Battle of Caishi
|Battle of Caishi|
|Part of the Jin–Song wars|
|Jurchen Jin||Southern Song|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Caishi (Chinese: 采石之戰; Wade–Giles: Battle of Ts'ai-shih) was a naval engagement that took place on November 26–27, 1161 during the Jin–Song wars. The battle followed the Battle of Tangdao on the East China Sea. Soldiers under the command of Emperor Hailing, the Jurchen ruler of the Jin, tried to cross the Yangtze River in their military campaign against Southern Song China.
The paddle-wheel warships of the Song fleet led by the government official Yu Yunwen, armed with trebuchets and projectile bombs, defeated the light ships of the Jin navy. The battle was a decisive victory for the Song. It boosted the morale of the Song infantry and halted the southern advance of the Jin army. Hailing was later assassinated by his own men. A subsequent peace treaty signed by both Song and Jin in 1165 would end the conflict between the two states.
Wars between the Jin Dynasty, founded by the Jurchens, and the Song Dynasty had been ongoing since the 1125, the year the Jurchens declared war against the Song. The Song and Jurchens had once been military allies. The Jurchen tribes, unified under the rule of Wanyan Aguda, plotted a revolt in 1114 to end their vassalage under the Khitan-led Liao Dynasty. They negotiated a joint attack with the Song against the Khitans planned for 1121 and then rescheduled to 1122. In 1122, the Jurchens defeated the Khitans and captured the capital of the Liao Dynasty. New negotiations between the Song and Jin in 1123 determined how the former Liao territories were to be divvied up and the question of indemnities to the Jin from the Song. Recognizing the military weakness of the Song, the Jin invaded in 1125.
By 1127, the Jurchens had conquered most of northern China and besieged the Song capital of Kaifeng twice. In the second siege of Kaifeng, Emperor Qinzong of the Song was captured. He and the Song royal family were held as captives by the Jurchens and taken to Manchuria. Members of the Song court that had evaded capture fled south, where they established a temporary capital first in Nanjing, modern Shangqiu, and then in Hangzhou in 1129. The younger brother of Qinzong, Prince Zhao Gou, avoided capture by the Jurchens and was enthroned as Qinzong's successor in Nanjing on 1127. The move of the Song capital south to Hangzhou signals the transition from the Northern Song era to the Southern Song.
The Jin persisted with their advance from northern China into the remaining Song territories south of the Yangtze River. They faced an insurgency of Song loyalists in the north, the loss of important leaders who had died, and military offensives by Song generals like Yue Fei. A puppet government was created by the Jurchens to administer a buffer state between the Song and the Jin, but failed after the military victories by Yue Fei. The Jurchens gave up on conquering the Southern Song, and diplomatic talks for a peace treaty began in 1132. A peace treaty, the Treaty of Shaoxing, was signed in 1142. The boundary between the two states was established along the Huai River, a river north of the Yangtze.
Rise of Emperor Hailing
Emperor Hailing was crowned Jin emperor in 1122 after killing his cousin and predecessor, Emperor Xizong, in a palace coup. Hailing considered himself a Chinese emperor and not a tribal chieftain, and thus his ultimate ambition was to rule over all of China, not just the north. The History of Jin reports that Hailing told his officials that the three desires of his life were conquest, absolute power, and women. During his reign, he pursued a policy of sinicizing the state. He moved government institutions south, tore down palaces of Jurchen chieftains in Manchuria, and constructed new palaces in Beijing and Kaifeng. The capital of the Jin Dynasty was moved to Beijing and Kaifeng was promoted to a regional capital. In his childhood, he was a student of Chinese philosophy and literature. His recreational activities included Chinese chess and drinking tea, practices that he had learned from Song emissaries. Hailing's affinity for the culture of the Song earned him the Jurchen nickname of "aping the Chinese".
