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Steadfast Warriors: Women of the Yang Clan

Updated on March 2, 2016

Steadfast Warriors: Women of the Yang Clan

Chinese history is filled with fantastical exploits of warrior families and their amazing warrior women, and among the most popular stories is that of the legendary Yang clan … and while the historical events have been highly fictionalized over the years, they’re still too awesome to ignore!

Mu Guiying

Mu Guiying (PD-Art)
Mu Guiying (PD-Art) | Source

Mu Guiying: Rebel Leader

Mu Guiying (also known as Liu Chin Ting) was a typical Northern Tartar girl: the daughter of a bandit, she rode horses, hunted, and learned martial arts alongside her brothers. She dreamt of the day when her people would be free of the rule of the oppressive Sung emperor of China, and she was determined to see that day come. Training hard, she became an amazingly skilled fighter, strategist and leader, and at the age of 16 led a successful defense of her family’s mountain territory against their enemies, who were so frightened of her skill that they believed her to be the reincarnation of a war goddess.

If any rumors of Mu Guiying’s possibility divinity reached the emperor, he wasn’t impressed, and sent the young General Yang Zongbao, son of famous general Yang Yanzhao I, and his army to crush Guiying’s rebellion and capture an item known as the Dragon-Taming Wood from her stronghold Muke Fortress.

Guiying’s forces craftily outmaneuvered the Chinese army and Guiying herself dueled with and captured General Yang after refusing to relinquish the Dragon-Taming Wood. Guiying initially sentenced General Yang to be executed, but she was drawn to his handsomeness, and Yang couldn’t help but be impressed and fascinated by this young woman warrior. Soon they fell in love and Guiying proposed to Zongbao.

Mu Guiying Beijing Opera House

Mu Guiying Beijing Opera House
Mu Guiying Beijing Opera House | Source

General Yang’s father was outraged when he heard of his son’s marriage to the rebel Mu Guiying and ordered Yang’s execution for treason. Realizing what was about to happen, Mu Guiying rushed out of her fortress, fought and captured Yangzhao I, saving her husband’s life. She apologized to her displeased father-in-law and offered to capture the city of Yangchow for him if he spared General Yang Zongbao’s life. Intrigued, the elder Yang agreed—and was astounded when Guiying, leading her forces and the Chinese army, handily captured the city. The Sung emperor was so impressed that he paid Mu Guiying a general’s commission. For the next thirty years with her husband Zongbao as second in command, Mu Guiying led the Imperial Army, capturing new territories for the emperor she once despised. Together they had two children: a son Wenguang and daughter Jinhua. After Zongbao had been killed in a battle against the Western Xia tribes, Mu Guiying gathered all of the women of the Yang clan and launched an attack on their enemies to avenge his death.

(Interesting side fact: the Mu Guiying crater on the planet Venus is named for her.)

She Saihua Beijing Opera House

She Saihua Beijing Opera House
She Saihua Beijing Opera House | Source

She Saihua: Grandmother General

Mu Guiying wasn’t the only famous woman warrior in the Yang clan. Yang Zongbao’s great-grandmother She Saihua was already a famous warrior and general, living past 100 and was formally known as She Taijun (Dowager She). As a girl, Saihua was betrothed to General Yang Ye of the Northen Han, but her father changed his mind and instead betrothed her to powerful Cui Long. Saihua hated Cui Long and secretly sent a message to Yang Ye to alert him of her father’s plans. Yang Ye rushed to Saihua’s home and confronted Cui Long, challenging him to a duel. Yang Ye won, but in the process accidentally wounded She Saihua’s father. Saihua was outraged and attacked Ye, driving him into the Seven Star Temple, where he frantically explained to her that it had only been an accident, nothing intentional. They were soon married, and Saihua produced seven sons and two daughters by Ye.

When Emperor Taizong tried to invade the Northern Han territory, She Saihua and Yang Ye led their forces to rebuff the attack, and She Saihua injured Pan Renmai, the head Sung general with an arrow. Seeing that he could not win by force, Emperor Taizong spread rumors among the Northern Han generals, causing them to distrust and fight one another. Their forces weakened, Ye and Saihua reluctantly surrendered, but the emperor rewarded Ye by making him a general in the Imperial army.

Years later, Yang Ye and several of his sons died fighting during the Battle of the Golden Beach and Mount Twin Wolves because General Pan Mei, who hated the Yang family, refused to send back up. Saihua successfully persecuted Pan Mei in court, and Emperor Taizong made Saihua commander in chief of the Imperial Army, awarding her the Dragon Head Cane, a symbol of the emperor, to show that she had absolute control of the male-dominate army.

Yang Peifeng: Mighty Maid

Shortly after She Saihua’s appointment as commander in chief, her grandson Yang Yanzhao II heard that two of his generals—who were also his sisters—were surrounded by enemies in a mountain pass. He asked She Saihua for help, and she suggested that they send in the young maid Yang Peifeng. Yanzhao was thrilled with the idea—until he realized that Peifeng really was a maid in their household, an orphan who had adopted the Yang family name and secretly learned martial arts from the Yang family while wielding a metal rod used for tending fires. His reluctance evaporated when he discovered how serious the situation was for his sisters and their army and he sent Peifeng and a small force of soldiers in. Peifeng led a successful sneak attack, saving the generals. It wasn’t until later that Yang Yanzhao II learned that both her grandmother and great-grandmother were Sung generals … and that her maternal grandmother was none other than Mu Guiying herself.

Women of the Yang Clan works cited:

Women Warriors, by David E. Jones

“Mu Guiying,”

“She Saihua,”

Women of the Yang Clan:


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