Mongol conquest of the Song dynasty

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Mongol conquest of the Song dynasty
Part of Mongol invasion of China and Kublai Khan's Campaigns
China 11b.jpg
Southern Song before Mongol World conquests
Date 1235-1279
Location South China
Result Complete Mongol victory
Whole China is annexed by the Mongols

Mongol Empire

Song China
Commanders and leaders
Güyük Khan
Möngke Khan (possibly  )
Shi Tianze
Zhang Hongfan
Emperor Lizong of Song
Emperor Duzong of Song
Emperor Gong of Song
Emperor Duanzong of Song
Emperor Huaizong of Song 
Jia Sidao
Lü Wenhuan
Li Tingzhi
Zhang Shijie
Wen Tianxiang
More than 450,000 (including the Mongols, the Khitan, the Jurchens, the Chinese, the Alans, the Turkics, Central Asians) unknown
Casualties and losses
Very heavy Unknown

The Mongol conquest of the Song dynasty under Kublai Khan (r. 1260–1294) was the final step for the Mongols to rule the whole of China. It is also considered the Mongol Empire's last great military achievement.[1]


Before the Mongol–Jin War escalated, an envoy from Song China arrived at the court of the Mongols, perhaps to negotiate a united offensive against the Jin dynasty, who the Song had previously fought during the Jin–Song Wars. Although Genghis Khan refused, on his death in 1227 he bequeathed a plan to attack the Jin capital by passing through Song territory. Subsequently, a Mongol ambassador was killed by the Song governor in uncertain circumstances.[2] Before receiving any explanation, the Mongols marched through Song territory to enter the Jin's redoubt in Henan. In 1233 the Song dynasty finally became an ally of the Mongols, who agreed to share territories south of the Yellow River with the Song. Song general Meng Gong defeated the Jin general Wu Xian and directed his troops to besiege the city of Caizhou, to which the last emperor of the Jurchen had fled. With the help of the Mongols, the Song armies were finally able to extinguish the Jin dynasty that had occupied northern China for more than a century. A year later, the Song generals fielded their armies to occupy the old capitals of the Song, but they were completely repelled by the Mongol garrisons under Tachir, a descendant of Boorchu, who was a famed companion of Genghis Khan. Thus the Mongol troops, headed by sons of the Ögedei Khan, started their slow but steady invasion of the south. The Song forces resisted fiercely, which resulted in a prolonged set of campaigns; however, the primary obstacles to the prosecution of their campaigns was unfamiliar terrain that was inhospitable to their horses, new diseases, and the need to wage naval battles, a form of warfare completely alien to the masters of the steppe. This combination resulted in one of the most difficult and prolonged wars of the Mongol conquests.[3] The Chinese offered the fiercest resistance of among all the Mongols fought, the Mongols required every single advantage they could gain and "every military artifice known at that time" in order to win.[4]

The Mongol force which invaded southern China was far greater than the force they sent to invade the Middle East in 1256.

First stage (1235–48)[edit]

From 1235 on, the Mongol general Kuoduan Hequ started to attack the region of Sichuan through the Chengdu plain. The occupation of this region had often been an important step for the conquest of the south. The important city of Xiangyang, the gateway to the Yangtze plain, which was defended by the Song general Cao Youwen, capitulated in 1236.[5] In the east, meanwhile, Song generals like Meng Gong and Du Guo withstood the pressure of the Mongol armies under Kouwen Buhua because the main Mongol forces were at that time moving towards Europe. In Sichuan, governor Yu Jie adopted the plan of the brothers Ran Jin and Ran Pu to fortify important locations in mountainous areas, like Diaoyucheng (modern Hechuan/Sichuan). From this point, Yu Jie was able to hold Sichuan for a further ten years. In 1239, General Meng defeated the Mongols and retook Xiangyang, contesting Sichuan against the Mongols for years.[6] The only permanent gain was Chengdu for the Mongols in 1241. In the Huai River area, the Mongol Empire's commanders remained on the defensive, taking few major Song cities, although Töregene and Güyük Khan ordered their generals to attack the Song.[7]

