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Five Women Warriors

They are associated with superlative adjectives of courage, steadfastness and loyalty. They come from different periods of China’s history and their names have been immortalised as heroines of the land. We introduce you to:

1. Lady Fu Hao of the Shang Dynasty
2. Liang Hongyu of the Song Dynasty
3. Mu Gui Ying of the Song Dynasty
4. Hua Mu Lan of the Ming Dynasty
5. Princess Píngyang of the Tang Dynasty

 Lady Fu Hao - consort steeped in military rites & rituals

Fu Hao was a consort of Wu Ding, the Shang King under whom Shang power reached its zenith. Fu Hao’s fame arose more from Oracle readings found near her tomb than by legends that lived through the centuries.

Her tomb was discovered in 1976 near Anyang. One of the best preserved tombs from that ancient era, archaeologists easily identified her, as Fu Hao’s name had been long known from Shang period Oracle texts. Her name was found inscribed on the ritual bronzes on the tomb.

Many of the Oracle bone inscriptions show Fu Hao closely involved in two aspects of royal life not normally open to women. She participated in ritual ceremonies as well as in military activities. Fu Hao obviously enjoyed the confidence of her husband, the Shang King, as he repeatedly instructs her to conduct special rituals and offer sacrifices. This leads us to speculate on her special expertise.

Fu Hao led numerous military campaigns against the neighbouring Tu, Ba, Yi and Qiang tribes. Many of the Oracle bones refer to battles fought during that period, focusing mainly on strategy as well as military campaigns.

The weapons discovered in Fu Hao’s tomb attest to her high status as a military leader. Altogether, more than 2000 items were buried with her, a most unusual thing for a woman. Among the items found were 468 bronzes, 750 jades, 560 of bones and over 110 implements made of semi-precious stones. Over six thousand cowrie shells were buried with her – these were the currency of the Shang period.

 Liang Hong Yu - winning with drumbeats

Liang Hongyu, who lived during the Song Dynasty, started life as a prostitute. She had been a songstress who performed with drums, and her prowess on this instrument was so perfect it caught the eye of Han Shizhong, a lowly soldier who later rose to become a mighty general.

The two fell in love, but because of Han’s low rank, they were not formally married until after Han was made a General.

Liang has been described in the old books as a lion-hearted woman. She followed her husband on his military campaigns against the Jin enemies throughout the Northern border. It was at the epic battle at Huangtian Lake that she revealed her true mettle. Beleaguered by General Jin Wushu and having outnumbered 8,000 men to Jin’s 100,000, Liang Homgwu helped her husband devise a battle plan, which would eventually save the day. She devised a plan that involved the use of drum beats to pass secret coded messages to her husband.

Han, her husband, with a small group of men, would lure the Jin warships into the rushes of Huangtian Lake where the remaining Song forces would attack them with flaming arrows. Liang put her drumming skills to good use by directing the troops with signals from
her drums.

Thus agreed, she and her maids camped at Gold Mountain where she had a vantage point. One drum beat and Han knew it was time to launch the attack on the Jin warships. Two drumbeats and he lured them deeper into the ambush while still fighting. Three drumbeats and the Song troops lying in wait would let fly their flaming arrows.

Despite the ensuing chaos in which flying Jin arrows threatened her life, she continued beating her drums. On and on she beat, creating a steady, stirring tattoo, encouraging the battle eventually to flow in favour of the Song forces. The mighty war drums wielded by Liang were said to have stirred the very heavens as well as the hearts and morale of the Imperial Army. The battle that day was won thanks to Liang’s brilliant strategy.

Liang Hong Yu’s name and image have since the time of the Song Dynasty been associated with the auspicious winning chi of drumbeats.

 Mu Guiying - breaking the heavenly gate formation

This lady is best known through history as the only one who could defeat the Liao’s Heavenly-Gate Formation. When she did she was only nineteen years old and it dealt such a blow to the Liao’s they never recovered nor regained their former power. As a result of her victory in important battles, she has been immortalized as one of China’s greatest

Mu Guiying was the daughter of Mu Ke, an official of the Song court who had been wrongfully sent into exile. Mu Guiying grew up in his fortress on Mount Mu which was where young people who distrusted the Emperor came. She practised martial arts from young and mastered many esoteric aspects of it. The special skills she developed proved useful in helping her break the famous Heavenly-Gate Formation of the Liaos. But hers is a story of turning her back on her father and joining the side of her husband’s illustrious family of generals.

