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West Lake - Historical figures

West Lake - Historical figures

The story of Yue Fei

Born from a humble background, Yue Fei 岳飞 (1103-1142 AD) was a general and talented military strategist of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 AD) who fought against the invading Jin Dynasty (the Jin are not Han Chinese but are powerful Jurchen tribes from north-east China, and considered to be barbarians and foreign invaders by the ancient Han people).

Before Yue was general, the Jin had succeeded in their conquest of the north, forcing the Song from their capital in Kaifeng. Amidst the chaos, Emperor Huizong and his son, Qinzong who was next in line, were captured and this marked the end of the Northern Song Dynasty. The Southern Song Dynasty began under the reign of Emperor Gaozong with Lin'an, which is present-day Hangzhou, as the new capital.

When Yue rose to general, he fought a long campaign against the Jin halting their conquests and eventually pushed them all the way back to Kaifeng where he planned to retake the city. During this time, Emperor Gaozong's trusted grand advisor, Qin Hui 秦桧, advised the Emperor to recall Yue Fei and begin peace talks as the defeat of the Jin at Kaifeng might result in the release of Emperor Huizong and Qinzong.

Naturally, Emperor Gaozong followed this advice as the return of the old emperors would threaten his claim to the throne.

Golden plaques bearing the Emperor's orders to return were issued 12 times to Yue who eventually submitted. Upon returning to Hangzhou, Yue, his son, Yue Yun and his faithful general, Zhang Xian, were arrested and imprisoned under false charges.

They were tortured in order to force them to admit to the false charges but after two months, there was still no progress. As the people were petitioning for Yue Fei's release, Qin begun to worry and his wife stepped in to convince him that if he did not get rid of Yue Fei then, there would never be another opportunity.

Knowing that there were no evidence to convict Yue Fei, Qin's wife devised the sentence 'Mo xu you' (perhaps there is 莫须有), which meant that despite the absence of evidence, the ambiguity of the charge is enough to declare him guilty of treason. This allowed Qin to order an execution of Yue Fei who was hanged while Yue Yun and Zhang Xian were guillotined. Today, the term 'Mo xu you' remains in the Chinese language as a reference to fabricated charges.

The Origin of You Tiao (Fried Dough Sticks)

The execution of Yue Fei outraged the common people who grieved for the loss of a great general. As they were powerless to go against the government, the people expressed their anger by making dough figurines of Qin Hui and his wife, twisting them together and then deep frying them. This expression of resentment became known as 'fry the traitors' (zha xiao ren 炸小人) and soon gained widespread popularity among the people.

Over the centuries, the deep-fried dough figurines of Qin Hui and his wife were simplified to two long sticks instead of two whole bodies for convenience, as youtiao became a common snack or breakfast. Till today, youtiao is still sold everywhere in China and in Chinese restaurants throughout the world. This snack can also be found in Malaysia and Singapore.

Yue Fei Temple: Halls

Important: Do take note that whenever you enter a temple, you must step over the threshold as according to Chinese culture, stepping on it is disrespectful and brings bad luck.

Constructed in AD 1211, the Yue Fei Temple was rebuilt at its current site during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD). Inside the temple, a majestic statue of Yue Fei can be found inside a grand hall named "日天昭心" -- in traditional Chinese writing, words are always written from right to left – "心昭天日" (Xin zhao tian ri) and means that "a person's heartfelt sincerity to another is so pure that the sun bears witness to it."

Wall murals depict scenes of his life, from the household story of his mother imprinting the words 'To serve my country with utmost loyalty' (Jing zhong bao guo 精忠报国) on his back, to his final farewell of the people before returning to the capital where he was later charged falsely for treason and executed. The famous words, 'Jin zhong bao guo' are also painted on the walls of the temple in honor of Yue Fei's patriotic spirit and the vow he kept to his mother.

Beside the grand hall are the halls of Yue Fei's faithful generals, Zhang Xian and Niu Gao. Facing Yue Fei's hall, on the right, is Zhang Xian who was executed together with him, and on the left is Niu Gao, who was assassinated five years later by Qin Hui.

Yue Fei Temple: Mausoleum

On the left, before ascending the steps to the halls, are the words 'the people's hero' (Min Zu Ying Xiong 民族英雄) carved outside a stone entrance leading to a small courtyard. Bamboo and plum blossoms are planted there to symbolize Yue Fei's virtues as a righteous and steadfast person.

Turn to the left and enter a bigger courtyard where stone statues such as a horse, a sheep and a tiger signify aspects of his character – the sheep represents his humbleness and filial piety, and the tiger, his fierceness as a general. Next, three other statues on each side are meant to protect and guard his tomb. There are two tombs: the main tomb contains Yue Fei's remains and the other, the clothes of his son, whose body was never found after execution.

Kneeling towards Yue Fei's tomb are four iron statues: Grand Advisor Qin Hui and his wife on one side, while two of their accomplices, Moqi Xie and Zhang Jun are on the other side. The people expressed their hatred over centuries for these traitors by cursing and spitting on these statues, especially Qin Hui and his wife. Originally cast in bronze, these statues were badly damaged as time passed and they have been replaced with iron castings. Spitting or any other mistreatment is now prohibited as these statues are protected as historical relics.

Address: 80, Beishan Road. Bus: K7, 81, Y2, Y3, 27. Opening hours: 7:30am - 6pm. Admission fee: 25 yuan. Tel: +86 571 87986653

Su Xiaoxiao

Su Xiaoxiao 苏小小, or Su Xiaojun, was a famous courtesan, similar to a Japanese geisha, who lived during the Southern Qi Dynasty (479-502 AD) in Hangzhou. Beautiful and talented, Su was well-known for her intellectual insights and wrote poems which reflected her beliefs in love, beauty and humanity. As a courtesan, she only performed for the nobles and the rich and never consented to be a mistress. However, as the status of a female artisan is considered low in ancient Chinese society, the possibility of true love often eludes them.

There are many stories surrounding Su. For centuries, her short life and her works have inspired many poets who portrayed her as a romantic heroine. It is said that Su fell in love with a man from a noble family who declared his love for her and promised that he would convince his family to agree to a union. The man returned home later to get their consent. He never came back for her and Su was broken-hearted.

Sometime later, Su met a poor scholar and they fell in love. When the scholar needed money to travel to the capital for the imperial examinations, Su worked and saved to finance his journey. The scholar left and she waited anxiously for his return. As time elapses, Su fell into a state of despair, thinking that she had once again been betrayed by love, and died of illness at a young age. Her scholar eventually returned for her, having passed the examinations as the top scholar, but it was too late.

Su was laid to rest eternally beside her beloved West Lake Bridge and after thousands of years, her tomb stands till today. Visitors can find her tomb at Mucai Pavilion (Mucai Ting 慕才亭), Xiling Bridge (Xilingqiao 西泠桥) opposite Shangri-la Hotel.

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