AskDefine | Define sung

Dictionary Definition

sung adj : using the voice in song; "vocal music" [syn: vocal] n : the imperial dynasty of China from 960 to 1279; noted for art and literature and philosophy [syn: Sung dynasty, Song, Song dynasty]sing


1 deliver by singing; "Sing Christmas carols"
2 produce tones with the voice; "She was singing while she was cooking"; "My brother sings very well"
3 to make melodious sounds; "The nightingale was singing"
4 make a whining, ringing, or whistling sound; "the kettle was singing"; "the bullet sang past his ear" [syn: whistle]
5 divulge confidential information or secrets; "Be careful--his secretary talks" [syn: spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, talk, tattle, blab, peach, babble, babble out, blab out] [ant: keep quiet] [also: sung, singing, sang]sung See sing

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /sʌŋ/, /sVN/
    Rhymes with: -ʌŋ


  1. past participle of sing

Extensive Definition

otheruses Liu Song Dynasty The Song Dynasty (; Wade-Giles: Sung Ch'ao) was a ruling dynasty in China between 960–1279 CE; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese polity to establish a permanent standing navy.
The population of China doubled in size during the 10th and 11th centuries. This growth came through expanded rice cultivation in central and southern China, the use of early-ripening rice from southeast and southern Asia, and the production of abundant food surpluses. Within its borders, the Northern Song Dynasty had a population of some 100 million people. This dramatic increase of population fomented and fueled an economic revolution in premodern China. The expansion of the population was partially the cause for the gradual withdrawal of the central government from heavily regulating the market economy. A much larger populace also increased the importance of the lower gentry's role in grassroots administration and maintaining local affairs, while the appointed officials in county and provincial centers relied upon these scholarly gentry for their services, sponsorship, and local supervision.
The Song Dynasty is divided into two distinct periods: the Northern Song and Southern Song. During the Northern Song (, 960–1127), the Song capital was in the northern city of Bianjing (now Kaifeng) and the dynasty controlled most of inner China. The Southern Song (, 1127–1279) refers to the period after the Song lost control of northern China to the Jin Dynasty. During this time, the Song court retreated south of the Yangtze River and established their capital at Lin'an (now Hangzhou). Although the Song had lost control of the traditional birthplace of Chinese civilization along the Yellow River, the Song economy was not in ruins, as the Southern Song contained 60 percent of China's population and a majority of the most productive agricultural land. After two decades of sporadic warfare, Kublai Khan's armies conquered the Song Dynasty in 1279. China was once again unified, under the Yuan Dynasty, which was a division of the vast Mongol Empire.
Social life during the Song was vibrant; social elites gathered to view and trade precious artworks, the populace intermingled at public festivals and private clubs and cities had lively entertainment quarters. The spread of literature and knowledge was enhanced by the earlier innovation of woodblock printing and the 11th century innovation of movable type printing. There were numerous intellectual pursuits, while pre-modern technology, science, philosophy, mathematics, and engineering flourished in the Song. Philosophers such as Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi reinvigorated Confucianism with new commentary, infused with Buddhist ideals, and emphasized a new organization of classic texts that brought out the core doctrine of Neo-Confucianism. Although the institution of the civil service examinations had existed since the Sui Dynasty, it became much more prominent in the Song period, and was a leading factor in the shift of an aristocratic elite to a bureaucratic elite. Although exam-drafted scholar-officials scorned any emphasis or favor shown to the growing merchant class and those of petty commercial vocations, commercialism was nonetheless heavily embedded into Song culture and society.
Key industries were controlled by the government under strict monopolies, while private industry and businesses produced goods and services not officially monopolized by the state. The Song court received tributary missions from foreign countries while scholar-officials, tenant landlords, merchants, and other wealthy individuals invested money in the booming overseas trade and shipbuilding industry. Independent, state-sponsored, and state-employed architects, engineers, carpenters, and craftsmen erected thousands of bridges, pagoda towers, temple halls, palace halls, ancestral shrines, shops and storefronts, and other buildings throughout the empire.


