[25] Early in his career, he fought against local Chinese warlords looting northern China, whose suppression was necessary for the continued resistance against the Jurchens.[26] Yue participated in the second siege of Kaifeng in 1127. After Kaifeng fell, he joined an army in Jiankang tasked with defending the Yangtze. This army prevented the Jurchens from advancing to the river in 1129.[27]

Yue Fei's rising reputation as a military leader attracted the attention of the Song court. In 1133 he was made the general of the largest army near the Central Yangtze.[28] Between 1134 and 1135, he commanded the counteroffensive that defeated the state of Qi and recaptured the territories conquered by the Jurchens. By 1137, the emperor of Chi had his title reduced to that of a prince and the Jin puppet state was officially dissolved.[23] In 1140, Yue Fei led a military expedition against the Jurchens and achieved vast territorial gains, but withdrew after the emperor ordered him to return to the Song court.[29]


Mural of Yue Fei, a general who led his forces against the Jin Dynasty.

The real Yue Fei differed from the later myths that grew from his exploits.[24] The portrayal of Yue as a scholar-general is only partially true. He was a skilled general, and may have been semiliterate in Classical Chinese, but he was not an erudite Confucian scholar.[30] Contrary to traditional legends, Yue was not the sole Chinese general engaged in the offensive against the Jurchens. He was only one of many generals that fought against the Jin in northern China, and some of his peers were actual members of the scholarly elite.[28] Many of the exaggerations of Yue Fei's life can be traced to a biography written by his grandson, Yue Ke. Yue Fei's later status as a folk hero emerged in the Yuan Dynasty and had a large impact on Chinese culture.[31] Temples and shrines devoted to Yue Fei were constructed in the Ming Dynasty. A Chinese World War II anthem alludes to lyrics said to have been written by Yue Fei.[32]

Emperor Gaozong supported a peace with the Jurchens and intended to rein in the assertiveness of the military. The military expeditions of Yue Fei and other generals were an obstacle to negotiations for peace. The government weakened the military by demoting the generals and rewarded them with different titles. Yue Fei resisted by announcing his resignation as an act of protest.[27] He was imprisoned in 1141 and poisoned a year later. Jurchen diplomatic pressure during the peace negotiations may have played a role.[29]

Treaty of ShaoxingEdit

The Treaty of Shaoxing was ratified on 11 October 1142, ending the conflict between the Jurchens and the Song.[33] By the terms of the treaty, the Huai River was designated as the boundary between the two empires. The Song agreed to pay a yearly tribute of 250,000 taels of silver and 250,000 packs of silk to the Jurchens.[7] The peace ensured by the Shaoxing treaty was interrupted during two occasions after 1142. One campaign was initiated by the Song, and another by the Jin.[34]

The treaty reduced the Southern Song into a Jin vassal. The document designated the Song as the "insignificant state," while the Jin is recognized as the "superior state." The text of the treaty was not recorded in Chinese records of the event, a sign of its humiliating reputation. The contents of the agreement were recovered from a Jurchen biography. Once the treaty had been settled, the Jurchens retreated and returned north, while trade resumed between the two empires.[35]

Further campaignsEdit

Emperor Hailing's campaignEdit

Emperor Hailing, fourth emperor of the Jin Dynasty, began an invasion in 1161 but never formally declared war. Notified beforehand of the plan, the Song prepared by securing their defenses along the border, especially near the Yangtze River. Jurchen armies left Kaifeng on 15 October, reached the Huai River border on 28 October, and marched in the direction of the Yangtze. The Song lost the Yangtze to the Jurchens, but managed to capture a few Jin prefectures in the west, slowing the Jurchen advance.[36]

A Jurchen army was defeated when it tried to capture the city of Caishi in Anhui between 26 and 27 November during the Battle of Caishi. Traditional Chinese accounts consider this the turning point of the war, but the Jurchens suffered no more than 4,000 casualties and the battle was not fatal to the Jin war effort. A modern analysis of the battlefield has shown that it was a minor battle, but the victory did boost Song morale.[37] The war ended on 15 December after Hailing was assassinated by disaffected officers in a military camp.[37]

