According to this page on the website Changing Minds,

When the superior Jin cavalry were attacking, the inferior Song troops scattered black beans on the ground which the cavalry horses stopped to eat, making the mounted force a sitting duck.

I assume this refers to a battle during the Jin-Song wars (1125 to 1234) but I have been unable to find another reference. On the one hand, it seems improbable that (presumably) well-trained cavalry horses (presumably) during a charge would be distracted so easily (compare beans to some brutally effective means such as the Caltrop mentioned in this SE: History post), so perhaps the beans were used in conjunction with something else.

The same Changing Minds page also refers to Pang Tong advising Cao Cao to chain ships together to combat seasickness, and this I have been able to find a another source for, although it appears in a romanticized version of historical events. The page also has a reference to Russian tactics used against Napoleon and Hitler so at least some of the contents of this page haven't just been made up.

Were black beans used to distract the Jin cavalry horses or is this another example of romanticized history? If this did actually happen, which battle is being referred to?

  • 1
    The page's reference to Russian tactics makes no sense - mud and winter cannot coexist, as freezing temperatures will harden the earth. Napoleon and Hitler both faced the mud in autumn, and the Grande Armee didn't even stay long enough to face winter.
    – SPavel
    Dec 28, 2017 at 14:40
  • I see your point but I think it's just poorly phrased - mud, then winter. True, Napoleon was on the retreat by October but they still faced wintery conditions though, again, the Changing Minds site is a little careless in its phrasing. Dec 28, 2017 at 15:11

2 Answers 2


Not sure if anyone will read this, but...

From Baidu (https://baike.baidu.com/item/连环计/5842#ref_[2]_5340118):


“Bi Zaiyu Uses Chain Stratagems”


“The Song Dynasty general Bi Zaiyu once used a Chain Stratagem to fight a flawless battle. He realized that the Jins were fierce, especially mounted troops, and that fighting them head-on would result in great injury or death.”


“So he advocated for seizing the enemy’s biggest weakness, attempted to clamp down on the enemy, and looked for the best opportunity to fight.”


“Once, in an counter with Jin troops, he commanded that none of his divisons could fight the enemy head-on, instead adopting guerrilla and mobile tactics. Once the enemy advanced, he ordered his ranks to retreat, waited for the enemy to settle, then ordered an attack. Once the Jin troops attempted to repel the attack, he once again ordered his troops to disappear without a trace. In this manner, retreating and advancing, fighting and stopping, were the Jin troops worn down. The Jins could not fight even if they wanted to, and could not move freely.”


“Late in the night, the Jin army was completely worn out, and was preparing to return to camp for rest. Bi Zaiyu prepared numerous black beans boiled with fragrance, and secretly spread them all over the battlefield. Then, he called a surprise attack on the Jin army. Having no alternative, the Jin army could only do their best to fight back. Bi Zaiyu’s troops fought the Jin army for a short time, then retreated.”


“The Jin army was furious, and chased them on the back of a victory. Who knew—the Jin army’s horses, hungry and thirsty after a day of running back and forth continuously, smelled fragrance coming from the ground and knew that it could fill their stomachs. The war horses single-mindedly ate them, and even if you whipped them, they wouldn’t move forward a step. The Jin army was unable to control the horses, and in the black night, out of ideas, they appeared completely chaotic.”

毕再遇这时调集全部队伍,从四面包围过来,杀得金军人仰马翻,横尸遍野。 [2]

“At this time, Bi Zaiyu assembled his army, surrounded the Jin, fought and dealt a crushing defeat, leaving corpses strewn across the open land.”

Baidu cites a source for this information, which is a book on “The 36 Stratagems.” Bi Zaiyu was a real general, but I have no way to verify whether this tale is true or not.


More info:

The Chinese text can be found on many sites, with a little variation in each one. One of the sources is 国学经典导读 (Guide to Classics in Chinese Cultural Studies), an educational book. It mentions an additional piece of information:


"In 1206 AD, famed general of the Southern Song, Bi Zaiyu, fought with Jin troops."

The passage then goes on to tell the story of his defeat of the Jin troops. In your article about the Jin-Song War, there is also this passage:

Song armies led by general Bi Zaiyu (畢再遇; d. 1217) captured the barely defended border city of Sizhou 泗州 (on the north bank of the Huai River across from modern Xuyi County) but suffered large losses against the Jurchens in Hebei.[126] The Jin repelled the Song and moved south to besiege the Song town of Chuzhou 楚州 on the Grand Canal just south of the Huai River. Bi defended the town, and the Jurchens withdrew from the siege after three months.

Furthermore, on the Chinese Wikipedia page on Bi Zaiyu, there is also this:


"Soon after, Bi Zaiyu was promoted to the rank of 'Assistant Commander who Guards the River' (this is a very rough translation), and again sent out troops to come to Chuzhou's rescue. Facing a Jin army 10 times bigger, Bi Zaiyu sent out a small force that traveled to the Jin army's supply camp at Huaiyin (present-day Southwest Huaiyin) and burned the Jin army's reserve rations, dealing a crushing defeat against the Jin soldiers who protected the supplies."

Based on this information, it seems like the story about spreading the black beans took place during the defense of Chuzhou, mainly because the Song troops were outnumbered there. I don't think that it would have taken place at Sizhou, because it was "barely defended." Then again, I didn't find a concrete source for the actual time of Bi Zaiyu's tactics. In 1206, Bi Zaiyu was on the Kaixi Northern Expedition (开禧北伐), so the event could have taken place at a different location.

Hopefully this helps. I just wanted to add more background info.

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