The Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279)
Another imperial son fled south and settled in 1127 at Hangzhou,
where he resumed the Song rule as the emperor Gaozong. The Song
retained control south of the Huai River, where they ruled for another
one and a half centuries. Although militarily weak and limited in
area, the Southern Song represented one of China's most brilliant
periods of cultural, commercial, maritime, and technological development.
Despite the loss of the north, trade continued to expand, enabling
a commercial revolution to take place in the 13th century. Cut off
from the traditional overland trade routes, Sung merchants turned
to the ocean with the aid of such improvements as compasses and
huge oceangoing ships called junks. The development of a paper money
economy stimulated commercial growth and kept it going. At the end
of the Southern Song Dynasty, the ruling class and the imperial
court indulged themselves in art and luxurious living in the urban
centers; the latest nomad empire arose in the north. The formidable
Mongol armies, conquerors of Eurasia as far west as eastern Europe
and of Korea in the east, descended on the Southern Song.
Culture in the Song period
The Song period was noted for landscape painting, which in time
came to be considered the highest form of classical art. The city-dwelling
people of the Sung period romanticized nature. This romanticism,
combined with a mystical, Taoist approach to nature and a Buddhist-inspired
contemplative mood, was reflected in landscape paintings showing
people dwarfed by nature.
In philosophy, the trend away from Buddhism and back to Confucianism,
which had begun in the late Tang, continued. Pure and simple restoration
of the ancient teaching was impossible, because Confucianism had
been challenged by Buddhism and Taoism. Confucianism needed to explain
humanity and the universe as well as to regulate human relations
within society. In the late Tang and early Song, several strands
of Confucianism emerged. The great scholar Zhu Xi synthesized elements
of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. This reconstituted philosophy
became known as Neo-Confucianism, and it was the orthodox state
doctrine until the end of the imperial system. Zhu Xi’s philosophy
was one that stressed dualism, the goodness of human nature, and
self-cultivation by education through the continuing "investigation
of things." comprehensive view of things combined the five
essential of the universe, metal, wood, water, fire, and earth)
and the theories of Yin and Yang. He proclaimed, following Confucians
that men were innocent at birth and this goodness can be cultivated.
He also tried to preserve the family as the basis of society and
maintained that the emperor was the father of his people.
Flower of arts were blooming in the Song. Many litterateurs appeared.
Ci of poetry was popular. Chinese calligraphy and painting flourished.
The Sung scholars and historians also attempted
to synthesize history. Si-ma guang made the first effort at producing
a comprehensive history since Si-ma Qian of the Han. In 294 chapters,
he wrote a chronological account of the period from 403 BC to AD
959, which was abridged by Zhu Xi in the 12th century. Another first
in Song scholarship was the creation of encyclopedias. `Assembled
Essentials on the Tang', a collection completed in 961, became the
example for the various types of encyclopedic literature that followed.
The Sung period is famous for porcelain with a celadon glaze, which
was one of the most desired items in foreign trade (See Pottery
and Porcelain). The development of gunpowder led to the invention
of a type of hand grenade. In shipbuilding, the great seagoing junks
were admired and imitated by Arab and Western sailors. By far the
largest ships in the world at the time, they had watertight compartments
and could carry up to 1,000 passengers. Oceanic and coastal trade
was concentrated in large ports such as Canton, Hangzhou, and Quanzhou
(Marco Polo's Zayton), where large foreign trading communities developed.
Koreans dominated the trade with the eastern islands, while Persians
and Arabs controlled commerce across the western seas. Along with
commercial expansion came the urbanization, or increasing importance
of cities, in Sung society. Hangzhou, the Southern Sung capital,
had a population of more than 2 million. Commercialization and urbanization
had a number of effects on Chinese society. People in the countryside
faced the problems of absentee landlordism. Although many city residents
enjoyed luxury, with a great variety of goods and services, poverty
A change associated with urbanization was the decline in the status
of women of the upper classes. With the concentration of the upper
classes in the cities, where the work of women became less essential,
women were treated as servants and playthings. This was reflected
in the practices of concubinage and of binding girls' feet to make
them smaller. Neither practice was banned until the 20th century.