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Chinese History - Political History of the Song Dynasty 宋 (960-1279)

The reunification of China and the creation of a civil government apparatus
China among equals: the Song empire and her neighbors
The reform politics of Wang Anshi
The reigns of Song Zhezong, Song Huizong and the invasion of the Jurchen
The Song Dynasty moves south
The Southern Song period
The Mongol conquest of Song China



The tenth century was a time full of military coup d'etats in which one general founded a new dynasty only to see his new empire being destructed by another general. In 960 just another general was made emperor: Zhao Kuangyin 趙匡胤 (posthumous title Emperor Taizu of the Song 宋太祖, r. 960-975), the most important military official of the Later Zhou dynasty 後周 (951-960; one of the Five Dynasties 五代, 907-960) at the court in Bianjing 汴京 (modern Kaifeng 開封, Henan). He was commander-in-chief of the capital guards (dianqian du zongjian 殿前都總檢) and mililitary commissioner (jiedushi 節度使) of Songzhou 宋州 (Guide 歸德, modern Shangqiu 商丘, Henan). In 960 he was dispatched by Counsellor-in-chief Fan Zhi 范質 to fight against the small empire of Northern Han 北漢 (948/51-979), one of the Ten States 十國 (902-979), and against the troops of the steppe federation of the Khitans 契丹, founders of the Liao empire 遼 (907-1125), that supported the Han empire of the usurper Liu Chengjun 劉承鈞 (r. 954-967).
In an anecdotical incident at Chenqiao Station 陳橋驛 Zhao Kuangyin was proclaimed emperor by his troops, among them his brother Zhao Kuangyi 趙匡義 (later Zhao Guangyi 趙光義), and Zhao Pu 趙普. The imperial guards at Kaifeng stood under the command of Shi Shouxin 石守信 and Wang Shenqi 王審琦 who both accepted the new ruler, likewise the Chief Counsellor Fan Zhi. The child emperor of the Later Zhou, Chai Zongxun 柴宗訓 (r. 959-960), was forced to retreat. The only resistance at the court came from Han Tong 韓通 who died soon and was, in honour to his loyalty, buried with greatest honors by Zhao Kuangyin. The victorious troops of Zhao Kuangyin were admonished not to plunder and destroy anything. Zhao Kuangyin's generals Murong Yanzhao 慕容延釗 and Han Lingkun 韓令坤 suppressed the resistance of the provincial commanders Li Yun 李筠 and Li Chongjin 李重進. As a reward, generals loyal to the newly founded Song Dynasty were appointed commanders of the imperial guard (jinjun 禁軍) at the Capital but were soon transferred to the various provinces, and Zhao Kuangyin took over the command of the imperial guard himself. Zhao Pu proposed to dismiss all these generals in order to prevent them from taking over control over the regions and to challenge the imperial power. During a banquet the emperor thereforedismissed all his generals but bestowed them titles, honours and rich fiefdoms - the imperial power was won with a cup of wine, as the proverb goes.
China was still not unified. The north of modern Shanxi was occupied by the Northern Han empire, and the whole south was divided into several small empires. Zhao Pu and Zhang Yongde 張永德 proposed first to conquer the south and then to pacify the north. The first military target was the small and weak realm of Nanping 南平 (Jingnan 荊南, 924-963) at the Yangtse River that fell in 963, followed by an invasion of Shu 蜀 (modern Sichuan) in 965, the conquest of Southern Han 南漢 (917-971; modern Guangdong) in 970 and the incorporation of the Southern Tang 南唐 (937-975; modern Hunan, Jiangxi) into the Song empire in 975. The empire of Wu-Yue 吳越 (907-978) and the smaller dominions in modern Fujian could only be conquered in 978 by Zhao Kuangyin's successor.