The conflicts between the Mongols and the Song troops took place in the area of Chengdu. When Töregene sent her envoys to negotiate peace, the Song imprisoned them.[8] The Mongols captured Hangzhou and invaded Sichuan in 1242. Their commanders ordered Zhang Rou and Chagaan (Tsagaan) to attack the Song. When they pillaged Song territory, the Song court sent a delegation to negotiate a ceasefire. Chagaan and Zhang Rou returned north after the Mongols accepted the terms.[9]

An account of the Mongol attack on Nanjing was given in a Chinese annal, describing the Chinese defenders use of gunpowder against the Mongols:

"As the Mongols had dug themselves pits under the earth where they were sheltered from missiles, we decided to bind with iron the machines called chen-t'ien-lei [thunder-shaking-the-sky]. . . and lowered them into the places",[10]

where the translation of the term for the device is that of Prof. Partington, who describes it as an iron pot filled with [huo] yao, literally "fire drug", a low-nitrate gunpowder or proto-gunpowder, sometimes lowered on chains, that sent forth "fire… out of every part," with an incendiary effect over many yards that could pierce metal to which it was attached, producing a "noise like thunder" that could be heard for miles, with the result that "the men and the oxhides were all broken into fragments (chieh sui) flying in all directions".[11][12]

Second stage (1251–60)[edit]

The Mongol attacks on Southern Song China intensified with the election of Möngke as Great Khan in 1251. Passing through the Chengdu Plain in Sichuan, the Mongols conquered the Kingdom of Dali in modern Yunnan in 1253. Möngke's brother Kublai and general Uriyangqadai pacified Yunnan and Tibet and invaded the Trần dynasty in Vietnam. The Mongols besieged Ho-chiou and lifted the siege very soon in 1254.

In October 1257 Möngke set out for South China and fixed his camps near the Liu-pan mountains in May. He entered Sichuan in 1258 with two-thirds of the Mongol strength. In 1259 Möngke died of cholera or dysentery during the battle of Diaoyucheng that was defended by Wang Jian. The Chinese general Jia Sidao collaborated with Kublai and took the opportunity of Möngke's death to occupy Sichuan as subject of the Mongols.

The central government of the Southern Song meanwhile was unable to cope with the challenge of the Mongols and new peasant uprisings in the region of modern Fujian led by Yan Mengbiao and Hunan. The court of Emperor Lizong was dominated by consort clans, Yan and Jia, and the eunuchs Dong Songchen and Lu Yunsheng. In 1260 Jia Sidao became chancellor who took control over the new emperor Zhao Qi (posthumous title Song Duzong) and expelled his opponents like Wen Tianxiang and Li Fu. Because the financial revenue of the late Southern Song state was very low, Jia Sidao tried to reform the regulations for the merchandise of lands with his state field law.

Gunpowder weapons like the t'u huo ch'iang were deployed by the Chinese against the Mongol forces, which fired bullets from bamboo tubes.[13]

Prelude, and surrender of Song China (1260–1276)[edit]

See also: Yuan dynasty
Kublai Khan, the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire and Emperor of the Yuan dynasty. Painting from 1294.

In 1260, Kublai was elected Great Khan of the Mongols, and he was eventually able to conquer the south, but at great cost.[citation needed] First, from 1260 to 1264, a civil insurrection leading to war, the Toluid Civil War, was fought within the Mongol side, between Kublai Khan and his younger brother, Ariq Böke, who had been left in command of the north and stationed in the Mongol capital, Karakorum.[citation needed] Then, skirmishes of the early 1260s led to a major confrontation in Diaoyu Fortress, Sichuan in 1265. The Mongols eventually defeated the Song land and naval armies and captured more than 100 ships.[14]

