The Song Dynasty, also known as the Sung dynasty, is one of the most prolific dynasties to ever have ruled the Chinese people, but what exactly is the Song dynasty known for in Chinese history?
What Is The Song Dynasty Best Known For?
The Song of Sung dynasty is known to have ruled China from the year 960 to 1279CE, and they boast a reign that was split into two main periods – The Northern Song of 960-1125 CE and the Southern Song 1125-1279CE.
The Northern Song dynasty is the dynasty that ruled the largely united China from their capital in Kaifeng. However, things changed when the northern part of this state was invaded by the state of Jin during the first quarter of the 12th Century CE. As a result, the northern Song had their capital moved to the South in Hangzhou.
And even despite the relative level of modernization in China at the time, the Song dynasty made a great deal of its economic wealth in the course of the period that the Song dynasty ruled. At the time, the Song court was plagued with various political factions as well as conservatism which couldn’t hold to the challenge from the Mongol invasion. The Song dynasty would eventually collapse and be replaced by the Yuan Dynasty in 1279CE.
But what exactly is the Song dynasty known for?
As a result of the chaos and the political void that resulted in the Tang Dynasty’s collapse and the subsequent breakup of China into the 5 known dynasties and the 10 kingdoms, there would be one warlord that would rise to the challenge and create a semblance of a unified China. This resulted in the formation of the Song Dynasty that was led by the Later Zhou, general Zhao Kuangyin – who was subsequently endorsed as the emperor of the Song dynasty in 960CE. Song Dynasty’s general had the title Taizu or the Grand Progenitor, who made sure that there was no rival general that would be more powerful than him.
He also came up with a system of rotation for his army leaders, sweeping away all the opposition while also ensuring that the civil service would, from then henceforth, enjoy a higher status than the army acting like the supervisory body.
Emperor Taizu of Song was then succeeded by Emperor Taizong, his younger brother. Emperor Taizong reigned the dynasty from 976 – 997CE. This level of stability offered the longest reign for the first 2 Song emperors, making it one of the most successful dynasties throughout China’s history.
The Song period is well known for the widespread printing of the Confucian classics. One of the things that the Song Dynasty is well known for is the organized trade guilds, paper currency came into use to a large extent, and cities with over 1,000,000 people started to flourish.
Learning and literature were also brought to the Chinese people, and this led to the flourishing state schools and private academies that were always growing in numbers, even as competition for the civil service examinations increased. Things like Neo-Confucianism were systemized into coherent doctrines.
The other notable thing about the Song dynasty is the fact that this Chinese dynasty was notable for the many artistic achievements that were made then.
The Bianjing-based dynasty Bei Song also kicked off the renewal of literature, the arts, and Buddhism. The greatest painters and poets of Chinese history were also popular during the Song Dynasty.
Notably, the last of the Northern Song emperors was one of the most notable artists/ art collectors of the time. And to show his love of art, the capital city of the Song dynasty, Kaifeng, was filled with the greatest beauty, temples, abounding in the palaces, and even the tall pagodas. The Song architects also curved an eave line of the roof upwards at the corners.
And after the Tang dynasty, the Song dynasty was regarded as the golden age thanks to the prosperous economy and the very radiant culture.
The other things that the Song dynasty is known for are the enhanced agriculture setup and the improvement of the productive technologies around agriculture. The technologies improved the overall output of food.
The handicraft industry was also enhanced, with the division of labor as one of the big things that resulted in advanced societies. All these resulted in advanced economic levels that made the dynasty more powerful.
