During his 20-year career kicking the shit out of anything and everything in central China, uber-soldier and 12th-century mechano-badass Yue Fei personally fought in 126 battles, never lost a single engagement, rose through the ranks from Private to Overall Commander of Imperial Forces, invented a half-dozen styles of boxing and martial arts, and wrote a bunch of flamingly-epic poetry about how he was going to drink the blood of his slain enemies with a twist of lemon and then chase it with a shot of Jager. Nowadays he is revered as a national hero of China, a paragon of patriotic loyalty, and the ultimate symbol of honor, duty, and face-obliterating medieval barbarian-quelling vengeance.
Naturally, as you might expect from any man famous throughout for his unswerving loyalty, rigid obedience, and unquestioning patriotism, he was betrayed by his own government, imprisoned as a traitor, and executed for treason.
Yue Fei came from Luke Skywalker-like beginnings, born in 1103 to a dirt-poor family of moisture farmers in Henan Province. As an infant he managed to survive a major flood that wiped out much of his village, allegedly thanks to his father, who according to some legends put the baby Yue Fei into a clay pot and floated it in the water as the Yellow River flooded his farm and washed away most of the countryside.
As he got older, Yue Fei grew strong, working long days on the farm and spending his nights studying martial arts under a highly-respected village elder who also so happened to be a badass archery instructor and kung fu master. Yue read Sun Tzu's Art of War, the Three Kingdoms and other works of tactics or classical heroism intensely, and mastered the Eighteen Weapons of War, a traditional assortment of Wushu asskicking devices that ranged from time-honored staples like swords, axes, hammers, spears, quarterstaves, and halberds to some seriously off-the-wall shit like the trident, the chain whip, the hook sword, and whatever the hell a Meteor Hammer is. In addition to being a badass master of random-yet-awesome-sounding hand-to-hand weapons, he was apparently also a hardcore sniper with the bow and the crossbow, allegedly being able to routinely shoot nine of ten arrows through a bullseye at 240 yards, and was so dedicated to the Emperor that his mother actually tattooed the phrase "Serve the country with the utmost loyalty" in huge Chinese characters across his entire back (in an awesome twist, any time anyone ever questioned his devotion Yue Fe would rip his shirt off and show this to the man who dared fuck with him).
During this period of history the region we now know as China was divided into three regions – the Song Dynasty was the main Chinese empire, but at this point they were on the decline thanks in no small part to incompetent leadership and rampant douchebaggery at all levels of the government. To the north of Song territory lie the Jin, a barbarian empire of Manchurians, and to the West they had the Liao, which was some other kind of barbarian group that was considered subordinate to the Han Chinese. Well in 1122 the Song and the Jin decided they were going to get together and fuck the Liao up, young 18 year-old Yue Fei enlisted in the Song Imperial Army as a private and went straight on into the front lines of combat, halberd in hand.
Unfortunately, the afore-mentioned asslownage of the Song commanders became readily apparent in the war early on, and despite Yue Fei personally acquitting himself with honor on the battlefield it was the Jin who did most of the heavy lifting in the war. The Jin conquered the Liao, assimilated the land into their Empire, then decided, fuck it, you Song assholes are a bunch of pussies so we're just going to kick your ass and take your shit too. In 1125 the Jin betrayed their alliance, double-crossed the Emperor, invaded the Song lands, conquered the 16 Northern Provinces of China, sacked the capital city of Kaifeng, captured and enslaved most of the Imperial Family (forcing the Empress and Princesses to be personal servants of Jin aristocrats), executed all of the Emperor's top advisors, and spent most of the year 1127 plundering, looting, destroying, and/or otherwise trashing every single nice thing the Song ever had. The only member of the Imperial family who managed to escape the carnage was the ninth son of the Emperor, a dude named Gaozong, who fled across the Yangtze River, set up a new capital, and desperately tried to regroup.
Yue Fei's unit had been stationed in the south of the Empire, but when this guy heard what was going on he'd hauled ass to Kaifeng and immediately hurled himself into the fray, launching guerilla attacks at first, and then even mounting a full-scale assault on the former Song capital in a desperate attempt to free the Emperor and his family. Yue Fei even managed to retake part of the city, leading just 800 men in an attack against 50,000 warriors of the Jin Empire, but even though this desperate assault broke through the lines and bought some of the citizens of Kaifeng a chance to escape the destruction Yue Fei ultimately wasn't able to hold the position and was forced to fall back across the Yangtze, seething with rage and swearing ultimate blood-drinking vengeance on his enemies. While the Song licked their wounds and tried to recover from the insane ass-reaming they'd just suffered at the hands of the Jin, Yue Fei dedicated himself even more hardcore into his quest for ultimate military supremacy. He dove into classical epic stories of heroes from days gone by, swearing to emulate them in greatness. He studied kung fu with the Shaolin Monks, created "Eagle Claw"-style martial arts, developed Xingyi Boxing, mastered 108 joint locks, and apparently (according to some sources) invented something called "Feet-Poking Boxing", which sounds like a creepy fetish porn but is probably something awesomer than that.