Her life greatly changed when she met Yang Zongbao, scion of the illustrious Yang family of generals. He was the only male heir of this illustrious family. Rash and hot-headed, he provoked an argument with Mui Guiying which escalated into a full-blown duel. In the process, the two fell in love and Yang demanded the Dragon-Subduing Wood which the Song forces direly needed to counter the Heavenly-Gate Formation. Mu Guiying helped her husband get the Wood and chose to cast her lot with the Yang family. She thus left Mount Mu to serve the court her father despised. She was the second woman, after her grandmother-in-law, She Saihua, to hold the seal of Supreme Commander, and with it she led the Imperial Song troops to crack the Heavenly-Gate Formation.

Mu Guiying’s name is likened to that of the “Yang Men” to be immortalized as a woman warrior of noble bearing and integrity, worthy to be lauded by posterity. Her image is the symbol of steadfastness.

 Hua Mulan -forever immortalised as a walt disney heroine

There are many legends about Hua Mu Lan. Though she lived during the times of the Ming dynasty, in the 21st century, she has been made more famous than ever. Walt Disney Studios produced one of their most popular hits when they produced her story as an animated feature several years ago.  Despite being China’s most famous heroine, there is some confusion regarding Hua Mulan’s real

Ming Annals claim her surname is Zhu, while Qing Annals declare it is Wei. Yet another old text refers to her as Mu, as in Mulan. There are other contentious issues regarding her birthplace and even when she lived.

Different historians place her in different dynasties. Cheng Dacheng of Song asserts she lived during the Sui and Tang Dynasties. Yao Ying and Song Xiangfeng, both of Qing, claim she lived during the time of the Sui and the Six Dynasties respectively.

These historical claims arise from the sheer magnificence of Hua Mulan’s military accomplishments. She was not the first woman in Chinese history to disguise herself as a man, but was definitely the most famous.

The storyline most often told tells of her infirmed father being conscripted into the Imperial Army. He had served the Emperor before but had grown old and was well past the age of active duty. His only son was too young. Seeing no alternative, Hua Mulan disguised herself as her father and took his place at the head of the Imperial Army.

For several years the Army fought long, hard and bloody battles during which time tales of the Army leader’s bravery made its way to Court. Impressed, the Emperor summoned Hua Mulan to Court to bestow on her a high court position. The lady declined for obvious reasons and instead returned home.

It was many years later before the truth of her identity was revealed and by then, stories of her warrior exploits at war had become the stuff of legends.

Hua Mulan’s name is used to symbolize filial piety, steadfastness and great courage. Her image denotes triumph and victory against great odds.

 Princess Pinyang - tang warrior princess seizes power

This lady was the favourite daughter of her father. In history books, she evolved into a warrior princess who helped put her father on the throne as the new Emperor of China.

Princess Pingyang, daughter of Emperor Gaozu of Tang, the emperor who founded the Tang Dynasty, is an acknowledged martial arts expert and her role in the overthrow of the Sui Dynasty is well recorded in the Tang Annals. It is written that she helped her father take over the throne from the Sui Dynasty Emperor, successfully seizing the reins of power by organizing her “Army of the Lady” (娘子軍) commanded by herself and successfully capturing the capital city of Chang’ an.

Princess Pingyang was also a skilled negotiator as she forged important alliances with important Sui defectors, bringing such Sui commanders as Li Zhongweng and He Panren, and a former Sui Prime Minister to her father Li Yuan’s side.

Pingyang was also an astute politician. She forbade her army from looting, ordering instead that food be distributed to hunger-stricken peasants, thereby winning their loyalty as well. Organizing a Woman’s Army, the warrior princess routed Sui forces in Hu county while Li Yuan defeated them elsewhere. In the end, the Sui Emperor Yangdi was forced to flee.

When she died in 623, Emperor Gaozu ordered a grand military funeral for her, fit for a high general. In his eulogy to her, the Emperor described his daughter as no ordinary woman.

Princess Pingyang’s name signifies great victory and success. Her image brings big victories, the kind that brings power, authority and great wealth.



The following article is taken from the "Feng Shui World (July/August 2007)". To subscribe, please click here.