Xue Rengui


Xue Rengui

Xue Rengui (zh-stpw|t=薛仁貴|s=薛仁贵|p=Xuē Rénguì|w=Hsüeh Jengui, 614-683), formal name Xue Li (薛禮) but went by the courtesy name of Rengui, was one of the most famous Chinese generals during the early Tang Dynasty, due to references to him in popular literature. During his career, he participated in successful campaigns against remnants of Western Tujue and against Goguryeo, with only one major flaw on his record which was an unsuccessful campaign against Tufan in 670, where another General in his army refused to listen to Xue's advise and charged ahead and caused the majority of the army to be lost.

During Emperor Taizong's reign

Xue Rengui was born in 614, during the reign of Emperor Yang of Sui, but his early activities were not recorded, other than that his wife had the surname Liu (柳). It was said that he was poor and was a farmer. Around the time that Tang Dynasty's second emperor Emperor Taizong was set to launch a major campaign against Goguryeo in 644, Xue was planning to rebury his ancestors, when Lady Liu told him:

Xue thus went to meet the general Zhang Shigui (張士貴) to volunteer for the army. Once he reached the front, on an occasion when the general Liu Jun'ang (劉君卬) was being surrounded by Goguryeo forces, Xue went to rescue Liu, and he was able to kill the Goguryeo commander and hang the Goguryeo commander's head on his saddle; after this incident, he began to gain fame. When Emperor Taizong was ready to attack the Goguryeo city of Anshi/Ansi (安市, in modern Anshan, Liaoning) in 645 and was faced with a major relief army sent by Goguryeo's "Mangniji" (regent) Yeon Gaesomun, commanded by the generals Gao Yanshou (高延壽) and Gao Huizhen (高惠真), Emperor Taizong had his officers try to repel the Goguryeo forces. Xue, believing himself to be powerful and wanting to show his ferocity, put on a white armor and armed himself with a trident and a two bows. As he fought his way through the frontlines, he inflicted much casualties on the Gogureyo soldiers. Emperor Taizong spotted him from a distance and asked his attendants, "Who is that man in white armor?" and was told it was Xue. Emperor Taizong summoned Xue to his presence and awarded him with gold and silk and also gave him a general title. After Emperor Taizong retreated later in the year, he told Xue:

Emperor Taizong made Xue one of the commanding generals for the imperial guards.

During Emperor Gaozong's reign

After Emperor Taizong's death in 649, his son Li Zhi succeeded him (as Emperor Gaozong), and for the first few years of Emperor Gaozong's reign, Xue Rengui appeared to remain a commanding general for the imperial guards. In 654, when Emperor Gaozong was visiting the vacation palace Wannian Palace (萬年宮, in modern Baoji, Shaanxi), there was a major storm. On the night of June 22, [ [http://www.sinica.edu.tw/ftms-bin/kiwi1/luso.sh?lstype=2&dyna=%AD%F0&king=%B0%AA%A9v&reign=%A5%C3%C0%B2&yy=5&ycanzi=&le
]
] it rained particularly hard, and a flash flood descended on the Xuanwu Gate of Wannian Palace. The imperial guards all fled, but Xue did not, and instead climbed up the gate and yelled loudly inside the palace to warn the emperor. Emperor Gaozong quickly got out of his bed and climbed as high as he could, and in brief time, the water flooded into his bedchambers, and this flood killed some 3,000 residents of Linyou County, where the palace was located, and imperial guards. Afterwards, Emperor Gaozong made the comment to Xue, "It is only by your call that I avoided drowning, and from this I know that you are a faithful subject." He awarded Xue a horse.

In 657, when the general Su Dingfang attacked Western Tujue's Shaboluo Khan Ashina Helu (阿史那賀魯), Xue submitted a suggestion that if the wife and children of the chief of one of Western Tujue's constituent tribes, Nishu Tribe (泥孰), who did not particularly support Ashina Helu but was forced to comply after Ashina Helu took his wife and children hostage, were to be captured by Tang forces, that they be immediately released so that the chief of Nishu would submit to Tang. When Emperor Gaozong approved this suggestion, the chief of Nishu did, indeed, join Tang's army. Su was subsequently able to defeat and capture Ashina Helu.

Later that year, Xue was made deputy to the general Cheng Mingzhen (程名振) in an operation against Goguryeo, and they captured Goguryeo's city Chifeng (赤烽, in modern Fushun, Liaoning) and defeated the Goguryeo general Dou Fanglou (豆方婁). In 659, Xue further defeated the Goguryeo general Wen Shamen (溫沙門). He also engaged Qidan forces, capturing their chief Abugu (阿卜固) and taking him back to the eastern capital Luoyang. For this achievement, he was created the Baron of Hedong.

