|'five dynasties' (907-960 CE)
|Northern Song dynasty (960-1126)
|Southern Song dynasty (1127-1276)
Non-Chinese Rule in North
|Liao dynasty (907-1125)
Western Liao (1125-1220)
Jin dynasty (1115-1234)
History of the Northern Song dynasty
Zhao Kuangyin served as a general
under a successor regime of the Later Tang, the Later Zhou.
In 960 he overthrew the boy ruler of the Later Zhou and proceeded
to reunify China.
Zhao Kuangyin was the fourth change
of rule in 24 years in his part of China and he realized the threat his own
military posed. He called the generals who supported him to the capital
and persuaded them to retire with generous pensions. He then structured
his government so that military officials were subordinate to civilian ones
rather than equal as in the Tang. Military governors were replaced with
Zhao Kuangyin took over the middle
Yangzi in 963, Sichuan in 965, Ghangdong in 971, and Anhui, Jiangxi, and Hunan
in 975. After his death in 976, his younger brother succeeded in conquering
Jiangsu and Zhejiang in 978 and Shanxi in 979.
After unification, the Song regularized the varying currencies in use by establishing
a standard for copper coins and then issuing coins in much larger quantities
than had the Tang. The government issued bronze coins as the official
currency, but they continuously lowered the copper content throughout the Song
The second Song emperor failed to recapture the area around Beijing from the
powerful Khitan nomadic state Liao despite two campaigns. From then on
Song rulers had to pay silver and cloth to Liao each year. Tribute payments
would continue with different northern peoples. In addition to the Khitans
in the northeast, the Song dynasty was never able to recover land in the northwest
that had been part of the Tang dynasty. The Tanguts consolidated power
in this region and the Xia state was declared officially in 1038.
During the Song, civil service examinations became the primary means of recruiting
officials, and the practice of appointing officials who had not taken the examinations
died out. The shift to recruitment by open examinations
did not mean that officials came from all social levels; only the wealthiest
of families could afford the extensive preparation required by the examinations.
On the other hand, clans could cross social levels and some clans could pick
out their most promising children and support them from about age 4 in devoting
their time to studying for the open examinations. However, for clans with
close ties to the bureaucracy, male kin of officeholders received easier closed
examinations with pass rates often close to 50% instead of about 1%. These
wealthy bureaucrats sometimes formed charitable estates for assisting their
relatives, whom they were often distant from geographically and socially.
Prominent families married other prominent families and their sons succeeded
each other in the highest positions of state.
Before the court and in letters to each other, Sima Guang argued that the government
should cut unnecessary expenses to lower taxes while Wang Anshi claimed that
there was plenty of potential wealth if the government knew how to generate
it. Explained Sima Guang: rich resources [
] for the government
must have been extracted from the people. This causes people to
rebel and sink into banditry. Wang Anshi countered by saying that the
gifts to officials were less than in the past; Sima Guang responded that those
had been truly great officials.
During Emperor Shenzongs reign (1068-1085) factional disagreement split
the members of this bureaucratic elite into two groups. Fiscal pressure
had become intense, for despite the high annual indemnity charges to the northern
powers the government also supported a 1.25 million man army, which took 83%
of the government's annual cash income. The historicists, led by Sima
Guang, advocated incremental reforms; the classicists, led by Wang Anshi, advocated
radical changes to restore the legendary age of the sage kings. Sima Guang
believed that maintaining a dynasty required regular upkeep of ritual and law;
he wrote a history of China up to the end of the five dynasties
period called The Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government. Wang
Anshi argued that officals had lost the Dao of creating wealth;
as chief councilor (equivalent to prime minister) under a supportive Emperor
Shenzong he created a national school system to teach his interpretation of
the classics. For generations after this, historicists appointed only
other historicists and classicists appointed only classicists.
While Emperor Shenzang was alive until 1085 Wang Anshis
policies were favored. Sima Guang wrote a letter emphasizing the value
the emperor put on Wangs policies and the consequent importance of Wang
changing his ways. Wang Anshi wrote back: In my view, I recieved
my orders from the ruler, the policies were discussed in court, and executing
them was delegated to the officials. [
] To manage the nations finances
cannot be called pursuing profit. Putting an end to malicious slander
cannot be called blocking criticism. [
] You charge me with having served
in office for a long time without succeeding in helping the emperor bring real
benefit to the people. For this I must accept responsibility. But
your argument that what we need today is a policy of doing nothing at all and
merely preserving the old ways is something that I cannot accept.