Besides the reunification of China, the main task of Zhao Kuangyin's reign was to strengthen the power of the central government and to weaken the provincial military governors that had imposed such a huge damage to the central government during the Tang 唐 (618-907) and the Five Dynasties periods. Military and civil power were to be given back to the imperial court. Under the Song administration, prefectures (zhou 州) and districts (xian 縣) were directly controled by the central government. Prefects (zhizhou 知州) were transferred every three years and were controlled by controllers-general (tongpan 通判) that were allowed to report to the capital without knowledge of the prefect; their finances and taxes were immediately sent to the capital by transport commissioners (zhuanyunshi 轉運使) from the Transport Bureau (caosi 曹司). The penal law was exerted by the central government; and - the most important step of innovation - elite troops were garrisoned around the capital where they served as model (bingyang 兵樣) for the troops in the provinces. A great part of the army consisted of recruited militiamen (mubing 募兵) that were professionals rather than conscripted peasants (yibing 役兵). The recruitment of landless peasants was aimed at preventing any potential for rebellions and social uprisings. Around half of the army was garrisoned around the capital and so created a kind of balance that enabled the emperor to suppress riots in the capital or uprisings in the provinces. Generals were transferred regularly to another post in order to prevent them from creating ties with their officers and troops, or the local gentry. The Capital Army (jinjun 禁軍) had been divided into two units (ersi 二司), the palace command (dianqian shiweisi 殿前侍衛司) and the metropolitan command (shiwei qinjun mabusi 侍衛親軍馬步司). Zhao Kuangyin split it into three divisions (sanya 三衙 or sanwei 三衛) under three marshals (sanshuai三帥): the palace command, the metropolitan cavaly command, and the metropolitan infantry command. These units had command authority, but no fielding authority. The latter lay with the Bureau of Military Affairs (shumiyuan 樞密院). Both authorities at one time could only be exerted by the emperor. The intention was to create a stable situation within the empire itself; but on the other hand this kind of military structure proved to be relatively weak in the face of external threat.
The whole centralized administration was therewith constructed in a kind of radiation spider web in which every aspect of administration was instantly directed to the imperial court. Even the central government was restructured in a way that should disenable each single administrative unit or person to accumulate too much power. It was especially the position of the Counsellor-in-chief that was critically weakened. The Chief Counsellor was only thought to possess the control of civil matters, and he had to share his tasks with a Vice Grand Counsellor (canzhi zhengshi 參知政事). All military matters were controled by the Bureau of Military Affairs, while the important financial and household matters became the exclusive task of the three departments of the state financial commission (sansi 三司): the Census Bureau (hubusi 戶部司), the Tax Bureau (duzhisi 度支司), and the Salt and Iron Monopoly Bureau (yantiesi 鹽鐵司). This autocratic character of the Song governmental structure was even deepened by the enhanced importance of the Censorate (yushitai 御史臺) and the Remonstrance Bureau (jianyuan 諫院), units that should control the work of the state officials. The structure of the offices constituted a threefold parallel, consisting of vain ranks (guan 官), vain titles (zhi 職) and temporary ordinances (chaiqian 差遣). While the former two were only designations, the real tasks were fulfilled by temporary ordinanced officials, that means that if somebody was designated Minister of War, there was in fact somebody else fulfilling this task, while the Minister might have a very different job. The consequence of this power-division was a blown-up state apparatus that swallowed large amounts of money. Official recruitment was from the Song period on almost exclusively undertaken by the way of state examinations and selection by the emperor himself in the case of high offials.
The autocratic government of the Song should make it impossible for generals to challenge the power of the emperor. Thus, the Song state was a highly civilian governmental system. The Song emperors even refused to spend too much efforts in military campaigns against their northern neighbours. It was obviously more advantageous to pacify the nomads in the north with tributary presents than to wage costly wars.


The task of unifying China was not fulfilled when Emperor Taizu died in 976. He was succeeded by his younger brother Zhao Guangyi 趙光義 (posthumous title Emperor Taizong 宋太宗, r. 976-997). After conquering the state of Wu-Yue and the smaller polities in the region of modern Fujian in 978 he directed the Song armies against the empire of Northern Han in the area of modern Shanxi. Along four different march routes, the armies of Pan Mei 潘美 and Guo Jin 郭進 advanced to the capital Taiyuan 太原 and blocked the passes to the north, where the armies of the Khitans, allies of Northern Han, might advance. It even happened that the relief army of the Khitan empire of Liao was annihilated, and so the territory of Northern Han fell to the Song.
Emperor Taizong was still not content with the achieved results. The Liao empire had formerly conquered sixteen prefectures (the so-called shiliu zhou 十六州) of the Yanyun region 燕雲 (around modern Beijing) from the Later Jin empire 後晉 (936-946). After initial successes, the Song army was defeated near Beijing by the Liao forces under Yelü Xiuge 耶律休哥. A few years later, in 986, a second campaign to liberate Yanyun was undertaken. At that time the regency of the under-age emperor Shengzong 遼聖宗 (r. 982-1030) seemed to be an ideal chance to reconquer the northeast. Yet as before, the Song troops under Pan Mei, Cao Bin 曹彬, and Yang Ye 楊業 were defeated by the Liao. The Liao troops had been commanded by Empress Dowager Chengtian 承天太后 herself. The defeat was all the more serious as general Yang Ye was captured and was starved to death in prison. Minister Song Qi 宋祁 proposed to define a stable border line to the strong northern neighbors along the course of the Baiyangdian 白洋淀 pond and river line. This solution gave the Song court the chance to care for internal matters and to neglect the "reconquista" of Chinese territory (shou nei xu wai 守内虛外 "keep the inner and ignore the outer").