In 661, after the chief of Tang's vassal Huige, Yaoluoge Porun (藥羅葛婆閏) died and was succeeded by his nephew Yaoluoge Bisudu (藥羅葛比粟毒), Yaoluoge Bisudu broke away from Tang and allied with two other tribes, Tongluo (同羅) and Pugu (僕固) in attacking Tang's northern boundary. Emperor Gaozong commissioned the general Zheng Rentai (鄭仁泰) to be in charge of an operation against Huige, while making the Xue and Liu Shenli (劉審理) Zheng's deputies. When they encountered Huige's coalition forces -- which by this point appeared to include all nine major tribes of Tiele -- the coalition challenged Tang forces to a small battle, with Tiele sending out their 10 fiercest warriors. Xue personally engaged them and killed three of them with three arrows, intimidating the Tiele coalition and causing them to submit -- but after their surrender, he slaughtered them. From this incident, a military song was written to praise Xue's ferocity, including the words: "The general is able to pacify Tian Shan with three arrows, and the warriors sing their long songs as they enter the boundaries of Han." After the army returned to Tang territory, however, Xue was charged with killing those who had already surrendered and seizing the spoils of war and arrested for a time, but was eventually released after Emperor Gaozong ruled that the achievements outweighed the crimes.

In 666, Yeon Gaesomun died, and infighting developed between Yeon's oldest son Yeon Namsaeng, who succeeded Yeon Gaesomun as "Mangniji", and two younger sons Yeon Namgeon and Yeon Namsan, over suspicions that they had for each other. Eventually, Yeon Namgeon, while Yeon Namsaeng was away from the capital Pyongyang, claimed the "Mangniji" title himself. Yeon Namsaeng sent his son (later known as Quan Xiancheng (泉獻誠), as Yeon (淵) was the same character as Emperor Gaozong's grandfather Emperor Gaozu's name Yuan and therefore could not be used as part of naming taboo) to seek aid from Tang. When Emperor Gaozong sent the generals Pang Tongshan (龐同善) and Gao Kan (高侃) to aid Yeon Namsaeng, Yeon Namgeon tried to intercept them, and Xue, who trailed them, marched forward to aid them, allowing them to defeat Goguryeo forces together. After they captured the cities of Nansu (南蘇, in modern Tieling, Liaoning), Mudi (木底, in modern Fushun), and Cangyan (蒼巖, in modern Benxi, Liaoning), they were able to rendezvous with Yeon Namsaeng. In spring 668, they further marched east and captured Goguryeo's major northeastern city Fuyu (扶餘, in modern Siping, Jilin), and Xue was described to have marched to the sea (probably Sea of Japan) and taking some 40 cities in Goguryeo's northeastern territories, before marching southwest to rendezvous with the supreme commander of the entire operation, Li Ji, at Pyongyang. After Pyongyang fell later in 668, thus ending Goguryeo, Emperor Gaozong ordered that Goguryeo territory be annexed into Tang territory and that a protector general (known as the Protectorate General to Pacify the East) by established at Pyongyang, with Xue appointed as the protector general to defend Pyongyang, along with the general Liu Rengui. Emperor Gaozong created him the Duke of Pingyang. It was said that Xue was a capable administrator and was, for a while, able to receive allegiance from the people of Goguryeo.

In 670, Tufan launched a major attack on Tang's Xiyu (i.e., formerly Western Tujue) holdings, capturing 18 prefectures. Emperor Gaozong commissioned Xue to command a major counterattack, with Ashina Daozhen (阿史那道真) and Guo Daifeng (郭待封) as his deputies. However, as Guo previously was of the same rank as Xue, he viewed serving as Xue's deputy as a dishonor and often disobeyed Xue's orders. Xue's initial strategy was to take some troops ahead toward, with Guo remaining behind at Qinghai Lake with the military supplies -- and once Xue had cleared the pass, he would then signal for Guo to proceed. Guo, however, disobeyed the order and did not wait for Xue's signal, but proceeded after Xue departed, and he was intercepted and defeated by a 200,000-men Tufan army. After Guos' army collapsed, Xue was himself attacked by the Tufan prime minister Lun Qinling (論欽陵) and defeated. Nearly the entire army was lost, and Xue was forced to sue for peace under unfavorable terms. Emperor Gaozong sent the official Le Yanwei to the front to put Xue, Guo, and Ashina under arrest, but released them once they were brought back to the capital Chang'an. However, they were relieved of their posts.

