Difficult Struggles, and 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, a large number of officials, and civilians.


After this catastrophic war, Song lost vast territory in the north and large numbers of people.

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


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


Therefore, since Emperor Zhao Shen (1127 — 1194), seeking revenge from 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. 

Until the year 1234, Song and Mongol Empire allied together, and finally perished 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 Song and Mongol

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

Unfortunately, the Song Empire experienced two incapable, fatuous emperors, when the aggressive, strong Mongol troops were invading and Song’s soldiers intensely fought back.

Unqualified monarchs always were surrounded by greedy and ridiculous officials; therefore, some extremely stupid and timid people obtained more power during that period. 

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

There were many brave and talented generals on each side, as well as 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 Short Break and More Intense Invasions

In the year 1259, the current Khan of Mongolia died in a war against the Song. The most 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 he went back to Mongolia, he signed an unfair treaty with Song, including Song respecting Mongolia’s Khan as monarch and providing large numbers of tributes each year.

Kublai defeated other competitors and 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 in charge, who 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 Wars Protecting the City Xiangyang

In the year 1268, Kublai Khan sent his elite troop started to invade a city with extremely military importance, which was 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. 

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

Except for a small-scale troop with about 3000 soldiers made into the city of 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 the year 1273, Kublai put his army together, cut off the connection between those two cities, and concentrated his fire on the smaller city 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

Losing of Important Military Site Xiangyang

Now, Xiangyang was an isolated city, with no reinforcements nor further resources.

But the commander Lv kept fighting. He tore apart and burnt his own houses to keep warm, and killed most of his former colleagues who tried to persuade him to surrender.

Then Kublai sent another general to negotiate with Lv, 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 Lv surrendered, he would be assigned a high position and all the people in Xiangyang city would be well protected.

In the end, Lv 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, Lv 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 Tragic, Epic Ending of Song Dynasty

In the next six years after City Xiangyang was occupied by Kublai, the Song Empire kept losing its lands dramatically.

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

The next year after this huge loss, the Mongol army approached outside of 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 next to a sea in the 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 all 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, large numbers of 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)