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Emperor Taizu of Song

Zhao Kuangyin
Emperor Taizu of Song (more...)
Palace portrait on a hanging scroll, kept in National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
1st Emperor of the Song Dynasty
Reign 4 February 960 – 14 November 976
Successor Emperor Taizong, brother
Born (927-03-21)21 March 927
Luoyang, Later Tang (today's Luoyang, Henan)
Died 14 November 976(976-11-14) (aged 49)
Kaifeng, Henan, China
Burial Gongyi, Henan, China
5 others died young
  • Zhao Dezhao, son
  • Daughter (m. Wang Chengyan)
  • Daughter (m. Shi Baoji)
  • Zhao Defang, son
  • Daughter (m. Wei Xianxin)
Full name
Surname: Zhào ()
Given name: Kuāngyìn ()
Courtesy name: Yuánlǎng ()
Era dates
Jiànlóng (), began on 4 February 960
Year 1: 31 January 960 – 19 January 961
Year 2: 20 January 961 – 7 February 962
Year 3: 8 February 962 – 27 January 963
Year 4: same as Year 1 of Qiande
Qiándé (), began on 4 December 963
Year 1: 28 January 963 – 15 February 964
Year 2: 16 February 964 – 4 February 965
Year 3: 5 February 965 – 24 January 966
Year 4: 25 January 966 – 11 February 967
Year 5: 12 February 967 – 1 February 968
Year 6: same as Year 1 of Kaibao
Kāibǎo (), began on 16 December 968
Year 1: 2 February 968 – 20 January 969
Year 2: 21 January 969 – 8 February 970
Year 3: 9 February 970 – 29 January 971
Year 4: 30 January 971 – 18 January 972
Year 5: 19 January 972 – 5 February 973
Year 6: 6 February 973 – 25 January 974
Year 7: 26 January 974 – 13 February 975
Year 8: 14 February 975 – 2 February 976
Year 9: 3 February 976 – 21 January 977
Posthumous name
Short: Never used short
Full: Emperor Qǐyùn Lìjí Yīngwǔ Ruìwén Shéndé Shènggōng Zhìmíng Dàxiào (皇帝) (1017)
Temple name
Tàizǔ (; "Grand Forefather")
House House of Zhao
Father Zhao Hongyin
Mother Empress Dowager Du
Emperor Taizu of Song
Chinese 宋太祖
Literal meaning "Great Ancestor of the Song"
Alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 趙匡胤
Simplified Chinese 赵匡胤

Zhao Kuangyin (Chinese: 趙匡胤; 21 March 927[1] – 14 November 976[2]), also known by his temple name Taizu (太祖), was the founding emperor of imperial China's Song Dynasty, reigning from 960 until his death. A distinguished military general under the Later Zhou, he came to power by staging a coup d'état and forcing the young Emperor Gong of Later Zhou to abdicate power.

During his reign, he conquered the states of Southern Tang, Later Shu, Southern Han and Jingnan, thus reunifying most of China proper and effectively ending the tumultuous Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. To strengthen his control, he lessened the power of military generals and relied on civilian officials in administration. He was succeeded by Emperor Taizong, his younger brother who possibly murdered him for the throne.


  • Early life 1
  • Career under Later Zhou 2
  • Coup d'état at Chen Bridge 3
  • Accomplishments 4
  • Succession 5
  • In popular culture 6
    • Literature 6.1
    • Martial arts 6.2
    • Films 6.3
    • Television series 6.4
  • Family 7
  • Ancestry 8
  • Notes and references 9
    • Sources 9.1

Early life

Born in Luoyang to military commander Zhao Hongyin, Zhao Kuangyin grew up excelling in mounted archery. Once, riding an untamed horse without a bridle, he knocked his forehead on the wall above the city gate and fell off, but got right back up and chased the horse, eventually subduing it while going unharmed. In the mid-940s, he married Lady He on his father's arrangement.[3] After wandering around for a few years, in 949[4] he joined the army of Later Han military governor Guo Wei, helping Guo quell Li Shouzhen's rebellion.[1]

Career under Later Zhou

In 951, Guo Wei rebelled and created the Later Zhou dynasty. Because of his brilliant combat skills, Zhao Kuangyin was promoted to a Chief of the Palace commander. Chai Rong, who was later to become the Emperor Shizong of Later Zhou, frequently met Guo Wei and noticed Zhao Kuangyin's potential. Under his command, Zhao Kuangyin was made into a commander of the cavalry units. Under Chai Rong, Zhao Kuangyin's rise to power had begun.

