Analysis of Huangfu Song

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Analysis of Huangfu Song

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Wed Nov 21, 2018 3:43 pm

Realized I hadn't posted here, bit more conventional then my He Jin one

Intro: Huangfu Song, style Yizhen, famed general against the Turbans and a man of great honour, a man for whom songs were composed in his own time.

Using the HHS biography at Gongjin’s Campaign memorial: here

Will also use the ZZTJ, Professor De Crespigny’s encyclopaedia of awesome and Dong Zhou’s SGZ on this site

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The Early Years:

Huangfu Song was born in Chaona county, Anding commandery which was in Liang province, son of Huangfu Jie who ran Yanmen. He was also the nephew of Huangfu Gui, a prolific writer, an honourable man and someone who was considered one of the great generals of his time alongside Duan Jiong and Zhang Huan. The Huangfu’s were originally from Jingzhao till Huangfu Jun was appointed to Liang during the early days of the Latter Han, various Huangfu’s had fought in the northern armies or run local administration down the years and they were wealthy enough for both Gui and Song to spend time as private gentleman.

Huangfu Song was noted to be ambitious to achieve in both military and political spheres, he enjoyed the Classic of History and Poetry while he trained in archery and horseback riding. Unsurprisingly given his family connections he was appointed to office, getting training as a gentlemen consultant then sent out as a magistrate to Baling and Linfen (De Crespigny’s encyclopaedia puts that at Jingzhao and Hedong). When his father Jie died around 165, Huangfu Song resigned for the mourning period.

When Chen Fan and Dou Wu controlled the government of young Emperor Ling in 168, they tried to hire Huangfu Song and regional officials nominated Song for office. His reasons for refusing are unclear as nothing is listed, it is possible he was still in mourning though one would assume the regional officials would be aware when he was out of mourning. Song may have wished to have be a private gentleman for awhile longer, it is possible Song was wary of the Duo family suddenly ensuring they suddenly all got marquis and didn’t want to tie himself to them just yet. It could also be the treatment down the years of his uncle (assassination, jail, refusal to let him retire) had put Song off service for awhile. The failure of Chen Fan/Dou Wu Reformist faction to reach out or show support for Huangfu Gui despite his vocally backing the reformers (admittedly possibly in a bid to get himself sacked) during Emperor Huan’s purge of 166 can’t have endeared the new regime to the family. Whatever the reason for Song’s refusal, the new regime didn’t last as the gentry leaders were overthrown after their botched plot against the eunuchs in 168.

In 174, Huangfu Gui died when returning home from the front after finally being allowed to retire due to ill-health. He left behind his writings, his expert calligrapher wife and lustre to the Huangfu name. The HHS doesn’t give much impression of how any of the Huangfu’s got on with each other let alone Song with Gui (the records sadly give us more of a sense of how they each got on with Dong Zhuo then with their own blood). It would be odd if a man of ambition for military deeds did not keep an eye on a relative who happened to be a highly successful general and learnt in some way from Gui’s experiences.

At some point, Emperor Ling himself sent a carriage for Huangfu Song to come to court and with this personal attention, Huangfu Song decided it was time to return to court and became a consultant before, De Crespigny’s encyclopaedia puts this at 180, he was made Administrator of Beidi. Trouble was brewing in the Empire and Huangfu Song’s restarted career would really take off.

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The Turbans:

In 184, the faith-healer Zhang Jue’s plans for a major revolt was exposed early to the Han court, forcing the Turbans to rise early and a shocked court to react. Huangfu Song was one of many summoned by Emperor Ling, he advised ending the Proscription/exile of “men of faction” (aka eunuchs gentry opponents), using money from Ling’s personal treasury and horses from the imperial stables to equip and finances the armies needed.

Emperor Ling ordered the raising of all experienced soldiers and anyone with talent in matters of war, three armies were created and the famed scholar Lu Zhi dispatched against Zhang Jue himself. Huangfu Song was made General of the Household of the Left and given staff of authority [1], presumably his advice had impressed but his warrior training and the military record of his ancestors may have played a part. The slightly more experienced Zhu Jun, who had gained a reputation after defeating rebels in Jiaozhi, was given made General of the Right and they combined their forces. With five corps of the Northern Arms and recruits from Henan, Hexi and Hedong they were able to wield more then 40,000 men. The two of them headed for the major Turban army in Yingchuan, Zhu Jun went to face Bo Cai and Huangfu Song garrisoned Changshe.

Zhu Jun lost and Bo Cai’s large army besieged Huangfu Song, the Han troops panicked by the odds and possibly unsettled by the early setback. Huangfu Song remained calm, spotted a weakness and summoned his officers “Warfare varies in mysterious ways, and victory does not depend on number of soldiers. Now that the rebels set their camps near grass, it is easy to use wind and fire to launch an attack. If we set fire to their camp at night, they will definitely go into a chaos. We then send our forces to attack them, and encircle them from four sides. The feat of Tian Dan can be achieved.” [2] When a gale started that night, Huangfu Song sent his bravest men to sides of Turban camp to start fires and make some noise, men on the walls raised the torches they had been ordered to gather. Huangfu Song led his men out and charged the confused Turban ranks. While this doesn’t seem to have destroyed the Turbans there and then, it presumably restored morale of his men and checked the Turban advanced. With support from Zhu Jun and reinforcement of Cao Cao’s cavalry forces, they claimed tens of thousands of heads in the battles that followed that put Bo Cai to flight.

The defeat of Bo Cao was a major victory, the Turban forces in the area never recovered and Huangfu Song was made Marquis of Duxiang. The job was not done for the Han forces, Song and Zhu Jun remained combined as they pursued Bo Cai to Yangdi and then defeated Peng Tuo at Xihuan in Runan. With those victories, Yingchuan, Runan and Chen were back under government control and Huangfu Song sent a memorial to the court, giving the credit for all this to Zhu Jun who got a bigger marquis and a promotion. The court then ordered Zhu Jun, his opening defeat now forgotten, to deal with a major Turban army in Wan and Huangfu Song to push onto Dong commandery. Song’s Major Fu Xie would capture Bu Si /Yi [3] and slay several thousand at Cangting.