Plans for a war against the Southern Song were palpable in 1158. That year, he claimed that the Song had broken a treaty signed in 1142 that regulated the acquisition of horses by the Song. In 1159, Hailing began building up his army in preparation for an invasion. He acquired weapons, which he stored in Beijing, and horses allegedly numbering a total of 560,000. An invasion of the Song required large manpower, a principle that Hailing understood. He ensured that Han Chinese soldiers were drafted into the war effort alongside Jurchen soldiers. The recruitment drive lasted until 1161. The draft was unpopular among locals in the territories formerly ruled by the Song and there were revolts against the draft, many of them in the Jin provinces neighboring the Song. Hailing allowed no tolerance for dissent. He ordered the execution of his stepmother after hearing that she was critical of the war effort.
Diplomatic exchanges between the Song and Jin did not stop during the run-up to the war. The Song reportedly surmised that the Jin were planning for a military offensive when they noticed that the attitude of one of the diplomats sent by the Jin had changed. Border defenses were fortified by the Song ahead of the invasion. Hailing departed from Kaifeng on October 15, 1161 and passed the Huai River boundary on October 28 advancing into Song territory. Song resistance was minimal because they had fortified on the southern shore of the Yangtze River and not the Huai.
Battle of Caishi
An encampment for Hailing's army was constructed around Yangzhou on the northern bank of the Yangtze River. The military advance had been slowed by Song victories in the west, where Jin prefectures had been lost to the Song. Hailing's forces were sent to cross the Yangtze at Caishi, a city in close proximity to Nanjing. A naval battle ensued between the Jin and Song on November 26 and 27, 1161. The Song troops were led by the Yu Yunwen and his lieutenants Dai Gao, Jian Kang, Shi Zhun, and others. Yu's official title in the Song government was zhongshu sheren, a Drafting Official of the Secretariat. He was in Caishi to give out awards for Song soldiers stationed in the city who were selected for their outstanding service, and it was by chance that Yu's visit coincided with Hailing's campaign. The Jurchens performed a ritual sacrifice of horses a day before the battle. On November 26, the Jurchens set sail from the northern shore and engaged the Song fleet.
The paddlewheel ships of the Song navy gave the Song a technological advantage over the Jin. The paddlewheel ships could move more rapidly and outmaneuver the slower Jin ships. The Song kept their fleet hidden behind the island of Qibao Shan. The ships were to depart the island once a scout on horseback announced the approach of the Jurchen ships by signalling a concealed flag atop the island's peak. Once the flag was visible, the Song fleet began their attack, sailing out from both sides of the island. The Song then bombarded the invaders with traction trebuchets, launching "thunderclap bombs" and soft-cased explosives filled with lime and sulphur, which would create a noxious explosion when the fuses went off and broke the soft cases. The Jin ships that managed to cross the river and reach the shore were assaulted by Song soldiers waiting on the other side. The Song won a decisive victory. Hailing was defeated again in another battle the next day. He burned his remaining ships and retreated.
Historical sources do not agree on the number of Jurchen soldiers at the battle and the amount of casualties. The 18,000 figure for the Song soldiers stationed in Caishi is plausible, but the figures for the Jurchen soldiers are inflated. Song accounts give a figure of 400,000 for the Jin troops fighting in Caishi. The Song had 120,000 soldiers fighting on the front and 18,000 at Caishi. They may have confused the total number of Jin soldiers fighting on the front with the number of combatants at Caishi. The half a million figure could also refer to the number of soldiers that the Jin army began with before they crossed the Huai River. The desertions and casualties from suppressing revolts while advancing southward should have shortened that number by the time the Jin reached the Yangtze. The History of Jin reports Jin casualties between one aristocratic household (meng-an) and a hundred men to two households and two hundred men. The History of Song reports Jin casualties numbering four thousand soldiers and two men of wanhu rank, commanders of ten thousand men. It is not certain which figure is more accurate, and no conclusion can be made other than that the number of Jin casualties was not greater than four thousand.
An account of the technological capabilities of the Song in the battle was given by the naval commander Yang Wanli, who outlines the fleet's paddlewheel ships and bombs in his Hai Qiu Fu (Rhapsodic Ode on the Sea-eel Paddle Wheel Warships):
The men inside them paddled fast on the treadmills, and the ships glided forwards as though they were flying, yet no one was visible on board. The enemy thought that they were made of paper. Then all of a sudden a thunderclap bomb was let off. It was made with paper (carton) and filled with lime and sulphur. (Launched from trebuchets) these thunderclap bombs came dropping down from the air, and upon meeting the water exploded with a noise like thunder, the sulphur bursting into flames. The carton case rebounded and broke, scattering the lime to form a smoky fog, which blinded the eyes of men and horses so that they could see nothing. Our ships then went forward to attack theirs, and their men and horses were all drowned, so that they were utterly defeated.
