During the Northern and Southern dynasties, Lingnan area was characterized by turbulence and intranquility. There were rebellions by government officials and minority leaders more than once. In the 5th and 6th centuries, someone personally led the army to suppress the insurrections over and over regardless of personal safety. This person was a woman, who was an excellent militarist and had exerted great influence on the history of China. The woman is called Lady Xian.
Note: The Northern and Southern dynasties was a period in the history of China that lasted from 420 to 589, including Liang dynasty (502 - 557) and Chen dynasty (557 - 589).
Lady Xian, also known as the “Saintly Mother of Lingnan”, was born in early 5th century in the Liang dynasty (502-560), and deceased in early 6th century in the Sui dynasty (581-618).
Born as a daughter of the Xian family (which was the leader of ethnic Li and other tribes in Lingnan area for generations) in Gaoliang county, Lady Xian was an excellent female leader of ethnic Li in Southern China in the sixth century.
Apart from being a great leader, Lady Xian was also an excellent militarist. An excerpt from the Biography of Duchess of the Qiao State in the Book of Sui says: “Lady Xian was bright and able since she was a child. When she was living at her parents’ house, she was able to pacify the people and soldiers and capable of using military in a strategic way” (please refer to the Book of Sui by Wei Zheng in the Tang dynasty (618-907).
The bronze statue of Lady Xian [Photo/Maoming News Network]
During the seven-year war when the local warlord Sun Zheng tried to exterminate ethnic Li, Lady Xian helped her father and brothers plan and direct the campaign, when she began to show her military ability. Later on, in her military life of cracking down on multiple mutinies and killing traitors, the experienced and astute Lady Xian saw through treacherous court officials. She personally went to the battle line and commanded the whole army, making great military contributions.
Lady Xian’s military ability was fully reflected in her crusade against rebel Li Qianshi. In 550, Gaozhou prefectural governor Li Qianshi occupied important strategic point but refused to protect the emperor at risk. In private, Li Qianshi attempted to tempt Feng Bao to send out troops. After anatomizing the political situation, Lady Xian saw through the trick that Li intended to hold Feng Bao as a hostage and rose in rebellion. She stopped Feng from allying with Li Qianshi. After a couple of days, Li Qianshi revolted as expected.
Then Lady Xian attacked Li Qianshi with her wit and gained a complete victory. Lady Xian suggested they attack Li Qianshi’s military base directly and lower the enemy’s guard. She took the place of Feng Bao and led over 1000 soldiers to pretend to reward the army with food and drink. Then she launched an attack by surprise and defeated Li Qianshi utterly.
Out of admiration for Lady Xian, Xian Yudong from a tribe in Hainan Island came and submitted to Lady Xian. Apart from that, she pleaded in the imperial court to set up Yazhou in Hainan. Since then, Hainan Island returned to the motherland after being away from the central government for nearly six hundred years.
Lady Xian had lived through three dynasties, namely, the Liang dynasty (502-560), the Chen dynasty (557-589) and the Sui dynasty (581-618). She enjoyed a high prestige among the public and had strong military and economic power. However, she never tried to claim throne.
Instead, she led Lingnan people to return to the imperial court and spared no effort to put down rebellions and safeguard their home. She had suppressed successively the rebellion of Li Qianshi in the Liang dynasty, the rebellion of Ouyang He in the Chen dynasty and the rebellion of Wang Zhongyi in the Sui dynasty.
She was impartial and incorruptible, indignantly imprisoning her grandson, Feng Xuan, who practiced favoritism and did not fight in war. She also punished Zhao Na, head of Fanzhou (currently Gaozhou, a county-level city under the jurisdiction of Maoming city), who twisted the law and obtained bribes.
When Lady Xian looked back at her life at an old age, she said “I have served the emperors of three dynasties with the same good heart”. That is exactly the essence of the spirit of Lady Xian. If we put it into the words of today, it can be interpreted as “Serve the Party and the nation with loyalty; Serve the people and the family with heart and soul; Deal with people and do things with the original intention; and promote the good and suppress the bad with conscience”.