My dear Kacvey,
As you have been invited quite often by a number of your friends to their house for various functions or ceremonies with a strong cachet of Chinese culture and rituals, here is a story from the period of “Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms” 五代十国 (907-960 AD) that you may use to animate the friendly discussions among friends. This part of Chinese history is extracted from the book “Tales from Five Thousand Years of Chinese History” 上下五千年.
During his reign, Emperor Mingzong of Later Tang 后唐明宗 had two great generals: one was his son Li Congke 李从珂 , the other was his son-in-law Shi Jingtang 石敬瑭, the Military Commissioner of Hedong 河东. Both were valiant, skilled fighters, but neither of them was ready to concede ground to the other. In 934 AD, Li Congke acceded to the throne (also known as the last emperor of the Later Tang Dynasty 唐末帝) and the feud between the two families came out into the open.
Li Congke sent tens of thousands of troops against the city of Jinyang 晋阳城 where Shi Jingtang stationed. As Shi Jingtang’s resistance faltered and Jinyang was in imminent danger of falling, his adviser Sang Weihan 桑维翰 had the idea of appealing to the Khitans 契丹 for help. At that time Yelu Deguang 耶律德关 had succeeded his father Yelu Abaoji 耶律阿保机 who had died, as leader of the Khitan Kingdom. Sang Weihan drafted a letter on Shi Jingtang’s behalf, appealing to Yelu Deguang for help and expressing Shi’s readiness to be adopted as a son by the leader of the Khitans. Shi Jingtang further promised that after the Tang army was repelled, he would cede sixteen prefectures north of the Yanmen pass 雁门关 to the Khitans. These prefectures included Youzhou 幽州 and Yunzhou 云州, in the north of modern-day Shanxi 山西 and Hebei 河北.
However, his plan to subordinate himself to the Khitans did not sit well with his generals. His lieutenant Liu Zhiyuan 刘知远 said, “One could argue in favor of appealing to the Khitan chief for help and swearing loyalty to him, but being adopted as a son is a bit too much. Additionally, it is reasonable to promise them gold, silver and jewelry, but you shouldn’t cede territory to him.”
Intent on preserving his own power to the expense of his country, Shi Jingtang turned a deaf ear to Liu Zhuyuan’s argument. He promptly sent Sang Weihan to offer Yelu Deguang these concessions, selling out his country in the process.
Yelu Deguang has always aspired to expand southward, so he was overjoyed at the incredibly favorable concessions offered by Shi Jingtang. He immediately sent 50,000 of his best cavalrymen to relieve the siege of Jinyang. With Shi Jingtang’s troops sallying out of the city wall in coordinated attack, they hemmed in from two sides and routed the Tang forces.
When Yelu Deguang himself later arrived in Jinyang, Shi Jingtang came out of the city gate to greet him, obsequiously calling Yelu Deguang “Father”, despite being ten years older than Yelu Deguang. He humbly asked how the Khitan troops could have ever beaten the Tang army in so short a time, allowing the highly flattered Yelu Deguang to give a glowing account of the prowess of his army. Shi Jingtang appeared duly impressed and expressed his admiration for the Khitans, pleasing Yelu Deguang with his compliments.
After a period of observation, Yelu Deguang finally concluded that Shi Jingtang had indeed cast in his lot with him. He said to Shi, “I haven’t traveled three thousand li to rescue you in vain. I believe you have the bearing and aura to be ruler of the Central Plains. I’ll make you Emperor.”
In false modesty, Shi Jingtang at first declined this offer, but at the urging of his close associates soon accepted it with pleasure. Shortly afterwards, the leader of the Khitans formally proclaimed Shi Jingtang Emperor. Upon his accession Shi Jingtang immediately ceded the sixteen prefectures to the Khitans, as promised.
With the support of the Khitans, Shi Jingtang marched south to attack Luoyang 洛阳. Having suffered repeated defeats at the hand of the Khitans, Li Congke, the last emperor of the Late Tang Dynasty, had lost his will to fight. He spent his days waiting for the end to come, drinking and sobbing. As Shi Jingtang’s troops approached Luoyang, the last Emperor torched his palace, and threw his entire family and then himself into the flames in a collective suicide.
After Shi Jingtang captured Luoyang and overthrew the Later Tang Dynasty, he formally became the emperor of China’s Central Plains. He named his new dynasty, Jin, and established his capital at Bian 汴, giving himself the title of Emperor Gaozu of the Later Jin. In gratitude to Yelu Deguang, the leader of the Khitans, Shi Jingtang wrote a memorial to the Khitan leader, calling him “Father Emperor” 父皇帝 and himself “Son Emperor” 儿皇帝. In addition to an annual tribute to the Khitan court of 300,000 bolts of silk fabrics, on festive occasions Shi Jingtang regularly sent envoys bearing gifts to the Khitan king, his mother, members of the aristocracy and top officials. Whenever any of the Khitan bigwigs was less than satisfied, they would immediately send Shi Jingtang messengers to take him to task, and Shi would unfailingly give abject and reverent apologies. Envoys of the Jin would frequently suffer indignities and insults from the insolent Khitan officials who received them. These humiliating experiences would be recounted back in the capital Bian. The entire Jin court felt the pain of humiliation, except Shi Jingtang, who remained unconcerned and unaffected.
After seven years of being propped up by the Khitans as the “Son Emperor”, Shi Jingtang fell ill and died. His nephew Shi Choggui 石重贵 succeeded him as Emperor Chudi of Later Jin 晋出帝. When Emperor Chudi presented memorials to the king of the Khitans, he called himself “Grandson” 孙儿, but gave no indication that he was their subject. For that reason, Yelu Deguang became offended and sent troops against the Later Jin 后晋.
The troops and people of Later Jin united in their struggle against the invaders, twice repelling the Khitans as they invaded the Central Plains. However, with the help of traitors in the Jin court, the Khitan troops were finally able to march into Bianjing 汴京. They took Emperor Chudi prisoner, and transported him to the Khitan Kingdom. This marked the end of the Later Jin Dynasty.
In 947 AD, Yelu Deguang entered Bianjing and proclaimed himself Emperor of Da Liao 大辽皇帝. That same year, the Khitans had changed their dynasty name to Liao 辽.