Chinese history


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.

Gao Guiying

Gao Guiying was a Chinese revolutionary general who fought against the Ming and Qing dynasties during the early 17th century.

Gao was raised in Mizhi City at a time when the Ming dynasty that had ruled China for nearly 3 centuries was struggling to hold onto power in the face of numerous popular rebellions. In 1627 Gao met the outlaw Li Zicheng when he was brought to the Gao family home by her brother to hide from the authorities. Li was wanted for the murder of a local gang leader who had been terrorizing Yanan. Gao and Li formed a fast bond while they practiced martial arts together, with Gao repeatedly proving herself to be a most challenging opponent for Li. The pair married and began to instruct the local population in martial arts.

Eventually the authorities learned of Li's whereabouts and he and the Gao family were forced to flee their home. They joined a group of peasant rebels among whom Gao and Li quickly rose to positions of power. In 1630 they launched a large scale revolt. The pair split as Li led a an army of peasant men while Gao trained and educated her own army formed entirely of women. She established a stronghold in Changde in the Hunan region which became known as the 'Lady's Base' and would serve as her base of operations for the next 17 years. The rebellion was an enormous success as Gao and Li carved out their own huge territories across China and declared them independent from Ming rule.

In 1644 Li's forces captured the capital of Beijing, ending the Ming dynasty and declaring himself Emperor of the new Shun Dynasty with Gao as his Empress. However Li's reign was short-lived. The break-up of China had created a new enemy in the form of the Machunian Qing dynasty, who captured Beijing just months later and killed Li. Declaring herself the greatest opponent of the Qing, Gao allied herself with her former enemies, the Ming, some of whom still clung on in Southern China. She became the supreme military commander in the fight against the Qing and was given the noble title of 'Lady of the First Degree' by the King of Nantang.

Gao led the fight against the Qing until her death in 1647. She is remembered in Chinese culture as a remarkable leader and has appeared in novels, plays, films and comics.