Song revanchismEdit

Jurchen woodblock print

Jurchen warrior with a bow

The Jin were weakened by the pressure of the rising Mongols to the north, a Yellow River flood in 1194 that devastated Hebei and Shandong in northern China, and the droughts and swarming locusts that plagued the south near the Huai.[38] The Song were informed of the Jurchen predicament through their embassies in the Jin capital, and started provoking their northern neighbor in 1204 and onward by raiding Jin settlements. These early clashes continued to escalate, partly abetted by Song officials in support of revanchism, and war against the Jin was officially declared on 14 June 1206.[39] The document that announced the war claimed the Jurchen lost the Mandate of Heaven, a sign that they were unfit to rule, and called for an insurrection of Han Chinese against the Jin state.[40]

Song armies captured the barely defended city of Suzhou, but suffered large losses against the Jurchens in Hebei. As weather conditions worsened, soldier morale sank as supplies ran out and hunger spread, forcing many to desert. The massive defections of Han Chinese in northern China that the Song had expected never materialized. A notable betrayal did occur on the Song side. Wu Xi, the governor and general of Sichuan, defected to the Jin in 1206. The act would have meant a loss of the entire western frontier of the war had Song loyalists not assassinated Wu, as they did on 29 March 1207. The Song advance was impeded by Jin military successes. By the fall of 1206, the Jurchens had captured multiple towns and military bases.[41]

Neither combatants were eager to continue the war. A peace treaty was signed on 2 November 1208, and the Song tribute to the Jurchens was reinstated. The Song were obligated to pay an annual indemnity of 50,000 taels of silver and 50,000 packs of fabric. It was also stipulated that the Song had to present to the Jurchens the decapitated head of the Chinese minister who had instigated the war.[42]

Rise of the MongolsEdit

The Jin Dynasty shied away from further military expansion, and was content with appeasement through tribute similar to the practices of the Song. The Jin were occasionally threatened by raiding steppe nomads from the northwest.[43] The most important of these nomadic confederations were the nascent Mongols who began as a Jurchen tributary.[44] As the Mongols expanded, the Jin suffered territorial losses and invaded the Song in 1217 to remedy their shrinking resources. Jurchen military successes were limited, and the Jin faced repeated raids from the neighboring state of Western Xia. A second invasion against the Song was conducted soon afterwards, and did marginally better than the first. The Jin tried to extort an indemnity from the Song, but never received it.[45]

A peace treaty was negotiated with the Song in 1224 that ended the annual tributes to the Jurchens. Diplomatic relationships between the Jin and Song were also cut off.[46] The Jin Dynasty collapsed when the Jurchens were defeated in a Mongol and Song siege of Caizhou in 1234.[47] The Song Dynasty fell in 1279, when the remaining Song loyalists lost to the Mongols in a naval battle near Guangdong.[48]

Historical significanceEdit

Cultural and demographic assimilationEdit

Chinese Hand Cannon with Pellets

A fire lance, shown in the Ming Dynasty Huolongjing, firing pellets as projectiles.[49]

The capital of Jin Dynasty was moved to the south from Manchuria to Beijing in 1153. Jurchen migrants from Manchuria settled in the Jin controlled territories of northern China. Comprising under ten percent of the total population, the two to three million ruling Jurchens were a minority in a region that was still predominantly Han Chinese, who accounted for thirty million people.[2] The southward expansion of the Jurchens caused the Jin to transition their government from a feudal kingdom of semi-nomadic tribes to a bureaucratic Chinese-style dynasty.[43]

While the Jin government initially promoted an independent Jurchen culture alongside their adoption of the centralized Chinese imperial bureaucracy, the Jurchens of the Jin were gradually sinicized. The Jurchens became fluent in the Chinese language and the Chinese philosophy of Confucianism was used to legitimize the Jin government.[2] Emperor Hailingwang of the Jin was one of the most enthusiastic proponents of Jurchen sinification. His aggressive emulation of Chinese culture earned him a Jurchen nickname of "aping the Chinese" as a youth. Hailingwang studied the history of China and the Chinese classics, drank tea, and played Chinese chess as a recreational activity.[50]

