Wang Zongbi

Wang Zongbi (王宗弼) (d. December 28, 925 ), né Wei Hongfu (魏弘夫), known as Gu Chen (顧琛) during the time he served under Gu Yanhui, formally the Prince of Qi (齊王), was a major general of the Chinese five dynasties and ten kingdoms Period state Former Shu. He was an adoptive son of the founding emperor Wang Jian, who later came to control the military during the reign of Wang Jian's son Wang Yan. In 925, after Former Shu suffered a number of key defeats at the hands of an invading later tang army, Wang Zongbi forced Wang Yan to surrender to later tang, hoping that Wang Yan's surrender would allow him to retain power in the Xichuan (西川, i.e., the region around the Former Shu capital Chengdu) region. The deputy commander of the later tang army, Guo Chongtao, however, viewed Wang Zongbi as untrustworthy and put him to death.


It is not known when Wei Hongfu was born, but it is known that he was from Xu Prefecture (許州, in modern Xuchang, Henan ). It is unclear when he was adopted by Wang Jian — who adopted many officers serving under him as sons — and had his name changed to Wang Zongbi, although it must be before 887, when Wang Jian, who then ruled Lang Prefecture (閬州, in modern Nanchong, Sichuan ) as its self-proclaimed prefect, decided to answer the summons of his own adoptive father, the eunuch general Tian Lingzi, to serve under Tian's brother Chen Jingxuan the military governor of Xichuan Circuit (西川, headquartered in modern Chengdu, Sichuan ). As a result, Wang Jian left most of his family with his ally Gu Yanlang the military governor of Dongchuan Circuit (東川, headquartered in modern Mianyang, Sichuan ) and headed toward Xichuan's capital Chengdu with Wang Zongbi, other adoptive sons Wang Zongyao (王宗瑤), Wang Zongkan (王宗侃), Wang Zongji, and Wang Zongbian (王宗弁), and nephew Wang Zonghui (王宗鐬). (Subsequently, when Chen regretted his decision and tried to stop Wang Jian from coming to Chengdu, Wang Jian broke with him, igniting a war that eventually resulted in Wang Jian's victory and seizure of Xichuan Circuit in 891.)

Service under Wang Jian (and briefly under Gu Yanhui) during tang dynasty

During Wang Jian's campaign to capture Xichuan, Gu Yanlang died and was succeeded by his brother Gu Yanhui at Dongchuan. Wang Jian and Gu Yanlang were friends while both served in the imperial Shence Army, and therefore while Gu Yanlang was alive he did not consider seizing Dongchuan, but he began considering so after Gu Yanlang's death, but he outwardly remained Gu Yanhui's ally. In late 891, when Dongchuan came under the attack of Yang Shouliang the military governor of Shannan West Circuit (山南西道, headquartered in modern Hanzhong, Shaanxi ), Gu Yanhui sought aid from Wang Jian. Wang Jian sent Hua Hong, Li Jian (李簡), Wang Zongkan, and Wang Zongbi to aid Dongchuan, but secretly instructed them, "After you defeat the enemy, Gu Yanhui will surely invite you to a feast. You should ask that it be held in the military camp, and then use the opportunity to seize him, so that we do not need another campaign." After the Xichuan army defeated the Shannan West army and forced its withdrawal, Gu was indeed planning on holding such a feast, but Wang Zongbi, for reasons lost to history, revealed the plan to Gu, so Gu claimed an illness and refused to exit Dongchuan's capital Zi Prefecture (梓州). This incident ended the alliance between Wang's Xichuan and Gu's Dongchuan.

In 895, while Wang Jian and Gu were locked in a war, there was a battle in which Wang Zongbi, then attacking Dongchuan, was captured. Gu, remembering what Wang Zongbi had revealed to him, spared him and adopted him as a son, changing his name to Gu Chen. By 897, however, Gu was in desperate straits, as his own forces and those of his ally Li Maozhen the military governor of Fengxiang Circuit (鳳翔, headquartered in modern Baoji, Shaanxi ) had been repeatedly defeated by Wang Jian's forces, leaving Zi Prefecture under siege with no forthcoming aid. Gu gathered his family members, including adoptive sons, and prepared for group suicide. Prior to committing suicide, however, Gu stated that Gu Chen had not been his adoptive son for a long time and had no need to die with them, so he pointed at the breaches in the city wall and told Gu Chen to leave. He then had his adoptive son Gu Yao (顧瑤) kill him and the other Gu family members, and Gu Yao then committed suicide himself. After this, Gu Chen, who then again used the name Wang Zongbi, served under Wang Jian again.

