The Battle of Fei River (淝水之战) was a battle in 383, where Fu Jiān (苻堅) of the Di Former Qin Empire was decisively defeated by the numerically inferior Han Chinese-led army of Eastern Jin.

This battle is famous not only because of its significance in history, but also because it demonstrated the importance of troop training, morale, loyalty and organized battle command. The battle was also significant in that it ensured South China would remain independent until 589 AD, when North China was again under a Han Chinese regime, the Sui Dynasty.

In October 383 the Former Qin forces under Fu Rong captured the important Jin city of Shouyang. Fu Jiān, seeing the possibility of achieving a quick victory, left his main force at Xiangcheng and led 8000 light cavalry to rendezvous with Fu Rong. Fu Jiān sent captured Jin official Zhu Xu as a messenger to try to persuade Xie Shi to surrender.

Instead, Zhu tipped Xie Shi to the fact that the entire Former Qin force had not yet arrived, and that he should try to defeat the advance Former Qin forces to cripple the Former Qin’s campaign.

At Zhu’s suggestion, Xie Xuan and Liu Laozhi led 5000 elite troops to engage the advance Former Qin force and scored a devastating victory, killing 15,000 men. Afterwards, Jin troops were lined up in a wide formation to give the illusion that the Jin forces could match Former Qin’s manpower. Because of the early minor defeats and the Jin formation, Fu Jiān overestimated the amount of Jin forces.

In November 383 the Former Qin troops set up camp west of the Fei River. The Jin forces stopped east of the Fei and could not advance. Xie Xuan sent a messenger to Fu Rong, suggesting that the Former Qin forces retreat slightly west to allow Jin troops to cross the Fei River so that the two armies could engage.

Most Former Qin generals opposed that plan, since maneuvering such a large army in that manner was too complicated for the benefits that might be obtained, especially with so many poorly trained troops. Fu Jiān overruled them, however, planning to attack the Jin army as it was crossing the river to seize a tactical advantage, as the Jin would be split in two. Fu Rong agreed, and ordered a retreat.

The Jin’s tactic of ambush and bribery now paid off. Many soldiers in the Former Qin army began to wonder why a sudden retreat order was given. Already retreating and demoralized, the Former Qin army went into a panic when Zhu Xu raised a cry of “the Qin army has been defeated” and it was routed.

Xie Xuan and generals Xie Yan  and Huan Yi  crossed the river and launched a major assault. The “Qin is Defeated” rumor spread like wildfire, and chaos followed. Fu Rong personally tried to halt the retreat and reorganize his troops, but his horse suddenly fell and he was killed by advancing Jin troops.

The Jin generals noticed the chaotic footprints and wheel marks, and declared that the Former Qin army was not in an organized retreat but was indeed in total disarray. The Jin soldiers continued their pursuit, and the entire Former Qin force collapsed. A large amount of food and supplies were abandoned as Former Qin soldiers tried to escape with their lives. In the ensuing retreat and pursuit, an estimated 70%-80% of the Former Qin troops died from combat, starvation and exposure to the elements.

Legend has it that, as Fu Jiān escaped, he screamed to the sky, “Heaven has annihilated me!”(天亡我也!)

Edited by staff


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