Battle of Suiyang

Battle of Suiyang

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Suiyang

caption=Suiyang was in moderm day Shangqiu, Henan
date=757 AD
place=Suiyang, Xingyang
result=Yan victory with great losses in both manpower and time
combatant1=Tang Dynasty
commander1=Zhang Xun, Nan Jiyun, Xu Yuan
commander2=Lee Tingmong, Yang Chaozong, Yin Ziqi
notes=part of the An Shi Rebellion, following the Battle of Yongqiu

The Battle of Suiyang (睢陽之戰) was a battle in Suiyang during the An Shi Rebellion, between An Lushan's Yan army and the Tang army. Although the battle was ultimately won by Yan, it suffered a major loss of manpower and time. It was famous because of the Tang army's determination to fight till the last man, and also because of the cannibalism occurred during the siege.


In January 757AD, An Lushan was killed by his own son An Qingxu (安慶緒). In the same month, An Ching Chu ordered general Yin Ziqi (尹子奇) to besiege Suiyang. Yin Ziqi joined with Yang Chaozong before the siege, with a total army size over 130,000 men. The governor of Suiyang at the time, Xu Yuan (許遠), heard of Zhang Xun's fortress defence abilities in Battle of Yongqiu and asked him for help. Zhang Xun knows that if Suiyang falls, the rest of Tang's territory south of the Yangtze River will the threatened. He agreed to help immediately.


The Beginning

The united army of Zhang Xun and Xu Yuan, around 7,000 men, prepared to defend Suiyang with their lives. Xu Yuan focus on supplies management and after battle repairs. Zhang Xun, on the other hand, focus on battle tactics.

Despite daily sieges by the Yan army, the Tang soldiers never let up. Once again, Zhang Xun plays war drums during the night, and act like they are going to fight. The Yan army were forced to stand guard during the night, and lack of sleep and rest followed. Eventually, some troops do not bother to put on their armor anymore when they hear these battle drums,and carried on sleeping. When the Yan army let up their defences, Zhang Xun ambushed them very successfully.

Zhang Xun had long wanted to give the Yan morale a major blow, and the best way to do this would be to hurt or kill the Yan general Yin Ziqi. But the problem is, he had no idea how Yin Ziqi looked like, not to mention he would be in a mix of soldiers. He order his troops to shoot weeds, instead of arrows, at a few enemies. When these few Yan soldiers noticed that they got shot by weeds, hence were not killed, they were overjoyed. They ran to Yin Ziqi immediately to report that the Tang army had already ran out of arrows. Zhang Xun immediately ordered his best archers to shoot at Yin Ziqi. One such arrow hit Yin Ziqi in his left eye, throwing the Yan army instantly into chaos. The siege ended with a major blow to the Yan morale.

After 16 days of siege and ambush, Yan had already lost 20,000 men. Yin Ziqi decided that his army is too tired to fight, so he ordered a temporary retreat to regroup. Yin Ziqi returned to besiege Suiyang two months later, with an additional 20,000 fresh troops.

Originally, Xu Yuan had prepared for the upcoming battle by storing 1 year of food supply inside of Suiyang. But the district governor had insisted that he share the large food supply with other nearby fortresses, and hence the food supply became much less than what Xu Yuan originally planned. By July, the Tang soldiers had fallen into a serious food problem. Tang soldiers were given very little amount of rice everyday. If they wanted more food, they would need to settle for animals, inserts, and tree roots.

Yin Ziqi notice the food problem of the Tang army, and hence ordered even more troops to surround Suiyang. He made many siege attempts with siege ladders, but they were all repelled by the determined Tang troops. Yin Ziqi even used hooked pull cart, to try to pull down the towers of the fortress, with limited success. The Tang soldiers were able to destroy the hook of these carts, before major damage was made. But even with the battle success, Zhang Xun knew that with only around 1,600 soldiers left, and most of them sick or hungry, the battle would be lost really soon.

