Song dynasty (/sɔːŋ/; Chinese: 宋朝; pinyin: Sòng cháo;
960–1279) was an era of Chinese history that began in 960 and
continued until 1279. It was founded by Emperor Taizu of Song
following his usurpation of the throne of Later Zhou, ending the Five
Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The Song often came into conflict
with the contemporary Liao and
Western Xia dynasties in the north and
was conquered by the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty. The Song government was
the first in world history to issue banknotes or true paper money
nationally and the first Chinese government to establish a permanent
standing navy. This dynasty also saw the first known use of gunpowder,
as well as the first discernment of true north using a compass.
Song dynasty is divided into two distinct periods, Northern and
Southern. During the Northern Song (Chinese: 北宋; 960–1127), the
Song capital was in the northern city of Bianjing (now Kaifeng) and
the dynasty controlled most of what is now Eastern China. The Southern
Song (Chinese: 南宋; 1127–1279) refers to the period after the
Song lost control of its northern half to the Jurchen Jin dynasty in
the Jin–Song Wars. During this time, the Song court retreated south
Yangtze and established its capital at Lin'an (now Hangzhou).
Song dynasty had lost control of the traditional
"birthplace of Chinese civilization" along the Yellow River, the Song
economy was still strong, as the Southern Song
Empire contained a
large population and productive agricultural land. The Southern Song
dynasty considerably bolstered its naval strength to defend its waters
and land borders and to conduct maritime missions abroad. To repel the
Jin, and later the Mongols, the Song developed revolutionary new
military technology augmented by the use of gunpowder. In 1234, the
Jin dynasty was conquered by the Mongols, who took control of northern
China, maintaining uneasy relations with the Southern Song. Möngke
Khan, the fourth Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, died in 1259 while
besieging the city of Chongqing. His younger brother
Kublai Khan was
proclaimed the new Great Khan, though his claim was only partially
recognized by the
Mongols in the west. In 1271,
Kublai Khan was
proclaimed the Emperor of China. After two decades of sporadic
warfare, Kublai Khan's armies conquered the
Song dynasty in 1279. The
Mongol invasion led to a reunification under the Yuan dynasty
The population of
China doubled in size during the 10th and 11th
centuries. This growth was made possible by expanded rice cultivation
in central and southern Song, the use of early-ripening rice from
south-east and southern Asia, and the production of widespread food
surpluses. The Northern Song census recorded 20 million
households, double of the Han and Tang dynasties. It is estimated that
the Northern Song had a population of some 120 million people, and
200 million by the time of the Ming dynasty. This dramatic increase
of population fomented an economic revolution in pre-modern China. The
expansion of the population, growth of cities, and the emergence of a
national economy led to the gradual withdrawal of the central
government from direct involvement in economic affairs. The lower
gentry assumed a larger role in grassroots administration and local
affairs. Appointed officials in county and provincial centers relied
upon the scholarly gentry for their services, sponsorship, and local
Social life during the Song was vibrant. Citizens gathered to view and
trade precious artworks, the populace intermingled at public festivals
and private clubs, and cities had lively entertainment quarters. The
spread of literature and knowledge was enhanced by the rapid expansion
of woodblock printing and the 11th-century invention of movable-type
printing. Technology, science, philosophy, mathematics, and
engineering flourished over the course of the Song. Philosophers such
as Cheng Yi and
Zhu Xi reinvigorated
Confucianism with new commentary,
infused with Buddhist ideals, and emphasized a new organization of
classic texts that brought out the core doctrine of Neo-Confucianism.
Although the institution of the civil service examinations had existed
since the Sui dynasty, it became much more prominent in the Song
period. The officials who gained power by succeeding in the exams
became a leading factor in the shift from a military-aristocratic
elite to a bureaucratic elite.
1.1 Northern Song, 960–1126
1.2 Southern Song, 1127–1279
2 Society and culture
Civil service examinations and the gentry
2.2 Law, justice, and forensic science
2.3 Military and methods of warfare
2.4 Arts, literature, and philosophy
2.5 Cuisine and apparel
3 Economy, industry, and trade
4 Technology, science, and engineering
4.2 Measuring distance and mechanical navigation
4.3 Polymaths, inventions, and astronomy
Mathematics and cartography
Movable type printing
Hydraulic and nautical engineering
Structural engineering and architecture
5 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Main article: History of the Song dynasty
Further information: List of emperors of the Song dynasty
Northern Song, 960–1126
After usurping the throne of the
Later Zhou dynasty, Emperor Taizu of
Song (r. 960–976) spent sixteen years conquering the rest of China,
reuniting much of the territory that had once belonged to the Han and
Tang empires and ending the upheaval of the Five Dynasties and Ten
Kingdoms period. In Kaifeng, he established a strong central
government over the empire. The establishment of this capital marked
the start of the Northern Song period. He ensured administrative
stability by promoting the civil service examination system of
drafting state bureaucrats by skill and merit (instead of aristocratic
or military position) and promoted projects that ensured efficiency in
communication throughout the empire. In one such project,
cartographers created detailed maps of each province and city that
were then collected in a large atlas. Emperor Taizu also promoted
groundbreaking scientific and technological innovations by supporting
such works as the astronomical clock tower designed and built by the
engineer Zhang Sixun.
Conquests of the
Song dynasty from 960 to 979, which ended the Five
Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. However the
Song dynasty was never
able to recapture the Sixteen Prefectures.
The Song court maintained diplomatic relations with Chola India, the
Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt, Srivijaya, the
Kara-Khanid Khanate of
Central Asia, the
Goryeo kingdom in Korea, and other countries that
were also trade partners with Japan. Chinese
records even mention an embassy from the ruler of "Fu lin" (拂菻,
i.e. the Byzantine Empire), Michael VII Doukas, and its arrival in
1081. However, China's closest neighbouring states had the
greatest impact on its domestic and foreign policy. From its inception
under Taizu, the
Song dynasty alternated between warfare and diplomacy
with the ethnic Khitans of the
Liao dynasty in the northeast and with
the Tanguts of the
Western Xia in the northwest. The
Song dynasty used
military force in an attempt to quell the
Liao dynasty and to
recapture the Sixteen Prefectures, a territory under Khitan control
since 938 that was traditionally considered to be part of
(Most parts of today's
Beijing and Tianjin). Song forces were
repulsed by the Liao forces, who engaged in aggressive yearly
campaigns into Northern Song territory until 1005, when the signing of
Shanyuan Treaty ended these northern border clashes. The Song were
forced to provide tribute to the Khitans, although this did little
damage to the Song economy since the Khitans were economically
dependent upon importing massive amounts of goods from the Song.
