The Song Dynasty was the 8th major dynasty of China. It ruled China from 960 to 1279 AD following the collapse of the Tang Dynasty.
Its history is split into two halves; the Northern Song (960-1125 AD) and Southern Song (1125-1279 AD.)
The Northern Song ruled over a united China from their capital at Kaifeng, but following an invasion in the 12th century AD, were forced to move their capital south to Hangzhou.
The vacuum of power (i.e, the lack of any single strong leader) created by the collapse of the Tang Dynasty led to the division of China into five dynasties and ten kingdoms, as it had before; but the Song Dynasty’s establishment by Zhou general Zhao Kuangyin led to the reunification of China when he became emperor in 960 AD.
To prevent another military coup from occurring in future, Zhao introduced a new system of hierarchy to the army in which leaders would rotate their roles after a set number of years.
This meant that no commander could stick around long enough to gain the popularity needed to overthrow his bloodline.
He furthered weakened the military by strengthening the civil service, and by making the government the head of the army.
Emperor Zhao was succeeded by his younger brother, Emperor Taizong, who reigned from 976-997 AD.
The stability provided by the reign of these two emperors helped to give the Song Dynasty a strong start.However, the Song Dynasty experienced a lot of difficulties as well.
Following the Tang’s period of disaster at the end of their reign, the people were dissatisfied with the imperial system of government, in which one emperor ruled above all else.
The people questioned the authority of the state and looked for answers and reform to the issues that caused it to go wrong beforehand.
These issues were not really addressed by the state during the Song’s time in power.
Ordinarily, one would have expected the people to rebel against the government because of this, but the booming economy helped to reduce the public’s dissatisfaction.
China under the Song developed into a more modern nation, thanks to innovations in machinery and the process of manufacturing.
Iron armor began to be mass-produced for the first time in history, and the Chinese began to make swords and other weapons from high-quality steel to improve their military might.
The city of Kaifeng (a classic capital of China, even in previous dynasties) became one of the world’s most powerful cities during the Song Dynasty.
With a population of nearly 1,000,000 people, the city benefited greatly from the huge workforce available, and the developments in technology made at the time.
Kaifeng was especially famous for its printing, paper, and textile (clothing) industries.
To make money abroad, these goods were exported using the Silk Road trade route, and across the Indian Ocean for sale in other parts of Asia. s
Agriculture also improved greatly around this time. It became much more efficient as farmers aimed to produce more than they required.
City markets thrived where farm produce was sold, and peasants began to grow new crops they knew would sell for a lot of money, such as sugar, oranges, and tea.
As well as economic developments, the Song Dynasty was also a great time for artists; literature became more popular, and the period saw a huge number of new poems published.
One of the most famous Song poets was Su Dongpo. However, there were still many parts of the Song Dynasty that were very backward-thinking; women suffered greatly from inequality in society, and the practice of foot-binding (breaking and tying a young girl’s toes behind the rest of her foot to make them smaller) became much more common in this era.
However, as with so many of the other Chinese dynasties, the Song Dynasty came to an abrupt end at the hands of an invading force in the late 13th century.
The Mongol tribes from the north of China (a tribe of nomadic warriors, who moved from place to place) invaded China under the leadership of Genghis Khan and set his sights on Song-controlled China in 1268 AD.
The Mongols destroyed all those they fought, took over the Song empire, and then moved on to attack Vietnam.
It was not until the beginning of the next great dynasty that things would look up for China.