Pingyang – The warrior Princess

Princess Pingyang’s story is truly remarkable. She was not an average woman. When her father, Li Yuan, led a rebellion against his cousin, Emperor Yang Guang, Princess Pingyang assisted her father by leading her own army called the Woman’s Army. The Woman’s Army was an army of over 70,000 troops that consisted mainly of peasants. With the help of her army, the Sui dynasty was overthrown, and the Tang Dynasty was established. Princess Pingyang’s story shows a courageous, daring, and brilliant young woman who played a key role in the overthrow of the Sui dynasty.

Princess Pingyang was born in 600 C.E.[1] She was the third daughter of the Duke of Tang, Li Yuan, (the future Emperor Gaozu) and his wife, Duchess Dou (the future Empress Dou). The reign she was born in was that of her great-uncle, Emperor Wen. Princess Pingyang’s grandmother was the sister-in-law of Emperor Wen’s wife, Empress Dugu.[2] Because Li Yuan was related to the royal family, he was given various imperial posts throughout the empire.[3]

When the last Sui emperor, Yang Guang, ascended the throne in 604 C.E., Li Yuan did not get along with his cousin.[4] Emperor Yang Guang was insecure about his position and often viewed Li Yuan as a threat.[5] One day, Li Yuan did not attend Emperor Yang Guang because he was ill. Emperor Yang Guang was so angry with Li Yuan that he was about to murder him and his whole family.[6] However, his officials stopped the Emperor from committing mass murder. Emperor Yang Guang also neglected state affairs and spent most of his time living a debauched life.[7] He squandered his father’s money for his personal pleasures. Rebellions soon arose all throughout the empire.[8] With trouble brewing throughout the empire, Li Yuan decided to raise his own rebellion to take the throne away from his cousin and make himself Emperor instead.[9] He ordered each of his sons to form their own armies.[10] In 617 C.E., Li Yuan moved to Taiyuan, where he raised his own army against the Sui dynasty.

Li Pingyang was married to Chai Shao, who was the son of the Duke of Julu, and she gave him two sons. Li Yuan asked his daughter and his son-in-law to join him in Taiyuan. Li Pingyang and Chai Shao were living in the Sui capital. Chai Shao was in charge of the protection of the Crown Prince. They both wanted to join Li Yuan, but Chai Shao knew it was too dangerous for them both to go.[11] This would arouse Emperor Yang Guang’s suspicions.[12] Chai Shao said to his wife, “We cannot both go to join your father, whose righteous army is poised to settle the capital, for fear of arousing Emperor Yang’s suspicions, but I am afraid it will place you in harm’s way if I go alone, leaving you behind.” [13] Li Pingyang replied to him, “As a woman, it is easy for me to hide when the time comes. I have ways of taking care of myself.” [14] Chai Shao left to join his father-in-law’s army, and Li Pingyang remained behind in the Sui capital.

A few days later, Li Pingyang left the capital and made her way to her father’s estate in Hu Province.[15] The peasants near her father’s estate were starving, and Li Pingyang used the estates’ food storages to give them food.[16] The peasants were grateful to her, and the peasant men vowed to fight for her father.[17] These peasant men formed the basis of Li Pingyang’s army called the Woman’s Army.[18] There were no women in the Woman’s Army, but they named it because their leader, Li Pingyang, was a woman.[19] The Woman’s Army then made its way throughout the province, fighting for her father and brother, Li Shimin (the future Emperor Taizong), who were currently at war with the Sui.[20]

Other rebel forces joined the Woman’s Army. Three of these men who were formidable players in establishing the Tang Dynasty were Shi Wanbao (one of the Tang dynasty’s greatest generals), He Panren, and Li Zhongweng.[21] These three legendary men all fought under her.[22] They took the capital of Hu Province and made it their base.[23] The peasants saw Li Pingyang’s army as heroes, and they offered them food and water.[24] Many peasant men also joined the Woman’s Army. Thus, the numbers kept increasing.[25] Li Pingyang was a very strict leader. She prohibited looting, raping, and pillaging.[26] The army achieved many victories and captured many cities in Hu Province. When it grew to over 70,000 troops, the Sui imperial army realized that the Woman’s Army was a threat.[27] The Sui imperial forces tried to attack Li Pingyang, but they were routed.[28]

