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Imperial Bloodline of the Duan Family of Dali

The Kings of Dali played important roles in the universe of wuxia author Jin Yong, appearing in the novels Demi-Gods, Semi-Devils [天龙八部], Eagle Shooting Hero [射雕英雄传] and Divine Eagle, Gallant Knight [神雕侠侣]. Who were the historical Kings of Dali, and who were their alter-egos in Jin Yong's works?

The Kingdom of Dali [大理国 Da4 Li3 Guo2] reigned in Yunnan [云南 Yun2 Nan2] in the south-western corner of present-day China from 937 to 1253. It was established after the fall of the Nanzhao Dynasty [南诏 Nan2 Zhao4] in 902 and three other very brief reigns that lasted a total of 35 years.


Map: The territories of Dali, Song, Xixia and Liao during Demi-Gods, Semi-Devils.

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A Brief History of the Duan Surname

Originating in Central Region of China, the surname of "Duan" [段 Duan4] had its roots in the household of the surname of "Ji" [姬 Ji1], the surname of the royal family of the Zhou Dynasty [周朝 Zhou1 Chao2, 1100-221 B.C.]. King Wen of Zhou [周文王 Zhou1 Wen2 Wang2], for example, had the surname of Ji, and the given name of Chang [昌].

During the reign of King Ping of Zhou [周平王 Zhou1 Ping2 Wang2, 770-722 B.C.], Zhengwu-gong [郑武公] and his son, Zhengzhuang-gong [郑庄公] held posts that were similar to that of a Prime Minister or Chancellor in feudal times. According to the "The New Book of Tang: The Genealogy of Prime Ministers" [新唐书:宰相世系表 Xin1 Tang2 Shu1: Zai3 Xiang4 Shi4 Xi4 Biao3], the youngest son of Zhengwu-gong was called Gong Shuduan [共叔段]. During the Spring and Autumn Period [春秋时代 Chun1 Qiu1 Shi2 Dai4, 770-476 B.C.], the descendants of Gong Shuduan began using his given name of "Duan" as their surname.

The Origins of the Dali Kings

Since the days of the Sui Dynasty [隋朝 Sui2 Chao2, 581-618 A.D.], the Duan of Dali had made their home around Lake Er [洱海 Er3 Hai3] in Yunnan. By the time the Nanzhao Dynasty was in place, the Duan had become a family of aristocrats and noblemen. When the armies of the Tang Dynasty [唐朝 Tang2 Chao2, 618-907 A.D.] threatened Nanzhao, King Meng Geluofeng [蒙阁罗风] sent his son, Fengjiayi [凤伽异], and General Duan Jianwei [段俭魏] out to meet the enemy in battle at Mount Dianchang [点苍山 Dian3 Cang1 Shan1] and on the western shore of Lake Er. When the Nanzhao army returned in victory, Duan Jianwei was promoted to the position of "Official of Peace and Prosperity" [清平官 Qing1 Ping2 Guan1], a post similar to that of a Prime Minister or Chancellor in the neighbouring Tang. In addition, the Nanzhao government bestowed Duan with a new name, "Zhongguo" [忠国], which meant "loyalty to the country", and hailed as one of the founders of the state.

Members of the Duan Family went on to hold other important positions in the Nanzhao government. Five were named as "Officials of Peace and Prosperity", while seven were appointed as generals in the army. Six were sent as emissaries to the Tang government, while ten were listed as outstanding citizens on the Nanzhao Tablet of Merits [南诏德化碑 Nan2 Zhao4 De2 Hua4 Bei1]. Erected in the year 766 by King Geluofeng, this three-metre-tall tablet of stone is a tourist attraction in modern-day Dali.

According to Chapter 22 of Demi-Gods, Semi-Devils, the Duan Family of Dali "originated from an aristocratic family in the martial arts circle of the Central Region". This statement by Jin Yong seems to have its roots in the origin of "Duan" surname as an off-shoot of the "Ji" surname of the Zhou Dynasty. While it will never be known if the descendants of Gong Shuduan were members of the martial arts circle, we do know that the early members of the Duan family were no less outstanding in their exploits and undertakings.

The Reigns of the Dali Kings

1. Duan Siping 段思平 (893-944)

  • Reigned: 937-944.
  • Reign Titles(1) : Wende [文德 Wen2 De2], Shenwu [神武 Shen2 Wu3].
  • Posthumous Title(2) : The Holy Civil and Military Emperor [神圣文武皇帝 Shen2 Sheng4 Wen2 Wu3 Huang2 Di4].
  • Temple Title(3) : Dali Taizu, the Great Founder of Dali [大理太祖 Da4 Li3 Tai4 Zu3].

Siping was a sixth-generation descendant of Duan Zhongguo (a.k.a. Duan Jianwei). Legend has it that his mother delivered him while she was crossing a river. His younger brother, Siliang [思良], followed.

An deputy general of a small prefecture in the Nanzhao government, Siping often went for walks in the mountains. On one occasion, he received an augury (similar to a foreshadowing) that he would become an emperor. When Yang Zhaozhe [杨诏者], the younger brother of the military commissioner of Dongchuan [东川节度使 Dong1 Chuan1 Jie2 Du1 Shi3] Yang Ganzhen [杨干贞], heard about the prophecy, he set out to do Siping harm. Siping managed to evade the minions of the Yang Brothers for four years.

When Yang Ganzhen stepped up the brothers' efforts, the Guard of the Huishan Administration [会善政臣守 Hui4 Shan4 Zheng4 Chen2 Shou3] Gao Fang [高方] sent word of it to Siping in secret. Consequently, Siping, his younger brother Siliang and military general Dong Jialuo [董迦罗] escaped.

