Song Xiang Gong

Character Profile

Song Zifu (? -He was the 20th ruler of the state of Song during the Spring and Autumn Period. He was one of the Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn Period, the first son of Duke Huan of Song and the father of Duke Cheng of Song. After the death of Duke Huan of Qi, the state of Qi was in a state of civil unrest, and Duke Xiang of Song led four states, including Wei, Cao and Qi, to fight against Qi. Song Xiang Duke was very ambitious and wanted to inherit the hegemony of Duke Huan of Qi and compete with Chu, but he was once detained by Chu. In 638 B.C., Song Xiang Duke invaded Zheng and fought the battle of Hong Shui with the Chu troops who rescued Zheng. The battle was fought against the Chu troops, but the Chu troops were so strong that the Duke of Song had to wait for the Chu troops to cross the river and form up before fighting.


Early Experience

Portrait of Gong Song Xiang

He was the second son of Duke Song Huan, the ruler of the Spring and Autumn Period, and was born to Lady Song Huan (the daughter of Wei Zhaobo and Xuan Jiang), who was the first son. Zifu also had a concubine brother, Muyi, whose mother was a concubine of ordinary status, so Muyi was the concubine son and Zifu was made the prince as the first son.

The Beauty of the Kingdom

In the first year of King Xiang of Zhou (652 B.C.), Zifu’s father, Duke Huan of Song, became seriously ill. According to the first-born son succession system at that time, Zifu should have been the successor, but Zifu pleaded before his father to give up the crown prince to his concubine brother, Muyi, and said, “Muyi is older than me and is loyal and benevolent, so please make Muyi the king of the country.” So, Duke Huan of Song told Zifu’s idea to Muyi, who refused to accept the crown prince, saying, “Isn’t it the greatest benevolence to give the country to me? Even if I am benevolent, I can’t catch up with my younger brother! Besides, it was not in accordance with the system to abolish the first and establish the second”. In order to avoid his brother’s surrender, Mu Yi fled to Wei, and Zifu’s crown prince position was not given up.

The Eastern Palace

In the spring of the second year of King Xiang’s reign (651 B.C.), Duke Huan of Song died and Prince Zifu was crowned as Duke Xiang of Song. The Duke appointed his concubine brother Meiyi as his minister, who was in charge of the military and political power and assisted him in handling the court affairs. Before he was buried, Duke Huan of Qi asked all the lords and kings to meet at Kwai Qiu to make an alliance. At the meeting in Kwai Qiu, Song Xiang Gong accepted the alliance. The main points of the covenant were: not to bring water disasters to other countries; not to refuse to sell food to other countries because of a famine; not to change the prince; not to replace his wife with a concubine; and not to involve women in state affairs. At the meeting of Kwai Qiu, Duke Song Xiang accepted the mandate of Duke Huan of Qi to take care of Prince Zhaoge (later Duke Xiao of Qi) of Qi and promised to take care of him in the future.

Purging the Qi Rebellion

In the ninth year of King Xiang of Zhou (643 BC), Duke Huan of Qi fell seriously ill and the five princes of Qi (Duke Wu Huan, Duke Zhaoge, Duke Pan, Duke Yuan, and Duke Merchant) each led his party to fight for the throne. On the seventh day of the tenth month of winter, Duke Huan of Qi died of starvation. The five princes attacked each other and the state of Qi was in chaos. The corpse of Duke Huan was left in bed for sixty-seven days, and corpse worms crawled out from the corpse. It was only at the beginning of the next year that the newly appointed ruler of Qi, Wu Wei, put the body of Duke Huan in his coffin. Prince Zhao of Qi fled to Song and asked for help from Duke Xiang of Song. Although Song was very weak at that time, Duke Song Xiang did his best to help Prince Zhaoge return to Qi to assume the throne, as Duke Huan of Qi had entrusted him with the care of the prince before his death. In the tenth year of King Xiang of Zhou (642 B.C.), the lords of all countries received a notice from Duke Song Xiang asking them to jointly escort Prince Zhaoge to Qi to take over the throne. However, the call of Duke Song Xiang was not very strong, and most of the lords set aside the notice from Song, but only three small states, Wei, Cao and Qi, sent some men. The nobles of Qi had sympathy for Duke Zhaoge, and not knowing the strength of the Song army, they killed Wu Hao and Zong Diao, drove away Yi Ya, and welcomed Duke Zhaoge back to the country at the capital Linzi. After his return, Duke Zhaoge became the ruler of the kingdom and became the Duke of Qi. Duke Xiang became famous for this.

Prince Zhao (kneeling on the right) asks Duke Song Xiang (sitting on the left) for help

Seeking domination

After the death of Duke Huan of Qi, the throne of the lords became vacant, and Duke Xiang of Song wanted to follow the example of Duke Huan of Qi by uniting the lords and establishing his hegemony. He was advised by Meiyi, who said, “It is a curse to join the lords with the power of a small state.” Duke Xiang did not listen. In the eleventh year of King Xiang (641 BC), Duke Xiang of Song detained Duke Xuan of Teng and invited Cao and Qi to an alliance in the south of Cao, and then ordered Duke Wen of Qi to take the ruler of Zeng to the outskirts of Sui Shui as a sacrifice, in order to threaten the eastern barbarians into submission. In the fall of the same year, Duke Song Xiang sent troops to besiege the state of Cao because of its disobedience. In the winter of the same year, Duke Mu of Chen invited the lords to renew the goodwill of Duke Huan of Qi, so Chen, Cai, Chu and Zheng allied with each other in Qi. In this way, two major groups of lords were formed: Chu, Qi, Zheng, Chen, and Cai were the major group, while the party of Duke Song Xiang, who was seeking hegemony, only had a few small states such as Wei, Qi, Cao, and Slip.