By August, all insects, animals and vegetations had been eaten. Zhang Xun ordered 30 of his best soldiers, including his best soldier captain Nan Jiyun (南霽雲), to break though and ask for help from nearby fortresses. Nan Jiyun and 26 others successfully broke through. However, all nearby local governors refused to offer troops and food supplies. Finally, Nan Zhu Yun ask for help from Helan Jinming (賀蘭進明), governor of the nearby Linhuai (臨淮). Helan had long been jealous of Zhang Xun's abilities. He also wanted to preserve his forces, so he refused to assist Zhang Xun. Instead, he offered Nan Jiyun a large feast, to try to convince him to join his ranks. Nan replied, "The reason why I risked my life to come here is because the local civilians and my comrades have no food to eat for over a month. How can I eat such a huge feast when I know what my comrades are facing? Although I failed my mission, I will leave a finger with you, as evidence that I did come here." Immediately after, Nan Jiyun cut off (or, in some versions, bit off) one of his own fingers. He then rode away.

Nam Zhu Yun 's bravery finally convinced a local governor Lian Huan (廉垣) to lend 3,000 soldiers to him. Both of them fought their way though the Yan ranks back into Suiyang. Fighting though the numerous Yan army was damaging, and only about 1,000 of the soldiers from the outside made it inside the fortress.

The Tang soldiers, numbering about 1,600 totally, in hunger and with no chance of outside help, felt into despair. Almost everyone tried to convince Zhang Xun to surrender, or find some way of escape south. Zhang Xun and Xu Yuan discussed this, and Xu Yuan concluded, "If Suiyang falls, Yan will be free to conquer the rest of southern China. And to top it off, most of our soldiers are too tired and hungry to run. The only choice we have left is to defend for as long as possible, and hope that a nearby governor will come and help us." Zhang Xun agreed with him. Zhang Xun announced to his remaining troops, "The nearby governors might be inelegant, but we cannot be disloyal. Another day that we can hold out is another day for the rest for Tang to prepare defences. We will fight till the very end."


At this time, there was a severe food shortage in besieged Suiyang. The Old Book of Tang says:

尹子奇攻圍既久,城中糧盡,易子而食,析骸而爨,人心危恐,慮將有變。巡乃出其妾,對三軍殺之,以饗軍士。曰:“諸公為國家戮力守城,一心無二,經年乏食,忠義不衰。巡不能自割肌膚,以啖將士,豈可惜此婦,坐視危迫。”將士皆泣下,不忍食,巡強令食之。乃括城中婦人;既盡,以男夫老小繼之,所食人口二三萬,人心終不離變。 [ [ 舊唐書 列傳第一百三十七 忠義下] ]

(Yin Ziqi had besieged the city for a long time. The food in the city had run out. The dwellers traded their children to eat and cooked bodies of the dead. Fears were spread and worse situations were expected. At this time, Zhang Xun took his concubine out and killed her in front of his soldiers in order to feed them. He said, "You have been working hard at protecting this city for the counrty wholeheartedly. Your loyalty is uncompromised despite of the long-lasting hunger. Since I can not cut out my own flesh to feed you, how can I keep this woman and just ignore the dangerous situation?" All the soldiers cried, and they did not want to eat. Zhang Xun ordered them to eat the flesh. Afterwards, they caught the women in the city. After the women were run out, they turned to old and young males. 20,000 to 30,000 people were eaten. People always remained loyal.)

Xu Yuan also killed his servants, which was recorded in The New Book of Tang:

...遠亦殺奴僮以哺卒... [ [ 新唐書 列傳第一百一十七 忠義中] ]

(...(Xu) Yuan also killed servants to feed the soldiers...)

