In the history of Imperial China – all 2,100 years of soul-crushing, iron-fisted autocratic awesomeness of it – only two men ever Hulkamania'd through the shackles of the peasant class to assume the throne and declare themselves Emperor of China. It wasn't just any idiot with a plowshare and a misguided delusion of grandeur who got to rock the sweet gold-threaded silk robes and spend his life drinking wine out of an above-ground swimming pool surrounded by an army of nubile concubines – to put this shit into perspective, more people have died from laughter in the last 2,000 years than Chinese peasants became emperors, and that's saying something because seriously, who the fuck dies from laughter? What the hell, people?
In the book I talk about a guy named Liu Ji, who was a local street cop turned petty bandit turned beloved freedom fighter who overthrew the Empire, founded the Han Dynasty and ruled over a golden age of Chinese history as the Emperor Gaozu. The other man, Li Yuan, would also go on to be named Emperor Gaozu (why the hell they both called themselves Gaozu I have no idea... maybe it just translates to "Emperor Some Dude") and found yet another golden age in Chinese history (there were only two), but his path to the top was slightly different – mostly because the military commander who helped secure his rise to power was a little different from most hardass army officers and ball-crushing strategists in ancient China: It was Liu's 20 year-old daughter Zhao, the woman who would become the future Princess Pingyang of the Tang Dynasty.
It takes a special kind of woman to forge an empire shaped like a giant cock.
Since Imperial Chinese history isn't the sort of shit you can pick up by watching Miley Cyrus smoke bowls on CNN, I'll start at the beginning. In the year 617, the ruler of China was a completely incompetent dick-for-brains jackwagon known as Emperor Yang of Sui. Yang was a miserable, self-loathing tyrant douche-rocket who had assumed the throne after courageously having his father poisoned to death by hired assassins (Yang wasn't even man enough to regicide the Emperor out himself). As soon as his dad's corpse was cold, Yang immediately proceeded to take over and inadvertently kill as many Chinese people as he possibly could, usually in a series of incredibly violent and unpleasant ways. First he decided he was going to try to extend the Great Wall of China and make the Grand Canal even more obscenely gigantic, so he sent a bunch of untrained losers out there with hammers and told them to "hammer shit". Thanks to back-breaking labor practices that would make even the most slacker OSHA foreman start blasting geysers of blood out of their eyes, six million people died working on these two projects, and even after all that everybody still just called them the Great Wall and the Grand Canal, which is the same thing people called them even before Yang started his idiotic wankering. Seeing as how this wasn't enough of a bungling abuse of power, Yang then decided to put a big army together and invade Korea and Vietnam, because what the hell else did he have going on? Of course, he was such a mouth-breathing dumbshit that all he managed to do was get his armies annihilated in a seemingly-endless series of soul-sucking failures, and his incredible ability to lose military campaigns despite overwhelming numerical superiority earned him the hatred and contempt of his subjects, his commanders, and his soldiers, and in the process of his fuckery he'd bankrupted the Chinese Empire and lost over a million soldiers in combat. With the Yang's empire falling apart and bandit and rebel groups sprouting up all over the place, Yang did the tactically sound thing and used slavery, conscription, and paroled prisoners to bring his army back up to a million men, invade Korea once again, and get his entire army wiped out by 300,000 Koreans and a little bit of malaria.
Yang's top military commander, General Li Yuan, had been born a peasant, but by this time he was a professional soldier. A tough, likeable, charismatic hardass who had fought with honor in all of Emperor Yang's bullshit military wanderings across Southeast Asia, Li had earned the respect of his men and the support of the people he governed, who saw him as fair, just, and awesome. So, of course since this guy demonstrated that he had two brain cells to rub together, the Emperor decided the General Li was a threat to his rule and stationed him way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere so that he could spend every day getting his ass ambushed by Turks and Mongols and god knows what else all the time. Li didn't even complain – the dude went out to the frontier, and not only repelled attacks from across the border, but was so fucking hardcore that his enemies negotiated a peace treaty with him, promising not to attack Chinese lands as long as Li was in charge. When Emperor Yang heard about this, he got so pumped up that he ordered General Li arrested and executed as a threat to the security of the Empire. Nobody ever accused Yang of being a political genius. So suddenly Li Yuan had a decision to make – surrender to the Emperor and face death by torture, or stand and fight. When he looked around and saw the Empire in shambles, the Imperial Army garrisoned entirely by untrained prisoners and slaves, and the countryside degenerating into small, independent warlord bands and bandit gangs, he knew he needed to sack up, take control, and show Emperor Numbnuts what it meant to beat some motherfucking asses.
A typical sequence of commands issued by Emperor Yang to the troops in the field.
Now declaring open revolt against the Emperor is pretty great when you're positioned way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere, but it came as something as a surprise to his daughter Zhao when she heard that her father had taken up arms against the tyrant king. You see, Zhao's husband was the commander of the Emperor's Palace Guard, and when they got word of the rebellion the happy couple was living about a block and a half from a few million people that were soon going to be trying to execute them at traitors. With little other recourse, both Zhao and her husband departed the city under the cover of darkness, headed opposite directions across the countryside so as not to draw any attention to themselves, and ran for it.
