Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Emperor Zhenzong of Song -- Innovator of Trading Peace with Money & A Professional of Self Glorification

From A Talented Crown Prince to A Capable Emperor 

Zhao Heng (968 -- 1022) was a graceful crown prince who was excellent at poems and calligraphy.

 

When he was young, his favorite game was pretending to be a commander and led his “army” to fight, which gained his father’s appreciation.

 

After his older brothers all passed away, he became the heir of the Song Dynasty.

 

When he ascended to the throne, the current empress dowager initiated a coup; a powerful minister assisted Zhao Heng and defeated them. Afterwards, Zhao Heng started to manage the empire, as a real monarch.

 

Emperor Zhao Heng, also respected as Emperor Zhenzong of Song or Song Zhen Zong, established a comprehensive and efficient system in the history of China, to manage officers’ files and to measure and exam their political performances; corruption was highly suppressed within his system while lots of talented people were selected through the Imperial Examination.

 

This excellent management system with explicit reward and punishment policy made great contributions to the flourishing of Chinese culture, economy and agriculture, and also helped Zhao Heng gain loved and respect by most of his people. 

Joining the Expedition and Gaining Victory 

Years later, the powerful nomadic regime in the north named Liao invaded Song again; these two empires had been fighting for years but still were in tie.

 

This time, the most powerful prime minister strongly suggested Emperor Zhenzong of Song to be the commander and come to the battlefield, to encourage Song’s soldiers and protect his own empire.

 

Though Zhao Heng liked to act as a commander when he was young, he didn’t want to be actually involved in a real war that was full of blood and dead bodies.

 

Then this prime minister threatened and encouraged Emperor Zhao Heng for a long time, using lots of strategies and tricks, until he finally agreed to join the war.

Emperor Zhao Heng then nominated his crown prince to govern the country after he left, came to the battlefront and gave his warriors some inspiring speeches.

 

As expected, Song’s soldiers were highly encouraged, they fought much braver and kept winning. 

 

Unprecedented, Controversial of "Trading Peace with Money"

Then the Kingdom Liao sent some messengers, trying to make a peace; the Emperor Zhenzong of Song, Zhao Heng, was happy and then agreed.

 

Song signed a treaty with Liao, including Liao would respect Song as big brother and establish trade market on the borders, while Song would provide some money to Liao each year. 

 

This behavior was frequently criticized in the history of China, for being weak and using money in exchange for peace, and having signed such a treaty when Song was very possible to win.

 

This was the first treaty that singed with nomadic regime in the history of China. In the past, unified empires either made the enemy comply and pay tribute, or fought; emperors were either the monarch or enemy of the nearby nomadic regimes. 

 

On the other hand, some people supported and praised this behavior, because it made people live in peace and had promoted positive communications among different regimes.

 

Moreover, the money that Song gave Liao each year was far less than they would have spent if they kept fighting and training more soldiers; Song also earned even more money from the trade market on the borders. 

 

Anyway, at that time, the consequences were obvious, which included decades of peace, development of agriculture, economy, and trade business; however, as well as decreased combat capacity of the Song Empire’s army. 

Obsessing of Self Glorification and Fancy Ceremonies

After having signed this pact, some ministers believed this was a shame of an empire, and frequently criticized Emperor Zhenzong of Song.

 

But according to Heng's uncle, Emperor Zhao Kuangyin, the founder of the Song Dynasty, those talented ministers should be respected, and no one should be punished because of their sayings.

 

Therefore, Emperor Zhenzong of Song, Zhao Heng, was quite unhappy with those sayings, but could do nothing about it. Until someone suggested him to hold a great worship ceremony in Mount Tai, just like those extraordinary emperors did before. Heng was quite happy with this suggestion. 

 

But in the history of China, not every emperor was qualified to hold ceremony in Mount Tai. Only few of those with outstanding achievements did that before, such as Emperor Qin Shi Huang or Emperor Wudi of Han.

 

Consequently, Zhao Heng, the Emperor Zhenzong of Song, stepped into a path of self glorification, by asking people to “find” lucky tokens “unconsciously”, and then telling people that he had some magical dreams, in which celestial beings told him to do something to worship the heaven, etc.

 

Then he, after having gained most of his civil ministers' consents, finally led a large group of people held a sacrifice ceremony in Mount Tai. 

 

He was also the last emperor who did this in the history of China. An important reason was that many of the following emperors believed Zhao Heng was not qualified to hold the sacrifice ceremony in Mount Tai. His incapability made the most honorable sacrifice ceremony not great anymore. 

Afterwards, Zhao Heng organized some other worship events years later, which costed lots of money.


From his perspective, he also could be a great monarch by connecting with heaven and mysterious forces, rather than gaining triumphs on battlefields and recovering of the Tang Dynasty’s big territory. 

Emperor Zhenzong of Song's Purchased, Beloved Wife

When Zhao Heng was a prince, his butler bought him a beautiful concubine named Liu, who was sold by her poverty husband.

 

Zhao Heng liked her a lot, though she had never gave him a baby.

 

After he ascended to the throne as Emperor Zhenzong of Song, he wanted to nominate her as his queen, but lots of ministers disagreed because of her history.

 

This time, the Emperor Zhenzong of Song insisted and gave the crown to his beloved woman. Her ex husband was even given a good position in the government, and then got promoted when she was the queen.

 

Liu was a very smart person, who assisted Zhao Heng for a long time in political decisions, especially when Zhao Heng was pursuing mysterious forces in his late years. 

 

Once, Emperor Zhenzong of Song slept with one of Liu’s maids and made her pregnant. After this maid gave birth to a baby boy, Liu immediately took this baby away and raised him as her own.

 

This maid was soon expelled and died years later, many people suspected that Liu was responsible for her death.

Zhao Heng knew all of this, but didn’t say a word; he even nominated this baby boy Zhao Zhen as the heir of Empire Song. 

 

Until Liu passed away, this boy finally knew that Liu wasn’t his birth mother. 

 

Though Zhao Heng, the Emperor Zhenzong of Song, was frequently criticized in the history of China for being afraid of wars and being too passionate in pursuing mysterious forces, he was quite a qualified monarch in bringing his people peaceful and wealthy lives and keeping his empire running well.