Emperor Huizong

Emperor Huizong

Patricia Buckley Ebrey
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 712
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  • Book Info
    Emperor Huizong
    Book Description:

    China was the most advanced country in the world when Huizong ascended the throne in 1100 CE. Artistically gifted, he guided the Song Dynasty toward cultural greatness but is known to posterity as a political failure who lost the throne to Jurchen invaders and died their prisoner. In this comprehensive biography, Patricia Ebrey corrects the prevailing view of Huizong as decadent and negligent, recasting him as a ruler ambitious in pursuing glory for his flourishing realm. After a rocky start trying to overcome political animosities at court, Huizong turned his attention to the good he could do. He greatly expanded the court's charitable ventures, founding schools, hospitals, orphanages, and paupers' cemeteries. Surrounding himself with poets, painters, and musicians, he built palaces, temples, and gardens of unsurpassed splendor. Often overlooked, however, is the importance of Daoism in Huizong's life. He treated spiritual masters with great deference, wrote scriptural commentaries, and urged his subjects to adopt his beliefs and practices. This devotion to the Daoist vision of sacred kingship eventually alienated the Confucian mainstream and compromised Huizong's ability to govern. Ebrey's lively biography adds new dimensions of understanding to a passionate, paradoxical ruler who, many centuries later, inspires both admiration and disapproval.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72642-0
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Tables, Maps, and Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. Note on Ages, Dates, and Other Conventions
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. Chronology
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  7. Cast of Characters
    (pp. xxiii-xxviii)
  8. Genealogy of the Song Emperors and Empresses
    (pp. xxix-xxx)
  9. I Learning to Rule, 1082–1108
    • 1 Growing Up in the Palace, 1082–1099
      (pp. 3-37)

      On the twelfth day of the first month of the third year of the Primal Talley reign period (which corresponds roughly to 1100 CE), Huizong’s life took a momentous turn.¹ That day his elder brother, the twenty-three-year-old (twenty-fivesui) Emperor Zhezong died after an illness that his physicians had failed to cure despite months of treatment.² No heir apparent had been appointed, and Zhezong’s legal mother, Empress Dowager Xiang (the empress of his father Shenzong), selected the second oldest of Zhezong’s five surviving younger brothers, Huizong, as the next emperor. Huizong had not been groomed to succeed to the throne,...

    • 2 Taking the Throne, 1100
      (pp. 38-70)

      In any monarchy, the death of the ruler creates a crisis. Even when the death is expected and an heir apparent in place, no one knows how effectively the new ruler will handle his position, whether he will be able to assert control over the machinery of government and manage the intricate interpersonal relations between ruler and ministers to his advantage. When the death is unexpected or there is no heir apparent, the possibility of a succession struggle looms. High officials, senior consorts, and principal palace servants know that they will fare better if their candidate takes the throne and...

    • 3 Trying for Balance, 1101–1102
      (pp. 71-97)

      Huizong’s second year on the throne was a demanding one that entailed even more ritual obligations than his first year. Not only was there Empress Dowager Xiang’s funeral, but also provision for Zhezong’s portrait hall and Huizong’s first performance of the Suburban Sacrifice to heaven. As he fulfilled these obligations, Huizong attempted what would be termed today a coalition government, one in which members of opposing factions work together. He kept in place the moderate conservative Han Zhongyan and the moderate reformer Zeng Bu to head the Council of State. Many less moderate men were also brought to court. In...

    • 4 Choosing the Reformers, 1102–1108
      (pp. 98-128)

      Within the long span of Chinese history, the Song period has commonly been perceived as a time when both emperors and the educated elite gained greater powers. Emperors are said to have become more autocratic, concentrating more authority in their own hands and delegating less to their officials. At the same time, the scholar-official elite, recruited through the competitive civil service examination system, is said to have come into its own, its morale and sense of worth strengthened through the reenergizing of Confucianism. To James Liu, the autocracy of the ruler and the factionalism of the officials exacerbated each other:...