Huangfu Song had shone so far and as he was no longer needed in this area of the campaign, the court decided to send him to the north where things had done wrong. Lu Zhi’s army had initial success and had sent Zhang Jue fleeing to Guangzong in the Zhang brothers stronghold of Julu. However as Lu Zhi prepared to attack, he was jailed after accusations by inspecting eunuch Zuo Feng that Lu Zhi was hiding behind defences. The Han’s most experienced general Dong Zhuo was summoned but, for whatever reason, struggled against Jue’s successor [4] Zhang Liang and so he was removed then on 25th September, Huangfu Song was ordered to take charge of the northern army.

While heading north, Huangfu Song went through Ye and spotted the eunuch Zhao Zhong’s mansion was larger then regulations allowed so he reported it and the mansion was taken. This matter dealt with, Huangfu Song went to war but the first battle with Zhang Liang showed that the Turban commander had drilled his troops well and the rebels were brave (perhaps knowing if they lost battles the Han commanders had shown no mercy played it’s part) so no advantage was gained. Huangfu Song decided to not go for another battle the next day but to give his troops a chance to rest and waited to see how the Turbans reacted. Spotting that the rebels were growing slack, Huangfu Song prepared his men at night to strike as soon as the roosters began to crow. The Turbans were taken off guard and fought valiantly for most of the day but by the end of the afternoon, they were broken. Zhang Liang was dead, 30,000 Turbans were killed or captured during the battle and 50,000 drowned trying to flee over the Yellow River, more then 30,000 chariots of gear were burnt, the Turbans families were captured. As one final signal of his victory, Song had Zhang Jue’s corpse dug up, defiled and head sent back to the capital.

Song then led his troops to the Turban headquarters at Xiaquyang where the last Zhang brother, Zhang Bao, was waiting. The Han commander combined forces with those of the energetic head of Julu Guo Dian who had led local resistance and helped pin back the local Turban forces. There is no detail of the battle, merely that Zhang Bao was killed along with 100,000 others who were then buried in a mass grave so large it was nicknamed the Capital Observatory, as it was said one could see the capital from the top of the pile. De Crespigny calls it in Fires Over Luoyang “a grisly celebration with a mound of triumph to celebrate the sheer scale of his total victory.” The Capital Observatory perhaps also made a point at the heartland of the Turbans, the Turban revolt may have been large but it had been utterly destroyed and they had paid the price for their revolt against the Emperor.

Huangfu Song had impressed during his efforts against the Turbans, he had shown an ability to observe his enemy and seize on their weak-points but it was also his treatment of his men that led to his success. He did lose a few officers as those who took bribes, he then gave more money and gifts, this left them feeling ashamed and some took their own lives. ZZTJ notes “Huangfu Song was a leader who could understand and sympathise with his soldiers. Whenever his army halted to make camp he made sure that all the tents were set up in order before he went to his personal quarters, and his soldiers were issued with food before he had his own. It was for this reason that he was successful everywhere he went.”

It can be easy to overlook what Huangfu Song had done as the Turbans were peasant soldiers vs armies with professional soldiers at their core. So yes the Han, once they found out the plot, shouldn’t be losing but Huangfu Song not only won, he won big. He defeated a far larger army that had already beaten a Han army then moved quickly to pacify four regions. Then he defeated Zhang Liang’s well trained army that had held it’s own against one of the Han’s most experienced generals. The sheer scale of his victories is impressive: tens of thousands were often captured or slain by his forces. He did all this quickly, the main Turban revolt was defeated by year’s end, failure to do so might have led to a lot more questions and trouble for the Han if they couldn’t defeat this populist revolt.

The numbers killed by Huangfu Song were, even with possible element of exaggeration taken into account, large. This was partly due to the nature of the Turban armies, throwing sheer overwhelming numbers against the Han forces, when they were defeated meant a lot of people had been killed to break them and then were slaughtered in the pursuit. The Han generals also seem to have had a policy of no mercy, Lu Zhi killed tens of thousands when defeating Zhang Jue, Zhu Jun refused the surrender of Wan as he wished to send a signal to discourage others from revolt.

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Aftermath of Turban campaign:

Huangfu Song was the hero of the hour, the HHS remarks Song inspired awe throughout the nation. The Han court was quick to reward him, General of Chariots and Cavalry on the Left, Governor of Ji province and his noble rank was improved to Marquis of Huaili, with two counties of Huaili and Meiyang in Fufeng which was worth eight thousand households of income.

Huangfu Song did not let this go to his head, he argued Lu Zhi should be released and said his success came down to following Lu Zhi’s strategies, the jailed scholar would soon return to government service. Huangfu Song knew Ji province needed some help after it’s farming had been disrupted by the civil war, he urged the court to exempt farm rent for a year to help the hungry people. The court agreed and this furthered Huangfu Song’s popularity to such an extent they sung about him “When the nation became chaotic, cities turned into ruins. Mothers couldn’t protect their sons, and wives lost their husbands. Thanks to Lord Huangfu, we were able to live in peace.”

During this time Yan Zhong, a magistrate who was noted for his judgement of talent (he spotted Jia Xu’s ability) came to visit with a radical proposal. [5 for full speech]. Yan Zhong urges Huangfu Song to act while time is ripe while Huangfu Song’s position is strong, the general politely asks what is Yan Zhong blabbering on about. Yan Zhong praises up Huangfu Song’s abilities and the country is in awe yet he serves a mediocre ruler which is a danger to Huangfu Song. When the general asked why he would be in trouble when he has worked hard and been loyal, Yan Zhong cites the famous case of Han Xin not acting against the first Han Emperor when powerful and paying the price, sets out a strategy for Huangfu Song to march on the capital, destroy the eunuchs then take the throne as an adored Emperor overthrowing a decrepit empire. If he does not, Song will pay dearly for the slanderous court will turn on him.

