China's history is one continuous loop of unification and fragmentation. The fragmentation period could be as short as half a century or longer than two hundred years. Unification happened when one of the warlords defeated the pretenders after many battles. With such a background one would expect to find a large number of professional solders or military personnel among the dynasty founders. The opposite, however, is true. This is only one professional soldier. This exception is Zhao Kuang Yin (ŔÂíZíZíZíŔíZíZ), founder of the Sung dynasty (ň«íZíZíZíZ).
We can even say he was from a family of soldiers. His father, Zhao Hong Yin (ŔÂíZň╝íZŠ«íZ), was a brave and outstanding soldier and commander. Due to the turmoil coupled with the rapid rise and fall of the warlords Zhao Hong Yin served under the following dynasties:
Zhao Kuang Yin was Zhao Hong Yin's second son who initially joined the army of Guo Wei (íZíZşňíZíZ). In 951AD Gui Wei captured Kaifeng (íZíZíZň░íZ) and established the Zhou dynasty (951-960) with Kaifeng as the capital. This was known as the Later Zhou dynasty. Guo Wei became Zhou Gao Zu (íZíZĘÚíZíZšąíZ). He reigned from 951-954.
By this time Zhao Kuang Yin had risen to the rank of general. His title was Ding Guo Jie Du Shi (ň«íZíZíZíZš»íZň║ŽńŻ┐). In addition both he and his father were appointed commanders of the royal guards (Š«┐ňíZíZíZíZŻŠíZíZíZíZ«ńŻ┐).
The Later Zhou dynasty was beset with one misfortune after another. The first two emperors were extremely capable but both suffered untimely deaths. Upon Huo Wei's death Zhou Xie Zhong Chai Rong (íZíZĘńíZíZň«íZíZíZ┤ŠŽ«), who was Guo Wei's adopted son, succeeded him. It was during Chai Rong's reign (954-959) that the unification of China was initiated. His army was so strong that he not only defeated other war lords but was in the process of reclaiming part of northern China that was lost to the nomadic empire, Liao (íZíZ╝ňíZíZ), when he suddenly took ill. Upon Chai Rong's death his seven year old son, Chai Zhong Xu (íZíZ┤ňíZíZŔĘíZ) ascended to the throne. He is known as Zhou Gong Di (íZíZĘŠíZşňíZíZ).
On New Year's day, word came from the northern front that the Later Han (ňżíZŠ╝íZ) army with the backing of the Liao army was on the move and poised to attack. Zhao Kuang Yin was given the responsibility of defending the country against this pending invasion. General Zhao and his army left Kaifeng and moved towards the northern front. The first night after leaving the capital, the army arrived and camped at Chen Qiao Yi (íZíZ│ŠíZíZÚęíZ).
Many soldiers didn't want to leave home because it was the middle of winter and more importantly, it was two days after the new year. Feelings of dissatisfaction were running high. During the night some blamed that the young emperor for sending them away from the warmth of home and family during this festival time. Furthermore it was suggested that a coup would ensure a quick trip home.
The next morning, as soon as Zhao Kuang Yin stepped out of his tent the soldiers waiting outside immediately draped a yellow robe over him. All knelt and hailed him as their new emperor. At this point Zhao Kuang Yin had no choice but to return to Kaifeng where the young Zhou Gong Di was forced abdicated.
With any government succession is always a problem, more so with absolute power. With the Sung dynasty it was a bit more complex. Zhao Kung Yi's mother, Queen To, had decreed or rather a death bed wish that the throne should pass from brother to brother rather than follow the more common practice of father to son.
Tai Zu's younger brother, Zhao Guang Yi succeeded him as the second emperor of the Sung dynasty. The events on the eve of his succession, however, remained one of the unsolved mysteries in Chinese history. The generally accepted course of event is as follows. Sung Tai Zu wasn't feeling well. At midnight he asked to see Zhao Guang Yi. During the visit all servants were kept at a distance. From the distance they can only made out the shadows under the light. Hearing the conversation was beyond question. They saw the shadow of Zhao Guang Yi repeatedly getting up from his seat and sitting down. Finally they heard the sound of an ax stricking the ground. In the morning Guang Yi emerged to announce Tai Zu's death. Tai Zu was only 50 years old with no known illness. Later in the day, he ascended the throne. Historians called this "the shadows by the candle and the sound of the ax" incident (íZíZşňŻ▒íZíZžŔíZíZ).