Then in 1268, the Mongol advance was halted at the city of Xiangyang, situated on the Han river, and controlling access to the Yangtze river, the gateway to Hangzhou.[15] The walls of Xiangyang were approximately 6 to 7 meters thick, encompassing an area of five kilometers wide.[citation needed] The main entrances in the wall led out to a waterway impossible to ford in the summer, and impassable as a swamp and series of ponds and mud flats in the winter.[citation needed] This city was linked to its twin city, Fencheng, on the opposite riverbank by a pontoon bridge spanning the river Han; the defenders of twin-cities attempted to break the siege but the Mongols under Aju thwarted them each time.[citation needed] The Mongols crushed all reinforcements from the Song, each numbering in the thousands.[16]

After this defeat, Aju asked Kublai for the powerful siege machines of the Ilkhanate. Ismail[disambiguation needed] and Al-aud-Din, from Mosul, Iraq, arrived in South China to construct a new type of counterweight-driven trebuchet that could use explosive shells. The Mosuli engineers built the new siege trebuchets, and smaller mangonels,[17] and traction trebuchets as well.[citation needed] The design of the critical new counterweight trebuchets were taken from those used by Hulagu to batter down the walls of Baghdad in 1258.[citation needed]

Explosive shells had been in use in China for centuries, but the counterweight system of trebuchet (as opposed to the torsion-type) gave greater range and accuracy, and the counterweighting system made it easier to judge the force generated (versus by the torsion from repeated windings).[18] As such, the counterweight trebuchet built by the Persians were, practically speaking, greater in range,[19] and so could assist in destroying the walls at Fancheng with greater safety to the Mongol forces.[citation needed] The Muslim and additional Chinese engineers operated the artillery and siege engines for the Mongol armies.[20] Hence, the Chinese, who were the first to invent the traction trebuchet,[citation needed] now faced Persian-designed counterweight trebuchets on the side of the Mongol army, so by 1273 the Chinese were led to build their own counterweight trebuchets; as an account states, "In 1273 the frontier cities had all fallen. But Muslim trebuchets were constructed with new and ingenious improvements, and different kinds became available, far better than those used before."[21]

During the siege, both the Mongol and Song forces used chen-t'ien-lei (zhen tian lei) types of devices—lit., thunder-shaking-the-sky, or heaven-shaking-thunder devices), a type of incendiary gunpowder weapon of cast iron, filled with gunpowder (see full description and sources in First stage, above). Each delivered theirs via their types of trebuchets, and by other means.[citation needed] As noted, the effects of these on men and natural materials was devastating, the noise destructive and resounding for many miles, and armor made out of iron could be penetrated by the bomb's shell during the explosion.[12] The Mongols also utilized siege crossbows, and the Song used fire arrows and fire lances as well.[citation needed]

Political infighting in the Song also contributed to the fall of Xiangyang and Fancheng, due to the power of the Lu family. Many questioned their allegiance to the Song, and the Emperor barred Jia Sidao himself from the command. Li Tingzhi, an enemy of the Lu family, was appointed commander. Jia permitted the Lu to ignore Li's orders, resulting in a fractious command. Li was then unable to relieve Xiangyang and Fancheng, managing only temporary resupply during several breaks in the siege.[22]

Bayan of the Baarin, the Mongol commander, then sent half of his force up-river to wade to the south bank in order to build a bridge across to take the Yang lo fortress; three thousand Song boats came up the Han river and were repulsed, with fifty boats destroyed and 2,000 dead.[citation needed] In the maritime engagements, the Song forces used paddle ships,[23] and on some ships at least, fire lance, siege crossbows, and incendiary devices were deployed against Mongol forces.[24]

Xiangyang's commander then surrendered to the Mongol commander. The entire force, now including the yielding commander, sailed down the Yangtze, and the forts along the way fell, as this commander, now allied with the Mongols, had also commanded many of the down-river garrisons.[citation needed] In 1270, Kublai ordered the construction of five thousand ships. Three years later, an additional two thousand ships were ordered built; these would carry about 50,000 troops to give battle to the Song. In 1273, Fancheng capitulated, the Mongols putting the entire population to the sword to terrorize the inhabitants of Xiangyang. After the surrender of the city of Xiangyang, several thousand ships were deployed. The Song fleet, despite their deployment as a coastal defense fleet or coast guard more than an operational navy, was more than a match for the Mongols. Under his great general Bayan, Khublai unleashed a riverine attack upon the defended city of Xiangyang on the Han River. The Mongols prevailed, ultimately, but it would take five more years of hard combat to do so.[25]