Northern Song

Emperor Taizu of Song (r. 960–976) unified China through military conquest during his reign, ending the upheaval of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. In Kaifeng, he established a strong central government over the empire. He ensured administrative stability by promoting the civil service examination system of drafting state bureaucrats by skill and merit (instead of aristocratic or martial status) and promoted projects that ensured efficiency in communication throughout the empire. One such project was the creation by cartographers of detailed maps of each province and city which were then collected in a large atlas. He also promoted groundbreaking science and technological innovations by supporting such works as the astronomical clock tower designed and built by the engineer Zhang Sixun.
The Song court upheld foreign relations with Chola India, Fatimid Egypt, Srivijayan Malaysia, and other countries that were also maritime trade partners. However, it was China's closest neighboring states who would have the biggest impact upon its domestic and foreign policy. From its inception with the first emperor Taizu, the Song Dynasty alternated between warfare and diplomacy with the ethnic Khitans of the Liao Dynasty in the northeast and with the Tanguts of the Western Xia Dynasty in the northwest. The Song Dynasty used military force in an attempt to quell the Liao Dynasty and recapture the Sixteen Prefectures, a territory under Khitan control that was traditionally considered to be part of the Chinese domain. However, Song forces were repulsed by the Liao forces who engaged in aggressive yearly campaigns into northern Song territory until 1005 when the signing of the Shanyuan Treaty ended these northern frontier border clashes. The Chinese were forced to pay heavy tribute to the Khitans, although the paying of this tribute did little damage to the overall Song economy since the Khitans were heavily dependent upon importing massive amounts of goods from the Song Dynasty. More significantly, the Song state recognized the Liao state as its diplomatic equal. The Song Dynasty managed to win several military victories over the Tanguts in the early 11th century, culminating in a campaign led by the polymath scientist, general, and statesman Shen Kuo (1031–1095). However, this campaign was ultimately a failure due to a rival military officer of Shen disobeying direct orders, and the territory gained from the Western Xia was eventually lost. During the 11th century, political rivalries thoroughly divided members of the court due to the ministers' differing approaches, opinions, and policies regarding the handling of the Song's complex society and thriving economy. The idealist Chancellor Fan Zhongyan (989–1052) was the first to receive a heated political backlash when he attempted to make such reforms as improving the recruitment system of officials, increasing the salaries for minor officials, and establishing sponsorship programs to allow a wider range of people to be well educated and eligible for state service. After Fan was forced to step down from his office, Wang Anshi (1021–1086) became chancellor of the imperial court. With the backing of Emperor Shenzong of Song (1067–1085), Wang Anshi severely criticized the educational system and state bureaucracy. Seeking to resolve what he saw as state corruption and negligence, Wang implemented a series of reforms called the New Policies. These involved land tax reform, the establishment of several government monopolies, the support of local militias, and the creation of higher standards for the Imperial examination to make it more practical for men skilled in statecraft to pass. The reforms created political factions in the court with Wang Anshi's New Policies Group (Xin Fa), or the 'Reformers' in one camp, opposed by the ministers in the 'Conservative' faction led by the historian and Chancellor Sima Guang (1019–1086) in the other. As one faction supplanted another in the majority position of the court ministers, it would demote rival officials and exile them to govern remote frontier regions of the empire. The Song official Tong Guan (1054–1126) advised the reigning Emperor Huizong of Song (1100–1125) to form an alliance with the Jurchens and their joint military campaign toppled and completely conquered the Liao Dynasty by 1125. However, the poor performance and military weakness of the Song army was observed by the Jurchens, who immediately broke the alliance with the Song and launched an invasion into Song territory in 1125 and another in 1127 when the Jurchens managed to capture not only the Song capital at Kaifeng, but the retired emperor Huizong and the succeeding Emperor Qinzong of Song as well as most of his court. To protect and support the multitudes of ships sailing for maritime interests into the waters of the East China Sea and Yellow Sea (to Korea and Japan), Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and the Red Sea, it was a necessity to establish an official standing navy. The Song Dynasty therefore established China's first permanent navy in 1132, With a permanent navy, the Song were prepared to face the naval forces of the Jin on the Yangtze River in 1161, in the Battle of Tangdao and the Battle of Caishi. During these battles the Song navy employed swift paddle wheel driven naval crafts armed with trebuchet catapults aboard the decks that launched gunpowder bombs. the Song Dynasty forces were victorious in both battles due to the destructive power of the bombs and the rapid assaults by paddle wheel ships. The strength of the navy was heavily emphasized after that. A century after the navy was founded it had grown in size to 52,000 fighting marines. Financial matters were made worse by the fact that many wealthy, land-owning families—some which had officials working for the government—used their social connections with those in office in order to obtain tax-exempt status.
Although the Song Dynasty was able to hold back the Jin, a new considerable foe came to power over the steppe, deserts, and plains north of the Jin Dynasty. The Mongols, led by Genghis Khan (r. 1206–1227), initially invaded the Jin Dynasty in 1205 and 1209, engaging in large raids across its borders, and in 1211 an enormous Mongol army was assembled to invade the Jin. The Jin Dynasty was forced to submit and pay tribute to the Mongols as vassals; when the Jin suddenly moved their capital city from Beijing to Kaifeng, the Mongols saw this as a revolt. Under the leadership of Ögedei Khan (r.1229–1241), both the Jin Dynasty and Western Xia Dynasty were conquered by Mongol forces. Mongke's death and succession crisis prompted Hulagu Khan to pull the bulk of Mongol forces out of the Middle East where they were poised to fight the Egyptian Mamluks (who defeated the Mongols at Ain Jalut). Although Hulagu was allied with Kublai Khan, his forces were unable to help in the assault against the Song, due to Hulagu's war with the Golden Horde.
Although Mongke died, Kublai continued the assault against the Song, gaining a temporary foothold on the southern banks of the Yangzi. Kublai made preparations to take Ezhou, but a pending civil war with his brother Ariq Böke — a rival claimant to the Mongol Khaganate — forced Kublai to move with the bulk of his forces back north. In Kublai's absence, the Song forces were ordered by Chancellor Jia Sidao to make an opportune assault, and succeeded in pushing the Mongol forces back to the northern banks of the Yangzi. There were minor border skirmishes until 1265, when Kublai won a significant battle in Sichuan. From 1268 to 1273, Kublai blockaded the Yangzi River with his navy and besieged Xiangyang, the last obstacle in his way to invading the rich Yangzi River basin. By 1276, most of the Song Chinese territory had been captured by Yuan forces. On Kublai's orders carried out by his commander Bayan, the rest of the former imperial family of Song were unharmed; the deposed Emperor Gong was given the title 'Duke of Ying' but was eventually exiled to Tibet where he took up a monastic life.