More significantly, the Song state recognized the Liao state as its
Song dynasty managed to win several military victories over the
Tanguts in the early 11th century, culminating in a campaign led by
the polymath scientist, general, and statesman Shen Kuo
(1031–1095). However, this campaign was ultimately a failure due
to a rival military officer of Shen disobeying direct orders, and the
territory gained from the
Western Xia was eventually lost. There
was also a significant war fought against the
Lý dynasty of Vietnam
from 1075 to 1077 over a border dispute and the Song's severing of
commercial relations with the
Đại Việt kingdom. After Lý
forces inflicted heavy damages in a raid on Guangxi, the Song
commander Guo Kui (1022–1088) penetrated as far as Thăng Long
(modern Hanoi). Heavy losses on both sides prompted the Lý
commander Thường Kiệt (1019–1105) to make peace overtures,
allowing both sides to withdraw from the war effort; captured
territories held by both Song and Lý were mutually exchanged in 1082,
along with prisoners of war.
Emperor Taizu of Song
Emperor Taizu of Song (r. 960–976), a court portrait painting
During the 11th century, political rivalries divided members of the
court due to the ministers' differing approaches, opinions, and
policies regarding the handling of the Song's complex society and
thriving economy. The idealist Chancellor,
Fan Zhongyan (989–1052),
was the first to receive a heated political backlash when he attempted
to institute the Qingli Reforms, which included measures such as
improving the recruitment system of officials, increasing the salaries
for minor officials, and establishing sponsorship programs to allow a
wider range of people to be well educated and eligible for state
Cizhou ware pillow of Northern
Song dynasty with incised decoration
and iron-pigmented black slip with the image of a bird
A Liao polychrome wood-carved statue of Guanyin,
After Fan was forced to step down from his office, Wang Anshi
(1021–1086) became Chancellor of the imperial court. With the
backing of Emperor Shenzong (1067–1085),
Wang Anshi severely
criticized the educational system and state bureaucracy. Seeking to
resolve what he saw as state corruption and negligence, Wang
implemented a series of reforms called the New Policies. These
involved land value tax reform, the establishment of several
government monopolies, the support of local militias, and the creation
of higher standards for the
Imperial examination to make it more
practical for men skilled in statecraft to pass.
The reforms created political factions in the court. Wang Anshi's "New
Policies Group" (Xin Fa), also known as the "Reformers", were opposed
by the ministers in the "Conservative" faction led by the historian
Sima Guang (1019–1086). As one faction supplanted
another in the majority position of the court ministers, it would
demote rival officials and exile them to govern remote frontier
regions of the empire. One of the prominent victims of the
political rivalry, the famous poet and statesman
Su Shi (1037–1101),
was jailed and eventually exiled for criticizing Wang's reforms.
While the central Song court remained politically divided and focused
upon its internal affairs, alarming new events to the north in the
Liao state finally came to its attention. The Jurchen, a subject tribe
of the Liao, rebelled against them and formed their own state, the Jin
dynasty (1115–1234). The Song official
Tong Guan (1054–1126)
advised Emperor Huizong (1100–1125) to form an alliance with the
Jurchens, and the joint military campaign under this Alliance
Conducted at Sea toppled and completely conquered the
Liao dynasty by
However, the poor performance and military weakness of the Song army
was observed by the Jurchens, who immediately broke the alliance,
Jin–Song Wars of 1125 and 1127. In the Jingkang
Incident during the latter invasion, the Jurchens captured not only
the capital, but the retired emperor Huizong, his successor Emperor
Qinzong, and most of the Imperial court.
The remaining Song forces regrouped under the self-proclaimed Emperor
Gaozong of Song (1127–1162) and withdrew south of the
establish a new capital at Lin'an (modern Hangzhou). The Jurchen
North China and shift of capitals from
Kaifeng to Lin'an
was the dividing line between the Northern and Southern Song
Southern Song, 1127–1279
Southern Song in 1142. The western and southern borders remain
unchanged from the previous map, however the northernmost third of the
Huabei territory is now under control of the Jin. The
Xia dynasty's territory generally remains unchanged. In the southwest,
Song dynasty is bordered by a territory about a sixth its size,
Although weakened and pushed south beyond the Huai River, the Southern
Song found new ways to bolster its strong economy and defend itself
against the Jin dynasty. It had able military officers such as Yue Fei
and Han Shizhong. The government sponsored massive shipbuilding and
harbor improvement projects, and the construction of beacons and
seaport warehouses to support maritime trade abroad, including at the
major international seaports, such as Quanzhou, Guangzhou, and Xiamen,
that were sustaining China's commerce.
To protect and support the multitude of ships sailing for maritime
interests into the waters of the
East China Sea
East China Sea and
Yellow Sea (to
Korea and Japan), Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea,
it was necessary to establish an official standing navy. The Song
dynasty therefore established China's first permanent navy in
1132, with a headquarters at Dinghai. With a permanent navy,
the Song were prepared to face the naval forces of the Jin on the
Yangtze River in 1161, in the
Battle of Tangdao
Battle of Tangdao and the Battle of
Caishi. During these battles the Song navy employed swift paddle wheel
driven naval vessels armed with traction trebuchet catapults aboard
the decks that launched gunpowder bombs. Although the Jin forces
Wanyan Liang (the Prince of Hailing) boasted 70,000 men
on 600 warships, and the Song forces only 3,000 men on 120
Song dynasty forces were victorious in both battles
due to the destructive power of the bombs and the rapid assaults by
paddle wheel ships. The strength of the navy was heavily
emphasized after that. A century after the navy was founded it had
grown in size to 52,000 fighting marines.
The Song government confiscated portions of land owned by the landed
gentry in order to raise revenue for these projects, an act which
caused dissension and loss of loyalty amongst leading members of Song
society but did not stop the Song's defensive
preparations. Financial matters were made worse by the
fact that many wealthy, land-owning families—some of which had
officials working for the government—used their social connections
with those in office in order to obtain tax-exempt status.
A seated wooden
Bodhisattva statue, Jin dynasty (1115–1234)
Song dynasty was able to hold back the Jin, a new foe
came to power over the steppe, deserts, and plains north of the Jin
dynasty. The Mongols, led by
Genghis Khan (r. 1206–1227), initially
invaded the Jin dynasty in 1205 and 1209, engaging in large raids
across its borders, and in 1211 an enormous Mongol army was assembled
to invade the Jin. The Jin dynasty was forced to submit and pay
tribute to the
Mongols as vassals; when the Jin suddenly moved their
capital city from
Beijing to Kaifeng, the
Mongols saw this as a
revolt. Under the leadership of
Ögedei Khan (r.1229–1241), both
the Jin dynasty and Western
Xia dynasty were conquered by Mongol
Mongols also invaded Korea, the Abbasid Caliphate
of the Middle East and the Kievan Rus'.
Mongols were allied with the Song, but this alliance was broken
when the Song recaptured the former imperial capitals of Kaifeng,
Chang'an at the collapse of the Jin dynasty. The Mongol
Möngke Khan led a campaign against the Song in 1259 but died
on August 11 during the
Siege of Diaoyu Castle
Siege of Diaoyu Castle in Chongqing.
Möngke's death and the ensuing succession crisis prompted Hulagu Khan
to pull the bulk of the Mongol forces out of the Middle East where
they were poised to fight the Egyptian Mamluks (who defeated the
Mongols at Ain Jalut). Although Hulagu was allied with
Kublai Khan, his forces were unable to help in the assault against the
Song, due to Hulagu's war with the Golden Horde.
