Old Yue Fei paper - part 1
Posted March 12th, 2012 at 08:27 AM by ghostexorcist
Updated April 5th, 2012 at 05:29 AM by ghostexorcist
Updated April 5th, 2012 at 05:29 AM by ghostexorcist
Archive #2: Old Yue Fei paper - Part I
GO TO PART TWO
Since I posted the Kaifeng Jew Haggadah on my blog for archival purposes, I have decided to do the same for another hard to find document. It is an old and often cited paper on the famous Song Dynasty general Yue Fei (1103-1141). It comes from the following publication:
Wilhelm, Hellmut. "From Myth to Myth: The Case of Yueh Fei's biography," in Confucian Personalities, ed. Arthur Wright and Denis Twitchett. Stanford studies in the civilizations of eastern Asia. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1962The full document is over the size limit for this blog, so I will post it in two parts. Please forgive any typos as I typed this out pretty quickly. The bracketed numbers "[#]" are the page numbers from the paper's original publication. The numbers in parenthesis "(#)" are the notes.
As you will read below, reliable records pertaining to Yue Fei’s life are few and far between. This is largely due to political intrigue. Despite this, many folk novels have been written about him that supplant this lack of historical information with fanciful events full of superhuman military prowess and supernatural personages. These novels were written during the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), a time when Yue Fei’s legend was so popular that he was canonized as a Taoist god. These novels helped to propel his popularity through the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and up into the 20th century. The idealized image of Yue Fei from the novels influenced modern representations of the general. He is portrayed as a tall, muscular, and handsome man with a stern continuance. However, a historical portrait of the general portrays him as being short, chubby, and unassuming. This contrast between idealized and historical images is indicative of the misconceptions that people have about Yue Fei. The following paper will no doubt dispel these misconceptions.
Left - A modern 20th century statue of Yue Fei. Right - A 12th century painting of what he actually looked like.
FROM MYTH TO MYTH:
THE CASE OF YÜEH FEI'S BIOGRAPHY
FROM MYTH TO MYTH:
THE CASE OF YÜEH FEI'S BIOGRAPHY
 There is no dearth in Chinese history of personalities whose lives have become the object of mythologization. Emperors and commoners, poets and bandits, officials and warriors—all have had their words and deeds transfigured. Few, however, have been so intensively mythologized as the heroic warrior, patriot, and tragically frustrated savior of his country, Yüeh Fei (1103–41), who became the first warrior to have his mythologized life exhaustively and exclusively treated in a Chinese novel.(1) Even in the generation after his death the number of temples dedicated to him deems to have been considerable. Only one other warrior shares with Yüeh Fei the honor of a place in the official pantheon.(2)
Taken together, the "historical" facts of Yüeh's life quickly yield the germination point of this process. To be sure, for reasons to be discussed later, biographical data on Yüeh Fei are scanty and unusually unreliable. But even those facts definitely or at least very probably historical produce a picture of Yüeh Fei's life rich in the substance of myth. His life story resembles strangely the myths of St. George, Siegfreid, or other sun-heroes in a Chinese variation: the forceful youth of almost unknown family background, as proud as he is naïve, who overnight gains entrance into his chosen vocation; the loyal attachment to those who guide him in his activities; his somewhat ostentatious display of all the shining virtues the tradition demands; his always successful battles against the enemy which is devastating his country; his sudden retreat at the peak of his success; and his end at the hands of a villain of blackest hue, Ch'in Kuei. We even find the evil woman who urges the villain on to commit the fatal deed. These and other elements of the Yüeh Fei biography were highly conductive to the creation of the Yüeh Fei image of later popular and official lore, but I shall resist the temptation to analyze more closely this superb example of the mythmaking process. To keep these elements in mind might, however, con- [p.147] tribute to an understanding of Yüeh Fei's attitudes, words, and deeds. As will be shown, he constantly and consciously worked towards producing an image of himself as a hero of mythological proportions, rigidly patterning himself after the myths of the past. This "impersonation" of a myth was to dictate the events of his life and, finally, his fate.
