Song Emperor Huizong: Patron of the Arts

Emperor Huizong is recognized as an honorable ancestor of the Chinese and a patron of the arts. (Image:  Wikimedia /  CC0 1.0)
Emperor Huizong is recognized as an honorable ancestor of the Chinese and a patron of the arts. (Image: Wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

In the year 1100, Huizong took the throne as Northern Song Dynasty̢۪s eighth emperor. At the time, he was just 17 years old. Emperor Huizong will always be remembered as a political failure. Regrettably, he lost the throne to the barbarous Jurgen-led Jin regime. Despite the disgrace, Emperor Huizong is recognized as an honorable ancestor of the Chinese, and a patron of the arts.

The artistically-gifted emperor

During Huizong’s first three years as emperor, he learned how to perform the rituals and customs of his role. Later, he pursued the arts and became a talented poet, painter, and calligrapher. He also invented a unique style of calligraphy called “Slender gold.” As an accomplished artist, Emperor Huizong spent much of his time mingling with the many outstanding poets, painters, and musicians of his day.

However, the emperor̢۪s good intention at seeking artistic acclaim for his realm did not bode well with his role as emperor of the Song Dynasty. He replaced many good army officials with famous artists as ministers of the imperial court.

The political animosities due to differences of opinion at the Imperial court, especially on how to deal with China̢۪s aggressive neighbors to the North, became notably unstable. Needless to say, the emperor turned his attention to focus on domestic matters and went on to build palaces, Daoist temples, and gardens of matchless splendor.

Huizong pursued the arts and became a talented poet, painter, and calligrapher. (Image: Wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

War and abdication

The Song army allied with the Great Jin to defeat the Liao. This resulted in the powerful Jin cavalry decimating the Liao forces. Then, in an extremely unwise move, when a certain general defected to the Song, the imperial court decided to give him an honorary title. The general’s lands were absorbed into the existing Song territory. The Jin regime became enraged and immediately declared war on the Song.

Emperor Huizong responded by abdicating the throne in favor of his eldest son, Qinzong, and fled panic-stricken to the countryside. Jin hit back and kidnapped the Emperor’s youngest son, holding him for ransom during the ensuing peace talks. Finally, the Song offered money — as well as an entire city — to appease the Jin. They released the hostage and Huizong rejoined his eldest son, Emperor Qinzong, in the imperial palace.

Another ill-considered move involving an anti-Jin alliance caused the Jin to declare war on the Song empire again. Suggestions by the Song generals to increase border patrols were rejected by Qinzong at the behest of his “artistic” ministers.

Suggestions by the Song generals to increase border patrols were rejected by Qinzong. (Image: Wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The death of a dynasty

Emperor Huizong and his son Qinzong were abducted, putting the Song Empire to utter shame. The entire royal court was sent on a forced march to Manchuria. Sad to say, many died before they got there.

The Song Dynasty came under the rule of the inexperienced Emperor Gaozong, Huizong’s youngest son. A corrupt, vengeful court official named Qin Hui suggested to Emperor Gaozong that it would be much better to forget about rescuing his father and older brother from the Jin regime. He said: “After all, if they came back, won’t you have to yield the throne?”

The exiled Song emperors were kept as prisoners in the Jin capital. Huizhong spent his last days clad in goatskin, huddled in a tiny cellar. He died on June 4th, 1135, at the age of 52.

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