When they reached the shores of the Mirror-of-Leaves Lake [叶镜湖 Ye4 Jing4 Hu1], Siping found the characters "靑昔" (Jing1 Xi1) on the stone of a wild peach that he had picked to eat. Apparently, some insects had gnawed at the peach-stone until the characters were formed. Siping took his find as a good omen, interpreting it as the "twenty-first day of the twelfth month". He pushed ahead, borrowing the armies of thirty-seven tribes in the east and naming Dong Jialuo as the commander-in-chief. When the armies were finally assembled, it was already the twenty-first day of the twelfth month.

Siping launched an attack on Dali, with Yang Ganzhen as his target. However, the presence of the Nanzhao army did not allow him to get very far. One night, Siping had three unexpected dreams: a man without a head, a jade vase with ears (handles) and a broken mirror. When he told his subordinates about these dreams, Dong Jialuo said, "You are 'zhangfu' [丈夫], a man. When the top of 'fu' [夫] is removed, the character 'tian' [天], meaning 'heaven', is formed. A jade vase [玉瓶] without ears is the character 'wang' [王], meaning 'king', while the broken mirror means that there will be no opposition. These are divine signs indeed."

Shortly after that, Siping and his armies broke through the Nanzhao army and entered Dali. Yang Ganzhen fled as soon as he heard about Nanzhao's defeat. Siping established his throne in Dali in 937 at the age of forty-four. The following year, he appointed Dong Jialuo as the "Official for Peace and Prosperity" and named Gao Fang as the "Marquis of Yue" [岳侯 Yue4 Hou2]. In addition, he exempted the thirty-seven tribes from labouring in the jade and jasper mines for three years, and pardoned criminals who did not have any sons. Two years later, Yang Ganzhen was brought to justice and exiled as a monk, although some sources believed that he hung himself in suicide.

Siping was a devout Buddhist, building many temples and casting many images of Buddha during his 8-year reign. After his death, his son, Siying, ascended the throne.

2. Duan Siying 段思英

  • Reigned: 944-945.
  • Reign Title: Wenjing [文经 Wen2 Jing1].
  • Posthumous Title: Wenjing, the Emperor of Letters [文经皇帝 Wen2 Jing1 Huang2 Di4].

A year after ascending the throne of Dali, Siying bestowed the title of "The Holy Empress Dowager of Benevolent Proclamations in the City of Elms" [榆城宣惠圣国母 Yu2 Cheng2 Xuan1 Hui4 Sheng4 Guo2 Mu3] on his mother. Then, his uncle, Siliang, claimed the throne for his own and forced Siying to become a Buddhist monk. Siying eventually took the monastic name of Great Master Hongxiu [宏修大师 Hong2 Xiu1 Da4 Shi1].

Some sources believed that Siying had always been an unworthy son, to the point that even his own father, Siping, gave up on him. When Siying's excessiveness increased upon his ascension to the throne, the officials in his government had him removed before putting Siliang in his place.

3. Duan Siliang 段思良 (d.951)

  • Reigned: 944-951.
  • Reign Title: Zhizhi [至治 Zhi4 Zhi4].
  • Posthumous Title: The Emperor of Holy Compassion in Civil and Military Conduct [圣慈文武皇帝 Sheng4 Ci2 Wen2 Wu3 Huang2 Di4].
  • Temple Title: Dali Taizong, the Great Ancestor of Dali [大理太宗 Da4 Li3 Tai4 Zong1].

Siliang, whom some sources say was originally named Duan Zhou [段胄], was the younger brother of Siping, the first King of Dali. He reigned for seven years before passing away.

4. Duan Sicong 段思聪 (d.968)

  • Reigned: 952-968.
  • Reign Title: Mingde [明德 Ming2 De2], Guangde [广德 Guang3 De2], Shunde [顺德 Shun4 De2].
  • Posthumous Title: The Emperor of Supreme Principles and Extensive Benevolence [至道广慈皇帝 Zhi4 Dao4 Guang3 Ci2 Huang2 Di4].

Sicong replaced his father, Siliang, as the King of Dali in 952. In 968, Dali made contact with the government of the newly-established Song Dynasty [宋朝 Song4 Chao2] of Han China. However, the Song government was unable to attend to its south-western neighbour because of the chaotic conditions in its northern territories. Consequently, there was no contact between Dali and Song for several decades. Sicong passed away after seventeen years on the throne.

5. Duan Sushun 段素顺 (d.985)

  • Reigned: 969-985.
  • Reign Title: Mingzheng [明正 Ming2 Zheng4].
  • Posthumous Title: Yingdao, the Emperor who Responded to the Way [应道皇帝 Ying4 Dao4 Huang2 Di4].

After the death of Sicong, his son, Sushun, ascended the throne. In 967, Wang Quanbin [王全斌] asked the Song Emperor Taizu [宋太祖 Song4 Tai4 Zu3] for Yunnan, but the monarch drew a line at the Great-Crossing River [大渡河 Da4 Du4 He2] and said, "The lands beyond this are not mine." Consequently, the Duan Family lived on in the territories of the former Nanzhao Dynasty in considerable peace. Two years later, unrest broke out along the eastern border of Dali. Sushun sent his uncle, Chief Governor Duan Zibiao [段子标], the prince-consort and Chief of Three Armies Duan Yanzhen [段彦贞], several other senior military officers as well as their armies to quell the turmoil. In 985, Sushun passed away.

