Fun Facts about Chinese Culture and History

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Zhao Kuangyin -- A Kung Fu Emperor with A Controversial Ending 

Zhao Kuangyin (927 -- 976), also respected as Emperor Tai Zu of Song, was the founder of the Song Dynasty in the history of China. 

 

A Brave Sowrdsman Guided by An Astrologer 

Born into a military family of the chaotic Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms era, Zhao Kuangyin was quite good at Kung Fu and had contributed some important movements to Chinese martial arts. He travelled a lot when he was young as a very brave and strong swordsman.

 

Once, he lived in a temple, the master who was also a wise astrologer gave all of his assets to Kuangyin, and told him to go northward.

 

As that master suggested, soon, Zhao Kuangyin met a general and was highly appreciated; he the assisted this general achieved many military successes.

 

Years later, this general overthrew the current regime and claimed himself the new king. Kuangyin was promoted and given more power, for having saved this new king for several times, and made great contributions expanding the territory. 

 

Snatching of the Throne From A Toddler King

Few years later, this king passed away and his seven-year-old son ascended to the throne, when this young emperor trusted Zhao Kuangyin even more.

 

After hearing that a nearby nomadic army was planning to invade his kingdom, this new king commanded Kuangyin to lead the army to defend their country. 

 

After Kuangyin and his troop left the capital city, many of his followers put an imperial robe on him, and respected him as the new emperor.

 

All soldiers in the army believed that Kuangyin would be a better monarch than the seven-year-old king and his young mother, in the chaotic era full of wars.

 

Consequently, Zhao Kuangyin asked the young king to abdicate the throne and took control of his country.

Unlike other usurpers in the history of China, Zhao Kuangyin treated the former royal family members quite well; he gave them the most honorable titles and made sure they lived respected and wealthy lives; also, they could be remitted from breaking laws. 

 

In an era of endless wars and perishing of regimes, having obtained the throne using violence or conspiracy was not unusual.

 

However, governing and flourishing the kingdom well was a bigger challenge and more important mission. 

Expanding of Territory and Establishing of Song Dynasty 

Zhao Kuangyin named his new dynasty as Song, which was still only a regime occupying some places in China.

 

Soon, it turned out that Zhao Kuangyin was exactly the type of monarch who was needed in an era of chaos and co-existing kingdoms.

 

He was a very brave and talented marshal, who led his excellent generals and soldiers defeated other regimes one by one. 

 

After a series of successes, the Song Empire almost united the whole of the nation, except a very strong nomadic regime in the north.

 

In the meanwhile, Kuangyin was an excellent emperor, who brought his people stable and wealthy lives. 

 

Emperor Zhao Kuangyin tried his best to avoid two main problems that were responsible for the perishing of the previous Tang Dynasty, the powerful warlords outside of the central government, and the strong eunuch groups that could manipulate politics inside the royal palace.

 

When the nation was almost unified, Kuangyin took military powers back from all of his generals with meritorious services, peacefully, on a royal feast.

 

Afterwards, he, the emperor, was in absolute control of both royal and regional troops. 

Restraining of Generals and Respecting of Civil Officers

Then Emperor Zhao Kuangyin published many administration policies to enhance the centralized power, and divide authority of important ministers. 

 

Thanks to him, warlords and eunuchs never had the power or opportunity to threaten the emperors’ authority throughout the entire Song Dynasty. 

 

He believed that generals with military power would be quite destructive, like all the chaos that they caused at the end of the Tang Dynasty; so Emperor Zhao Kuangyin applied many policies to suppress their power.

 

By doing this, Kuangyin completely eliminated the possibility that another powerful warlord would usurp the throne, just like what he did before.

 

Then Kuangyin empowered and highly respected civil officers that were seleted from the Imperial Examination.

 

The Imperial Examination system was further refined by sealing names on test papers, transcribing all the papers before grading them, isolating examiners, and retesting people from rich and powerful families to make sure their ability fit their results.

 

By doing this, the final result could accurately show people’s real talent, while corruption and cheating were efficiently avoided.

 

Confucianism and scholars were highly respected and books were collected and well preserved.​

Emperor Zhao Kuangyin also paid lots of attention to manage rivers in order to prevent destructive floods, and increase agriculture production.

 

Moreover, he lowered taxes from civilians, but increased the share of central government’s occupation on national revenues.

 

Economy, agriculture, literature, art and science were further developed under his ruling period. 

 

Remarkable Emperor Zhao Kuangyin and His Famous Will

Though the way he got the throne was not loyal, Zhao Kuangyin was an emperor with a good reputation and remarkable achievements; indeed, he was a well respected monarch with no negative comments in the history of China.

 

He ended chaos and wars by unifying the nation, and brought people stable and wealthy lives.

 

Unlike some other kingdom's founders in history, he didn’t kill any of his remarkable generals for the reason of feeling threatened by their talents or achievements. 

 

The previous emperor’s family, even the royal members of the other kingdoms that he conquered, were well protected and respected under Kuangyin's ruling period.

 

Emperor Zhao Kuangyin was frugal, self-disciplined, respectable, always nice to his governors, had a big heart and never killed anyone without reasons.

 

He also left some testamentary instructions that were followed strictly by the emperors of the Song Dynasty, including all the people from his previous king’s family should be well-protected, officers who gave suggestions or critical opinions shouldn’t be sentenced to death because of their words. 

 

These made civil officers in the Song Dynasty were quite respectable and brave, even bold sometimes. 

 

Controversial, Abnormal Death of Emperor Zhao Kuangyin

One day, he invited his younger brother Zhao Guangyi to drink wine with him, and asked his brother to stay overnight at his palace. 

 

The next morning, Emperor Zhao Kuangyin was found dead and his brother became the next emperor of the Song Dynasty.  

His brother’s legality as the emperor has long been questioned in the history of China.

 

Some people suspected that his brother might have killed Emperor Zhao Kuangyin to take the throne. As a strong, healthy man who was quite excellent at martial art, his death was too sudden. In addition, Guangyi was nearly a professional in toxicant.

 

Guangyi didn’t have any proof to show his older brother gave the throne to him, rather than Kuangyin's own sons, like all the other normal emperors in the history of China.

 

But Guangyi was contributive in the establishment of the Song Dynasty, and was Kuangyin’s close brother, which made him powerful, and easily accepted by Song’s people.

However, all Emperor Zhao Kuangyin’s sons and his queen, and those complied royal members from previous conquered kingdoms, were all passed away under Guangyi’s ruling period, most of whom didn’t have an explicit cause of death. 

 

Years later, Guangyi passed the throne to his own son, not any of Zhao Kuangyin’s descendants. 

 

Anyway, no one can really prove if Kuangyin was killed by his brother or not, or whom he actually wanted to give his throne to. This is still an unsolved puzzle.