List of Emperors of Song Dynasty
Northern Song between 960 and 1127 had the following emperors
- Emperor Song Taizu (Zhao Kuangyin) – 960 – 976
- Emperor Song Taizong (Zhao Guangyi) – 976 – 997
- Emperor Song Zhenzong (Zhao Heng) – 997 – 1022
- Emperor Song Renzong (Zhao Zhen) – 1022 – 1063
- Emperor Song Yingzong (Zhao Shu) – 1063 – 1067
- Emperor Song Shenzong (Zhao Xu1) – 1067 – 1085
- Emperor Song Zhezong (Zhao Xu3) – 1085 – 1100
- Emperor Song Huizong (Zhao Ji) – 1100 – 1125
- Emperor Song Qinzong (Zhao Huan) – 1126 -1127
Southern Song Emperors (1127-1279)
- Emperor Song Gaozong (Zhao Gou) – 1127 – 1162
- Emperor Song Xiaozong (Zhao Shen) – 1162 – 1189
- Emperor Song Guangzong (Zhao Dun) – 1189 – 1194
- Emperor Song Ningzong (Zhao Kuo) – 1194 – 1224
- Emperor Song Lizong (Zhao Yun) – 1224 – 1264
- Emperor Song Duzong (Zhao Qi) – 1264 – 1274
- Emperor Song Gongdi (Zhao Xi’an) – 1275 – 1276
- Emperor Song Duanzong (Zhao Shi) – 1276 – 1278
- Emperor Song Weiwang (Zhao Bing) – 1278 – 1279
Song Dynasty Achievements And Inventions
The biggest inventions and achievements by the Song Dynasty include some of the greatest inventions and scientific innovations. But unlike their influences over religion, culture, and philosophy, most of the scientific advances by the Song dynasty were lost and even forgotten about by the later dynasties.
Notably, the Song and the Han eras stand out as the two popular Chinese dynasties that had the most rapid technical and scientific advancements. The Song dynasty had scientists that boasted a vast wealth of knowledge from (and of) different geographical regions and the world. Their range of knowledge was wide and expansive, ranging from astronomy and magnetism/ compass to architecture, mechanical engineering, and chemistry, among other subjects.
Solid political foundation
Although the political foundation established then didn’t last for a very time, and the fact that the Song dynasty came in after the Tang Dynasty’s political collapse, the Song Dynasty, under the leadership of Emperor Taizong, would rise to the challenge, bringing the states together into what became some semblance of a more unified China. The Song Dynasty is, therefore, the dynasty that created a sense of political stability in China. Emperor Taizong, also known as the Grand Ancestor, reigned between 976-997, and the stability of his leadership led to the reigns of the leading Song emperors for the Song Dynasty.
Art and science scenes were revolutionized.
The other things that the Song Dynasty is notable for include:
Growing rice and drinking tea became the Chinese thing only after the Song Dynasty came to be – the Chinese were primarily wheat and millet-eating individuals who drunk wine, and they actually were more Western than they were Eastern before the Song Dynasty took the reins.
The Song dynasty also encouraged education, and they were known for their cultural brilliance, which is seen in the landscape paintings from the time, unique architectural pieces, and even the most brilliant pieces and designs for pottery, all pieces boasting a great level of class and simplicity.
Literature was booming during the Song dynasty’s rule as well, and the Lie Jie famous treatise on architecture is proof of the booming literature from the time. The fact that there are numerous encyclopedias from the period is also proof of the evolved level of the written word. Some of the other famous works from the time include the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid to Government (Zizhi tongjian), written by Sima Guang and published in the 1084CE – this publication covered Chinese history from with everything that happened between 403BCE – 959CE. There was also a large number of poetry published.
And as mentioned above, the world of visual arts was evolved as well, with an ever-rising demand for the flourishing arts by the middle class. Theatre and fine porcelain all flourished during the reign of the Song Dynasty.
- Literature and Arts
The other reason for the economic boom for the Song dynasty is the fact that farming was thriving. The farming methods employed were much more efficient, and the developed technologies would result in the production of more foods than needed, which meant that the surplus would be up for sale. The city’s populations increased; as a result, there were thriving markets, with the rural farmers growing more crops with the highest demand like oranges, cotton, sugar, tea, and silk. The seas and canals made transportation of these goods possible, even as companies grew much bigger and more sophisticated in terms of ownership and management. There was an increasing number of stock companies, wholesalers, guilds, and partnerships, all resulting in a booming Chinese economy, as the country started to take on what can now be compared to an industrial model by today’s standards.