Kublai had founded the Yuan dynasty in 1271, and by 1273, the Mongols had emerged victorious on the Han River.[citation needed] The Yangtse River was opened for a large fleet that could conquer the Southern Song empire. A year later, the child-prince Zhao Xian was made emperor. Resistance continued, resulting in Bayan's massacre of the inhabitants of Changzhou in 1275 and mass suicide of the defenders at Changsha in January 1276. When the Yuan Mongol-Chinese troops and fleet advanced and one prefecture after the other submitted to the Yuan, Jia Sidao offered his own submission, but the Yuan chancellor Bayan refused. The last contingents of the Song empire were heavily defeated, the old city of Jiankang (Jiangsu) fell, and Jia Sidao was killed. The capital of Song, Lin'an (Hangzhou), was defended by Wen Tianxiang and Zhang Shijie. When Bayan and Dong Wenbing camped outside Lin'an in February 1276, the Song Grand Empress Dowager Xie and Empress Dowager Quan surrendered the underage Emperor Gong of Song along with the imperial seal. Emperor Gong abdicated, but faithful loyalists like Zhang Jue, Wen Tianxiang, Zhang Shijie and Lu Xiufu successively enthroned the emperor's younger brothers Zhao Shi and Zhao Bing. Zhao Shi was enthroned as Emperor Duanzong of Song far from the capital in the region of Fuzhou but he died soon afterwards on the flight southwards into modern Guangdong. Zhao Bing was enthroned as Emperor Huaizong of Song on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. On March 19, 1279 the Mongols defeated the last of the Song forces at the naval Battle of Yamen. After the battle, as a last defiant act against the invaders, Lu Xiufu embraced the eight-year-old emperor and the pair leapt to their deaths from Mount Ya, thus marking the extinction of the Southern Song.[26]

Last stand of the Song loyalists (1276–79)[edit]

Main article: Battle of Yamen
Emperor Bing, the last Song emperor claimant.

Empress Dowager Xie had secretly sent the child emperor's two younger brothers to Fuzhou. The strongholds of the Song loyalists fell one by one: Yangzhou in 1276, Chongqing in 1277 and Hezhou in 1279. The loyalists fought the Mongols in the mountainous FujianGuangdongJiangxi borderland. In February 1279, Wen Tianxiang, one of the Song loyalists, was captured and executed at the Yuan capital Dadu.

The end of the Mongol-Song war occurred on 19 March 1279, when 1000 Song warships faced a fleet of 300 to 700 Yuan Mongol warships at Yamen. The Yuan fleet was commanded by Zhang Hongfan (1238–1280), a northern Chinese, and Li Heng (1236–1285), a Tangut. Catapults as a weapon system were rejected by Kublai's court, for they feared the Song fleet would break out if they used such weapons. Instead, they developed a plan for a maritime siege, in order to starve the Song into submission.

But at the outset, there was a defect in the Song tactics that would later be exploited by Yuan at the conclusion of the battle. The Song wanted a stronger defensive position, and the Song fleet "roped itself together in a solid mass[,]" in an attempt to create a nautical skirmish line. Results were disastrous for the Song: they could neither attack nor maneuver. Escape was also impossible, for the Song warships lacked any nearby base. On 12 March, a number of Song combatants defected to the Mongol side. On 13 March, a Song squadron attacked some of the Mongols' northern patrol boats. If this action was an attempted breakout, it failed. By 17 March, Li Heng and Zhang Hongfan opted for a decisive battle. Four Mongol fleets moved against the Song: Li Heng attacked from the north and northwest; Zhang would proceed from the southwest; the last two fleets attacked from the south and west. Weather favored the Mongols that morning. Heavy fog and rain obscured the approach of Li Heng's dawn attack. The movement of the tide and the southwestern similarly benefited the movement of the Mongol fleet which, in short order, appeared to the north of the Song. It was an unusual attack in that the Mongol fleet engaged the Song fleet stern first.