Society and culture

Religion in China during this period had a great effect on people's lives, beliefs and daily activities, and Chinese literature on spirituality was popular. The major deities of Daoism and Buddhism, ancestral spirits and the many deities of Chinese folk religion were worshiped with sacrificial offerings. With many ethnic foreigners traveling to China to conduct trade or live permanently, there came many foreign religions; religious minorities in China included Middle Eastern Muslims, the Kaifeng Jews, and Persian Manichaeans.
The populace engaged in a vibrant social and domestic life, enjoying such public festivals as the Lantern Festival or the Qingming Festival. The were entertainment quarters in the cities provided a constant array of amusements. There were puppeteers, acrobats, theater actors, sword swallowers, snake charmers, storytellers, singers and musicians, prostitutes, and places to relax including tea houses, restaurants, and organized banquets. People attended social clubs in large numbers; there were tea clubs, exotic food clubs, antiquarian and art collectors' clubs, horse-loving clubs, poetry clubs and music clubs. Theatrical drama was very popular amongst the elite and general populace, although Classical Chinese—not the vernacular language—was spoken by actors on stage. The four largest drama theatres in Kaifeng could hold audiences of several thousand each. There were also notable domestic pastimes, as people at home enjoyed activities such as the go board game and the xiangqi board game.

Civil service examinations and the gentry

During this period greater emphasis was laid upon the civil service system of recruiting officials; this was based upon degrees acquired through competitive examinations, in an effort to select the most capable individuals for governance. Selecting men for office through proven merit was an ancient idea in China. The civil service system became institutionalized on a small scale during the Sui and Tang dynasties, but by the Song period it became virtually the only means for drafting officials into the government. The advent of widespread printing helped to widely circulate Confucian teachings and to educate more and more eligible candidates for the exams. This can be seen in the number of exam takers for the low-level prefectural exams rising from 30,000 annual candidates in the early 11th century to 400,000 candidates by the late 13th century. By using Song state-gathered statistics, Edward A. Kracke, Sudō Yoshiyuki, and Ho Ping-ti supported the hypothesis that simply because one had a father, grandfather, or great-grandfather who had served as an official of state, it did not guarantee that one would obtain the same level of authority. Robert Hartwell and Robert P. Hymes criticized this model, stating that it places too much emphasis on the role of the nuclear family and demonstrates only three paternal ascendants of exam candidates while ignoring the demographic reality of Song China, the significant proportion of males in each generation that had no surviving sons, and the role of the extended family.
The Song judicial system retained most of the legal code of the earlier Tang Dynasty, the basis of traditional Chinese law up until the modern era. Roving sheriffs maintained law and order in the municipal juridsictions and occasionally ventured into the countryside. Official magistrates overseeing court cases were not only expected to be well-versed in written law but also to promote morality in society. Due to costly court expenses and immediate jailing of those accused of criminal offenses, people in the Song preferred to settle disputes and quarrels privately, without the court's interference. The physician and judge known as Song Ci (1186–1249) wrote a pioneering work of forensic science on the examination of corpses in order to determine cause of death (strangulation, poisoning, drowning, blows, etc.) and to prove whether death resulted from murder, suicide, or accidental death. Song Ci stressed the importance of proper coroner's conduct during autopsies and the accurate recording of the inquest of each autopsy by official clerks.

