Emperor Huizong of Song
Palace portrait of Emperor Huizong, on a hanging scroll, kept in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Emperor of the Song dynasty
Reign23 February 1100 – 18 January 1126
Coronation23 February 1100
PredecessorEmperor Zhezong
SuccessorEmperor Qinzong
BornZhao Ji
7 June 1082
Bianliang, Song dynasty (present-day Kaifeng, Henan, China)
Died4 June 1135(1135-06-04) (aged 52)
Wuguocheng, Jin dynasty (present-day Yilan County, Heilongjiang, China)
Yongyou Mausoleum (永祐陵, in present-day Shaoxing, Zhejiang)
(died 1108)

(died 1131)
Empress Mingda
(died 1113)
Empress Mingjie
(died 1121)
Empress Xianren
(before 1135)
IssueSee § Family
Era dates
Jianzhongjingguo (建中靖國; 1101)
Chongning (崇寧; 1102–1106)
Daguan (大觀; 1107–1110)
Zhenghe (政和; 1111 – October 1118)
Chonghe (重和; November 1118 – February 1119)
Xuanhe (宣和; February 1119 – 1125)
Regnal name
Emperor Jiaozhu Daojun (教主道君皇帝)
Posthumous name
Emperor Tishen Hedao Junlie Xungong Shengwen Rende Xianci Xianxiao (體神合道駿烈遜功聖文仁德憲慈顯孝皇帝) (conferred in 1143)
Temple name
Huizong (徽宗)
DynastySong (Northern Song)
FatherEmperor Shenzong
MotherEmpress Qinci
Emperor Huizong of Song
Literal meaning"Fine/beautiful Ancestor of the Song"
Zhao Ji
Traditional Chinese趙佶
Simplified Chinese赵佶
Duke Hunde
Literal meaningBesotted Duke

Emperor Huizong of Song (7 June 1082 – 4 June 1135), personal name Zhao Ji, was the eighth emperor of the Song dynasty of China and the penultimate emperor of the Northern Song dynasty. He was also a very well-known painter, poet and calligrapher. Born as the 11th son of Emperor Shenzong, he ascended the throne in 1100 upon the death of his elder brother and predecessor, Emperor Zhezong, because Emperor Zhezong's only son died prematurely. He lived in luxury, sophistication and art in the first half of his life. In 1126, when the Jurchen-led Jin dynasty invaded the Song dynasty during the Jin–Song Wars, Emperor Huizong abdicated and passed on his throne to his eldest son, Zhao Huan while Huizong assumed the honorary title of Taishang Huang (or "Retired Emperor"). The following year, the Song capital, Bianjing, was conquered by Jin forces in an event historically known as the Jingkang Incident. Emperor Huizong and Emperor Qinzong and the rest of their family were taken captive by the Jurchens and brought back to the Jin capital, Huining Prefecture in 1128. The Emperor Taizong of Jin, gave the former Emperor Huizong a title, Duke Hunde (literally "Besotted Duke"), to humiliate him. After Zhao Gou, the only surviving son of Huizong to avoid capture by the Jin, declared himself as the dynasty's tenth emperor as Emperor Gaozong, the Jurchens used Huizong, Qinzong, and other imperial family members to put pressure on Gaozong and his court to surrender. Emperor Huizong died in Wuguocheng after spending about nine years in captivity. He, along with his successors, were blamed for the Song dynasty's decline.

