General Yue Fei
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29-05-2013, 09:42 PM (This post was last modified: 29-05-2013 11:10 PM by ghostexorcist.)
General Yue Fei
I was going to post this in the "Favorite Historical Character" thread, but I figured it was a tad bit too long. Therefore, I am posting it here...

One of my other favorite historical characters is the Chinese general Yue Fei (岳飞) (1103-1141). He came from a semi-wealthy, literate family, but he chose the military path because there had never been any history of full-fledged Confucian civil service in his family. Yue was tutored by two men in spearplay and archery, the latter teacher, Zhou Tong (周同), was said to be a former hero. His entrance into military life was uneventful because he saw little to no combat when “brave youths” were mobilized in 1122 to help the Song military aid a foreign ally in combating a common enemy in northern China. He served for a time as the bodyguard of a rich family with ties to the government until the former ally, the Jurchen, turned on the Song Dynasty and invaded in 1126. The Song dynasty collapsed when the emperor and his heir were kidnapped. This forced the remnants of the dynasty to flee south along with a large portion of the population. When Yue reentered military life, he quickly rose through the ranks due to his great fighting ability, eventually becoming a general. He was one of, if not the most, successful commanders of the new Southern Song dynasty. He won numerous battles against Chinese pirates in the south and against Jurchen armies in the north throughout the 1130s and early 1140s. This was thanks to the might of his unit, the famous Yue Family army (岳家军), which he commanded with an iron fist (he was known to execute soldiers for the tiniest infraction). Unfortunately, the Southern Song emperor was a weak man and allowed the prime minister, Qin Hui (秦桧, 1090–1155), a much hated traitor in Chinese history, to broker a treaty with the Jurchen. Yue and the other successful generals were recalled from the field in 1141, stripped of their military command, and given comfy government posts. This was done in the hopes that they would forget their struggle against the Jurchen. Yue, however, couldn’t, and so he begged many times to resign from his post. The emperor finally let him, but this only exacerbated fears that Yue would get back in touch with his old unit and rebel against the government. He was eventually arrested on trumped up charges of treason—a preemptive move by the government spearheaded by Qin—and later found guilty. He was killed in prison at the young age of 39.

[Image: 220pxyuefei.jpg][Image: 2011925minghuiyuefei03.jpg]

A historical depiction of Yue Fei (left) VS. a modern idealized depiction (right).

What’s truly amazing about Yue Fei is that he became the poster child for loyalty and patriotism in China. This image returned to prominance when the Manchus, descendants of the Jurchen and former vassals of the Ming, threatened to invade China in 1624. The invasion never happened due to in-fighting between Manchu nobles. However, a famous daoyin (导引) breathing and stretching manual called the Tendon-Changing Classic (易筋) was published in response to this threat. One of two prefaces claimed that Yue Fei had gained his great military prowess from practicing the exercise as a child. My research suggests the author, a Daoist priest, wrote this because he wanted to make the patriotic claim that practicing the exercise would give the Chinese people the strength necessary to face the nomads like it had done for the general. This may not seem important at first glance, but Yue’s mention led to numerous weapons and boxing styles, as well as daoyin exercises being attributed to him. The earliest attributed style, Yue Family Boxing (岳家拳), is an obvious nod to the general’s famous fighting unit. Following the Manchu invasion in 1644 and the founding of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Chinese rebels used such martial arts in their struggles against their foreign rulers.