The emperor's political reforms enforced the adoption of Chinese governance and culture. His motive for sincification may have been his desire to conquer all of China by legitimizing himself as a Chinese emperor.[51] The dream of conquering southern China was cut short by a coup against Hailing on 15 December 1161 that ended with his assassination.[52] Despite cultural and demographic changes, the hostilities between the Jin Dynasty and the Southern Song persisted for the remainder of both empires.[2]

Gunpowder warfareEdit

The battles between the Song and the Jurchens spurred the invention and use of various gunpowder weapons. The fire lance, one of the earliest ancestors of the firearm, was used by the Song against the Jurchen siege of De'an in 1132.[53] The weapon consisted of a spear attached with a flamethrower capable of firing projectiles from a barrel constructed of bamboo or paper. Later fire lances used metal barrels and were able to fire projectiles farther and with greater force.[54]

An early rudimentary bomb called the huopao, filled with gunpowder and propelled with a trebuchet, was also in use as an incendiary weapon. The huopao was used by the defending Song army during the first Jurchen siege of Kaifeng in 1126.[55] In 1127, huopao were employed by Song forces against the Jurchens in Hebei. At the Battle of Tangdao in 1161, the Song navy fired huopao against the Jurchen fleet of 600 ships. A bomb cast with pig-iron called the tieuhuopao was used by the Jurchens in 1221.[56]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Franke 1994, p. 229.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Holcombe 2011, p. 129.
  3. Ebrey 2010, p. 136.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Mote 2003, p. 209.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Mote 2003, p. 210.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Mote 2003, p. 196.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Beckwith 2009, p. 175.
  8. Mote 2003, pp. 209–210.
  9. Franke 1994, p. 225.
  10. Mote 2003, p. 207.
  11. Mote 2003, pp. 207–208.
  12. Mote 2003, p. 208.
  13. Ropp 2010, p. 71.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Lorge 2005, p. 52.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 Lorge 2005, p. 53.
  16. Lorge 2005, pp. 52–53.
  17. Hucker 1975, p. 276.
  18. Lorge 2005, pp. 53–54.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 Lorge 2005, p. 54.
  20. Franke 1994, pp. 229–230.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 Franke 1994, p. 230.
  22. Franke 1994, pp. 230–232.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Franke 1994, p. 232.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Mote 2003, p. 299.
  25. Mote 2003, pp. 299–300.
  26. Mote 2003, pp. 300–301.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Lorge 2005, p. 56.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Mote 2003, p. 301.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Mote 2003, p. 303.
  30. Mote 2003, p. 300.
  31. Mote 2003, pp. 304–305.
  32. Mote 2003, p. 305.
  33. Hymes 2000, p. 34.
  34. Franke 1994, p. 239.
  35. Franke 1994, p. 234.
  36. Franke 1994, p. 241.
  37. 37.0 37.1 Franke 1994, p. 242.
  38. Franke 1994, pp. 245–247.
  39. Franke 1994, p. 247.
  40. Franke 1994, pp. 247–248.
  41. Franke 1994, p. 248.
  42. Franke 1994, p. 249.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Franke 1994, p. 235.
  44. Franke 1994, p. 238.
  45. Franke 1994, p. 259.
  46. Franke 1994, p. 261.
  47. Lorge 2005, p. 73.
  48. Hymes 2000, p. 36.
  49. Needham 1987, p. 320.
  50. Franke 1994, pp. 239–240.
  51. Franke 1994, p. 240.
  52. Franke 1994, p. 243.
  53. Chase 2003, p. 31.
  54. Chase 2003, pp. 31–32.
  55. Partington 1960, pp. 263–264.
  56. Partington 1960, p. 264.


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