We are singularly unfortunate with regard to the sources on Yüeh Fei's life. The circumstances of his death precluded the tomb inscription or other obituary matter on which biographies in the Sung shih to a large extent depend. Instead, his official biography is based on a rewritten version of a biography by his grandson Yüeh K'o, written sixty years after Yüeh Fei's death.(3) This biography was incorporated by Yüeh K'o into a collection compiled with the avowed purposes of reestablishing the prestige and stature of his grandfather.(4) In addition to the natural bias of filial piety, and the promotion of family interests which it shares with the biographies based on obituaries, it is open to doubt on account of this propagandistic purpose. Furthermore, in sixty years, knowledge about the facts of Yüeh Fei's life had already become blurred. This is reflected in a number of verifiable errors. (5) How many other, unverified errors it contains will probably remain forever unknown.(6)
We are not much better off with regard to the official documentation of Yüeh Fei's public activities. The contemporary official records, of course, do not survive. They were used, however, at the time the compilation of some sections of the Sung shih pertinent to Yüeh Fei's life, particularly the Annuals of Emperor Kao. They were also available to Sung historians like Hsiung K'o,(7) Liu Cheng,(8) and Li Hsin-ch'uan.(9) From the indirect quotation of the official records concerning Yüeh Fei in these compilations it becomes abundantly clear—and this seems to be the present consensus—that these records were doctored during the decade and a half Ch'in Kuei remained in power after Yüeh Fei's death. We have thus to cope not only with the poor quality of the Sung shih in general but also with the fact that Yüeh Fei's official record has been falsified.(10)
Parts of these records have survived outside the official archives. Yüeh K'o incorporated in his compilations a number of memorials and reports addressed to the throne by Yüeh Fei as well as various imperial rescripts and decrees addressed to Yüeh Fei. This appears to be the most reliable body of documentary material available, as there is no reason to suspect tampering. It is, however, highly improbable that this connection of documents is complete. The tenor of the imperial rescripts is almost uniformly appreciative of Yüeh Fei's character and his actions, with next to nothing in the way of criticism or reprimand.(11)  It is inconceivable that an emperor who constantly expressed this degree of indebtedness and even tender personal care would have condoned the course of action that lead to Yüeh Fei's death. Either Yüeh Fei himself failed to keep those documents critical of him and his actions or Yüeh K'o's compilation was highly selective.
Yüeh Fei's own writings have come down to us in very sad condition.(12) Except for memorials and official reports (seven out of eight chüan), there are only a few stray items. There is evidence that Ch'in Kuei had Yüeh Fei's home raided and his writings destroyed.(13) Equally scanty are references to Yüeh Fei in the writings of his contemporaries and independent biographical sources.(14) It is from this brittle material, then, that we have to build our image of Yüeh Fei, the man.
I do not propose to present here an integrated biography of Yüeh.(15) I would like, rather, to discuss Yüeh Fei as a historic figure seen in the context of his time and, second, to see how the historic character is related to the heroic tradition of which he was self-consciously a part.(16)
Yüeh Fei's family background is not well explored. It is not only recent Communist descriptions which stress that he came from a farming family. His father, Yüeh Ho, appears to have been a man of modest affluence, in a position at least to earmark some of his income for welfare projects. He is specifically reported to have drawn income from a field of rushes, although this was swept away, and his financial status in consequence seriously curtailed, by a flood that occurred when Yüeh Fei was still a baby. Yüeh Fei's miraculous escape from this flood together with his mother (nèe Yao) in a big water jar was an event that contributed to the myth of his life. A similarly prophetic incident was the flight of a large bird over the house at the time of his birth. This was responsible for his name Fei as well as his tzu P'eng-chü, without doubt a reference to the roc, which had been made famous by Chuang-tzu and remained the symbol of a superior and imaginative personality.
That Yüeh Ho chose this tzu for his son indicates the sophisticated level of his education, especially for a man of his rural surroundings. He is reported to have tutored his son personally, and some of the Confucian virtues Yüeh Fei exhibited with such consistent devotion must have been instilled in him by his father. There is no evidence, however, that Yüeh Ho ever endeavored to pursue an examination career.
Without question, the extent of Yüeh Fei's own learning and his general love of scholarship were very considerable. In his youth he was particularly attracted by the Tso-chuan and the military classics of Chou. A sustained effort was, however, necessary to achieve the intensity of historical knowledge and the subtlety of historical interpretation that Yüeh Fei displayed in his writings. Moreover, he wrote  a smooth, almost elegant style and his calligraphy has become a model for later artists in this field.(17) But, like his father, he never pursued an examination career.
