5 Dynasties 10 Kingdoms ( 907-960)

Key events: Tang dynasty was dissolved in 907 when Zhu Wen killed Emperor Ai and declared himself an Emperor of Later Liang. He declared new capital in Kaifeng( todays Henan province). Zhu Wen abolished several laws imposed by Tang and initiated some reforms. However Later Liang didn’t exercise sovereignty over large territories since other clans declared own kingdoms such as Wu, Chu, Wuyue, Former Shu and Min. Emperor Zhu Wen didn’t have big ambitions for reunifying China what was big cost for downfall of Later Liang in 923.  Later were formed smaller states such as Later Han, Jingnan, Southern Tang and Northern Han. Later Liang fell when Shatuo Turkic tribe captured Kaifeng and declared Later Tang empire. Name Tang was only used in order to maintain legitimacy of Tang dynasty since Shatuo was not ethnic Han tribe. It was replaced by  Later Jin which was Khitan( Mongolic ethnic group) led empire in 936. It was replaced by Shatuo Later Han between 947 and 951 when it was replaced by Later Zhou. Territories on the north were more and more falling under Khitan rule.   Later Zhou was usurped in 960 when Song Empire was declared. Song dynasty spread towards east, Southeast and South and declared legitimacy based on Mandate of Heaven. It can be considered as inheritor of Chinese imperial tradition and Tang dynasty.  It continued prosperity and good governance. On the north and northeast Liao dynasty was declared which didn’t declare legitimacy based on Mandate of Heaven. Until next part parallel history of Song and few other states with balancing relations occurs. It will be reviewed in special sections. During this period South Han state controlled north Viet territories but lost them after Viet uprising. Since that time China didnt control much of Viet territories but Viet kingdoms were in tributary relations towards China.


Society and culture: Economy and social structure didn’t suffer much this time but significant changes didn’t occur until era of Song and Liao dynasties started.

Song Dynasty( 960-1279)

Key events: Song dynasty restored order in most of Chinese territories. Transition period between Tang and Song ended and didn’t damage much Chinese economy and culture. New capital was declared in Bianjing( todays Kaifeng, Henan province).  Territory included areas southern from Beijing and areas of central, eastern, southeastern and southern China.  Song dynasty was founded by former general in Later Zhou who became Emperor Taizu of Song in 960. He ruled for 16 years and restored order in the state. Taizu once again emphasized on imperial examinations and order under Confucian principles. Society, economy and culture was mostly stable and developing very fast. Therefore China was continuing its civilizational successes what will be reviewed in next section.

Situation in state apparatus was quite stable with some periods of turbulences. In 11th centuries different opinions among scholars and ministers was increasing about many important issues in governance and society.  Fan Zhongyan a Chancellor was expelled when he introduced reforms such as improving recruitment system of officials, higher salaries for low level officials and promoting programs to make education more available. He was replaced with Wang Anshi who was favored by Emperor Shenzong since he was less critical towards policies. Wang Anshi implemented reforms known as New Policies that included land value tax reform, new governmental monopolies and creating higher standards in education in order to guarantee quality of future officials. Not all of ministers liked reforms and were criticizing Wang and many of them were jailed for doing so.

beginning of 12th century

Song dynasty fought several wars against Viets, Liao empire and Western Xia Empire. Between 1075 and 1077 war with Dai Viet Kingdom ( ruled by Ly dynasty) was fought. Dai Viet was vassal of China and China at that moment estimated that it can conquer Dai Viet completely and secure its position there. Hundreds of thousands of troops fought against each other and both sides had large losses. It seemed that China underestimated power of Dai Viet at that moment. However war finished with stalemate and captured territories and POWS were exchanged.

Bigger threat for Song were northern empires such as Liao and Western Xia. They acted more aggressively and represented threat for maintaining security of Silk Road. Therefore China initiated war against Tangut state of Western Xia.  At beginning of 11th century Chinese troops were successful and took a lot of Xia territories.

