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Song Dynasty — Wealthy Empire with Highly Respected Scholars

Part of the Painting (Qingming Shang He Tu) Along the River During the Qingming Festival of the Song Dynasty
Part of the Painting (Qingming Shang He Tu) Along the River During the Qingming Festival by Artist Zhang Zeduan of the Song Dynasty
Part of the Genre Painting of the Capital City (Bianjing or Kaifeng) of the Song Dynasty by Artist Zhang Zeduan

Along the River During the Qingming Festival or Qingming Shang He Tu, Genre Painting of the Capital City (Bianjing or Kaifeng) of the Song Dynasty by Artist Zhang Zeduan (1085 — 1145) — The Palace Museum

Song Dynasty

What Is Song Dynasty?

 

Song Dynasty (960 — 1279) was an extremely wealthy empire in ancient China, with prosperous culture, business, science, technology, and literature, and an era when scholars were highly respected and the emperor and generals' power were purposely restrained.

 

Song was divided into two periods, the Northern Song (960 — 1127) and the Southern Song (1127 — 1279). 

 

Northern Song ended after the Incident of Jingkang in 1127 when emperors Zhao Ji and Zhao Huan were captured and lost a large amount of territory. 

 

Emperor Zhao Gou reestablished the Southern Song in the south in the same year, with a much smaller territory. 

 

Song Dynasty lasted for 319 years and had been ruled by 18 emperors.

Dragon Shaped Golden Pendant of the Song Dynasty

Dragon Shaped Golden Pendant of Song — Anhui Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Facts

Facts About the Song Dynasty

 

  • Founder and the first emperor of Song, Zhao Kuangyin was a master of martial art; he snatched the throne from his young emperor and established Song.  

 

  • Song Dynasty had the smallest territory as a unified, wealthy empire in the Middle Kingdom. 

Besides Song, other regimes were co-existing in Chinese land during this period, including Liao, Jin, Western Xia, Tubo, Dali, etc.

Ceremonial Jade Weapon (Gu Duo) of the Kingdom Liao

Ceremonial Jade Weapon (Gu Duo) of the Kingdom Liao — Aohan Prehistory Museum in Inner Mongolia (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Song Dynasty was widely believed as the most advanced and wealthy kingdom in the world at that time. 

  • The Song was the first dynasty whose population surpassed 100 million in Chinese history.

  • Small Business Incubators and paper currency appeared in Song.

 

So did the first commercial advertisement, about steel needles. 

  • The tabloids produced by private businesses appeared and were quite popular.

  • Song earned a great deal of money from the shipbuilding industry and international trade through Maritime Silk Road.

Recovery Model of Unearthed Civil Use Trade Ship of the Song Dynasty

Recovery Model of Unearthed Civil Use Trade Ship of Song — National Museum of China 

  • Public transportations, like the paid carriage, were widely used in big cities.  

  • The earliest professional fire brigades appeared and were widely applied in big cities; they had adequate numbers of observation towers to watch and report the fire, 24/7.

 

Firefighters who delayed or postponed the rescue would get punished.

  • Catering became a professional business in many big cities; management of guests, providing various foods and fragrances, decoration and cleaning were all specialized. 

Part of Painting (Wen Hui Tu) by Emperor Zhao Ji (1082 — 1135) of the Song Dynasty, Presenting the Feast of Intelligent Scholars

Part of Painting (Wen Hui Tu) by Emperor Zhao Ji (1082 — 1135), Presenting the Feast of Intelligent Scholars — Taipei Palace Museum

  • As a big, rich empire, the Song had the smallest royal palace in history. 

  • Song’s two capital cities were not planned in advance, therefore, there are not many spaces for the royals to build a huge palace, like in other previous dynasties. 

In the meanwhile, nearby inhabitants refused to move, and officials of Song strongly disagreed with the royals spending money on unnecessary constructions. 

Therefore, even though some emperors tried to extend the palace, they never made it. 

  • The Song's government gave money and food to poverty mothers, to support them in raising their children. Poverty elders and sick ones were supported by the government too.

  • Hospitals to treat sick travelers had been established in big cities.

  • The erroneous judgment of the death penalty would get severe punishment; the judge who made the wrong sentence would get fired or imprisoned, even face the death penalty too. 

Unearthed Glass Crossguard (Jian Ge) of the Song Dynasty

Glass Crossguard (Jian Ge) of Song — Nanjing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • The first emperor of the Song, Zhao Kuangyin invented the system that seals everyone’s name and transcribes their essays using standard scripts in the Imperial Examinations.

 

Since then, cheating became almost impossible in exams. 

  • Emperors would participate in the final round of the Imperial Examinations, and decide the champion themselves. 

 

  • Song's civil officials selected from the Imperial Examination were the most highly respected and well-paid in the history of China. Officials of Song had approximately 113 holidays each year.

  • Neo-Confucianism, the dominant ideology of the successive dynasties formed in Southern Song by Zhu Xi

  • Military generals' power had been purposely restrained in the Song period. 

Unearthed Copper Writing Brush Holder (Bi Jia) of the Song Dynasty

Copper Writing Brush Holder (Bi Jia) of the Song — Zhuji Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • The Song Dynasty had the most emperors who abdicated their thrones.

  • Many emperors of Song, no matter if they were excellent monarchs or not, were extraordinary artists. 

  • A professional Painting Academy was built by Emperor Zhao Ji, who added painting to the Imperial Examination and made great contributions to Chinese art history.