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The Woman’s Army
By Danielle Lowery
It’s roughly 600 A.D. Right at the tail end of China’s Sui Dynasty. Emperor Yang sits on the throne and no one likes having him there. For starters, Yang schemed against and framed his own brothers to secure power. But instead of stopping there, he thought it would be a marvelous idea to continue such brutality once on the throne. He launched invasions into Tibet, Mongolia, modern-day Vietnam, Turkish territories, modern-day Korea, Taiwan, and then threw in Sumatra at the end just because he could. Plus, Emperor Yang decided improving China’s infrastructure would make him look more powerful and totally awesome. Too bad it resulted in the death of over six million men to renovate the Great Wall of China and build the Grand Canal. But hey, who needs living subjects to rule when you have eleven huge houses on the Grand Canal to party in? Turns out Yang did. He needed some extra cash to party with. So he severely taxed all the living subjects he had left. That’s the way ever great ruler ensures the love of his people.
How does any of this spell out greatness for Pingyang, our story’s star, you may wonder? Well it all started with what amounted to Emperor Yang’s paramount mistake in 617A.D. Continuing on his path of wisely and justly ruling his people, Emperor Yang decided to create a bunch of false charges against Pingyang’s father, Li Yan, to put him in prison. By 617 Yang’s leadership choices were coming back to bite him. He was so paranoid; he was afraid of his own military. Since Li Yan was one of his head military commanders it made perfect sense to unjustly throw him in jail. Right up until it didn’t… Emperor Yang thought imprisoning one of his head military commanders would solve all his problems. Until he realized Li Yan wasn’t actually plotting against him. Without his chief military commander, Emperor Yang would be unable to protect himself from riots and rebellions. Luckily for the Emperor, Li Yan was a ‘forgiving’ man. When released from prison Li Yan didn’t ask for much. Just, you know, went home to plot the rebellion that would overthrow the Emperor to seek total revenge. So nothing major really.
But enough about the boys, this is Pingyang’s story. After her father’s release from prison, Pingyang becomes totally badass. When Li Yan arrived home to the country, he wrote to Pingyang and her husband in the Capital. It must have been quite the letter. Hey there pumpkin, it’s daddy here. Just wanted to let you know I’ve decided to seek total revenge on that jerkwad of an Emperor and I’m starting my own rebel army against him. Expecting you and the hubby to come join at once! Hugs and kisses, your loving rebellious father. Despite such an enticing call to arms, Pingyang was smart enough to realize daddy dearest’s plan needed a little tweak. She knew that if both she and her husband left the palace at once (this close to her father’s release) it would look suspicious. Her father’s plans for rebellion could be ruined before they even got off the ground. When Pingyang explained such logic to her husband, he agreed. So who stayed home? Pingyang’s logic won again. Pingyang would say at home and escape later. Pingyang argued that women could sneak away without being noticed much more successfully than men. So her hubby left for the country without her.
After her husband left, Pingyang waited for a few days in fear, until the time was right to make her escape. But upon arrival at her family’s country house in Huxian Province, Pingyang realized how many of the people were staring and suffering from the dought, and immediately opened her family’s grain reserve to feed them.
But feeding the hungry in her village wasn’t enough for Pingyang. There was a huge rebellion going on, and Pingyang fully intended to join in. But instead of running straight along to Daddy, Pingyang had another one of her bold ideas. The idea that ensured Pingyang would go down in history. Why fight with her dad when she could assemble her very own army and march against the Emperor herself. Now this wasn’t some rinky-dink collection of men that would jump in and ‘help’ her father’s army at the last second and cash in on a little bit of glory. If Pingyang was marching against the Emperor, girl was doing it right. With 70,000 men. Who she went into every battle with. Need a minute to soak that in? Take all the time you want. The story only gets better form here. Along with commanding 70,000 of her own men, Pingyan gained the love of her people. When villages saw Pingyang and her army coming, they rejoiced in her presence, welcoming the army as liberators. Not only would the army would bring food to the villages they marched through but quite impressively, Pingyang had forbidden her soldiers from pillaging and raping, and they actually listened to her.
But that didn’t scare little old Emperor Yang. After all, it was only a woman’s army coming after him. She couldn’t possibly do anything of real substance to hurt him or his men. Except that she did. Pingyang marched on the capital, badass as ever, and Emperor Yang’s soldiers stood there to face her. I can hear Emperor Yang’s thoughts at the sight now, ‘Oh look, someone taught the pretty little flower how to ride a horse. Well that was cute. Time to kill her! I have more money to squander.’ Turns out the joke was on Emperor Yang. Pingyant and her army totally routed the Emperor’s men. After hearing of the slaughter, the Emperor basically hid from Pngyang until he decided to run away, allowing Li Yan to take the capital and start a new dynasty.
Thanks to his daughter, in 618 A.D., Emperor Li Yan was able to start the Tang Dynasty. He honored Pingyang for all her help in the rebellion by throwing her the highest honored military parade, and crowning her Princess of China. Sadly, Pingyang didn’t get to enjoy her status as princess for very long. In 623 A.D., at the age of 23, Pingyang died of unspecified causes.
Though Pingyang’s life was not long lived, she managed to accomplish an awful lot before her death. She escaped the palace, got the people of China to love her, and amassed an army of 70,000 men to take down an empire, on her own. That’s not to say Pingyang never had any help. Part of why Pingyang was able to accomplish so much in her life was because the men in her life took her seriously, treated her with respect, and granted her with relative freedom. Pingyang’s husband could have forced her to leave the capital with him, or her father could have demanded Pingyang shut down her army immediately. The battlefield was no place for a girl, or her soldiers could have chosen not to follower her/listen to her orders. What do women know about war anyway? Instead, due to cooperation and trust, Pingyang was able to achieve greatness, and be rewarded for it, regardless of what rested between her legs.
Fun Facts About the Tang Dynasty:
-The Tang Dynasty turned out to be a very liberal time for Chinese Women. (Is anyone really surprised?)
-Women were allowed to divorce their husbands, if both parties agreed. And women were allowed to remarry. Plus, widows were given land, allowing women more economic independence.
-Women were allowed to pursue an education.
-The Tang Dynasty even had a few poetesses.
 You guessed it! Pingyang just offered to stay behind near the Emperor, knowing he could find out about her father’s rebellion any day. She put herself in so much danger she could have been killed if the Emperor found out her family’s plans.
 Oh yea, so I forgot to mention that? On top of robbing his people blind there was also a drought currently ensuing. True to form, Emperor Yang figured it would be easiest to let his people starve and suffer as long as he had food. Honestly, I still can’t believe how he didn’t win Emperor of the year. They have coffee mugs for that shit and everything.
 What on Earth did Pingyang think she was doing? Clearly Emperor Yang had everything under control through starving, abusing, and killing his people. Besides his whole country trying to rebel against him, he was doing pretty great.
 Well look at that, a woman having not one but two successful ideas in her own story!
 Huh, and all this time Emperor Yang was making it look like loving subjects were an impossibility.
 Interestingly enough, even though Pingyang’s army was called the woman’s army, it was after all lead by a woman, there is no record of a single other woman in the whole army.
 No, Emperor Yang wasn’t present at the battle against Pingyang with his soldiers. What kind of leader goes to battle with their army to defend their power…