China fought many wars with Khitan ruled Liao Empire. They threatened stability of Silk Road and held a lot of territories that belonged to China during Tang dynasty. China tried to persuade Liao to accept vassal status what Liao was rejecting. China was attacking Liao several times and only few times was successful but on another hand it successfully prevented Liao from entering territory controlled by Song. China had to recognize Liao as diplomatic equal and not to try to subordinate it. It was like that for a long time. In an attempt to destroy Liao Song forces united with Jurhens a large nomadic tribe which was ascendant of Manchu.  Jurchens established new Jin dynasty in 1115. With united forces they destroyed Liao Empire and captured a lot of territories in 1125. But  Jin forces turned against China and launched large scale invasion. In 1127 capital was captured by Jin forces and Emperor Huizong was imprisoned. Some of Song officials and family members managed to run away before being imprisoned to the south. Kaifeng was declared to be new capital of Jin.  However Jin forces continued southern of Kaifeng and reached banks of Yangtze river. Chinese forces withdrew behind banks of Yangtze and one of core Song figures declared himself as Emperor Gaozu of Song. He established capital in Linan( todays Hangzhou, Zhejiang province).

With this events period of Southern Song started.  Emperor Gaozu set up strong defense on Yangtze river which served as natural boundary against Jin attacks. Order was fastly established on all much smaller territory that song held now.  It was first time in Chinese history that initial territories of Middle Kingdom and cradle of Chinese civilization between Hoanghe and Yangtze were not governed by China and dynasty that has “Mandate of Heaven”. Fertile lands and mountains were governed by large Jin empire whose Jurchen population was quite Sinicized and was quite tolerant towards majority Han population. Big cities such as Changan, Luoyang and Kaifeng were not under Song control. Under Southern Song were still not small territories and long coast. Lands were also very fertile and cities quite developed and it was much easier to control smaller territory. Southern Song was very prosperous in terms of stable governance, economic success and culture. Silk Road was not source of income for Southern Song but they turned towards maritime trade. Most developed coastal cities were Guangzhou,  Xiamen and Quanzhou with large ports. Other rich  inland cities such as Chengdu, Jiangkang and Chongqing were controlled by Song. They still attracted many Arab and Persian merchants and among them  many of them settled there. Trade and life was very vibrant during this era but threat were Arab and Persian pirates. In order to assure in security of maritime routes Song dynasty largely invested in shipbuilding and development of navy. During that time first Chinese standing navy was formed what was important event in Chinese history. Ships were very modern for that time and were known as paddle-wheel ships and thanks to that they could move much faster than ordinary ships. They carried special bombs which contained gunpowder and were able to destroy other ships. Such ships were one of biggest Chinese inventions.

While trade and culture developing without interruption Jin decided to attack again. Since Song army had developed defense strategies it waited for Jins attack. In 1161 battle of Tangdao occurred at Yangtze river. Big advantage of Song was that they had much more advanced and capable fleet than Jin had. Thanks to firearms they burnt big part of Jin fleet and thus Jin army suffered heavy losses.  In same year another significant battle of Caishi at Yangtze coast occurred. Jin army was again severely defeated thanks to Songs advanced technologies. Peace agreement was signed in 1165.  This war weakened Jin a lot and Song was stronger again. Song allied with Mongol Empire a new emerging force of Genghis Khan a great and ambitious leader. In 1234 Mongols destroyed Jin Empire and took most of its territories. Song used a chance and sent troops to the north and recaptured Changan, Beijing, Luoyang and Kaifeng.  However alliance between Song China and Mongol Khaganate didn’t last too long. In 1236 large battle near Xianyang occurred and Chinese troops were defeated and Mongols continued advancing. In 1241 Mongols launched invasion on China from the West towards Sichuan province. Already in 1242 large battle of Chengdu occurred after which Chinese army was defeated and Chengdu fell under Mongol rule.  Next cities that fell were Jiankang and Chongqing. In 1260 new leader of Mongol Khaganate  became Kublai Khan a grandson of Genghis Khan. After fall of Jiangkang door towards other Song controlled territories was open since Yangtze was fully in Mongols hands. Despite firearms and advanced guns which fired bullets from bamboo tubes Mongol large and experienced army was unstoppable. In 1271 Kublai Khan declared himself as Emperor of China and declared his Yuan dynasty. Because of big conquests of Chinese and Korean territories he considered that he is legitimate ruler under Mandate of Heaven. Besides prestige of tittle he did it to guarantee support among majority Han Chinese people. This step discredited Song dynasty which still wasn’t giving up. In 1274 he captured Dali Kingdom and a lot of Tibetan territories putting them under Empire of China rule. In 1276 he captured Linan the capital of Song. By that time most of Song territory was captured but despite that imperial court escaped from Linan to the south. In 1279 final battle of Yamen occurred in which last stronghold of Song was destroyed. Peace came again in 1279 under new ruler Kublai Khan. This time since 907 northern and southern China were reunified under single ruler but from different than ethnic Han dynasty.

