Jin–Song Wars

The Jin–Song Wars
Map of China in 1141 with the Jin dynasty controlling the north and the Southern Song dynasty controlling the south
Song dynasty (orange) and Jin dynasty (blue)
Date 1125–1234
Location China
  • Jurchens conquer northern China
  • Song court moves south to Hangzhou
  • Southern Song dynasty period begins

Jin dynasty

  • Da Chu (1127)
  • Da Qi (1133–37)


Western Xia (1225–27)

Song dynasty

Map showing the Song-Jurchen Jin wars

The Jin–Song Wars were a series of conflicts between the Jurchen Jin dynasty (1115–1234) and Han Chinese Song dynasty (960–1279). In 1115, the Jurchens rebelled against their overlords, the Khitan Liao dynasty (907–1125), and declared the formation of the Jin. Allying with the Song against their common enemy the Liao, the Jin promised to return to the Song the territories in northern China that had fallen under Liao control since 938. The Jurchens' quick defeat of the Liao combined with Song military failures made the Jin reluctant to cede these territories. After a series of failed negotiations that embittered both sides, the Jurchens attacked the Song in November 1125, dispatching one army towards Taiyuan and the other towards Kaifeng, the Song capital.

Surprised by the news of an invasion, the Song general stationed in Taiyuan retreated from the city, which was besieged and later captured. As the second Jin army approached the capital, Emperor Huizong of the Song abdicated and fled south. A new emperor, Qinzong, was enthroned. The Jurchens began a siege against Kaifeng in 1126, but Qinzong negotiated for their retreat from the capital after he agreed to pay a large annual indemnity. Qinzong reneged on the deal and ordered Song forces to defend the prefectures instead of fortifying the capital. The Jin resumed their war against the Song and again besieged Kaifeng in 1127. The Chinese emperor was captured in an event known as the Jingkang Incident, the capital was looted, and the Song lost northern China to the Jin. Remnants of the Song retreated to southern China and, after brief stays in several temporary capitals, eventually relocated to Hangzhou. The retreat of the Song court marked the end of the Northern Song era and the beginning of the Southern Song.

The Jurchens tried to conquer southern China in the 1130s, but they were bogged down by a pro-Song insurgency in the north and a counteroffensive by the Song generals Yue Fei, Han Shizhong, and others. The generals regained some territories but retreated on the orders of the Southern Song emperor, who supported a peaceful resolution to the war. The Treaty of Shaoxing in 1142 settled the boundary between the two empires along the Huai River, but conflicts between the two dynasties continued until the fall of the Jin in 1234. A campaign against the Song by the fourth Jin emperor, Wanyan Liang (the Prince of Hailing), was unsuccessful. He lost the Battle of Caishi (1161) and was later assassinated by his own disaffected officers. An invasion of the Jin motivated by Song revanchism (1206–1208) was also unsuccessful. A decade later, the Jin launched an abortive military campaign against the Song in 1217 to compensate for the territory that they had lost to the invading Mongols. The Song formed an alliance with the Mongols in 1233, and in the following year jointly captured Caizhou, the last refuge of the Jin emperor. The Jin dynasty collapsed that year in 1234. After the demise of the Jin, the Song dynasty itself became a target of the Mongols, and fell in 1279.

The wars engendered an era of technological, cultural, and demographic changes in China. Battles between the Song and Jin brought about the introduction of various gunpowder weapons. The siege of De'an in 1132 was the first recorded use of the fire lance, an early ancestor of firearms. There were also reports of battles fought with primitive gunpowder bombs like the incendiary huopao or the exploding tiehuopao, incendiary arrows, and other related weapons. In northern China, the Jurchen tribes were the ruling minority of an empire that was predominantly inhabited by former subjects of the Northern Song. Jurchen migrants settled in the conquered territories and assimilated with the local culture. The Jin government instituted a centralized imperial bureaucracy modeled on previous Chinese dynasties, basing their legitimacy on Confucian philosophy. Song refugees from the north resettled in southern China. The north was the cultural center of China, and its conquest by the Jin diminished the international stature of the Song dynasty. The Southern Song, however, quickly returned to economic prosperity, and trade with the Jin was lucrative despite decades of warfare. The capital of the Southern Song, Hangzhou, expanded into a major city for commerce.