Huangfu Song answers no “Unusual schemes cannot be exercised in such a stable situation. It can’t be possible for an average man to achieve great feats. The Yellow Turban rebels are small enemies. They are never as mighty as the Qin Empire and Xiang Yu. They formed their organizations not long ago, and they were easy to dissolve. They were not supposed to succeed in their cause. And the people are still loyal to the Emperor. The Heaven does not favour traitors. If I expect to achieve great feats that I do not deserve, this would only bring disasters to me soon. It is still better that I keep my remain a loyal official to the Imperial Court. Even there would be much slandering, the worst result for me is exile or deposition. I still have a clean reputation, and will be remembered by the people after my death. Your unusual suggestion is something I dare not hear.” Yan Zhong fled back to his home in Hanyang.

Yan Zhong trying to get Song to move against the Han was not without reason. The Han was in a long decline and as it turned out, it wouldn’t be too long till it’s authority collapsed. Huangfu Song was in as strong a position as he was ever going to be with his fame resounding across the empire and popular with soldiers. Zhong’s warnings that some in the court would act against Song was not without reason either, the relationship between the Han and it’s generals had become increasingly strained. During the Turban revolt alone, Lu Zhi had been jailed, Dong Zhuo sacked, Zhu Jun had to fight efforts to recall him, Wang Yun would be tortured and things get so bad his friends suggested suicide. This very much risked being as a good as it got for Huangfu Song.

Huangfu Song the Han loyalist might seem an odd person to try to persuade to rebel but Song’s reputation as a Han loyalist was made from moments like this. At this point Huangfu Song was of a family that hadn’t always had great experiences with the Han, Song had refused to serve at one point. There hadn’t been particularly signs of loyalty and a general whose fame and praises was being sung throughout the land, he knows the court might turn on him, could reasonably be someone who could be persuaded to rebel.

Was Yan Zhong’s plan workable? It is certainly going to be more difficult then Yan Zhong was pitching it. I doubt those singing Song’s praises for bringing peace back would be delighted at his starting another war, the hero that turns on leader risks becoming a divisive figure and the Han would bring armies with a professional core under able generals, it would not be an easy fight.

What is interesting is Huangfu Song’s response on two fronts (bar the loyalty one expects from him), first is his desire for good reputation that lives on after his death and secondly how sensible he is about his victories. The praise of the nation and his months of success did not go to his head as so easily could have, he recognized that the Turbans were not the hardest opponents a general could face and that he was not comparable to conquerors of old. To turn defeating a revolt into “I can conquer the nation” would risk disaster.

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Trouble in Liang

While the Turbans were being dealt with, long running tensions in Liang and unhappiness at the corrupt local regime of figures like Zuo Chang erupted in the winter of 184. Qiang revolts and other tribes raiding the forces of the nearby commander Ling Zheng mutinied, killed their commander and joined the rebels. Zuo Chang’s embezzlement of funds meant the army was not in good condition and his replacement Song Nie was quickly sacked when he proposed reading the classics to the rebels. With local worthies such as Han Sui and Bian Zhang joining the revolt, local forces defeated and forced back to Hanyang’s capital of Ji, things were so bad that Cui Lie urged Liang province be abandoned (Cui Lie got some abuse for this).

In the spring of 185, the Liang forces began raiding beyond the borders to Chang An and there were worries of invasion. Huangfu Song was ordered to Chang’an to deal with the Liang forces with Dong Zhuo, a man who knew the area and an experienced figure against the Qiang, as his deputy. Huangfu Song proposed recruiting the Wuhuan as a mercenary force, others proposed the Xianbi and the court was persuaded by likes of Ying Shao to do neither as such troops could not be trusted (Zhang Wen would later recruit Wuhuan but, not being paid, they rebelled). While the former capital was held, Huangfu Song does not seem to managed to drive them back or achieved any notable victory. By the autumn Yan Zhong’s warning of slander came true as old enmities interfered. Huangfu Song had alienated two senior eunuchs in recent years, Zhao Zhong during the Turban revolt for getting his oversized house taken away, and Zhang Rang for refusing to pay him fifty million when asked at some unknown point. The two of them argued Huangfu Song had failed and was wasting resources so Song was recalled and demoted: No longer Left General of Cavalry and Chariots, fief reduced to Duxing which gave him two thousand households worth of income.

We don’t know what Huangfu Song did in the aftermath of his return to court, the damage to records that comes from a civil war may not help there but there is another big reason for our lack of knowledge: Huangfu Song himself. For as his HHS says in a passage set after his death “Huangfu Song was benevolent, cautious, and dutiful. He submitted memorials to the throne and offered more than five hundred beneficial suggestions. He wrote the memorials personally, and always destroyed the drafts and never leaked them to others. He was humble to intellectuals, and he recommended many talents to the court and did not retain them for his own purposes. People of the time all spoke highly of and supported him”

This is very useful for an Emperor, being able to have someone who goes about their job diligently, discreetly, putting the state about their own self-interest. Alas for when writing about Huangfu Song, it is unfortunate. We know he sent up advice and that it was considered good but very little of what he actually suggested lives on as he destroyed his copies and wouldn’t leak it to others to garner praise or support. We also don’t know who he brought through the ranks, De Crespigny muses in Generals of South that Huangfu Song recommended Sun Jian to Zhang Wen but that is as close as we get. To his credit, in a time when gentry could hold off recommending talents to further local power-bases, Huangfu Song put the interests of the state above his own.

The Han army was now placed under Zhang Wen, an experienced and able minister but who had never fought before. It did not go well [6 for details] and by the winter of 188, the rebels made another advance towards Chang’an, besieging Chencang. The Han decided to act to the increasing threat, Huangfu Song was restored to his former military rank and ordered to combine forces with Dong Zhuo, hero of Meiyang, to bring Han forces up to 40,000, restoring the duo they had first appointed to force the rebels back in 185.

According to Song’s HHS (though there are issues with it’s account as discussed in trouble with Dong section), Dong Zhuo wished to head straight to Chencang, arguing the city was in danger and could fall. Huangfu Song rejected the idea, arguing it was well fortified and either would hold or Wang Guo’s forces would take such heavy toll in taking Chencang that it would be easy for Han to retake, meanwhile the Han commanders could observe any weaknesses in the Liang rebels. [9] Chencang lasted over the winter into the spring of 189 and after over eighty days siege, Wang Guo’s forces were exhausted and demoralized.