6. Duan Suying 段素英 (d.1009)

  • Reigned: 986-1009.
  • Reign Titles: Guangming [广明 Guang3 Ming2], Mingying [明应 Ming2 Ying4], Mingsheng [明圣 Ming2 Sheng4], Mingtong [明统 Ming2 Tong2], Mingzhi [明治 Ming2 Zhi4]. Some sources include a sixth reign title of Mingde [明德 Ming2 De2].
  • Posthumous Title: Zhaoming, the Emperor of Clear Judgement [昭明皇帝 Zhao1 Ming2 Huang2 Di4].

Suying, the son of Sushun, succeeded his father in 986. A devout Buddhist, Suying used a document called "The Record of Conveying Lamps" [传灯录 Chuan2 Deng1 Lu4] as the basis for filling official positions. Candidates, known as "Expositionary Scholars" [释儒 Shi4 Ru2], had to respond to passages that monks read from the document. Suying was also bestowed the title of "Loyal King" by Emperor Taizong of the Northern Song Dynasty. He reigned for twenty-four years before passing away.

7. Duan Sulian 段素廉 (d. 1022)

  • Reigned: 1010-1022.
  • Reign Titles: Mingqi [明启 Ming2 Qi3], Ganxing [干兴 Gan1 Xing1].
  • Posthumous Title: Xuansu, the Emperor who Proclaimed Respect [宣肃皇帝 Xuan1 Su4 Huang2 Di4].

Sulian, who succeeded his father, Suying, had a rather uneventful reign that was marked by a failed attack on Vietnam in the year 1014. He passed away after thirteen years on the throne.

8. Duan Sulong 段素隆 (d.1041)

  • Reigned: 1023-1026.
  • Reign Title: Mingtong [明通 Ming2 Tong1].
  • Posthumous Title: Bingyi, the Emperor who Upheld Righteousness [秉义皇帝 Bing3 Yi4 Huang2 Di4].

Sulong was the grandson of Suying and the nephew of Sulian. He ascended the throne of Dali for two reasons: one, Sulian's own son had already passed away, and two, the heir-apparent Suzhen (Sulian's grandson) was too young. In 1026, Sulong abdicated in favour of Suzhen and became a monk.

9. Duan Suzhen 段素真 (d.1039?)

  • Reigned: 1026-1039.
  • Reign Title: Zhengzhi [正治 Zheng4 Zhi4].
  • Posthumous Title: Shengde, the Emperor of Holy Virtue [圣德皇帝 Sheng4 De2 Huang2 Di4].

Suzhen, the grandson of Sulian the seventh King of Dali, succeeded his uncle, Sulong, in 1026. The Unofficial History of Nanzhao claims that he became a monk in 1041 after reigning for fifteen years, but other sources believe that he died in 1039 instead.

10. Duan Suxing 段素兴 (d.1044)

  • Reigned: 1042-1044.
  • Reign Titles: Shengming [圣明 Sheng4 Ming2], Tianming [天明 Tian1 Ming2].
  • Posthumous Title: Tianming, the Emperor of Daybreaks [天明皇帝 Tian1 Ming2 Huang2 Di4].

Suxing succeeded his grandfather, Suzhen, because his father was already deceased. A man who loved luxury, wealth and women, he built vast palaces and planted a profusion of flowers around Dali, including a yellow bloom on the Spring Dyke [春登堤 Chun1 Deng1 Di1] and a white one on the Cloud-Crossing Bridge [云津桥 Yun2 Jin1 Qiao2]. Each spring, Suxing would visit the Three Springs of Yu'an [玉案三泉 Yu4 An4 San1 Quan2] with an assortment of women and wine in tow. Three years later, Suxing's gross excessiveness became so intolerable that the citizens of Dali had him removed from the throne. The great-great-grandson of Dali founder Duan Siping, Silian, was named the next king.

11. Duan Silian 段思廉

  • Reigned: 1044-1075.
  • Reign Titles: Bao'an [保安 Bao3 An1], Zheng'an [正安 Zheng4 An1], Zhengde [正德 Zheng4 De2], Baode [保德 Bao3 De2]. Some sources list a fifth reign title called Minghou [明侯 Ming2 Hou4].
  • Posthumous Title: Xiaode, the Emperor of Filial Piety and Virtue [孝德皇帝 Xiao4 De2 Huang2 Di4].
  • Temple Title: Dali Xingzong, the Ancestor of Prosperous Dali [大理兴宗 Da4 Li3 Xing1 Zong1].

The ascension of Silian to the throne of Dali marked the return of power to the direct descendants of Duan Siping, the founder of Dali, after eight kings and a century of control by the scions of Duan Siliang.

During the reign of Silian, Nong Zhigao [侬智高] staged a coup in Langzhou [郎周 Lang2 Zhou1] and set himself up as Emperor Renhui [仁惠皇帝 Ren2 Hui4 Huang2 Di4] of a new Great Southern Nation [大南国 Da4 Nan2 Guo2]. The Song government sent an army under the command of the Deputy Commissioner of the Privy Council [枢密副使 Shu1 Mi4 Fu4 Shi3] Di Jing [狄靑] to arrest the rebel. When the army of Great Southern Nation was finally defeated, Nong Zhigao fled to Dali. Silian had Nong killed and his head sent to the Song capital. Consequently, the Duan Family of Dali began to be known in the Han-China.