Kublai continued the assault against the Song, gaining a temporary
foothold on the southern banks of the Yangtze. Kublai made
preparations to take Ezhou, but a pending civil war with his brother
Ariq Böke—a rival claimant to the Mongol Khaganate—forced Kublai
to move back north with the bulk of his forces. In Kublai's
absence, the Song forces were ordered by Chancellor
Jia Sidao to make
an immediate assault and succeeded in pushing the Mongol forces back
to the northern banks of the Yangtze. There were minor border
skirmishes until 1265, when Kublai won a significant battle in
From 1268 to 1273, Kublai blockaded the
Yangtze River with his navy
and besieged Xiangyang, the last obstacle in his way to invading the
Yangtze River basin. Kublai officially declared the creation
Yuan dynasty in 1271. In 1275, a Song force of 130,000 troops
Jia Sidao was defeated by Kublai's newly appointed
commander-in-chief, general Bayan. By 1276, most of the Song
territory had been captured by Yuan forces.
Battle of Yamen
Battle of Yamen on the
Pearl River Delta
Pearl River Delta in 1279, the Yuan
army, led by the general Zhang Hongfan, finally crushed the Song
resistance. The last remaining ruler, the 8-year-old emperor Emperor
Huaizong of Song, committed suicide, along with Prime Minister Lu
Xiufu and 800 members of the royal clan. On Kublai's orders,
carried out by his commander Bayan, the rest of the former imperial
family of Song were unharmed; the deposed Emperor Gong was demoted,
being given the title 'Duke of Ying', but was eventually exiled to
Tibet where he took up a monastic life. The former emperor would
eventually be forced to commit suicide under the orders of Kublai's
great-great grandson, Gegeen Khan, out of fear that Emperor Gong would
stage a coup to restore his reign. Other members of the Song
Imperial Family continued to live in the Yuan dynasty, including Zhao
Mengfu and Zhao Yong.
Society and culture
Society of the Song dynasty
Society of the Song dynasty and Culture of the Song
A city gate of Shaoxing,
Zhejiang province, built in 1223 during the
The Song dynasty was an era of administrative sophistication and
complex social organization. Some of the largest cities in the world
were found in
China during this period (
populations of over a million). People enjoyed various social
clubs and entertainment in the cities, and there were many schools and
temples to provide the people with education and religious
services. The Song government supported social welfare programs
including the establishment of retirement homes, public clinics, and
paupers' graveyards. The
Song dynasty supported a widespread
postal service that was modeled on the earlier
Han dynasty (202 BCE
– CE 220) postal system to provide swift communication throughout
the empire. The central government employed thousands of postal
workers of various ranks to provide service for post offices and
larger postal stations. In rural areas, farming peasants either
owned their own plots of land, paid rents as tenant farmers, or were
serfs on large estates.
The White Jasmine Branch, early 12th-century painting; small paintings
in the style of round-albums that captured realistic scenes of nature
were widely popular in the Southern Song period.
Although women were on a lower social tier than men (according to
Confucian ethics), they enjoyed many social and legal privileges and
wielded considerable power at home and in their own small businesses.
As Song society became more and more prosperous and parents on the
bride's side of the family provided larger dowries for her marriage,
women naturally gained many new legal rights in ownership of
property. Under certain circumstances, an unmarried daughter
without brothers, or a surviving mother without sons, could inherit
one-half of her father's share of undivided family
property. There were many notable and well-educated women,
and it was a common practice for women to educate their sons during
their earliest youth. The mother of the scientist, general,
diplomat, and statesman
Shen Kuo taught him essentials of military
strategy. There were also exceptional women writers and poets,
Li Qingzhao (1084–1151), who became famous even in her
Religion in China
Religion in China during this period had a great effect on people's
lives, beliefs, and daily activities, and
Chinese literature on
spirituality was popular. The major deities of
Buddhism, ancestral spirits, and the many deities of Chinese folk
religion were worshipped with sacrificial offerings. Tansen Sen
asserts that more Buddhist monks from
India travelled to
the Song than in the previous
Tang dynasty (618–907). With many
ethnic foreigners travelling to
China to conduct trade or live
permanently, there came many foreign religions; religious minorities
China included Middle Eastern Muslims, the
Kaifeng Jews, and
Huang Tingjian (1045–1105), a renowned calligrapher
and associate of Su Shi
The populace engaged in a vibrant social and domestic life, enjoying
such public festivals as the
Lantern Festival and the Qingming
Festival. There were entertainment quarters in the cities providing a
constant array of amusements. There were puppeteers, acrobats, theatre
actors, sword swallowers, snake charmers, storytellers, singers and
musicians, prostitutes, and places to relax, including tea houses,
restaurants, and organized banquets. People attended
social clubs in large numbers; there were tea clubs, exotic food
clubs, antiquarian and art collectors' clubs, horse-loving clubs,
poetry clubs, and music clubs. Like regional cooking and cuisines
in the Song, the era was known for its regional varieties of
performing arts styles as well. Theatrical drama was very popular
amongst the elite and general populace, although Classical
Chinese—not the vernacular language—was spoken by actors on
stage. The four largest drama theatres in
Kaifeng could hold
audiences of several thousand each. There were also notable
domestic pastimes, as people at home enjoyed activities such as the go
and xiangqi board games.
Civil service examinations and the gentry
Main article: Society of the Song dynasty
Scholar in a Meadow,
Chinese painting of the 11th century
During this period greater emphasis was laid upon the civil service
system of recruiting officials; this was based upon degrees acquired
through competitive examinations, in an effort to select the most
capable individuals for governance. Selecting men for office through
proven merit was an ancient idea in China. The civil service system
became institutionalized on a small scale during the Sui and Tang
dynasties, but by the Song period it became virtually the only means
for drafting officials into the government. The advent of
widespread printing helped to widely circulate Confucian teachings and
to educate more and more eligible candidates for the exams. This
can be seen in the number of exam takers for the low-level prefectural
exams rising from 30,000 annual candidates in the early 11th century
to 400,000 candidates by the late 13th century. The civil service
and examination system allowed for greater meritocracy, social
mobility, and equality in competition for those wishing to attain an
official seat in government. Using statistics gathered by the Song
state, Edward A. Kracke, Sudō Yoshiyuki, and Ho Ping-ti supported the
hypothesis that simply having a father, grandfather, or
great-grandfather who had served as an official of state did not
guarantee one would obtain the same level of authority.
Robert Hartwell and Robert P. Hymes criticized this model, stating
that it places too much emphasis on the role of the nuclear family and
considers only three paternal ascendants of exam candidates while
ignoring the demographic reality of Song China, the significant
proportion of males in each generation that had no surviving sons, and
the role of the extended family. Many felt disenfranchised by
what they saw as a bureaucratic system that favored the land-holding
class able to afford the best education. One of the greatest
literary critics of this was the official and famous poet Su Shi. Yet
Su was a product of his times, as the identity, habits, and attitudes
of the scholar-official had become less aristocratic and more
bureaucratic with the transition of the periods from Tang to Song.
