The Chinese Renaissance

The Song Dynasty

Beginning in 960 and ending in 1279, the Song Dynasty consisted of the Northern and Southern Song. With a growing economy and radiant culture, this was another ‘golden age’ period after the Tang.

Song Dynasty was a time of unification for Chinese culture. The state of civil administration advanced and revived a Confucian thought. This was Neo-Confucianism. A lot of scholars commented the classic books. They also made a more metaphysical worldview of Confucianism.

The Song Dynasty is usually called the Chinese Renaissance. This is because of its similarity to Europe’s renaissance era. This was due to the progress in inventions and technology.

During this stage of Chinese history, the Confucian bureaucrats handled the military. Soldiers were the lowest groups in society. Here, military skills and athletics were not esteemed unlike with the Tang Dynasty.

The Song had a military group yet without a warrior class. Because of this, their military was neglected and later, deteriorated.

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Increase in Population and Rice Cultivation

During the 9th to the 11th century, China’s population doubled in size. The growth was possible due to the extended rice cultivation during this stage. It was also due to the use of quick-ripening rice and the production of extensive food surpluses.

The North Song’s census recorded about 20 million households. This was double of the Tang and Han dynasties. It’s estimated that the North Song had a total population of about 120 million. This reached 200 million by the Ming dynasty.

This great increase of population instigated an economic revolution during pre-contemporary China. There was growth of cities, expansion of population, and emergence of national economy. This led to the slow withdrawal of the government from a direct link in economic affairs.

The lower nobility assumed higher roles in local affairs and grass root administration. Appointed officers in the area relied on the gentry. It was for sponsorship, services, and local supervision.

Foundation of the Song Dynasty

The political void and chaos due to the Tang’s collapse led to the separation of the country. This divided it into five dynasties as well as ten kingdoms. Yet a single warlord rose to this challenge, then collected a few states back to resemble a unified China.

The Song Dynasty was then founded by Zhao Kuangyin. He was a Later Zhou general, recommended as Emperor by the army. His ruling title would be Taizu.

To prevent any rivaling general to grow powerful to take his throne, he introduced a new system to the court. This was a system of rotation for leaders. As he introduced this, he also swept away all that opposed him. He also ensured that the civil service enjoyed heightened status than the army.

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Ancient China

Northern Song

Northern Song’s founder was Zhao Kuangyun. A known general from the Later Zhou of 951 – 960. In the year 960, he started a rebellion in Chengqiao County, today’s Henan province. It was the time when the last Later Zhou king had to abdicate.

With this new dynasty, it was soon established in the area of Kaifeng. Then, most of the country’s territory became unified. Unfortunately, in the late North Song, political corruption erupted. It grew more serious which caused the regime to crumble. In the year 1127, the Jin destroyed the Song.

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Attacks from the North

Jingkang Incident

In the early 12th century CE, the country’s position as Master of East Asia experienced threat. This was due to attacks from the North by the Xia and Liao states. The Jurchen were even more dangerous. They were north-eastern tribes of China.

These people were the ancestors of Manchurians and used the Tungusic language. They also declared their own state which was the Jin in the year 1115 CE.

The dynasty used this to their advantage and joined the two states to defeat the Liao. But despite having achieved their goals, the Song were sort of shown up for their military flaws.

So in the year 1125 CE, the Jin attacked portions of North China. This was rather unfortunate since even the great Tong Guan was unable to quell the attacks.

Emperor Huizong was soon captured together with thousands of other people. And aside from losing a large amount of territory, the Song forcibly had to pay the Jurchen with a huge ransom. This was to avoid any further loss of life.

This defeat required the Song to move to the Yangtze Valley, creating a new capital in the year 1138 CE. This was in Hangzhou of the Zhejiang province. This would soon be the beginning of the South Song Dynasty.

Lessening of the lands under the Song did not dampen their flourishing economy. This was all due to the trading ports of their new capital, Fuzhou and Quanzhou, which were all located in the South. They continued to blossom and grow as multinational cities.

There were numbers of Hindu and Muslim immigrants in the area. And due to the society’s excellent economy, took up permanent residence here. Another plus of this area was that it was more fertile and continued to grant surpluses each harvest.

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Southern Song

This part of Chinese history was the Southern Song which was set by Zhao Gou. He was the son of the Northern Song’s last emperor. After the defeat of Northern Song by the Jin, the latter captured many imperial clansmen. Luckily, Zhao Gou was able to escape this predicament.

He fled to Nanjing in the year 1127 where he was able to establish the Southern Song. Later, the capital was moved to Lin’an which is today’s Hangzhou City. Southern Song’s rule was subject to the Jin and a lot of patriotic generals died in the late period.

In 1279, the Yuan army captured Lin’an which put an end to the Southern Song Dynasty.

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The Invasion

The Mongol Invasion

After all the upheaval due to the Jurchen, the Song started becoming accustomed to the new state. Unfortunately, a bigger menace appeared which was again, from the north.

The nomadic tribes of the Mongols have assembled under the lead of Genghis Khan. They assaulted the Jin and Xia during the first three decades in the 13th century CE. The Song assumed to receive the next attacks, thus, readied their army against the enemy.

They were funded by the stolen wealth coming from the landed aristocracy. This was a policy that did not do a thing for internal unity. There was a reprieve for this since the Mongols were busy in expanding their empire.

It wasn’t until the year 1268 CE that Kublai Khan set his eyes on the lands of the Yangtze. First, the vital city of Xiangyang was trapped then fell in the year 1273 CE. This was due to the superior catapults and persistence of the Mongols.

