Yo Fei

The Chinese general Yo Fei (1103-1141), also known as Yo P'eng-chü, led the Chinese army against the Chin invaders, the Jürchen Tatars. He is a symbol of national resistance against foreign aggression.

Yo Fei was of a peasant family in T'ang-yin, Honan. Legend has it that at his birth a bird called p'eng (a symbol of greatness) soared over the house; hence his personal name was associated with the p'eng. He lost his father in his early years and was devoted to his mother. Largely self-taught, he read Sun Wu's Art of War (an ancient military classic) and practiced archery.

Yo lived in an age of political chaos and foreign invasion. He joined the army early and distinguished himself as a great soldier. His statement—"Civil officials should not be greedy of money; nor should military officers be afraid of death"—has been the first principle of Chinese government. Yo's military campaign consisted of two stages: extermination of the puppet regime of Liu Yü, who, with the Tatars' support, set himself up as emperor in 1130; and recovery of the North occupied by the Tatar forces under Wu-shu, the Chin commander in chief.

In 1133 Liu Yü led his troops south and occupied several important cities south of the Yellow River. Yo expelled Liu Yü's forces and in the following years recaptured a large area from insurgent leaders.

In 1136 Yo's vanguard had advanced to the Yellow River, and he sought approval to push the battle to the North. However, Ch'in kuei, the prime minister, was in favor of peace and opposed the plan.

Meanwhile, Wu-shu, having dropped Liu Yü, proceeded to the conquest of the Sung empire. In 1140 the Tatar troops pushing south pursued the Sung armies in Shun-chang (Anhwei) and Fufeng (Shensi). Then Yo led his army across the Yellow River and made straight for Yencheng (Honan), where Wu-shu summoned his nomad cavalry, called Kuei-tzu Ma (that is, three mailed horses linked together to form a battle unit). Yo's army, too strongly entrenched to be pushed back, repeatedly crushed the onslaughts of the Tatar cavalry. "It is easy to move a mountain, but difficult to shatter the Yo soldiers" was the comment of the Tatars. Just when Yo was within an ace of recapturing Pien-liang (K'ai-feng, the former capital), Emperor Kao Tsung, on the advice of Ch'in Kuei, ordered a withdrawal.

In 1141 Ch'in Kuei divested Yo of his command, then had him imprisoned on a fictitious accusation, and finally arranged for him and his son Yo Yün to be executed. But in 1162 Emperor Hsiao Tsung designated Yo a Hero of Loyalty and ennobled him as the Prince of Yo; in 1179 the Emperor canonized Yo as the Saint of War. A temple bearing his name at Lin-an (Hangchow, the capital), where he was buried, was built in his honor.


Further Reading on Yo Fei

Yo Fei is the subject of an essay in Arthur F. Wright and Denis Twitchett, eds., Confucian Personalities (1962).