At the beginning of the dynasty, government posts were
disproportionately held by two elite social groups: a founding elite
who had ties with the founding emperor and a semi-hereditary
professional elite who used long-held clan status, family connections,
and marriage alliances to secure appointments. By the late 11th
century, the founding elite became obsolete, while political
partisanship and factionalism at court undermined the marriage
strategies of the professional elite, which dissolved as a
distinguishable social group and was replaced by a multitude of gentry
Longquan celadon wares from Zhejiang, 13th century
The Spinning Wheel, a painting created by Northern Song artist Wang
Juzheng, is one of the earliest representations of the invention
Due to Song's enormous population growth and the body of its appointed
scholar-officials being accepted in limited numbers (about 20,000
active officials during the Song period), the larger scholarly gentry
class would now take over grassroots affairs on the vast local
level. Excluding the scholar-officials in office, this elite
social class consisted of exam candidates, examination degree-holders
not yet assigned to an official post, local tutors, and retired
officials. These learned men, degree-holders, and local elites
supervised local affairs and sponsored necessary facilities of local
communities; any local magistrate appointed to his office by the
government relied upon the cooperation of the few or many local gentry
in the area. For example, the Song government—excluding the
educational-reformist government under Emperor Huizong—spared little
amount of state revenue to maintain prefectural and county schools;
instead, the bulk of the funds for schools was drawn from private
financing. This limited role of government officials was a
departure from the earlier
Tang dynasty (618–907), when the
government strictly regulated commercial markets and local affairs;
now the government withdrew heavily from regulating commerce and
relied upon a mass of local gentry to perform necessary duties in
The gentry distinguished themselves in society through their
intellectual and antiquarian pursuits, while the homes of
prominent landholders attracted a variety of courtiers, including
artisans, artists, educational tutors, and entertainers. Despite
the disdain for trade, commerce and the merchant class exhibited by
the highly cultured and elite exam-drafted scholar-officials,
commercialism played a prominent role in Song culture and society.
A scholar-official would be frowned upon by his peers if he pursued
means of profiteering outside of his official salary; however, this
did not stop many scholar-officials from managing business relations
through the use of intermediary agents.
Law, justice, and forensic science
Main article: Society of the Song dynasty
The Broken Balustrade, early 12th-century painting
The Song judicial system retained most of the legal code of the
earlier Tang dynasty, the basis of traditional Chinese law up until
the modern era. Roving sheriffs maintained law and order in the
municipal jurisdictions and occasionally ventured into the
countryside. Official magistrates overseeing court cases were not
only expected to be well-versed in written law but also to promote
morality in society. Magistrates such as the famed Bao Qingtian
(999–1062) embodied the upright, moral judge who upheld justice and
never failed to live up to his principles. Song judges specified the
guilty person or party in a criminal act and meted out punishments
accordingly, often in the form of caning. A guilty individual
or parties brought to court for a criminal or civil offense were not
viewed as wholly innocent until proven otherwise, while even accusers
were viewed with a high level of suspicion by the judge. Due to
costly court expenses and immediate jailing of those accused of
criminal offences, people in the Song preferred to settle disputes and
quarrels privately, without the court's interference.
Dream Pool Essays
Dream Pool Essays argued against traditional Chinese
beliefs in anatomy (such as his argument for two throat valves instead
of three); this perhaps spurred the interest in the performance of
post-mortem autopsies in
China during the 12th century. The
physician and judge known as
Song Ci (1186–1249) wrote a pioneering
work of forensic science on the examination of corpses in order to
determine cause of death (strangulation, poisoning, drowning, blows,
etc.) and to prove whether death resulted from murder, suicide, or
Song Ci stressed the importance of proper
coroner's conduct during autopsies and the accurate recording of the
inquest of each autopsy by official clerks.
Military and methods of warfare
Main article: Society of the Song dynasty
"Four Generals of Zhongxing" by Southern
Song dynasty artist Liu
Songnian (1174–1224); the renowned general
Yue Fei (1103–1142) is
the second person from the left.
The Liaodi Pagoda, the tallest pre-modern
Chinese pagoda built in
1055, was built as a Buddhist religious structure, yet it served a
military purpose as a watchtower for reconnaissance.
The Song military was chiefly organized to ensure that the army could
not threaten Imperial control, often at the expense of effectiveness
in war. Northern Song's Military Council operated under a Chancellor,
who had no control over the imperial army. The imperial army was
divided among three marshals, each independently responsible to the
Emperor. Since the Emperor rarely led campaigns personally, Song
forces lacked unity of command. The imperial court often believed
that successful generals endangered royal authority, and relieved or
even executed them (notably Li Gang, Yue Fei, and Han
Although the scholar-officials viewed military soldiers as lower
members in the hierarchic social order, a person could gain
status and prestige in society by becoming a high-ranking military
officer with a record of victorious battles. At its height, the
Song military had one million soldiers divided into platoons of 50
troops, companies made of two platoons, battalions composed of 500
soldiers. Crossbowmen were separated from the regular
infantry and placed in their own units as they were prized combatants,
providing effective missile fire against cavalry charges. The
government was eager to sponsor new crossbow designs that could shoot
at longer ranges, while crossbowmen were also valuable when employed
as long-range snipers. Song cavalry employed a slew of different
weapons, including halberds, swords, bows, spears, and 'fire lances'
that discharged a gunpowder blast of flame and shrapnel.
Military strategy and military training were treated as sciences that
could be studied and perfected; soldiers were tested in their skills
of using weaponry and in their athletic ability. The troops were
trained to follow signal standards to advance at the waving of banners
and to halt at the sound of bells and drums.
The Song navy was of great importance during the consolidation of the
empire in the 10th century; during the war against the Southern Tang
state the Song navy employed tactics such as defending large floating
pontoon bridges across the
Yangtze River in order to secure movements
of troops and supplies. There were large ships in the Song navy
that could carry 1,000 soldiers aboard their decks, while the
swift-moving paddle-wheel craft were viewed as essential fighting
ships in any successful naval battle.
In a battle on January 23, 971, massive arrow fire from Song dynasty
crossbowmen decimated the war elephant corps of the Southern Han
army. This defeat not only marked the eventual submission of the
Southern Han to the Song dynasty, but also the last instance where a
war elephant corps was employed as a regular division within a Chinese
There was a total of 347 military treatises written during the Song
period, as listed by the history text of the Song Shi (compiled in
1345). However, only a handful of these military treatises have
survived, which includes the
Wujing Zongyao written in 1044. It was
the first known book to have listed formulas for gunpowder; it
gave appropriate formulas for use in several different kinds of
gunpowder bombs. It also provided detailed descriptions and
illustrations of double-piston pump flamethrowers, as well as
instructions for the maintenance and repair of the components and
equipment used in the device.
