The Song Dynasty

The history of the Song dynasty covers the Northern Song and the Southern Song.

Northern Song (960 to 1127)

The Song dynasty was founded by General Zhao Kuangyin. His troops no longer wanted to serve the current emperor, and they begged Zhao to become emperor. He refused several times before finally becoming Emperor Taizu and establishing the Song dynasty. Emperor Taizu reunited much of China under his rule. However, he also appointed scholars to lead his army. This weakened the army, which eventually fell to the Jin peoples.

Southern Song (1127 to 1279)

When the Jin conquered the Northern Song, the son of the last emperor escaped to the south and established the Southern Song. The capital city, Hangzhou, was the largest city in the world with a population of over one million people. The Southern Song paid a fee each year to the Jin to maintain the peace. About 100 years later, the Southern Song allied with the Mongols to conquer the Jin. Once the Mongols had conquered the Jin, they turned on the Southern Song and captured all of China.

The period of rule under the Song dynasty was a time of great advancements and inventions:

  • Moveable type allowed mass printings of documents, books, paper money, playing cards, and calendars.
  • Gunpowder had a lasting impact on warfare. The Song used gunpowder for fireworks, but also found ways to use it in battle. They developed various bombs, rockets, and fire arrows. The Mongols adopted these weapons and used them against the Song.
  • Magnetic compass for boating and navigation. The Song dynasty had the first standing navy in world history.

During the Song dynasty, poetry and literature were especially popular with the invention of moveable type and the availability of books. Painting and the performing arts were also popular. Many nobles were very well educated. Foot binding among women became a widespread custom. The architecture of the Song dynasty is most famous for its tall pagodas.

Rice became an important crop for the Chinese. Drought-resistant and fast-growing rice was introduced to southern China. This new rice allowed farmers to have two harvests per year, doubling the amount of rice they could grow. Tea became popular.

The Song dynasty came to an end when the leader of the Mongols, Kublai Khan, conquered all of China and began his own dynasty, the Yuan dynasty.

Source: The Song Dynasty
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