Military and methods of warfare

Although the scholar-officials viewed military soldiers as lower members in the hierarchic social order, a person could gain status and prestige in society by becoming a high ranking military officer with a record of victorious battles. At its height, the Song military had one million soldiers Crossbowmen were separated from the regular infantry and placed in their own units as they were prized combatants, providing effective missile fire against cavalry charges. Song cavalry employed a slew of different weapons, including halberds, swords, bows, spears, and 'fire lances' that discharged a gunpowder blast of flame and shrapnel.
Military strategy and military training were treated as science that could be studied and perfected; soldiers were tested in their skills of using weaponry and in their athletic ability. The troops were trained to follow signal standards to advance at the waving of banners and to halt at the sound of bells and drums.
The Song navy was of great importance during the consolidation of the empire in the 10th century; during the war against the Southern Tang state the Song navy employed tactics such as defending large floating pontoon bridges across the Yangzi River in order to secure movements of troops and supplies. There were large naval ships in the Song that could carry 1,000 soldiers aboard their decks, while the swift-moving paddle-wheel crafts were viewed as essential fighting ships in any successful naval battle.
In a battle on January 23, 971, a mass of arrow fire from Song Dynasty crossbowmen decimated the war elephant corps of the Southern Han army. This defeat not only marked the eventual submission of the Southern Han to the Song Dynasty, but also the last instance where a war elephant corps was employed as a regular division within a Chinese army. However, only a handful of these military treatises have survived, which includes the Wujing Zongyao written in 1044. It was the first known book to have listed formulas for gunpowder; it gave appropriate formulas for use in several different kinds of gunpowder bombs. It also provided detailed description and illustrations of double-piston pump flamethrowers, as well as instructions for the maintenance and repair of the components and equipment used in the device.

Arts, literature, and philosophy

The visual arts during the Song Dynasty were heightened by new developments such as advances in landscape and portrait painting. The gentry elite engaged in the arts as accepted pastimes of the cultured scholar-official, including painting, composing poetry, and writing calligraphy. The poet and statesman Su Shi and his associate Mi Fu (1051–1107) enjoyed antiquarian affairs, often borrowing or buying art pieces to study and copy. Although an early form of the local geographic gazetteer existed in China since the 1st century, the matured form known as "treatise on a place", or fangzhi, replaced the old "map guide", or tujing, during the Song Dynasty.
The imperial courts of the emperor's palace were filled with his entourage of court painters, calligraphers, poets, and storytellers. Emperor Huizong was a renowned artist as well as a patron of the arts. A prime example of a highly venerated court painter was Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145) who painted an enormous panoramic painting, Along the River During the Qingming Festival. Emperor Gaozong of Song initiated a massive art project during his reign, known as the Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute from the life story of Cai Wenji (b. 177). This art project was a diplomatic gesture to the Jin Dynasty while he negotiated for the release of his mother from Jurchen captivity in the north.
In philosophy, Chinese Buddhism had waned in influence but it retained its hold on the arts and on the charities of monasteries. Buddhism had a profound influence upon the budding movement of Neo-Confucianism, led by Cheng Yi (1033–1107) and Zhu Xi (1130–1200). Mahayana Buddhism influenced Fan Zhongyan and Wang Anshi through its concept of ethical universalism, while Buddhist metaphysics had a deep impact upon the pre–Neo-Confucian doctrine of Cheng Yi. The philosophical work of Cheng Yi in turn influenced Zhu Xi. Although his writings were not accepted by his contemporary peers, Zhu's commentary and emphasis upon the Confucian classics of the Four Books as an introductory corpus to Confucian learning formed the basis of the Neo-Confucian doctrine. By the year 1241, under the sponsorship of Emperor Lizong, Zhu Xi's Four Books and his commentary on them became standard requirements of study for students attempting to pass the civil service examinations. The East Asian countries of Japan and Korea also adopted Zhu Xi's teaching, known as the Shushigaku (朱子学, School of Zhu Xi) of Japan, and in Korea the Jujahak (주자학). Buddhism's continuing influence can be seen in painted artwork such as Lin Tinggui's Luohan Laundering. However, the ideology was highly criticized and even scorned by some. The statesman and historian Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072) called the religion a "curse" that could only be remedied by uprooting it from Chinese culture and replacing it with Confucian discourse. Buddhism would not see a true revival in Chinese society until the Mongol rule of the Yuan Dynasty, with Kublai Khan's sponsorship of Tibetan Buddhism and Drogön Chögyal Phagpa as the leading lama. The Christian sect of Nestorianism — which had entered China in the Tang era — would also be revived in China under Mongol rule.

