Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Zhang Xun -- A Controversial General in History of China Who Put Loyalty Before Everything

Zhang Xun (708 -- 757) was one of the most important and heroic generals in the eight-year long An-Shi Rebellion war of the Tang Dynasty; his extreme braveness and intelligence blocked that war in the northern China. 

 

Thanks to him and his extraordinary warriors, the entire southern China was protected away from the huge destructions. 

 

However, in his difficult battles protecting his city, he and his soldiers ate people; this made him quite a controversial general in the history of China. 

Zhang Xun's Early Life As A Well Educated Civil Officer 

 

Zhang Xun was born into a politician’s family; he was well educated and showed great interest in the military.

 

After he grew up, Xun got an excellent score in the Imperial Examination and was assigned some political positions.

 

However, he displeased the most powerful minister, imperial concubine Yang Yuhuan’s evil brother; so he was demoted as a county magistrate.

 

Xun managed this city quite well and was highly respected by local civilians. 

 

Turning Into A Brave, Exceptional General In the War 

In his 40s, the eight-year long destructive, the An-Shi Rebellion, happened, under Emperor Li Longji’s ruling period.

 

Some county magistrates escaped or surrendered, which gave many cities to the rebel army.

 

Zhang Xun, the county magistrate, was a civil officer with no army; so he started to recruit volunteers to defend his city.

 

Soon, around 3000 soldiers joined him. They used this small city as their base, to fight against more than 15,000 well trained rebel warriors. 

Zhang Xun was besieged in this small city, so he used many smart strategies to steal food, archery equipment and other necessary resources from his enemies. 

 

Facing such outnumbered troop, Xun encountered over hundreds of intense battles within 4 months.

 

His excellent military skills and unpredictable strategies made him renowned. 

Bigger Responsibility, More difficult Missions & Fiercer Wars

Then Zhang Xun was promoted and assigned to defend a larger city, which was an extremely important military site, a gate to the southern China.

 

If this city was lost to the rebel army, the large area of the southeast China would be turned into battlefields and encounter huge destructions. 

This time, Zhang Xun only had around 10,000 warriors, while the rebel army sent 130,000 soldiers surrounded them, trying to occupy this important site.

 

There had been hundreds of intense battles within few months.

 

During that period, the Emperor Li Longji already gave up the capital city and escaped to a safer place with his favorite concubine Yang Yuhuan. More people gave up fighting and escaped, because the emperor himself had fled.

 

What's worse, at that time, there were no other Tang's armies to back up Zhang Xun and his city. 

 

But Zhang Xun insisted on his loyalty; all of his soldiers and civilians were extremely faithful to him and to the Empire Tang.

 

After months of being isolated and surrounded, and having encountered lots of intense battles with such outnumbered enemies, they were out of food, water and weapon.

 

They ate everything edible in the city, but none of them wanted to give up. 

Struggling in Desperation and the Epic Final Sacrifice

Then, Zhang Xun, a well educated and elegant civil officer, had to chose the most difficult path; he needed to do everything he could to protect this city.

 

He killed his favorite concubine first, so that his soldiers could eat, then they ate some other people in the city.

 

None of those civilians, however, tried to escape, betray or sell information to their enemy; they tried their best to help Zhang Xun and his soldiers to defend the city, and faced their final fate calmly.  

 

Another month later, there were only about 400 civilians and 36 warriors left with Zhang Xun; they didn’t even have enough strength to hold their swords and bows.

 

After a solemn and stirring final battle, the city fell into the rebel army’s hands.

 

General Zhang Xun and his soldiers were captured and slaughtered, after they made clear that they won't surrender. 

Great Contribution and Criticisms of General Zhang Xun

Three days after their epic sacrifice, another army of the Tang Empire arrived this city, defeated the rebel armies and took it back.

 

Ten days later, Empire Tang’s main force recovered other big cities and achieved important success in other battlefields and kept winning.

 

The rich southeast China were well protected, so that they could keep providing food and money to Tang’s army, and millions of people living there were saved. 

Zhang Xun and his soldiers and those sacrificed civilians, however, didn't get the chance to see the triumph that they had participated in and made a great contribution to; later he was widely criticized for allowing cannibalism. 

 

However, his great contribution and loyalty was also praised by his emperor.

 

Zhang Xun, this noble born civil officer, led 10,000 warriors perished around 120, 000 experienced rebel soldiers, through more than 400 intense battles, and protected that important city for 10 months.

 

This allowed millions of people in the southeast of China lived in stability and peace, and made sure Tang’s main force had enough time and resources to win back.