Yüeh Fei seems to have been a serious-minded and taciturn child, at the same time endowed with unusual strength. In addition to his literary studies he took up archery, swordsmanship, and lanceplay, apparently under the tutelage of a certain Chou T'ung. When Chou T'ung died, Yüeh Fei paid him unusual posthumous honors. This overdramatized behavior testifies to an important trait in Yüeh Fei's character: a penchant for giving symbolic expression to genuinely felt emotions. There are too many incidents in Yüeh Fei's biography to leave any doubt that his reverence for his tutors and guides was genuine, representing more than mere compliance with a Confucian imperative. This shown by his relationship to Chang So, who had launched him on his military career.(18) When about a decade later Yüeh Fei received by imperial grace the privilege of promoting his own son, he substituted Chang So's son. The closeness of Yüeh Fei's relationship in later life to his colleagues and more particularly to his subordinates is universally attested to. His paternal care for them and his liberal rewards have become almost proverbial. But always dramatic expression was given to a genuinely felt and also consciously cultivated human emotion. His somewhat ostentatious sacrifice at the tomb of Chou T'ung sets the pattern for this kind of attitude: the reticent youth makes a considered display of himself, and the patter of the hero he knows he is and wants to be established in the public eye.
The sacrifice at the tomb of Chou T'ung was the occasions for one of those anticipatory remarks that are part and parcel of almost every biography, the remark that presages the future fate of the hero. His father took him to task for his action, saying: "When you are employed to cope with the affairs of the time, will you then not have to sacrifice yourself for the empire and die for your duty?" The only logical meaning of this remark is that once Yüeh Fei had aimed for a high public position, he would have to live up to the image he had created of himself, even to the point of sacrificing his life. Yüeh Fei did live up to this image and eventually paid the ultimate price. The remarks also made it possible for posterity to interpret his death as a sacrifice to the empire and to his duty and to brand the one who had brought about this death as an enemy of the empire and a villain. Myth in the making!
To play the role he had assumed for himself, however, Yüeh Fei had to find an appropriate route to prominence. His family was apparently not well enough established or affluent enough to permit his rise "the easy way" through inheritance or sponsorship. One incident in his life  might indicate that for a time he strove to establish relations with influential personas who might sponsor his entry into officialdom. He became a tenant-retainer of the Han family, a gentry-official family of high standing in the neighboring district of An-yang. His functions there included the exercise of strong-arm methods to prevent the depredations of marauding bands on the Han property.(19) But he soon abandoned this approach.
This left only two ways open to him, development of his literary skills and development of his martial skills. He chose the second. This fateful choice seems strange. There is no doubt that Yüeh Fei would have qualified for a literary career. The literary career undoubtedly offered much more security and, particularly at the time when Yüeh Fei's decision was taken, much higher prestige. This was the year 1122, the last period of Hui-tsung's reign. The power of the Chin was already in the ascendant; it was the year in which they conquered the Southern capital of the Liao, Peking. Their future onslaught against the Sung was, however, by no means anticipated. Thus there was not yet an urgent need to strengthen the military in order to save the country.
Furthermore, military prestige at the end of Northern Sung was particularly low, considerably lower than could be explained by the traditional ideological precedence of the civilian over the military. All through Northern Sung times, the performance of the military had been mediocre. There had not been any glories campaigns or any feats of personal military prowess like those for which earlier dynasties had been justly famous. This was at least in part due to conscious government policy. The founder of Sung, even though, or possibly because, he had come to power through the military, was particularly aware of the double-edgedness of his own profession; and ever since then had remained an unshaken principle of the government to keep the military in check rather than to make positive use of it. To be sure, in the later part of Northern Sung the military had proliferated again, but even then the military career was despised. Why should an ambitious youth planning his career have thrown in his lot with a profession that counted for so little?