  10. II Striving for Magnificence, 1102–1112
    • 5 Placing Faith in Daoism, 1100–1110
      (pp. 131-158)

      Within the world of Song culture, a great many ideas circulated concerning what we might consider cosmology, natural science, and religion. Some people were highly eclectic in their thinking, accepting most of what they heard. They had confidence in the powers of many gods they knew by name, whether of Buddhist, Daoist, or local origin. They knew that natural disasters could be warnings from heaven. They took for granted ideas about yin and yang,qi(vital energy, vapor, pneuma), and the Five Phases (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) that were used to discuss biology, music, geomancy, and weather. They...

    • 6 Embracing and Revitalizing Tradition
      (pp. 159-185)

      Life at court required performances of many kinds, both by the ruler and by those who came into his presence. On the simple side were daily courtesies that people largely took for granted. Musical entertainment and religious rituals were much more complex and shaped not only by conventions of many sorts but also principles laid down in such sacred books as theRecord of Ritualand theRites of Zhou. Despite these layers of tradition, there was generally room to creatively reimagine how performances could be improved or enhanced. Reattaining the perfection of antiquity carried great prestige, but there was...

    • 7 Welcoming Masters and Experts
      (pp. 186-218)

      Huizong’s court—like courts elsewhere in his age—was not only a consumer of culture; it was also a producer. Huizong could not achieve a magnificent court on his own: he needed to recruit talented craftsmen and specialists in many fields and give them opportunities to shine.

      The ways Huizong went about selecting, training, and rewarding experts for his court can be viewed in terms of the options open to him. What could he do to make his court magnificent? Where did the court have competitive advantage, so that investment in training and materials would pay off? To the extent...

    • 8 Crafting an Image as an Artist
      (pp. 219-240)

      Huizong was a remarkably accomplished painter, poet, and calligrapher. Among the pieces of calligraphy attributed to Huizong in the collection of the Palace Museums in Taipei and Beijing are several undated transcriptions of poems that he apparently wrote himself.¹ Most of them are written out in slightly large calligraphy in standard script on a single sheet of paper. One stands out as different because it is much larger: the characters on it are about 12 centimeters tall, written out two per line on a handscroll 263 centimeters long (Figure 8.1). Sometimes this work is calledTwo Poems, on the understanding...

  11. III Anticipating Great Things, 1107–1120
    • 9 Pursuing the Monumental
      (pp. 243-283)

      Early in his reign Huizong came to realize how satisfying it was to initiate a project and see it through to completion. He liked to watch the progress of buildings under construction, to talk to scholars he had set to work on research projects, and to offer guidance to his court painters. By the time he had been on the throne seven or eight years, he had acquired the confidence to take on grander and more ambitious projects. For the next dozen years, he frequently set out to accomplish great things.

      This chapter looks at six grand projects which Huizong...

    • 10 Finding Pleasure in Court and Palace Life
      (pp. 284-316)

      In the Song imagination, paradise resembled a royal court where guests were entertained by lovely young women performing on musical instruments, dancing, and serving the finest food and drink. This meant also, of course, that when people thought about the leisure time of the emperor, they imagined him surrounded by endless temptations and able to fulfill any wish. In most people’s imagination, it took a fierce determination for a ruler not to let the easy availability of sensual pleasures divert him from his weighty political responsibilities, and all too many rulers did not pass this test.

      What sorts of entertainments...

    • Color Plates
      (pp. None)
    • 11 Working with Councilors
      (pp. 317-342)

      In China, the ruler–minister relationship was considered one of the building blocks of the social and political order. In Confucian thought, it was one of the five cardinal relations (the others were father–son, husband–wife, elder brother–younger brother, and friend to friend). The ruler–minister relationship should be reciprocal and based on loyalty, trust, and respect. The minister should want what was best for his ruler and thus might have to tell the ruler things he did not want to hear. The ruler needed to be an excellent judge of character to select the right men as...

    • 12 Accepting Divine Revelations, 1110–1119
      (pp. 343-371)

      From the beginning of his reign Huizong was a devout Daoist. He read standard Daoist scriptures, participated in Daoist rituals, painted Daoist icons, interacted with Daoist masters, and funded the construction of Daoist temples. Over time, his involvement with Daoism deepened and widened. By 1113, he was taking an interest in seers such as Wang Laozhi and Wang Zixi. That year and the next he reported visions of deities after both the sacrifice to heaven and the sacrifice to earth. He also began a major search for Daoist texts in preparation for the compilation of a new Daoist canon. By...

