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Chinese History - Song Dynasty 宋 (960-1279)

Song Dynasty:
Northern Song 北宋 (960-1126)
Southern Song 南宋 (1127-1279)

The Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279) was one of the great dynasties ruling over China. Although the Song only ruled over a relatively small area compared to the Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE), the Tang 唐 (618-907) or the Qing 清 (1644-1911) dynasties, their age is seen as a time of economical, cultural and social prosperity and often coined the Chinese "renaissance". This term refers mainly to two aspects, namely the large amount of technical inventions made and perfected during the Song period, like gunpowder, the compass, and book-printing, and to the "recovery" of what was defined as a Chinese culture, after many centuries of "barbarian" influence mainly by the nomad tribes of the steppes. There is nothing like a new definition of man's position in the world, like it was done in the European Renaissance. Yet society transformed from one with clear layers of "aristocracy" (eminent families) and "commoners" to a bureaucratic society headed by a highly autocratic emperor.
The Song period was on the one hand a time of consolidation for Chinese culture, in which Confucianism was reconfirmed in its eminent position as a cultural doctrine, and Buddhism and Daoism were acknowledged as state-sponsored religions. On the other hand, the introduction of the state examinations with their theoretical equal rights for everyone to access to official career, went hand in glove with a primacy of the civilian realm over that of military affairs. This constellation caused a political weakness towards the "barbarian" states of the Tanguts and the Khitans, later the Jurchens, in the north and northwest. The more belligerent societies in the empires of Western Xia 西夏 (1038-1227), the Liao 遼 (907-1125) and Jin 金 (1115-1234), forced tributes upon Song China. In 1179 the Jurchens even conquered northern China. The court of the Northern Song Beisong 北宋 (960-1126) had to flee the capital Kaifeng 開封 (modern Kaifeng, Henan), and settled down in Hangzhou 杭州 (then known as Lin'an 臨安), Zhejiang, as the Southern Song Nansong 南宋 (1127-1279).
The politically and militarily weak position of the Song empire was one factor leading to the transformation of Confucianism to the so-called "Neo-Confucianism", a highly speculative view on the universe and human nature that was influenced by Daoism and Buddhism.


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