Cuisine and apparel

The food that one consumed and the clothes that one wore in Song China were largely dictated by one's status and social class. The main food staples in the diet of the lower classes remained rice, pork, and salted fish; their clothing materials were made of hempen or cotton cloths, restricted to a color standard of black and white. Pant trousers were the acceptable form of attire for farming peasants, soldiers, artisans, and merchants, although wealthy merchants chose to flaunt more ornate clothing and male blouses that came down below the waist.
Women in the Song period wore long dresses, blouses that came down to the knee, skirts and jackets with long or short sleeves, while women from wealthy families could wear purple scarves around their shoulders.
There is a multitude of existing restaurant and tavern menus and listed entrées for feasts, banquets, festivals, and carnivals during the Song period, all of which reveal a very diverse and lavish diet for those of the upper class. In their meals they could choose from a wide variety of meats, including shrimp, geese, duck, mussel, shellfish, fallow deer, hare, partridge, pheasant, francolin, quail, fox, badger, clam, crab, and many others. Dairy products were absent from Chinese cuisine and culture altogether, beef was rarely consumed since the bull was a valuable draft animal, and dog meat was absent from the diet of the wealthy, although the poor could choose to eat dog meat if necessary (yet it was not part of their regular diet). People also consumed dates, raisins, jujubes, pears, plums, apricots, pear juice, lychee-fruit juice, honey and ginger drinks, pawpaw juice, spices and seasonings of Sichuan pepper, ginger, pimento, soy sauce, oil, sesame oil, salt, and vinegar. The common diet of the poor was pork, salted fish, and rice.

Economy, industry, and trade

The economy of the Song Dynasty was one of the most prosperous and advanced economies in the medieval world. Song Chinese invested their funds in joint stock companies and in multiple sailing vessels at a time when monetary gain was assured from the vigorous overseas trade and indigenous trade along the Grand Canal and Yangzi River. Prominent merchant families and private businesses were allowed to occupy industries that were not already government-operated monopolies. Both artisans and merchants formed guilds which the state had to deal with when assessing taxes, requisitioning goods, and setting standard worker's wages and prices on goods.
The iron industry was pursued by both private entrepreneurs who owned their own smelters as well as government-supervised smelting facilities. The Song economy was stable enough to produce over a hundred million kg (over two hundred million lb) of iron product a year. Large scale deforestation in China would have continued if not for the 11th century innovation of the use of coal instead of charcoal in blast furnaces for smelting cast iron. Much of this iron was reserved for military use in crafting weapons and armoring troops, but some was used to fashion the many iron products needed to fill the demands of the growing indigenous market. The iron trade within China was furthered by the building of new canals which aided the flow of iron products from production centers to the large market found in the capital city.
The annual output of minted copper currency in 1085 alone reached roughly six billion coins. The most notable advancement in the Song economy was the establishment of the world's first government issued paper-printed money, known as Jiaozi (see also Huizi). The size of the workforce employed in paper money factories was large; it was recorded in 1175 that the factory at Hangzhou employed more than a thousand workers a day. Foreigners, in turn, had an impact on the Chinese economy. For example, many West Asian and Central Asian Muslims went to China to trade, becoming a preeminent force in the import and export industry, while some were even appointed as officers supervising economic affairs. Sea trade with the Southeast Pacific, the Hindu world, the Islamic world, and the East African world brought merchants great fortune and spurred an enormous growth in the shipbuilding industry of Song-era Fujian province. However, there was risk involved in such long overseas ventures. To reduce the risk of losing money on maritime trade missions abroad, the historians Ebrey, Walthall, and Palais write:
[Song era] investors usually divided their investment among many ships, and each ship had many investors behind it. One observer thought eagerness to invest in overseas trade was leading to an outflow of copper cash. He wrote, 'People along the coast are on intimate terms with the merchants who engage in overseas trade, either because they are fellow-countrymen or personal acquaintances...[They give the merchants] money to take with them on their ships for purchase and return conveyance of foreign goods. They invest from ten to a hundred strings of cash, and regularly make profits of several hundred percent'.