Zhao Kuangyin's career started at the Battle of Gaoping, against the alliance of the Northern Han and the Liao.

This rivalry started when Zhou Shizong ascended the throne and Liu Chong decided to work with Liao. In the initial confrontation, the army's right flank, led by Fan AiNeng (樊愛能) and He Wei (何微), was defeated. Looking at the situation, Kuangyin and Zhang Yongde (张永德) led 4000 elite Palace troops to counter the Liao army. Zhao Kuangyin's exhortation for the loyalty to the emperor quickly strengthened morale. The small force held off the larger Liao army until reinforcements arrived. In the end, the successful counter repelled the Northern Han back to Taiyuan.

The victory raised Kuangyin up to the post of the grand commander of the Chief of the Palace troops, as well as reorganizing and training them. More importantly, he developed the relations with other generals and officials related to the Chief of Palace including Shi Shouxin, Wang Shenqi (王審琦), Yang Guangyi (楊光義), Wang Zhengzhong (王政忠), Liu Qingyi (劉慶義), Liu Shouzhong (劉守忠), Liu Yanrang (劉延讓), Mi Xin (米信), Tian Chongjin (田重進), Pan Mei, his brother Zhao Kuangyi, Shen Yilun (沈義倫), Lu Xuqing, Zhao Pu (趙普), Chu Zhaobu (楚昭捕). Within a few years, Zhao Kuangyin completely controlled the Chief of the Palace Troops and even developed a set of officials under him with the people mentioned above.

Soon, he was promoted to a jiedushi, controlling most of the military power under Zhou Shizong. Nevertheless, he still had two rivals – Zhang Yongde and Li Chongjin, who were both Zhou Taizu's son-in-laws. In 959, after a trap set by Kuangyin, Zhang Yongde was demoted. After the deaths of Zhang Yongde and Zhou Shizong (the last competent Later Zhou Emperor, r. 954–960) the throne was left to his 7-year-old son, and the second rival, Li Chongjin, soon found himself lacking the political backing. As a result, Zhao Kuangyin was able to use his influence to transfer Li Chongjin to the Yang Prefecture as a jiedushi.

Coup d'état at Chen Bridge

The Grand Marshal Proclaimed as Emperor in Battle field

In 960, word reached the prime minister Fan Zhi that Northern Han and Liao were once again allied to invade them again. Without verifying the liability of the hearsay, Fan Zhi sent Zhao Kuangyin to combat the alliance. After traveling 40 li, there was a clamor that a "prophet" saw 2 suns fighting, and that this meant the transfer of the Heaven's Mandate onto Zhao Kuangyin. The story effectively spread around the army: there came discontent of the "command" of the young emperor and a shift of loyalty to Zhao. A few days later, when Kuangyin was drunk in his tent, all the troops have not slept the whole night; they got their weapons and started yelling. Zhao Pu and Zhang Kuangyi, who were guarding the tent, saw the situation and went into the tent to wake up Kuangyin. When Kuangyin came out, all the troops yelled, "The army is without a master, we're willing to make commander the new emperor." Allegedly, Zhao Kuangyin took the power reluctantly, only under the urging of his soldiers. The midnight mutiny of officers forcibly urged Zhao Kuangyin to the throne; but, when the officers presented him to the troops as their new commander-in-chief he refused the imperial nomination until they swore unconditional obedience to him as leader.[5] News of the rebellion soon reached the court and erupted chaos. The only person who thought about a resistance was Han Tong, but he was killed by one of Kuangyin's generals when he reached home.

Upon entering the capital city to take his seat on the throne, Zhao Kuangyin, or emperor Taizu of the new Song dynasty, made an executive order prohibiting the troops from looting the city or otherwise violating the rights of the population.[6]

With the gate open for Zhao Kuangyin, he became emperor with no resistance. Before the prime minister Fang Zhi could say anything, one of Kuangyin's generals pointed a sword at Fang Zhi and said, "We're without masters. Today, we must have an emperor." After the officials looked at each other and knew it was hopeless to resist, they all bowed down. With the court under control, Kuangyin was officially proclaimed Taizu, the emperor of Song. The new dynasty name was taken after the army he controlled in the Song Prefecture.

After the declaration, he sent the dethroned young emperor with his mother to Xi Jing (西京). He personally ordered the Zhao family to receive the Chais into their family's care for generations.[6]


Emperor Taizu of Song playing cuju with Prime Minister Zhao Pu, by the Yuan-era painter Qian Xuan (1235–1305)

In 960, Song Taizu helped reunite most of China after the fragmentation and rebellion between the fall of the Tang dynasty in 907 and the establishment of the Song dynasty. The plan set during Zhou Shizong's period was to first conquer the North, then the South. During Taizu's period, there was a change in strategy. He would conquer all the small countries such as Shu, South Han, and South Tang. The exception was the strong Northern Han in the north at Taiyuan supported by the Khitans. Taizu's strategy was to first take the Southern territories because the South was weaker than the North as the Liao supported Northern Han.

