Sung (sŏng) [key], dynasty of China that ruled 960–1279. It was divided into two periods: Northern Sung (907–1126) with its capital at Kaifeng and Southern Sung (1127–1279) with its capital at Hangzhou. The first emperor, Chao K'uang-yin, consolidated several warring states and established a domain that included the Chinese heartland and Hainan island in the south. He also laid the principle of civilian control over the military, which enabled the Sung to avoid the warlordism that had ultimately destroyed the T'ang. Hard pressed by the Khitan and the Tangut, the Sung paid tribute to avert invasion. In 1126, however, the Jurchens took over the Huang He river valley and established the Chin dynasty in the north. The Chinese court fled to the south and established what later historians call the Southern Sung dynasty. Although China was weak militarily and surrounded by strong enemies, the Sung dynasty is known for its economic, intellectual, and artistic accomplishments. The civil service examination system was extended, agricultural productivity increased with new technologies, and both domestic and overseas commerce expanded as advances in ship-building and the use of the magnetic compass made voyages safer. These developments resulted in the growth of cities and the introduction of paper currency. Wang An-shih's ambitious programs to increase revenue and strengthen the military failed because of factional conflicts within the government. Still, literacy increased as a result of the spread of printing, gunpowder was used for the first time, and Confucian philosophy was revived and broadened by Chu Hsi and others. Many scholarly works were produced, including encyclopedia compilations, critical histories, and scientific treatises. With the help of government subsidies and patronage, the fine arts flourished, and connoisseurs consider Sung landscapes the greatest achievement in Chinese painting. The Southern Sung ruled until the Mongols conquered (1273–79) all of China and established the Yüan dynasty.
See J. Gernet, Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250–1276 (tr. 1970); J. T. C. Liu, China Turning Inward: Intellectual-Political Changes in the Early Twelfth Century (1988); P. K. Bol, "This Culture of Ours": Intellectual Transitions in T'ang and Sung China (1992).
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