In the west, meanwhile, another empire rose and proved to be militarily on par with the Song empire. This was the empire of Western Xia 西夏 (1038-1227), founded by the Tangut leader Li Jiqian 李繼遷. In the 980s a conflict between Li Jiqian and the Song governors of the northwest started with border raids and culminated in a marriage alliance with the Liao empire. Emperor Taizong of the Song for his part tried to gain peace at the northeastern border by bestowing Li Jiqian some nominal military commands and granting him the imperial surname Zhao 趙 (as the Tang emperors had granted his family the imperial surname Li 李), but the ruler of the Western Xia empire refused. A trade embargo preventing the Tanguts from selling salt or acquiring food produced in the Song empire proved to be ineffective and only caused border raids by the Tanguts. A military campaign of 996 proved likewise ineffective and was called off. In the next year, Emperor Taizong died and was succeeded by Zhao Heng 趙恆 (posthumous title Emperor Zhenzong 宋真宗, r. 997-1022). Emperor Zhenzong, just acceeded, did not want to engage in time-consuming and expensive military campaigns; he accepted the existance of an independent state in the northwest, bestowed Li Jiqian the title of military commissioner of Dingnan 定難 and the noble title of King of Xiping 西平. Furthermore, the Tangut empire was appeased with gold, brocade, money and tea in order to prevent border raids on Song territory. Song China had become one of three empires on Chinese soil and was only equal to the Khitan empire of Liao and the Tangut empire of Western Xia. Never before a Chinese dynasty had been forced to accept the equal rights of a "barbarian" dynasty in the north.
The war against the Liao empire found its culmination during the year 1004 when Empress Dowager Chengtian and Emperor Shengzong dispatched their armies to the south, penetrated Song territory and advanced as far as Chanzhou 澶州 at the Yellow River, from where they endangered the Song capital Kaifeng. The Song court was highly alarmed and prepared to leave the capital. Diverse ministers differed widely in their assessment of the situation, and in suggestions how to cope with the Khitan troops. While Wang Qinruo 王欽若 and Chen Yaosou 陳堯叟 suggested transferring the capital, Counsellor Kou Zhun 寇準 insisted on a war of resistance. Emperor Zhenzong personally led the armies against the Khitans, assisted by Yang Si 楊嗣 and Yang Yanlang 楊延朗 (Yang Yanzhao 楊延昭), the sons of late general Yang Ye. It happened eventually that the Song army defeated the Liao troops because on of their highest commanders, Xiao Dalin 蕭撻凜, died in the field. This situation of a patt of forces caused the Liao to agree to sign a treaty that came to be known as the treaty of Chanyuan 澶淵. The Song emperor accepted the Liao emperor as his older brother and agreed to present him with annual tributes of silk and silver. Both states promised not to enter or raid the other side's territory, and both were not allowed to erect fortification lines along a fixed borderline. Although offials like Wang Qinruo called this treaty a shame for Song China, the coming period of peaceful coexistance brought economical relaxation for the Song government and relieved the population from the burden of financing wars.


Only three decades after the foundation of the Song dynasty a peasant uprising shook the foundations of the state and proved that the most important social problems were not resolved. In the area of modern Sichuan, the region of Shu 蜀, tea farmers rose up against the bureau of tea merchandise monopoly (bomaiwu 博買務) that deprived the tea farmers of a reasonable income. Leader of the peasant rebels was Wang Xiaobo 王小波 who assembled not only tea farmers but also thousands of landless tenant farmers (panghu 旁戶) that were exploited by the rich landowners of the Sichuan Basin. The motto of the rebels was to equalize the income of the rich and the poor, and their motivation alone proved sufficient enought that the rebels were able to defeat regular Song armies and to conquer the city of Chengdu 成都 in 993. Li Shun 李順, the second leader of the rebellious movement, declared himself king of Shu. It was only with the strongest efforts that the Song military was able to reconquer the Sichuan Basin and to wipe out the last rebels until the beginning of 995.
