Is it a crime for Li Ling, a famous general of the Western Han Dynasty, to surrender to the Huns?

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The tragedy of Li Ling’s surrender

Li Ling was a famous general in the period of Emperor Wu of the Western Han Dynasty and the grandson of Li Guang, who was called “flying general”. Because he was “good at riding and shooting”, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty thought that there was a great legacy of Li Guang, so he specially ordered him to take 800 cavalry into the desert to investigate the terrain. After returning from victory, he was appointed as a cavalry captain, commanding five thousand warriors, and deployed defense in Jiuquan and Zhangye. In 89 B.C., Li Ling took the initiative to fight and led the 5000 infantry to fight against the main force led by Hun Shan Yu. Li Ling ordered the carts to be built into barracks. When going out to fight, he “held halberds and shields before going forward, and bows and crossbows after going forward”. When the Hun army approached, “thousands of crossbows were fired, and they fell down”. Win the first battle. The Huns mobilized reinforcements to attack continuously. Li Ling shot Shan Yu with a “crossbow” (which should be a strong crossbow with a long range), making Shan Yu almost hit the arrow. At last, the Huns besieged the Han Army in the valley, and all arrows were fired at once. The Han Army ran out of grain, leaving only its “ruler knife” with it, which could not effectively fight back. Li Ling sighed that if there were dozens of arrows, he could break through. In the final breakthrough battle, only a dozen people followed. Li Ling’s Deputy General Han Yannian died in the battle. Li Ling sighed, “no face for your majesty!” So he laid down his arms and surrendered.

The news of the defeat came back to Chang’an, but there was no whereabouts of Li Ling. Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty hoped that Li Ling would die a heroic battle. He summoned Li Ling’s mother and wife, and arranged a face-to-face warlock next to them to see if they had a “dead look” on their faces. As a result, the warlock said he didn’t see it, and Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty was very upset. Soon the news came that Li Ling had surrendered to the Huns, and Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty was even angrier. During the Tingyi, the Taishi ordered Sima Qian to come forward to defend Li Ling, and was sentenced to palace punishment by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty on the charge of “framing Wang”. Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty sent General Gongsun Ao deep into the territory of the Huns and returned in vain. Gongsun Ao reported that the captured prisoners said that Li Ling had taught the Huns how to deal with the Han Army, so the Han army could not win the war. Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty then ordered Li Ling’s family to be “killed”, and his mother, brother, wife and children were all killed. Later, the Han Dynasty resumed diplomatic relations with the Huns. Li Ling asked why the Han Dynasty envoys killed his family? The messenger told him the reason why Li Ling was wronged repeatedly. It turned out that Li Xu, another Han Dynasty officer who surrendered to the Huns, was helping the Huns train troops. Li Ling sent people to assassinate Li Xu to vent his anger, and he was no longer willing to return to his hometown. The author of the book of Han Dynasty, biography of Li Ling, narrated this tragic story in a sympathetic tone.

So is it a crime for Li Ling to surrender to the enemy when he cannot continue fighting? Is there any legal basis for Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty to kill his family? If he was later released by the Huns and returned to his hometown, would he still be prosecuted?

A law that enforces war to death

According to the laws of the early Han Dynasty contained in bamboo slips unearthed from Zhangjiashan Han tomb in Jiangling, Hubei Province, we can know that Li Ling’s surrender to the enemy on the battlefield is a capital crime. The unearthed “law of the thief” clearly stipulates that the soldiers stationed at the border strongholds who mutiny, voluntarily surrender to the enemy, or fail to surrender in the battle when the enemy comes to attack, are dealt with in the same way as the enterprise plotting to rebel and fleeing in the face of battle: “all should be beheaded. Their parents, wives and co-workers, all of whom abandon the city.” I was cut in two from the waist, and the whole family was killed (parents, wives, children, and siblings were all executed). In other words, when Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty learned that he had surrendered to the Xiongnu, he could deal with the whole family and kill him according to the law. There was no need for him to mutiny and help the Xiongnu train troops.

