Home About Membership Contact Despatches Supplies Forum Gallery News

The Reunification

A tale of long ago
by Peter Hunt

Nineteen 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.

The 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.

In 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.

In 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.

By the 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!

back to the contents page    back to medieval