Liang Hongyu (1102–1135) was a Chinese general of the Song Dynasty. She became famous during the Jin–Song wars against the Jurchen-led Jin Dynasty. Her real given name was lost in time. She was simply referenced in the official Chinese history books as "Lady Liang" (梁氏). "Hongyu" (红玉), meaning "Red Jade" in Chinese, was the name given in folk legends, Chinese operas, and novels after her heroic death in battle in 1135. She was the wife of Han Shizhong, a Song general known for resisting invaders from the Jin Dynasty together with Yue Fei and others.
Liang's father was an army commander at the frontier, from where the Song Dynasty was increasingly threatened by the Jurchen-ruled Jin Dynasty. He taught her martial skills.(p275) Liang's feet were not bound.(p273) She was a master of martial arts. Several accounts stated she was a woman with incredible strength and a master of archery.
At some point she was forced to work as a female slave due to her father being punished for losing a critical battle. According to some historical accounts, her slave work might be similar to modern day's woman wrestler. In the Song Dynasty, woman wrestling was a popular sport that even attracted the Song emperors to view woman wrestling in public matches. Most female wrestlers were dressed as males, wearing nothing but a loincloth during the match. This sport was completely banned in the Ming Dynasty since Ming era people felt it was indecent. Some modern historians argued this was the reason her position had been misinterpreted as prostitution by some historians in the Ming Dynasty.
At certain point in her career, she met her husband Han Shizhong, though accounts differ on exactly how they met. The most believable version is that she met Han at a banquet where she was entertaining the troops that Han led. Han had led his men in crushing a rebellion in southern China, and Han had personally arrested the rebel leader Fang La. However, his superior stole his credit, much to Han's displeasure. Liang knew the truth and admired Han's victory. She saved enough money to pay her own redemption of slavery. After she was free, she became Han's second wife.
The Jurchens soon started the total invasion on the Song Dynasty. Han formed an army to fight the Jurchens. Liang worked as a general in her husband's army.
Restore the Song emperor
Han and Liang's army soon became part of the main force against the Jurchens after Song lost its capital and northern China to the Jurchens. After the Jurchens captured two Song's emperors (Emperor Huizong and Emperor Qinzong), Emperor Gaozong reestablished the Song government in southern China. In 1129 there was a coup in the Song imperial court and Emperor Gaozong was held hostage and forced to abdicate. At the time, Han was leading an army in the front line. Liang was also house-arrested by the rebels in the hope to force her husband to surrender. She worked with Emperor Gaozong's loyalists to come up a plan that misled the rebel leader into releasing her as a messenger and goodwill gesture to her husband. Once free, she rode to her husband immediately and told her husband about the rebel's defence. This enabled her husband to crush the coup and restore Emperor Gaozong. Afterwards, Liang was rewarded with noble rank of "Noble Lady of Yang" (杨国夫人) which was not related to her husband's rank. This was unique in Chinese history since most Chinese noble women got their ranks through their husbands.
Battle of Huangtiandang
When the Jurchens once more invaded and attacked Hangzhou in 1129 shortly after the coup had been crushed, Liang and her husband led their forces to ambush the enemy army on their way back to Jin territory. Their troops were outnumbered and the Battle of Huangtiandang (黃天蕩) commenced. This was a series of navel battles fought on the Yangtze River. Liang made a plan by which she would direct the soldiers with her drums. When the battle started, the Song troops were pushed back by Jurchen troops due to superior numbers on the Jurchen side. With great courage, Liang threw her helmet and armour, beating the drums and led the charge into the enemy formation. This became the turning point of the battle. Chinese "Tiger Ships", which could spew fire with flame throwers, destroyed many Jin ships while Liang directed them with her drumming. The Jurchens were trapped for more than a month, before a traitor revealed a weakness in the Chinese encirclement and they escaped, but with heavy losses.
Final days and heroic death
In 1135 Han was appointed jiedushi of Wuning Anhua (武宁安化军节度使). Liang and her husband rebuilt the fortress of Chuzhou and increased its defence. They and their soldiers also worked on the rebuilding of houses and the planting of fields.(p275)
Liang and her force fought a campaign to drive out the Jurchen forces. She was winning battles after battles. The Jurchens were so afraid of her. Often they would flee once her banner appeared on the battlefield. This might have led to Liang underestimating the Jurchens' fighting capability. The Jurchens then hitched a plan to strike back.
On October 6, 1135, Liang led a raid of the Jurchens' supply line with a small elite cavalry force. However, this was a trap set up by Jurchen generals to retaliate her. Her force walked into an ambush. Not only they were outnumbered by 10 to 1, but also Jurchen released their most fearsome force "Iron Tower" (铁浮图). According to historians, these are heavy infantry / cavalry. They are completely protected by heavy armour and almost invincible on battlefields at that time.
She then led the charge into the enemy formation. The Jurchens concentrated archers shooting at her. Volleys of arrows penetrated her body. Her armour was soaked in blood. However, she managed breaking the formation and cutting down dozens of enemies before she eventually lost all her strength and falling from her horse and got slain by Jurchen soldiers.
Seeing Liang fall in battle, due to the high reward on her head, a fight immediately broke among Jurchen soldiers for her corpse. Jurchen soldiers killed each other for getting near her body and laying hand on her to claim part of her corpse. Finally, her body was chopped into several pieces by Jurchen soldiers during the fight. After the battle, the soldier who snatched her head got two-rank promotion; and other soldiers who snatched her limbs and torso got one-rank promotion.
Liang's death was a great victory to the Jurchens. They impaled her naked torso, legs, thighs and arms on spears to display them in occupied front-line cities for three days to suppress the resistance. Her head was preserved with salt and spice in a wooden box and rushed to the Jurchen government in the north. After reviewing her head in royal court, the Jurchen emperor ordered to display her head to public by hanging it on the front gate of Jurchen capital as a trophy of victory.
However, Liang's courage, loyalty and patriotism even conquered her enemy. One of her arch-rivals, Prince Wushu (兀术) who was defeated by Liang in the Battle of Huangtiandang, ordered his soldiers to gather her dismembered body parts after the three-day display. Her remains were stitched together and returned to Song army for a proper burial. When sewing her body parts together, an examination of her body was conducted. It was discovered hundreds of wounds on her broken body. Seven of them were fatal. All fatal wounds were in the front of her body.
Upon hearing the sad news of country's greatest heroine's demise, the Song government rewarded her with the honorary title "The Heroic and Valiant Lady of Yang" (英烈杨国夫人). She was given a state funeral with the highest honour. Her family got presented with silver and expensive cloth from the emperor himself. A temple was erected to commemorate her. This temple still exists today in Chuzhou to honour her bravery.
Liang's husband Han Shizhong died in 1151. Liang's headless body were exhumed and moved to Lingyan Hill in Suzhou to be buried together with her husband.
Poetry was written in her honour, which contributed to her fame.
- Chang Kang-i Sun & Haun Saussy, eds. (2000). Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0804732314.
- Barbara Bennet Peterson; He Hong Fei; Wang Jiyu; Han Tie & Zhang Guangyu, eds. (2000). Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century. M E Sharpe. ISBN 978-0765605047.
- Louise P Edwards (2001). Men and Women in Qing China: Gender in the Red Chamber Dream (Sinica Leidensia). University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0824824686.