Wang Guo ordered a retreat and Huangfu Song ordered a pursuit. Dong Zhuo, perhaps remembering the disaster of 185, was rather less keen arguing “Sir, we cannot do that. According to military principles, we are not supposed to pursue the hard-pressed enemies when they return to their camp. Now if we pursue Wang Guo, it means that we violate the principle. Even a trapped beast struggles, and even a bee sting is venomous, not to mention a group of rebels.” Song said, “That’s not right. Last time I did not launch an attack, because I had to avoid their high morale. Now if I attack them, I just need to wait till their morale is exhausted. The enemy that I attack is in fatigue, and they are not returning. Wang Guo’s people are about to flee. They are not willing to fight. With my well organized forces, I can attack the undisciplined rebels. And I have not violated the principle.”

Huangfu Song ordered Dong Zhuo to be his rearguard and went ahead to lead the attack, the HHS portrays this as a bit of a snub but this seems similar to Dong Zhuo and Sun Jian’s rejected suggestions in 185 [10]. The rearguard would act to pin-down the rebel forces while the attacking force would raid at will, the Liang forces would be unable to move effectively against two coordinated armies. Huangfu Song’s forces fought the retreating forces in a series of engagements and took 10,000 heads overall. When the Liang rebels limped home, Wang Guo paid the price for his failures with his life, his replacement Yan Zhong (remember him?) died of illness very quickly and the Liang rebels fell into another bout of infighting.

The threat was over and the Han had at least inflicted considerable casualties this time. Huangfu Song this time had been given patience by the court, possibly because the Han had a few scares under Zhang Wen, to carry out his defensive strategy, he had read the situation right and had waited for the right time to strike a blow that destroyed Wang Guo’s authority. However, there seems to have been no interest by the court, which possibly simply didn’t have the resources any more, to try and take advantage of this internal chaos among the rebels.

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Trouble with Dong Zhuo

This had been Huangfu Song and Dong Zhuo’s second campaign together and they would both remain shielding the borders. Dong seems to have got to know the Huangfu family who accompanied Song in Liang, he became friends with Song’s son Jianshou, at some point he gained an interest in Song’s famed step-aunt though he may not have met her at this time. That Huangfu Song seems to have used a version of Dong Zhuo’s 185 plans would suggest the two were cooperating and talking during the campaign.

Alas however relations between the two army commanders was rather less then happy. Song’s HHS and ZZTJ attributes this to Dong being proven wrong twice by Huangfu Song in the recent campaign, that Dong felt very ashamed and bore a grudge ever since. It is possible that Dong Zhuo read the situation wrong twice, commanders can sometimes just have a bad campaign, and was annoyed at having the lesser role in the victory. However a caveat needs to be made by this period in the histories involving Dong Zhuo, the histories were undermining Dong Zhuo’s military record and attempting to foreshadow his evil rise.

Other examples were accusations of lacking energy against Turbans while Sun Jian’s chapter in General of the South shows the extreme measures Wu historians took to distance Sun Jian from the future tyrant. De Crespigny describes the Song/Dong story as possibly exaggerated in Fires over Luoyang and in Dong’s entry in the encyclopaedia, the Professor notes “Some tales may have been true, but many were surely written in the light of his later reputation as the traitor who destroyed the Han;”

One can see the appeal of the HHS narrative, the great Han loyalist Huangfu Song being so much cleverer then the (surprisingly polite) future tyrant, showing him up twice and then getting all the glory by sending Dong to guard the rear while Huangfu Song thrashes the rebels. If the story is questionable, what are the other possibilities? Dong Zhuo’s sgz is quiet on this. Personalities simply not gelling is always a possibility, or could be Dong Zhuo was annoyed with the situation and that transferred onto Song. Dong had fought so hard against the Liang rebels, even took something of a demotion when Zhang Wen came along and yet when Zhang Wen went, they chose Huangfu Song to return to command rather then gave Dong Zhuo a shot as commander.

The Han court decided to reward Dong Zhuo by making him Privy Treasurer, one of the Nine Ministers, but Dong Zhuo refused "My Huangzhong auxiliaries and the barbarians from the north-west all came to me and said, 'Our wages have not been paid and the supplies have not come through. Our wives and children are hungry and cold.' They held my carriage so it could not move. The Qiang and their fellow barbarians have evil hearts and the nature of dogs. I could not bring them to order, so I am staying with them to keep them quiet. If there is anything different or unusual, I shall report again."

There was no response to this and whatever Dong’s motives, that he could warn his troops hadn’t been paid without a denial would indicate there were problems with Han paying their soldiers. When Emperor Ling fell fatally ill, the court decided Dong Zhuo should be sent to try to deal with Bing province but this time had a solution to the troops being unhappy: give them to Huangfu Song.

Dong Zhuo however was not happy at the loss of his retainers, his loyal army and wrote back to the court "Despite my lack of merit, I have received your heavenly favour and held military command for ten years. My officers and men of every rank have long been close to me. They appreciate my generous care, and they obey my commands at any emergency. I beg to take them with me to the northern provinces, to assist in the defence of the frontier." Funnily enough, Dong was not bemoaning his men being being troublesome this time.

News of this clearly reached the Huangfu camp who would been preparing for the influx of soldiers and Song’s nephew Li urged action "It is either you or Dong Zhuo who must hold command over the armies of the empire. There is already bad feeling between you and one of you will surely lose out. Dong Zhuo has been ordered to hand his men over, but he has sent in a message to beg himself off: this is disobeying an imperial order. He relies on the fact that the government of the capital is in disorder, so he dares to delay and refuses to come: this is treachery. The two faults cannot be pardoned.

Dong Zhuo, moreover is cruel and perverse. He has no loyal friends, and his troops will not follow him. You are now the senior general. If you exercise the authority of the state to punish him, you will display a brilliant loyalty above, and will wipe out evil and harm below. Such a plan cannot fail."

Song’s reaction was simple: No “"Though it is wrong to disobey orders, I shall also be at fault if I carry out punishment on my own authority. It is best to send in a full report, and let the court decide it."

