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Emperor Huizong of Song

Zhao Ji
Emperor of Northern Song dynasty
later Duke Hunde 昏德公'
Reign 23 February 1100 – 18 January 1126[1]
Born (1082-06-07)7 June 1082
Died 4 June 1135(1135-06-04) (aged 52)
Spouse Empress Xiangong 顯恭皇后
Empress Xiansu 顯肅皇后
Empress Mingda 明達皇后
Empress Mingjie 明節皇后
Empress Xianren 顯仁皇后
Issue 32 sons and 34 daughters
Full name
Family name: Zhao (趙)
Given name: Ji (佶)
Posthumous name
Emperor Tishen Hedao Junlie Xungong Shengwen Rende Xianci Xianxiao Huangdi[2] 體神合道駿烈遜功聖文仁德憲慈顯孝皇帝
Temple name
Huizong (徽宗)
dynasty Song (宋)
Father Emperor Shenzong of Song
Mother Empress Yinzhe 欽慈皇后

Emperor Huizong (7 June 1082 – 4 June 1135), formerly romanized as Emperor Hui-tsung of Sung, was the eighth and one of the most famous emperors of the Song dynasty of China, with a personal life spent amidst luxury, sophistication and art but ending in tragedy. It was during his reign that the Jurchens of the Jin dynasty invaded, beginning the Jin–Song Wars.

Born Zhao Ji, he succeeded his brother as emperor. He reigned from 1100 to 1126. When the Jurchens invaded, he resigned in favor of his son. He and the new emperor were captured by the Jurchens in the Jingkang Incident. They died as prisoners in Manchuria.

Huizong was famed for his promotion of Taoism. He was also a skilled poet, painter, calligrapher, and musician. He sponsored numerous artists at his court, and the catalogue of his imperial painting collection lists over 6,000 known paintings.[3]

His temple name means "Honorary Ancestor."


  • Biography 1
    • Jurchen invasion 1.1
  • Art, calligraphy, music, and culture 2
  • Titles from birth 3
  • Era names 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7


Emperor Huizong of Song, besides his partaking in state affairs that favored the Reformist party (refer to section on reformers and conservatives in Song dynasty), was a cultured leader who spent much of his time admiring the arts. He was a collector of paintings, calligraphies, and antiques of previous Chinese eras, building huge collections of each for his amusement. He wrote poems of his own, was known as an avid painter, created his own calligraphy style, had interests in architecture and garden design, and even wrote treatises on medicine and Daoism.[4] He assembled an entourage of court painters that were first pre-screened in an examination to enter as official artists of the court, and made reforms to court music.[4] Like many learned men of his age, he was quite a polymath personality. However, his reign would be forever scarred by the decisions made (by counsel he received) on handling foreign policy, as the end of his reign marked a period of disaster for Song China.

Jurchen invasion

A true artist, Huizong neglected the army, and Song China became increasingly weak and at the mercy of foreign enemies, despite his recasting of the symbolic Nine Tripod Cauldrons in 1106 in an attempt to assert his authority.[5] When the Jurchen of Manchuria founded the Jin dynasty and attacked the Liao kingdom to the north of the Song empire, the Song court allied with the Jin and attacked the Liao from the south. This succeeded in destroying the Liao kingdom, a longtime enemy of the Song. However, an enemy even more formidable, the Jin, was now on the northern border. Not content with the annexation of the Liao kingdom, and perceiving the weakness of the Song empire, the Jin soon declared war on their former ally, and by the beginning of 1126 the troops of the Jin "Western Vice-marshal" Wanyan Wolibu crossed the Yellow River and came in sight of Kaifeng, the capital of the Song empire. Stricken with panic, Huizong abdicated on 18 January 1126 in favor of his son, now known as Emperor Qinzong (欽宗), and departed the capital.[6]

Pigeon on a Peach Branch, by Emperor Huizong

Overcoming the walls of Kaifeng was a difficult undertaking for the Jin cavalry, and this, together with fierce resistance from some Chinese officials who had not totally lost their nerve, as Huizong had, resulted in the Jin lifting the siege of Kaifeng and returning north. The Song empire, however, had to sign a humiliating treaty with the Jin, agreeing to pay a colossal war indemnity and to give a tribute to Jin every year. From 1126 until 1138, Chinese refugees from the Song empire migrate south towards the Yangtze River valley.[7]

But even such humiliating terms could not save the Song empire. Within a matter of months, the troops of both Jurchen vice-marshals, Wolibu and Nianhan,[8] were back south again, and this time they were determined to overcome the walls of Kaifeng. After a bitter siege, the Jin eventually entered Kaifeng on 9 January 1127, and many days of looting, rapes, and massacre followed. Huizong, his son Emperor Qinzong, as well as the entire imperial court and harem were captured by the Jin in the Jingkang Incident, and shipped north, mostly to the Jin capital of Shangjing (near today's Harbin). One of the sons of Huizong managed to escape to Southern China where, after many years of struggle, he would establish the Southern Song dynasty, of which he was the first emperor, Emperor Gaozong (高宗).

