Pingyang (598-623) was a rebel general and later princess who helped found the Tang Dynasty in China.
During the early 7th Century, China was ruled by Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty, who was extremely unpopular thanks to starting numerous wars and ordering construction projects to expand the Great Wall and Grand Canal which worked 6 million people to death. Pingyang’s father, Li Yuan, was one of Yang’s most successful generals. However in 617 the Emperor became paranoid about Li Yuan’s popularity and ordered for him to be executed. In response Li Yuan rose up in open rebellion against Yang’s rule.
At this time Pingyang was living in the capital, Chang’an, where her husband Cai Shao was head of the palace guard. With the news of Li Yuan’s rebellion the pair were forced to flee the city, separating to improve their chance of escape. Pingyang returned to her family estate to find the region was suffering from severe drought. She opened up the estate’s food stores to feed the local people and in doing so was able to recruit many of them to form her own army to fight against the Emperor, dubbed ‘The Army of the Lady’.
Selling everything her family owned to fund her rebellion, Pingyang added to her forces by assimilating the armies of local warlords, either through bribery or by defeating them on the battlefield and recruiting the surviving soldiers. She ultimately became commander of a force of over 70,000 rebels. She forbade her troops from looting, pillaging, or raping, instead insisting that after conquering an area that food should be distributed to the locals. Unsurprisingly this gained her immense popular support, increased even further by her repeated victories against the Emperor’s armies.
Joining up with the armies of her father and her husband, Pingyang’s forces captured the capital within a year. Yang fled the city and was later killed by his own men. Li Yuan became Emperor Gaozu of the newly founded Tang Dynasty, while Pingyang officially became a princess in addition to being awarded the rank of Marshall and the honorific title zhou, meaning 'wise'. However she only lived a few years in this role, dying aged only 23 of unknown causes. On her death, her father broke with tradition and insisted that Pingyang was given a military funeral in honour of her achievements.