The memorial was sent in, the court was rather busy as Ling’s health continued to fail so they sent a reprimand to Dong Zhuo who ignored it and went to Hedong which was in the capital province, not in Bing. Dong however was, unsurprisingly, angry with Huangfu Song for trying to get him in trouble, an annotation in his sgz (via Parallel Annals of the Duke of Shang Yong) puts this as the moment their relationship went sour while Song’s HHS says it further deteriorated things.

Was Huangfu Li right to urge action or was Song right to not act unilaterally? Huangfu Li is certainly right that Dong Zhuo was disobeying an imperial order and was relying on the government being rather bogged down by it’s other troubles. Whatever the motives of the court in trying to separate Dong from his army and whatever Dong’s motives in refusing, a general needs to obey such orders. Dong Zhuo going off on his own with his personal army is damaging to the Han’s authority and storing up trouble.

However Li’s idea that Dong Zhuo’s army would fall apart seems naive, Dong Zhuo had built up support among his troops for years, relations between soldiers and a distant court that was not always paying the wages was not likely to be stronger then the man who led the campaigns. Dong’s troops were loyal throughout his career and would be during his time as Han controller so hard to see them being disloyal at this exact moment. Nor do I think the court would be thankful, a man raising army to attack another senior commander, one he was known not to get on with, would look like an ambitious man taking out a rival while court was in a weak state, this would spread alarm. Including raising concerns about Huangfu Song’s power, his motives and his loyalty.

Even if court refused to deal with the problem now, Huangfu Song could wait for court to sort itself out. His soldiers combined with imperial forces in the capital would give him an advantage if the court declared against Dong Zhuo if the general didn’t get back in order. While we know how things turned out following Emperor Ling’s death, at the time the idea that within months Dong Zhuo would walk into the capital and seize control would have seemed bizarre. The way history unfolded required a lot of unforseen events and a lot of figures within the capital to be killed in a short space of time for a vacuum in the capital to emerge and for Dong Zhuo to be in a place to exploit. There was no reason for Huangfu Song or the court to think leaving Dong Zhuo alone for now would result in him becoming controller of the court.

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Dong Zhuo takes power

Following Emperor Ling’s death, the court went through heavy political battles with He Jin coming out on top as he installed his nephew Bian as Emperor then took down rivals Jian Shi and the Dong family. During his fight with the eunuchs, He Jin took the dangerous gamble of calling on Dong Zhuo to add further military support and came close to victory but the moment slipped away, possibly due to He Jin’s own subordinates. When the desperate eunuchs assassinated He Jin, the angry gentry burst into the palace, slaughtering thousands, setting the palace on fire and sending the Emperor fleeing.

Fair to say, when Dong Zhuo entered the city, he was not impressed by the gentry’s handling of things and he seized power, deposed the Emperor then killed him and the Empress Dowager. One of the horrific crimes he committed, now he was in charge, was his killing of Song’s aunt, Huangfu Gui’s second wife [11]. Knowing of her beauty and her fame as an expert calligrapher, he sent hundred wagon load of treasure to woo her. She responded by turning up at his home in plain clothes to refuse, asking to be allowed to remain loyal to her husband. Dong Zhuo did not respond well to his defiance of his authority and had his servants surround her with swords. She then let rip, attacking his background as barbarian, claiming superior ancestry of her own and her husbands including claiming Dong’s parents had served Huangfu Gui and that Dong had brought calamity on the whole country. Her method of execution I’m not clear on due to two competing sources but either way it was a horrible way to die, 1) Dong Zhuo had her tied, by her head, to a carriage and whipped to death, 2) torn apart by chariots.

While this saw her famed for her courage and held up as an example for future generations, there was no immediate reaction from the Huangfu family and while they took no action, one doubts this endeared Huangfu clan to the new regime. None the less there was a potential problem for the new controller of the Han: old rival Huangfu Song was one of the few military figures who could hope to match Dong Zhuo in battle and experience, he had 30,000 experienced troops at Youfufeng if he acted. Meanwhile the admired Intendant of Jingzhao He Xun had been allowed by admirer Emperor Ling to raise a gentry army, Xun was a skilled military officer and was a noted critic of the new regime so could add to Huangfu forces. Yet there was no immediate action from Dong Zhuo, perhaps he knew Huangfu Song was not likely to rebel or perhaps, despite the potential issues in Youfufeng, there was a lot of other things to deal with like forming a new government and a massive revolt elsewhere so there wasn’t time to deal with this issue.

It was the mass alliance and Dong’s decision to move capital to Chang’an in 190 that saw the controller act against his problems there. The last thing he needed was an army outside of his control, under an old rival and supported by He Xun’s (who had protested the deposing of Bian) local forces, based so near his new capital so he decided to take both men out of their power-base. He Xun was summoned as a Consultant, Huangfu Song was made Colonel of the City Gates which would have given him the important security charge of of guarding the gates as the capital and wages equivalent to a minister. Both ranks were perfectly reasonable ones to give but unsurprisingly, the Youfufeng officers were a tad suspicious.

Song’s chief clerk Liang Yan urged action and proposed a plan "Dong Zhuo ravages and plunders the capital city, he has dismissed one emperor and set up another simply on his whim. Now he has sent a summons to you. If things turn out badly, you will suffer danger and ill fortune, and at the very least you will surely be humiliated and miserable. Take the opportunity now, while Dong Zhuo remains at Luoyang and the Son of Heaven is coming to the west. Lead your men to receive the Emperor, accept his orders to attack the rebels, call up additional troops and gather leaders. Then the Yuan will be pressing on the east as you attack from the west. That will catch him!"

The ZZTJ says He Xun had made secret plans against Dong Zhuo with Huangfu Song, De Crespigny has it as He Xun urged Huangfu Song to raise the army against the tyrant. I don’t have a copy of He Xun’s advice but I’m inclined to go with the latter given Huangfu Song’s subsequent actions and record, it would seem odd that he was actively plotting against the lead member of the court then promptly went to court when moment came.

Huangfu Song refused their advice and went to capital to receive appointment, the records do not say why. He Xun realized he could not hope to stand alone and went as well, neither men would command an army again and Dong Zhuo had easily dealt with a potential threat. As Huangfu Song travelled, the ministers and officers of the court seem to have been aware of Dong Zhuo’s intent to harm and the departments (funnily enough, history doesn’t record the name of specific officials involved) urged Emperor Xian to send officials to interrogate Huangfu Song. This was carried out, Huangfu Song was jailed and it was clear the intent of the investigation was to find enough reason for Dong Zhuo to slay his old rival.