Even though the Jin were burning down their homes and the now-deposed Emperor was being dragged through his old capital in chains, the New Song Dynasty's first order of business was to consolidate their own power south of the Yangtze so that they could have a base of operations to launch attacks against the Jin. Yue Fei was just the man for the job. In a series of campaigns lasting three years, Yue Fei beat the shit out of every bandit and seditionist he could find, bludgeoning them into the ground with his bare hands and then conscripting any survivors into his army. When the Song's rapidly-growing power started to concern the Jin, they launched an attack across the Yangtze, sacked a couple cities, and forced Emperor Gaozong to flee the capital, so Yue Fei pulled the e-brake on his barbarian-quelling badassitude, hauled ass to the capital, beat the shit out of the Jin, and sent them crawling back to their mamas. When the Jin tried to invade again in 1133, 1134, and 1135, he crushed them all three times despite being heavily outnumbered, occasionally beating their sacks so hard that some of the enemy soldiers were deserting the Jin army and swimming the Yangtze so they could join up with Yue Fei. Yue Fei was eventually appointed Marshal of the Song Forces, making him overall commander of the Imperial Army, and he continued to be super popular and awesome, beloved both by the population and his own men. Sure, he was a totally fucking ruthless taskmaster (he once ordered one of his own sons be executed for failing to jump a moat on horseback while besieging an enemy castle) but he was also pretty fucking awesome too – he ate all of his meals with his men, slept in the same kind of tents as them, and always ran out into battle at the head of his army, telling his men nobody was to attack until he'd personally fired the first arrow at the foe. One time he gave a set of priceless silver dishes to a Private who had shown exceptional heroism in battle. Another time he got really fucking drunk and beat an insubordinate Corporal half to death with his fists – the Emperor sent him a note saying, "Stop kicking the shit out of your own men until the war is over, then do whatever you want".
- Yue Fei addressing his troops in 1137
"This time we will kill the foreigners all the way to Manchuria, where I'll get good and drunk with you gentlemen!"
But while Yue Fei had absolutely no problems ruthlessly crushing the shit out of barbarians, Manchurians, bandits, and whatever else on the battlefield, he couldn't play the political game for shit and never fully realized that his chief enemies were scheming against him in his own government. The chief antagonist was some asshole named Qin Hui, or Qin the Long-Legged. Qin was the chief advisor to Emperor Gaozong, and this Grima Wormtongue motherfucker wasn't about to give up his newfound power quite so easily – he knew that if Yue Fei was actually able to launch a successful invasion of the Jin, recapture Kaifeng, and liberate the captive Imperial Family, then Gaozong (and by extension Qin) would be out of a job. So, in 1137, when Yue Fei presented a foolproof plan to crush the Jin and achieve vengeance once and for all, Qin the Long-Legged convinced Emperor Gaozong not only to deny the request, but to transfer half of Yue Fei's army out from under his command, give it to some other asshole instead, then sign a peace treaty with the Jin.
Yue Fei was pissed, but he was also idiotically loyal and refused to question the Emperor. Of course, he wasn't surprised in 1140 when the Jin betrayed the peace treaty and launched four full-strength Armies across the Yangtze with the express purpose of stomping out the rest of the Song Empire like a dude stamping out a bag of shit on his front porch.
Yue Fei mobilized his army, and, despite being outnumbered five-to-one by a horde of barbarian horse warriors attacking him from four directions at the same time, managed to kick the fucking shit out of every last one of those motherfuckers.
Then, before he could get orders to break off the attack, he crossed his army over the Yangtze, beat the unholy shit out of whatever pathetic remnants of the Jin Army he could find, recaptured ten of the sixteen provinces, and laid siege to Kaifeng. Victory – and vengeance – were finally within striking distance.
It was then, in the moment of his greatest victory, that Yue Fei received his orders to break off the attack, withdraw, and return to the capital.
When Yue Fei got word to pull out of Jin lands and abandon the siege of Kaifeng, he couldn't fucking believe it. He sent back a protest letter, telling Gaozong that he needed six days to win the war once and for all. He received twelve letters back, each one an order to return home.
Yue Fei considered disobeying. He really did. But his sense of honor wouldn't allow him to disobey a direct order from the Emperor himself. It just wasn't going to happen. He delayed for five days in order to give the people in the ten provinces he'd retaken enough time to withdraw south to friendly lands, then headed back to the Imperial Court to speak with the Emperor.
When he got there, Qin the Long-Legged had him thrown into prison, branded as a traitor, then poisoned to death in his cell by an assassin. He was 39 years old. There's a pretty obvious first season Game of Thrones reference to be made here, but I'll abstain for the sake of spoilerage.
The story, however, does not end here. You see, the public was more than a little pissed about this, and the pressure on the government to make shit right was so overwhelming that fucking Emperor Gaozong eventually had to retire from the throne and pass the crown off to his son. His son, in 1163, publically absolved Yue Fei for his crimes, declared him a national hero, and built an opulent stone temple to house an elaborate tomb for the Imperial General and his family.
But here's the best part – just outside Yue Fei's tomb are four iron statues representing Qin the Long-Legged, his wife, and his two closest assistants. They're all depicted on their knees groveling for forgiveness in the direction of Yue Fei's tomb. Any time tourists visit Yue Fei's temple, they're encouraged to curse at or spit on the statues, and, for most of the 1930s, the local police had a really hard time getting people to stop urinating on them.
Hey, it might not have been the folks he was actually trying to get his revenge on, but if you're going to get vengeance that's a pretty fucking sweet way to do it.
Tomb of Yue Fei
Deng, Yinke. History of China. CICC, 2007.
Hammond, Kenneth J. The Human Tradition in Premodern China. Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.
Mah, Adeline Yen. China. Random House, 2011.
Mote, Frederick W. Imperial China 900-1800. Harvard Univ. Press, 2003.
Wills, John Elliot. Mountain of Fame. Princeton Univ. Press, 1996.