Economic conditions at the eve of the reform period
Taxes could only be levied if correct household registers (banji 版籍, huji 戶籍) were made. Every few years the Song government therefore undertook household registrations. The countryside population of the Song empire was divided into landowners (zhuhu 主戶) and dependants (kehu 客戶), and inhabitants of villages were called city-dwellers (fangguohu 防郭戶). Tenant farmers were called dianke 佃客 or fuke 浮客. About one third of the population in the countryside did not own any land but had to rent out a landowner's field. Landowners were divided into five categories according to the size of their estates.
State officials of the Song period often possessed large estates, called "officials' manors" (guanzhuang 官莊), "colony lands" (tuntian 屯田) or "garrison lands" (yingtian 營田), the last two being estates owned by military officials. These lands were not granted by the state because of the official's rank but were personally bought by the officials, without any restriction concerning the size of the estates. Their manors often had a considerable size and nourished hundreds of peasant families that often dwelled together with the owner around his manor. Such manors operated as single economic units. Landowners from the imperial family, the consort families and the highest officials exploited the workforce of the dependant landless peasants working with on their behalf, and some of the peasants had even to hire drought animals and ploughs. Lending money or grain to the pesants at extremely high interest rates was very common. Except these tenant farmers, there were also many landowning peasants. As taxes often were too high, many free peasants sold their lands to rich landowners and so become tenant farmers that were not tax-liable. Many free peasants did not only produce rice or wheat, but engaged in the production of lacquer, tea and silkworms for an extra income.
The tax system of the Song period was following the two-tax system (liangshuifa 兩稅法) that had been introduced in the late Tang period as a land tax (tianshui 田稅) that was levied twice a year, once in summer and then after the autumn harvest. Peasants had to pay a poll tax (shendingshui 身丁稅), miscellaneous taxes (zashui 雜稅, zabian 雜變), to deliver obligatory amounts of grain and silk bought by the state (hedi 和糴, hemai 和買), and – at least the tenant farmers – the rent for their land (zufu 租賦). Labour service (fuyi 夫役) had to be rendered for maintenance of waterworks and roads, for official buildings, and for the transport of official commodities like tribute grain. Even landowners had to perform a kind of corvée (chaiyi 差役) in the shape of taking over temporary responsibilities for the local communities.
The government of the emperors Zhenzong and Renzong
After the treaty of Chanyuan 澶淵 that was concluded with the Liao empire in the north, the Song government experienced a period of military relaxation. But instead of restructuring and easing the economical situation, Emperor Zhenzong 宋真宗 (r. 997-1022) started to undertake costly state rituals for different religions. Counsellor-in-chief Wang Ruoqin stressed the importance of a Chinese emperor's duty to carry out the traditional fengshan 封禪 and xisi 西祀 offerings to Heaven and Earth that made clear the difference between China's culture and the neighbouring "barbarian" states. These activities should serve as a compensation for the loss of imperial power to the barbarian empires of the Liao in the north and the Western Xia in the northwest. The emperor himself believed him and had fabricated a Heavenly scripture that invested him as blessed ruler. Emperor Zhenzong proclaimed a new reign motto (Dazhong xiangfu 大中祥符) and undertook several sacrificial journeys to Mt. Taishan 泰山. He was convinced by five state officials, Wang Ruoqin, Ding Wei 丁謂, Chen Pengnian 陳彭年, Liu Chenggui 劉承珪, and Lin Te 林特 that it was necessary to venerate Confucius 孔子 and to support Buddhism (fojiao 佛教) as well as Daoism (daojiao 道教). Zhenzong built monasteris within the capital and spent a lot on the cultivation of these three religions. Within fifteen years the state treasury proved to be dangerously running short.
In 1022 Emperor Zhenzong died and was succeeded by his son Zhao Zhen 趙禎 (posthumous title Emperor Renzong 宋仁宗, r. 1022-1063). Because the emperor was still in his youth, Empress Dowager Liu 劉太后 took over regency for the next twelve years, with the help of her favorites Lü Yijian 呂夷簡 and Yan Shu 晏殊. When the Empress Dowager died, Renzong dismissed Lü Yijian but called him back soon because he was unable to conduct government without this experienced minister. Under a government that did not implicate any changes within the daily business, the staff of state officials dangerously blew up and imposed a threat to the state expenditures. Except the fiscal problem the Song state had the problem that, after the treaty of Chanyuan, the military had been without practical experience in fighting, and often enough also without a regular training. From 1038 on the situation changed dramatically when Li Yuanhao 李元昊 proclaimed himself emperor of Western Xia. From then on, military clashes between the Song and the Western Xia became more frequent, and peace was only settled in 1044. The Liao empire in the north took advantage of this situation and undertook a new campaig on the territory of Song China, but the Khitan army was thrown back by general Di Qing 狄青.
