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The Song dynasty of China was an era in the history of China that lasted between 960 and 1279. Emperor Tazizu of Song started the dynasty after he overturned the last emperor of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. Historically, the dynasty played a crucial role in shaping the attitude and perception of the Chinese people regarding many important issues. The period of the Song dynasty has two main periods namely the Northern and the Southern periods. The Northern Song period lasted from 960 to 1127 while the Southern Song lasted from 1127 until the end of the Song dynasty in 1279. The periods are simply distinguished by the location of the capital city. The Northern Song refers to the period where the capital of the dynasty was located in Bianjing/Kaifeng in the north while the capital of the Southern was at Lin'an/Hangzhou in the south.
Background and Initial Formation
After overturning the empire of the last emperor of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (the later Zhou Dynasty), Emperor Taizu then embarked on a conquering mission. After 960, the new emperor spent more than 15 years adding the rest of China to his new empire. In the process, he ended up making a union between areas that were under the control of the empires of Han and Tang. After establishing his capital city in the northern city of Kaifeng, the Northern Song era officially began. In his reign, he ensured that the administration was stable by selecting officials based on skill and merit and not family ties. In addition, he had diplomatic relations with other places such as Chola India, the Kara-Khanid Khanate of Central Asia, Srivijaya, and others.
During its existence, the empire was engaged in a number of wars and conflicts that later saw the fall of the Northern Song after the Jin took North China. The loss of North China happened long after the death of Emperor Taizu. After the fall of the north, the imperial line was captured by the Jin, which led to the start of the reign of Emperor Gaozong of Song who proclaimed himself emperor. Together with a few forces, he left the North and established the Southern Song, which also found ways to improve economically and defend its borders. Eventually, the Southern Song ended in 1279 after its capture at the hands of the Mongol empire, which was ruled by Khagan Kublai Khan.
Rise to Power and Accomplishments
The rise of the Song dynasty began after Emperor Taizu of Song managed to ascend to the throne after a coup d’état of the previous emperor. Immediately after, he spent a considerable amount of time conquering China and adding to his empire. To keep it steady, he appointed good administrators with real skill and aptitude for administration and leadership. This practice of choosing able administrators was one accomplishment that helped the empire stay strong and run smoothly unlike previous dynasties. Previous dynasties selected leaders based on family ties, military experience, and aristocratic ties without regard for administrative ability. In addition, he introduced the use of banknotes to smoothen trade as well as gunpowder that revolutionized warfare. Cartography, watchmaking, and other technological accomplishments were also supported. Southern Song also had its accomplishments such as improvement of trade by building massive ships, establishing a small standing navy for naval safety, and other things. Using explosives and other inventions, the small navy managed to hold off a Jin force that was at least twenty times its size.
Challenges and Controversies
Despite enjoying a lot of success, the dynasty had plenty of challenges, especially in the later stages of the seventh century. For example, the first sixty years of the dynasty saw an increase in government incomes to a massive 150,850,000 units although it went down later. The increase could be attributed to a number of things such as a high rate of population increase, reduced taxes from farms, and high military expenditures. Corrupt individuals with huge lands and their corruption were the main reasons why taxes went down. Among these three things, the most costly was arguably the military, which turned out to be ineffective in wars. The poor performance of the military was the reason why the dynasty lost alliances with other empires twice. The first time was during the alliance between the Song army and the Jurchens. The alliance ended soon after the Jurchens saw the weakness of the Song army. Another alliance that broke was the one between the Song army and the Mongols.
Decline and Demise
The decline of the dynasty probably began in the 11th century after the dynasty had fought in some wars and endured some losses. At that time, the political court was largely divided since ministers had different opinions and approaches in handling the economy. Eventually, these divisions led to the creation of factions in the court, which further aggravated internal strife as each faction fought for control. The rebellion of the Jurchens against their rulers prompted a military alliance with the Jurchens, which ultimately failed. The failure ultimately saw the capture of the capital and the end of Northern Song by the Jurchens. The fall of Southern Song was more or less the same thing as the north. After an alliance between Mongol and the Song army failed, the Mongols eventually captured and completely ended the Song Dynasty. The Song line of emperors came to an end after the last emperor, Emperor Huaizong of Song (who was eight years old) committed suicide after the Mongols invaded.
Historical Significance and Legacy
Despite the numerous problems and challenges that the dynasty faced, it will always be remembered as a pioneer of many inventions. One of the most popular things it pioneered was the use of banknotes, which made trade considerably easier and more convenient. The use of gunpowder proved invaluable in warfare and is still in use even today. The dynasty also came up with revolutions in transportation with some historians arguing that steam engines would not have been invented had it not been for the Song dynasty. In addition, the people came up with a unique way of making porcelain bowls as well as revolutions in agriculture that utilized technology to improve productivity.
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