Despite his incompetence in administration, Emperor Huizong was known for his promotion of Taoism and talents in poetry, painting, calligraphy and music. He sponsored numerous artists at his imperial court, and the catalogue of his collection listed over 6,000 known paintings.[1]


Emperor Huizong, besides his partaking in state affairs that favoured the reformist party that supported Wang Anshi's New Policies, was a cultured leader who spent much of his time admiring the arts. He was a collector of paintings, calligraphy, and antiques of previous dynasties, building huge collections of each for his amusement. He wrote poems of his own, was known as an avid painter, created his own calligraphy style, had interests in architecture and garden design, and even wrote treatises on medicine and Taoism.[2] He assembled an entourage of painters that were first pre-screened in an examination to enter as official artists of the imperial court, and made reforms to court music.[2] Like many learned men of his age, he was quite a polymath personality, and is even considered to be one of the greatest Chinese artists of all time. He constantly proclaimed legitimacy through cultural, religious, and artistic means. In 1106, he had artisans recast of the symbolic Nine Tripod Cauldrons to assert his authority.[3] However, his reign would be forever scarred by the decisions made (by counsel he received) on handling foreign policies, as the end of his reign marked a period of disaster for the Song Empire.

Jurchen Invasion

Main articles: Jin–Song Wars and Jingkang Incident

When the Jurchens founded the Jin Dynasty and attacked the Liao dynasty to the north of the Song, the Song dynasty allied with the Jin Dynasty and attacked the Liao from the south in 1122. Led by Tong Guan, the Song army marched to the Song-Liao border and was stopped by the defensive forest that the Song had maintained since the reign of Emperor Taizu. In order to pass through, Tong Guan ordered the soldiers to clear the forest and continued the expedition into the Liao.[4] This expedition succeeded in destroying the Liao, a longtime enemy of the Song. However, when the Jin attacked the Song a few years later, the Jin troops marched through a defenseless border and quickly gathered around the Song capital Kaifeng.[4]


However, an even more formidable Jin dynasty enemy was now on the northern border. Not content with the annexation of the Liao domain, and perceiving the weakness of the Song army, the Jurchens soon declared war on their former ally, and by the beginning of 1126, the troops of the Jin "Western Vice-Marshal" Wolibu crossed the Yellow River and came in sight of Bianjing, the capital of the Song Empire. Realizing his mistakes, Huizong took the blame for everything that went wrong and was stricken with panic, Emperor Huizong intended to flee but was convinced by his officials to abdicate first and then flee.[5][6] Huizong then feigned a stroke because Huizong in his words said that "I must use the excuse of illness. I am afraid of disorder breaking out."[7] He then abdicated on 18 January 1126 in favour of his eldest son, Zhao Huan who is historically now known as Emperor Qinzong (欽宗).

However, Qinzong sternly refused the throne, even pushing the robes off. Huizong, still feigning a stroke, wrote with his left hand "If you do not accept, you are unfilial." Qinzong said, "If I accept, then I am unfilial." Even when Huizong summoned his empress, Qinzong still declined until Huizong ordered his eunuchs to forcibly put him on the throne.[6] Qinzong finally gave in eventually accepting the throne.[6] Huizong then departed the capital to flee in the countryside.[8]


Pigeon on a Peach Branch(桃鳩圖,桃鳩図 [ja]), by Emperor Huizong

Overcoming the walls of Bianjing was a difficult undertaking for the Jurchen cavalry, and this, together with fierce resistance from some Song officials who had not totally lost their nerve, as Emperor Huizong had, and Qinzong giving a town, resulted in the Jurchens lifting the siege of Bianjing and returning north. The Song Empire, however, had to sign a humiliating treaty with the Jin Empire, agreeing to pay a colossal war indemnity and to give a tribute to the Jurchens every year. From 1126 until 1138, refugees from the Song Empire migrated south towards the Yangtze River.[9] Huizong returned from the countryside and resumed his normal activities after hearing that the siege was lifted although he was effectively under house arrest by Qinzong.