An explanation for people still staying loyal is accounted in The New Book of Tang:

被圍久,初殺馬食,既盡,而及婦人老弱凡食三萬口。人知將死,而莫有畔者。城破,遺民止四百而已。 [ [ 新唐書 列傳第一百一十七 忠義中] ]

(After the city was besieged for a long time, at the beginning, the horses were eaten. After horses were run out, they turned to the women, the old, and the young. 30,000 people in total were eaten. People knew their death was close, and nobody rebelled. When the city fell, only 400 people were left.)

It was possible that all dead soldiers and civilians were also eaten after this incident.

The Fall of Suiyang

The Tang soldiers fought bravely until early October. Finally, with less than 400 men alive, and the men without even the strength to shoot arrows, Suiyang fell to the Yan army. Zhang Xun said before the fall, "We are out of strength, and can no longer defend the fortress. Although we have failed the emperor in life, we hope to keep killing enemies after death."

Zhang Xun, Nan Jiyun and Hui Yuan were all captured. Yin Ziqi asked,"I heard that every time you fight, you open your eyelids until they rip, and you bite your teeth until they crack. Why do you do that?" Zhang Xun answered", I want to eat you traitors alive. The damages to my eyes and teeth are nothing." Yin Ziqi used a dagger to hold open Zhang Xun 's mouth, and to his surprise, all but three of Zhang Xun 's teeth were indeed cracked. Zhang Xun finally said, "I die for my emperor, so I will die in peace."

Yin Ziqi admired Zhang Xun's bravery and commanding abilities. But no matter how hard he tried, Zhang Xun would not join the Yan ranks, neither would Nan Jiyun and Xu Yuan. At the end, fearing further dangers, Yin killed all 3 men, along with 33 other loyal elite soldiers.


Zhang Xun was able to repel many overwhelming Yan sieges, with less than 10,000 soldiers during each battle. Because of Zhang Xun's determination, the resource-laden southern China was not under threat from the rebels for almost 2 years. With such a large Yan army held at bay, Tang was able to use the resources to gather more troops for combat. This gave Tang enough time to regroup and strike back at Yan.

To Yan, although they finally won this conflict, the losses were enormous. Before the Battles of Yongqiu and Suiyang, Yan was set to conquer all of the Tang Dynasty. Their total army size, across the whole country, was well over 300,000 men, greatly outnumbering what the Tang army could have offered at the time. After these two battles, however, the tide had turned and the Tang army held the upper hand in both manpower and equipment. If Yan had conquered the whole Suiyang district even one year earlier, the Tang Dynasty might have ended by 757AD.

History has it that, just 3 days after the fall of Suiyang, a large imperial Tang army arrived to reinforce Suiyang. Unfortunately, Suiyang had already fallen. Nevertheless, Tang retook Suiyang in 4 days, only 7 days after the fall of Suiyang. And an additional 10 days later, Luoyang was retaken by Tang forces. It was all downhill for the Yan Dynasty from that point on.


*Many historians are puzzled by the lack of support the Tang Dynasty gave to Zhang Xun, even though he was very successful in the battle. If Tang had given Suiyang support just a week before the fall of the fortress, Zhang Xun might not have died. It was possible that many local governors believed that, if Yan finally defeated Tang, they could still maintain their power by surrendering to Yan. One of the most successful Yan policies was that, they were extremely friendly to newly surrendered Tang governors. On the other hand, Yan was extremely brutal to governors who fought against them. This policy was one of the main reason why Yan was able to raise such a large army and had so much supplies. In at least one incident, an imperial order was given to a local governor, to send troops to assist Zhang Xun, which was ignored by the governor. This governor was later punished by death.
*Another debate was over Zhang Xun's refusal to surrender. Some argued that, when the Tang army ran out of food supplies near July 757AD, they should have surrendered. That would prevent the cannibalism that happened later on. On the other hand, some argued that Zhang Xun made the correct choice, to delay the Yan army for as long as he can. They believed that his only mistake was wrongly believing that the other Tang governors, or even the imperial guards, would give him support much earlier than October.

External links

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