The Song Dynasty

The Song dynasty lasted over 300 years, from 960 to 1279. Their history
is divided into two periods of Northern and Southern Song. The Song period was
one of China's most peaceful and prosperous era. However the Song government was
corrupt and weak.

The Song Dynasty, or Sung Dynasty was a period in which the Chinese
government was very weak. In the beginning General Chao K'uang-yin, also known
as Sung T'ai Tsu, was forced to become emperor in order to unify China. Sung
T'ai Tsu created a national army under his direct control. He, and only he had
control of the military. Once he had passed away his less competent successors
were unable to keep the military under control, the military increasingly lost
prestige. The weakening of China's military, coincided with the rise of strong
nomadic nations on the boarders.

During the same time of the military's loss of prestige, the civil
service rose in dignity. This was an examination system that had been restored
in Sui and T'ang and was further elaborated and regularized. Selection
examinations were help every three years at the district, provincial, and
metropolitan levels.

Only 200 out of thousands of applicants were granted the jinshi degree.
This was the highest degree and appointed on government posts. From this time on,
civil servants became China's most envied elite, replacing the hereditary nobles
and landlords.

The Song dynasty only extended over to the parts of earlier Chinese
empires. The Khitans controlled the northeastern territories and the His Hsia
controlled the northwestern territories. The Song emperors were unable to
recover these lands so they were forced to make peace with the Khitans and the
Hsi Hsia. They gave massive amounts of payments to the barbarians, under these
peace terms, it depleted the state treasury and cause heavy payments on
taxpaying peasants.

About 100 years after the Songs first started ruling over China, their
government started to go through a major decline. Officials that held important
government positions were corrupt. Wealthy merchants that became rich from
foreign trade found ways to avoid paying taxes. The peasants began to rebel when
the heavy taxes were placed on them.

The Song Dynasty had a lot of problems, in 1069 Emperor Shen Tsung
appointed Wang An-shi as chief minister. Wang was a scholar who studied earlier
Chinese governments. Wang noticed the corrupt government and made huge reform in
the government. His reforms were based on the text of 'Rites of Chou'. Wang
tried to get honest, intelligent officials by improving the university system.
He made civil examinations more practical and reformed the merit system to
reduce corruption among government officials.

Wang help the governments financial problems by establishing a graduated
income tax. This meant the wealthy people were required to pay a greater
percentage of their income that poorer people pay. This new tax method reduced
the burden on the peasants and increased the governments revenues. The extra
money created from the taxing was used to pay government workers, which
abolished forced labor.

Many of his new laws were revivals of earlier policies, many officials
and landlords opposed his reforms. So when the emperor and Wang died, which
happen to been within a year of each other the laws were withdrawn. For the next
several decades, until the fall of Northern Song in 1126, the reformers and
anti-reformers took turns in power, this in turn created havoc and turmoil in
the government.

The Song tried to regain the territory that they had lost to the Khitans
by becoming allies with a new powerful Juchens from Manchuria. Once the Juchens
defeated the Khitans, they turned on the Song and occupied the capital of
Kaifeng. The Juchens established the Chin dynasty. They took the emperor and his
son prisoner, along with 3,000 others, and ordered them to be held in Manchuria.

With the emperor and his son prisoners, another son fled south and
settles in 1127 at Hangzhou. He resumed the Song rule as the emperor Kao Tsung.
The Song retained control south of the Huai River, where they ruled for another
one and half centuries.

While the Song upper class, which included the nobles and imperial
courts indulged themselves in art and luxurious living in the urban center, the
latest nomad empire arose in the north. The formidable Mongol armies, conquerors
of Eurasia as far west as easter Europe and of Korea in the east, descended on
Southern Song. This was the end of the Song dynasty, which ended by the start of
the Mongol dynasty.

The weakness of the Song dynasty brought its downfall. Its neighboring
barbarians were becoming stronger while the Song was becoming weaker. The Song
dynasty had a few holes in it that lead to its weakness and corruption.