Li Pingyang established victory in Hu Province.[29] Her father and brother, Li Shimin, were conquering other regions.[30] The Sui dynasty was losing, and the Tang forces were winning victories.[31] In the final battle against the Sui imperial army, Li Pingyang and her husband, Chai Shao, were finally reunited. Chai Shao joined his Calvary with the Woman’s Army.[32] The Sui lost, and Emperor Yang Guang fled south, where he was assassinated in 618 C.E.[33] When the victorious Li Yuan entered the Sui capital, he was escorted by the troops of the Woman’s Army.[34] Li Pingyang’s generals (including the three legendary men, Shi Wanbao, He Panren, and Li Zhongweng) were given ample rewards.[35]

Li Yuan ascended the throne as Emperor Gaozu (which means “High Progenitor”).[36] He named his dynasty Tang after his fiefdom. Li Pingyang was made not only Princess but a Marshal in the imperial army.[37] This meant that she was entitled to have her own staff and military staff.[38] This was an honour that was reserved solely for a prince and not a princess.[39] However, Princess Pingyang did not have the health to use these privileges.[40] Raising an army and fighting for her father’s cause had taken a tremendous toll on her.[41] She fell ill soon after her father became Emperor.[42] She never recovered and died in March 623 C.E. Princess Pingyang was only twenty-three.[43]

Emperor Gaozu named a mountain pass in Pingding County “The Young’s Lady Pass” in her honour.[44] Princess Pingyang was given a funeral with a military honour guard where they played martial music, which was a privilege solely for military generals.[45] When his advisors learned that Princess Pingyang was not going to be honoured as a princess but as a general, they protested because of her gender.[46] Undeterred, Emperor Gaozu said to his officials, “As you know, the Princess mustered an army that helped us overthrow the Sui army. She participated in many battles, and her help was decisive in founding the Tang dynasty. . . she was no ordinary woman.” [47] Thus, an honourable funeral was given to a worthy woman who defied society’s expectations and was a key player in establishing the Tang Dynasty.


Peterson, B.B. (2015).”Princess Pingyang”. Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century. (B. B. Peterson, Ed.; Z. Zhongliang, Trans.). London: Routledge. 

McMahon, K. (2013). Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Han to Liao. NY: Rowman and Littlefield.

Liu, N. & Lee, L.X.H. (2014). “Li, Princess Pingyang.” Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women, Volume II: Tang Through Ming 618 – 1644. (L. X. H. Lee, Ed.; A. D. Stefanowska, Ed.; S. Wiles, Ed. J. Eagleton, Trans.). NY: Routledge.

[1] Peterson, p. 177

[2] McMahon, p. 186

[3] Liu, et al., p. 198

[4]Liu, et al., p. 198

[5]Liu, et al., p. 198

[6]Liu, et al., p. 198

[7] Liu, et al., p. 198

[8] Liu, et al., p. 198

[9]Liu, et al., p. 198

[10] Liu, et al., p. 198

[11] Liu, et al., p. 198

[12] Liu, et al., p. 198

[13] Liu, et al., pp. 198-199

[14] Liu, et al., p. 199

[15] Peterson, p. 178

[16] Peterson, p. 178

[17] Peterson, p. 178

[18] Peterson, p. 178

[19] Liu, et al., p. 199

[20] McMahon, p. 186; Peterson, p. 178

[21] Liu, et al., p. 199

[22] Liu, et al., p. 199

[23] Peterson, p. 179

[24] Peterson, p. 179

[25] Peterson, p. 179

[26] Peterson, p. 179

[27] Peterson, pp. 179-180

[28] Peterson, p. 180

[29] Peterson, p. 180

[30] Peterson, p. 180

[31] Peterson, p. 180

[32] Liu, et al., p. 199

[33] Peterson, p. 180

[34] Liu, et al., p. 200

[35]Liu, et al., p. 198

[36] Peterson, p. 180

[37] Peterson, p. 180

[38] Peterson, p. 180

[39] Peterson, p. 180

[40] Peterson, p. 180

[41] Peterson, p. 180

[42] Peterson, p. 180

[43] Peterson, p. 180

[44] Peterson, p. 180

[45] Liu, et al., p. 200

[46] Peterson, p. 180

[47] Peterson, p. 180

About Lauralee Jacks 93 Articles
I have a bachelor’s degree in Liberal and Civic Studies from St. Mary’s College of California, a master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. I live in Tennessee where I taught first grade. Because my family are from East Asia, I have a passion for historical Chinese and Korean television shows. I always wanted to separate fact from dramas. Writing articles from History of Royal Women gives me a chance to dig deeper and explore these royal women as they might have been in real life. Also, it gives me a chance to look at the history and culture of where my family originated. I love researching East Asian royalty because they rarely get enough attention in the West often being overshadowed by European royalty. I find these royal women to be just as fascinating and their stories deserve to be told. Thus, I am excited to write for History of Royal Women!

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