In 1063, Silian sent the Marquis of Yue [岳侯 Yue4 Hou2] Gao Zhisheng [高智升] to crush the rebellion of Yang Yunxian [杨允贤] in Yaozhou [姚洲 Yao2 Zhou1]. When Gao returned in triumph, he was appointed the "Grand Protector" [太保 Tai4 Bao3] and given the title of "Marquis of Merits" [德侯 De2 Hou2]. He was also given the territory of Rudian in Baiya [白崖茹甸 Bai2 Ya2 Ru2 Dian4], before being named "Marquis of Shanchan" [鄯阐侯 Shan4 Chan3 Hou2], a hereditary title to be passed down to his descendants. Shanchan was the former name of present-day Kunming [昆明] in Yunnan.

Silian abdicated in 1075 in favour of his son, Lianyi, after thirty-one years on the throne. Then, he became a monk.

12. Duan Lianyi 段廉义 (d.1080)

  • Reigned: 1075-1080.
  • Reign Titles: Shangde [上德 Shang4 De2], Guang'an [广安 Guang3 An1].
  • Posthumous Title: Shangde, the Emperor of Greater Virtue [上德皇帝 Shang4 De2 Huang2 Di4].

After ascending the throne of Dali, Lianyi sent emissaries to the Song government with tributes of gems, felt rugs, sabres, swords, armour of rhinocerous hide, saddles as well as bridles. He was suddenly killed in 1080 by one of his officials, a Yang Yizhen [杨义贞] who went on to make himself king. The Marquis of Shanchan Gao Zhisheng ordered the Official of Peace and Prosperity Gao Shengtai [高升泰] and the eastern army of Cuanbo [爨僰 Cuan4 Bo2] to have Yang captured and killed. Then, Marquis Gao named Lianyi's nephew, Shouhui, as king.

This incident is mentioned in Chapter 8 of Demi-Gods, Semi-Devils:


More than ten years ago during the fifth year in the reign of the Emperor Shangde Duan Lianyi, a great and sudden upheaval occurred in the court of Dali. The Emperor Shangde was killed by the treacherous official Yang Yizhen. Consequently, Duan Shouhui, the nephew of the deceased emperor, sought the assistance of the eminent monks of the Temple of the Celestial Dragon and the loyal minister Gao Shengtai to have Yang Yizhen killed. ... The Emperor Shangde had a son, whom the court addressed as Prince Yanqing. During the coup of Yang Yizhen, the situation had been so chaotic that no one knew where Prince Yanqing had gone. He was soon presumed dead, killed by Yang. Therefore, no one had expected that Prince Yanqing would suddenly reappear so many years after the incident.


Who was Prince Yanqing?

Historical records tended to be silent on individuals who did not ascend the throne of their countries. Hence, we will never know if the Emperor Shangde Duan Lianyi ever had a son named Yanqing.

However, the prolific pen of Jin Yong provides us with an insight through the tale of Demi-Gods, Semi-Devils:


Chapter 48

[Duan Yanqing] was the Crown Prince of Dali. He fled the kingdom during the chaos that ensued after his father was killed by his treacherous subordinate, returning only after he had mastered a range of pugilistic skills. By then, the Emperor of Dali was Duan Zhengming, his older cousin. Yet, it was he, Yanqing, who was the rightful king, not Zhengming. He knew that Duan Zhengming was a generous, benevolent and loving leader whom the subjects of Dali adored. Everyone, from the civil and military officials to the lowly soldiers, supported the current king, so who would remember that there was once a Crown Prince in the previous administration?


Yet, when Duan Yanqing finally made his presence known in Dali, he had already taken on a different appearance and identity:


Chapter 8

[The Marquis of Shanchan] Gao Shengtai took a step forward and crouched on the ground. "My late father [Gao Zhisheng] was loyal to the king and loving towards the people," he said [to the Emperor Baoding Duan Zhengming]. "This strange black-robed man [Duan Yanqing] is known as the leader of the Four Evils. If he becomes the King of Dali, we do not know how much our citizens will suffer. Your Majesty, your subordinate, Shengtai, is willing to die ten thousand times, but he does not dare to carry out your imperial edict of handing the throne over to that man."


13. Duan Shouhui 段寿辉

  • Reigned: 1080-1081.
  • Reign Title: Shangming [上明 Shang4 Ming2].
  • Posthumous Title: Shangming, the Emperor of Greater Perception [上明皇帝 Shang4 Ming2 Huang2 Di4].

Shouhui was the nephew of Lianyi. After the murderer of Lianyi, Yang Yizhen, was killed, Gao Zhisheng named Shouhui as king in 1080. Unfortunately, Shouhui was only a puppet, for real power lay in the hands of Gao Zhisheng who had become the Prime Minister [布燮 Bu4 Xie4, a post similar to 宰相 Zai3 Xiang4]. Meanwhile, Gao's son, Shengtai, inherited his former position as the Marquis of Shanchan. Within a year, Shouhui abdicated in favour of his cousin, Duan Zhengming, before becoming a monk at the Temple of the Celestial Dragon.

14. Duan Zhengming 段正明

  • Reigned: 1081-1094.
  • Reign Titles: Baoli [保立 Bao3 Li4], Jian'an [建安 Jian4 An1], Tianyou [天佑 Tian1 You4].
  • Posthumous Title: Baoding, the Emperor of Definite Protection [保定皇帝 Bao3 Ding4 Huang2 Di4].

Like his cousin Shouhui, Zhengming was a puppet-king who had to listen to Gao Zhisheng. In 1094, growing support for the Gao Family led the court of Dali to enthrone the Marquis of Shanchan Gao Shengtai as king. Zhengming was forced to become a monk, marking the end of the Duan Dynasty after one hundred and fifty-eight years of rule.