Huizong and Qinzong were demoted to the rank of commoners by the Jin on 20 March 1127. Then on 10 May 1127, Huizong was deported to northern Manchuria, where he spent the last eight years of his life as a captive. In a humiliating episode, in 1128 the two former Song emperors had to venerate the Jin ancestors at their shrine in Shangjing, wearing mourning dress.[9] The Jurchen rulers granted the two former emperors offensively named ranks of the Marquess (侯, hou) of Hunde (昏德, "Muddled Virtue") and marquess of Zhonghun (重昏, "Doubly muddled").[9]

In 1137, the Jin formally notified the Southern Song court about the death of their captive.[9] The man who once had been the most powerful ruler on earth and had lived in opulence and art died a broken man in faraway northern Manchuria in June 1135, at the age of 52.

A few years later (1141), as the peace negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Shaoxing between the Jin and the Song were proceeding, the Jin posthumously honored Huizong with the neutral-sounding title of Prince of Tianshun qun, after a commandery in the upper reaches of the Wei River (now in Gansu). His son, still alive, became styled the Duke (公, gong) of Tianshun qun.[9] His third brother, Zhao Si King Yue (越王赵偲), lived in Gioro, was the founder of the clan Gioro in which the Qing Imperial Family Aisin Gioro is a cadet branch. Gioro clan was split into Gioro and Donge (董鄂).

Art, calligraphy, music, and culture

Huizong's calligraphy "Chong Ning Tongbao"

Huizong was a great painter, poet, and calligrapher. He was also a player of the guqin (as exemplified by his famous painting 聽琴圖 Listening to the Qin); he also had a Wanqin Tang 『萬琴堂』 ("10,000 Qin Hall") in his palace.

Huizong took huge efforts to search for art masters. He established the "Han Lin Hua Yuan"[翰林画院]("Han Lin imperial painting house") where top painters around China shared their best works.

The primary subjects of his paintings are birds and flowers. Among his works is Five-Colored Parakeet on Blossoming Apricot Tree. He also recopied Zhang Xuan's painting Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk, and Emperor Huizong's reproduction is the only copy of that painting that survives today.

He invented the "Slender Gold" (瘦金體) style of calligraphy. The name "Slender Gold" came from the fact that Huizong's writing resembled gold filament, twisted and turned.

His era name of Xuanhe is also used to describe a style of mounting paintings in scroll format. In this style, black borders are added between some of the silk planes.

In 1114, following a request from Emperor Yejong of the Korean court of Goryeo, Huizong sent to the palace in the Goryeo capital at Gaeseong a set of musical instruments to be used for royal banquet music. Two years later, in 1116, he sent another, even larger gift of musical instruments (numbering 428 in total) to the Korean court, this time yayue instruments, beginning that nation's tradition of aak.[10]

Huizong was also a great tea enthusiast. He himself wrote the famous Treatise on Tea, the most detailed and masterful description of the Song dynasty sophisticated style of tea ceremony.

Titles from birth

  • Prince of Suining Commandery (遂宁郡王)
  • Prince of Duan (端王)
  • Emperor
  • Emperor Jiaozhu Daojun (教主道君皇帝)
  • Duke of Hunde (昏德公)
  • Prince of Tiansui Commandery (天水郡王)

Era names

The era names of his reign were:

  • Jianzhongjingguo (建中靖國 Jiànzhōngjìngguó) 1101
  • Chongning (崇寧 Chóngníng) 1102–1106
  • Daguan (大觀 Dàguān) 1107–1110
  • Zhenghe (政和 Zhènghé) 1111–1118
  • Chonghe (重和 Chónghé) 1118–1119
  • Xuanhe (宣和 Xuānhé) 1119–1125

See also


  1. ^ Abdicated in favor of his son, and was granted the title Taishang Huang (太上皇).
    Was demoted to the rank of commoner by the Jin on 20 March 1127.
  2. ^ Given in 1143.
  3. ^ Ebrey, Cambridge, 149.
  4. ^ a b Ebrey, 165.
  5. ^ Book of Song – Scroll 66
  6. ^ Frederick W. Mote (2003). Imperial China: 900-1800. Harvard University Press. p. 53.  
  7. ^ Robert Hymes (2000). John Stewart Bowman, ed. Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture. Columbia University Press. p. 33.  
  8. ^ Tao (1976). Pages 20–21.
  9. ^ a b c d Franke (1994), p. 233-234.
  10. ^ [2]


  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. (2013). Emperor Huizong (Harvard University Press; 2013) 661 pages; scholarly biography online review
  • Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. (1999). The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-66991-X (paperback).
  • Ebrey, Walthall, and Palais (2006). East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History. Boston: Houghton and Mifflin.
  • Jing-shen Tao (1976) The Jurchen in Twelfth-Century China. University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-95514-7.
  • Herbert Franke, Denis Twitchett. Alien Regimes and Border States, 907–1368 (Cambridge History of China, vol. 6). Cambridge University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-521-24331-9. Partial text on Google Books.
  • Huiping Pang (2009), "Strange Weather: Art, Politics, and Climate Change at the Court of Northern Song Emperor Huizong," Journal of Song-Yuan Studies, Volume 39, 2009, pp. 1–41. ISSN 1059-3152.
Please see: References section in the guqin article for a full list of references used in all qin related articles.
Emperor Huizong of Song
Born: November 2 1082 Died: June 4 1135
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Emperor Zhezong
Emperor of the Song dynasty
Succeeded by
Emperor Qinzong
Honorary titles
Title last held by
Emperor Zhaozong of Tang
Retired Emperor of China
Title next held by
Emperor Gaozong of Song
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