With two degrees in history, I enjoy researching and writing about historical events that the history books tend to gloss over.
Female Chinese Warriors
In America, most people know about Mulan from the two Disney films. Mulan was a real woman who was also a warrior. Although Mulan is the most well-known female Chinese warrior, there is a rich history of historic and renowned female heroes in Chinese history. This article focuses on Lin Siniang 1629-1644. She was a warrior who trained an army of women and sacrificed her life to save her king. She died at the early age of fifteen.
In 1629, at the end of the Ming Dynasty, China found itself in a war between nature and man. The country’s budget was bursting due to fighting with Mongolia, Korea, and Japan. 1629 is also the year Lin Siniang was born. Her family was of a struggling military class. Despite their meager means, her father made every effort to give his daughter proper military instruction. She learned techniques in the use of sword, spear, and the martial arts. Lin was so skilled by the age of six that people of the village were astonished by her proficiency. The legend of her skills spread everywhere. However, because of her early age, few people believed that she was so skilled.
Lin Siniang’s parents died when she was a teenager. After their sudden death, she had with no family to care for her. Sadly, Lin was forced into becoming prostitute. In this role she spent all day by the Qinhuai River, near modern day Nanjing.
From Working Woman to Warrior
Despite her lowly and unfortunate circumstances, Lin never stopped honing her fighting skills in her spare time. One day as she was improving on her martial arts down by the river, King Zhu Changshu (Chew Chunjoe) happened to walk by. He then fell very in love with Lin at first sight. It was not only her beauty that attracted him, but also her fighting skills. It is worth noting her another female warrior who attracted the admiration and love of a Lord for her fighting skills. This was Lagertha who won the heart of Ragnar Lothbrok many years before in Denmark for exactly the same reasons. King Zhu Changshu asked Lin to come live with him to the palace. Not long after that day they were married. The king asked Lin Siniang to teach her fighting skills to all the royal concubines. The women liked the fighting and defending so much that they continued training and became an all-female army.
An Army of Women
A key difference between China and other cultures is that war was not something to be glorified in China. China did not have heroic warriors such as Caesar or Napoleon. However, similar to other societies, war in China remained a predominantly masculine occupation. It is only on occasion that historians recorded Chinese women as participants. Yet, women do in fact appear in Chinese military history as early as Sun Tzu's time (496-453 B.C.). At that time, King Wu's palace concubines were turned into soldiers as a demonstration of the effects of discipline. That experiment emphasized the belief of Chinese military thinkers who said that it is discipline and training that make good soldiers. As such, women in the position of a warrior was, while uncommon, worthwhile.
Capture of the King
Soon, a terrible drought and famine in the North of China caused rebels from the Shaanxi (Sha-she) and Shanxi (Shon-She) provinces to travel in search of food. Further, they made threats toward King Zhu regarding his safety. King Zhu failed to take the threats as seriously as he should have. The rebels then took the king hostage while he was at his mountain retreat.
Lin Siniang heard of the king’s capture and reacted immediately. She rallied her army of concubine soldiers together and lead an attack against the rebel army. In the beginning the enemy was confused to be confronted by women. This confusion lead Lin’s army to be successful at taking out a large number of the rebels.
The Fall of Lin
The women succeeded in freeing the king from captivity. But the rebel army ultimately overpowered the female military unit. Eventually, Lin was the only one who remained alive. The rebels asked her to surrender, to which she refused. Instead, Lin continued to fight until she was too exhausted to block the blow that would kill her. She heroically fought off every kick, punch, sword, and spear thrust until she could no longer stand. It was then that she was struck down by a blow that would take her life.
Despite their deaths, the bravery of Lin and her warriors greatly inspired the army of men who quickly showed up in their wake. The rebels defeated by the army, and King Zhu Changshu, upon being freed, ordered that Lin and every one of her soldiers be given an honorable burial.
Ancient Chinese heroines function as a perpetual inspiration for Chinese women. Both history books and artistic works, emphasize the loyalty demonstrated by these ancient female warriors. These women show strong loyalty to their families, emperors, and the causes of rebelling peasants. The women’s nobility is demonstrated by loyalty to the group. The renowned female figures in Chinese history and their involvement in military operations during a crisis has encourage parallel behavior from Chinese women in modern times.
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