Li Siye (李嗣業) (died March 2, 759), formally Prince Zhongyong of Wuwei (武威忠勇王), was a general of the Chinese Tang Dynasty who fought in the Battle of Talas. He fought valiantly at the Battle of Talas after the defeat of the main forces commanded by Gao Xianzhi, and his efforts allowed Gao to escape from the pursuit that Abbasid Caliphate forces made. Li Siye later died from battle injuries while fighting for Tang against rebel forces during the Anshi Rebellion.
It is not known when Li Siye was born. His family was from Jingzhao Municipality (京兆) -- i.e., the area including the Tang Dynasty capital Chang'an. He was said to be over two meters tall, and was strong and brave. Early in Emperor Xuanzong's Tianbao era (742-756), he conscripted in the army and was stationed at Anxi Circuit (安西, headquartered in modern Aksu Prefecture, Xinjiang), and soon gained much battle experience. At that time, Tang soldiers had just adopted the use of a heavy sword known as the "Mo sword" (陌刀), and it was said that Li Siye was particularly skillful at employing it. He often served as a forward commander and was usually successful in battle. The military governor (jiedushi) of Anxi, Fumeng Lingcha (夫蒙靈詧), knew of his capabilities and often had him serve in military campaigns. Because of his accomplishments, he was eventually promoted to be a commanding officer with the rank of Zhonglangjiang (中郎將).
In 748, when Gao Xianzhi, then the deputy military governor of Anxi, led an army against Lesser Bolü (小勃律, a city state centering modern Gilgit, Pakistan), then a vassal of Tang's rival Tufan, Gao selected Li Siye and Tian Zhen (田珍) to serve as his deputies. The Tufan army trying to aid Lesser Bolü was then stationed at Suole (娑勒), near Lesser Bolü's capital. At Gao's direction, Li Siye and Tian launched a surprise attack on Suole by leading their soldiers in climbing a cliff. They caught the Tufan army by surprise and killed 80%-90% of the Tufan soldiers. They then advanced to Lesser Bolü's capital and captured its king and queen (a Tufan princess). As a result of the battle, 72 city states in the region submitted to Tang. For this contribution, Li Siye was made a general.
During the Battle of Talas
In 751, Li Siye served under Gao Xianzhi, who had been made the military governor of Anxi by that point, in a campaign west against the Abbasid Caliphate that climaxed in the Battle of Talas. The Tang and Abbasid forces were locked in battle for several days, before Qarluq forces turned against Gao, causing Gao's forces to collapse, with only several thousands surviving among 20,000-30,000. Gao tried to regather his troops to battle further, but Li Siye pointed out to him that continued battle would mean annihilation of the remaining troops, urging Gao to retreat. Gao agreed, and began a retreat. Li Siye served as the rearguard and was able to successfully keep the path of flight open—as Gao's associate Bahanna (拔汗那) forces crowded the narrow escape path, Li Siye battered the Bahanna soldiers and livestock with a staff, killing many—and fight off Abbasid pursuers. For this valiant effort, he was promoted in his general rank under Gao's recommendation. However, Duan Xiushi, also serving under Gao, rebuked Li Siye for advocating what effectively meant the abandonment of any soldiers who might have been scattered. Li Siye, impressed with Duan's fortitude, made Duan his own assistant upon return to Anxi.)
During the Anshi Rebellion
In 755, the general An Lushan rebelled against Emperor Xuanzong's rule, and by 756, the forces of his state of Yan were approaching the Tang capital Chang'an, forcing Emperor Xuanzong to flee to Jiannan Circuit (劍南, headquartered in modern Chengdu, Sichuan). Emperor Xuanzong's son and crown prince Li Heng fled to Lingwu and was declared emperor there (as Emperor Suzong). Emperor Suzong summoned forces from various border outposts, including from Anxi. Li Siye was then the deputy military governor of Anxi, and he initially suggested to the military governor Liang Zai (梁宰) that they wait for more information. Duan Xiushi, however, rebuked him, pointing out that Emperor Suzong's position was desperate. Li Siye changed his mind and agreed with Duan, and Liang subsequently commissioned Li Siye to lead the Anxi forces to rendezvous with Emperor Suzong at Fengxiang (鳳翔, in modern Baoji, Shaanxi), with Duan as his deputy. On the way, under LI Siye's orders, the army followed strict discipline and did not cause damage to the people. When LI Siye's army arrived at Fengxiang, Emperor Suzong was very pleased, and had LI Siye serve as a commander of the imperial forces, along with Guo Ziyi and Pugu Huai'en. At this time, it was said that Li Siye's weapon of choice was still his staff, and that he would lead his forces into battle, charging while swinging his staff, and was without rival. He was made the commander of the expedition forces from Anxi and Beiting (北庭, headquartered in modern Changji Hui Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang).
In fall 757, with joint forces of Tang, under overall command by Emperor Suzong's son Li Chu the Prince of Guangping, and Tang's ally Huige, poised to attack Chang'an to recapture it from Yan forces. When the forces battled west of Chang'an, Tang forces initially were suffering losses and about to collapse. Li Siye, seeing this situation, took off his upper body clothing and rode on his horse, battering fleeing soldiers with his staff, to stop the panic. With the panic under control, Tang forces counterattacked and defeated Yan forces, forcing them out of Chang'an and allowing Tang to recapture Chang'an. He subsequently also contributed greatly to the recapture of the eastern capital Louyang from An Lushan's son An Qingxu (who had assassinated An Lushan earlier in 757 and become the emperor of Yan). For Li Siye contributions, he was made the minister of army supplies (衛尉卿, Weiwei Qing) and created the Duke of Guo. He was also given the rank of military governor.
An Qingxu withdrew to Yecheng and took up defensive position there. Tang forces converged on Yecheng and put it under siege, but with the Tang forces under 10 different military governors, the attack was disorganized. Li Siye was often a leader in the assaults on Yecheng. In spring 759, during one of the attacks on Yecheng's defenses, he was hit by a stray arrow. He rested in the camp, and for some time it appeared that his wound would heal. However, when Tang forces launched a subsequent attack, when Li Siye heard the war drums being played, he yelled out in a loud voice, and suddenly, he bled profusely from his wound and died. When the news reached Emperor Suzong, he was shocked, and issued an edict praising Li Siye. He posthumously created Li Siye the Prince of Wuwei and allowed Li Siye's son Li Zuoguo (李佐國) to inherit the title.
Notes and references
- Li Siye's biographies in the Old Book of Tang and the New Book of Tang actually gave the governor's name as Ma Lingcha (馬靈詧), but most other traditional sources -- including other biographies in the Old Book of Tang and the New Book of Tang -- gave the name as Fumeng Lincha. Compare Old Book of Tang, vol. 109 and New Book of Tang, vol. 138, with Old Book of Tang, vol. 104 [biography of Gao Xianzhi], New Book of Tang, vol. 135 [biography of Gao Xianzhi], and Zizhi Tongjian, vols. 215, 216.
- Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 216.
- The Zizhi Tongjian, which provided the account about Li Siye's and Duan's initial disagreement and later agreement, actually indicated that both of them were then serving at Hexi Circuit (河西, headquartered in modern Wuwei, Gansu), but as that was inconsistent with all other accounts of where Li Siye and Duan were then serving, it appeared far more likely that they were then still at Anxi. See Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 218.
- Zizhi Tongjian, vol. 220.
- Old Book of Tang, vol. 109.
- New Book of Tang, vol. 138.