South song
Song by end of 12th century

State, Society and culture:

Former glory of Tang was continuing under Song dynasty but developments in economy and culture were not so rapid and outstanding. Anyway successes in many fields of Song dynasty are great. State apparatus wasn’t much different than during Tang dynasty. Political scene was very dynamic as there was competition between reformists and conservatives. Fan Zhongyan was a Chancellor who tried to make reforms between 1043 and 1045 in order to stop corruption he offered idea of higher salaries for state officials. He also established programme for supporting low and middle level officials in order to enable them to advance in their careers. But Confucian conservatives gathered and these measures were abolished since they believed that too much welfare policies can destroy the existing system.  Chancellor Wang Anshi who was in office in 1060ies and 1070ies tried to continue reforms. He wanted to increase equality in society and to guarantee good life for all people. Wang was suggesting giving loans to peasants in order to boost production. Also he was supporting local militias as he believed they can be independent support to standing imperial army. He also suggested abolition of poetry as required exam in imperial exams believed that it will ease many other skillful people to enter state service. He believed that it is illogical to question poetry for state service.  Wang Anshi was Taoist according to his beliefs and believed in better harmony in society and more equality. Also he suggested reducing salaries for highest officials on behalf of middle and low level officials and promoted deeper ideas how land and wealth shouldn’t be crucial in entering state service but knowledge, skills and virtue should. He was again replaced by conservatives. However there were some welfare measures achieved during Song dynasty such as building retirement homes and public hospitals.

As previously educational system and social mobility were based on meritocracy. Except aristocratic a new bureaucratic elite was developing which was composed of talented people from all classes. Also number of candidates for imperial academy was increasing from 20 000 in 11th century to 400 000 in 12th.  Many merchants and artisans were part of new elite which was becoming stronger and stronger.  Now merchants were allowed and artisans too to enter imperial exams and service. New elite wasn’t composed only of diverse people based on former social class but on basis of region. Urbanization was also caused by more people coming from smaller towns or villages to bigger cities to study.  This created two elites one aristocratic and professional one was another name for bureaucratic elites. Later elites were more diverse since many of state servicemen were also devoted to arts or trade to continue their family business or art. Conservative aristocratic elite was often critical about having double income( one from state and another from trade) and when state servicemen were doing arts. They often were against such open opportunities and perceived new elite as rivals.

Social mobility and state promoted meritocracy was giving chance to many talented people to achieve good positions thanks to their skills. But still there was corruption in such system and bribery and nepotism and connections were working a lot. Both aristocratic and new professional elite could afford to bribe academic examiners and use other ways to pursue better position. Many scholars were disappointed with such educational system and were founding private schools and academies as alternative to state academies. Most famous was Yuelu academy established in 976 in Changsha( Hunan province).

Legal system was based on legal code which rooted from Tang Legal Code. Judicial system was strict and jailing and punishments were conducted very fast. Even when suspect wasn’t proven to be guilty he was jailed and considered partially guilty by judge. Many people preferred private solution of disputes since judicial procedure was too expensive.

Social norms, property  and women need significant attention during Song. Most of legal acts were based on Confucian ideology and included strict rules about social hierarchy and respect of higher ranks. Legal acts also contained provisions  on ideal family in which elderly and male have primary say and must be respected.  Cult of ancestors was very important and families prayed to their ancestors. Also all ceremonies such as wedding, burial and other were very important. There was also legal practice of extending family by combining blood with your close friend what meant stronger ties and artificial brotherhood. It was practiced in order to strengthen ties, social duties and status. There were many strict laws that prohibited insulting of elderly and male family members what was punished by death.  Even when primogeniture was practiced in inheriting imperial throne but it was forbidden in distribution of property among all classes. Property had to be divided between sons and daughters and sometimes even with neighbors. It was very unfavorable for families of officials since their big property was divided and their wealth and reputation could be easily lost if they didn’t produce more officials in future generations.