These invaders crossed the Yangtze then proved to be unstoppable. Here, a ton of Song generals surrendered or defected. Its court plagued by fights, and the ruthless slaughter of the whole city of Changzhou. It was only soon that the Song Dynasty would meet its end.

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“There is no fixed shape to the preservation of perfect balance; it depends on the circumstances of the moment.”

~ Zhu Xi

Fall of the Southern Song

Empress dowager and her son, Emperor Gonzong surrendered. They were both taken as prisoners, to the Northern part of Beijing. Some loyalist groups battled for three years, installing two younger emperors too.

Yet the Mongols were able to take everything from them before heading out to Vietnam. The Song, were rich enough. Yet they had to pay for their lack of military investment and political unity. They also lacked in weapons innovation, which led them to become a part of the growing Mongol empire.

Economy of the Song Dynasty

Politics for the Song appeared somewhat troublesome, at least its economy boomed. Kaifeng, already a capital during the early dynasties, was a great metropolis in the world. And with a population close to a million, the city was able to enjoy industrialization. They were also adequately supplied with coal and iron by nearby mines.

Kaifeng was also a primary trade center. It was especially popular for its printing, porcelain, and textile industries. Various exported goods via the Silk Road headed towards the Indian Ocean. As for imports, these included camels, horse, cotton, cloth, sheep, gems, spices, and more.

Agriculture During The Song Dynasty

Song Dynasty Emperors

Farming became more efficient during this period. Farmers were striving to produce more than what they needed. The population increased and markets flourished.

Rural farmers started growing crops they knew would demand high prices. These crops included oranges, sugar, silk, cotton, and tea. Thousands of ships were built to be able to transport all these goods via canals and sea. This was another success story.

Companies grew larger and had different levels of ownership and management. Guilds, partnerships, wholesalers, and stock companies progressed. Along with that, the economy started becoming similar to the modern industrial model.    

When it comes to science and culture, achievements were great throughout this era. The compass and typography were both invented. These are two of China’s greatest inventions. The application of gunpowder also developed quickly during this time.

In literature, a lot of outstanding poets and scholars emerged. These included Ouyang Xiu, Zhuxi, Sima Guang, Su Shi, and Shen Kuo.  They developed the Song Dynasty’s impressive cultural atmosphere.

Sculpture and Decorative Arts in the Song Dynasty

The sculpture of the Song Dynasty continued to focus on representing the Buddha. In that genre, there were no significant changes on the sculptures in the succeeding empires.

Landscape painting was among the remarkable arts of the dynasty. Fan Kuan and Li Cheng were the most noteworthy figures throughout Bei Song.

As for Nan Song, a lot of remarkable painters served at the Hanlin Academy. They were known for miniatures and brush effects. Paintings of animals and Buddhist deities under the Zen influence were also noted.

In decorative arts, the Song Dynasty was at its peak in Chinese pottery. Song wares mostly had simple shapes, as well as pure tones and colors of their glazes.  

Cizhou, Ding, Zhun, Ru, northern celadon, as well as black and brown glazed wares came from the Bei Song. As for the Nan Song, the Jizhou wares, Jingdezhen white ware, the black Fujian pottery, and celadons were produced. Pottery at the Guan kilns which was close to the Nan Song capital, were the finest during the period.

Music of the Song Dynasty

In terms of music, the Song Dynasty adopted a fiddle with two strings from the northern tribes. People from this period used music mostly for court events, ceremonies, and sacrifices.

Music attracted a lot of attention in the great literary works of the dynasty literature. The official history of the Song dynasty dedicated 17 out of 496 chapters to musical events. In 1267, an encyclopedia appeared and 10 of its 200 chapters are about music.

Music drama prospered during the Song dynasty. Distinct styles have developed in the Northern and Southern eras. As for literature, most of this returned to simple expression in prose. Guwen or short tales also came in great volumes.

In the vernacular, a school of oral storytelling traditions arose. Conventional poetry enjoyed wide accomplishment. Poets of the dynasty attained their best distinction. In the new ci genre, they sung poems of happiness and misery.

Works of Poetry became the dynasty’s distinct element in terms of literature. Today, people remember the Song Dynasty for its rich and diverse cultural achievements.

Achievements in Art, Literature, and Architecture

The Song Dynasty is specifically known for its achievements in the arts. As for the Bei Song Empire at Bianjing, a renewal of Buddhism, literature, and the arts started. The most renowned painters and poets of the empire were also at court. The last emperor of the Northern Song was the most remarkable artist in the country. He was also an art collector.

His capital was a city at Kaifeng. The place was a city of beauty and was abundant with temples, palaces, and enormous pagodas. However, Juchen burned these structures in 1126. The architecture of the Song dynasty was known for its tall constructions.

The highest pagoda that stands at Bianjing has a height of 110 meters. Song Te architects of this period curved the lines of roofs upwards. Six and eight-sided pagodas that are made of brick or wood still survive from the empire.

Antique Chinese Song dynasty Celadon Jar

This rare celadon jar from the ancient Song Dynasty features a beautiful all-olive green design, smooth and shiny, with a firm base from which grows an asymmetrically oval body with elegant grooved borders to a modest, slightly raised rim.

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Song Dynasty Antique Celadon Plate

This rare preserved Song Dynasty celadon plate has a design devoid of decoration that makes it look like a beautiful, untouched piece of jade. Its bottom rests on a base that grows in layers around a small foot that grows along fine grooved borders.

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Rare Song Dynasty Qingbai Ewer

This rare Song Dynasty ewer possesses an irresistible natural charm that exudes simplicity and grace in every part. It has an uncluttered base with a small foot that gives rise to a firm, sturdy body, devoid of any more decoration than a simple protruding medallion.

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