For the next couple days, Zhao hauled ass across China, rushing back to her family's home province, all the while avoiding Imperial assassins and roving bandit tribes looking to do any number of ungentlemanly things to her. When she got back to her province safely, rather than chill the fuck out and wait for daddy to march his army back from the frontier, Zhao went to work being fucking awesome and hardcore. First, she sold her family's home and most of its land, using the money to buy weapons, equipment, and enough badass shit to outfit an army of motherfuckers. Then she went to family friends and loyal retainers, and began assembling everyone she could find into an army of her own – Zhao wasn't going to sit around like a chump, she was going to seize the capital herself if she had to, because fuck the Emperor for starting shit with her family and then having assassin douchebags try to ice her.
Did anybody order a face kick? Because I brought enough for everyone.
Now, a peasant-born commoner raising an army in rebellion against the brutal despotic Emperor is impressive enough in its own right, but this was even more skull-fuckingly hardcore when you're talking about Zhao: This was a 20 year old woman raising an army of warriors in ancient China, at a time where men really didn't do all that well when it came to taking orders from women in any capacity at all, let alone war. Yet somehow Zhao fucking whipped the disgruntled peasants of her home province into shape, unifying her people and assembling a force worthy of the battlefield. Once she had a decent cadre of warriors, Zhao led them into combat against the neighboring warlord tribes in an effort to consolidate her power base. Her typical m.o. was to first approach the local bandit leader, and offer him an officer's commission in her force to join. If he refused, she tried to bribe him with money or food. If he refused that, she steamrolled his balls on the battlefield and gave his battered army two options – join us or die. They usually joined.
After a few months of crushing scrotes up and down the burning lands of the Chinese countryside, Zhao's "Army of the Lady" soon became a damn respectable fighting force of over 70,000 warriors. She took on and defeated other rebel groups, as well as bandits, raiders, and brigands that were terrorizing the countryside, and her attacks were so vicious that the term "bitch slap" was coined to describe sneak attacks by the Army of the Lady. When Zhao conquered a town or city, she forbade her men from looting, raping, and plundering, because that sort of shit just pissed the people off and made the army look more like uncultured thugs than a legit fighting force, and the relieve populace quickly grew to appreciate their new ruler's desire to not rape and pillage them. They also liked the fact that the first thing she would do after moving into a town was to bring food and drink to the oppressed citizens, throwing bacon from the back of wagons and having Maple Syrup Infantry deploy through the streets with jugs of syrup on their backs. Her ranks swelled with recruits, or, as they said in the days of ancient China, her army "got swole".
|Some versions of the story have Zhao shaving her head before negotiating with warlords or leading her men on the battlefield. Even though I wasn't able to confirm this anywhere, I still pretty much just picture her looking like Jack from Mass Effect 2.|
The Army of the Lady soon became so formidable that the Sui sent the shattered remnants of their pathetic forces after Zhao, but she was such a battle-harded ass-smasher at this time that she basically throat-stomped the entire Sui army into meat slurry without even taking her sandals off. Soon after crushing the Sui forces, she linked up with her father's equally-badass army (they had been blitzing in from the frontier), and together the two forces led the final assault on the Imperial palace at Chang'an (in modern day Xi'an). Zhao commanded a wing of the army in the assault, and together the father-and-son face-smashing duo drove the Sui from Chang'an. General Li seized the throne, declaring himself Emperor Gaozu, the first ruler of the Tang Dynasty. Emperor Doucheface fled the town before being captured, but one of the guy's chief advisors finally got sick of his retarded bullshit and mercifully choked the guy out until he died from it.
After helping her father conquer China, Zhao was appointed a military marshal, spending the rest of her life as the Princess Pingyang and ruling over a second Golden Age in Chinese History. Lasting nearly 300 years, the Tang Dynasty is seen as the high point in Chinese Imperial civilization – trade, culture, and military might would flourish under the Tang Emperors, and under their guidance China would grow to become the largest and most powerful empire on Earth in the 7th century.
Sadly, Pingyang wouldn't live long enough to see the glory days of her father's reign – she died just two years later at the age of 23. Her father gave her a military burial fit for a general, complete with a band playing badass war music. Some of the more traditional d-bag administrators were all pissy about having music at her funeral (women weren't allowed to have bands play at their funerals in Ancient China for some reason), but the new Emperor told them to blow it all out of their bung holes, saying, "The Princess personally beat the drums and rose in righteous rebellion to help me establish the dynasty. How can she be treated as an ordinary woman?"
Five Women Warriors
De Pauw, Linda G. Battle Cries and Lullabies. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 2000.
Miles, Rosalind, and Robin Cross. Hell Hath No Fury. Three Rivers, 2008.
Peterson, Barbara Bennett. Notable Women of China. Sharpe, 2000.
Sima Qian. Records of the Grand Historian. Trans. Burton Watson.&nbps; Columbia Univ. Press, 1993.
Tanner, Harold Miles. China: A History. Hackett, 2009.
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