Song’s son Jianshou immediately travelled to Luoyang to plead with his old friend for his father’s life. Dong Zhuo was at a public banquet and it was there that Jianshou made his desperate plea for his father. We aren’t told what was said but Jianshou had tears in his eyes as he kowtowed and it moved everyone there (one wonders how many had also moved for Song’s arrest) who then left their seats and pleaded for mercy. Dong Zhuo rose and whether moved by the pleas of a friend or seeing how bad it would look if he pushed ahead, invited Jianshou to join the banquet, ordering Song’s release and appointing him to Councillor then later to Palace Assistant Imperial Clerk, assisting the Imperial Censorate. This was rather lower then the original Colonel rank but Huangfu Song was alive.

We can only speculate as to why Huangfu Song rejected the advice from Liang Yan and He Xun. Was the advice wrong? No. While I suspect Dong Zhuo might have taken different measures to protect Emperor Xian if Huangfu Song and He Xun had rejected him, Liang Yan was proved right about Dong Zhuo’s ill-intent and a rebelling Huangfu Song would have been a real threat. Huangfu Song’s chances of victory, when Dong Zhuo’s forces were already stretchered fighting on two fronts, was not unreasonable and arguably less risky to his survival then actually going into the lion’s den of Dong Zhuo’s court.

It is possible Song misjudged how ill Dong Zhuo’s intent would be but I think it likely that what he told Yan Zhong after the Turban revolt still held true for Huangfu Song. “It is still better that I keep my remain a loyal official to the Imperial Court. Even there would be much slandering, the worst result for me is exile or deposition. I still have a clean reputation, and will be remembered by the people after my death”. Back then he was willing to face the costs of an untrustworthy court to keep his reputation clean, nothing in Song’s life suggested that had changed.

When Dong Zhuo returned defeated from Luoyang to his new capital Chang’an, a parade of all the officials came to greet him. What happened next is in dispute though it is agreed that Dong Zhuo settled his differences with Huangfu Song after a talk and Song’s career could restart. Even the circumstances of the talk sees disagreement: Huangfu Song’s HHS says Dong made everyone of Song’s rank and below to kneel to humiliate Huangfu Song and then met Song afterwards, other sources simply has Song kneel like others before Dong Zhuo’s chariot and the two old rivals enter a discussion.

Song’s HHS says Dong Zhuo simply asked “Yizhen (style name), are you obedient now?” and Song apologized which eased Dong Zhuo’s anger. Retired scholar and future Wei office Zhang Fan’s History of the Han is the one the ZZTJ uses: in this Dong asked "Yizhen, are you afraid?” and Song gave a careful answer that was deemed conciliatory "If Your Excellency uses virtue to maintain the court, this will be a time of great blessing, and why then should I be afraid? If you govern badly and inflict arbitrary punishments, however, I shall not be the only person who is frightened ". Zhang Fan says Dong Zhuo was silent and then reconciled with his former foe.

The third century sources Chronicle of Emperor Xian in Song’s HHS and Parallel Annals of the Duke of Shang Yong (referring to Xian after he was deposed) in Dong’s SGZ put this very much in the contest of a rivalry from their time fighting the Liang rebels. Dong asked “Are you obedient now?/Do you fear me?” Song said, “How could I know that your excellency could ascend to such a high post?” Dong Zhuo said, “A swan has high aspirations that cannot be known to swallows and sparrows.” Song said, “In the past, we were both swans, but your excellency has become a phoenix today.” The Parallel Annals adds that Dong finished with “Friend you submit now, but you do not need to salute as well.”

Given nothing else seems to back up HHS claim of Dong Zhuo set up a deliberate humiliation of Huangfu Song and Zhang Fan is a contemporary source, I (though I do like the books of Xian’s version) would go with Zhang Fan’s account of the meeting.

======

Serving the Court

Despite relations between Huangfu Song and Dong Zhuo being healed, Song was not promoted until the assassination of the tyrant. The year of 192 would see quite a few changes in Huangfu Song’s position, Wang Yun’s regime made Song General Who Subdues the West and then back to the very top as General of Chariots and Cavalry. Yet despite these ranks, Huangfu Song wasn’t used against Li Jue and co, Lu Bu relying on those who had fought more recently like Xu Rong and Hu Zhen. Huangfu Song may simply have been a symbolic appointment, showing the new regime restoring a popular figure who had been suppressed by Dong Zhuo. When Lu Bu was defeated and Chang’an fell to Li Jue in the autumn, the new regime appointed Huangfu Song as Grand Commandant, during which time he married his daughter to future Shu official She Yuan, but worrying omens in the winter (HHS says meteors, Sima Bao’s History of Han Continued says solar prominence over the sun) saw Song made the sacrificial lamb and he was dismissed.

Song soon returned to office as Household Counsellor and Minister of Ceremonies but Song’s time on earth was running out. As Li Jue raised arms against the court in 195, Huangfu Song passed away of illness. He was posthumously made General of Agile Cavalry and one of his relatives became counsellor. Of his relatives, son Jianshou was famed but refused office of Palace Attendant and died of illness at unknown time, possibly was already dead. Nephew Li would act as Xian’s envoy when Li Jue’s party fell out but Huangfu Li would row with Li Jue and have to leave the capital for his own safety then vanished from the records. Through the descent [12] of another son Huangfu Shuxian (Magistrate of Baling) then his grandson, Shuhou who never took office, Huangfu Song’s great grandson Huangfu Mi would still be considered of noted family, though by now family wealth had diminished somewhat, as he made his name as a scholar and medical expert.

=====

Overall:

De Crespigny finishes his encyclopedia entry on the general with "Huangfu Song was widely admired as a loyal, honest and generous man who presented excellent advice to the throne. He was, sadly, too honourable for his time"

A lot of Huangfu Song and his life is hidden from us by time and lack of records: his relationship with those in his own clan, so much of his advice to the Emperor, in one of the most critical decisions of his career we don’t know what Huangfu Song said or thought. We get a good sense of the scale of his military achievements and the records make clear the respect he was held as a man, as an officer by all.