Technology, science, and engineering

Gunpowder warfare

see History of gunpowder Advancements in weapons technology enhanced by Greek fire and gunpowder, including the evolution of the early flamethrower, explosive grenade, firearm, cannon, and land mine, enabled the Song Chinese to ward off their militant enemies until the Song's ultimate collapse in the late 13th century. The Wujing Zongyao manuscript of 1044 was the first book in history to provide formulas for gunpowder and their specified use in different types of bombs. While engaged in a war with the Mongols, in the year 1259 the official Li Zengbo wrote in his Kozhai Zagao, Xugaohou that the city of Qingzhou was manufacturing one to two thousand strong iron-cased bomb shells a month, dispatching to Xiangyang and Yingzhou about ten to twenty thousand such bombs at a time. In turn, the invading Mongols employed northern Chinese soldiers and used these same type of gunpowder weapons against the Song Chinese. By the 14th century the firearm and cannon could also be found in Europe, India, and the Islamic Middle East, during the early age of gunpowder warfare.

Measuring distance and mechanical navigation

As early as the Han Dynasty (202 BCE–220), when the state needed to effectively measure distances traveled throughout the empire, the Chinese relied on the mechanical odometer device. The Chinese odometer came in the form of a wheeled-carriage, its inner gears functioning off the rotated motion of the wheels, and specific units of distance — the Chinese li — marked by the mechanical striking of a drum or bell for auditory alarm. The specifications for the 11th century odometer was written by Chief Chamberlain Lu Daolong, who is quoted extensively in the historical text of the Song Shi (compiled by 1345). In the Song period, the odometer vehicle was also combined with another old complex mechanical device known as the South Pointing Chariot. This device, originally crafted by Ma Jun in the 3rd century, incorporated a differential gear that allowed a figure mounted on the vehicle to always point in the southern direction, no matter how the vehicle's wheels' turned about. The device concept of the differential gear for this navigational vehicle is now found in all modern automobiles in order to apply the equal amount of torque to wheels rotating at different speeds.

Polymaths, inventions, and astronomy

Polymath figures such as the statesmen Shen Kuo and Su Song (1020–1101) embodied advancements in all fields of study, including biology, botany, zoology, geology, minerology, mechanics, horology, astronomy, pharmaceutical medicine, archeology, mathematics, cartography, optics, art criticism, and more.
Shen Kuo was the first to discern magnetic declination of true north while experimenting with a compass. Shen theorized that geographical climates gradually shifted over time. He created a theory of land formation involving concepts accepted in modern geomorphology. He performed optical experiments with camera obscura just decades after Ibn al-Haytham was the first to do so. He also improved the designs of astronomical instruments such as the widened astronomical sighting tube, which allowed Shen Kuo to fix the position of the pole star (which had shifted over centuries of time). Shen Kuo was also known for hydraulic clockworks, as he invented a new overflow-tank clepsydra which had more efficient higher-order interpolation instead of linear interpolation in calibrating the measure of time.
Su Song was best known for his horology treatise written in 1092, which described and illustrated in great detail his hydraulic-powered, 12 m (40 ft) tall astronomical clock tower built in Kaifeng. The clock tower featured large astronomical instruments of the armillary sphere and celestial globe, both driven by an escapement mechanism (roughly two centuries before the verge escapement could be found in clockworks of Europe). In addition, Su Song's clock tower featured the world's first endless power-transmitting chain drive, an essential mechanical device found in many practical uses throughout the ages, such as the bicycle. Su's tower featured a rotating gear wheel with 133 clock jack manikins who were timed to rotate past shuttered windows while ringing gongs and bells, banging drums, and presenting announcement plaques. In his printed book, Su published a celestial atlas of five star charts. These star charts feature a cylindrical projection similar to Mercator projection, the latter being a cartographic innovation of Gerardus Mercator in 1569.

