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Old March 12th, 2017, 06:25 PM   #1

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What was the Song Dynasty really like?


In spite of losing the equestrian areas of present Northern China and Northwest China, the Song Dynasty still controlled the most productive areas of China: The area behind the Gobi desert and the Tibetan plateau.
It is widely considered to be a time of great cultural achievements, relatively open society, major technological progresses, and the potential development of industrialization and capitalism.
On the other hand, while it was able to hold its own against powerful enemies of Liao Dynasty and Western Xia Dynasty, the Northern Song Dynasty was routed by Jin Dynasty and the Sourthern Song Dynasty was routed by the Mongolians.
This was in spite of "having the largest standing army" in the whole medieval world.
Wang Anshi, unfortunately, was quite ahead of his time, and he lacked the means to implement his reforms.
The need is to find a good balance between bashing and glorifying; it might not be perfect, but are there quite a bit to appreciate?
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Old March 13th, 2017, 09:42 AM   #2
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To me, the real achievement of the Song dynasty is the establishment of the national economy and the flourishing of culture and art that was supported by it. If everybody had to subsist on a small plot of land to survive, then not much would happen in the way of higher orders of productivity. The fact that so many people lived in cities meant that the economy was very fluid. The sheer amount of money that was available was also stunning. I think, in the Sengoku period in Japan, a daimyo counted himself rich for possessing over 8,000 strings of cash (1,000 coins in each string). At the peak of the Song, government revenues exceeded 110,000,000 strings per annum.
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Old March 13th, 2017, 08:06 PM   #3

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Originally Posted by y11971alex View Post
To me, the real achievement of the Song dynasty is the establishment of the national economy and the flourishing of culture and art that was supported by it. If everybody had to subsist on a small plot of land to survive, then not much would happen in the way of higher orders of productivity. The fact that so many people lived in cities meant that the economy was very fluid. The sheer amount of money that was available was also stunning. I think, in the Sengoku period in Japan, a daimyo counted himself rich for possessing over 8,000 strings of cash (1,000 coins in each string). At the peak of the Song, government revenues exceeded 110,000,000 strings per annum.
We should rank a historical entity by its legacies.
How much of the culture and arts of the Song Dynasty survive, and what historical impacts?
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Old March 14th, 2017, 04:33 AM   #4
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We should rank a historical entity by its legacies.
How much of the culture and arts of the Song Dynasty survive, and what historical impacts?
You never asked me to rank the Song dynasty.
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Old March 17th, 2017, 06:48 PM   #5
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The advanced society structure and bureaucracy as experienced in the Song Dynasty was not to be surpassed by anyone else in the world until much later on. I suggest you read Dong Jing Meng Hua Lu (Memoirs of the Glorious Dreama in the Eastern Capital), a book specifically describing the everyday livelihood of Kaifeng citizens in the Northern Song period for a more in-depth understanding. It has a complete list of almost everything you can imagine, the total number and names of the streets, names of restaurants and the food they were known for, workshops and factories, it goes on and on. Another book called Wulin Jiu Shi (Bygone Matters of Wulin) does the same thing, do using on the lives of Hangzhou people in the Southern Song Dynasty. Both books were written by contemporaries and contains no propaganda or agenda, instead it was only intended to present to the reader everything the 2 capitals had. Judging from these 2 aspects, they are safe reads and may I add, splendid ones too.
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Old March 17th, 2017, 10:17 PM   #6

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I think that there is more than one way to “rank” a particular political entity. For one, there needs to be a target set so that one could measure against it for a high or low rank. For example, if the target was “most technologically advanced”, then a society comparatively sophisticated technology would be ranked high while a more “primitive” society would be ranked lower. For two, any comparison should have set parameters. What societies or civilizations are included in the comparison, and what is the time frame of the comparison. These two factors, target and parameters, should be defined to produce a well thought out rank for the Song dynasty.

I agree with timtimwowo that the Song dynasty is probably the most technologically advanced society within the years it existed (960-1272). However I think that VHS is really getting at how the Song military should be ranked. but we should think about parameters.

Are we ranking the its military compared to other Chinese dynasties of different eras? I think that this is often done when you hear people say that the Song dynasty was a “weak” dynasty in Chinese history. The Song dynasty is unique in that it appears to have a very powerful military, lots of professional soldiers with advanced technology, but it does not have a good track record. The Song didn't really expand like other dynasties and they even paid tribute to their neighbors a few times.

can an unsucessful military still be considered powerful?