Even with what we have, Huangfu Song was an impressive figure, a man who wished for reputation but would destroy his copies of advice rather then chase that goal in a way he felt improper, who put the state above his own interests. As a military commander he had three campaigns, one where he was sacked early over politics and in aftermath other issues in the army would emerge, and two where he inflicted major defeats on armies that other Han forces had struggled with. His good treatment of his men won over their loyalty, his willingness to be patient and observe events then strike at the right time checked Bo Cai then shattered Zhang Liang and Wang Guo’s armies, he pressed home against Turbans and Liang when he had the advantage, inflicting mass casualties.

Three times Huangfu Song was asked to raise his armies without court permission, three times he refused. Yan Zhong’s advice was treason and even if Huangfu Song had been willing, he would have faced a difficult task against Han and then against anyone who raised their own banner against him. Huangfu Ji was asking Huangfu Song to ignore the Han authority and act on his own against a fellow commander and known rival, that advice only looks good with the hindsight of knowing what Dong Zhuo would become.

It is the last situation that leaves me wondering what could have been, when Dong Zhuo had deposed an Emperor and was ruling with an iron fist, when Huangfu Song could use his experienced army to open another front and disrupt Dong Zhuo’s plans of being able to retreat to the old capital. Had he acted then, who knows what might have happened but had he won that upcoming battles, it would have potentially given Han a chance to restore itself in a stronger position then Emperor Xian would ever have. We don’t know why exactly Huangfu Song decided to simply return to court and nearly be killed but it was a chance for the Han that was missed. Perhaps that same sense of honour that had rejected the past two attempts to use his army also prevented him using it when the Han needed it.

One should not judge him for that one moment but for a life, once he agreed to join, spent in good, discreet and loyal service to the court in troubled times, a man who treated others with a humble nature and looked after his soldiers. Whose military service made him of the one top generals of the Han’s dying days and whose honourable behaviour was admired by so many in his time, a man who even earnt a song about him. Huangfu Song deserves to have got his wish to be remembered after his death with an honourable reputation.

=====

Annotations

[1] The staff gave Huangfu Song authority to act without reporting to the throne

[2] Tian Dan was a general of Qi who used buffalo dressed as soldiers charge to confuse the lines of attacking forces and won.

[3] HHS goes with Bu Yi, ZZTJ goes with Bu Si, De Crespigny doesn’t side with either.

[4] Zhang Jue had died of illness by time Dong Zhuo had arrived.

[5] “Timing is something hard to obtain but easy to be lost. Along with the right timing comes opportunity. That’s why sagacious people act in accordance with timing, and wise people let opportunities guide their behaviours. My general, now that you have encountered rare fortune and opportunities that may easily change, if you do not accept the fortune and exploit the opportunity to act, how can you secure your power and reputation?”

Song said, “What were you talking about?” Zhong said, “The Heaven does not favour any specific person. The people only support the mightiest one. Now, my general, you were authorized in late spring to suppress the rebels, and you achieved feats in late winter. Your military manoeuvres were miraculous, and your strategies all worked well. You defeated the formidable enemies so easily as if you broke some dead wood. You eliminated hard opponents as if you had poured hot water onto snow. Within a few months, your military operations wiped out the rebellion like lightning bolts. You buried the enemy corpses and inscribed your feats onto monuments. You reported to the Imperial Court, and earned great prominence in the Empire. Your fame travelled overseas. Even Emperor Tangwu’s feats are not greater than yours. Now that you have achieved great feats that cannot be rewarded with incentives, and you are a man with remarkable virtues, you still serve an incompetent Emperor, how can you guarantee your safety?”

Huangfu Song said, “I worked hard day and night, and never forget to be loyal to His Majesty. Why shouldn’t I feel safe?”
Yan Zhong said, “That’s probably not the case. In the past, Han Xin was grateful for the one meal treated by Emperor Gaozu, and gave up the opportunity to rule one third of the entire territory. When a sharp sword was placed on his throat, he regretted bitterly and sighed. His opportunity was lost and his plot failed. The authority of the present Emperor is weaker than Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, whereas your power is greater than that of Han Xin (Marquis of Huaiyin). When you wave your fingers, you may stir up wind and cloud. If you shout loud, you may summon thunder and lightning. If you rise up decisively, and exploit this critical political situation, you are able to subvert the Empire easily. You may offer incentives to the people who first show support to you, and use violence to coerce the people who are hesitant to obey you. You may summon people from Jizhou, and organize troops stationed in seven prefectures. First, you can first issue an official denunciation. And then, you dispatch troops to traverse Zhang River, and march to Mengjin. You slay all eunuchs and eliminate the villains at the Court. Even children would wave their fists to show their support to you; even women could roll up their sleeves and work for you, not to mention the mighty forces. They can carry out operations as swiftly as wind! When your feats have been achieved, and the people are all obedient, you may offer sacrifice to the Heavenly Lord, and inform Him of the Mandate of Heaven. You will unify the empire again and assume the imperial throne. You seize the treasure of power and bury the Han Empire. This is truly the best opportunity and timing for you. The Han Empire is corrupt as rotten wood, which is impossible for carving. This dynasty is in decline, and it is difficult for you to contribute to its governance. If you are stubborn to do it, you would feel that it is as difficult as letting balls roll up over a slope themselves, or sailing a boat against strong wind. Is that supposed to be easy? And now the eunuchs have formed their alliance, and the villains gather like people in a market. The Emperor’s edicts are never implemented. All power goes to the eunuchs that are close to the throne. It is hard for you to survive for long under such a weak boss. Since the feats you achieved cannot be rewarded with incentives, there will be slanderers and backstabbers. If you do not take actions soon, someday you may feel it is too late to regret it.”

Huangfu Song said with fear, “Unusual schemes cannot be exercised in such a stable situation. It can’t be possible for an average man to achieve great feats. The Yellow Turban rebels are small enemies. They are never as mighty as the Qin Empire and Xiang Yu. They formed their organizations not long ago, and they were easy to dissolve. They were not supposed to succeed in their cause. And the people are still loyal to the Emperor. The Heaven does not favour traitors. If I expect to achieve great feats that I do not deserve, this would only bring disasters to me soon. It is still better that I keep my remain a loyal official to the Imperial Court. Even there would be much slandering, the worst result for me is exile or deposition. I still have a clean reputation, and will be remembered by the people after my death. Your unusual suggestion is something I dare not hear.”