At later time, when the people of Goguryeo were rising in resistance to Tang occupation, Xue was put in charge of pacifying the region, but yet later, probably in 675, Xue was deposed for reasons not clearly stated in historical records and exiled to Xiang Prefecture (象州, roughly modern Laibin, Guangxi), only allowed to return from exile when a general pardon was declared. In 681, Emperor Gaozong, remembering Xue's contributions, summoned him and again made him a general. In 682, when remnants of the Eastern Tujue, rising under the chiefs Ashina Gudulu and Ashide Yuanzhen (阿史德元珍), declared independence from Tang, Xue was commissioned to attack Ashide Yuanzhen. His presence intimidated the Eastern Tujue soldiers, who had thought that he was long dead, and he scored a major victory over Ashide Yuanzhen.

Xue died in 683. His sons Xue Na and Xue Chuyu (薛楚玉), and several later descendants would serve as generals as well.

In fiction

Xue Rengui's life was dramatized in a number of fictional works. The most prominent of these works were the play "Xue Rengui's Glorious Return Home" (薛仁貴衣錦歸鄉), by the Yuan Dynasty playwright Zhang Guobin (張國賓) and an anonymous novel from Qing Dynasty, "Xue Rengui's Campaign to the East" (薛仁貴征東). Xue Rengui's tenure as General of Andong Protectorate following the fall of Goguryeo has been dramatized in a popular Korean television series called "Dae Joyoung", and portrays Xue Rengui as a Tang general who's constantly frustrated by the insurgency of the Dongmyeongchun League; remnants of the Goguryean underground resistance against the Tang. According to this television action-drama broadcasted worldwide on KBS-1, Xue Rengui could finally claim victory over the Goguryean insurgency when he had Dae Joyoung and his legion of escaped Bajaek, Goguryean, Khitan, and Sillian prisoners cornered, and had Dae Joyoung vow loyalty to the Tang Empire, and become a military officer of high-rank in the Tang army. However, Xue Rengui is to lose Dae Joyoung again following a stratagem in which Dae Joyoung volunteers to lead a punitive force of Tang soldiers against nomadic bandits in Mount Madu to recover stolen Tang money. While Dae Joyoung successfully recovers the gold and silver taels and convinces the bandits to fight another group of the Tang punitive force led by the evil Tang general Li Wen, he dispatches the stolen property back to Chang'an alongside his close Dongmyeongchun League confidant Mimosa and a small group of Tang soldiers, Dae Joyoung took the opportunity escape the Tang to return to his Goguryean land on the true-pretext that general Li Wen was going to attack kill him and his Goguryean subordinates. This television series also portrays Xue Rengui travelling from Chang'an with only his friend and bodyguard Hongpei to the Khitan-held Yingzhou in order meet his old war protege the Khitan Khan Li Jinzhong to personally warn him about general Li Wen's desire to destroy the Khitans in the year 695; however, this is apparently a symbolic gesture made by the show's producers as General Xue Rengui died in 683, to indicate the good and friendly nature of General Xue Rengui and his disdain for political matters.

Popular Culture

He also appears famously as a hero in Chinese folklore in which he is the father of the fictional general Xue Dingshan and the father-in-law of the Turkic princess Fan Lihua. The story of Xue Dingshan and his wife Fan Lihua is often used as a subject for Chinese opera. There is a drama film named Xue Dingshan San Qi Fan Lihua about them. Because of his campaigns in Korea against both Goguryo and Silla, he was referred as the "The General who Pacified the East" for the Tang. It is ironic, since Xue's fictional son is referred as the "The General who Pacified the West" for the Tang because of his fictional campaigns against the Turks, however, the campaigns against the Turks should also be attributed to the latter Xue. In the folklore, Xue Rengui was known to have a massive appetite in which he was thought to be possess by the "hungry god." The legend of Xue Dingshan and Fan Lihua takes place between the Tang and the fictional Turkic kingdom of Western Liang, ironically there was a real Western Liang during the Sixteen Kingdoms period that was thought to be the ancestors of the Tang.

Notes and references

* "Book of Tang", [http://www.sidneyluo.net/a/a16/083.htm vol. 83] .
* "New Book of Tang", [http://www.sidneyluo.net/a/a17/111.htm vol. 111] .
* "Zizhi Tongjian", vols. 198, 199, 200, 201, 203.


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