    • 13 Allying with Jin
      (pp. 372-392)

      Huizong’s confidence contributed to the worst decision he ever made—to ally with the Jurchen Jin dynasty against Song’s immediate northern neighbor, the Kitan state of Liao. For more than a century, peace on the northern border had been maintained through yearly payments from Song to Liao that many on the Song side viewed as humiliating and Liao considered tribute. Allying with Jin meant repudiating those agreements. The goal was to recover the so-called Sixteen Prefectures. These prefectures in northern Shanxi and Hebei had substantial Chinese populations and had been part of the Tang empire but were absorbed into Liao...

  12. IV Confronting Failure, 1121–1135
    • 14 Adjusting to Military Setbacks, 1121–1125
      (pp. 395-420)

      Grand ambitions had marked Huizong’s second decade on the throne. He constructed magnificent palaces, gardens, and temples. He put teams of scholars to work sifting through earlier writings to compile new, up-to-date compendia on ritual, medicine, and geography. He assembled great collections of art and antiquities and assigned erudite men to study and catalogue them. He took state support for Daoism to a new high, integrating Daoist masters into the government hierarchy. He began arranging marriages and housing for his wealth of offspring. His officials found one occasion after another to congratulate him.

      When did Huizong begin to have premonitions...

    • 15 Abdicating the Throne, 1125–1126
      (pp. 421-448)

      On 1125/12/16 Tong Guan arrived in the capital, bringing with him news that the Jurchens had invaded. Tong Guan had learned this in Taiyuan, where Ma Kuo and his scouts brought him news of the invasion of the Jurchen armies into Hedong and Hebei under the generals Nianhan and Wolibu. Tong Guan was in Taiyuan because Jin had told him to meet them there so that they could turn over territories to him in the Datong region per earlier agreements. When he learned of the Jin army incursions, Tong Guan sent two emissaries to ask Nianhan for an explanation and...

    • 16 Losing Everything, 1126–1127
      (pp. 449-474)

      By the first month of winter, 1126/10, Song’s situation was perilous. With Jin forces in easy striking distance of the capital, Kaifeng residents fled in large numbers.¹ The Song court once again had to summon armies from other parts of the country to defend the capital. It also made gestures to mend its relations with the civil service, since officials who rose during Huizong’s reign were uncertain where they stood after a summer and fall of purges. An edict of 10/18 assured officials that capable men would not be dismissed even if they had once been recommended by Cai Jing,...

    • 17 Enduring Captivity, 1127–1135
      (pp. 475-504)

      During the first forty-five years of his life, Huizong rarely left Kaifeng; indeed for weeks at a time he did not even leave the Palace City. The last eight years of Huizong’s life, therefore, marked a radical break with everything that had come before. He not only was forced to leave Kaifeng, but was taken progressively further and further from civilization as he knew it. He did not mix much with ordinary people, but he did endure hardship.

      Just before the fourteen thousand captives were to begin the journey north, Nianhan summoned Huizong. When Huizong in purple Daoist robes and...

  13. Afterword
    (pp. 505-516)

    What makes Huizong an engaging character? He was smart and well read—he was able to engage specialists in fields as diverse as Confucian rituals, Daoist heavens, music, and pharmacology. He was generous to a fault, happily making gifts to those he dealt with, sometimes trying to surprise them, such as when he had new quarters built at Accumulating Auspicious Temple for the use of Liu Hunkang. He made many small gestures to show his respect and appreciation for those around them, from mixing up tea for them to inquiring about their relatives. He found many people he liked among...

  14. Appendix A: Reasons for Rejecting Some Common Stories about Huizong and His Court
    (pp. 517-528)
  15. Appendix B: Huizong’s Consorts and Their Children
    (pp. 529-530)
  16. Timeline
    (pp. 531-542)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 543-598)
  18. References
    (pp. 599-636)
  19. Chinese Character Glossary
    (pp. 637-648)
  20. Index
    (pp. 649-661)