Mathematics and cartography

There were many notable improvements to Chinese mathematics during the Song era. The book published in 1261 by the mathematician Yang Hui (c. 1238–1298) provided the earliest Chinese illustration of Pascal's triangle, although it was described earlier around 1100 by Jia Xian. Yang Hui also provided rules for constructing combinatorial arrangements in magic squares, provided theoretical proof for Euclid's forty-third proposition about parallelograms, and was the first to use negative coefficients of 'x' in quadratic equations. Yang's contemporary Qin Jiushao (c. 1202–1261) was the first to introduce the zero symbol into Chinese mathematics; before this blank spaces were used instead of zeros in the system of counting rods. He is also known for working with Chinese remainder theorem, Heron's formula, and astronomical data used in determining the winter solstice.
Geometry and surveying were essential mathematics in the realm cartography and precision map-making. The earliest extant Chinese maps date to the 4th century BCE, yet it was not until the time of Pei Xiu (224–271) that topographical elevation, a formal rectangular grid system, and use of a standard graduated scale of distances was applied to terrain maps. In the Song period, Shen Kuo was the first to create a raised-relief map, while his other maps featured a uniform graduated scale of 1:900,000. A squared map of 1137 — carved into a stone block — followed a uniform grid scale of 100 li for each gridded square, and accurately mapped the outline of the coasts and river systems of China, extending all the way to India. Furthermore, the world's oldest known terrain map in printed form comes from the edited encyclopedia of Yang Jia in 1155, which displayed western China without the formal grid system that was characteristic of more professionally-made Chinese maps. Although gazetteers had existed since 52 CE during the Han Dynasty and gazetteers accompanied by illustrative maps (Chinese: tujing) since the Sui Dynasty, the illustrated gazetteer became much more common in the Song Dynasty, when the foremost concern was for illustrative gazetteers to serve political, administrative, and military purposes.

Movable type printing

The innovation of movable type printing was made by the artisan Bi Sheng (990–1051), first described by the scientist and statesman Shen Kuo in his Dream Pool Essays of 1088. The collection of Bi Sheng's original clay-fired typeface was passed on to one of Shen Kuo's nephews, and was carefully preserved. Movable type enhanced the already widespread use of woodblock methods of printing thousands of documents and volumes of written literature, consumed eagerly by an increasingly literate public. The advancement of printing had a deep impact on education and the scholar-official class, since more books could be made faster while mass-produced, printed books were cheaper in comparison to laborious handwritten copies. The enhancement of widespread printing and print culture in the Song period was thus a direct catalyst in the rise of social mobility and expansion of the educated class of scholar elites, the latter which expanded dramatically in size from the 11th to 13th centuries. The wealthy printing patron Hua Sui (1439–1513) of the Ming Dynasty established China's first metal movable type (using bronze) in 1490. In 1638 the Beijing Gazette switched their printing process from woodblock to movable type printing. Yet it was during the Qing Dynasty that massive printing projects began to employ movable type printing. This includes the printing of sixty six copies of a 5,020 volume long encyclopedia in 1725, the Gujin Tushu Jicheng (Complete Collection of Illustrations and Writings from the Earliest to Current Times), which necessitated the crafting of 250,000 movable type characters cast in bronze. By the 19th century the European style printing press replaced the old Chinese methods of movable type, while traditional woodblock printing in modern East Asia is used sparsely and for aesthetic reasons.

Hydraulic engineering and nautics

There were considerable advancements in hydraulic engineering and nautical technology during the Song Dynasty. The 10th century invention of the pound lock for canal systems allowed different water levels to be raised and lowered for separated segments of a canal, which significantly aided the safety of canal traffic and allowed for larger barges to pass through. There was the Song era innovation of watertight bulkhead compartments for ships that allowed possible damage to the hull without sinking. There Song Chinese used crossbeams to brace the ribs of ships in order to strengthen them in a skeletal like structure. Arguably the most important nautical innovation of the Song period was the introduction of the magnetic mariner's compass for navigation at sea. The magnetic compass was first written of by Shen Kuo in his Dream Pool Essays of 1088, as well as Zhu Yu in his Pingzhou Table Talks published in 1119.

