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Li Xiu – Defender of Ningzhou

The 4th century AD was a turbulent time in China. Civil war between Chinese nobility who vied for power among themselves and uprisings by peasants and barbarians led to chaos throughout the country. One young woman, Li Xiu (李秀; 291 AD – ?; Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2987 to 2988 – ?), fought for law and order during the tumult.

Li Xiu, also known as Yang Niang (楊娘) and Li Shuxian (李淑贤), lived during the reign of the Jin Dynasty (Traditional Chinese: 晉朝; pinyin: Jìn Cháo; 266–420 AD; Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2962 to 2963 – 3116 to 3117). The first half of the dynasty was called the Western Jin (Xījìn 西晉; 266–316 AD; Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2962 to 2963 – 3012 to 3013). The second half was named the Eastern Jin (Dōngjìn 東晉; 317–420 AD; Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 3013 to 3014 – 3116 to 3117).

Western Jin Dynasty Ningzhou Province Map

Historical Map of Ningzhou Province During Western Jin Dynasty

Li Xiu was born in what was then Ningzhou Province (宁州省), which lay in present-day Jinning County (晋宁县) in Yunnan Province (云南省) in southwest China. She was the daughter of Li Yi (李毅), who was the military commander of the forces of Ningzhou during the rule of Emperor Hui of Jin (晉惠帝).

Emperor Hui sat upon the throne from May 16, 290 – February 3, 301 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2986 to 2987 – 2997 to 2998) and for a second time from June 1, 301 – January 8, 307 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2997 to 2998 – 3003 to 3004).

The War of the Eight Princes (八王之亂; 291–306 AD; Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2987 to 2988 – 3002 to 3003) erupted during the rule of Emperor Hui, who was developmentally disabled. A series of civil wars among the kings and princes of the Jin dynasty was waged for regency over Emperor Hui.

The government of Emperor Hui also dealt with rebellions by the Five Barbarians, or Wu Hu (Wǔ Hú 五胡), five ancient non-Han peoples who immigrated to northern China during the Eastern Han Dynasty (Dōnghàn 東漢; 25–220 AD; Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2721 to 2722 – 2916 to 2917). They participated in the overthrow of the Western Jin Dynasty and began the Sixteen Kingdoms era (Shíliù Guó 十六國) during which a series of short-lived barbarian states rose and fell in northern and central China from 304 to 439 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 3000 to 3001 – 3135 to 3136). Numerous peasant revolts broke out across China as well.

In 303 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 2999 to 30000), multiple rebellions erupted throughout Ningzhou. The government of Emperor Hui was unable to send reinforcements to Ningzhou. Li Yi was left to face the rebellions alone. He died of illness while on campaign.

Following the death of Li Yi, officials within the provincial administration of Ningzhou determined that Li Xiu possessed the qualifications and talent to succeed her father. Li Xiu, who had been raised as a warrior, was already familiar with the operations of the provincial army. She assumed control and led by example. She organized the civilians and soldiers within the provincial capital of Jin City (晉城) to catch rats and cook grass as they withstood siege by rebels.

Li Xiu held the city against the rebels for seven years. She sallied forth to attack the enemy at every opportunity. Eventually, Li Xiu defeated the rebels and was awarded by Emperor Hui with the title of "Lady who Suppresses and Pacifies the Enemy" (鎮壓安敵的女人).

Eastern Jin Administrative Divisions


She also received the title of "Lady of Brightness and Wisdom" (光明與智慧女神) from the administration of the later Tang Dynasty (Táng Cháo 唐朝), which ruled from 618–690 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 3314 to 3315 – 3386 to 3387) and from 705–907 AD (Traditional Chinese Kan-chih Calendar 3401 to 3402 – 3603 to 3604). The people of Jin City renamed her former base as "Citadel of the Heavenly Lady" (天女堡), which is the location of the present-day Heavenly City Gate (天城門) in Jin City. A Goddess Temple (女神廟) featuring a statue of Li Xiu in battle armor was built as well. People continue to go to the temple to leave offerings in honor of Li Xiu.

Li Xiu is a part of China's tradition of female martial artists. Men and women can learn the practical techniques and culture of the monks and nuns of the Shaolin Temple in martial arts classes offered by the Michigan Shaolin Wugong Temple.


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