But even such humiliating terms could not save the Song dynasty. Within a matter of months, the troops of both Jurchen vice-marshals, Wolibu and Nianhan,[10] were back south again, and this time they were determined to overcome the walls of Bianjing after Qinzong wanted to form an Anti-Jin alliance with two Liao nobles who were actually on the Jurchens side. After a bitter siege, the Jurchens eventually entered Bianjing on 9 January 1127, and many days of looting, rapes, and massacre followed. Most of the entire imperial court and harem were captured by the Jurchens in an event known historically as the Jingkang Incident, and transported north, mostly to the Jin capital of Shangjing (in present-day Harbin). After Qinzong was captured, Emperor Huizong was persuaded to turn himself in, however they captured Huizong.[7] When Huizong got to see Qinzong, they cried and hugged each other with Huizong stating "If you had listened to the old man, we would have avoided this disaster."[11]

One of the many sons of Emperor Huizong, Zhao Gou was not present in Bianjing where he went to Southern China where, after many years of struggle, he would establish the Southern Song Dynasty, of which he was the first ruler, Emperor Gaozong.

Emperors Huizong and the former Emperor Qinzong were demoted to the rank of commoners by the Jurchens on 20 March 1127. Then on 10 May 1127, Emperor Huizong was deported to Heilongjiang, where he spent the last eight years of his life as a captive. In 1128, in a humiliating episode, the two former Song Emperors had to venerate the Jin ancestors at their shrine in Shangjing, wearing mourning dress.[12] The Jurchen ruler, Emperor Taizong, granted the two former Song emperors degrading titles to humiliate them: Emperor Huizong was called "Duke Hunde" (昏德公; literally "Besotted Duke") while Emperor Qinzong was called "Marquis Chonghun" (重昏侯; literally "Doubly Besotted Marquis").[12]

The Song male Chinese princes who were captured were given Khitan women to marry from the Liao dynasty palace by the Jin Jurchens, who had also defeated and conquered the Khitan. The original Chinese wives of the Song princes were abducted and the Song princes then married Khitan royal women. One of the Song Emperor Huizong's sons was given a Khitan consort from the Liao palace and another one of his sons was given a Khitan princess by the Jin at the Jin Supreme capital. The Jin Jurchens continued to give new wives to the captured Song royals, the grandsons and sons of Song Emperor Huizong after they took away their original Chinese wives.[13] The Jin Jurchens told the Chinese Song royals that they were fortunate because the Liao Khitan royals were being treated much worse by the Jurchen than the Song Chinese royals. Jurchen soldiers were given the children of the Liao Khitan Tianzuo Emperor as gifts while the Song Emperor was allowed to keep his children while he was in captivity.[14]

In 1137, the Jin Empire formally notified the Southern Song Empire about the death of the former Emperor Huizong.[12] Emperor Huizong, who had lived in opulence and art for the first half of his life, died a broken man in faraway northern Heilongjiang in June 1135, at the age of 52.

A few years later (1141), as the peace negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Shaoxing between the Jin and the Song empires were proceeding, the Jin Empire posthumously honored the former Emperor Huizong with the neutral-sounding title of "Prince of Tianshui Commandery" (天水郡王), after a commandery Tianshui in the upper reaches of the Wei River, which is the traditional Junwang (郡望, zh) of the surname Zhao.

Art, calligraphy, music, and culture

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Emperor Huizong of Song" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (January 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this message)
"Chong Ning Tongbao" in the style of Emperor Huizong's Slender Gold calligraphy.

Emperor Huizong was a great painter, poet, and calligrapher. He was also a player of the guqin (as exemplified by his famous painting 聽琴圖 Listening to the Qin); he also had a Wanqin Tang (萬琴堂; "10,000 Qin Hall") in his palace.

The emperor took huge efforts to search for art masters. He established the "Hanlin Huayuan" (翰林畫院; "Hanlin imperial painting house") where top painters around China shared their best works.

The primary subjects of his paintings are birds and flowers. Among his works is Five-Colored Parakeet on Blossoming Apricot Tree. He also recopied Zhang Xuan's painting Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk, and Emperor Huizong's reproduction is the only copy of that painting that survives today.