Literature was another way the Chinese used Yue Fei as a symbol of resistance. Twenty years after the founding of Qing, a still popular fictionalization of the general’s life known as The Story of Yue Fei (1684, 说岳全传) was published. The novel portrays Yue as the reincarnation of Garuda, a powerful bird demon-turned-Buddhist guardian deity (Yue was fiercely loyal to his mother, as was Garuda according to Hindu lore). He is sent to earth to defeat a Jurchen prince, who just so happens to be the reincarnation of an evil red dragon. It served as a defiant political statement against the Manchus since Yue Fei had historically fought their Jurchen ancestors. The anti-Manchu message didn’t go unnoticed for it was later banned during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (乾隆帝, r. 1735-1796).
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29-05-2013, 11:06 PM
RE: General Yue Fei
Anyone interested in Yue Fei's teacher Zhou Tong can read the Wikipedia article I wrote about him several years ago:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhou_Tong_%28archer%29
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30-05-2013, 12:38 AM
RE: General Yue Fei
He is indeed one of the most well-known figures of resistance in China. The weak man emperor killed him because [1] he intervened in the affairs of which heir of the emperor should be the next one, [2] how the emperor could build his sense of presence since the emperor made little contribution to his countryman while Yue, Fei kept winning battles revenging for the people. And this remindes me of the famous saying "Après moi, le déluge" ...

Want something? Then do something.
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30-05-2013, 09:31 AM
RE: General Yue Fei
(30-05-2013 12:38 AM)HU.Junyuan Wrote:  He is indeed one of the most well-known figures of resistance in China. The weak man emperor killed him because [1] he intervened in the affairs of which heir of the emperor should be the next one, [2] how the emperor could build his sense of presence since the emperor made little contribution to his countryman while Yue, Fei kept winning battles revenging for the people. And this remindes me of the famous saying "Après moi, le déluge" ...

He was also worried that he would have to give up the throne if Yue managed to rescue his father and brother.
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03-06-2013, 09:37 AM
RE: General Yue Fei
(29-05-2013 09:42 PM)ghostexorcist Wrote:  What’s truly amazing about Yue Fei is that he became the poster child for loyalty and patriotism in China. This image returned to prominance when the Manchus, descendants of the Jurchen and former vassals of the Ming, threatened to invade China in 1624. The invasion never happened due to in-fighting between Manchu nobles. However, a famous daoyin (导引) breathing and stretching manual called the Tendon-Changing Classic (易筋) was published in response to this threat. One of two prefaces claimed that Yue Fei had gained his great military prowess from practicing the exercise as a child. My research suggests the author, a Daoist priest, wrote this because he wanted to make the patriotic claim that practicing the exercise would give the Chinese people the strength necessary to face the nomads like it had done for the general. This may not seem important at first glance, but Yue’s mention led to numerous weapons and boxing styles, as well as daoyin exercises being attributed to him. The earliest attributed style, Yue Family Boxing (岳家拳), is an obvious nod to the general’s famous fighting unit. Following the Manchu invasion in 1644 and the founding of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Chinese rebels used such martial arts in their struggles against their foreign rulers.

His mention in the manual actually led to his association with the famous Shaolin Temple. The way this happened is that the author, the aforementioned Daoist priest, mentioned in the first preface that the manual had originally been written by the monk Bodhidharma (Damo), the semi-mythic progenitor of Chan (Zen) Buddhism. There was a trend in Daoist literature going back to the 12th-century to attribute such works to famous holy men, Bodhidharma being one of them. And since the second preface claimed Yue Fei had learned the Tendon-Changing breathing and stretching exercise from an unnamed monk, he became associated with Shaolin. The manual was written before Shaolin became famous for their unarmed boxing. They were historically famous for their skill with spears and staves. As I mentioned above, it was only after the founding of the Qing Dynasty that boxing styles started to be attributed to Yue. This solidified his image as a disciple of Shaolin. This directly influenced Zhou Tong being associated with the temple.