One reason might be that government civil service had not been a tradition in the Yüeh family; what was a compelling reason for some youngsters to go through the examination drudgery—to maintain and raise the family position by emulating or surpassing their elders—was of no account for Yüeh Fei. It might also be noted that the high degree of centralization of civilian government in Northern Sung times left very little beyond routine activities for even the high official, with the consequence that excess energy found an outlet in clique struggles, which were ideologically and personally repulsive and reduced indi-  vidual security to a very low level. The same degree of control over the military had not yet been achieved. Although the government had succeeded in keeping the military conspicuously inactive, there remained, with in the military establishment, appreciably greater opportunity for the exercise of personal initiative.
Finally, we must remember that Yüeh Fei was not yet twenty when he made this decision. A youth of his age and temperament might well have been acting under the inspiration of great heroes of the past, but this was in accord with his appointed destiny. He felt within himself the potential of the submerged dragon.
Having made his decision, Yüeh Fei now had to establish a reputation for military skills and define a personal goal. The occasion offered itself in 1122, when Liu Chia, staff officer of T'ung Kuang, recruited daredevils (kan chan shih).(20) Yüeh Fei enlisted and participated in the attepte by the Sung army to capture Peking from the Liao. History records the tumultuous retreat of T'ung Kuan's army, Peking was left to the Chin, but Yüeh Fei had glimpsed with his own eyes the awesome walls of this treat and long-lost northern metropolis, in his myth-oriented terminology the City of the Yellow Dragon, which from that time on figured so largely in his strategic reasoning.
When T’ung Kuang returned to Kaifeng, Yüeh Liu Chia, then stationed at Chen-ting. Liu employed him mainly in the suppression of “local bandits.” Colorful descriptions exist of his first military encounters. He was portrayed not only as a powerful wielder of the sword and bow, endowed with an almost superhuman courage, but also—his study of the military classics had not been in vain—as a sharp strategist and clever tactician who knew how to use tricks and ruses.
This first experience of organized military life lasted less than a year. Toward the end of that year his father died, and Yüeh Fei, true to the imperatives of an established behavior pattern, immediately returned home. This unquestioning self-denial was genuine but at the same time exemplary. Although it meant reverting to obscurity for four long years, the young dragon had made his appearance in the field.
By the time Yüeh Fei returned to military life, in response to a recruitment drive in late 1126, the political situation had changed considerably: the Northern Sung dynasty was at an ed. In the ensuing turmoil circumstances had arisen whose configuration suggested a potential “restoration” of the dynasty.(21) To bring this potential to fruitation required among other things: an image of the empire which was persuasive enough to command not just routine loyalty but personal commitment to the cause of restoration, a head of government who would in his person symbolize the common cause and be ingenious enough to  marshal and coordinate the necessary forces; a number of imaginative restoration leaders who would have the drive as well as the freedom of action to gather up, organize, and lead the shattered parts of the empire; and finally an entirely new pre-eminence of the military. Yüeh Fei saw his opportunity.
On rejoining the military Yüeh had at first enjoyed the sponsorship of Chang So. Following Chang’s dismissal, Yüeh joined an at best semi-independent commander, Wang Yen. Incompatibility of personal ambitions lead Yüeh to leave Wang, and for a time Yüeh became the entirely independent commander of an independent army unit, officially speaking a “bandit” or at best a petty warlord. Then he rejoined the official army under the command of Tsung Tse,(22) who he highly respected, and after Tsung’s death he served under his successor, Tu Ch’ung,(23) who eventually surrendered to the Chin. In this period Yüeh fought his colleagues rather than the common enemy, gradually assembling an army of great potential striking power and immaculate prestige, his own army, the Yüeh-chia-chün.
Episodes abound that show how Yüeh forged this tool for action and maintained its sharp edge ever after. Very strict discipline prevailed in his army, and heavy punishmwnt was meted out even for inadvertent mistakes. Recognition, rewards, and grants of responsibility and initiative came to those who lived up to Yüeh’s expectations. And as Yüeh’s military genius guaranteed that no military action undertaken ever ended in defeat, he succeeded in creating unique cohesion and spirit in his army.
The prestige of his army was also increased by its irreproachable behavior. Again episodes abound to illustrate this point. Its repute, and that of its commander, surpassed all others. Wise rehabilitation measures, by which reconquered territory was restored to productivity and the roaming population resettled in a new kind of security, contributed to this effect. His army was made to carry out these rehabilitation measures in addition to performing its martial functions.