Emperor Huizong invented the "Slender Gold" (瘦金體) style of calligraphy. The name "Slender Gold" came from the fact that the emperor's writing resembled the way gold filaments twisted and turned, also inspired by Li Yu who called his calligraphy "Golden Inlaid Dagger" (金錯刀). Some theories posits his technique probably based on calligraphy works by Chu Suiliang, Xue Ji or Huang Tingjian.[15]

One of the emperor's era names, Xuanhe, is also used to describe a style of mounting paintings in scroll format. In this style, black borders are added between some of the silk planes.

In 1114, following a request from the Goryeo ruler Yejong, Emperor Huizong sent to the palace in the Goryeo capital at Gaeseong a set of musical instruments to be used for royal banquet music. Two years later, in 1116, he sent another, even larger gift of musical instruments (numbering 428 in total) to the Goryeo court, this time yayue instruments, beginning that nation's tradition of aak.[16]

Emperor Huizong was also a great tea enthusiast. He wrote the Treatise on Tea, the most detailed and masterful description of the Song sophisticated style of tea ceremony.

Emperor Huizong's famous descendant was Zhao Mengfu through his daughter Zhao Jinluo.


The painter Zeng Fanzhi regards Listening to the Qin as "the most beautiful painting from the Song dynasty. For more than 10 years, I've been observing the beauty of the pine tree in that painting."[17]


Consorts and Issue:


Zhao Yunrang (995–1059)
Emperor Yingzong of Song (1032–1067)
Lady Ren
Emperor Shenzong of Song (1048–1085)
Gao Zunfu
Empress Xuanren (1032–1093)
Lady Cao
Emperor Huizong of Song (1082–1135)
Chen Jirong
Chen Shougui
Empress Qinci (1058–1089)

See also



  1. ^ Ebrey 1999, p. 149.
  2. ^ a b Ebrey 1999, p. 165.
  3. ^ Book of Song – Scroll 66
  4. ^ a b Chen, Yuan Julian (July 2018). "FRONTIER, FORTIFICATION, AND FORESTATION: DEFENSIVE WOODLAND ON THE SONG–LIAO BORDER IN THE LONG ELEVENTH CENTURY". Journal of Chinese History. 2 (2): 313–334. doi:10.1017/jch.2018.7. ISSN 2059-1632. S2CID 133980555.
  5. ^ Levine 2009, p. 636.
  6. ^ a b c Olson, David R.; Cole, Michael (2013-06-17). Technology, Literacy, and the Evolution of Society: Implications of the Work of Jack Goody. Psychology Press. p. 60. ISBN 9781134812981.
  7. ^ a b Ebrey 2014, p. 430.
  8. ^ Frederick W. Mote (2003). Imperial China: 900–1800. Harvard University Press. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-674-01212-7.
  9. ^ Robert Hymes (2000). John Stewart Bowman (ed.). Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture. Columbia University Press. pp. 33. ISBN 978-0-231-11004-4.
  10. ^ Tao 1976, pp. 20–21.
  11. ^ Ebrey 2014, p. 466.
  12. ^ a b c Twitchett, Franke & Fairbank 1978, pp. 233–234.
  13. ^ Ebrey 2014, p. 488.
  14. ^ Ebrey 2014, p. 482.
  15. ^ 妙體眾形,兼備各法——宋徽宗
  16. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). www.worldmusiccentre.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 March 2005. Retrieved 14 January 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ Qin, Amy (2016-09-22). "Artist Zeng Fanzhi on the Evolution of His Work and China's Art Market". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-22.


Please see: References section in the guqin article for a full list of references used in all qin related articles.
Emperor Huizong of Song House of ZhaoBorn: November 2 1082 Died: June 4 1135 Regnal titles Preceded byEmperor Zhezong Emperor of the Song Dynasty 1100–1126 Succeeded byEmperor Qinzong Honorary titles VacantTitle last held byEmperor Zhaozong of Tang Retired Emperor of China 1126–1135 VacantTitle next held byEmperor Gaozong of Song