Ten Ancient Chinese Women Warriors

 January 12, 2011

Women have fought on the battlefield since the age of cold weaponry. Although their presence has added color to war, destiny has been no kinder to them than to their fellow men warriors.

We look here at the ten most admired women warriors of ancient China.

Fu Hao

Fu Hao was the wife of Emperor Wu Ding of the later Shang Dynasty (1300-1046 BCE). Her battlefield exploits are recorded on 200 of the 17,000 tortoise shells unearthed in 1936 in Anyang, Henan Province.

Fu Hao was of immense help in battles against the hostile peoples that surrounded Shang territory. She conscripted soldiers from within her own kingdom and from neighboring states, and was among the generals that led an army of ten thousand in an epoch-making battle.

Fu Hao has the distinction of being buried in a tomb of her own, rather than beside her husband Emperor Wu Ding, as was the feudal tradition.


Xun Guan

Xun Guan lived in the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316). Her father Xun Song, was the governor of Xiangyang. Du Zeng, one of his officials, staged a revolt and surrounded Xiangyang city, threatening to kill Xun Song and those loyal to him. Citizens of Xiangyang helped Xun Song's army to defend the city, but as the battle raged, army provisions dwindled. The only solution was to break through the surrounding enemy forces and ride to neighboring Pingnan to ask Xun's ally General Shi Lan for reinforcements. But seemingly impenetrable forces encased the city.

After two days no one had volunteered, and Xun Song himself prepared to carry out this mission. His 13-year-old daughter Xun Guan, however, insisted that his people needed him and that he should let her try. Xun Song knew his daughter was adept at martial arts but nevertheless feared she would perish in this valiant attempt to save Xiangyang and its people. Xun Guan's brilliant strategy, however, convinced him.

Xun Guan had noticed that the enemy's defenses slackened at night after a day's hard battle. She proposed leading a crack team of soldiers to break through their lines when they least expected it.

That night, Xun Guan and over a dozen warriors rode out of the city and successfully broke through the enemy ranks as they slept. Upon arriving at Pingnan she informed General Shi Lan of the desperate situation in Xianyang and asked for his help. But Shi Lan doubted his troops were sufficient to help Xun Song defeat his enemies, and suggested asking General Zhou Fang for more reinforcements. Xun Guan addressed a letter to General Zhou on behalf of her father.

Xun Guan wrote: "If Xiangyang loses ground, the treacherous army will also threaten the safety of our neighbors. Your city will be the first to be attacked. I ask on behalf of my father Xun Song, that the General send his troops along with those of General Shi Lan to help Xiangyang defeat Du Zeng's army and so safeguard your city."

The letter convinced Zhou Fang to send his son as head of a force of three thousand soldiers to advance, in tandem with Shi Lan's troops, on the armies surrounding Xiangyang.

When the two armies arrived, Xun Song led his troops out of the city and Du Zeng's army was attacked from both directions, forcing Du to retreat.

The troops and people of Xiangyang were thus saved. Xun Song expressed gratitude to Generals Shi Lan and Zhou Fang. Holding Xun Guan's hand, Shi Lan told Xun Song: "You daughter is clever and brave. I am envious of you!" Zhou Fang added:  "Xiangyang is no longer under siege and the people are saved. Respect and thanks to young Xun Guan!"


Mao, Wife of Fudeng

Fudeng was grandson of Fujian, Emperor of Qian Qin Dynasty (351-394). When Fujian died, Fudeng led the remaining troops in battle against Yao Chang, the country's enemy. Fudeng's beautiful wife Mao was an accomplished horsewoman and archer. She fought heroically after Yao Chang's troops surrounded her army, shooting with her bow 700 enemy soldiers. Outnumbered, she was captured by the enemy Yao Chang, who admired her beauty and wanted her as his wife. When Mao refused, Yao Cheng executed her.


Hua Mulan

Hua Mulan's story is known throughout China. Practiced in martial arts since childhood, Hua Mulan lived during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-557). She disguised herself as a boy to save her ageing father from being conscripted to fight the northern nomads that threatened Northern Wei borders. She endured the hardships of war while in disguise, and her bravery in battle was a contributing factor to her army's victory. Hua Mulan is the most respected of historical Chinese heroines.

The animated Walt Disney feature, Mulan, of 1998 was a box office hit throughout the world.

The ancient literary tale Mulan Ci appears in Chinese school textbooks. Hua Mulan's story becomes artists' creative source for cultural productions of various sorts.

This heroine has been immortalized in the schools, railway stations and hotels named after her. There is also a Hua Mulan militia troop in Yucheng County, a Hua Mulan Martial Arts Association and a Hua Mulan troupe of drummers and dragon dancers in Shang Qiu in Henan Province. Obeisance is commonly made to the young heroine at grand temple fairs on her birthday, which is the eighth day of the fourth month on the Chinese lunar calendar.

Mulan Ci is the only existing literary account of Hua Mulan's story. Historians differ over her exact dates of birth and death. There are records of the existence of Mulan under different surnames, including Han Mulan, Wei Mulan and Ren Mulan. All portray her as a courageous warrior.


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