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This Week In History

The Battle of Yamen. March 19, 1279.

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The Song troops were prepared for a small skirmish, not a large assault. Waves of arrows hit the Song ships. Caught off guard, the Song fleet immediately lost seven ships, along with a great number of troops in the process. The ill and weakened Song soldiers were no match for the Yuan troops in close combat, and the chaotic environment made battle command impossible. The chained Song ships could neither support the middle nor retreat. After the Song troops were killed, the bloody slaughter of the Song court began. Seeing that the battle was lost, Zhang Shijie picked out his finest soldiers and cut about a dozen ships from the formation in an attempted breakout to save the emperor.

The Yuan forces quickly advanced to the center and to Emperor Huaizong, killing everyone in their way. There, Prime Minister Lu Xiufu saw no hope of breaking free and, taking the boy emperor with him, jumped into the sea, where both drowned. Many officials and concubines followed suit.

The History of Song records that, seven days after the battle, hundreds of thousands of corpses floated to the surface of the sea. Reportedly, the body of the boy emperor was found near today’s Shekou in Shenzhen, though his actual grave has yet to be found.

Zhang Shijie, having escaped the battle, hoped to have Empress Dowager Yang appoint the next Song emperor, and from there continue to resist the Yuan dynasty. However, after hearing of Emperor Huaizong’s death, Dowager Yang also committed suicide at sea. Zhang Shijie buried her at the shore. He and his remaining soldiers were assumed to have drowned at sea, as there was a tropical storm soon afterwards. However, there have been suggestions that his death was simply Mongolian propaganda, since no remains or trace of his fleet were ever found.

As Huaizong was the last Song emperor, his death effectively ended the Song dynasty, leaving the Yuan dynasty, under Kublai Khan, with all of China under its control.

A rock was carved in memory of Zhang Hongfan. Many temples were built in the surrounding area in memory of those who lost their lives in the dying years of the Song dynasty. In the 1980s another memorial was built near Shekou to commemorate the boy emperor.

Kublai Khan and his descendants and followers would rule China for 97 years until the rise of the Ming dynasty, when the Chinese regained control of their lost territory from the Mongols.

 

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