Liang Hongyu (1102? - 1153) was a native of Cizhou (in today's Anhui Province).1 Her father and grandfather both served the Song Dynasty as generals. Training with her father and brothers from an early age, Hongyu acquired a strong foundation in martial arts.2 In the second year of the Xuanhe era, the rebel Fang La organized a revolt which quickly spread to involve tens of thousands of people. The government forces were repeatedly beaten by the rebels, and Hongyu's grandfather and father were both sentenced to death for their defeat.3 The Liang family then fell on hard times and Hongyu had to work as an army courtesan. Even so, Liang stood apart from the other prostitutes - "she was highly literate and was naturally gifted with amazing physical strength. She could bend a strong bow and hit the mark with every shot. She always rolled her eyes at the young men and did not have the air of a courtesan."4
After two million civilians had been killed or displaced, the government forces led by General Tong finally quashed the rebellion. The rebel leader Fang La, notorious for raping and humiliating civilians, was captured by a minor officer named Han Shizhong.5 General Tong returned to the capital in victory and furnished a banquet for his troops. The army courtesans were summoned to serve wine to the soldiers. This was when Liang Hongyu first met Han Shizhong.6 He caught her attention because he alone was morose and silent in the midst of a raucous celebration. In turn, Shizhong was drawn to Hongyu because she "possessed the demeanor of a hero."7 They married and embarked on a rising military career together.
Later, Han Shizhong was posted to Xiuzhou while Liang Hongyu remained in the capital. In Han's absence, two officers Miao Fu and Liu Zhengyan, displeased at the immense power held by the court eunuchs, launched a coup. They overran the palace, massacred all the eunuchs, and ordered the emperor to step down.8 While Emperor Gaozong was under house arrest, the Premier Zhu Shengfei negotiated with the rebels, pretending to accede to their demands.9 In reality, Zhu Shengfei and the Emperess Dowager were stalling for time while sending Liang Hongyu to summon Han Shizhong. Liang, carrying her infant son in her arms, sped off on her steed, reaching Xiuzhou after a day and a night.10 Liang and Han returned with other loyal generals and pacified the revolt. The Emperor welcomed the couple back in person; Liang received the title "Lady of the Nation's Peace" and her husband was promoted to "General of the Left Flank of the Imperial Army".11
In 1129, the Jurchens of the Jin Dynasty invaded Song China, and were retreating up north after pillaging and massacring when Generals Han and Liang cut them off at Jinshan.12 Han executed Liang Hongyu's strategy of encircling the enemy using two units coordinated by a central unit, and succeeded in driving the Jin ships into Huangtiandang, an inlet with no exit.13 This is the famous 1130 Battle of Huangtiandang, in which Liang directed the battle from the top of Jin Hill by personally sounding the battle drums.14 With only 8,000 Song soldiers against 100,000 Jin troops, the Song was able to blockade the Jin fleet for 48 days using Liang's strategy.15 The Jin only managed to escape death by digging their way out of the deadend.16
Liang and her husband continued to fight the Jin invaders. In 1131, tradition has it that Liang was stationed at Zhun'an when her troops ran low on supplies. By chance, she saw horses feeding on the stem of the calamus plant. She solved the food supply problem with the calamus, and the local people named the plant the 'anti-Jin vegetable'.17 In addition to training troops with her husband, Liang also created and trained an all-female corps that accomplished many feats in battle.18 Later, Liang and Han left the imperial court in disillusionment after their friend General Yue was framed and murdered. They went into self-imposed isolation in Ling'an.19 Han died in 1151 and Liang followed 2 years later at age 51. They were buried together at Lingyan Mountain in Suzhou. Today, a shrine to Liang Hongyu still stands in Zhun'an.20
Almost a thousand years after her demise, the memory of Liang Hongyu is still alive and well in Chinese pop culture. She has inspired operas, films and novels.21 China as also issued a commemorative coin featuring her image.22