I think that this is a key question with regards to this thread. In my own opinion, The Song dynasty military had the potiential to be the unquestioned champion of its time, but it had a few things holding it back. One of them is the bureaucratic control that the emperors exerted over generals for fear of a military coup. Another is, as VHS mentioned, the loss of lands for breeding quality horses, and one of the final factors is simply the caliber of their enemies armies. I mean the Liao were a massive steppe empire, and the Xi Xia were also a force to be reckoned with. The Song dynasty was surrounded by powerful unified enemies, unlike the Han who mostly just focused on the Xiongnu, and Tang who contended with small turkish states until the rise of the Tufan empire.

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Old March 18th, 2017, 01:01 AM   #7
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The Song was actually alright in track records. It's just that its main enemies were all so powerful. If we look at the lesser enemies of the Song, then we are mostly victories and even, in some cases territorial expansion. Five years prior to the capture of the 2 Emperors, the Song was able to retake the Hehuang region from the Tibetans and Xi Xia. It was also planning on a massive retaliation campaign against Jiao Zhi (Vietnam). Unfortunately it was stopped by the Jin invasion.

The main problem of the Song military has always been the lack of cavalry. The loss of the horse breeding grounds in the late Tang era caused this and was therefore not the problem of the Song rulers themselves. The other problem was the loss of the important passes in Hebei. This has always been conveniently overlooked to prove the Song was weak and the Great Wall was useless, and has led to the incursion of the Khitans and Jurchens etc. However, it is worth noting that the Song never had the chance to control all the strategic forts and regions in the Great Wall as they were lost way before the establishment of the dynasty. So the Song could not have prepped a defence on the Great Wall because part of it was already lost. With these pre-birth constraints, the Song still managed to hold on for 3 centuries, a feat that many would have probably failed to replicate.
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Old March 18th, 2017, 05:56 AM   #8

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How much of the culture and arts of the Song Dynasty survive, and what historical impacts?
It was during this period that we saw the beginning of the decline of Buddhism and rise of Confucianism. And rise of Confucianism later has a great impact on the whole East Asian cultural sphere that includes Korea, Vietnam and Japan.

Do we know the reasons for the decline of Buddhism and rise of Confucianism during this period ?
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Old March 18th, 2017, 07:24 AM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by timtimwowo View Post
The Song was actually alright in track records. It's just that its main enemies were all so powerful. If we look at the lesser enemies of the Song, then we are mostly victories and even, in some cases territorial expansion. Five years prior to the capture of the 2 Emperors, the Song was able to retake the Hehuang region from the Tibetans and Xi Xia. It was also planning on a massive retaliation campaign against Jiao Zhi (Vietnam). Unfortunately it was stopped by the Jin invasion.

The main problem of the Song military has always been the lack of cavalry. The loss of the horse breeding grounds in the late Tang era caused this and was therefore not the problem of the Song rulers themselves. The other problem was the loss of the important passes in Hebei. This has always been conveniently overlooked to prove the Song was weak and the Great Wall was useless, and has led to the incursion of the Khitans and Jurchens etc. However, it is worth noting that the Song never had the chance to control all the strategic forts and regions in the Great Wall as they were lost way before the establishment of the dynasty. So the Song could not have prepped a defence on the Great Wall because part of it was already lost. With these pre-birth constraints, the Song still managed to hold on for 3 centuries, a feat that many would have probably failed to replicate.
Good points. The Song weren't necessarily bad by any means, but they do fail to stand out as clearly superior to their enemies like the Han and Tang do.
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Old March 18th, 2017, 07:32 AM   #10

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It was during this period that we saw the beginning of the decline of Buddhism and rise of Confucianism. And rise of Confucianism later has a great impact on the whole East Asian cultural sphere that includes Korea, Vietnam and Japan.

Do we know the reasons for the decline of Buddhism and rise of Confucianism during this period ?
Part of the reaction against Buddhism in the Song can be attributed to a rejection of foreign culture in general during this dynasty. During the preceding Tang dynasty, China was much more open to outside influence, but during the Song, the dynasty was fighting for its life to not be taken over by 'barbarians". The situation caused a lot of anti-foreign sentiment in China. Although Buddhism had been in China for over 700 years by that point, it was still considered a foreign religion that had come from the west. The result was that a new form of Confucianism became popular among the elite at least.
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