Discuss serving as an ally

Failure of hegemony

In the spring of the 13th year of King Xiang of Zhou (639 B.C.), Duke Xiang of Song first met with the lords of Qi and Chu at Ludi, and the king of Qi and Chu met together.

without the consent of Qi and Chu. His brother, Duke Meiyi, advised him that Song was a small kingdom and that it would be a disaster for a small kingdom to compete for supremacy, but Duke Xiang refused to listen. But he refused to listen to him. Before he arrived at Yu, Duke Meiyi advised him to take his army with him in case there was a change of heart, for the people of Chu were not trustworthy. The Duke of Song Xiang said, “It was my own idea to bring no army, and I have made an agreement with the Chu people, so how can I not keep my word?” So, Duke Song Xiang went to the meeting without his army. On the appointed day, the kings of Chu, Chen, Cai, Xu, Cao, and Zheng all came, and Chu had ambushed their troops. The king of Chu suddenly ordered his men to seize the duke of Song and bring him back to Chu and imprison him.

The Battle of Hong Shui

When Duke Xiang of Song returned to his country, he heard that Zheng supported King Cheng of Chu as the lord of the lords and decided to attack Zheng. The duke refused to listen to Meiyi who dissuaded him. In the early winter of the 14th year of King Xiang of Zhou (638 B.C.), Duke Song Xiang led an attack against Zheng, and Zheng asked for help from Chu. The state of Chu sent its great general Cheng Duchen to lead an attack on the capital of Song. The two armies met at Hongshui (the ancient name of the river, the former course of which is about northwest of Zhecheng County in present-day Henan Province). The Chu army started to cross the Hong Shui River and rushed towards the Song army. Megui said, “The Chu army is large and our army is small, take advantage of their river crossing to destroy them.” Duke Song Xiang said, “We are known as a benevolent army, how can we take advantage of people crossing the river to attack?” The Chu army crossed the river and began to set up on the bank, and Megui said, It is time to attack. Duke Song Xiang said, “Wait until they have formed their positions.” When the Chu army had set up their military formation, the Chu soldiers charged up and defeated the Song army, and the Duke of Song Xiang was shot in the thigh by the Chu soldiers. When the Song army suffered a defeat and heavy losses, they all blamed the Duke of Song Xiang for not listening to the advice of Duke Muyi, but the Duke of Song Xiang taught, “A gentleman with a benevolent heart does not attack an enemy who has been wounded in battle, and at the same time does not attack an old man whose hair has turned gray. In particular, whenever the ancients fought, they did not win by means of barriers and hazards, and although my Song state is about to be destroyed, I still cannot bear to attack an enemy who has not set up a proper formation.” But Zi Yu said, “What a gentleman’s way to fight a war with the aim of victory! If you really do as you say, Lord Xiang, just go and serve as a slave, why bother to fight?”

The Death of Lord Xiang

After his defeat at the Battle of Hong Shui, Duke Xiang of Song retreated to his palace in Xiangyi, Song to recover from his wounds. In the 14th year of King Xiang of Zhou (638 B.C.), Duke Chong Er of Jin passed through Song. Wanting to receive military assistance from Jin, Duke Xiang of Song listened to Gongsun Ku and gave Chong Er 80 horses. In the summer of the 15th year of King Xiang of Zhou (637 BC), Duke Song died of his wounds and was buried in the northeast palace of Xiangyi (Sui County, Henan Province). His son, Wang Chen, assumed the throne as Duke Cheng of Song.


The Hawk Retreating from the Stone

In the eighth year of King Xiang of Zhou (the seventh year of Duke Xiang of Song, 644 B.C.), a meteorite rain fell in Song with a rainstorm. On another day, some residents unintentionally looked up and saw six hawks (yƬ, the name of a bird) hovering above the palace. A wind blew from afar and picked up speed when it reached the capital of Song, so the six hawks met the wind and retreated. The Duke of Song Xiang thought that the fall of the stone and the retreat of the hawks was a sign of good fortune, so he hired Shu Xing, the internal historian of the Zhou state, to come and ask Shu Xing, “What is the good omen? What are the good and bad omens?” Shu Xing replied, “Now there is a great mourning in the state of Lu, and there will be chaos in the state of Qi, and you, the king, will gain the vassals but not last long.” Shu Xing retired and told the others, “The king of Song asked the wrong question. This matter is a matter of yin and yang, not an auspicious and evil omen.”

Character Evaluation

The Duke of Song Xiang was a controversial figure in history. Praisers considered him to be benevolent, righteous, and faithful, with a noble spirit; critics considered him to be hypocritical and brutal, a typical example of false moralism.

Although Duke Song Xiang was listed as one of the Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn Period by later generations, he actually did not really gain the status of a vassal hegemon. The Hongshui fiasco made posterity laugh at Song Xianggong for a thousand years, but his benevolence and morality are still worthy of praise.

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