The story of the Emperor Baoding Duan Zhengming plays out in a more positive way in Demi-Gods, Semi-Devils. Although he was doing well as the generous, benevolent and loving monarch whom his citizens adored, his sense of justice and fair-play led him to suggest a return of power to the former Crown Prince, Duan Yanqing:


Chapter 8

The Emperor Baoding [Duan Zhengming] shook his head. "The throne belongs to Prince Yanqing in the first place," he said. "The Emperor Shangming [Duan Shouhui] ascended the throne years ago simply because Prince Yanqing could not be found. Then, the throne was passed on to me. Now that Prince Yanqing has suddenly reappeared, I should return the throne to him." Then, turning to Gao Shengtai, he added, "If your father [Gao Zhisheng] was still alive, he would probably have suggested the same."


In addition, he became a monk for a totally different reason:


Chapter 10

[At the Temple of the Celestial Dragon,] the Emperor Baoding said [to the Abbot Benyin]: "There are no words to describe my gratitude, Benevolent and Virtuous Abbot. But I wonder, is there even a little that I can contribute to the issue of dealing with the Enlightened Lord of the Great Wheel [大轮明王 Da4 Lun2 Ming2 Wang2]?"

"If we were to learn the Phenomenal Swords of Six Channels [六脉神剑 Liu4 Mai4 Shen2 Jian4] individually, none of us would succeed," said Kurong unexpectedly. "We just do not have sufficient internal strength to do it. But I have thought of a way that might do the trick. We will learn the sword of one channel each, but all six of us must exercise the technique together. Although it is better to refrain from violence than to fight six-to-one, we are not in this battle for individual supremacy in martial arts. Instead, we are doing this to protect our documents and temple. So, there is nothing anyone can say even if we send a hundred men out against him. The only problem is, we cannot find a sixth pugilist whose level of cultivation in finger-strength is equivalent to ours here in the Temple of the Celestial Dragon. Therefore, we have found it difficult to make a decision on this plan. Zhengming, you should just join in and make up the number. However, you would have to shave your head bald and dress like a monk for the plan to work." The pace of his speech increased as he spoke, as if he was feeling excited, but his tone remained icy-cold.

"It has always been my aspiration to have myself proclaimed as a Buddhist," said the Emperor Baoding, "but I have never heard of the profound mysteries of the Phenomenal Swords. Now that we are pressed for time, I am afraid..."

[The Abbot] Benyin spoke: "Zhengming, you are the King of Dali. Putting on a different set of clothes may be an expedient solution, but if the other party sees through the disguise, the mighty name of the Kingdom of Dali will certainly be damaged. There are both advantages and disadvantages to the plan, so I hope you will consider them before making a decision."

Putting his palms together, the Emperor Baoding replied: "I am duty-bound not to turn my back on protecting my beliefs and the temple."

"Very good," said Benyin. "However, since the Phenomenal Swords of Six Channels cannot be taught to secular disciples, you would have to take the tonsure before we can start training you. After our strong opponents have been beaten, you can resume your secular life."

The Emperor Baoding stood up and knelt with both his knees on the ground. "Please exercise your benevolence, Great Master," he said.

"Come over here," replied the Great Master Kurong. "I will give you the tonsure."


What about Gao Shengtai?

In real-life, Gao Shengtai, a descendant of the first Marquis of Yue, Gao Fang (see Duan Siping), ascended the throne of Dali as the founder and king of a new Great Central Nation [大中国 Da4 Zhong1 Guo2] in 1094 after Duan Zhengming was forced into abdicating. As he lay dying after two years on the throne, Shengtai said to his sons: "I established a new rule because of the weakness of the Duan Family. When I die, you must return the leadership of the country to the Duans. Be careful; do not violate my will."

In 1096, Gao Taiming [高泰明], a son of Shengtai, handed the throne over to Duan Zhengming's younger brother, Zhengchun. The second era of the Duan monarchy was known as Later (Da)li [后理国 Hou4 Li3 Guo2]. However, the Gao Family remained very much in power, and was known far and wide as the "Gao Lords of the Country" [高国主 Gao1 Guo2 Zhu3].

In Demi-Gods, Semi-Devils however, Gao Shengtai's role is very much simpler and a lot less influential. First appearing in Chapter 6, he is portrayed as a highly-skilled pugilist who remained the Marquis of Shanchan throughout the reign of the Emperor Baoding, without ascending the throne of Dali and establishing his own rule.

15. Duan Zhengchun 段正淳

  • Reigned: 1096-1108.
  • Reign Titles: Tianshou [天授 Tian1 Shou4], Kaiming [开明 Kai1 Ming2], Tianzheng [天政 Tian1 Zheng4], Wen'an [文安 Wen2 An1].
  • Posthumous Title: Wen'an, the Emperor of Civil Peace [文安皇帝 Wen2 An1 Huang2 Di4].
  • Temple Title: Dali Zhongzong, the Middle Ancestor of Dali [大理中宗 Da4 Li3 Zhong1 Zong1].

The ascension of Zhengchun, the younger brother of Zhengming, to the throne of Dali marked a return of the Duan Family. Gao Taiming wielded administrative power as the "Chief Minister of the State" [相国 Xiang4 Guo2]. After reigning for twelve years, Zhengchun abdicated in favour of his son, Heyu, and became a monk.