[6]I got this from Generals of the South, Sun Jian chapter by Professor De Crespigny. https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/html/1885/42048/gos_ch2.pdf
Dong Zhuo was explaining to Liu Ai why Sun Jian’s defeat in this campaign was not due to Sun Jian.

[7] Despite commanding 100,000 men, though Dong Zhuo would tell Liu Ai [7] the soldiers were of poor quality, and the support of the experienced generals Dong Zhuo and Sun Jian, Zhang Wen would struggle. Dong Zhuo managed to drive the Qiang back in the winter of 185 at Meiyang but the experienced commanders advice was ignored, the pursuing Han forces had supplies cut off and took losses as they were forced to retreat (Dong Zhuo’s quick thinking [8] managed to keep his army intact but the others were not so fortunate). In an unprecedented move in the spring of 186, Zhang Wen was made one of the Three Excellencies, a post that had never been held by someone stationed outside the capital, but the Han forces made no real headway and by the end of the year Zhang Wen was recalled to the capital.

The Liang rebels seem to have been quiet during 186, possibly due to infighting for control of the forces and in 187, the local inspector Geng Bi sought to take advantage of their troubles. The local Han administration was however again beset by embezzlement, this time from his aide Cheng Qiu, so Inspector Geng Bi lacked local support and his troops mutinied, killing Geng Bi and Cheng Qiu. Ma Teng defected to the Liang rebels, Wang Guo took command of the rebels and began plundering the Chang’an region. Zhang Wen took responsibility for the deteriorating position and resigned as Grand Commandant but Han court didn’t immediately responded to this crises amidst all it’s other troubles.

[8] Dong Zhuo pretended to be fishing for supplies and damned the river, when the rivers were high enough he sneaked his men out and then broke the dam to ensure the enemy forces couldn’t follow.

[9] Dong Zhuo said, “A wise man never delays to act when timing is right. A brave man never hesitates. If we reinforce the city soon, it will remain at our hands. If we do not, it will be seized by the rebels. Whether the city remains safe depends on our decision now.”

Song said, “That is not the case. It is better that you subdue the enemy without fighting than that you emerge victorious in every battle. Therefore, we must feign that we are invincible, and wait till the enemy could show some defects to be defeated. We are invincible, while they can be defeated. They do not have enough capacity to fortify the city if they do capture it, but we have more than enough capacity to attack them. He who has more than enough capacity flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven. He who does not have enough capacity hides in the most secret recesses of the earth. At present, though Chencang is a small city, it is firmly fortified, and thus it is not confined in the most secret recesses of the earth. Though Wang Guo’s forces are powerful, when they attack the city which we do not reinforce, such a situation is not advantageous for them. If the situation is not advantageous, the attacker is under threat. If the situation is not disadvantageous, the guarding forces would not be defeated. Now that Wang Guo is under threat, and Chencang remains a firm city that will not be taken. It is not necessary for us to reinforce the city, and we can still secure our victory. Why shall we reinforce?”

[10] De Crespigny notes the similarity in Huangfu Song’s entry in his encyclopedia

[11] Using Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Antiquity Through Sui, 1600 B.C.E. - 618 C.E’s entry on her, written by Wu Tiaogong

[12] Using Writing Against the State: Political Rhetorics in Third and Fourth Century China by Dominik Declercq
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Re: Analysis of Huangfu Song

Unread postby Sun Fin » Wed Nov 21, 2018 6:19 pm

Based on a quick skim this looks great Dong! Looking forward to having the time to read it properly!
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Re: Analysis of Huangfu Song

Unread postby DaoLunOfShiji » Wed Nov 21, 2018 7:04 pm

I never knew you had finished this! This'll be on my to-read list then. I look forward to getting to it.
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Re: Analysis of Huangfu Song

Unread postby Gray Riders » Wed Nov 21, 2018 10:25 pm

Thanks for a great read. I find Huangfu Song an interesting figure who raises a question we'll, unfortunately, never learn the answer to (his decision to come to court after Dong Zhuo had taken control).
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Re: Analysis of Huangfu Song

Unread postby DaoLunOfShiji » Thu Nov 22, 2018 12:09 am

Got around to reading this just now and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Word for word, I agreed with your entire appraisal of him. Huangfu Song was an extraordinary man in a time that certainly needed someone like him. One has to wonder how things for the Han may have changed if he were to live a little longer.
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Re: Analysis of Huangfu Song

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Thu Nov 22, 2018 9:26 am

Sun Fin wrote:Based on a quick skim this looks great Dong! Looking forward to having the time to read it properly!


flunk your exams and read this :P

DaoLunOfShiji wrote:I never knew you had finished this! This'll be on my to-read list then. I look forward to getting to it.


I think I posted it on tmblr but I can't find it now

Gray Riders wrote:Thanks for a great read. I find Huangfu Song an interesting figure who raises a question we'll, unfortunately, never learn the answer to (his decision to come to court after Dong Zhuo had taken control).


Yeah that one fascinates me

DaoLunOfShiji wrote:Got around to reading this just now and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Word for word, I agreed with your entire appraisal of him. Huangfu Song was an extraordinary man in a time that certainly needed someone like him. One has to wonder how things for the Han may have changed if he were to live a little longer.


I suppressed his love of bears just for you

I just wonder what might have happened if Lu Bu/Wang Yun had used Huangfu Song in the field or had had real political/miliatry power after that. I fear by time Xian escaped Li Jue, it might have been beyond even Huangfu Song's miliatry skills to salvage a desperate situation.
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Re: Analysis of Huangfu Song

Unread postby Sun Fin » Mon Nov 26, 2018 2:27 pm

My exam is over so rewarded myself by reading this! I learnt an awful lot, I found his relationship with Dong Zhuo fascinating. Would have been very interesting to see if he had attacked Zhuo at the capital what would have happened next!
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