His grandson Yüeh K’o summarized his technique for welding an army together as follows:
Among the methods by which Yüeh Fei managed his army, there were six great ones. The first was: Careful selection. He stressed quality and did not stress quantity. From those selected, one counted as much as a hundred. Once the emperor had transferred to his army the troops of Hang Ching and Wu Hsi; not all of them were used to battle, and many of them were old and weak. After he had selected those who could be used, he had not got even a thousand men; the rest were all dismissed and sent home. After a few months of training he had in consequence an army unit of high quality.
The second was: careful training. When the troops were stationed at  garrison quarters, he had them instructed in all the pertinent arts. This instruction became increasingly strict until they would not enter for a visit when they passed their own gate, and until they would regard says of leave like days of action. For instance, they had to crawl through moats and jump over walls, and all that in full armor. When they had completed their training, people would regard them as saints.
The third was: justice in rewards and punishments. He treated all his people alike. A private named Kuo Chin from the unit of Chang Hsien had earned merits at Mo-yeh-kuan.(24) Yüeh unhooked his golden belt and gave it to him as a reward together with silverware for his personal use, and in addition he promoted him. His son Yüeh Yün once was practicing jumping a moat in heavy armor when his horse stumbled and fell. Yüeh Fei, angry on account of his lack of training, said: “Would you also act this way when facing the great enemy?” And then he ordered him to be decapitated. All his generals knelt before him and begged that his son be spared. Thereupon he had him bastinadoed a hundred times and let him go. Other examples are Fu Ch’ing, who was executed because he had boasted of his merits; Hsin T’ai, who was dismissed because h had not followed orders; and Jen Sheh-an, who was bastinadoed because he had followed an order too slowly. All failures, irrespective of their seriousness, were heavily punished. When Chang Chün(25) once asked him about the art of using soldiers, he replied: “Humaneness, reliability, wisdom, courage, and strictness [jeh, hsin, chih, yung, yen]; of these five not may be missing.” And when Chang asked about strictness, he replied: “Those who have merits are heavily rewarded; those who have no merits are stiffly punished.”
GO TO PART TWO
* A Venerated Forgery: The Daoist Origins of Shaolin’s Famous Yijin Jing Manual
* Dating the Yijin Jing Manual
(1) Shuo-Yüeh ch'üan chuan. For earlier versions see Sun Kai-ti, Jih-pen Tung-ching so chien Chung-kuo hsiao-shuo shu-mu (Shanghai, 1953), pp. 50–52. A wide collection of popular lore of Yüeh Fei is found in Yueh Fei ku-shi hsi-ch'ü shuo-ch'ang chi (Tu Ying-t'ao ed.) (Shanghai: Ku-tien wen-hsüeh, 1957). See also Robert Ruhlmann, "Traditional Heroes in Chinese Popular Fiction," in Arthur F. Wright, ed., The Confucian Persuasion (Standfard, 1960), p. 154 and notes 52. The latest literary treatments of Yüeh Fei's life are the dramas Yüeh Fei by Ku I-chiao (Commercial press, 1940) and Cheng Lieh's Ching-chung po shih-chü, 4 Vols. (Nanking, 1948).
(2) See L. C. Arlington and William Lewinsohn, In Search of Old Peking (Peking, 1935), pp. 231–32.
(3) By Chang Ying (Sung shih ch. 404), a historiographer who wanted in this way to rid Yüeh K'o's (1183–?) compilation of the odium of private bias. Chang finished his rewrite only three years after Yüeh K'o had finished his biography, and incorporated it into his book Nan-tu ssu chiang chuang, which also contains biographies of three other generals of the time. His version is contained in the Chin-t'o hsü-pien, ch. 17. See Teng Kuang-ming, Yüeh Fei chuan (Peking, 1955), pp. 284–85.
(4) O-wang hsing-shih pien-nien, incorporated in the Chin-t'o ts'ui-pien. The Chin-t'o ts'ui-pien and the Chin-t'o hsü pien have been used in the Chechiang shu chü edition of 1883.
(5) One of them has been pointed out by Ichimura Sanjirō, Chinese translation by Ch'en Yü-ch'ing in Shih-hsüeh tsa-chih, I (1929), and by Teng, op. cit., pp. 282–83; others by Teng, op. cit., pp. 281–82 and 289–303.