Prior to the battle, the Mongols constructed archery platforms for their marines. The position enabled the archers to direct a higher, more concentrated rate of missile fire against the enemy. Fire teams of seven or eight archers manned these platforms, and they proved devastatingly effective as the battle commenced at close quarter.

Li Heng's first attack cut the Song rope that held the Chinese fleet together. Fighting raged in close quarters combat. Before midday, the Song lost three of their ships to the Mongols. By forenoon, Li's ships broke through the Song's outer line, and two other Mongol squadrons destroyed the Song formation in the northwest corner. Around this time, the tide shifted; Li's ships drifted to the opposite direction, the north.

The Mongol Empire included all China. The gray area is the later Timurid empire

The Song believed that the Mongols were halting the attack and dropped their guard. Zhang Hongfan's fleet, riding the northern current, then attacked the Song ships. Zhang was determined to capture the Song admiral, Zuo Tai. The Yuan flagship was protected by shields to negate the Song missile fire. Later, when Zhang captured the Song flagship, his own vessel was riddled with arrows. Li Heng's fleet also returned to the battle. By late afternoon, the battle was over, and the last of the Song navy surrendered.

The ruling elite were unwilling to submit to Mongol rule, and opted for death by suicide. The Song councilor, who had been tasked with holding the infant child-emperor of the Song in his arms during the battle, also elected to join the Song leaders in death. It is uncertain whether he or others decided that the infant Emperor should die as well. The councilor therefore jumped into the sea, still holding the child in his arms. Tens of thousands of Song officials and women threw themselves into the sea and drowned. The last Song emperor died with his entourage, held in the arms of his councilor. With his death, the final remnants of the Song resistance were eliminated. The victory of this naval campaign marked the completion of Kublai's conquest of China, and the onset of the consolidated Mongol Yuan dynasty.

Members of the Song Imperial Family continued to live in the Yuan dynasty like Emperor Gong of Song, Zhao Mengfu, and Zhao Yong.


  1. ^ C. P. Atwood Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.509
  2. ^ Henry Hoyle Howorth, Ernest George Ravenstein History of the Mongols, p.228
  3. ^ Nicolle, David; Hook, Richard (1998). The Mongol Warlords: Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, Hulegu, Tamerlane (illustrated ed.). Brockhampton Press. p. 57. ISBN 1-86019-407-9. Retrieved 2011-11-28. For his part Kublai dedicated himself totally to the task, but it was still to be the Mongol's toughest war. The Sung Chinese showed themselves to be the most resilient of foes. Southern China was not only densely populated and full of strongly walled cities. It was also a land of mountain ranges and wide fast-flowing 
  4. ^ L. Carrington Goodrich (2002). A Short History of the Chinese People (illustrated ed.). Courier Dover Publications. p. 173. ISBN 0-486-42488-X. Retrieved 2011-11-28. Unquestionably in the Chinese the Mongols encountered more stubborn opposition and better defense than any of their other opponents in Europe and Asia had shown. They needed every military artifice known at that time, for they had to fight in terrain that was difficult for their horses, in regions infested with diseases fatal to large numbers of their forces, and in boats to which they were not accustomed. 
  5. ^ John Man Kublai Khan, p.158
  6. ^ René Grousset (1970). The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia (reprint ed.). Rutgers University Press. p. 282. ISBN 0-8135-1304-9. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  7. ^ C. P. Atwood-Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire', p.509
  8. ^ Jeremiah Curtin The Mongols A History, p.343
  9. ^ J.Bor Mongol hiiged Eurasiin diplomat shastir, vol.II, p.224
  10. ^ John Merton Patrick, 1961, "Artillery and warfare during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (Monograph series)," Vol. 8, No. 3, Logan, Utah:Utah State University Press, p. 10, see [1], accessed 30 December 2014.
  11. ^ J. R. Partington, 1960, "A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder," Baltimore, Md.:Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 0801859549, pp. 243, 268, 244, see [2], accessed 30 December 2014.
  12. ^ a b See also: zhen tian lei, or chen t'ien lei (entry), in The Hutchinson Dictionary of Ancient & Medieval Warfare, Matthew Bennett, Ed., 1998, Abingdon, UK:Taylor & Francis, p. 356, ISBN 1579581161, see [3], accessed 30 December 2014. The entry reads, substantially, as follows:

    "zhen tian lei (or chen t'ien lei) (Chinese 'heaven-shaking thunder') medieval Chinese explosive bombs first used by the Jurchen Jin dynasty at the siege of the Song Chinese city of Qizhou in 1221… [Replacing bamboo enclosures,] the zhen tian lei had a cast-iron casing [that produced] a genuine fragmentation bomb. [They] were used by the Jin in defense of Kaifeng…, by the Song defenders of Xiangyang… and other cities, and in the Mongol invasions of Japan. They were launched from trebuchets, or even lowered on chains into besiegers approach trenches. The fragments pierced iron armor and the explosion could be heard 50 km / 31 miles away."

  13. ^ John Merton Patrick (1961). Artillery and warfare during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Volume 8, Issue 3 of Monograph series. Utah State University Press. p. 14. Retrieved 2011-11-28. overthrown, as we shall see — since the final counter-offensive launched by the Chinese against their Mongol overlords of the Yuan dynasty is a story in which artillery features significantly. By 1259 at least, if not earlier during the first Mongol invasions, the Chinese were using tubes that shot bullets. The t'u huo ch'iang ("rushing- forth fire- gun") was a long bamboo tube into which bullets in the true sense (tzu-k'o) 
  14. ^ Warren I. Cohen East Asia at the center: four thousand years of engagement with the world, p.136
  15. ^ Stephen Turnbull, Wayne Reynolds (2003). Mongol Warrior 1200-1350 (illustrated ed.). Osprey Publishing. p. 8. ISBN 1-84176-583-X. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  16. ^ John Man Kublai Khan, p.168
  17. ^ Jasper Becker (2008). City of heavenly tranquility: Beijing in the history of China (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 64. ISBN 0-19-530997-9. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  18. ^ Stephen Turnbull, Steve Noon (2009). Chinese Walled Cities 221 BC-AD 1644 (illustrated ed.). Osprey Publishing. p. 53. ISBN 1-84603-381-0. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  19. ^ Michael E. Haskew, Christer Joregensen, Eric Niderost, Chris McNab (2008). Fighting techniques of the Oriental world, AD 1200-1860: equipment, combat skills, and tactics (illustrated ed.). Macmillan. p. 190. ISBN 0-312-38696-6. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  20. ^ Grousset 1970, p. 283.
  21. ^ Stephen R. Turnbull (2003). Genghis Khan & the Mongol conquests, 1190-1400 (illustrated ed.). Osprey Publishing. p. 63. ISBN 1-84176-523-6. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  22. ^ Peter Allan Lorge (2005). War, politics and society in early modern China, 900-1795. Taylor & Francis. p. 84. ISBN 0-415-31690-1. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  23. ^ Stephen Turnbull (2002). Siege weapons of the Far East: AD 960-1644 (illustrated ed.). Osprey Publishing. p. 12. ISBN 1-84176-340-3. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  24. ^ Stephen R. Turnbull (2003). Genghis Khan & the Mongol conquests, 1190-1400 (illustrated ed.). Osprey Publishing. p. 63. ISBN 1-84176-523-6. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  25. ^ Tony Jaques (2007). Tony Jaques, ed. Dictionary of battles and sieges: a guide to 8,500 battles from antiquity through the twenty-first century, Volume 3. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 1115. ISBN 0-313-33539-7. Retrieved 2010-10-28. 
  26. ^ See the article, the History of Song, here in Wikipedia.


  • Grousset, René (1970). The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-1304-1.