Arts, literature, and philosophy
Main article: Culture of the Song dynasty
Further information: Islam during the Song dynasty
Bodhisattva statue from the
Song dynasty (960–1279)
A fresco shows late Northern Sung dynasty women sitting at their
The visual arts during the
Song dynasty were heightened by new
developments such as advances in landscape and portrait painting. The
gentry elite engaged in the arts as accepted pastimes of the cultured
scholar-official, including painting, composing poetry, and writing
calligraphy. The poet and statesman
Su Shi and his associate Mi
Fu (1051–1107) enjoyed antiquarian affairs, often borrowing or
buying art pieces to study and copy. Poetry and literature
profited from the rising popularity and development of the ci poetry
form. Enormous encyclopedic volumes were compiled, such as works of
historiography and dozens of treatises on technical subjects. This
included the universal history text of the Zizhi Tongjian, compiled
into 1000 volumes of 9.4 million written Chinese characters. The genre
of Chinese travel literature also became popular with the writings of
Fan Chengda (1126–1193) and Su Shi, the latter of
whom wrote the 'daytrip essay' known as Record of Stone Bell Mountain
that used persuasive writing to argue for a philosophical point.
Although an early form of the local geographic gazetteer existed in
China since the 1st century, the matured form known as "treatise on a
place", or fangzhi, replaced the old "map guide", or tujing, during
the Song dynasty.
The imperial courts of the emperor's palace were filled with his
entourage of court painters, calligraphers, poets, and storytellers.
Emperor Huizong was a renowned artist as well as a patron of the arts.
A prime example of a highly venerated court painter was Zhang Zeduan
(1085–1145) who painted an enormous panoramic painting, Along the
River During the Qingming Festival.
Emperor Gaozong of Song
Emperor Gaozong of Song initiated
a massive art project during his reign, known as the Eighteen Songs of
a Nomad Flute from the life story of
Cai Wenji (b. 177). This art
project was a diplomatic gesture to the Jin dynasty while he
negotiated for the release of his mother from Jurchen captivity in the
Portrait of the
Zen Buddhist monk Wuzhun Shifan, painted in 1238.
In philosophy, Chinese
Buddhism had waned in influence but it retained
its hold on the arts and on the charities of monasteries.
a profound influence upon the budding movement of Neo-Confucianism,
led by Cheng Yi (1033–1107) and
Zhu Xi (1130–1200). Mahayana
Fan Zhongyan and
Wang Anshi through its concept of
ethical universalism, while Buddhist metaphysics deeply affected
the pre–Neo-Confucian doctrine of Cheng Yi. The philosophical
work of Cheng Yi in turn influenced Zhu Xi. Although his writings were
not accepted by his contemporary peers, Zhu's commentary and emphasis
upon the Confucian classics of the
Four Books as an introductory
corpus to Confucian learning formed the basis of the Neo-Confucian
doctrine. By the year 1241, under the sponsorship of Emperor Lizong,
Four Books and his commentary on them became standard
requirements of study for students attempting to pass the civil
service examinations. The East Asian countries of
Japan and Korea
also adopted Zhu Xi's teaching, known as the Shushigaku (朱子學,
School of Zhu Xi) of Japan, and in
Korea the Jujahak (주자학).
Buddhism's continuing influence can be seen in painted artwork such as
Lin Tinggui's Luohan Laundering. However, the ideology was highly
criticized and even scorned by some. The statesman and historian
Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072) called the religion a "curse" that could only
be remedied by uprooting it from Chinese culture and replacing it with
Confucian discourse. A true revival of
Buddhism in Chinese
society would not occur until the Mongol rule of the Yuan dynasty,
with Kublai Khan's sponsorship of Tibetan
Buddhism and Drogön
Chögyal Phagpa as the leading lama. The Christian sect of
Nestorianism, which had entered
China in the Tang era, would also be
China under Mongol rule.
Cuisine and apparel
Main article: Culture of the Song dynasty
A red lacquerware food tray with gold foil engraving designs of two
long-tailed birds and a peony, dated 12th to early 13th century.
Sumptuary laws regulated the food that one consumed and the clothes
that one wore according to status and social class. Clothing was made
of hemp or cotton cloths, restricted to a colour standard of black and
white. Trousers were the acceptable attire for peasants, soldiers,
artisans, and merchants, although wealthy merchants might choose to
wear more ornate clothing and male blouses that came down below the
waist. Acceptable apparel for scholar-officials was rigidly defined by
social ranking system. However, as time went on this rule of
rank-graded apparel for officials was not as strictly enforced. Each
official was able to display his awarded status by wearing
different-coloured traditional silken robes that hung to the ground
around his feet, specific types of headgear, and even specific styles
of girdles that displayed his graded-rank of officialdom.
Women wore long dresses, blouses that came down to the knee, skirts
and jackets with long or short sleeves, while women from wealthy
families could wear purple scarves around their shoulders. The main
difference in women's apparel from that of men was that it was
fastened on the left, not on the right.
The main food staples in the diet of the lower classes remained rice,
pork, and salted fish. Song restaurant and tavern menus are
recorded which list entrées for feasts, banquets, festivals, and
carnivals. They reveal a diverse and lavish diet for those of the
upper class. They could choose from a wide variety of meats and
seafood, including shrimp, geese, duck, mussel, shellfish, fallow
deer, hare, partridge, pheasant, francolin, quail, fox, badger, clam,
crab, and many others. Dairy products were rare in
Chinese cuisine at this time. Beef was rarely consumed since the bull
was a valuable draft animal, and dog meat was absent from the diet of
the wealthy, although the poor could choose to eat dog meat if
necessary (yet it was not part of their regular diet). People
also consumed dates, raisins, jujubes, pears, plums, apricots, pear
juice, lychee-fruit juice, honey and ginger drinks, pawpaw juice,
spices and seasonings of
Sichuan pepper, ginger, soy sauce, oil,
sesame oil, salt, and vinegar.
Economy, industry, and trade
Main article: Economy of the Song dynasty
Chinese boats from Zhang Zeduan's (1085–1145) painting Along the
River During Qingming Festival; Chinese ships of the Song period
featured hulls with watertight compartments.
Song dynasty had one of the most prosperous and advanced economies
in the medieval world. Song Chinese invested their funds in joint
stock companies and in multiple sailing vessels at a time when
monetary gain was assured from the vigorous overseas trade and
domestic trade along the Grand
Yangtze River. Prominent
merchant families and private businesses were allowed to occupy
industries that were not already government-operated
monopolies. Both private and government-controlled industries
met the needs of a growing Chinese population in the Song.
Artisans and merchants formed guilds that the state had to deal with
when assessing taxes, requisitioning goods, and setting standard
workers' wages and prices on goods.
The iron industry was pursued by both private entrepreneurs who owned
their own smelters as well as government-supervised smelting
facilities. The Song economy was stable enough to produce over a
hundred million kilograms (over two hundred million pounds) of iron
product a year. Large-scale
Deforestation in China
Deforestation in China would have
continued if not for the 11th-century innovation of the use of coal
instead of charcoal in blast furnaces for smelting cast iron.
