Li Shiji - During Emperor Gaozu's Reign

During Emperor Gaozu's Reign

Around the new year 619, Li Mi, wanting to revive his independence, rebelled against Tang but was soon killed by the Tang general Sheng Yanshi (盛彥師). Emperor Gaozu sent messengers to Li Shiji explaining why Li Mi was killed. Li Shiji mourned Li Mi and requested that he be allowed to bury Li Mi with honor. Emperor Gaozu agreed and sent Li Mi's body to Li Shiji. Li Shiji, still using ceremonies due a ruler, buried Li Mi in a grand funeral south of Liyang.

In fall 619, Dou Jiande, then with the title of Prince of Xia, launched a major offensive, set to affirm his control of the territory north of the Yellow River, as a number of cities there had submitted to Tang. After a number of Xia victories, Li Shentong (李神通) the Prince of Huai'an, Emperor Gaozu's cousin who was in charge of Tang operations north of the Yellow River, withdrew to Liyang and joined forces with Li Shiji. When Dou then was on the way to attack Tang's Wei Prefecture (衛州, roughly modern Weihui, Henan), Li Shiji tried to ambush him, and his officer Qiu Xiaogang (丘孝剛) nearly killed Dou before Dou's guards killed him. In anger, Dou turned his attack around and attacked Liyang instead, capturing it and seizing Li Shentong, Li Gai, Wei Zheng, and Emperor Gaozu's sister Princess Tong'an. Li Shiji was able to fight his way out, but several days later, because his father Li Gai had been captured, surrendered to Dou. Dou made Li Shiji a general and still kept him in charge of Liyang, but took Li Gai back to the Xia capital Ming Prefecture (洺州, in modern Handan, Hebei) to serve as a hostage. He also put Li Shentong under house arrest, as an honored guest.

Li Shiji soon considered how he could again submit to Tang, but worried that Dou would kill his father Li Gai. Guo Xiaoke suggested to him that he needed to first gain Dou's trust by accomplishing things for Xia. Li Shiji agreed, and in winter 619, he attacked the city of Huojia (獲嘉, in modern Xinxiang, Henan), held by Wang Shichong (who had by that point had Yang Tong yield the throne to him, ending Sui and establishing a new state of Zheng) and captured much goods and persons to present to Dou, including Dou's childhood friend Liu Heita. Dou began to trust him. Li Shiji then suggested to Dou that he should attack the agrarian leader Meng Haigong (孟海公), who was then nominally submitting to Zheng, arguing that if Xia could first capture Meng's holdings, it could then next have designs on Zheng. Dou agreed, and he sent his brother-in-law Cao Dan (曹旦) south across the Yellow River, joining forces with Li Shiji. Dou himself would follow, and Li Shiji planned that, as soon as Dou himself arrived, he would ambush Dou's camp and kill him, and then try to find and save his father Li Gai. However, at this time, Dou was awaiting his wife Empress Cao's giving birth and did not arrive for a while. Meanwhile, Cao Dan was insulting and pillaging the other rebel leaders south of the Yellow River who had submitted to Xia, and the rebel leaders were all resentful. One of them, Li Shanghu (李商胡), and Li Shanghu's mother Lady Huo, urged Li Shiji to carry out his plan as soon as possible, and when Li Shiji hesitated, Li Shanghu and Lady Huo acted on their own, ambushing Cao Dan, but while they killed many of Cao's generals, Cao himself was not harmed and soon prepared to counterattack. Li Shanghu notified Li Shiji and asked him to attack Cao, but Li Shiji, saw that Cao had already taken precautions, fled to Tang territory with Guo. Cao soon defeated and killed Li Shanghu, but when Dou's officials suggested that Li Gai be executed, Dou remarked, "Li Shiji was a Tang subject. He was captured by us, but still remembered his former lord and was faithful. What sin did his father have?" Dou then spared Li Gai.

In spring 620, Li Shiji served under Emperor Gaozu's son Li Shimin the Prince of Qin in resisting a major offensive by Liu Wuzhou the Dingyang Khan, and in an engagement against Liu's general Song Jin'gang (宋金剛), Li Shiji was unsuccessful, but was saved by Li Shimin. (Li Shimin eventually defeated Liu, forcing Liu to flee to Eastern Tujue.)

In winter 620, with Li Shimin having launched a major offensive against Wang's Zheng state, the Zheng general Yang Qing (楊慶, a Sui imperial prince) surrendered Guan Prefecture (管州, in modern Zhengzhou, Henan), and Li Shimin sent Li Shiji to take over Guan Prefecture. When Wang Shichong's son and crown prince, Wang Xuanying (王玄應), heard of this, he headed to Guan from Hulao, but Li Shiji repelled him, and then had Guo write a letter to Wei Lu (魏陸), Zheng's prefect of Ying Prefecture (滎州, also in modern Zhengzhou), to persuade Wei to surrender. Wei did so, and this eventually led to a chain reaction where Zheng's holdings in modern eastern Henan surrendered one by one. Wang Xuanying, in fear, fled back to the Zheng capital Luoyang. Further, in spring 621, Wang Shichong's officer Shen Yue (沈悅) surrendered to Li Shiji, allowing Li Shiji's subordinate general Wang Junkuo (王君廓) to capture Hulao and capture Wang Shichong's nephew, Wang Xingben (王行本) the Prince of Jing.