Song cloth

Now legal norms for regulating life of  ethnic minorities  and foreigners appeared. When it comes to ethnic minorities most of them enjoyed equal rights on land and progressing in society. Famous are Zhuang and Yao ethnic groups which were frequently employed in local governments. Korean minority usually lived in autonomous districts and communes.  There were also sporadic rebellions of some minority groups in southern China such as Yao, Li and Min. In the southwest where border with Dali Kingdom existed Song authorities tried to keep good relations with minorities as they could use them as allies in war with Dali. Foreign merchants usually lived in quarts that were reserved and determined specially for them. But of course they could move freely. But there were some restrictions on foreigners such as that they could marry Chinese woman only if they stay in China forever. Foreign women could marry Chinese men.

Position of women deserves special attention. Since the Tang dynasty women were more active in different spheres of life. Women of aristocratic and bureaucratic circles were often well educated as they were receiving private education at home. Most of their time they spent in leisure or gardening. They were very famous in hobbies such as painting and writing poetry. Women of middle and  lower classes were much more active in society.  Most famous female poet of the time was Li Qingzhong. They also had big economic impact and significant role in decision making. Often farmer women were very active in rural jobs and city middle class women were managing inns or restaurants. Many women were members of Taoist or Buddhist sects where they used to write sutras and there were women who worked as nurses.  But still primary role of woman was to sit home raise children, cook, sew clothes and use spinning yarn. Women enjoyed high position in household and primary women were mother in law. They could set duties to daughters and wives ( of their sons). Also they were common in matchmaking and finding wife for their son or husband for their daughter. Some part of wealth women could take into new house where they left when they married. Unmarried women after the death of father could get same part of property as her brothers could. Maids and housewives were often employed in rich families as well as concubines. Polygamy was also quite common and divorce was legal.

Bandaging feet since childhood appears in order to prevent their growth common and considered as beautiful and wasnt abolished until 1949.

Economy of China during Song dynasty was one of the most prosperous economies in medieval world. China was richest country of that time. State had monopoly on production of salt, tea and gunpowder as it considered them as crucial for survival of state. Other businesses could be state or private too.  Agriculture was mostly in private hands of aristocrats or peasants. Peasants used various tools, irrigation systems and fertilizers. Most developed industries were iron, salt, mining( mostly coal), shipbuilding, steel production, textile production.  Hundred millions of kilograms of iron were produced annually. Besides domestic need there was produced for market and trade which was very vibrant in the triangle between China and Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, India, Arabia and East Africa. Domestic trade was operating through Grand Canal and Yangtze and Hoanghe river and foreign through the ocean. This time trade expanded to Tanzania.

Urbanization was occurring on high level. More and more people were inhabiting cities in looking for job or education. Many trade guilds as first proto companies were formed in the cities. Many urban restaurants, teahouses and local shops were opened much more than during Tang dynasty.

Science and technology was consolidating the achievements of Tang dynasty. Most of Tang achievements became systematized and more widely used and applied. Cartography develops on large scale with very precise maps and dimensions. There were deep studies in medicine, mathematics, biology and botany with many encyclopedias in which were printed on paper various findings. Shen Kuo was the first who found magnetic declination of true north using compass. It was  first time that magnetic compass was used in history what really helped sailor in more accurate navigation. Shen Kuo also suggested theories of climate change and stated that sun and moon are not flat and pointed that possibly earth isn’t also flat. It was much earlier than in  Europe when such discoveries were done at least 200 years later. Shen Kuo also was calculating existence and position of other planets. During song dynasty was developed movable printing machine what eased its transport. Also mechanical clocks were widely used smaller ones but also bigger ones and clock towers in Chinese cities appeared.  First odometers appeared that were put on chariots. Hydraulic was widely used in many spheres of science and industry including metallurgy. Chinese quality of metallurgical products and quantity were equal to those produced by British in 18th century at beginning of industrial revolution. Many nautical manuals and books appeared too. Power of wind was used with building windmills and also wind was used thanks to mechanical air conditioners. When it comes to controlling water in canals various inventions were expanded. Although they existed since Han dynasty now they were more systematically used. Dams were widely built using sluice gates (for lowering or adding amount of water) and flash locks. Dry locks and locks were built for putting ships up or down.  Serial production of paper money that was invented during Tang dynasty started. Many scientists assume that if Mongols didn’t invade China at that time that China could be first country to experience industrial revolution in approximately 14th century or 15th. There is even idea that with such fast progressing they could even discover electricity approximately in 16th century. Under Yuan there was significant progress in trade also but not that drastic. But there was Ming dynasty that was very progressive too until Confucian elites didn’t impose restrictions on trade. Some other scientists suggest that China under Song experienced some early, proto or mini industrial revolution with mentioned discoveries.