Much of this iron was reserved for military use in crafting weapons
and armouring troops, but some was used to fashion the many iron
products needed to fill the demands of the growing domestic market.
The iron trade within
China was advanced by the construction of new
canals, facilitating the flow of iron products from production centres
to the large market in the capital city.
Left item: A Northern Song
Qingbai ware vase with a transparent
blue-toned ceramic glaze, from Jingdezhen, 11th century; Center item:
A Northern or Southern Song
Qingbai ware bowl with incised lotus
decorations, a metal rim, and a transparent blue-toned glaze, from
Jingdezhen, 12th or 13th century; Right item: A Southern Song
miniature model of a granary with removable top lid and doorway,
Qingbai porcelain with transparent blue-toned glaze, Jingdezhen, 13th
The annual output of minted copper currency in 1085 reached roughly
six billion coins. The most notable advancement in the Song economy
was the establishment of the world's first government issued
paper-printed money, known as Jiaozi (see also Huizi). For the
printing of paper money, the Song court established several
government-run factories in the cities of Huizhou, Chengdu, Hangzhou,
and Anqi. The size of the workforce employed in paper money
factories was large; it was recorded in 1175 that the factory at
Hangzhou employed more than a thousand workers a day.
The economic power of Song
China heavily influenced foreign economies
abroad. The Moroccan geographer al-Idrisi wrote in 1154 of the prowess
of Chinese merchant ships in the
Indian Ocean and of their annual
voyages that brought iron, swords, silk, velvet, porcelain, and
various textiles to places such as
Aden (Yemen), the Indus River, and
Euphrates in modern-day Iraq. Foreigners, in turn, affected
the Chinese economy. For example, many West Asian and Central Asian
Muslims went to
China to trade, becoming a preeminent force in the
import and export industry, while some were even appointed as officers
supervising economic affairs. Sea trade with the South-west
Pacific, the Hindu world, the Islamic world, and East Africa brought
merchants great fortune and spurred an enormous growth in the
shipbuilding industry of Song-era
Fujian province. However, there
was risk involved in such long overseas ventures. In order to reduce
the risk of losing money on maritime trade missions abroad, wrote
historians Ebrey, Walthall, and Palais:
[Song era] investors usually divided their investment among many
ships, and each ship had many investors behind it. One observer
thought eagerness to invest in overseas trade was leading to an
outflow of copper cash. He wrote, 'People along the coast are on
intimate terms with the merchants who engage in overseas trade, either
because they are fellow-countrymen or personal acquaintances....[They
give the merchants] money to take with them on their ships for
purchase and return conveyance of foreign goods. They invest from ten
to a hundred strings of cash, and regularly make profits of several
Technology, science, and engineering
Science and technology of the Song dynasty
Science and technology of the Song dynasty and
Architecture of the Song dynasty
List of Chinese inventions
List of Chinese inventions and List of Chinese
Further information: History of gunpowder
An illustration of a trebuchet catapult from the Wujing Zongyao
manuscript of 1044. Trebuchets like this were used to launch the
earliest type of explosive bombs.
Advancements in weapons technology enhanced by gunpowder, including
the evolution of the early flamethrower, explosive grenade, firearm,
cannon, and land mine, enabled the Song Chinese to ward off their
militant enemies until the Song's ultimate collapse in the late 13th
Wujing Zongyao manuscript of
1044 was the first book in history to provide formulas for gunpowder
and their specified use in different types of bombs. While
engaged in a war with the Mongols, in 1259 the official Li Zengbo
wrote in his Kezhai Zagao, Xugaohou that the city of
manufacturing one to two thousand strong iron-cased bomb shells a
month, dispatching to Xiangyang and Yingzhou about ten to twenty
thousand such bombs at a time. In turn, the invading Mongols
employed northern Chinese soldiers and used these same types of
gunpowder weapons against the Song. By the 14th century the
firearm and cannon could also be found in Europe, India, and the
Islamic Middle East, during the early age of gunpowder warfare.
Measuring distance and mechanical navigation
As early as the Han dynasty, when the state needed to accurately
measure distances traveled throughout the empire, the Chinese relied
on a mechanical odometer. The Chinese odometer was a wheeled
carriage, its gearwork being driven by the rotation of the carriage's
wheels; specific units of distance—the Chinese li—were marked by
the mechanical striking of a drum or bell as an auditory signal.
The specifications for the 11th century odometer were written by Chief
Chamberlain Lu Daolong, who is quoted extensively in the historical
text of the Song Shi (compiled by 1345). In the Song period, the
odometer vehicle was also combined with another old complex mechanical
device known as the south-pointing chariot. This device,
originally crafted by
Ma Jun in the 3rd century, incorporated a
differential gear that allowed a figure mounted on the vehicle to
always point in the southern direction, no matter how the vehicle's
wheels turned about. The concept of the differential gear that
was used in this navigational vehicle is now found in modern
automobiles in order to apply an equal amount of torque to a car's
wheels even when they are rotating at different speeds.
Polymaths, inventions, and astronomy
Chinese astronomy and List of Chinese inventions
An interior diagram of the astronomical clocktower of
in Su Song's book, written by 1092 and published in printed form by
the year 1094.
Polymath figures such as the statesmen
Shen Kuo (1031–1095) and Su
Song (1020–1101) embodied advancements in all fields of study,
including biology, botany, zoology, geology, mineralogy, mechanics,
horology, astronomy, pharmaceutical medicine, archeology, mathematics,
cartography, optics, art criticism, and more.
Shen Kuo was the first to discern magnetic declination of true north
while experimenting with a compass. Shen theorized that
geographical climates gradually shifted over time. He
created a theory of land formation involving concepts accepted in
modern geomorphology. He performed optical experiments with
camera obscura just decades after
Ibn al-Haytham was the first to do
so. He also improved the designs of astronomical instruments such
as the widened astronomical sighting tube, which allowed
Shen Kuo to
fix the position of the pole star (which had shifted over centuries of
Shen Kuo was also known for hydraulic clockworks, as he
invented a new overflow-tank clepsydra which had more efficient
higher-order interpolation instead of linear interpolation in
calibrating the measure of time.
Su Song was best known for his horology treatise written in 1092,
which described and illustrated in great detail his hydraulic-powered,
12 m (39 ft) tall astronomical clock tower built in Kaifeng.
The clock tower featured large astronomical instruments of the
armillary sphere and celestial globe, both driven by an early
intermittently working escapement mechanism (similarly to the western
verge escapement of true mechanical clocks appeared in medieval
clockworks, derived from ancient clockworks of classical
times). Su's tower featured a rotating gear wheel with 133
clock jack mannequins who were timed to rotate past shuttered windows
while ringing gongs and bells, banging drums, and presenting
announcement plaques. In his printed book, Su published a
celestial atlas of five star charts. These star charts feature a
cylindrical projection similar to Mercator projection, the latter
being a cartographic innovation of
Gerardus Mercator in
The Song Chinese observed supernovae. Moreover, the Soochow
Astronomical Chart on Chinese planispheres was prepared in 1193 for
instructing the crown prince on astronomical findings. The
planispheres were engraved in stone several decades later.
