Song dynasty

Not to be confused with Song (state) or Liu Song dynasty.
Song dynasty
A map showing the territory of the Song, Liao, and Western Xia dynasties. The Song occupies the east half of what constitutes the territory of the modern People's Republic of China, except for the northernmost areas (modern Inner Mongolia and above). Western Xia occupies a small strip of land surrounding a river in what is now Inner Mongolia and Ningxia, and the Liao occupy a large section of what is today north-east China.
Northern Song in 1111
Capital Bianjing (汴京)

Lin'an (臨安)
Languages Chinese
Religion Buddhism
Heaven worship
Chinese folk religion
Chinese Manichaeism
Government Monarchy
 •  960–976 Emperor Taizu
 •  1126–1127 Emperor Qinzong
 •  1127–1162 Emperor Gaozong
 •  1278–1279 Emperor Bing
Historical era Postclassical Era
 •  Established by Zhao Kuangyin, Emperor Taizu of Song 960
 •  Alliance Conducted at Sea 1115–1125
 •  Jingkang Incident 1127
 •  Beginning of Mongol invasion 1235
 •  Surrender of Lin'an 1276
 •  Battle of Yamen marks end of Song rule March 19, 1279
 •  958 est. [1] 800,000 km² (308,882 sq mi)
 •  980 est. [1] 3,100,000 km² (1,196,917 sq mi)
 •  1127 est. [1] 2,100,000 km² (810,815 sq mi)
 •  1204 est. [1] 1,800,000 km² (694,984 sq mi)
 •  1120 est. 118,800,000 [a] 
Currency Jiaozi, Huizi, Chinese cash, Chinese coin, copper coins, etc.
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Later Zhou
Later Shu
Southern Han
Southern Tang
Northern Han
Yuan dynasty
Today part of   China
  Hong Kong
Song dynasty
Song dynasty (Chinese characters).svg
"Song dynasty" in Chinese characters
Chinese 宋朝
History of China
History of China
Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2070 BC
Xia dynasty c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC
Shang dynasty c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC
Zhou dynasty c. 1046 – 256 BC
  Western Zhou
  Eastern Zhou
    Spring and Autumn
    Warring States
Qin dynasty 221–206 BC
Han dynasty 206 BC – 220 AD
  Western Han
  Xin dynasty
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin dynasty 265–420
  Western Jin
  Eastern Jin Sixteen Kingdoms
Northern and Southern dynasties
Sui dynasty 581–618
Tang dynasty 618–907
  ( Second Zhou dynasty 690–705)
Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms

Liao dynasty
Song dynasty
  Northern Song Western Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan dynasty 1271–1368
Ming dynasty 1368–1644
Qing dynasty 1644–1912
Republic of China 1912–1949
People's Republic
of China

Republic of
China (Taiwan)


The Song dynasty ( Chinese: 宋朝; pinyin: Sòng cháo; 960–1279) was an era of Chinese history that began in 960 and continued until 1279. It succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, coincided with the Liao and Western Xia dynasties, and was followed by the Yuan dynasty. It was the first government 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.

The 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 of the Yangtze and established its capital at Lin'an (now Hangzhou). Although the 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. [2] 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 (1271–1368). [3]

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. [4] [5] The Northern Song census recorded a population of roughly 50 million, much like the Han and Tang dynasties. This data is found in the Standard Histories. However, it is estimated that the Northern Song had a population of some 100 million people, and 200 million by the time of the Ming dynasty. [6] 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 supervision.

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.


Northern Song, 960–1126

"Northern Song" redirects here. For other uses, see Northern Song (disambiguation).

Emperor Taizu of Song (r. 960–976) unified the empire by conquering other lands during his reign, ending the upheaval of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. In Kaifeng, he established a strong central government over the empire. 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. [7] 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. [8]

Painted image of a portly man sitting in a red throne-chair with dragon-head decorations, wearing white silk robes, black shoes, and a black hat, and sporting a black moustache and goatee.
Emperor Taizu of Song (r. 960–976), a court portrait painting

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. [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] 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. [14] 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 that was traditionally considered to be part of China proper. [15] Song forces were repulsed by the Liao forces, who engaged in aggressive yearly campaigns into northern Song territory until 1005, when the signing of the 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. [16] More significantly, the Song state recognized the Liao state as its diplomatic equal. [17] The 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). [18] 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. [19] 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. [20] 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). [21] 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. [22]

An oval shaped pottery pillow with flat sides. It has an image of a white bird sitting on a branch.
Cizhou ware pillow of Northern Song dynasty with incised decoration and iron-pigmented black slip with the image of a bird.

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 service. [23]

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. [24]

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 and Chancellor Sima Guang (1019–1086). [25] 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. [24] 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. [24]

A wooden carving of a sitting Buddhist figure in loose fitting, painted robes.
A Liao polychrome wood-carved statue of Guanyin, Shanxi, (907–1125)

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). [26] 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 1125.