(6) After all this has been said, it must be stated that in face of these handicaps Yüeh K'o worked with a remarkable degree of integrity. The Ssu-k'u t'i-yao authors are full of praise for his reliability. Cf. Wan-yu wen-k'u edition, II, 1959.
(7) Hsiung K'o's biography is in Sung shih, ch. 445. The Kuang-ua ts'ung-shu contains a reprint of the Yung-lo ta-tien version of his Chung-hsing Hsiao-li. See Ssu-k'u t'i-yao, I, 1035.
(8) 1129–1206. His compilation is entitled Chung-hsing liang ch'ao sheng-cheng.
(9) 1166–1243. His Chien-yen i-lai hsi-nien yao-lu is also contained in the Kuang-ya ts'ung-shu. On his book, see Ssu-k'u t'i-yao, I, 1041.
(10) See Otto Franke, Geschichte des chinesischen Reiches, IV (Berlin, 1948), 4–5, following the Ssu-k'u t'i-yao.
(11) On this point see Liang Yüan-tung, "Yüeh Fei Ch'in Kuei chiu an," in Jen-wen Yüeh-k'an, VIII, No. 5 (June 15, 1937).
(12) Sung Yüeh chung-wu-wang chi (Pan-mou-yüan ed., 1865). A handy annotated selection is contained in Wu chung chi, Hu huai-shen ed. Cheng-chung wen-k'u, XXXI (Taipei, 1954).
(13) See Nien-erh-shih cha-chi (Ts'ung-shu chi-ch'eng ed.), ch. 25, pp. 514–16; Ssu-k'u t'i-yao, III, 3312.
(14) Most of what remained at that time was compiled by Yüeh K'o in the section "Po shih chao-chung lu" of his Chin-t'o hsü-pien and by Hsü Meng-hsin in his San-ch'ao pei-meng hui-pien (various editions: Hsü's dates are 1124–1204; on his book, see Ssu-k'u t'i-yao, II, 1070), Hsü's work also contains an anonymous, apparently independent, but not entirely reliable biography of Yüeh Fei. The Pan-mou-yüan edition of Yüeh Fei's collected works has appended a collection of episodical material, drawn from a variety of private sources.
(15) Two nien-p'u have been helpful, the one by Ch'ien Ju-Wen, Sung Yüeh O-wang nien-p'u, 6 ts'e, preface dated 1924 (a careful edition of Yüeh's works appended), and the one by Li Han-hun, Yüeh Wu-mu nien-p'u, 2 vols. (Shanghai: Commercial Press, 1948). Of recent biographies the one by Teng Kuang-ming, mentioned in note 4, seems to be the most critical. The first edition of this published by Sheng-li in 1945. Wilfrid Allan, Makers of Cathay (Shanghai, 1938), pp. 144–52, contains a short biographical sketch. As far as a critical compilation of the dates of his life goes, Teng Kuang-ming's recent book appears to exhaust almost all the possibilities our sources offer.
(16) My exposition is based on the sources mentioned above unless otherwise indicated.
(17) The collection Yüeh Chung-wu-wang wen-chi (prefaces by Ts'ao K'un and Wu P'ei-fu, dated 1921) contains some specimens of his calligraphy, most famous is his calligraphy of the two Ch'u-shih-piao by Chu-ko Liang, which have been carved in stone. See Yüeh Wu-mu shu ch'u-shih-piao (Ta-chung ed.) (Shanghai, n.d.).
(18) Biography in the Sung shih, ch, 363.
(19) His biography puts this incident only into the period after his first term of military activity.
(20) T'ung Kuan, together with Ts'ai Yu, pursued at that time the make-believe war of Sung against the crumbling Liao.
(21) See Mary Clabaugh Wright, The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism (Standford, 1957), chap. iv.
(22) 1057–1128. Biography in Sung shih, ch. 360.
(23) Biography in the Sung shih, ch. 475
(24) Chang Hsien was one of the main commanders of the Yüeh-chia-chün and was executed with Yüeh Fei’s son.
(25) Died 1154. Biography in Sung shih, ch. 369. He was one of the four great field commanders of the time.
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