The real dispute was over the new money economy. In 1023 the government
took over the printing of money, which it had already started regulating, and
extended the region of circulation beyond Sichuan to include all of north China.
Wang Anshi and his followers wanted the government to intervene in the economy
to hasten economic development and thus get higher tax receipts. He wanted
to put all government employees on cash salaries instead of in kind pay, and
he wanted officals to be rewarded for bringing in money. Wang instituted
the Green Sprouts program to loan grain to cultivators at no interest in order
to allow peasants to escape the cycle that kept them in debt to the rich.
Officials almost immediately started charging high interest to bring huge revenue
to the government. Soon poor families were unable to repay their loans
and the program began losing money. The wealthy moneylenders and big landlords,
who had been the most likely of those the program lent to to be able to pay
loans back, continued to dominate the countryside as Green Sprouts collapsed
and a new emperor retracted the policies in 1086. The powerful families
of the countryside also remained intact when another emperor reinstituted the
classicist programs in 1101.
Wang Anshi was also deeply involved in the monetary policy of the government.
He believed that with the government in control of minting metal coins or printing
paper money that most economic problems could be solved. The cash reserve
backing of paper money decreased over time and resulted in inflation, adding
to the problem of minting bronze coins with less and less copper.
The mutual responsibility system
Another of Wang Anshis many policies was a renewed attempt at grouping
people into units of five or ten households, and then group these units into
larger ones, and so on, in order to organize people in ways that make them easier
to rule. The Song government continued to try to make the system work
long after Wang Anshis death in 1086. A notice posted by a magistrate
of a county around the year 1200 tries to justify and explain the policy: In
ancient times people regarded an obligation toward a neighbor a significant
matter. Our local units of today are actually derived from such ancient practices[
Recently the mutual responsibility system has been reactivated by the government.
] people have expressed suspicion about the system out of fear that
it will mean obligatory labor [
] the practice of the mutual responsibility
system will be limited primarily to dealing with thefts and negligence.
For instance, if one family is robbed, it usually cannot catch the thief; whereas
when the whole community is engaged in the search, the thief will have no place
to hide. The magistrate went on to say that generally only one man
per family will be required to enlist in the local militia, that every five
days there will be a roll call, that usually it will not be necessary to control
the region, and that he doesnt understand why the citizens would be skeptical
and apprehensive of the program, which is designed to protect them, not disturb
Socially, divorce and widow remarriage occurred more often in the twelfth century
than in subsequent centuries, when both became looked down upon. Women
became increasingly viewed as members of their husbands families.
Some later scholars would even deny that the great poet Li Qingzhao (1084-ca.
1151) divorced her second husband.
Book of Rewards and Punishments
This brief, eclectic tract incorporating Buddhist concepts of karma and salvation;
Daoist views of retribution, immortality, and nature; and traditional Confucian
values was perhaps the most popular of a number of moral and religious texts
that became widely circulated with the invention of printing. Impossibly
attributed to Laozi, the Book of Rewards and Punishments maintained its popularity
f rom the Song through the Qing dynasties:
calamity and misfortune cannot gain entrance of their own into a persons
life; it is the individual alone who calls them in. Good and evil are
requited as automatically as shadow follows form. In keeping with this
principle, Heaven and earth have spirits who judge transgressions. These
spirits take into account the lightness or gravity of the evil deeds that human
beings have committed and then deduct from those individuals life spans
correspondingly. After diminishing the culprits life expectancey,
they reduce them to poverty and visit upon them innumerable calamities.
Everyone comes to hate them. [
] There are hundreds of occasions
for transgressions, large and small. People who want to achieve immortality
must first of all avoid these occasions. [
Under the rule of Emperor Huizong, a fine painter, the Chinese greatly underestimated
the strength of the Jurchen armies. The Jurchen conquered all of north
China by 1127.
to the history of the Southern Song