In Demi-Gods, Semi-Devils, the absence of Gao Shengtai's Great Central Nation and the possibility of truth in Duan Yanqing's claim necessitated a different direction in the leadership succession of Dali.


Chapter 8

With a wave of his hand, the Emperor Baoding said [to Gao Shengtai and Ba Tianshi]: "Please rise. What you say is logical. However, Yu'er [Duan Zhengchun's son, Duan Yu] is now in his [Duan Yanqing's] hands. Besides abdicating and handing the throne over to him, what else is there that would secure Yu'er's return?"

Duan Zhengchun replied: "Elder Brother, since the days of old, it has always been the subordinates who sacrifice their lives for a monarch in trouble. Although you have always loved Yu'er, how can you relinquish the throne for him? If your act enables Yu'er to escape danger, the boy will become the greatest sinner in the Kingdom of Dali."

The Emperor Baoding got to his feet. Stroking his long beard with his left hand and tapping his forehead lightly with two fingers of his right, he began walking slowly around the room. ... After a long time, he said, "The Crown Prince Yanqing is terribly ruthless in his ways. He made Yu'er ingest the 'Powder of Amity and Harmony between Yin and Yang' [阴阳和合散 Yin1 Yang2 He2 He2 San3], a drug so potent that most people would have a very difficult time trying not to succumb to its effects. I am afraid ... afraid that he may have already been overcome by the drug. Sigh, this is the work of another man's deviousness, so Yu'er cannot be blamed for it."

Duan Zhengchun lowered his head in deep shame and embarrassment, for he knew that the root of the problem lay in his own licentiousness, a behaviour that had become an irrevocable part of his personality.

Returning to his chair, the Emperor Baoding sat down and said, "Minister of Works Ba [Tianshi], order the Imperial Academy [翰林院 Han4 Lin2 Yuan4] to write out my decree: I bestow on my younger brother, Zhengchun, the title of Crown Prince."


Despite being named the heir to the throne of Dali, the Duan Zhengchun of Demi-Gods, Semi-Devils never became king. However, the details of this turn of events, as foreshadowed in the chapter excerpt above, cannot be divulged at this point, for the novel relies heavily on it as a major plot device.

16. Duan Zhengyan 段正严

  • Reigned: 1108-1147.
  • Reign Titles: Rixin [日新 Ri4 Xin1], Wenzhi [文治 Wen2 Zhi4], Yongjia [永嘉 Yong3 Jia1], Baotian [保天 Bao3 Tian1], Guangying [广应 Guang3 Ying4].
  • Posthumous Title: Xuanren, the Emperor who Proclaimed Benevolence [宣仁皇帝 Xuan1 Ren2 Huang2 Di4].
  • Temple Title: Dali Xianzong, the Ancestor of Constitutional Dali [大理宪宗 Da4 Li3 Xian4 Zong1].

Zhengyan was originally named Duan Heyu [段和誉]. He changed his name after succeeding his father, Zhengchun, to the throne of Dali in 1108. In 1111, a massive earthquake damaged sixteen temples in Dali. The thirty-seven tribes staged a rebellion (see Duan Siping), which was promptly dealt with by the Chief Minister of State Gao Taiming. During this time, Gao appointed his fourth son, Mingqing [高明清], as the Administrator [镇守 Zhen4 Shou3] of Shanchan. Four years later, Zhengyan bestowed on Gao the title of "Duke of Peace" [平国公 Ping2 Guo2 Gong1]. He also sent tributes to the Song government in the same year.

Gao Zhichang [高智昌], one of Taiming's eight sons, was sentenced to death for committing a crime. Two of the dead man's subordinates, Yi [伊] and He [何], plotted to assasinate Zhengyan in revenge when the monarch was on his way to the temple. The plan failed, but Zhengyan commended the Yi and He for their loyalty and rewarded them with titles instead. However, the duo refused Zhengyan's offer and insisted on dying to serve their master in the afterlife. After Yi and He were executed, Zhengyan had a tomb built in their honour.

After Gao Taiming's death, Gao Taiyun [高泰运] became the new Chief Minister. In 1116, he sent out his son, Zicong [紫琮 Zi3 Cong2], as an emissary with tributes to the Song government. In return, the Emperor Huizong [徽宗 Hui1 Zong1] of Song bestowed on Zhengyan a string of titles, including "King of Dali" [大理国王 Da4 Li3 Guo2 Wang2].

In 1119, rebellions broke out in several places. Armies that were sent out to quell the unrest returned defeated. The thirty-seven tribes rebelled again. In addition, disasters hit one after another. A huge fire wiped out 3,900 homes in 1125, while a dense fog covered for land for twenty-four days in 1146 before lifting.

As Zhengyan grew old, his sons began fighting one another for the throne. This internal strife, as well as external rebellions that refused to be put down, finally caused the beleaguered Zhengyan to abdicate and become a monk. He had reigned for thirty-nine years, making him the longest-serving monarch among the Duan Kings of Dali.

In Demi-Gods, Semi-Devils, the real-life Zhengyan is introduced as Duan Yu [段誉], with the 'He' [和] dropped from his name. One of the three main characters in the novel, he shows up in Chapter 1 as a young man of 19 years. Then, the story charts his adventures as well as those of his best friends and sworn brothers, Xiao Feng [萧峰] and Xuzhu [虚竹], before coming to a climatic conclusion that includes his ascension to the throne of Dali as the Emperor Xuanren.