Mathematics and cartography
Chinese mathematics and Chinese geography
The Yu Ji Tu, or "Map of the Tracks of Yu", carved into stone in 1137,
located in the
Stele Forest of Xi'an. This 3 ft (0.91 m)
squared map features a graduated scale of 100 li for each rectangular
grid. China's coastline and river systems are clearly defined and
precisely pinpointed on the map. Yu refers to the Chinese deity
described in the geographical chapter of the Book of Documents, dated
5th–3rd centuries BCE.
There were many notable improvements to
Chinese mathematics during the
Song era. Mathematician Yang Hui's 1261 book provided the earliest
Chinese illustration of Pascal's triangle, although it had earlier
been described by Jia Xian in around 1100.
Yang Hui also provided
rules for constructing combinatorial arrangements in magic squares,
provided theoretical proof for Euclid's forty-third proposition about
parallelograms, and was the first to use negative coefficients of 'x'
in quadratic equations. Yang's contemporary
Qin Jiushao (c.
1202–1261) was the first to introduce the zero symbol into Chinese
mathematics; before this blank spaces were used instead of zeroes
in the system of counting rods. He is also known for working with
the Chinese remainder theorem, Heron's formula, and astronomical data
used in determining the winter solstice. Qin's major work was the
Mathematical Treatise in Nine Sections
Mathematical Treatise in Nine Sections published in 1247.
Geometry was essential to surveying and cartography. The earliest
extant Chinese maps date to the 4th century BCE, yet it was not
until the time of
Pei Xiu (224–271) that topographical elevation, a
formal rectangular grid system, and use of a standard graduated scale
of distances was applied to terrain maps. Following a long
Shen Kuo created a raised-relief map, while his other maps
featured a uniform graduated scale of 1:900,000. A 3 ft
(0.91 m) squared map of 1137—carved into a stone
block—followed a uniform grid scale of 100 li for each gridded
square, and accurately mapped the outline of the coasts and river
systems of China, extending all the way to India. Furthermore,
the world's oldest known terrain map in printed form comes from the
edited encyclopedia of Yang Jia in 1155, which displayed western China
without the formal grid system that was characteristic of more
professionally made Chinese maps. Although gazetteers had existed
since 52 CE during the
Han dynasty and gazetteers accompanied by
illustrative maps (Chinese: tujing) since the Sui dynasty, the
illustrated gazetteer became much more common in the Song dynasty,
when the foremost concern was for illustrative gazetteers to serve
political, administrative, and military purposes.
Movable type printing
Further information: History of printing in East Asia
One of the star charts from Su Song's Xin Yi Xiang Fa Yao published in
1092, featuring cylindrical projection similar to Mercator projection
and the corrected position of the pole star thanks to Shen Kuo's
astronomical observations. Su Song's celestial atlas of five
star maps is actually the oldest in printed form.
The innovation of movable type printing was made by the artisan Bi
Sheng (990–1051), first described by the scientist and statesman
Shen Kuo in his
Dream Pool Essays
Dream Pool Essays of 1088. The collection of
Bi Sheng's original clay-fired typeface was passed on to one of Shen
Kuo's nephews, and was carefully preserved. Movable type
enhanced the already widespread use of woodblock methods of printing
thousands of documents and volumes of written literature, consumed
eagerly by an increasingly literate public. The advancement of
printing deeply affected education and the scholar-official class,
since more books could be made faster while mass-produced, printed
books were cheaper in comparison to laborious handwritten
copies. The enhancement of widespread printing and print
culture in the Song period was thus a direct catalyst in the rise of
social mobility and expansion of the educated class of scholar elites,
the latter which expanded dramatically in size from the 11th to 13th
The movable type invented by
Bi Sheng was ultimately trumped by the
use of woodblock printing due to the limitations of the enormous
Chinese character writing system, yet movable type printing continued
to be used and was improved in later periods. The Yuan dynasty
scholar-official Wang Zhen (fl. 1290–1333) implemented a faster
typesetting process, improved Bi's baked-clay movable type character
set with a wooden one, and experimented with tin-metal movable
type. The wealthy printing patron
Hua Sui (1439–1513) of the
Ming dynasty established China's first metal movable type (using
bronze) in 1490. In 1638 the
Gazette switched their
printing process from woodblock to movable type printing. Yet it
was during the
Qing dynasty that massive printing projects began to
employ movable type printing. This includes the printing of sixty-six
copies of a 5,020 volume long encyclopedia in 1725, the Gujin Tushu
Jicheng (Complete Collection of Illustrations and Writings from the
Earliest to Current Times), which necessitated the crafting of 250,000
movable type characters cast in bronze. By the 19th century the
European style printing press replaced the old Chinese methods of
movable type, while traditional woodblock printing in modern East Asia
is used sparsely and for aesthetic reasons.
Hydraulic and nautical engineering
Main article: Science and technology of the Song dynasty
The most important nautical innovation of the Song period seems to
have been the introduction of the magnetic mariner's compass, which
permitted accurate navigation on the open sea regardless of the
weather. The magnetized compass needle – known in Chinese as
the "south-pointing needle" – was first described by
Shen Kuo in his
Dream Pool Essays
Dream Pool Essays and first mentioned in active use by sailors in
Zhu Yu's 1119 Pingzhou Table Talks.
A plan and side view of a canal pound lock, a concept pioneered in 984
by the Assistant Commissioner of Transport for Huainan, the engineer
There were other considerable advancements in hydraulic engineering
and nautical technology during the Song dynasty. The 10th-century
invention of the pound lock for canal systems allowed different water
levels to be raised and lowered for separated segments of a canal,
which significantly aided the safety of canal traffic and allowed for
larger barges. There was the Song-era innovation of watertight
bulkhead compartments that allowed damage to hulls without sinking the
ships. If ships were damaged, the Chinese of the 11th century
employed drydocks to repair them while suspended out of the
water. The Song used crossbeams to brace the ribs of ships in
order to strengthen them in a skeletal-like structure.
Stern-mounted rudders had been mounted on Chinese ships since the 1st
century, as evidenced with a preserved Han tomb model of a ship. In
the Song period, the Chinese devised a way to mechanically raise and
lower rudders in order for ships to travel in a wider range of water
depths. The Song arranged the protruding teeth of anchors in a
circular pattern instead of in one direction. David Graff and
Robin Higham state that this arrangement "[made] them more reliable"
for anchoring ships.
Structural engineering and architecture
Main article: Architecture of the Song dynasty
The 42-metre (138 ft) tall, brick and wood
Lingxiao Pagoda of
Zhengding, Hebei, built in 1045.
Architecture during the Song period reached new heights of
sophistication. Authors such as
Yu Hao and
Shen Kuo wrote books
outlining the field of architectural layouts, craftsmanship, and
structural engineering in the 10th and 11th centuries, respectively.
Shen Kuo preserved the written dialogues of
Yu Hao when describing
technical issues such as slanting struts built into pagoda towers for
diagonal wind bracing.