In 968, Taizu personally led the army against the Northern Han. At first, Taizu tore through the defenses and placed Taiyuan under siege, but was ultimately forced to retreat after he struck against the defenses of the Northern Han with the Liao cavalry coming in to support.

He established the core Song Ancestor Rules and Policy for the future emperors. He was remembered for his expansion of the examination system such that most of the civil service were recruited through the exams (in contrast to the Tang where less than 10% of the civil servants came through exams). He also created academies that allowed a great deal of freedom of discussion and thought, which facilitated the growth of scientific advance, economic reforms as well as achievements in arts and literature.

Zhao Kuangyin, or emperor Taizu is well known for bringing the power of the military into control, ending the era of the warlords, and so preventing anyone else rising to power as he did. Upon becoming emperor, he invited the general officers to a lavish banquet, where he convinced them all to retire as military leaders, in favor of enjoying extensive estates and generous retirement funds and benefits which he then offered them.[7] At a certain point during the feast, the new emperor made a speech to the military officers assembled there, which he began by expressing his deep gratitude to each and all of them for placing him on the throne, and that now that he had the power to do so, he wished to reward them to the utmost of his ability; then he went on to say that he thought the present company would all understand that he could not feel at ease on his new throne, with them continuing in command of their various armies of troops: and, he said, that if they duly considered the ramifications of the matter, neither would they. He then sincerely promised that they and their families would live in happiness and harmony, if they accepted his offer to retire with the stated benefits: eventually, none of the generals refused his terms, and thus began a period of relative internal peace within the realm for the duration of the dynasty which he thus founded, also better securing the military forces for involvement with the rival surrounding empires.


He reigned for seventeen years and died in 976 at the age of forty-nine. Curiously, he was succeeded by his younger brother, Zhao Kuangyi, even though he had two grown sons – Zhao Dezhao, Prince of Yan (951–979) and Zhao Defang, Prince of Qin (959–981). The traditional historical accounts place emphasis on the role Zhao Kuangyin's mother played in the decision which was made shortly after the Song Dynasty was proclaimed (around 961). So for nearly his entire reign, it was known and accepted that his brother would succeed him.

In folklore, the story known as "shadows by the candle and sounds from an axe" is very popular and suggests that Taizu was murdered by would-be Taizong for the throne.

After Taizong, the line of succession passed on to his son and descendants rather than those of Taizu. However, when the Emperor Gaozong (1127–1161) failed to produce an heir, he selected a descendant of Taizu to be his adopted heir to succeed him in 1161. After 1161, all the subsequent Song emperors were descended from Taizu through his two sons, Dezhao and Defang.

In popular culture


The late 16th century novel by Xiong Damu (熊大木) called Records of the Two Songs, South and North (南北兩宋志傳) is a historical novel about imperial China from roughly 926 to 1022. The first 50 chapters detail the fall of Later Tang and the rise and fall of Later Jin, Later Han and Later Zhou, with a focus on the legends of Zhao Kuangyin. The last 50 chapters focus on the Generals of the Yang Family legends. As a result, the book is in later publications usually split in 2 separate parts under various different names.

A 1797 novel written by Wu Xuan (吳璿) called Legends of the Flying Dragon (飛龍傳) proved to be very popular in his time. He expanded the stories on Zhao Kuangyin in Xiong Damu's book and added a wuxia twist to it. Another novel Emperor Taizu of Song Thrice Sets off for Southern Tang, Trapped in Shouzhou City (宋太祖三下南唐被困壽州城) was written by an "Antiquarian Master" (好古主人) in 1858.

While these stories mostly use historical figures as supporting characters, a number of fictional characters became famously associated with Zhao Kuangyin:

  • Zhao Jingniang (趙京娘), a beautiful teenage girl whom Zhao Kuangyin saved from kidnappers and protected during her journey home. She developed strong romantic feelings about Zhao Kuangyin, but he only regarded her as a younger sister. She eventually committed suicide when a misunderstanding occurred.
  • Zheng En (鄭恩), Courtesy name Ziming (子明), the 3rd sworn brother to Zhao Kuangyin and Chai Rong in the stories. He is portrayed as dark-skinned, strong and loyal, with a simple temperament, probably in the mold of Zhang Fei in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. He was eventually killed by a drunk Zhao Kuangyin by accident.