A last set of problems that shook the Song state were the many riots of troops that occurred from the year 1000 on. Soldiers were often land- and jobless peasants saw their only chance to survive by hiring as mercenaries. The fighting quality of these soldiers was often less than satisfying. In Sichuan, Wang Jun 王均 rebelled against the Song government, in 1007 Chen Jin 陳進 led troops against the Song in the area of modern Guangxi. In 1043 Wang Lun 王倫 rebelled in the area of Shandong, and in the same year, a pesant rebellion in Shaanxi led by Zhang Hai 張海 united with a military rebellion under Shao Xing 邵興. The rebellion of the soldier Wang Ze 王則 in 1047 led him into the immediate vicinity of the capital Kaifeng.
The era of reforms
Under these conditions, minsters at the court of Emperor Zhenzong proposed some measures to unburden the people and to reduce the state expenditures.
Wang Yucheng's 王禹偁 policies included the following methods: 1) ensuring peaceful relations with the Liao and the Western Xia empires; 2) diminish the inflated military and civil administration apparatus and lowering taxes; 3) make official examinations more difficult and reduce the number of new officials; 4) reduce spendings for monasteries; 5) raise the importance of high officials including the Counsellor-in-chief and reduce the political influence of the eunuchs. A few years later, under Emperor Renzong, Song Qi 宋祁 stressed "three increasings and three wastes" (sanrong sanfei 三冗三費): The number of civil officials, of unbusy troops and the number of Buddhist monks and nuns had increased too much, while spendings for the Daoist and Buddhist clergy and for the numerous offices had to be lowered. During the reign period Qingli 慶歷 (1041-48) minister Fan Zhongyan 范仲淹 was able to undertake the first reforms of the court politics, with the help of Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修, Yu Jing 余靖, Cai Xiang 蔡襄, Han Qi 韓琦, and Fu Bi 富弼. The first measure was to make the employment of officials more flexible: competent persons should be allowed to stay more than three years on one post, and unable or treacherous officials should be removed in a much easier way; at the same time, sons and relatives of state officials should not automatically inherit the post of their father (enyin 恩蔭). During the examinations, the importance of knowledge in poetry should be reduced in favour of essays and the Confucian Classics. The officials in the provinces responsible for the transport of tax grains should be observed more strictly and should be elected by the central authorities, in order to fight corruption. Furthermore, the land alloted to officials should be redistributed in a more adequate way. Agricultural productivity should be enhanced by the construction of dykes and canals for a better irrigation. The troops garrisoned around the capital should engage in agriculture and be trained in a more effective way. Service corvée should be reduced. Proclamations and edicts issued by the court should be followed by imminent implementation, with an adequate control whether they the imperial orders realized or not.
Established officials, large landowners and the wealthy resisted these reforms, and under their pressure Fan Zhongyan and Fu Bi were dismissed from office in 1045. Fan Zhongyan's complaints are written down in his book Yueyanglou ji 岳陽樓記.
Yet the next generation of reformers could gain the attention of Emperor Renzong. Their leader was Bao Zheng 包拯. His main proposals concerned the reduction of superfluous state officials and military officials, Bao Zheng himself strictly opposed corruption among the ranks of officials. In 1059 another official started to engage in reformative undertakings: Wang Anshi 王安石, an experienced financial official, who wrote a book called Yanshishu 言事書 by which he laid great stress on the moral education of state officials. This eduction, he said, had to be influenced by rules of propriety as proposed by Confucius. The reason for financial problems was in his eyes not the existence of superfluous officials and posts, but the inadequate allocation of resources.
Another group of reformers was led by Sima Guang 司馬光, among his fellows were Su Shi 蘇軾 (also known as Su Dongpo 蘇東坡) and his brother Su Zhe 蘇轍. Sima Guang wanted to reduce the size of the imperial guards, ameliorate the state examinations and allow competent officials to hold their posts longer than three years. Finances should be allocated in a matter that allowed all social groups, peasants, artisans, and merchants to freely engage in their professions, in order to obtain the best results in productivity. Su Shi proposed to tax state officials and not only the common people.