Song architecture Kaifeng, source: http://www.latrobe.edu.au/news/announcements/2014/china-insight-series-kaifeng-

Archeology appeared as a science during Song dynasty. Several objects that belong to Shang dynasty period( 1600BC-1046BC) were excavated and recorded in historical books.

Construction boom that started during Tang dynasty continued during whole Song dynasty. Since urbanization was progressing construction of more and more bigger or smaller houses was frequent and part of urban planning. Fortifications, watchtowers and clock towers were widely built. Many Buddhist and Taoist temples were built as well. Many Buddhist temples had pagodas. Palaces were built a lot for aristocrats and other rich people. Tomb building with large mausoleums was common. Now most of constructions were not built only from wood but from brick and with components of iron in order to reduce their vulnerability to fire and thunder.  Bridges were built everywhere and were more often made from stone too. Bridges became integral part of Silk Road.

Army was very strong and advanced during Song dynasty.  Mentioned paddle-wheel ships and gunpowder were most important component of army. Gunpowder was used in firearms, guns, grenades, flamethrowers and land mines.

Arts were also very advanced during that time. When it comes to painting landscape and portrait painting develops further and all major cities had a lot of painters. Most famous painter of that time was Zhang Zeduan. Painting was often inspired by Buddhist and Taoist teaching. Painters were often employed by aristocrats or temples to decorate their places. Poetry was still very widespread and was continuing tradition of Tang.  Mei Yaochen, Mi Fu and Li Qingzhao were most notable poets of Song dynasty.  Historiography was also important. Most famous historian Song Qi wrote a big book on history of Tang. Also other historic books were written which were about Xia, Shang , Zhou and Warring States Period.  Many technical and scientific books appeared such as Dream Pool Essays written by Shen Kuo including literature, art, military strategy, mathematics, astronomy, meteorology, geology, geography, metallurgy, engineering, hydraulics, architecture, zoology, botany, agronomy, medicine, anthropology, archeology… Four Great Books of Song appeared and they were: 1) Taiping Yulan, general encyclopedia, 2) Taiping Guangji a book that is collection of deities, ghosts, fairies and myths, 3) Wenyang Yinghua a compilation of poetry and 4) Cefu Yuangui a collection of political essays and memorials. Performing arts were very popular especially  Zaju and Xiwen drama styles. Performances and operas were common and played for higher and middle classes. Most of performances were accompanied with rich musical repertoire. Clothing for different roles was typical too.  Martial arts were widely popular especially in street performances. By the end of Song dynasty Tai Chi was discovered.

song park
Song dynasty theme park, Hangzhou, source: http://it-hzrb.hangzhou.com.cn/system/2010/09/01/010904814.shtml

Religion and philosophy  were quite rich, stable and innovative during Song dynasty. Taoism was widespread in cities, villages and among peasants and higher classes. Temples and monasteries were spread in cities, villages and mountains. Zhengyi sect was most powerful one but soon appeared Quanzhen( Complete Perfection) sect. Those two remained most widespread Taoist sects until today. This school is more strict one since it requires veganism for its members, celibate and life in monastery. Its primary concerns are alchemy, meditation, herbal medicine and immortality. Zhang Sanfeng a notable Taoist discovered Tai Chi. Taoist Cannon ( Tao Te Qing, Zhuangtzu and other sacred texts) was reprinted many times during Song dynasty.