In Chapter 48, Duan Yu is said to be born "the thirtieth day of the eleventh month in the second year of the Emperor Baoding". If this is taken to mean the year 1082, Duan Yu would only be 13 years old when the Emperor Baoding became a monk, and not 19, as evidented by the events between Chapters 1 and 10. Furthermore, Duan Yu was no more than 23 when he became king, as opposed to 27 for the real-life Zhengyan. Fortunately, these little discrepancies in time and age do little harm to the epic tale of Demi-Gods, Semi-Devils.

17. Duan Zhengxing 段正兴

  • Reigned: 1147-1171.
  • Reign Titles: Yongzhen [永贞 Yong3 Zhen1], Dabao [大宝 Da4 Bao3], Longxing [龙兴 Long2 Xing4], Shengming [盛明 Sheng4 Ming2], Jiande [建德 Jian4 De2].
  • Posthumous Title: Zhengkang, the Emperor of Uprighteousness and Well-Being [正康皇帝 Zheng4 Kang1 Huang2 Di4].
  • Temple Title: Dali Jingzong, the Ancestor of Picturesque Dali [大理景宗 Da4 Li3 Jing3 Zong1].

During the reign of Zhengxing, whom some sources say was originally named Duan Yichang [段易长], Gao Liangcheng gave up his position as the Chief Minister of State in favour of his nephew, Shou Zhen [寿贞]. Gao then retired to Chuxiong City [楚雄城 Chu3 Xiong2 Cheng2], which was eventually renamed Dejiang City [德江城 De2 Jiang1 Cheng2, "The City of the River of Merits"] after its illustrious resident-retiree. In 1171, Zhengxing abdicated after twenty-five years on the throne and became a monk. He was succeeded by his son, Zhixing.

18. Duan Zhixing 段智兴 (d.1200)

  • Reigned: 1172-1200.
  • Reign Titles: Lizhen [利贞 Li4 Zhen1], Shengde [盛德 Sheng4 De2], Jiahui [嘉会 Jia1 Hui4], Yuanheng [元亨 Yuan2 Heng1], Anding [安定 An1 Ding4], Hengshi [亨时 Heng1 Shi2].
  • Posthumous Title: Gongji, the Emperor of Utmost Merit [功极皇帝 Gong1 Ji2 Huang2 Di4].
  • Temple Title: Dali Xuanzong, Dali's Ancestor of Proclamations [大理宣宗 Da4 Li3 Xuan1 Zong1].

The reign of Zhixing was a tumultous one that was marked by rebellions and political unrest. For instance, Li Guanyin [李观音] rose up and wrested the post of Chief Minister of State from Shou Chang [寿昌], the successor of Shou Zhen from the previous administration. Li then gave the post to his nephew, Zhenming [贞明], only to have another person rise up, take the post away and return it to Shou Chang. The ousted Zhenming went on to declare himself "Emperor" in Heqing [鹤庆 He4 Qing4]. On another occasion, Gao Miaoyin [高妙音] raised an army in Baiya and took Shanchan. Unfortunately, his nephews, Chengxian [成贤] and Chengzheng [成正] made an attempt to wrest Shanchan away.

In 1190, Zhixing repaired the sixteen temples that were damaged in an earthquake during the reign of his grandfather, Zhengyan. Five years later, he had the Dragon's Head Pass [龙首关] and the Dragon's Tail Pass [龙尾关] repaired. Today, both these passes have been gazetted as protected sites in Yunnan. Zhixing passed away in 1200 after twenty-eight years on the throne.

In the novel Eagle Shooting Hero, Duan Zhixing is portrayed as a king who abdicated and became a monk by the Buddhist name of Yideng [一灯] in the aftermath of an unexpectedly traumatic and personal experience.


Chapter 31

[The Great Master Yideng] said: "... The child's injuries were not as serious of those of Miss Huang [Rong], but he was so young and small that I would have to spend a lot of internal energy on his treatment. I was hesitant for a long time, but when I saw how pitiful the weeping Imperial Concubine Liu was, I wanted to open my mouth and say that I was willing to treat the child. This happened several times, but whenever it did, I would think about the upcoming Second Discourse of Swords on Mount Hua [华山二次论剑 Hua4 Shan1 Er4 Ci4 Lun2 Jian4]. If I treated the child, I would no longer have any hope of standing out among the heroes. Neither would I have the chance of even touching the 'True Book of the Nine Negative Principles' [九阴真经 Jiu3 Yin1 Zhen1 Jing1]. Because of the book, my loving and benevolent heart was completely gone. ... I pondered for more than half a 'shichen' (one hour) before I finally decided to treat the child. Sigh, within that time, I was a selfish and unscrupulous man who could not even be compared to a beast. The only thing that was more regretful than that, was the reason behind my decision. I chose to treat the child not because of remorse and an attempt to change for the better, but simply because I could no longer withstand Imperial Concubine Liu's pain-filled and persistent pleadings. ... I wanted more than once to save the child but that brocade handkerchief was wrapped around his chest. There was a pair of embroidered Mandarin Ducks on the handkerchief that had their heads together in a warm and intimate pose. The ducks had white feathers on their heads, a symbol that stood for a couple being together until old age; but why did she say, 'What a pity, to turn grey before one becomes old'? When I turned around and saw the grey on her temples, a chill suddenly passed through my body. My heart became as hard as steel once more. 'All right,' I said, 'so both of you want to be together until you are old, and leave me all alone as the king in the cold and dreary palace! This is the child that both of you had. Why must I waste my internal strength on resuscitating him?' ... I went without food and water for three days and three nights, thinking hard before I finally recognised the truth in full. With this understanding, I handed the throne over to my eldest son. Then, I became a monk."


