Northern Song, 960–1127
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.
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 China proper (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 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. More significantly, the Song state recognized the Liao state as its diplomatic equal. The Song created an extensive defensive forest along the Song-Liao border to thwart potential Khitan cavalry attacks.
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). 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.
A wooden Bodhisattva from the Song dynasty (960–1279).
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.
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 and Chancellor 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 1125. During the joint attack, the Song's northern expedition army removed the defensive forest along the Song-Liao border.
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. Because of the removal of the previous defensive forest, the Jin army marched quickly across the North China Plain to Kaifeng. 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 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.
After their fall to the Jin, the Song lost control of North China. Now occupying what has been traditionally known as "China Proper," the Jin regarded themselves the rightful rulers of China. The Jin later chose earth as their dynastic element and yellow as their royal color. According to the theory of the Five Elements (wuxing), the earth element follows the fire, the dynastic element of the Song, in the sequence of elemental creation. Therefore, their ideological move showed that the Jin considered Song reign in China complete, with the Jin replacing the Song as the rightful rulers of China Proper.
Southern Song, 1127–1279
Southern Song in 1142. The western and southern borders remain unchanged from the previous map, however the north of the Qinling Huaihe Line
was under control of the Jin dynasty. The Xia dynasty's territory generally remain unchanged. In the southwest, the Song dynasty bordered a territory about a sixth its size, the Dali dynasty
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 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 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 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, 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. 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.
Clockwise from upper left: Anonymous painting of Cai Wenji
and her Xiongnu
husband (Zuoxianwang) dating from the Southern Song. A head sculpture of an arhat
, 11th Century. A seated wooden Bodhisattva
statue, Jin dynasty
(1115–1234). A wooden Bodhisattva
statue from the Song dynasty (960–1279)
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.
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. 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 forces. The Mongols also invaded Korea, the Abbasid Caliphate of the Middle East and the Kievan Rus'.
The Mongols were 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 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 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.
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 Sichuan.
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. 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. By 1276, most of the Song territory had been captured by Yuan forces, including the capital Lin'an.
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 13-year-old emperor Emperor Huaizong of Song, committed suicide, along with Prime Minister Lu Xiufu and 1300 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.