General Introduction to Song Dynasty

Song Dynasty Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a permanent standing navy. This dynasty also saw the first known use of gunpowder, as well as first discernment of true north using a compass.

 

The Song Dynasty is divided into two distinct periods: the Northern Song and Southern Song. During the Northern Song (960–1127), the Song capital was in the northern city of Bianjing (now Kaifeng) and the dynasty controlled most of inner China. The Southern Song (1127–1279) refers to the period after the Song lost control of northern China to the Jin Dynasty. During this time, the Song court retreated south of the Yangtze River and established their capital at Lin'an (now Hangzhou). Although the Song Dynasty had lost control of the traditional birthplace of Chinese civilization along the Yellow River, the Song economy was not in ruins, as the Southern Song Empire contained 60 percent of China's population and a majority of the most productive agricultural land. The Southern Song Dynasty considerably bolstered its naval strength to defend its waters and land borders and to conduct maritime missions abroad.

 

The Northern Song

Emperor Taizu of Song (r. 960–976) unified China through conquering other lands during his reign, ending the upheaval of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. In Kaifeng, he established a strong central government over the empire. He ensured administrative stability by promoting the civil service examination system of drafting state bureaucrats by skill and merit (instead of aristocratic or military position) and promoted projects that ensured efficiency in communication throughout the empire. One such project was the creation by cartographers of detailed maps of each province and city which were then collected in a large atlas. He also promoted groundbreaking science and technological innovations by supporting such works as the astronomical clock tower designed and built by the engineer Zhang Sixun.

 

The Southern Song

Although weakened and pushed south along the Huai River, the Southern Song found new ways to bolster its strong economy and defend its own state against the Jin Dynasty. They had able military officers such as Yue Fei and Han Shizhong. The government sponsored massive shipbuilding and harbor improvement projects, and the construction of beacons and seaport warehouses in order to support maritime trade abroad and the major international seaports, such as Quanzhou, Guangzhou, and Xiamen, that were sustaining China's commerce.To protect and support the multitudes of ships sailing for maritime interests into the waters of the East China Sea and Yellow Sea (to Korea and Japan), Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea, it was a necessity to establish an official standing navy.The Song Dynasty therefore established China's first permanent navy in 1132, with a headquarters at Dinghai. With a permanent navy, the Song were prepared to face the naval forces of the Jin on the Yangtze River in 1161, in the Battle of Tangdao and the Battle of Caishi.

 

Society and Culture

The Song Dynasty was an era of administrative sophistication and complex social organization. Some of the largest cities in the world were found in China during this period (Kaifeng and Hangzhou had populations of over a million). People enjoyed various social clubs and entertainment in the cities, and there were many schools and temples to provide the people with education and religious services.The Song government supported multiple forms of social welfare programs, including the establishment of retirement homes, public clinics, and pauper's graveyards. The Song Dynasty supported a widespread postal service that was modeled on the earlier Han Dynasty (202 BC – AD 220) postal system to provide swift communication throughout the empire. The central government employed thousands of postal workers of various ranks and responsibilities to provide service for post offices and larger postal stations. In rural areas, farming peasants either owned their own plots of land, paid rents as tenant farmers, or were serfs on large estates.

 

Song Economy

The economy of the Song Dynasty was one of the most prosperous and advanced economies in the medieval world. Song Chinese invested their funds in joint stock companies and in multiple sailing vessels at a time when monetary gain was assured from the vigorous overseas trade and indigenous trade along the Grand Canal and Yangzi River. Prominent merchant families and private businesses were allowed to occupy industries that were not already government-operated monopolies.Both private and government-controlled industries met the needs of a growing Chinese population in the Song. Both artisans and merchants formed guilds which the state had to deal with when assessing taxes, requisitioning goods, and setting standard worker's wages and prices on goods.

Song Technology Development

Advancements in weapons technology enhanced by Greek fire and gunpowder, including the evolution of the early flamethrower, explosive grenade, firearm, cannon, and land mine, enabled the Song Chinese to ward off their militant enemies until the Song's ultimate collapse in the late 13th century. The Wujing Zongyao manuscript of 1044 was the first book in history to provide formulas for gunpowder and their specified use in different types of bombs. While engaged in a war with the Mongols, in the year 1259 the official Li Zengbo wrote in his Kozhai Zagao, Xugaohou that the city of Qingzhou was manufacturing one to two thousand strong iron-cased bomb shells a month, dispatching to Xiangyang and Yingzhou about ten to twenty thousand such bombs at a time. In turn, the invading Mongols employed northern Chinese soldiers and used these same type of gunpowder weapons against the Song Chinese. By the 14th century the firearm and cannon could also be found in Europe, India, and the Islamic Middle East, during the early age of gunpowder warfare.

Decline of Song Dynasty

Generally, the Song Dynasty was prosperous in many respects of the society. In agriculture, the productive technology was improved which promoted the output of food; in handicraft industry, the division of labor became more detailed which made the handicrafts technology reach an advanced level; additionally, the development of the commodity economy exceeded the previous level. Particularly, the earliest paper currency appeared at that period.