Emperor Taizu of Song (21 March 927 – 14 November 976), personal name Zhao Kuangyin(赵匡胤), courtesy name Yuanlang, was the founder and first emperor of the Song dynasty in China. He reigned from 960 until his death in 976. Formerly a distinguished military general of the Later Zhou dynasty, Emperor Taizu came to power after staging a coup d’état and forcing Emperor Gong, the last Later Zhou ruler, to abdicate the throne in his favour.

During his reign, Emperor Taizu conquered the states of Southern Tang, Later Shu, Southern Han and Jingnan, thus reunifying most of China proper and effectively ending the tumultuous Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. To strengthen his control, he lessened the power of military generals and relied on civilian officials in administration. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Zhao Kuangyi (Emperor Taizong).

Coup at Chen Bridge

In 960, word reached the chancellor Fan Zhi that Northern Han and Liao dynasties were once again allied to invade them again. Without verifying the reliability of the hearsay, Fan Zhi sent Zhao Kuangyin to combat the alliance. After traveling 40 li, there was a clamour that a “prophet” saw two suns fighting, and that this meant the transfer of the Mandate of Heaven to Zhao Kuangyin. The story effectively spread around the army: there came discontent of the “command” of the young emperor and a shift of loyalty to Zhao. A few days later, when Zhao Kuangyin was drunk in his tent, all the troops had not slept the whole night; they got their weapons and started yelling. Zhao Pu and Zhang Kuangyi, who were guarding the tent, saw the situation and went into the tent to wake up Zhao Kuangyin. When Zhao Kuangyin came out, all the troops yelled, “The army is without a master, we are willing to make the general the new emperor.” Allegedly, Zhao Kuangyin took the power reluctantly, only under the urging of his soldiers. The midnight mutiny of officers forcibly urged Zhao Kuangyin to the throne; but, when the officers presented him to the troops as their new commander-in-chief he refused the imperial nomination until they swore unconditional obedience to him as leader. News of the rebellion soon reached the court and chaos erupted. The only person who thought about a resistance was Han Tong, but he was killed by one of Zhao Kuangyin’s generals when he reached home.

Upon entering the capital to take his seat on the throne, Zhao Kuangyin made an executive order prohibiting the troops from looting the city or otherwise violating the rights of the population.

With the gate open for Zhao Kuangyin, he became emperor with no resistance. Before the chancellor Fan Zhi could say anything, one of Zhao Kuangyin’s generals pointed a sword at him and said, “We are without masters. Today, we must have an emperor.” After the officials looked at each other and knew it was hopeless to resist, they all bowed down. With the court under control, Zhao Kuangyin was officially proclaimed emperor. The new dynasty’s name, Song, was inspired by the army Zhao Kuangyin commanded in Song Prefecture.

After the declaration, Zhao Kuangyin sent the dethroned young emperor Guo Zongxun with his mother to the Western Capital (西京). He personally ordered the Zhao family to receive the Chai family into their family’s care for generations.

In folklore, the story known as “shadows by the candle and sounds from an axe” is very popular and suggests that Emperor Taizu was murdered by his brother, who was after the throne.



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