In 1063 Emperor Renzong was succeeded by Zhao Shu 趙曙 (posthumous title Emperor Yingzong 宋英宗, r. 1063-1067). He soon fell ill and died and was succeeded by his son Zhao Suo 趙瑣 or Xu 頊 (posthumous title Emperor Shenzong 宋神宗, r. 1067-1085). The young Emperor Shenzong enthusiastically asked Fu Bi to assist him in undertaking administratiorial reforms, but the old statesman refused. Instead, the group around Wang Anshi gained the confidence of the emperor and started to implement crucial changes within the state apparatus during the reign period Xining 熙寧 (1068-1077). Wang Anshi became Counsellor-in-chief, and the heads of the three financial departments Finance Planning Commission (sansi tiaolisi 三司條例司) were Lü Huiqing 呂惠卿, Zeng Bu 曾布, and Su Zhe. Their aim was to resolve the financial and military problems of the Song state, and their main tactics were to lighten the burden lying on the shoulders of the peasants and to gain access to the capital of the gentry and the rich merchants.
The first set of measures should increase the state revenue and reduce the economic power of the merchants. Commodities that were to be supplied to the court were often hoarded by merchants who so were able obtain higher prices. Wang Anshi tried to balance demand and supply for important commodities by special transport agents (fayunshi 發運使) with an adapted supply system (junshufa 均輸法) that organized the provision of commodities to the capital according the the real demands. Expenditures were controled by purchasing the cheapest and storage of the more expensive goods. Market prices should also be controlled by special market offices (shiyisi 市易司) with the help of a market rate system (shiyifa 市易法). Mutual credits between the market offices and the merchant guilds would inhibit money-lenders from exploiting and monopolizing market participants. The imperial palace should sell and purchase goods by different market institutions and not only by the merchant guilds, thus giving up the dependance on a single guild (mianhangfa 免行法 "anti-guild regulation"). Merchants had to pay turnover taxes instead of services or goods.
The second set of measures should consolidate the agricultural production and prevent the further decreasing of the number of land-owning peasants. The price of grain could be controled by the state purchasing or selling grain that was stored within the state granaries (changpingcang 常平倉, guanghuicang 廣惠倉). Peasants were granted affordable credits while the grain was not ripe yet (qingmiaofa 青苗法 "green sprouts regulation") and paid an interest of 20 to 30 percent to the state. Manpower needed for offical work was estimated in advance, and peasants were only recruited according to the real needs (muyifa 募役法 "conscription regulation" or mianyifa 免役法 "anti-corvée regulation"), while the community members not recruited payed a compensation fee to the state.
Taxes were fixed according to the quality of the soil and ranged in five grades. The soil was exactly registered in order to control the increase of large land estates. Peasants or landowners undertaking construction works at dykes and dams or reclaiming new land were rewarded by the state.
The third set of measures targetet at the reinvigoration of military force. Troops should be trained more systematically by their officers and generals (jiangbingfa 將兵法 "generals-and-soldiers regulation"), and superfluous barracks and units were joined together. Civilian households were grouped together in sets of ten or five (baojia 保甲) and should organize police and sentinels by themselves in a kind of para-military or militia training in order to relieve the state expenditure for military.
The fourth set of reforms should strengthen the examination system. Poetry and refined literature should be given up in favour to the important outlines of classical Confucian literature and essays to actual problems (dianshice 殿試策 "palace examination promulgation"). The National University (taixue 太學) was staffed with new personnel, and new schools were founded in the capital, where military arts, law, and medicine belonged to the curriculum.
Concerning foreign policy, a defensive military attitude was given up in favour to occasional attacks against the native chieftains in Tubo 吐蕃 (Tibet) and the Western Xia territory.
All these refoms aimed at the strengthening of the central government and the emperor, but members of the aristocracy, including princes of the the imperial family, and the older state officials saw their position endangered by the reformist acitivities. Among the opponents were also the older reformers like Ouyang Xiu and Fu Bi, but also Grand Empress Dowager Cao 曹太皇太后, Empress Dowager Gao 高太后 and their families, and – the brother of Emperor Shenzong, Zhao Hao 趙顥.


