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Difficult Struggles and the Tragic Ending of the Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty was established by Emperor Zhao Kuangyin in the year 960 and ended for the first time in the Incident of Jingkang (1126 — 1127).


In the Incident of Jingkang, the nomadic Jurchen Jin Dynasty captured Song's emperor and almost all royals, countless officials, and civilians.


After this catastrophic war, Song lost vast territory in the north and innumerable people.

A prince named Zhao Gou (1107 — 1187) reestablished the Song Empire in the south and insisted on making peace with Jurchen Jin at all costs.


However, many people still wanted to regain Song's lost land and dignity. 


Therefore, since Emperor Zhao Shen (1127 — 1194), seeking revenge on Jurchen Jin became the goal that Song kept trying, even though they encountered a series of failures.

Perfume (Xiang Bing) Blended by Emperor Zhao Gou of the Southern Song Dynasty, Carved with Characters of "Recovery and Prosperity"

Perfume (Xiang Bing) Blended by Emperor Zhao Gou, Carved with Characters of "Recovery and Prosperity" — Changzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Final Completed Vengeance

Since Genghis Khan (1162 — 1227) built the Mongol Empire in 1206, he kept expanding the territory through his exceptional military talent. 

Soon, they started to attack Jurchen Jin. 

Afterward, Song, Jin, and Mongols fought or allied in the next few years when situations kept changing. 

In 1234, the Song and Mongol Empires allied and ultimately brought about the downfall of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty.

Song Empire recovered many lost lands and finally completed the vengeance.

Copper Dragon of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty

Copper Dragon of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty — Heilongjiang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Endless Wars Between the Song and Mongol Empires

However, only one year later, the Mongol Empire started to invade the Song Empire.

Unfortunately, the Song Empire was led by two incapable and ineffectual emperors when the aggressive and powerful Mongol troops invaded, despite the intense resistance put up by Song's soldiers.

Unqualified monarchs were often surrounded by greedy and incompetent officials; as a result, some extremely foolish and cowardly individuals gained more power during that period.

From 1235 to 1259, wars between the Song and Mongol empires never stopped; each empire occupied half of China and kept fighting, and both won and failed several times.

There were many brave and talented generals on each side and political conspiracies.

Unearthed Glass Crossguard (Jian Ge) of the Song Dynasty

Glass Crossguard (Jian Ge) of the Song Dynasty — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

A Brief Respite and Heightened Invasions

In 1259, the current Khan of Mongolia died in a war against the Song. The possible reason was that he got shot and passed away very soon because he didn't leave any message regarding who should inherit the throne.  

Hence, Kublai (1215 — 1294), the younger brother of the late Khan, rushed back to compete for the throne. 

Before returning to Mongolia, he signed an unfair treaty with Song, including Song respecting Mongolia's Khan as monarch and providing significant tributes each year.

Kublai defeated other competitors, won the throne, became the next Khan of the Mongol Empire, and changed its name to the Yuan Dynasty (1271 — 1368).

During this relatively peaceful period, however, the Song Empire's emperor was enjoying life with hundreds of beautiful women while letting the incapable, treacherous prime minister named Jia be in charge, who had already expelled or murdered many loyal and integrity marshals because of his greedy desire for power. 

Portrait of Kublai Khan the Emperor Shizu of Yuan, By Artist Liu Guandao of the Yuan Dynasty

Portrait of Kublai Khan the Emperor Shizu of Yuan, By Artist Liu Guandao of the Yuan Dynasty — Taipei Palace Museum

Epic Battles to Defend the City of Xiangyang

In 1268, Kublai Khan sent his elite troops to invade a city with high military importance, the last important gate to the Song Empire.

This city named Xiangyang, and the nearby city named Fancheng, were soon besieged by over 100,000 Mongol soldiers.

Kublai’s army cut off all the possible rescue channels of these two cities, and every soldier on each side fought bravely in countless intense battles. 

Song tried to send reinforcements eight times in the following years, but they were all defeated.

Except for a small-scale troop with about 3000 soldiers made into Xiangyang. 

Ironically, almost three years later, the current emperor of Song was just informed that his important gate cities were being attacked.

Blue Glass Turtle Shaped Decoration of the Song Dynasty

Blue Glass Turtle Shaped Decoration of the Song Dynasty — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Fall of the City Fancheng - Cruel Slaughter and Sacrifices

In 1273, Kublai put his army together, cut off the connection between those two cities, and concentrated his fire on the smaller city of Fancheng.

After a series of intense wars, the city wall broke down.

Song’s commanders and hundreds of his remaining warriors continued to fight in the streets until they were all covered by countless scars and then jumped into big fires. 

In the end, the Mongol army slaughtered everyone in the city. 

Intense War

The Loss of the Strategic Military Site Xiangyang

Now, Xiangyang was an isolated city with no reinforcements or further resources.

But the commander Lyu kept fighting. He tore apart and burnt his homes to stay warm and killed most of his former colleagues who tried to persuade him to surrender.

Then Kublai sent another general to negotiate with Lyu, saying that six years of fierce wars had already shown his loyalty to Song, and that's everything he could do. 

Kublai promised that if Lyu surrendered, he would be assigned a high position, and all the people in Xiangyang City would be well protected.

In the end, Lyu opened the gate of Xiangyang and complied with Kublai Khan.

Since 1235, wars of fighting over those two cities barely stopped; about 400,000 soldiers were sacrificed or injured in these wars. 

The intensity and cruelty of the countless battles in this war could be seen in those astonishing numbers. 

Afterward, Lyu was immediately nominated as a powerful general of Yuan, who persuaded many of Song's other generals to surrender, and defeated many cities of Song for Kublai Khan.

Flower Shaped Gold Cup of the Song Dynasty

Flower Shaped Gold Cup of the Song Dynasty — Pengzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Huge Sacrifices and the Tragic, Epic End of the Song Dynasty

In the six years following Kublai's occupation of the City of Xiangyang, the Song Empire experienced dramatic losses of its territory.

Prime Minister Jia was forced to lead Song's army to defend the kingdom since he continually bragged about himself in the government, saying that he was an exceptional commander in the history of China.

However, he escaped from the battlefront because of cowardice.


He left 130,000 fine soldiers of the Song with no commander and necessary resources on the battlefield, which caused a colossal loss again.

The following year after this huge loss, the Mongol army approached outside Song's capital city, and Song's current emperor complied.

Blue-and-White Porcelain Cup of the Yuan Dynasty Decorated with Dragon and Cloud Patterns

Blue-and-White Porcelain Cup of the Yuan Dynasty Decorated with Dragon and Cloud Patterns — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Before the capital city was broken in, some loyal officials and generals of Song supported this emperor's brothers, marched southward, established another government, and kept fighting against Yuan. 

Three years later, Song's last emperor and his people retreated to a mountain beside a sea south of the Chinese mainland.

After months of intensive battles, they failed; about 100,000 to 200,000 of the Song Empire's loyal generals, soldiers, and civilians sacrificed or committed suicide. 

The last emperor of Song, a faithful minister, and around 800 royal family members jumped into the sea and committed suicide.

After that final war, innumerable bodies were floating in the sea, telling the epic, tragic end of the Song Dynasty. 

Unearthed Copper Writing Brush Holder (Bi Jia) of the Song Dynasty

Unearthed Copper Writing Brush Holder (Bi Jia) of the Song Dynasty — Zhuji Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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