Shen Kuo also preserved Yu's specified
dimensions and units of measurement for various building types.
The architect Li Jie (1065–1110), who published the Yingzao Fashi
('Treatise on Architectural Methods') in 1103, greatly expanded upon
the works of
Yu Hao and compiled the standard building codes used by
the central government agencies and by craftsmen throughout the
empire. He addressed the standard methods of construction,
design, and applications of moats and fortifications, stonework,
greater woodwork, lesser woodwork, wood-carving, turning and drilling,
sawing, bamboo work, tiling, wall building, painting and decoration,
brickwork, glazed tile making, and provided proportions for mortar
formulas in masonry. In his book, Li provided detailed and
vivid illustrations of architectural components and cross-sections of
buildings. These illustrations displayed various applications of
corbel brackets, cantilever arms, mortise and tenon work of tie beams
and cross beams, and diagrams showing the various building types of
halls in graded sizes. He also outlined the standard units of
measurement and standard dimensional measurements of all building
components described and illustrated in his book.
Games in the Jinming Pool, silk painting by Zhang Zeduan, depiction of
Kaifeng, Northern Song era.
Grandiose building projects were supported by the government,
including the erection of towering Buddhist Chinese pagodas and the
construction of enormous bridges (wood or stone, trestle or segmental
arch bridge). Many of the pagoda towers built during the Song period
were erected at heights that exceeded ten stories. Some of the most
famous are the
Pagoda built in 1049 during the Northern Song and
Liuhe Pagoda built in 1165 during the Southern Song, although
there were many others. The tallest is the
Liaodi Pagoda of Hebei
built in 1055, towering 84 m (276 ft) in total height. Some
of the bridges reached lengths of 1,220 m (4,000 ft), with
many being wide enough to allow two lanes of cart traffic
simultaneously over a waterway or ravine. The government also
oversaw construction of their own administrative offices, palace
apartments, city fortifications, ancestral temples, and Buddhist
The professions of the architect, craftsman, carpenter, and structural
engineer were not seen as professionally equal to that of a Confucian
scholar-official. Architectural knowledge had been passed down orally
for thousands of years in China, in many cases from a father craftsman
to his son.
Structural engineering and architecture schools were known
to have existed during the Song period; one prestigious engineering
school was headed by the renowned bridge-builder Cai Xiang
(1012–1067) in medieval
Bracket arm clusters containing cantilevers, from Li Jie's building
manual Yingzao Fashi, printed in 1103.
Besides existing buildings and technical literature of building
Song dynasty artwork portraying cityscapes and other
buildings aid modern-day scholars in their attempts to reconstruct and
realize the nuances of Song architecture.
Song dynasty artists such as
Li Cheng, Fan Kuan, Guo Xi, Zhang Zeduan, Emperor Huizong of Song, and
Ma Lin painted close-up depictions of buildings as well as large
expanses of cityscapes featuring arched bridges, halls and pavilions,
pagoda towers, and distinct Chinese city walls. The scientist and
Shen Kuo was known for his criticism of artwork relating to
architecture, saying that it was more important for an artist to
capture a holistic view of a landscape than it was to focus on the
angles and corners of buildings. For example, Shen criticized the
work of the painter Li Cheng for failing to observe the principle of
"seeing the small from the viewpoint of the large" in portraying
There were also pyramidal tomb structures in the Song era, such as the
Song imperial tombs located in Gongxian,
Henan province. About
100 km (62 mi) from Gongxian is another
Song dynasty tomb at
Baisha, which features "elaborate facsimiles in brick of Chinese
timber frame construction, from door lintels to pillars and pedestals
to bracket sets, that adorn interior walls." The two large
chambers of the Baisha tomb also feature conical-shaped roofs.
Flanking the avenues leading to these tombs are lines of Song dynasty
stone statues of officials, tomb guardians, animals, and mythological
Further information: History of Chinese archaeology
In addition to the Song gentry's antiquarian pursuits of art
collecting, scholar-officials during the Song became highly interested
in retrieving ancient relics from archaeological sites, in order to
revive the use of ancient vessels in ceremonies of state ritual.
Scholar-officials of the Song period claimed to have discovered
ancient bronze vessels that were created as far back as the Shang
dynasty (1600–1046 BCE), which bore the written characters of the
Shang era. Some attempted to recreate these bronze vessels by
using imagination alone, not by observing tangible evidence of relics;
this practice was criticized by
Shen Kuo in his work of 1088. Yet
Shen Kuo had much more to criticize than this practice alone. Shen
objected to the idea of his peers that ancient relics were products
created by famous "sages" in lore or the ancient aristocratic class;
Shen rightfully attributed the discovered handicrafts and vessels from
ancient times as the work of artisans and commoners from previous
eras. He also disapproved of his peers' pursuit of archaeology
simply to enhance state ritual, since Shen not only took an
interdisciplinary approach with the study of archaeology, but he also
emphasized the study of functionality and investigating what was the
ancient relics' original processes of manufacture. Shen used
ancient texts and existing models of armillary spheres to create one
based on ancient standards; Shen described ancient weaponry such as
the use of a scaled sighting device on crossbows; while experimenting
with ancient musical measures, Shen suggested hanging an ancient bell
by using a hollow handle.
Scholars of the Song claim to have collected ancient relics dating
back as far as the Shang dynasty, such as this bronze ding vessel.
Despite the gentry's overriding interest in archaeology simply for
reviving ancient state rituals, some of Shen's peers took a similar
approach to the study of archaeology. His contemporary Ouyang Xiu
(1007–1072) compiled an analytical catalogue of ancient rubbings on
stone and bronze which pioneered ideas in early epigraphy and
archaeology. During the 11th century, Song scholars discovered the
ancient shrine of Wu Liang (78–151 CE), a scholar of the Han dynasty
(202 BCE – 220 CE); they produced rubbings of the carvings and
bas-reliefs decorating the walls of his tomb so that they could be
analyzed elsewhere. On the unreliability of historical works
written after the fact, scholar-official
Zhao Mingcheng (1081–1129)
stated "...the inscriptions on stone and bronze are made at the time
the events took place and can be trusted without reservation, and thus
discrepancies may be discovered." Historian R.C. Rudolph states
that Zhao's emphasis on consulting contemporary sources for accurate
dating is parallel with the concern of the German historian Leopold
von Ranke (1795–1886), and was in fact emphasized by many Song
scholars. The Song scholar Hong Mai (1123–1202) heavily
criticized what he called the court's "ridiculous" archaeological
catalogue Bogutu compiled during the Huizong reign periods of Zheng He
and Xuan He (1111–1125). Hong Mai obtained old vessels from the
Han dynasty and compared them with the descriptions offered in the
catalogue, which he found so inaccurate he stated he had to "hold my
sides with laughter." Hong Mai pointed out that the erroneous
material was the fault of Chancellor
Cai Jing (1047–1126), who
prohibited scholars from reading and consulting written
Emperors' family tree
Four Great Books of Song
Taxation in premodern China
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