In 1085 Emperor Shenzong died, and his under-age son Zhao Xu 趙煦 (posthumous title Emperor Zhezong 宋哲宗, r. 1085-1100) came to the throne with the reign motto Yuanyou 元祐 (1086-1093), Grand Empress Dowager Gao 高太皇太后 took over regency, supported by the Counsellors Sima Guang 司馬光 and Lü Gongzhu 呂公著. Under their guidance all reforms implemented during the reign of Emperor Shenzong were abolished (called the Yuanyou revision, Yuanyou genghua 元祐更化), disregarding even those reforms from which the Song government had profited financially. In the field of foreign policy, the defensive policy was resumed again, and some border regions were ceded to the Western Xia empire, in order to ensure peace. Cai Que 蔡確, Zhang Dun 章惇, Shen Kuo 沈括, Lü Huiqing 呂惠卿, and Han Zhen 韓縝, the last representatives of the reformist party, were dismissed in 1086. The highest state officials were replaced by persons that were inclined to Sima Guang. After the death of the great statesman and historiographer (Sima Guang wrote the universal history Zizhi tongjian 自治通鑑) the conservative party fell apart into different factions. Leader of the Henan faction (Luodang 洛黨) was the Neoconfucian philosopher Cheng Yi 程頤, sided by Jia Yi 賈易 and Zhu Guangting 朱光庭, while the Sichuan faction (Shudang 蜀黨) was led by the writer Su Shi and Lü Tao 呂陶, and the Shaanxi faction (Shuodang 朔黨) was dominated by the less known politicians Liu Zhi 劉摯, Liang Tao 梁燾, Wang Yansou 王岩叟 and Liu Anshi 劉安世.
With the death of Great Empress Dowager Gao in 1093 the Emperor Zhezong could finally take over the tasks of government in person. The anti-reformist party had lost their head with the great woman's death, and Emperor Zhezong who had since long been uncomfortable with the party struggles, decided to resume the aborted reforms. He consulted by Yang Wei 楊畏 and Zhang Shangying 張商英. In 1094 he proclaimed a new reign period, Shaosheng 紹聖 (1094-1097), and reinstalled many persons of the old reformist party into the highest offices, and so replaced persons from Sima Guang's entourage, like Lü Dafang 呂大防, Su Zhe, Fan Zuyu 范祖禹 and Huang Tingjian 黃庭堅. Important parts of the old reforms of the Yuanyou reign were reintroduced, like the "green sprouts regulation" and the "anti-corvée regulation". At the same time, the garrisons in the northwest resumed their fortification works and attacked the forts in the border region of the Western Xia empire. But like the anti-reformist party before, the reformist party now split into two factions, one headed by Zhang Dun 章惇 (together with Cai Bian 蔡卞 and Cai Jing 蔡京), and the other by by Li Qingchen 李清臣.
In the year 1100 Emperor Zhezong died and was succeeded by his younger brother Zhao Ji 趙佶 (posthumous title Emperor Huizong 宋徽宗, r. 1100-1125). Empress Dowager Xiang 向太后 was able to take over regency, took advantage of the discrepancies among the high officials and appointed her own adherents in high offices. The pendulum again swang to the anti-reformists, with the Counsellor-in-chief Han Zhongyan 韓忠彥 and Zeng Bu. When Emperor Huizong officially took over regency in 1102 a new group of ministers under the domination of Cai Jing started to control the court politics of the Song empire. Cai Jing submitted a morial in which he charged all his political opponents with high treason. Although Cai Jing nominally revived the methods and regulations of Wang Anshi's reforms, the implementation of the regulations in practice was less than perfect, and in fact, not much had changed for the social groups that possessed most of the arable lands. Cai Jing reintroduced the old tea taxation system (quechafa 榷茶法) by which the production and merchandise of tea was subject to a state monopoly. Similarly, the state-controled merchandise of salt vouchers (yanchao 鹽鈔) assured a certain revenue for the state. Some eunuchs like Yang Jian 楊戩 and Li Yan 李彥 acquired land designated as waste land, but which was was in fact state-owned land. Cai Jing himself was prone to rampant corruption and had emptied the southern state granaries and had the grain transported to the Capital where he and his followers made profits by selling these state-owned grain reserves on their own behalf. Emperor Huizong who was a great patron of artists and dedicated himself to calligraphy and painting, lived a prodigious life of luxury. The state finances were administerd by a eunuch called Tong Guan 童貫 who was concurrently in charge of the highest military commands. Tong Guan, Cai Jing and people like Wang Fu 王黼, Liang Shicheng 梁師成 and Zhu Mian 朱勔 profited from their position under a ruler who was not concerned at all about politics.
Like he was a patron of arts, Emperor Huizong saw himself also a patron of Confucianism, state doctrine since the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). He erected Confucius temples but at the same time was also adherent of Daoism (daojiao 道教).
