Times & Places

Song dynasty (960-1279)

The Song is divided into the Northern Song (960-1127) with the capital at Bianjing (present day Kaifeng), and the Southern Song (1127-1279) the capital of which was located at Linan (now Hangzhou).

There was a turn towards intellectual pursuits in the period. The rapid spread of printing contributed to the development of a cultivated, intellectual elite for whom and by whom the art of the period was produced. Paper had been invented around 105 B.C.E. during the Han dynasty and was cheaper than silk. The earliest known printed book is the Buddhist Diamond Sutra, printed in 868 C.E.; and in the Song there was the printing of not only Buddhist texts but also Taoist, dictionaries, anthologies, and compendiums on medicine, zoology, botany, and military technology.

A return to Confucian classics took form in what is now referred to as Neo-Confucianism, which fused Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist theories and practices, with a focus on hierarchy and good government. The non-hereditary civil service gave rise to the full emergence of a classless bureaucracy in which service was based on talent, and the examination was not simply for career advancement but a mark of status and distinction. Those who took and passed the exam were from different economic backgrounds, and individuals could return as many times as necessary to take the examination until they passed.

The discovery of ancient bronzes and jades at Yinxu (near present day Anyang) spurred an interest in Chinese antiquity and led to the compilation of reference collections of painting and calligraphy, ancient jades and bronzes, including the inscriptions on the latter. Many Shang tombs were looted during this period as bronzes became especially prized by collectors. Arts such as landscape painting, Chan painting, and ceramics flourished. New markets for ceramics opened up through maritime power.

Despite these markets, little income was produced through expansion or other means of production. The economic unevenness was further exacerbated by the practice of paying tribes at the frontier not to invade. In 907 the Khitans to whom the Song emperors paid tribute established the Liao dynasty (907-1125) in the north. It was to defeat this northern dynasty that the Song emperors allied with the Jurchens (Jins) who defeated the Northern Song fell in 1127.

One prince escaped because he was not in the capital and established his court at Linan. The intellectual and artistic development of the Northern Song continued in the Southern. The Song dynasty eventually fell to the Mongols, led by Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, establishing the Yuan dynasty (1279-1369) with the capital at Dadu (now Beijing).

Drawn from

Web Resources