There were 340 ships in the Song fleet during the battle of Caishi in 1161. The Jurchens deployed light ships that were built for speed and not size. The ships were armored the thick rhinoceros hides and were built with two stories. On the lower deck were the oarmen responsible for rowing the ship, while soldiers on the upper deck launched projectiles. The Song fleet bombarded the Jin ships with bombs propelled by trebuchet. The bombs were filled with mixtures of gunpowder, lime, sulphur, scraps of iron, and a poison that was likely arsenic. Lime bombs were fired into the Jin ships, where they released a smoke that blinded the soldiers once shattered. The trebuchets also fired explosives with a fuse that initiated the detonation of the bomb after launching.
The battle is significant in the technological history of the Song navy. The 20th century historian Joseph Needham has called the era "one of continual innovation" when the size of the Song fleet grew "from a total of 11 squadrons and 3,000 men [the Song navy] rose in one century to 20 squadrons totalling 52,000 men, with its main base near Shanghai." The technological gains of the Song navy ensured its access and dominance of the East China Sea for centuries in competition with the military forces of Jurchen and Mongol rivals. By 1129, the Song navy had invented gunpowder bombs for warship trebuchets. The weapon was made mandatory for all ships in the Song fleet. The construction of paddle-wheel ships, operated with treadmills, went on for several decades between 1132 and 1183. The engineer Gao Xuan devised a paddle-wheel ship outfitted with up to eleven paddle-wheels on each side. Iron plating for armoring the ships was designed in 1203 by the engineer Qin Shifu.
The battle is a celebrated victory in traditional Chinese historiography. Caishi was held in the same esteem as the Battle of Fei River, a battle glorified for its defense of China from intruders invading from the north. However, its portrayal as a military upset where 18,000 Song soldiers overcame an army of nearly half a million men is likely an exaggeration. Modern historians believe that the number of Jin soldiers were far lower. The Song possessed multiple advantages against the Jin, and the battle was more evenly matched battle than contemporaneous historians suggest. The Song had ships of a larger size than the Jin and ample time to prepare for a Jin invasion while they gathered supplies and ships for the crossing. It was also impossible for the Jin to use cavalry, the most important asset of the Jurchen military, during a naval engagement.
The battle was also not responsible for dooming Hailing's military campaign against the Song. It was his own failings that led to his downfall, not just his military defeats. Hailing's own generals detested him, and the relationship between Hailing and the men he commanded had deteriorated over the course of the war. His authoritarianism made him equally unpopular among his own people. The disapproval of his reign was universal in the empire, and Hailing had alienated the Jurchens, the Khitans, the Balhae, and the Han Chinese with his policies. Disaffected officers conspired to kill Hailing and he was assassinated on December 15, 1161. Emperor Shizong succeeded Hailing as ruler of the Jin. He was enthroned weeks before the assassination in a military coup that installed him as emperor.
A modern analysis on the background of the conflict and the battlefield has shown that it was a minor engagement. Its effects were more psychological than material. The victory boosted the morale of the Song soldiers, while increasing dissatisfaction among the Jin soldiers. News of the victory improved confidence in the government and bolstered the stability of the Song. The Jurchens had also given up their ambitions of conquering the Southern Song and reunifying China. The Jin army withdrew in 1161, and diplomatic relations between the two states resumed. A peace treaty ending hostilities was signed in 1165. The annual indemnities to the Jin from the Song and the Huai River border remained the same, but the Song no longer needed to recognize itself as a vassal state of the Jin.
- Naval warfare
- Military history of China (pre-1911)
- Naval history of China
- Jurchen campaigns against the Song Dynasty
- History of the Song Dynasty
- Technology of the Song Dynasty
- Timeline of the Jurchen campaigns against the Song Dynasty
- Gunpowder warfare
- Jiao Yu
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