Kao-tsung

Kao-tsung (1107-1187) was a Chinese emperor. After the Sung dynasty lost the North, he continued Sung rule in the South and became the first emperor of the Southern Sung.

As the ninth son of Emperor Hui-tsung (1082-1135) and child of a concubine, the Lady Wei, the future emperor Kao-tsung would not normally have risen to the throne, but after Emperor Ch'in-tsung (1100-1161) and the abdicated Hui-tsung were taken prisoner, he ascended the throne in what was then the Southern capital. The Sung forces, confronting Chin (Jürchen) armies as well as widespread rebellion in the South, were unable to hold their position, and still in the first year of his reign, Kao-tsung had to flee farther south.

A low point in Kao-tsung's career came in 1129, when the generals Miao Fu and Liu Cheng-yen succeeded in deposing him for 28 days before they were defeated by loyal forces under Chang Chün and Han Shih-chung. But even then the Emperor's future was still precarious. He had to resume his flight in the face of a Chin offensive and, in 1130, took refuge in some islands off the southeast coast of China. Then, during the 1130s, the tide of war turned: under the command of Chang Chün, Han Shih-chung, and the famous Yüeh Fei, the Sung armies suppressed the rebellions in the South and not only stopped the Chin but even carried the war to the North.

Kao-tsung has been much criticized for rejecting the arguments of Yüeh Fei and other advocates of continuing the war until China was reunified. Aware of the dangers of such a policy, which might well have led to the preponderance of the generals, the Emperor preferred to support the peace plans of Ch'in Kuei, which resulted in the treaty of 1141.

In 1138 Kao-tsung decided on Hangchow as the new capital and thus contributed to the greatness of this scenic city, which even after the fall of the Southern Sung elicited the admiration of Marco Polo. The Emperor further demonstrated his good taste as well as his love for the arts by reestablishing the Painting Academy, where many of the artists who had served his father once again enjoyed imperial patronage. His reign also saw the restoration of the university. Various measures for economic rehabilitation and fiscal reform, including a land survey, the equalization of taxes and establishment of new taxes, the restoration of war-damaged fields, and the issuance of paper money, were undertaken during his reign.

In 1161 war broke out again between the Sung and the Chin, but the peace of 1165, although somewhat milder, was basically similar to that of 1141. By then Kao-tsung himself had abdicated. Retiring with him was Empress Wu, a remarkable, strong-willed lady who outlived the Emperor and rendered a final service to the dynasty when, in 1194, she effected the abdication of the mentally incapacitated Emperor Kuang-tsung and his succession by Emperor Ningtsung.

Further Reading on Kao-tsung

General background on Kao-tsung is in Kenneth S. Latourette, The Chinese: Their History and Culture (1934; 4th ed. 1964); René Grousset, The Rise and Splendour of the Chinese Empire (trans. 1953); and Edwin O. Reischauer and John K. Fairbank, History of East Asian Civilization, vol. 1: The Great Tradition (1958). For information on Hangchow see Jacques Gernet, Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276 (1959; trans. 1962).

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