The fragile Song–Jin alliance

Khitan hunters on horseback with one rider holding an eagle
The Song and Jin were allies against the Khitan Liao. Painting of Khitan hunters, from the National Palace Museum

The Jurchens were a Tungusic-speaking group of semi-agrarian tribes inhabiting areas of northeast Asia that are now part of Northeast China. Many of the Jurchen tribes were vassals of the Liao dynasty (907–1125), an empire ruled by the nomadic Khitans that included most of modern Mongolia, a portion of North China, Northeast China, northern Korea, and parts of the Russian Far East. [1] To the south of the Liao lay the Han Chinese Song Empire (960–1276). [2] The Song and Liao were at peace, but since a military defeat to the Liao in 1005, the Song paid its northern neighbor an annual indemnity of 200,000 bolts of silk and 100,000 ounces of silver. [3]

In 1114, [4] the chieftain Wanyan Aguda (1068–1123) united the disparate Jurchen tribes and led a revolt against the Liao. In 1115 he named himself emperor of the Jin "golden" dynasty (1115–1234). [5] Informed by a Liao defector of the success of the Jurchen uprising, the Song emperor Huizong (r. 1100–1127) and his highest military commander the eunuch Tong Guan saw the Liao weakness as an opportunity to recover the Sixteen Prefectures, a line of fortified cities and passes that the Liao had annexed from the Shatuo Turk Later Jin in 938, and that the Song had repeatedly but unsuccessfully tried to reconquer. [6] The Song thus sought an alliance with the Jin against their common enemy the Liao. [7]

Jurchen chieftain Wanyan Aguda, who in 1115 became the first emperor of the Jin dynasty

Because the land routes between the Song and Jin were controlled by the Liao, diplomatic exchanges had to occur by traveling across the Bohai Sea. [8] Negotiations for an alliance began secretly under the pretense that the Song wanted to acquire horses from the Khitans. Song diplomats traveled to the Jin court to meet Aguda in 1118, while Jurchen envoys arrived in the Song capital Kaifeng the next year. [7] At the beginning the two sides agreed to keep whatever Liao territory they would seize in combat. [7] In 1120, Aguda agreed to cede the Sixteen Prefectures to the Song in exchange for transfer to the Jin of the annual tributary payments that the Song had been giving the Liao. [9] By the end of 1120, however, the Jurchens had seized the Liao Supreme Capital, and offered the Song only parts of the Sixteen Prefectures. [9] Among other things, the Jin would keep the Liao Western Capital of Datong at the western end of the Sixteen Prefectures. [9] The two sides agreed that the Jin would now attack the Liao Central Capital, whereas the Song would seize the Liao Southern Capital, Yanjing (modern day Beijing).

The joint attack against the Liao had been planned for 1121, but it was rescheduled for 1122. In February 23 of that year, the Jin captured the Liao Central Capital as promised. [10] The Song delayed their entry into the war because it diverted resources to fighting the Western Xia in the northwest and suppressing a large popular rebellion led by Fang La in the south. [11] When a Song army under Tong Guan's command finally attacked Yanjing in May 1122, the smaller forces of the weakened Liao repelled the invaders with ease. [12] Another attack failed in the fall. [12] Both times, Tong was forced to retreat back to Kaifeng. [13] After the first attack, Aguda changed the terms of the agreement and only promised Yanjing and six other prefectures to the Song. [14] In early 1123 it was Jurchen forces that easily took the Liao Southern Capital. They sacked it and enslaved its population. [14]

The quick collapse of the Liao led to more negotiations between the Song and the Jin. Jurchen military success and their effective control over the Sixteen Prefectures gave them more leverage. [14] Aguda grew increasingly frustrated as he realized that despite their military failures the Song still intended to seize most of the prefectures. [15] In the spring of 1123 the two sides finally set the terms of the first Song–Jin treaty. [16] Only seven prefectures (including Yanjing) would be returned to the Song, and the Song would pay an annual indemnity of 300,000 packs of silk and 200,000 taels of silver to the Jin, as well as a one-time payment of one million strings of copper coins to compensate the Jurchens for the tax revenue they would have earned had they not returned the prefectures. [17] In May 1123 Tong Guan and the Song armies entered the looted Yanjing. [14]