The Han law unearthed from the Han tomb in Zhangjiashan is considered to be the law of the first two years of the Han Dynasty (186 BC), which is likely to be adapted from the original Qin law. The state of Qin has already legislated that “those who accuse traitors and beheading the enemy will be rewarded together, and those who do not accuse traitors and surrender the enemy will be punished together”, which shows that surrender on the battlefield has been a felony. “Warring States policy ยท Wei policy” contains a speech by an Lingjun of the state of Qin, saying that there is a “constitution of the Taifu” decree granted by the king, which stipulates that the crime of “killing the father by a son and the king by a minister” cannot be pardoned. Even if the state has issued an amnesty, “it is not allowed to surrender the city to the death of a son” (the city guarding officers and soldiers who surrender to the enemy and deserters cannot be pardoned).

These laws seem to have been inherited in the Han Dynasty. At the time of Emperor Wen of Han Dynasty, Li Ling’s grandfather Li Guang was also captured alive by the Xiongnu after being defeated and injured. Li Guang grabbed the Xiongnu’s horses and bows and tried his best to escape back to the Han territory, but was arrested and imprisoned. He was accused of “losing too much” (losing too many soldiers) and “being born of prisoners” (being captured alive by the enemy), and was sentenced to “beheading”. Later, he “redeemed himself as a commoner” by virtue of his title and Nasu.

Therefore, in fact, the law of the Qin and Han Dynasties required soldiers to fight to the death for the imperial court. Even if they had lost their combat ability, they should also die for the country and must not be captured by the other party.

The most famous Surrender: Yu Jin and pound

The most famous encounter of surrender in history is Yu Jin and pound in the Eastern Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period. In the scuffle at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, Cao Cao’s group was able to rise in chaos, largely because Cao Cao was good at “recruiting rebels”, and Yu Jin was a general born as a prisoner of war. He used to be a soldier of the Yellow turban army. In 193, he surrendered to Cao Cao with the Yellow turban army in Qingzhou. Wang Lang, Cao Cao’s adviser, appreciated him and recommended him to Cao Cao, saying that he had “great general talent”. Cao Cao really trusted, and Yu Jin has made outstanding achievements since then. Pound was originally the general of the Ma family army in Guanzhong. He followed Ma Teng and Ma Chao for a long time. In 215, Cao Cao attacked Hanzhong and defeated Ma Chao. Pound also surrendered to Cao Cao Cao with the army.

In 219, Liu Bei’s general Guan Yu launched a northern expedition from Jingzhou to attack Fancheng, Cao Cao’s strategic base. Cao Ren, the commander of Fancheng, sent Yu Jin and pound to fortify the periphery of Fancheng respectively. Guan Yu took advantage of the summer rainstorm to dig the dam of the Han River, “flooding the seven armies”. Yu Jin’s military camp was flooded, and Guan Yu’s army stormed by boat. Yu Jin was unable to resist, so he had to lay down his arms and surrender. Pound’s barracks were also flooded. Pound stuck to the remaining dam, and his ministry proposed to surrender. All of them were beheaded by pound. After the fierce battle, his soldiers either died or surrendered. Pound had to retreat in a small boat. The boat capsized and was captured by Guan Yu’s army. Pound’s brother was in Liu Bei’s army at that time. Guan Yu personally persuaded him to surrender and allowed him to be a general. Pound cursed and said, “I’d rather be a national ghost than a thief.” Guan Yu then killed pound.

When the news reached Cao Cao, Cao Cao shed tears for it and said, “Yu Jin has been with me for nearly 30 years. It is difficult to face danger, but it is actually not as good as pound!” At that time, Cao Cao styled himself king of Wei, and in fact, he has realized the change of dynasties. In the past, when he was fighting the world, he was “meritocratic” and was able to attract even those who were “unkind and unfilial”. Now the situation is different, and he needs to set an example of loyalty to serve his new dynasty, and pound is just such a typical example. So Cao Cao ordered a strong commendation of Pound’s loyalty and achievements, and made both of Pound’s sons princes.