Furthermore, unlike the real-life Zhixing who died in 1200, the Great Master Yideng lived on in the sequel story of Divine Eagle, Gallant Knight until at least 1259, the year the Mongolian King Möngke [蒙哥 Meng2 Ge1] passed away. Considering that both his grandfather, Zhengyan, and his father, Zhengxing, reigned for a total of sixty-four years before the throne was handed to him, the Great Master Yideng could well have lived to the age of 110 or more.

19. Duan Zhilian 段智廉 (d.1204)

  • Reigned: 1200-1204.
  • Reign Titles: Hengshi [亨时 Heng1 Shi2], Fengli [凤历 Feng4 Li4], Yuanshou [元寿 Yuan2 Shou4].
  • Posthumous Title: Hengtian, the Emperor of Smooth-Going Days [亨天皇帝 Heng1 Tian1 Huang2 Di4].
  • Temple Title: Dali Yingzong, the Heroic Ancestor of Dali [大理英宗 Da4 Li3 Ying1 Zong1].

After succeeding his father, Zhixing, to the throne of Dali, Zhilian sent emissaries to the Song government to seek the 1,465-volume "Great Tibetan Sutra" [大藏经 Da4 Zang4 Jing1]. Barely four years later, Zhilian passed away and was succeeded by his younger brother, Zhixiang.

20. Duan Zhixiang 段智祥 (d.1238)

  • Reigned: 1205-1238.
  • Reign Titles: Tiankai [天开 Tian1 Kai1], Tianfu [天辅 Tian1 Fu3], Tianshou [天寿 Tian1 Shou4].
  • Posthumous Title: Yonghui, the Emperor of Everlasting Kindness [永惠皇帝 Yong3 Hui4 Huang2 Di4].
  • Temple Title: Dali Shenzong, the Divine Ancestor of Dali [大理神宗 Da4 Li3 Shen2 Zong1].

During the reign of Zhixiang, a military clampdown was made on the thirty-seven tribes (see Duan Siping) in an effort to ensure peace in Dali. In 1237, Gao Long [高隆] was appointed the "Prince of Shanchan" [鄯阐王 Shan4 Chan3 Wang2], while Gao Taixiang [高泰祥] was named the Chief Minister of State. As Zhixiang put increasing numbers of worthy and talented individuals in his administration, peace and prosperity grew. A year later, he died. However, some sources believe that Zhixiang abdicated instead, and became a monk.

21. Duan Xiangxing 段祥兴 (d.1251)

  • Reigned: 1239-1251.
  • Reign Title: Daolong [道隆 Dao4 Long2].
  • Posthumous Title: Xiaoyi, the Emperor of Filial Piety and Righteousness [孝义皇帝 Xiao4 Yi4 Huang2 Di4].

Xiangxing was the son of Zhixiang. In 1244, Mongol troops attacked Dali. Xiangxing sent General Gao He [高禾] out to meet the Mongols in battle, only to have Gao die in defeat. Then, Xiangxing sought the protection of the Song government for his country. He died in 1251 after thirteen years on the throne.

22. Duan Xingzhi 段兴智 (d.1260)

  • Reigned: 1251-1254.
  • Reign Titles: Daolong [道隆 Dao4 Long2], Lizheng [立正 Li4 Zheng4], Xingzheng [兴正 Xing1 Zheng4], Tianding [天定 Tian1 Ding4].
  • Posthumous Title: Wu'an, the Emperor of Military Peace [武安皇帝 Wu3 An1 Huang2 Di4].

Xingzhi succeeded his father, Xiangxing, as the King of Dali in 1251. The following year, Crown Prince Khubilai [忽必烈] of the Mongols attacked Dali with an army of 100,000 under the orders of their King Möngke. Two months after passing through Great-Crossing River, Khubilai sent three emissaries into Dali to see Xingzhi. Xingzhi had the emissaries killed and their bodies hung on a tree. Then, he ordered the Chief Minister Gao Taixiang to guard the River of Golden Sands [金沙江 Jin1 Sha1 Jiang1]. Unperturbed, Khubilai entered Dali by a different route. Gao met the Mongols in battle but was defeated. Xingzhi fled to Shanchan while Gao retreated to Chuxiong City in Yaozhou.

The following year, the Mongols captured Xingzhi. Brought before Möngke, Xingzhi presented the map of Dali and his plans of governing and pacifying the area. Möngke then sent Xingzhi back to Dali as the "Worthy Prince of Loyalty Who is Determined by Heaven" [向义天定贤王 Xiang4 Yi4 Tian1 Ding4 Xian2 Wang2] and made him the governor [总管 Zong2 Guan3] of the territory.

In 1260, Xingzhi died on the way to Dadu [大都] (present-day Beijing) to pay hommage to Khubilai, who had become king after Möngke's death the year before. Although his descendants continued to govern Yunnan during the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty [元朝 Yuan2 Chao2, 1182-1368 A.D.], Xingzhi was the last true monarch of Dali.


  1. Reign Title(s) [年号 Nian2 Hao4] = a designation, or more, for the years when a king or an emperor is on the throne.
  2. Posthumous Title [谥号 Shi4 Hao4] = a title that reflects the life and moral qualities of a deceased ruler, nobleman or eminent governing official.
  3. Temple Title [庙号 Miao4 Hao4] = a title, usually with a 'zu' [祖 zu3, meaning "founder"] or a 'zong' [宗 zong1, meaning "ancestor"], that is given posthumously to a king or emperor when his spirit tablet is established in the imperial ancestral temple.

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