During Wang Jian's reign

In 907, in response to the seizing of the Tang throne by Zhu Quanzhong the military governor of Xuanwu Circuit (宣武, headquartered in modern Kaifeng, Henan ), who started a new later liang dynasty as its Emperor Taizu, Wang Jian, who then carried the title of Prince of Shu, initially issued declaration, along with Yang Wo the Prince of Hongnong the military governor of Huainan Circuit (淮南, headquartered in modern Yangzhou, Jiangsu ), seeking to align with Li Keyong the Prince of Jin the military governor of Hedong Circuit (河東, headquartered in modern Taiyuan, Shanxi ) and Li Maozhen (who then carried the title of Prince of Qi) to start a campaign against later liang dynasty and restore Tang. However, when later liang dynasty vassals did not defect in accordance with the declarations, Wang Jian himself declared a new state of Shu (known historically as Former Shu) with himself as emperor. Wang Zongbi continued to serve in the military of the new Former Shu state, although his initial responsibilities were not recorded in history.

In 911, Li Maozhen's state of Qi, which had been an ally of Former Shu's, broke that alliance and attacked Former Shu. Wang Zongbi served in the campaign against Qi and was successful in repelling the Qi general Liu Zhijun. With other Former Shu generals also defeating other Qi generals, Qi forces were forced to withdraw.

As of 918, Wang Zongbi was serving as the commander of the forces against Qi, when Wang Jian became seriously ill. Because Wang Jian considered Wang Zongbi to be calm and full of strategies, he considered Wang Zongbi someone appropriate to assist his designated heir, the Crown Prince Wang Zongyan in ruling the state. He thus summoned Wang Zongbi back from the northern border with Qi and put him in command of the palace guards. While Wang Jian was near death, his overseer of imperial stables, Tang Wenyi (唐文扆) tried to start a coup to monopolize power, but Tang's plot was reported to Wang Zongbi and the other senior officials by Tang's subordinate Pan Zaiying (潘在迎). As a result, Tang was exiled (and later executed), and Wang Jian subsequently entrusted Wang Zongyan to Wang Zongbi, Wang Zongyao, as well as other adoptive sons Wang Zongwan (王宗綰) and Wang Zongkui (王宗夔) and the eunuch Song Guangsi (宋光嗣). He then died, and Wang Zongyan, who then changed his name to Wang Yan, took the throne.

During Wang Yan's reign

Wang Yan created Wang Zongbi the Prince of Julu; he also entrusted the governmental affairs to Wang Zongbi. Wang Zongbi was said to govern based on the bribes he received and his own likes and dislikes, with Wang Yan not involving himself in administering the affairs of the state, and this was said to be the beginning of the Former Shu state's decline. Subsequently, Song Guangsi yielded the command of the military to him as well. At some point, Wang Zongbi's title was further upgraded to Prince of Qi.

By 923, Former Shu's previous main enemy, later liang dynasty to the northeast, had been destroyed by later tang's founding emperor Emperor Zhuangzong. In 924, the later tang emperor sent his official Li Yan (李嚴) as an emissary to Former Shu, ostensibly to establish peaceful relations, while instead intending to spy on Former Shu's readiness. When Li returned to later tang, he reported to Emperor Zhuangzong that the Former Shu government, headed by Wang Zongbi and Song, was corrupt and easily defeated, while Wang Yan was himself incompetent. Meanwhile, another adoptive son of Wang Jian's, Wang Zongchou (王宗儔), had become convinced that Wang Yan did not have the ability to govern the state, and he suggested to Wang Zongbi that Wang Yan be removed and replaced. Wang Zongbi hesitated, and Wang Zongchou subsequently died in distress. Wang Zongbi, instead, informed Song and Song's fellow eunuch Jing Runcheng (景潤澄) that Wang Zongchou wanted to kill them and that he stopped Wang Zongchou from doing so, to cause them to be grateful to him.

In late 924, Wang Yan had Xu Yanqiong (徐延瓊), a relative of his mother Empress Dowager Xu, replace Wang Zongbi as the commander of the imperial forces around the capital Chengdu, thus causing dissent among the generals, as Wang Jian had left instructions not to let the Xu family members hold military commands, although it was unclear what Wang Zongbi's own reaction was.

