As the saying goes; “A hero is not afraid of low status”. Di Qing was once a military deserter and was caught and punished with characters tattooed on his face in accordance with the system during the Song era. Through his own effort and given the chance to defend his State, he won a lot of battles and became a great general; it was not easy.
In the Northern Song Dynasty, when ministers Han Qi and Fan Zhongyan first arrived in Shaanxi to search for military talents, their subordinates highly recommended Di Qing who was said to be a local military officer; heroic, courageous, good at war and has the ability of a general. Fan Zhongyan wanted the detailed account of Di Qing’s military achievements.
Di Qing’s background was an ordinary soldier. He learned martial arts since young age and excelled in mounted archery. He was courageous and strong.
After Li Yuanhao assumed the title of emperor as Zhao Yuanhao, he named his new dynasty as the state of Xi (Western) Xia and embarked on a campaign to conquer all of China. Emperor Renzong of Song sent his army to the border to defend the State. Soon the Xia army attacked Bao’an in Shaanxi (now known as Zhidan County, Shaanxi). The Song army in Bao’an was defeated several times and they feared the Xia army. The Song general, Lu Shouqin was worried. When Di Qing took the initiative and volunteered to be the vanguard to fight the Xia army in Bao’an, Lu Shouqin was naturally happy.
Each time when Di Qing went to war, he donned a bronze mask only revealing his two eyes and armed with a long spear. He let his hair run wild and disheveled.
The Xia army had never encountered a powerful opponent like Di Qing ever since they invaded the Song. When they saw Di Qing’s appearance, they became scared. Di Qing led the army charging into the battlefield and won a big victory. The Xia army retreated and was in chaos.
News of Di Qing’s victory reached the palace. Emperor Renzong of Song upgraded Lu Shouqin’s official position and promoted Di Qing by a jump of four grades.
During the subsequent years, the Xia army continued to attack the border making the place unsafe. Di Qing participated in a total of twenty-five battles, was injured eight times and never lost a single battle. The moment the Xia army heard of Di Qing’s name, they were scared to fight with him.
Fan Zhongyan, after hearing the recommendation by his subordinates, immediately summoned Di Qing. He asked Di Qing about books. Di Qing being born into a poor family and joined as an ordinary soldier in the army was not literate, therefore, he was not able to answer Fan Zhongyan’s question.
Fan Zhongyan then advised Di Qing: “You are a general and not well-versed in ancient history and current State affairs; relying on personal courage is not enough”. He then presented Di Qing with a copy of the Zuo Zhuang (a book that focused on political, diplomatic and military affairs covering the era from 722 to 468 BC).
Di Qing was inspired by Fan Zhongyan’s encouragement. He then took up scholarly pursuits and became well versed in military strategies of the Qin and Han generals. Di Qing was well-recognized for his military achievements and was transferred to the Capital.
Di Qing was once summoned to the palace by Emperor Renzong. He saw the tattoos on Di Qing’s face and found that it is disrespectful for Di Qing being a general. He told Di Qing to apply medicine to remove the tattoos.
However, Di Qing said: “Your Majesty does not look down at me. I am very grateful to be elevated to the present status based on my military achievements. On the tattoos, I would rather keep it for my soldiers to see and as an encouragement for them to advance forward!”. When Renzong heard these words, he respected Di Qing even more.
Di Qing was promoted to be Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Military Affairs after achieving more meritorious success. From a solider to become an Assistant Commissioner had never happened in the history of Song Dynasty. A person from a soldier to become the Assistant Commissioner had never happened in the Song history.
Translated by: Chua BC