Soon, however, with Zheng in desperate straits, Wang sought aid from Dou. Dou, believing that if Tang destroyed Zheng that his own Xia state would be cornered, agreed, and he sent his forward troops first while proceeding with his main troops later. In the engagement with Dou's forward troops, Li Shimin had Li Shiji, Chen Zhijie (程知節), and Qin Shubao lead the troops, and they were able to defeat Dou's forward troops. Li Shimin then wrote Dou to persuade him to stop aiding Zheng, but Dou did not relent. In summer 621, Li Shimin engaged Dou at the Battle of Hulao, defeating and capturing him. Wang, believing further resistance to be futile, surrendered. Li Shimin spared Wang, but put a number of Zheng officials that he considered treacherous to death. Li Shiji's sworn brother Shan Xiongxin, whom Li Shimin considered treacherous because Shan had turned against Li Mi, was set to be executed as well. Li Shiji begged Li Shimin to spare Shan, arguing that Shan was a capable general who could be useful to Tang and offering to surrender all of his own honors to save Shan from death. Li Shimin refused. When Shan invoked the pledge they made to die on the same day, however, Li Shiji stated to him that he had already offered his body to the service of the state and that the body was no longer his -- and that, if he died as well, no one would be around to take care of Shan's wife and children -- therefore refused to die as well, but cut off a piece of his leg muscle, cooked it, and had Shan eat it, stating, "Let my flesh turn to dust along with you, my brother. By this, I can at least fulfill part of the pledge." Later that year, when Li Shimin returned to Chang'an, and Emperor Gaozu let his troops march in succession in great honor, Li Shiji was one of the 25 generals honored, permitted to wear the same golden armor that Li Shimin was clad in and to offer the captives at Tang's imperial ancestral temple. He was also united with his father Li Gai, who managed to survive the collapse of the Xia regime and return to Tang territory.

Xia territory was temporarily taken over by Tang, but in fall 621, Liu Heita rose against Tang, declaring that he was avenging Dou (whom Emperor Gaozu had executed). Liu quickly captured most of former Xia territory, and when Liu approached the former Xia capital Ming Prefecture, Li Shiji, who was then at nearby Zongcheng (宗城), abandoned Zongcheng and entered Ming to assist its defense, but despite that, Liu defeated him and captured Ming, seizing it as his capital and forcing Li Shiji to flee. Li Shiji subsequently served under Li Shimin in attacking Liu, who had by now declared himself the Prince of Handong, in spring 622, and in a battle, Li Shiji's officer Pan Mao (潘毛) killed Liu's major general Gao Yaxian (高雅賢), who had persuaded Liu to rise against Tang in the first place. Subsequently, when Liu attacked Li Shiji, Li Shimin tried to come to Li Shiji's aid but was surrounded and nearly captured, being saved only by the heroics of Yuchi Jingde. Li Shimin subsequently defeated Liu by flooding Liu's troops with water from the Ming River (flowing through Ming Prefecture), and Liu fled to Eastern Tujue. (Liu would return later that year and again take over former Xia territory, before being decisively defeated by Li Shimin's older brother Li Jiancheng the Crown Prince.) Li Shiji subsequently followed Li Shimin in attacking Liu's ally Xu Yuanlang the Prince of Lu, who controlled the modern central and western Shandong), and after Li Shimin was recalled to Chang'an, he continued the campaign against Xu Yuanlang with Li Shentong and Ren Gui (任瓌). By spring 623, Xu was desperate and abandoned his capital Yan Prefecture (兗州, in modern Jining, Shandong), and he was killed in flight. Li Shiji took his head and sent it to Emperor Gaozu.

Later in 623, the general Fu Gongshi rebelled against Tang at Danyang (丹楊, in modern Nanjing, Jiangsu) and declared himself the Emperor of Song. Li Shiji participated in the campaign against Fu, commanded by Emperor Gaozu's distant nephew Li Xiaogong the Prince of Zhao Commandery. After Tang forces converged on Danyang and defeated Song forces at Mount Bowang (博望山, in modern Ma'anshan, Anhui), Fu fled, and Li Shiji chased him down and, after he was captured by the gentlemen in the country, delivered him to Danyang, where Li Xiaogong executed him.

By 626, Li Jiancheng and Li Shimin were locked in an intense rivalry, and Li Shimin, fearing that Li Jiancheng might be intending to kill him, solicited advice from Li Shiji and another major general, Li Jing, and both refused to speak on the matter, drawing respect from Li Shimin for their unwillingness to be involved in an internecine struggle. In summer 626, Li Shimin ambushed Li Jiancheng and another brother, Li Yuanji the Prince of Qi, who supported Li Jiancheng, at Xuanwu Gate and killed them. He then effectively forced Emperor Gaozu to first create him crown prince and then yield the throne to him (as Emperor Taizong).

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