Huizong (Hui-tsung) - Chinese emperor

Huizong (Hui-tsung) - Chinese emperor
Huizong (Hui-tsung) - Chinese emperor

Huizong was the reign name of the eighth emperor (r. 1101–1125) of the Song dynasty. His misrule led to the nomadic Jin (Chin) dynasty’s conquest of northern China, ending the Northern Song dynasty (906–1126). Chance brought him to the throne when his elder brother Zhezong (Che-tsung) died without heir in 1100 at age 24. Huizong was a talented painter and noted calligrapher. He brought many artists and musicians to his court at Kaifeng (K’ai-feng) to work in an imperial academy that he established.

His official kilns made the finest porcelains in the world. He was also a voracious collector of paintings, 6,000 of which perished when the Jin sacked Kaifeng. Not only did he neglect his duties in favor of his aesthetic pursuits, he appointed some of the most corrupt ministers to misrule the country until major popular rebellions broke out.

His extravagance in pursuit of his elegant life bankrupted the treasury. For example hundreds of boats were engaged just to transport exotic rocks and rare plants from southern China via the Grand Canal to Kaifeng to decorate his luxurious palaces and gardens. His answer to an empty treasury was to issue more paper money, resulting in high inflation.

He showed no concern about the rise of a new power to the northeast led by fierce nomads called the Jurchen. Then he pursued short-sighted and disastrous diplomacy by offering an alliance with the Jurchen, now called the Jin dynasty, to wage a two-pronged campaign against their mutual enemy, another nomadic state called Liao, which was situated immediately to the northeast of the Song and to the south of Jin.

The terms of the treaty were to destroy the Liao, after which the Song would recover the 16 counties that it had lost to Liao over a century ago. When war began the Jin forces did most of the fighting; the poorly led Song were ineffective.

After Liao was destroyed Song and Jin began to bicker over the spoils. Feeling that they had been treated in a high-handed manner, Jin forces turned on Song and marched on Kaifeng. Huizong hurriedly abdicated in favor of his son Qinzong (Ch’in-tsung) and fled south. Kaifeng was besieged twice in 1126.

In January 1127 Qinzong surrendered unconditionally. After looting the city Jin forces loaded their booty and marched the two emperors (Huizong was captured en route south), most of the Song imperial family, and courtiers, totaling 3,000 people, to their homeland in Manchuria. A younger son of Huizong escaped and eventually rallied Song forces in southern China; he became known as Gaozong (Kaotsung), founder of the Southern Song dynasty.

The march to the Jin capital in Manchuria took one year. Huizong and Qinzong suffered numerous humiliations, including being awarded titles as Duke of Stupid Virtue and Marquis of Double Stupidity, respectively. Huizong’s six daughters were given as wives to men of the Jin imperial household.

The prisoner emperors were kept alive as possible bargaining chips in negotiations with the Southern Song government but were not ransomed. Huizong died in 1135 and Qinzong died in 1156. The Northern Song collapsed quickly despite a large army, mainly because of the degeneration of the government under a quarter century of Huizong’s rule.