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A qin in Yangjia Jiang? 1
Generals of the Yang Family, by Xiong Damu (? 2)
Upper right: closeup of a scholar playing qin in a studio 3          

This famous story4 begins during the Northern Song dynasty, as the Khitan Liao are attacking China from the north. The main character is Yang Ye,5 an historical figure who with his sons served the Song dynasty by fighting the Khitan. Betrayed by court officials, Yang Ye was captured by the Khitans and starved himself to death.

The story continues with the exploits of four generations of the Yang family, who continued to serve the Northern Song. The most popular of these today focus on women generals. It is sometimes explained that they fought because of a dearth of men, but they do seem to fight better than the men. The Yang women are, at first, the mother, sisters and widowed sisters-in-law of Yang Ye's sixth son, Yang Yanzhao. Then Yan Yanzhao's son Yang Zongbao marries the woman who becomes the most famous of them all, Mu Guiying.6 She eventually has her own army of female soldiers who stop the Khitan Liao invasion.

Another vase shows Yang family women in equestrian training while scholar-officials observe from behind a second-floor trellis screen.

Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to figure out the connection with the qin, as depicted on the vase above, so this page is not linked to the novels and opera page.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Yang Jia Jiang 楊家將
15489.414 楊家將 Yang Jia Jiang says this is a 小說 novel about the Song dynasty general 楊業 Yang Ye. It mentions no author, suggesting it is a folk story. Presumably the novel by 熊大木 Xiong Damu (see next footnote) was based on a story with the same name in the oral tradition. The novel can be found online.

Online English references all seem to be to vases with illustrations from this story; if an author is mentioned he is called Yong Damu. The one depicted above calls the story Yang Jia Jiang Yanji, presumably 楊家將演績 "Performance of Yangjia Jiang", which it says is an opera. Colin Mackerras (see below) calls the novel 楊家將演義 Yangjia Jiang Yanyi (Romance of the Yang Family Generals), attributing it "probably" to "Xiong Zhonggu" (no characters). He mentions several operas on this theme including the Yuan zaju Haotian Pagoda (昊天塔 Haotian Ta; in 幽州 Youzhou, scene of the main battles) by 朱凱 Zhu Kai (LXS/73; 403 by 李玉 Li Yu), and a Kunqu opera named Zhaotai Xiaoshao (昭代簫韶), from which it entered the Peking opera repertoire. Here a popular version is Lianglang Mountain (兩狼山 Lianglan Shan).

The only female general mentioned in these stories seems to be Mu Guiying. I have not yet found the source of the stories about her and all the other women fighters mentioned above. The illustrations on vases shown and linked here all seem to date from around the Kangxi period (1662 - 1723).

2. Xiong Damu 熊大木 (19738.xxx; Bio/xxx)
ICTCL, p. 44, says Xiong Damu and 余象斗 Yu Xiangdou (549.xxx; Bio/xxx), both active in Fujian province during the late Ming Wanli period (1573 - 1620), were the earliest verifiable authors of Chinese historical novels. On p. 662 it refers to Xiong as a "compiler" of stories who incorporated long passages from the narrative story (平話 pinghua) tradition. Mackerras calls him Xiong Zhonggu (no characters).

3. Image from Christie's Sale 1877, Lot 328. See also another vase, showing a scene called "The Smashing of the Heavenly Gate Encampment by Mu Guiying", showing female general 穆桂英 Mu Guiying surrounded by her troops. An opera called 穆桂英掛帥 Mu Guiying Gua Shuai (Mu Guiying Takes Command) seems to have developed into the popular Peking opera adaptation of this story. (Return)

4. Information here mostly from Wikipedia and Colin Mackerras, The Rise of the Peking Opera, pp. 263-6. (Return)

5. Yang Ye 楊業 (d. 986; Bio/838; 15489.659)
Also called 楊繼業 Yang Jiye in operas; a famous historical figure. (Return)

6. Mu Guiying 穆桂英
Perhaps not an historical figure (25832.xxx), she is said to be the wife of 楊宗寶 Yang Zongbao, who was a son of Yang Ye's 六郎 sixth son, 楊延昭 Yang Yanzhao. There is a lot of information about her online, some with illustrations. (Return)

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