Women in the early civilizations were noted to have less importance than men, they are often left at home, or they are considered bride material to serve men at home. This notion of women has continued even in the present context, with only a few women rising up in history books as the perpetrators of change in their respective countries. In China, women are also treated differently by men due to their physical capacity and their role in society. However, aside from the Disney-launched Hua Mulan, there were other women who did a similar contribution to the Chinese Empire – serving the army and leading China to one of its iconic victories. One of the most notable examples to this is Princess Pingyang of the Tang Dynasty, the iconic figure that has led the first “All Women” army in eliminating the Sui Dynasty and seating her father as the Emperor of China.
Pingyang was born in 598 AD to Li Yuan, the future Emperor of the Tang Dynasty and to Duchess Dou. Li Yuan, prior to his ascension as Emperor, held many military positions, giving him the edge of influencing several key actors that could overthrow the Sui Emperor Yangdi. The Sui Emperor became threatened by Li Yuan and eventually ordered Li Yuan’s imprisonment to neutralize his troops. However, when the capital came under siege in 617 AD, Yangdi had to call off the imprisonment and ordered Li Yuan to ward off the siege. At this exact time, Li Yuan realized that if he does not rebel publicly soon, the Sui Emperor would make him a target. He then ordered messengers to summon his son Li Shimin in Hedong and Pingyang’s husband Cai Shao. Before leaving for Hedong, Cai Shao informed Pingyang of the plans of her father, and told her that he is worried for her safety once Cai Shao abandons the Sui court. Pingyang told her husband that she will be fine, and she will be able to escape once his abandonment becomes known to the public. Cai Shao then departed to Hedong to assist Li Yuan in rebelling against the Sui Empire.
A few days after Cai Shao’s departure from the Sui court, Pingyang followed and found her way to the family estate in Hu County. However, unlike her life in the court, Hu County was experiencing severe drought, causing many Hu natives to starve with the lack of food. Pingyang opened the family estate’s food stores and gave the peasants food and water. This noble act enabled Pingyang to gain the trust and loyalty of the peasants, considering them her new allies. Pingyang also used this opportunity to create her Woman’s Army from the most abled-bodied women whom she deemed capable of entering the rebellion started by her father. Many have answered to her request, and they marched off to support the rebellion against the Sui. Like Hua Mulan, Pingyang opted to wear male clothing when leading her troops to fight Sui loyalists.
Aside from the peasants and her own Women’s Army, Pingyang was also able to gain support from other rebel forces that also fight for leadership. Through the news that her father was gaining success in Taiyuan, many of these rebels joined with her troops and created a united front against the Sui Dynasty. Due to the sheer number of the rebels that have aligned with her, Pingyang was able to received support from the most influential groups in the region. Shi Wanbao’s faction was one of Pingyang’s most prized allies as Shi Wanbao’s expertise in martial arts enabled him to liberate the peasants in his region. When his rebellion was supported by Li Yuan’s cousin, Pingyang immediately asked her father’s cousin to convince Shi Wanbao to support her Women’s Army. Pingyang was able to convince Shi Wanbao, enabling her Women’s Army to increase. Normally, someone with the calibre as same as Shi Wanbao would not have joined in a women-led army, but Pingyang was able to get his support through close negotiations, resources, and through her capacity as a female general and strategist. He Panren was another ally Pingyang had to gain support from as He Panren commanded more than ten thousand men for his own army. The Sui Emperor also tried getting He Panren’s support against the rebels, but He Panren decided to support Pingyang. Like Shi Wanbao, He Panren agreed to coordinate plans and strategies with Pingyang to optimize their success against the Sui loyalists. Li Zhongweng, another famous commander in the region, also joined in the Women’s Army. Together, they were able to fight under the name of the Woman’s Army and took over Hu County.
As the Women’s Army invaded the Hu County, many of the peasants and civilians saw Pingyang’s troops as their liberators as they offered them food and drinks. Underground rebels also supported Pingyang’s Women’s Army and joined the ranks. To her troops, she was a strict leader and tolerated a little disobedience. Pingyang forbade her troops, both men and women, to take loot from their raided bases, committing rape and enticing pillaging. For Pingyang, these acts would discredit the troops, and the Army’s success rate will be limited due to the discredited morals the troops possesses. With a couple of skirmishes under their name, Pingyang’s army were able to distribute food, gaining new allies from the captured people from their liberated territories. The Sui troops began to see Pingyang’s capacity and power to be a threat they must eliminate, slowly launching an attack to Pingyang’s position.
At the same moment as Pingyang’s victories over the Hu County, Li Yuan, Li Shimin, and Cai Shao were also able to repel the forces in their respective areas. With Pingyang handling the Sui troops in the Hu County, Li Yuan took this as the chance to attack the remaining Sui forces. The Sui was unable to recover from the attack, subsequently enabling Li Yuan to take over the Capital. Cai Shao immediately rushed to Pingyang’s position to help her ward off the remaining Sui forces. Both Cai Shao and Pingyang had their own separate headquarters despite their marriage . Once all the Sui forces were eliminated, Emperor Yangdi had no choice but to flee southward to escape being killed by Li Yuan’s forces. However, he was assassinated, while in hiding, in 618 A.D. The Tang Dynasty replaced the Sui Dynasty and Li Yuan became its first emperor. As a form of honour for her position in rebellion against the Sui, Pingyang was given the rank of Marshall. A Marshall in the Tang dynasty enables Pingyang to gain her own military staff and aides. However, Pingyang slowly succumbed to exhaustion from the skirmishes and travels she did while helping her father gain the throne. Princess Pingyang died in 623 AD at the age of 23 or 24 years old .
In her death, Emperor Li Yuan ordered for the renaming of the pass in Pingding to be called “the Young Lady’s Pass”. Li Yuan was stricken with grief due to Pingyang’s death as she was the favourite of her parents. She was given an elaborate funeral fit for a military general. The court was hesitant to allow this type of procession for a woman, even if she enabled the Tang Dynasty to be created. Li Yuan placed his foot down and said “As you know, the princess mustered an army that has helped us overthrow the Sui dynasty. She participated in many battles, and her help was decisive in founding the Tang Dynasty She was no ordinary woman” .
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