III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > E. East Asia, to 1527 > 2. China, 960–1521
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
2. China, 960–1521
a. Periodization and Events
The period from 960 through 1521 covers two great Chinese dynasties, the Song and the first part of the Ming, and the first complete conquest of China by the Mongols.  1
The SONG DYNASTY marked a shift away from the earlier aristocratic traditions toward a more open, meritocratic state and society. Reflections of this development can be found in scholarship, literature, thought, and art. Some have identified the Song with the advent of modernity or early modernity; others have seen it as a Chinese counterpart to the European Renaissance; still others have seen fit not to name it as such. It was an age marked by humanism and a turning inward, an age of less cosmopolitanism than in the Tang, an age that saw Confucianism eclipse Buddhism and Daoism. The Song was the only major dynasty in Chinese history not to be overthrown by rebellion from within. The first half of the dynasty is usually distinguished as the Northern Song (960–1127), when the capital was at Kaifeng, then called Bianjing or Bianliang.  2
The reign of Zhao Kuangyin (b. 927), or (Song) Taizu, who founded the Song dynasty, brought a measure of order and unity to the empire. Zhao had been a general in the Later Zhou state, the last of the Five Dynasties. Zhao and the Song were immediately beset by problems on the Song state's borders: from the Khitan Liao to the northeast; the Tangut kingdom of Xixia, a confederation of Tibetan tribes in the northwest; and separatist kingdoms in the south. Through expansion of the civil service examination system, Zhao began a process of increasing civil control over the military and of ensuring that all civil officials were beholden to the center. This also served to centralize the authority of the imperial institution.  3
Through continued campaigns against various regimes in the south, the Song brought those peoples under Chinese control. Exceptions were An-nam, which secured its independence, and the Nanzhao kingdom and Wuyue, which were not attacked.  4
The reign of Taizong (b. 939) completed the program of reunifying the empire (979), except for the 16 northern prefectures that were seized earlier by the Khitan and held despite several attacks against them (979, 986).  5
An invasion by the Khitan reached the Yellow River area near Kaifeng. The invaders were appeased with an annual tribute payment in silver and silk, which was increased in 1042.  6
Granaries for emergency relief were established in every prefecture.  7
War was begun by the Xixia, but there was no discernible victor. To gain peace, the Song agreed to pay an annual tribute of silver and silk. Subsequent efforts (1069, 1081–82) by the Chinese failed to halt continued trouble from the Xixia.  8
By the year 1100, the population of China probably neared 100 million, having surpassed the Tang's highest figure of 60 million some time in the middle of the 11th century. The introduction of new seeds from Southeast Asia and advances in technology for both industry and agriculture helped fuel this growth. The cities of Song China became complex urban networks, and commerce flourished as it had never before. The spread of printing served to bring literacy and education to a much wider segment of the populace than had earlier been the case, and the old Chinese aristocracy effectively lost all hold on Chinese politics, education, and government. The military, from the Taizu and Taizong reigns forward, was permanently placed at a social level beneath civil positions.  9
Fan Zhongyan (989–1052) proposed a ten-point program of reform. Abuses through the course of the prosperous 11th century, especially in the countryside, brought rural misery and the depletion of the central treasury. Fan sought to bring better men into government and to concentrate on local government.  10
WANG ANSHI (1021–86) attempted to implement a program of radical reforms, his famous New Laws (Xinfa), with the full confidence of Emperor Shenzong (r. 1068–85) and in the face of the bitter opposition of more conservative statesmen. These reforms included the following. Through a financial bureau (1069), he cut the budget by 40 percent and raised salaries, in an effort to make honesty feasible for ordinary officials. To avoid excessive transport costs and to control prices, he empowered the chief transport officer to accept taxes in cash or kind, to sell from the granaries, and to buy from the cheapest markets. To protect poor farmers further against usurers and monopolists, loans of cash or grain were offered in the spring against crop estimates to be repaid in the fall with an interest of 2 percent monthly (moderate for China at the time). Ambitious officials forced these loans on merchants and others who did not want them. Objections to both the principles and the administration of these measures, which were accompanied by a considerable centralization of power and credit in state hands and by disregard for precedent, led to numerous resignations and the transfer of many of the best officials, whose help might have made them successful. Conscript militia were organized (1070) and trained for police purposes and national defense. The standing army of well over a million less-than-efficient men was gradually cut in half. By 1076 the militia, volunteer guards, and border bowmen numbered more than 7 million men. Cash assessments graded in proportion to property were substituted (1071) for compulsory public services, such as corvée. The exemption for officials, clergy, and small families was reduced by half. State banking and barter offices were opened (1072), first at the capital and later in every prefecture, with the object of controlling prices for popular benefit. Among those most fervently opposed to Wang were the brilliant writer Ouyang Xiu (1007–72), the great historian Sima Guang (1019–86), and the most famous poet of the day, Su Shi, or Su Dongpo (1037–1101).  11
Wang's reform program was continued, despite claims of excessive cash levies and other abuses, until the death of Shenzong.  12
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.