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5. The Song Dynasty
Category: East Asia: China
History of the Song (Sung) Emipre
After the collapse of the Tang Empire in 907 AD, China plunged into an era of darkness. The mighty realm of the Tang fragmented into many different kingdoms and warlords vying for power. This period of Chinese history is called the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. In the north arose the five dynasties, all of whom tried but were unsuccessful at unifying China. They were the Later Liang(907 - 923), the Later Tang(923 - 936), the Later Jin(936 - 946), the Later Han(947 - 950)and the later Zhou(950 - 960).
In the south arose the Ten Kingdoms, which coexisted and warred with each other constantly. They were: Wu(902 - 937), Former Shu(907 - 925), Wu Yue(908 - 978), Min(909 - 946), South Tang(937 - 975), Chu(927 - 951), South Han(917 - 971), Nan Ping(925 - 963), Later Shu(934 - 965)and North Han(951 - 979). This period of warfare devastated China, resulting in great drops of population. In 960, General Zhao Kuangyin, serving in the army of the Later Zhou Dynasty, was elected emperor by his disgruntled soldiers. In fact, he was dragged from his bed in the middle of the night and had the emperor's dragon robe thrown on him hastily! He marched on the capital and deposed the last emperor of Later Zhou, establishing the Sung Dynasty. He took the title Taizu.
Sung Taizu built a centralized and efficient civilian bureaucracy, which curtailed the power of the military that had led in part to the fall of the Tang. In the field, his armies destroyed the southern states one by one, slowly unifying the south. The last to fall were South Tang and North Han, in the reign of Taizu's young brother, Taizong. Sung Taizu died in 976 AD, having set the stage for a strong empire. He was succeeded by his brother, Taizong, who consolidated his brother's gains and finally unified all of China for the Sung. He rebuilt China, restoring devastated lands to agricultural production and setting the army to work rebuilding the country's infrasturcture. China began to grow strong again, and the population increased and the economy recovered. However the military was never as strong as it was in previous dynasties, and Sung armies frequently lost in confrontations with Liao to the west.The later Northern Sung era saw a flowering of the arts, as famous poets and artists like Su Dongpo and Wang Anshi himself left behind great pieces for the world to admire. Culture reached and surpassed the level reached by the Tang, with new styles of pottery and drawing.
Wang Anshi became prime minister in 1069. He instituted reforms designed to help the common people, including land reforms, but these were opposed by the upper classes, who forced his resignation in 1076. A period of relative peace and prosperity followed. Gunpowder was used in war for the first time, usually only to frighten the horses of the enemy, and an accurate mechanical clock was said to have been built in Kaifeng. In the early years of the 12th century, however, a new menace appeared on the scene: the Jin Dynasty.
The Jurchen people of the north had moved south and displaced the Liao kingdom on China's southern borders by 1115. The Sung were no match for the mighty Manchurian horsemen, and made an alliance against mutual enemies instead. However, the Jin turned on the Sung soon after, and had taken most of northern China by the 1120s. In 1126 they took Kaifeng and the two emperors We Zong and Qin Zong prisoners. A member of the royal family fled south with the Sung court and founded a new dynasty at Nanjing, declaring himself Emperor Gao Zong.
Throughout the 1130s, the Sung, led by the able general Yue Fei, waged war on the Jin, winning many crushing victories. Just as Yue Fei was on the verge of retaking Kaifeng, he was called back to Nanjing, arrested, and together with his son, Yue Yun, executed in 1141. This was all the doing of the traitor, Qin Hui, who persuaded Gao Zong of the advantages of signing a peace treaty instead of making war. Qin Hui is still much hated in China today for what he did to a noble and valiant patriot.
The "Southern Sung", however, flourished even without its northern territories. There were even greater technological and cultural advancements, and the population increased greatly, although the Sung remained militarily weak. But now an even more ominous force loomed: the Mongols. After being unified under Genghis Khan in 1206, they invaded north China, the Jin empire. The Sung, instead of allying with the Jin against a more dangerous enemy, took the chance to ally with the Mongols instead, and Sung and Mongol troops put an end to the Jin Dynasty in 1234 AD. Next the Mongols wiped out the Tanguts, then turned on Sung.
The war was long and bloody as the Sung fought bitterly, but Kublai Khan had defeated the last major Sung armies and reduced the last pockets of resistance by 1279. Despite valiant resistance by patriots like Wen Tianxiang, the 270-year-old Sung Dynasty had fallen.
The Sung Dynasty contributed much to China's culture and literature. Sung paintings and verses are still studied and admired in China and throughout the world. Great leaps were also made in the field of technology The main weakness of the Sung was their military, and this and the usual mix of corrupt officials and weak emperors contributed to their downfall.
EmperorsEmperors of the Northern Sung
Tai Tsu - Zhao Kuang-yin, 960 - 976
Tai Tsung - Zhao Kuan-i, 976 - 998
Chên Tsung - Zhao Te-chang 998 - 1023
Jên Tsung - Zhao Chen 1023 - 1064
Ying Tsung - Zhao Shu 1064 -1068
Shên Tsung - Zhao Hsü 1068 - 1086
Chê Tsung - Zhao Hsü 1086 - 1101
Hui Tsung - Zhao Chi 1101 - 1126
Chin Tsung - Zhao Huan 1126
Emperors of the Southern Sung
Kao Tsung - Chao Kou 1127 - 1163
Hsiao Tsung - Chao Po-tsung 1163 - 1190
Kuang Tsung - Chao Tun 1190 - 1195
Ning Tsung - Chao Kuo 1195 - 1225
Li Tsung - Chao Yü-chü 1225 - 1265
Tu Tsung - Chao Meng-ch'i 1265 - 1275
Kung Tsung - Chao Hsien 1275 - 1276
Tuan Tsung - Chao Shi 1276 - 1279
Ping Ti - Chao Ping 1279
960: Sung Dynasty founded by Zhao Kuangyin, emperor Sung Taizu.
976 - 1068: Reigns of Sung Zhen Zong, Sung Ren Zong and Sung Ying Zong. Sung Empire flourishes.
1068 - 1076: Wang Anshi prime minister. Reforms that benefit commoners are introduced. Noble and upper classes are angered, force resignation of Wang Anshi in 1076 AD.
1115: Jurchen from the north establish the Jin Dynasty(1115 - 1234).
1120: Rebellion of Song Jiang, who establishes an impregnable camp at Liangshan Marsh. Subject of the popular novel Outlaws of the Marsh.
1125: Jin forces invade the Sung Empire.
1126: Jin troops capture Kaifeng(Bianjing), capital of the Northern Sung, and the two emperors, Sung Wei Zong and Qin Zong, bringing the Northern Sung era to an end.
1127: Southern Sung Dynasty established by Sung Gao Zong in Nanjing.
1130s-40s: Patriot Yue Fei battles the Jin, inflicting crushing defeats and retaking much lost territory. However he is betrayed by the traitor Qin Hui and arrested by Emperor Gao Zong. He is subsequently executed.
1161: First use of explosives in battle.
1206: Genghis Khan leads invasion of Jin Empire.
1233: Sung troops, allied with the Mongols, destroy the Jin Empire.
1240s-70s: Mongols turn on the Song after destroying the Tanguts, long war ensues.
1260: Kubilai Khan succeeds to Mongol throne.
1279: Despite heroic resistance, the Sung Empire is destroyed by the Mongols.