In ancient China, a woman was required to obey her father before marriage, her husband during marriage, and her sons in widowhood. Basically, women were regarded as little more than bondservants. Things started to change during the peak of the Tang Dynasty, when women were granted basic rights and freedoms.
This is the story of the woman who helped overthrow the tyrannical emperor Yang of Sui, and who helped found the early Tang Dynasty. Her name was Princess Pingyang.
Yang of Sui was everything you could imagine a tyrant would be – gluttonous, scheming, miserable, and incompetent. After killing his own father to ascend the throne, he sent millions of people to continue construction on the Great Wall and Grand Canal (over 6 million of which died) and then failed to launch attacks Vietnam, Korea, and Inner Asia, which resulted in the death of a million soldiers in combat. Under his reign, the empire became bankrupt and the people were in revolt.
Yang’s top military commander was General Li Yuan who had been born a peasant but who had fought his way to the top. For a variety of reasons, Emperor Yang felt that Li Yuan was a threat, stationed him far away, and then decided to have him arrested and executed.
Li Yuan decided he wasn’t going to let this happen. He looked around and saw the state of the empire, the fact that the Imperial Army was basically non existent, and the fact that the countryside was degenerating. He decided to fight for his life, save the kingdom, and rebel.
Meanwhile, his daughter Pingyang was living with her husband in the city, with her husband as the commander of the Palace Guard and all. Upon hearing the news, they decided to flee in the dark of night and go their separate ways so as not to arise suspicions as a couple traveling together.
Pingyang fled to her family’s country estate in Huxian province. No, she didn’t just flee to safety. She was on a mission. With no time to waste, she sold her family’s home, most of its land, and used that money to buy equipment, weapons, horses, food, whatever it was that she needed to get this rebellion started. Then, she started approaching her family, friends, and assembling them into an army.
She gained a loyal following of several hundred men by opening her family’s grain reserves to the people who were dying of starvation. She sent her servant to persuade rebel leaders to join her, and then convinced former Sui commanders herself to follow suit, and combined the forces of He Panren, Li Zhongwen, Xiang Shanzi, and Qiu Shili.
At first, the Sui government didn’t take her army seriously, because it was led by a woman. But she continued to roam the countryside with her forces, took on and defeated other rebel groups, and when her forces conquered a town she forbade them from looting, raping, and pillaging. Instead, the first thing she would do upon taking over a new town was provide food and drink to the oppressed citizens, and then win them over to joining her forces. Her ranks swelled.
Before long, Pingyang led an army of 70,000 men. The Imperial Government wasn’t going to dismiss her because she was a woman now. They tried to fight against her but she crushed them and with her best troops, successfully stormed and captured the capital of Huxian.
Soon, she linked up with her father’s army and launched the final attack on Chang’an. Her father seized the throne and became the first ruler of the Tang Dynasty. She was appointed a military marshal and that’s when she became Princess Pingyang.
Oh yeah, and did we mention she was 20 years old? A 20 year old who unified her people, assembled an army (during a time when men wouldn’t listen to women, much less take battle orders from them), and led them successfully into battle to take down a tyrannical emperor who was hoarding the country’s resources and wasting the lives of his people.
Princess Pingyang died shortly thereafter at age 23. The Emperor Gaozu ordered that a grand military funeral, one fit for a high-ranking general. This meant that a band would be present, playing military music. Apparently, playing music at a funeral was a custom only reserved for a man. So when officials of the Ministry of Rites objected to the presence of a band, stating that women’s funerals were not supposed to have bands, the emperor responded:
“The band would be playing military music. The Princess personally beat the drums and rose in righteous rebellion to help me establish the dynasty. How can she be treated as an ordinary woman?”
You Are No Ordinary Woman
In the final days of our Kickstarter campaign, we are telling the stories of historical badass women because they were the original spitfires.
Women like Princess Pingyang show us how to grit our teeth, unify people, and with strength and persistence fight for what we believe in even when the odds are against us.
Our work with Spitfire Athlete is much larger than lifting weights inside a gym. It’s about showing you that you can be as powerful as a warrior queen, and that you too can make history.
You can start by building mental and physical strength like the heroines who came before you.
Help us make strong, empowered women around the world a reality by funding us on Kickstarter today.