Ch'in Kuei

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Ch'in Kuei

Ch'in Kuei (1090-1155) was a leading Chinese government official during the early years of the Southern Sung dynasty (1127-1279) and was the foremost advocate of a peace policy toward the jürchen, the Tungusic people who had established the Chin dynasty in North China.

Ch'in Kuei was a native of Chiang-ning in Kiangsu Province. In 1115 he passed the highest civil service examination and obtained the chin-shih degree. After an assignment as an instructor in Shantung, he received the distinction "eloquent and virtuous scholar." His marriage to the granddaughter of a former chief minister, Wang Kuei (1019-1085), may have aided his career. During the closing years of the Northern Sung dynasty (960-1127), Ch'in held a number of government positions, and when the capital fell he was a censor. In 1127 he was taken north as a captive by the Chin because of his opposition to their establishment of the puppet state of Ch'u.

In 1130 Ch'in Kuei and his wife reappeared in the South after apparently being allowed to escape by Wangyen Ch'ang, also known as T'a-lan, a prominent, peace-minded member of the Chin royal house who had been given Ch'in as a slave. Welcomed by Emperor Kao-tsung, who was eager for information concerning the North, Ch'in soon won the Emperor's confidence, received the highest government positions in 1131, and championed peace. However, his opponents won a temporary victory when they forced him to resign in 1132. But Ch'in rapidly recovered his influence, received an important assignment in 1136, and was back in full power in 1138.

In 1141 Ch'in Kuei attained his goal in the form of a negotiated peace which established the Huai River as the boundary between the two states, called for an annual payment of silver and silk by the Sung, and included a Sung agreement to perform ceremonies of vassalage to the Chin. Before concluding the peace, the Sung government took the precaution of recalling three eminent generals and removing them from their commands. Among them was the famous Yüeh Fei, whose murder in prison has been blamed on Ch'in Kuei.

In 1150 an attempt to assassinate Ch'in Kuei failed, and he continued in power until his death of natural causes in 1155. Among his enemies were most of the prominent Confucians, who bitterly opposed his foreign policy and resented his practice of favoring his own followers. Held responsible for a peace which may have been realistic but was widely considered disgraceful and which did not prevent a new outbreak of fighting in 1161, Ch'in Kuei has been despised and condemned not only during the remainder of the Southern Sung dynasty but throughout subsequent Chinese history. Paralleling the growth of the reputation of Yüeh Fei until he became one of China's most glorified heroes, Ch'in Kuei came to be regarded as the villainous traitor par excellence.

Further Reading

There is no study of Ch'in Kuei in a Western language, but he is discussed in most histories of China. These include Wolfram Eberhard, A History of China (trans. 1950; 3d ed. 1969); Dun J. Li, The Ageless Chinese: A History (1965); and Harry Hamm, China: Empire of 700 Million (trans. 1966). □