by Peter Hunt
ninety-seven is not the first time that Hong Kong has featured in a
reunification with China. Another
reunification took place 720 years ago.
This is, briefly, the story of that reunification, and, like all good
Hong Kong stories, it features a barren rock.
story starts in the year 960AD when Choa K’uang-yin staged a military coup
against the line of the Chou emperors and established his own dynasty, the
Sung, in southern China. Over
the next 19 years Choa fought to bring most of China under his united rule
and to bring stability to a land that had been divided and war torn for
almost 200 years since the fall of the Tang dynasty.
After this triumph Choa and his successors purposely downgraded the
army in order to rule out the sort of military coup that had created the
dynasty. This strategy worked.
The Sung dynasty was not to fall through internal dissent. However the price of this internal security was an inability
to withstand external pressures and thus the history of the Sung dynasty is
mainly a story of defeat by, and retreat from, aggressors from the north.
First the Khitan-Liao seized the prime pastureland in northern China,
emasculating the Sung cavalry. Then
the Jurchens swept out of Manchuria, overran the Khitans, threw the Sung
back south of the Yangtze, and established their own ruling dynasty, the
Chin, in northern China.
1211 the Mongols of Chinggis Khan, although outnumbered over two to one,
attacked the Chin. This must
have seemed like a godsend to the Sung who were no doubt banking on a long
war. However, within four
years, the Chin had been devastated. But
Chinggis then withdrew his toumens to attack to the west, creating
desolation in China and calling it peace.
In 1195 there were 50 million people in north China.
By 1235 only 8.5 million remained.
The Chin dynasty finally collapsed in 1134 but for the next 25 years
northern China was ruled ineffectively by remote control from the Mongol
capital far to the north at Karakorum.
This was to allow the Sung their last respite.
1260 Chinggis’ grandson Khubilai came to power in Mongolia but a Mongol
civil war soon erupted. Again
this must have seemed heaven sent to the Sung.
Again they were wrong for the war convinced the victorious Khubilai
that Karakorum was too easily cut off to be a viable imperial capital so he
moved his thrown and power centre from the steppe to Peking, proclaiming the
Yuan dynasty in 1271. In
addition to decreeing a pleasure dome at Xanadu, Khubilai decreed the final
conquest of the Sung.
time that the last Sung emperor, Tuen Chung, ascended to the throne in 1276
his domain had been reduced to the area of the present provinces of Fukien
and Guangdong. However Yuan
pressure was relentless and in early 1277 Tuen Chung was forced to flee
Foochow by sea. In the fourth
moon of that year he arrived in Kwun Foo Cheung in Tung Kwun district of
Kwong Chow prefecture. This is
the place that we would call today Kai Tak airport.
Safe from the pursuing Yuan horsemen Tuen Chung spent his days
basking on a rock which consequently became known as the Sung emperor’s
terrace - Sung Wong Toi. It was
during this sojourn that Tuen Chung pointed out to one of his courtiers that
there must be eight dragons in Kwun Foo for there were that many mountains
visible for them to sleep under. No
Sire, came the sycophantic reply, there are nine dragons, eight under the
mountains and you, and thus the place came to be called nine dragons - Gau
Lung. But Tuen Chung was not to
enjoy “Kowloon” for long. By the 11th moon of 1277, the Yuen had caught up
with him. Tuen Chung fled, he
could run but he could not hide. Two
years later he was dead, drowned in the naval battle of Yaishan, south-west
of Macao. But from the 11th
moon of 1277, Kowloon and the uninspiring island to the south of it were
once again part of a united China ruled from Peking.
The Sung Wong Toi rock is still there, in its own little park on Sung Wong Toi Road just west of the airport. I commend a visit to you. The history is not very taxing, the Airport Hotel bar has a very generous happy hour, and the area has the best Thai food in the SAR. Not a bad way to spend an evening!