As of summer 925, later tang's Emperor Zhuangzong was ready to launch a major attack to conquer Former Shu, commanded nominally by his son Li Jiji the Prince of Wei and actually commanded by the major general Guo Chongtao (nominally Li Jiji's deputy). The Former Shu administration was unaware of the impending attack, and Wang Yan, against the advice by Wang Zongbi and Empress Dowager Xu, was insistent on visiting Tianxiong Circuit (天雄, headquartered in modern Tianshui, Gansu ), and he departed in winter 925, just as the later tang forces were entering Former Shu territory. Wang Chengjie (王承捷) the military governor of Wuxing Circuit (武興, headquartered in modern Baoji, Shaanxi ), after reported the emergency to Wang Yan and receiving no response, quickly surrendered. Only after the fall of Wuxing did Wang Yan become alarmed, but pursuant to the advice of Wang Zongbi and Song, he stayed at Li Prefecture (利州, in modern Guangyuan, Sichuan ), while sending Wang Zongxun (王宗勳), Wang Zongyan (王宗儼, note different character than Wang Yan's original name), and Wang Zongyu (王宗昱) against the later tang forces. When they engaged the later tang forward commander Li Shaochen, however, Li Shaochen defeated them. Wang Yan, in fear, fled back to Chengdu while leaving Wang Zongbi in charge at Li Prefecture to continue the resistance, while ordering him to execute Wang Zongxun, Wang Zongyan, and Wang Zongyu. Subsequently, however, a number of Former Shu generals — including Song's brother Song Guangbao (宋光葆) the acting military governor of Wude Circuit (武德, i.e., Dongchuan), Wang Chengzhao (王承肇, Wang Zongkan's son) the military governor of Wuding Circuit (武定, headquartered in modern Hanzhong, Shaanxi ), and Wang Zongwei (王宗威) the military governor of Shannan Circuit (山南, headquartered in modern Hanzhong) — surrendered in droves. Guo subsequently wrote Wang Zongbi to persuade him to surrender, and Wang Zongbi began to consider doing so. When he then abandoned Li Prefecture and then rendezvoused with Wang Zongxun, Wang Zongyan, and Wang Zongyu at Baitiao (白芀, in modern Chengdu), he showed them the order to execute them and then planned with them to surrender.

Wang Zongbi, resolved to surrender Wang Yan to Guo, thereafter returned to . He seized Wang Yan, Empress Dowager Xu, and all of Wang Yan's sons, putting them under house arrest in the western palace. He then claimed the title of acting military governor of Xichuan and sent emissaries with gifts and food to comfort the later tang army. He also wrote a letter to Li Yan in Wang Yan's name, stating that Wang Yan was ready to surrender. Li Yan subsequently arrived in Chengdu to meet with Wang Yan, and he also ordered Wang Zongbi to leave Chengdu defenseless to show the good faith in surrendering. Meanwhile, Wang Zongbi, blaming the failure to surrender earlier on Song Guangsi, Jing, as well as their fellow eunuchs Li Zhoulu (李周輅) and Ouyang Huang (歐陽晃), executed them and presented their heads to Li Jiji; he also executed a number of other officials that he did not like. Many other officials, in fear, bribed him to avoid death. Wang Zongbi subsequently sent his son Wang Chengban (王承班) to submit a number of Wang Yan's beautiful concubines and ladies in waiting, as well as treasure, to Li Jiji and Guo, while making the request to be made the military governor of Xichuan. Li Jiji, however, responded, "These are all things that belong to my family now. It is not up to you to submit them as gifts."

On December 15, Li Jiji and Guo arrived at . Wang Yan, with Li Yan leading the procession, formally surrendered to Li Jiji, along with the Former Shu officials, thus ending Former Shu's existence as a state.

After surrender to later tang

Meanwhile, Wang Zongbi stepped the efforts to lobby Guo Chongtao to let him become the military governor of Xichuan, sending much bribe to Guo to encourage Guo to recommend him. Guo pretended to agree to do so, but did not actually do so. To further step up the pressure (and to create distrust between Li Jiji and Guo), Wang Zongbi then led a group of Former Shu officials to meet with Li Jiji, requesting that Guo be made the military governor of Xichuan. This caused Li Jiji to distrust Guo, as his trusted eunuch Li Congxi (李從襲) was already fostering doubt of Guo's loyalty in his mind. Meanwhile, Song Guangbao also submitted an accusation to Guo that Wang Zongbi had falsely accused Song Guangsi and the others. Wang Zongbi was also not submitting enough treasure for Guo to distribute to the later tang soldiers as rewards, and the later tang soldiers were becoming angry that they were not being rewarded to their satisfaction. All of these led Guo to decide to kill Wang Zongbi. On December 28, after requesting and receiving permission from Li Jiji, Guo arrested Wang Zongbi, Wang Zongxun, and Wang Zongwo (王宗渥) under the accusations of disloyalty, and then executed them and their families. It was said that the Former Shu officials, hating Wang Zongbi for selling out the state, rushed to eat his flesh.

Last update 16-06-2012

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