tao and genghis
Qiu Chuji and Genghis Khan, source: https://witchfromfareast.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/the-love-story-between-genghis-khan-vs-taoism-master-qiu-chuji/

Buddhism was recovering from short term persecution. Linji school of Chan Buddhism was most widespread school of that time. Exporting of Buddhism to Japan and Korea was very active during this time. People were more related to Buddhism or Taoism what depended on region and community as I mentioned before. Beliefs among people created unique combination of local folk beliefs( that influenced Taoism and Taoism influenced them), Taoism and Buddhism.  During many festivals people visited temples. Rich people often donated a lot of money to temples and initiated construction of Buddhist and Taoist temples. They often built own family shrines devoted to their favorite deities. Shrines were either part of their house or located somewhere in mountains. Temples on basis of compassion played significant role in charity. They provided shelter for the homeless and food for the poor. Food was distributed on festivals usually or more frequently. Also healthcare services were provided by temples thanks to good knowledge of medicine among Taoist and Buddhist priests. Quanzhen sect is specially famous for saving thousands of lives from Mongol troops which were persecuting civilians. Quanzhen temples provided them shelters and organized their escape to the south.

feilai feng
Feilai Feng Buddhist carving near Hangzhou, source: http://www.visitourchina.com/hangzhou/attraction/feilaifeng-also-named-ling-jiufeng.html

Christianity was less present during Song dynasty than during Tang dynasty. Judaism and Islam were present more than Christianity. Jews merchants were mostly inhabiting Kaifeng. Kaifeng Jews are still small community of Jews in China. Islam was also very present in Guangzhou, Changan and Quanzhou. Islamic communities were widely present and were respected widely. Hinduism also arrived during Song dynasty thanks to Tamil merchants that resided in Quanzhou. There was built small Hindu temple devoted to Shiva in Quanzhou. Today there is really small community of Hindus in China.

Special point of philosophy is Confucianism. It was still state ideology which dominated state and educational system. There were two main factions of Confucianism during that time. Conservative Confucians often criticized Buddhism as they perceived it as usurper of national beliefs. Emperors became more tolerant towards Buddhism and Taoism so it was hard to persuade them to persecute Buddhists again. More open minded Confucians saw practical role of temples in charity what was in line with Confucian ethical principles and was useful for social harmony. NeoConfucianism appeared as special branch since it wanted to revive and update to other teachings Confucian teaching. Zhu Xi a notable Confucian scholar was one of main initiators of reform of Confucian teaching. It was first rationalist and secular teaching of China which abolished concepts of worshiping heaven and rituals and ancestral worship but was focused on rationalist and humanistic ideas. Neoconfucianism accepted some concepts of Taoism and Buddhism such as metaphysics and compassion but saw them as guide for development of rational ethical philosophy. Neoconfucianism is philosophy that speaks about social order, hierarchy and social harmony. It advocates functional concept of society and role of every social class and respect of hierarchy. Neoconfucianism appreciates work of temples as charity institutions that follow humanist values.

Life was very vibrant and dynamic. Fireworks were common part of celebrations such as Lunar New Year, Mid Autumn Festival, Lantern Festival and other.

Especially active was urban life.  In Hangzhou existed various social clubs such as West Lake Poetry Club, Buddhist Tea Society, Physical Fitness Club, Exotic Food Club, Horse Lovers Club and Young Girls Chorus, Antique Collectors Club and many others.

City services for maintaining hygiene and security were employed. Urban planning was advanced and cities were built under concepts of broad avenues in the center and they were surrounded by narrower streets. City poverty was common and Song dynasty tried to reduce it by building pharmacies, clinics and shelters. Attempt to create vaccine against smallpox was conducted what can be seen as very advanced effort.

Life in village was mostly associated with low cost tea or wine houses and local performances. Peasants were busy with plowing land and taking care of cattle. They used to sell their products to local markets. In free time they visited local temples and organized various ceremonies and banquets. One of biggest challenge for peasants were bandits who lived beyond villages and were coming to rob.

Song dynasty received a lot of tributes from other states too but not from Liao and Jin.

Source: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/history/five_dynasty/




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