Generals of the Yang Family – Yanmenguan Great Wall Story

The stories of the generals of the Yang family took place around Yanmenguan Great Wall and Datong in Shanxi in central China. It was during the Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1127), a period when the central plain of China was attacked frequently by the northern nomadic people of Liao Kingdom. The Yang family was a well-known military family guarding the Great Wall and the reign of Northern Song, with many generals including Yang Ye and his seven sons, and 22 female generals.

Yang Ye and His Seven Sons Battled at Yanmenguan

Yang Ye was a general of the Northern Song Dynasty famous for his prowess in battle. His troop garrisoned the Yanmenguan Great Wall for years. In 980, Liao Kingdom dispatched one hundred thousand soldiers to attack this pass, but was defeated by only a few thousand soldiers led by Yang Ye. From then on, Yang Ye gained the nickname "Invincible".

In 986, Song Emperor determined to attack the Liao Kingdom to resume the lost sixteen states. He appointed Pan Mei as the chief general, while Yang Ye as the vice general. Soon they recovered four states and received a command to escort the civilians in the four states to the central plain. Because of the wrong tactics of Pan Mei, Yang Ye had to lead an army to go outside of the Yanmenguan Great Wall to accomplish this mission. A bloody battle occurred between Yang Ye's troop and Liao force. As Liao army was much larger and stronger, Yang Ye was defeated and captured. Unwilling to surrender to the Liao Kingdom, he starved himself to death. 

Apart from Yang Ye, his eldest three sons also sacrificed in this battle against Liao force. The 4th son was seriously injured and captured by the Liao force. Later on, he was coerced to marry the princess of Liao Kingdom. The 5th son was too sad to witness the tragedies in his family, so he got tonsured and became a monk in a temple in Mount Wutai. The 6th son later died of sickness outside the Yanmenguan Pass. The 7th son was anesthetized and shot to death with 108 arrows by Pan Mei's subordinates.

Story of Female Generals of the Yang Family

Legends about the female generals of the Yang family are also widespread Great Wall stories. The female generals include Yang Ye's wife, daughters, granddaughters, wives of his sons, and wives of his grandsons. After the male generals of the Yang family died for their country, Yang Ye's wife She Saihua led the female generals to guard the country, despite the unhappy affairs between the imperial court and the Yang family.

During Emperor Song Renzong's reign, the Xixia Kingdom attacked the central plain of China. Yang Zongbao, the grandson of Yang Ye led a troop to beat back the enemy, but was killed in the battlefield. When the grievous news came, She Saihua, who was then over 100 years old, volunteered to lead an army to fight the enemy. She and other eleven widow generals of the Yang family had a hard fight with the Xixia force and finally gained victory.

The Yang family's deeds were highly spoken of by the late generations for their loyalty and bravery, thus a series of novels, operas, films, and story-telling ballads about the generals of the Yang family were created. Till today, the stories of the Yang family are one of the most popular Great Wall stories.

Further Reading:

Stories of Badaling Great Wall
Legends of Jiayuguan Great Wall
Legend of Shanhaiguan Great Wall
Legend of Yumenguan Great Wall
Zhaojun Going out of the Frontier Pass
More Stories of Great Wall 

- Last updated on Aug. 30, 2019 -
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