Zhou is historically obscure. The Yue Family memoir written by Yue’s grandson only mentions that Zhou was a local hero, taught archery to numerous children in Yue’s village, and that his death was very hard on the future general. The details of his life were later embellished with the publishing of the folklore biography The Story of Yue Fei in 1684. The novel presents him as an elderly widower, a father who has survived his son killed in combat, and a former hero from Shaanxi province. The highly popular fictional characters Lin Chong (林沖) and Lu Junyi (卢俊义) from the famous novel Water Margin (水浒传) are counted among his former pupils (some scholars consider the novel about Yue to be a continuation of the Water Margin because it shares so many characters). Zhou is hired to teach both literary and martial arts to the children of a rich landowner. He eventually takes Yue Fei, the son of the household’s maid, as his last student and adopted son. He teaches Yue both archery and spearplay, thus the person who historically taught the latter skill to Yue is never included in the folklore. The second style to ever be attributed to Yue Fei is Mind-Form boxing (形意拳). An 18th-century manual on the style claims that the general had created it based on spear movements taught to him by an unnamed master. Martial artists connected this unnamed master with the unnamed monk from the second preface of the Tendon-Changing Classic. And since Zhou was known in fiction to have taught him spearplay, they just assumed he was this master and that he was a Shaolin monk. I believe the first style to claim Zhou was a Shaolin monk who taught Yue martial arts in the temple is Eagle Claw (鹰爪派). Although its techniques go back to at least the Ming, the style itself doesn’t predate the late 19th- or early 20th-century.
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09-06-2013, 02:22 PM
RE: General Yue Fei
Several members have probably seen my thread on the novel Journey to the West (1592) in the casual coffeehouse sub-forum. Given my interest in the novel and Yue Fei, it should come as no surprise that I was delighted to find that the main character Sun Wukong, an immortal monkey demon-turned-Buddhist monk, and the general met each other in Ming dynasty fiction. A brief addendum to the aforementioned novel entitled A Supplement to the Journey to the West (1641) has Sun Wukong trapped in a dream world where he travels through time and space. It is in the Song dynasty (960-1279) where he meets Yue Fei. What follows is an excerpt from an article I wrote on the novel:

Quote:Shortly thereafter some junior devils appear and tell him that King Yama has recently died of an illness and that Monkey must take his place as judge of the dead until a suitable replacement can be found. He ends up judging the fate of the recently deceased Prime Minister Qin Hui. Monkey puts Qin through a series of horrific tortures, after which a demon uses its magic breath to blow his broken body back into its proper form. He finally sends a demon to heaven to retrieve a powerful magic gourd that sucks anyone who speaks before it inside and melts them down into a bloody stew. He uses this for Qin's final punishment. Meanwhile, Monkey invites the ghost of Yue Fei to the underworld and takes him as his third master. He entertains Yue until Qin has been reduced to liquid and offers the general a cup of the Prime Minister's "blood wine." Yue, however, refuses on the grounds that drinking it would sully his soul. Monkey then does an experiment where he makes a junior devil drink of the wine. Sometime later, the devil, apparently under the evil influence of the blood wine, murders his personal religious teacher and escapes into the "gate of ghosts," presumably being reborn into another existence. Yue Fei then takes his leave to return to his heavenly abode. Monkey sends him off with a huge display of respect by making all of the millions of denizens of the underworld kowtow before him.

I just find it neat that Sun Wukong takes Yue has his master.
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09-06-2013, 04:49 PM
RE: General Yue Fei
(09-06-2013 02:22 PM)ghostexorcist Wrote:  Several members have probably seen my thread on the novel Journey to the West (1592) in the casual coffeehouse sub-forum. Given my interest in the novel and Yue Fei, it should come as no surprise that I was delighted to find that the main character Sun Wukong, an immortal monkey demon-turned-Buddhist monk, and the general met each other in Ming dynasty fiction. A brief addendum to the aforementioned novel entitled A Supplement to the Journey to the West (1641) has Sun Wukong trapped in a dream world where he travels through time and space. It is in the Song dynasty (960-1279) where he meets Yue Fei. What follows is an excerpt from an article I wrote on the novel:

Quote:Shortly thereafter some junior devils appear and tell him that King Yama has recently died of an illness and that Monkey must take his place as judge of the dead until a suitable replacement can be found. He ends up judging the fate of the recently deceased Prime Minister Qin Hui. Monkey puts Qin through a series of horrific tortures, after which a demon uses its magic breath to blow his broken body back into its proper form. He finally sends a demon to heaven to retrieve a powerful magic gourd that sucks anyone who speaks before it inside and melts them down into a bloody stew. He uses this for Qin's final punishment. Meanwhile, Monkey invites the ghost of Yue Fei to the underworld and takes him as his third master. He entertains Yue until Qin has been reduced to liquid and offers the general a cup of the Prime Minister's "blood wine." Yue, however, refuses on the grounds that drinking it would sully his soul. Monkey then does an experiment where he makes a junior devil drink of the wine. Sometime later, the devil, apparently under the evil influence of the blood wine, murders his personal religious teacher and escapes into the "gate of ghosts," presumably being reborn into another existence. Yue Fei then takes his leave to return to his heavenly abode. Monkey sends him off with a huge display of respect by making all of the millions of denizens of the underworld kowtow before him.