Martial arts

According to martial arts traditional lore, the Emperor Taizu created a Shaolin-based fighting style known as Tàizǔ Chángquán (太祖長拳; literally "Emperor Taizu long fist"). It is the core style of modern day Long Fist. Whether he really did invent this style or if it even dates from this time is not actually known.[8]


A Chinese 4D film tentatively titled Unifying the Country (一統江山) is planned to be directed by Academy Award-winning Danish director Bille August. The film is said to center on Zhao as well as Li Yu (last ruler of Southern Tang) and Qian Chu (last ruler of Wuyue).[9]

Television series

  • Military Control (兵權), a 1988 Hong Kong series starring Gordon Liu as Zhao Kuangyin.
  • Zhao Kuangyin (趙匡胤), a 1995 Chinese series starring Zhao Xiguang as Zhao Kuangyin.
  • The Preordained Emperor (真命天子), a 1998 Taiwanese series starring Lin You-hsing as Zhao Kuangyin.
  • Zhao Kuangyin (趙匡胤), a 2013 Chinese series starring Chen Jianbin as Zhao Kuangyin.

Three independent television series focused on the complex relationships between Zhao Kuangyin, Li Houzhu (Li Congjia) and the many women in their lives. They are:

  • The Sword and the Song (絕代雙雄), a 1986 Singaporean series starring Lin Mingzhe as Zhao Kuangyin and Li Wenhai as Li Congjia
  • Love, Sword, Mountain & River (情劍山河), a 1996 Taiwanese series starring Wu Hsing-kuo as Zhao Kuangyin and Chin Feng as Li Congjia
  • Li Houzhu and Zhao Kuangyin (李後主與趙匡胤), a 2006 Chinese series starring Huang Wen-hao as Zhao Kuangyin and Nicky Wu as Li Congjia


  • Father
    • Zhao Hongyin (趙弘殷) (899–956), posthumously honored as Emperor Xuanzu (宣祖)
  • Mother
    • Empress Dowager Du, Zhao Hongyin's wife, daughter of Grand Perceptor Du Shuang (杜爽) and Lady Fan (范氏), posthumously honored as Empress Dowager Zhaoxian (昭憲太后)
  • Wives
  • Children
Name Mother Description Final posthumous name Spouse
Zhao Dexiu (趙德秀) Lady He? 1st son, died young Prince of Teng (滕王) none
Zhao Dezhao Lady He 2nd son, 951–979 Prince of Yan (燕王)
Zhao Delin (趙德林) 3rd son, died young Prince of Shu (舒王) none
Zhao Defang 4th son, 959–981 Prince of Qin (秦王)
unknown Lady He daughter, d. 1008 Princess of Wei (魏國公主) Wang Chengyan (王承衍)
unknown Lady He daughter, d. 1009? Princess of Lu (魯國公主) Shi Baoji (石保吉)
unknown daughter, d. 999 Princess of Chen (陳國公主) Wei Xianxin (魏咸信)
unknown daughter, died young Princess of Shen (申國公主) none
unknown daughter, died young Princess of Cheng (成國公主) none
unknown daughter, died young Princess of Yong (永國公主) none


Zhao Kuangyin's family was of fairly modest origins and cannot be traced back with any certainty further than the Later Tang. His ancestor Zhao Ting (828–874) was an official who served in Zhuozhou, in Hebei near where the family lived. His sons, Zhao Ting (851–928) and Zhao Jing (872–933), also served as local officials in Hebei. Zhao Jing's son Zhao Hongyin (899–956) decided against a civil career and became a military officer instead under Emperor Zhuangzong of Later Tang: he knew that in times of disunity it would be a military career that would lead to success.

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c Song Shi, ch. 1.
  2. ^ Song Shi, ch. 3.
  3. ^ a b Song Shi, ch. 242.
  4. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, ch. 288.
  5. ^ Paludan, 122
  6. ^ a b Paludan, 122–123
  7. ^ Paludan, 123
  8. ^
  9. ^ Danish Director: 'No Boundaries' in Unifying the Country


  • Paludan, Ann (1998). Chronicle of the Chinese Emperors: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial China. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05090-2
  • (Chinese)
  • (Chinese)
Emperor Taizu of Song
House of Zhao (960–1279)
Born: 927 Died: 976
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Dynasty Created
Emperor of the Song Dynasty
Succeeded by
The Taizong Emperor
Preceded by
The Gongdi Emperor of the Later Zhou
Emperor of China
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