Compiled from Secrets of the
In AD976, the founding emperor of the Song Dynasty, Zhao Kuangyin, who ruled as Emperor Taizu, suddenly died one night at the age of 50. In the official chronicles, his death was given only a few words with no mention of how he died. Emperor Taizu died without explanation, and his son did not inherit the throne. Instead, his younger brother, Zhao Guangyi, became the emperor, resulting in the story that it was Zhao Guanyi who killed Taizu.
The Northern Song monk, Wen Ying, wrote in the book Mt Xiang Stories that on a snowy night in October of the ninth year of Kaibo (AD976), Emperor Taizu called his brother to the palace. The two brothers drank late into the night and at one stage, Taizu took a jade axe and cut the snow on the ground saying, ‘it can be done.’ That night, Zhao Guangyi did not return home. The second day, the news spread that Taizu was dead and Zhao Guangyi was to be the next emperor.
The historian Xu Dazhou, writing in the late Song, early Yuan period in Records of the Ruins had another explanation: Zhao Guangyi was infatuated with Taizu’s concubine, Lady Huarui. Once when Taizu was sick in bed, Zhao Guangyi went and flirted with her in the middle of the night. When Taizu woke up, he used the jade axe to attack him, but did not have the strength to fight. Zhao Guangyi returned to his own residence and Taizu was dead the next day.
No matter how he died, the death of Taizu was related in some way to Zhao Guanyi. The fact that Zhao Guangyi took over the throne from his brother has led many people to suspect that he killed his brother. According to one theory, Zhao Guangyi becoming emperor was the wish of their mother, Empress Dowager Du. While on her deathbed, Empress Dowager Du said to Taizu, ‘Had the last emperor of the Later Zhou Dynasty not been an infant, you wouldn’t have become emperor. The country needs adult rulers to be strong, so you should let your brother be emperor.’ Emperor Taizu had originally revolted against the last Later Zhou Dynasty emperor and established himself as emperor. Emperor Taizu agreed with his mother and wrote the edict on succession, placing it within a golden casket.A number of people have cast doubts regarding the ‘Golden Casket Alliance’. When Empress Dowager Du died, Emperor Taizu was only 34 years old and his eldest son, Zhao Dezhao was just 10. Taizu was in his prime and should have been able to rule for many years. The possibility of having an infant emperor was remote. So, what was Empress Du worried about? This is what led many people to believe that the Golden Casket Alliance was fabricated by Zhao Guangyi.