- Elegant Architecture
With education and engineering encouraged, the Song Dynasty also saw the development and design of some of the best architectural pieces. The most notable of these was the Duogong flexible joints, as well as their wooden architecture, which are now considered the Song dynasty’s biggest inventions. These features involved the erection of massive wooden structures, specifically in the parts of China that were very prone to earthquakes. These architectural techniques would subsequently be adopted across East Asia.
Song Dynasty Economy And Trade
In addition to the prospering art and education scenes, the other thing that was at its best during the Song Dynasty’s time was the economy. With Kaifeng already the capital for the dynasty and even earlier dynasties, it was the perfect metropolis under Song, and not just for China but the rest of the world at the time. This city had a population of over 1million, and it benefited from the high level of industrialization along with the constant supply for the mines that produced iron and coal. Kaifeng was, in other words, the major trade center. It was also quite famous for its paper, printing, textile, as well as porcelain industries. All these and the overall success of the dynasty’s economy were made possible by the Silk Road that encouraged the successful transportation of goods across the Indian Ocean. The exported goods included silk, tea, copper, and rice. Some of the things imported include camels, sheep, ivory, cotton cloth, spices, and gems.
Why Was The Song Dynasty Important?
The reign of the Song Dynasty is considered one of the most important times in Chinese history, and the main reason for this is the fact that under this dynasty’s rule, there were numerous advancements and inventions that were made, with some of the biggest inventions of things like the gunpowder, the magnetic compass, and more reliable architectural works made at the time. The Song Dynasty is also the first of the Chinese dynasties to have a naval standing throughout world history, building ships that were more than 300ft long, with onboard catapults and watertight compartments which could easily toss huge rocks on China’s enemies. The invention of the big movable pieces of printing equipment is also what allowed for the mass printing of books and other documents. Arts and culture flourished, tea and rice became important things to the Chinese, and the dynasty also conquered the Mongols.
In terms of philosophy and religion, Neo-Confucianism was adopted during the Song Dynasty’s time.
So, with these as just some of the few things that the Song Dynasty was known for, it makes sense that it was the most important of the Chinese dynasties.
When Did The Song Dynasty Start And End?
The Song Dynasty, also known as the Song Empire, was in existence between the years 960 and 1279. It is considered to be China’s biggest and most powerful empire that brought the biggest scientific, economic, and military developments to the country.
Why Did The Song Dynasty End?
There are different things that contributed to the end/ collapse of the Song Dynasty, but the main reasons include:
Political corruption, as well as invasions from external tribes, as well as the civilian uprising that ended up weakening the Northern Song Dynasty.
There was also a weakening in the overall strength of the military that ran things from the Northern Song, and the country was unable to withstand the new invasions from the Jin dynasty. So, in 1127, the Jin army was able to capture the Northern Song capital of Kaifeng, subsequently bringing to an end the reign of the Northern Song Dynasty.
Although the Southern Song and the Mongolian Kingdom eventually overthrew the Jin Dynasty, they would find themselves in turmoil, and they were later conquered in 1279 after the Mongolian king died and their new king, Kublai Khan, ended their relationship with the Song Dynasty, resulting in the subsequent collapse of the Song Dynasty.
Why Is The Song Dynasty Divided Into Two Periods The Northern Song And The Southern Song
The division of the dynasty into two eras, the Northern and the Southern Song Empires, is primarily because these empires ruled at different times and with different coalitions and leaders. The Song Dynasty started as the Northern Song Empire, which was defeated in 1127, but made into the Southern Song Empire after the coalition with the Mongolians, from 1127 to 1279.
In other words, the Song Dynasty ruled in two distinct eras/ time periods, hence the differences in the Northern and Southern Dynasties.