However, the poor performance and military weakness of the Song army was observed by the Jurchens, who immediately broke the alliance, beginning the 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. [26]

The remaining Song forces regrouped under the self-proclaimed Emperor Gaozong of Song (1127–1162) and withdrew south of the Yangtze to establish a new capital at Lin'an (modern Hangzhou). The Jurchen conquest of North China and shift of capitals from Kaifeng to Lin'an was the dividing line between the Northern and Southern Song dynasties.

Southern Song, 1127–1279

A map showing the territory of the Song dynasty after suffering losses to the Jin dynasty. The western and southern borders remain unchanged from the previous map, however the northernmost third of the Song's previous territory is now under control of the Jin. The Xia dynasty's territory generally remains unchanged. In the southwest, the Song dynasty is bordered by a territory about a sixth its size, Nanchao.
Southern Song in 1142

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. [27] [28] [29] To protect and support the multitude of ships sailing for maritime interests into the waters of the 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. [30] The Song dynasty therefore established China's first permanent navy in 1132, [29] with a headquarters at Dinghai. [31] 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 and the Battle of Caishi. During these battles the Song navy employed swift paddle wheel driven naval vessels armed with trebuchet catapults aboard the decks that launched gunpowder bombs. [31] Although the Jin forces commanded by Wanyan Liang (the Prince of Hailing) boasted 70,000 men on 600 warships, and the Song forces only 3,000 men on 120 warships, [32] the Song dynasty forces were victorious in both battles due to the destructive power of the bombs and the rapid assaults by paddle wheel ships. [33] 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. [31] 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. [34] [35] [36] 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. [37]

A wooden carving of a slightly overweight Buddha, sitting in a cross legged position. Clothing, including a shirt that covers the shoulders but leaves the chest exposed, and long, baggy pants, are carved into the statue.
A seated wooden Bodhisattva statue, Jin dynasty (1115–1234)

Although the 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. [38] 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. [39] Under the leadership of Ögedei Khan (r.1229–1241), both the Jin dynasty and Western Xia dynasty were conquered by Mongol forces. [39] [40] The Mongols also invaded Korea, the Abbasid Caliphate of the Middle East, and Kievan Rus'. The Mongols were at one time allied with the Song, but this alliance was broken when the Song recaptured the former imperial capitals of Kaifeng, Luoyang, and Chang'an at the collapse of the Jin dynasty. The Mongol leader Möngke Khan led a campaign against the Song in 1259 but died on August 11 during the Battle of Diaoyu Fortress in Chongqing. [41] 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 remaining 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. [42]

Kublai continued the assault against the Song, gaining a temporary foothold on the southern banks of the Yangtze. [43] 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. [44] In Kublai's absence, the Song forces were ordered by Chancellor Jia Sidao to make an opportune assault, and succeeded in pushing the Mongol forces back to the northern banks of the Yangtze. [45] There were minor border skirmishes until 1265, when Kublai won a significant battle in Sichuan. [46] From 1268 to 1273, Kublai blockaded the Yangtze River with his navy and besieged Xiangyang, the last obstacle in his way to invading the rich Yangtze River basin. [46] Kublai officially declared the creation of the Yuan dynasty in 1271. In 1275, a Song force of 130,000 troops under Chancellor Jia Sidao was defeated by Kublai's newly appointed commander-in-chief, general Bayan. [47] By 1276, most of the Song territory had been captured by Yuan forces. [40] In the Battle of Yamen on the 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 [48] 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. [49] Other members of the Song Imperial Family continued to live in the Yuan dynasty, including Zhao Mengfu and Zhao Yong.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Song-dinastie
azərbaycanca: Sun imperiyası
Bahasa Banjar: Dinasti Song
Bân-lâm-gú: Sòng
беларуская: Дынастыя Сун
български: Сун
brezhoneg: Tierniezh Song
català: Dinastia Song
čeština: Dynastie Sung
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español: Dinastía Song
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euskara: Song dinastia
français: Dynastie Song
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한국어: 송나라
hrvatski: Dinastija Sung
Bahasa Indonesia: Dinasti Song
íslenska: Songveldið
italiano: Dinastia Song
latviešu: Sunu dinastija
lietuvių: Songų dinastija
Bahasa Melayu: Dinasti Song
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Sóng-dièu
монгол: Сүн улс
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नेपाल भाषा: सोङ्ग राजवंश
日本語: 宋 (王朝)
norsk bokmål: Song-dynastiet
norsk nynorsk: Song-dynastiet
occitan: Dinastia Song
پنجابی: سونگ راجٹبر
português: Dinastia Sung
română: Dinastia Song
русский: Империя Сун
Simple English: Song Dynasty
slovenčina: Sung (dynastia)
српски / srpski: Династија Сунг
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Dinastija Sung
svenska: Songdynastin
українська: Династія Сун
Vahcuengh: Sungciuz
Tiếng Việt: Nhà Tống
文言: 趙宋
吴语: 宋朝
粵語: 大宋
Zeêuws: Song-dynastie
中文: 宋朝