I just find it neat that Sun Wukong takes Yue has his master.

I've been planning to write a paper for some time that discusses their interaction in Ming fiction and later martial arts legends, as well as the similarities with their literary antecedents. I mentioned earlier that Yue was cast in his 1684 folklore biography as being the reincarnation of Garuda, who sat atop the Buddha's throne. He was, according to the story, exiled from heaven for killing a celestial bat for--no joke--farting during one of the Buddha's sermons. Well, it turns out this depiction of Garuda was actually borrowed from Journey to the West, which predates Yue's novel by over 90 years. Garuda is presented as a man-eating demon as old as the universe and the Buddha's spiritual great uncle. He is so powerful that Sun Wukong has to enlist the aid of the Buddha. The Buddha tricks the demon into landing on top of his throne through the power of illusion and takes away his ability to fly.

Practitioners of a Emei Dapeng qigong (峨嵋大鵬氣功) claim that this style of breathing and stretching exercise was taught to Yue by Zhou Tong’s friend, an unnamed monk, and that this was the source of his martial prowess (an obvious nod to the Tendon-Changing Classic). Yue’s novel mentions Zhou taking him and his other students to meet a Buddhist priest on some mountain. This is who I think the practitioners have connected the “unnamed monk” with. They further borrow from the novel by saying the name of the style comes from Yue’s past reincarnation as a great bird (dapeng) that was so powerful that not even Sun Wukong could defeat him.

As some of you may know, Garuda is originally a Hindu deity. One popular critic of Chinese fiction suggests that Yue and Garuda were connected based on the similarities with their names. Yue’s “courtesy name” was Pengju (鵬舉), while Garuda’s Chinese name (appearing in various sutras) is Great Peng, the Golden-Winged Illumination King (大鵬金翅明王). Apart from this, both are portrayed as being fiercely loyal to their mothers and enemies of dragons/nagas in their respective literature. In his novel, Yue is saved (from a flood), raised, and educated by his mother. Therefore, he basically worships the ground she walks on. She is the one that gives him is famous (albeit historically dubious) tattoo “serve the country with utmost loyalty” (尽忠报国). As for dragons, his exile from heaven actually serves a dual purpose. He is sent to earth to battle an evil red dragon that has reincarnated as the leader of the Jurchen armies. Garuda goes on a great quest to retrieve an immortal elixir to ransom his mother, who has been enslaved by his aunt, mother of the nagas (giant serpents). Hindu lore and art often portrays him eating nagas.

Modern scholarship has shown that Sun Wukong is roughly based on the Hindu monkey deity Hanuman. He is a prominent character in the ancient holy book/novel the Ramayana (c. 4th cent. BCE). Hanuman and Sun Wukong share similar magic powers, fighting ability, and weapons. How the former influenced the latter is very complicated, just know that bits and pieces of the Ramayana trickled into China via Buddhist sutras from the north and Hindu converts from Southeast Asia in the south. Both Hanuman and Sun Wukong are portrayed as being fiercely loyal to their masters. Hanuman is instrumental in retrieving Sita, the wife of his master Rama, from the clutches of an evil demon named Ravana. Sun Wukong escorts and protects his master, the monk Xuanzang, from demons during their journey to India.

What’s ultimately interesting about Garuda and Hanuman is that they are both loyal servants of the God Vishnu. Garuda is Vishnu’s mount that he rides through the skies. As mentioned, Hanuman is the servant of Rama, who is the 7th reincarnation of Vishnu.
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