Structural engineering and architecture

Architecture during the Song period reached new heights of sophistication. Authors such as Yu Hao and Shen Kuo wrote books outlining the field of architectural layouts, craftsmanship, and structural engineering in the 10th and 11th centuries, respectively. Shen Kuo preserved the written dialogues of Yu Hao when describing technical issues such as slanting struts built into pagoda towers for diagonal wind bracing. Shen Kuo also preserved Yu's specified dimensions and units of measurement for various building types. The architect Li Jie (1065–1110), who published the Yingzao Fashi ('Treatise on Architectural Methods') in 1103, greatly expanded upon the works of Yu Hao and compiled the standard building codes used by the central government agencies and by craftsmen throughout the empire. He addressed the standard methods of construction, design, and applications of moats and fortifications, stonework, greater woodwork, lesser woodwork, wood-carving, turning and drilling, sawing, bamboo work, tiling, wall building, painting and decoration, brickwork, glazed tile making, and provided proportions for mortar formulas in masonry. In his book, Li provided detailed and vivid illustrations of architectural components and cross-sections of buildings. These illustrations displayed various applications of corbel brackets, cantilever arms, mortise and tenon work of tie beams and cross beams, and diagrams showing the various building types of halls in graded sizes. He also outlined the standard units of measurement and standard dimensional measurements of all building components described and illustrated in his book. Grandiose building projects were supported by the government, including the erection of towering Buddhist Chinese pagodas and the construction of enormous bridges (wood or stone, trestle or segmental arch bridge). Many of the pagoda towers built during the Song period were erected at heights that exceeded ten stories. Some of the most famous are the Iron Pagoda built in 1049 during the Northern Song and the Liuhe Pagoda built in 1165 during the Southern Song, although there were many others. The tallest is the Liaodi Pagoda of Hebei built in the year 1055, towering 84 m (275 ft) in total height. Some of the bridges reached lengths of 1220 m (4000 ft), with many being wide enough to allow two lanes of cart traffic simultaneously over a waterway or ravine. The government also oversaw construction of their own administrative offices, palace apartments, city fortifications, ancestral temples, and Buddhist temples.
The professions of the architect, craftsman, carpenter, and structural engineer were not seen as professionally equal to that of a Confucian scholar-official. Architectural knowledge had been passed down orally for thousands of years in China, in many cases from a father craftsman to his son. Structural engineering and architecture schools were known to have existed during the Song period; one prestigious engineering school was headed by the renowned bridge-builder Cai Xiang (1012–1067) in medieval Fujian province.
Besides existing buildings and technical literature of building manuals, Song Dynasty artwork portraying cityscapes and other buildings aid modern-day scholars in their attempts to reconstruct and realize the nuances of Song archicture. Song Dynasty artists such as Li Cheng, Fan Kuan, Guo Xi, Zhang Zeduan, Emperor Huizong of Song, Ma Lin, and Zhang Zerui painted close-up depictions of buildings as well as large expanses of cityscapes featuring arched bridges, halls and pavilions, pagoda towers, and distinct Chinese city walls. The scientist and statesman Shen Kuo was known for his criticism of artwork relating to architecture, saying that it was more important for an artist to capture a wholistic view of a landscape than it was to focus on the angles and corners of buildings.
There were also pyramidal tomb structures in the Song era, such as the Song imperial tombs located in Gongxian, Henan province. About 100 km from Gongxian is another Song Dynasty tomb at Baisha, which features "elaborate facsimiles in brick of Chinese timber frame construction, from door lintels to pillars and pedestals to bracket sets, that adorn interior walls." Flanking the avenues leading to these tombs are lines of Song Dynasty stone statues of officials, tomb guardians, animals, and mythological creatures.


In addition to the Song gentry's antiquarian pursuits of art collecting, scholar-officials during the Song became highly interested in retrieving ancient relics from archaeological sites, in order to revive the use of ancient vessels in ceremonies of state ritual. Scholar-officials of the Song period claimed to have discovered ancient bronze vessels that were created as far back as the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BCE) which bore the writing characters of the Shang era. Some attempted to recreate these bronze vessels by using imagination alone, not by observing tangible evidence of relics; this practice was criticized by Shen Kuo in his work of 1088. On the unreliability of historical works written after the fact, scholar-official Zhao Mingcheng (1081–1129) stated "...the inscriptions on stone and bronze are made at the time the events took place and can be trusted without reservation, and thus discrepancies may be discovered." Historian R.C. Rudolph states that Zhao's emphasis on consulting contemporary sources for accurate dating is parallel with the concern of the German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886), The Song scholar Hong Mai (1123–1202) heavily criticized what he called the court's "ridiculous" archaeological catalogue Bogutu compiled during the Huizong reign periods of Zheng He and Xuan He (1111–1125). Hong Mai obtained old vessels from the Han Dynasty and compared them with the descriptions offered in the catalogue, which he found so inaccurate he stated he had to "hold my sides with laughter." Hong Mai pointed out that the erroneous material was the fault of Chancellor Cai Jing (1047–1126), who prohibited scholars from reading and consulting the written histories.



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Further reading

  • The Dynasties of China: A History
  • Giles, Herbert Allen (1939). A Chinese biographical dictionary (Gu jin xing shi zu pu). Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh. (see here for more)
  • A history of Chinese civilization
  • All Under Heaven: A Complete History of China
  • Tillman, Hoyt C. and Stephen H. West (1995). China Under Jurchen Rule: Essays on Chin Intellectual and Cultural History. New York: State University of New York Press.
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