Cao Cao contacted Sun Quan to attack Guan Yu and was able to save Fancheng. Sun Quan’s army killed Guan Yu and was able to take all of Jingzhou. In order to jointly deal with Liu Bei’s attack with Cao Cao, Sun Quan sent Yu Jin and other former Cao Cao’s subordinates back to Cao Cao. However, when these prisoners of war arrived in Yecheng, Cao Cao had died, and Cao Pi succeeded to the throne of King Wei. Cao Pi received Yu Jin, who was “white haired and haggard”, and “burst into tears” when he saw Cao Pi. On the surface, Cao Pi was gentle and comforting, and still worshipped Yu Jin as “general Anyuan”, but ordered him to visit Cao Cao’s tomb first, and painted a mural of Pound’s angry battle and Yu Jin’s bow and surrender in the tomb’s house in advance. Yu Jian was ashamed when he saw the mural, and fell ill and died.

Sima Guang, a historian of the Northern Song Dynasty, commented in Zizhi Tongjian that Yu Jian “cannot die if defeated, but surrender to the enemy if born”. After returning, Cao Pi can abolish him and kill him, but insulting him in this way is not the demeanor of a monarch.

Felony that disappeared from the code

The law that forces soldiers to fight to death also continues for a long time in later generations, especially in the war chaos period of the Three Kingdoms, the Jin Dynasty, the northern and Southern Dynasties. There are more volatile warlords, and the law also adheres to the principle of no surrender. Even the law of the Northern Qi Dynasty specially set up “ten serious crimes”, “one is rebellion, two is great rebellion, three is rebellion, four is surrender, five is evil rebellion, six is immorality, seven is disrespectful, eight is unfilial, nine is unjust, and ten is civil strife”. Anyone who violates these ten serious crimes cannot be pardoned, and bureaucrats and nobles cannot enjoy privileges such as “eight comments on redemption”. “Surrender” is listed as the fourth kind of felony, second only to direct rebellion, rebellion and other charges that directly infringe on imperial power.

However, the Sui Dynasty law later adapted the “ten serious crimes” of the Northern Qi law into the “ten evils”, but deleted the “fall”. The code of the Tang Dynasty inherited the “ten evils” of the Sui Dynasty, among which there was no “surrender”. In the law of the Tang Dynasty, the felony of “subduing the enemy” was not clearly stipulated. Not only that, most of the official codes of later dynasties did not have specific provisions of “surrender”.

The reason for this improvement in legislation is not difficult to find. Judging from the historical lessons, the harsh laws of the Qin and Han Dynasties did not actually prevent the soldiers from laying down their weapons when the war was hopeless. Because in the laws of the same period, the provisions on accepting surrender and not killing and surrender were also very clear, especially in the era of war, all armed groups “recruit and subdue rebels”, and the capitulators can be rewarded if they turn their swords and guns to fight. If you return to the original headquarters after surrender, you will be severely punished. In particular, the practice of killing relatives will strengthen the capitulators’ determination to help the enemy fight to the end. Therefore, the rulers after the Sui and Tang Dynasties, after accumulating enough historical experience, deleted this charge from the official code.

However, the rulers of future generations still want the soldiers to work hard for themselves, and they still need to use the death penalty to coerce the soldiers. Therefore, this charge is summarized into the “military order” system. In ancient times, when the army went to war, the generals had considerable discretion and could issue “military orders”. The code of Tang Dynasty expressly stipulates that military orders are not bound by the code, “each is subject to temporary punishment, so it does not adhere to the regular law”. The commander can directly punish the soldiers who violate the orders of the army. Only after the “return of the army”, if the crime of violation is stipulated by the law itself, it shall be punished according to the law; If there is no provision in the law, it is “not a crime”. Another strategy is to stipulate in some separate decrees, sometimes even more severe than the Qin and Han Dynasties. For example, the military order issued in the 14th year of orthodoxy of the Ming Dynasty stipulates that “but those who surrender the enemy, the whole family will be beheaded, and their hometown will have no property”.

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