In 1119, after several military conflicts in the region of the border between Tibet, the Western Xia and the Song empire, a peace agreement was made with the Western Xia.
It was expecially the lower Yangtse area that suffered most under the economic exploitation of state officials under Emperor Huizong's reign. In 1120 a large peasant uprising shook this region. Fang La 方臘 gathered poor peasants around him to stage a rebellion against the exploitation by landowners and the state. The rebels took the city of Hangzhou 杭州 (modern Hangzhou, Zhejiang) and received a vast echo of rebels that joined the uprising and occupied the whole Yangtse delta that was the granary of the Song empire. While the rebel armies spread to all directions, the Song court sent out his armies under Tong Guan, Tan Zhen 譚稹, Wang Lin 王禀 and Liu Zhen 劉鎮 who reconquered Hangzhou, captured Fang La and massacred the rebels. But it was only in 1122 that the last surviving troops of the peasant rebels could be annihilated.
The lower reaches of the Yellow River often changed their course during the many centuries of Chinese history, and often left back an inundated landscape. A swamp called Liangshan 梁山濼 in the western parts of modern Shandong served as a refuge for peasants that had lost their lands, and for bandits that had escaped into the wilderness. In 1119 a rebel army under Song Jiang 宋江 is first mentioned, and the court sent smaller military contingents to suppress the rebellion, and Song Jiang soon submitted. On the base of these scarce historical traces a whole novel has been developed, the heroic tale of the "Outlaws of the Marsh" (Shuihuzhuan 水滸傳). In the next years a series of rebellions shook all northern provinces of the Song empire and made clear that the peasantry was no longer able to suffer. The most important peasant uprisings were the rebellions of Zhang Di 張迪 and of Gao Tuoshan 高托山 in the region of modern Hebei.
Yet the greatest danger for the Song empire came far from the north. In 1115 the Jurchen 女真 khan Wanyan Aguda 完顏阿骨打 had founded a Jin dynasty 金 in the area of modern Manchuria. With exteme velocity he conquered one by one of the territories of the Liao empire that was located west and south of his realm, and stood ready to overrun the empire of Liao. Facing this immediate threat, the Liao court approached Emperor Huizong for help. But the Song court saw this situation as a chance to conquer back the old Chinese territories around modern Beijing that since almost two centuries had been occupied by the Khitans. In 1120 the Song and the Jin government therefore concluded the alliance of Haishang 海上盟約 by which the Liao empire should be attacked from two sides. The treaty of Haishang foresaw that the region of the Sixteen Prefectures in the north were to be rendered back to the Song after the termination of the Liao empire. Yet a large part of the Song army was bound by the Fang La rebellion, and Tong Guan and Cai You 蔡攸 underestimated the force of the Liao armies. The Song troops were defeated, and then a second time under the command of General Liu Yanqing 劉延慶, whereupon the leading statesman, the eunuch Tong Guan, asked the Jurchen ruler to conquer the Yanyun region for the Song. Emperor Taizu of the Jin 金太祖 (r. 1115-1122, i.e. Aguda) indeed succeeded in conquering Yanjing 燕京 (modern Beijing), but he refused to cede this territory to the Song empire. Only after the Song court agreed to pay a high annual tributes to the Jurchens, the city was rendered to the Song, but only after it had been looted by the Jurchen troops.
The ruler of the Jin empire had become aware that the Song armies were relatively week and would be unable to withstand the charges by the more belligent Jurchens. In 1125 Emperor Taizong of the Jin 金太宗 (r. 1123-1134) undertook a campaign to conquer the cities of Taiyuan 太原 (troops lead by Wanyan Zonghan 完顏宗翰) and Yanjing (troops lead by Wanyan Zongwang 完顏宗望), but he encountered determined resistance by the troops of Wang Lin. In the east, general Guo Yueshi 郭藥師 was not able to withstand the pressure of the Jurchen, and led them back across the Yellow River. In great panic, Emperor Huizong ceded the throne to his son Zhao Huan 趙桓 (posthumous title Emperor Qinzong 宋欽宗, r. 1125-1126) and took flight to the southeast. In this situation, several officials attacked the high ministers had had been responsible for the bad government during the last two decades. Wang Fu, Li Yan, Lian Shicheng, Cai Jing and Tong Guan were all put to death or died during their flight. Among the new court officials, two factions emerged. Counsellor-in-chief Bai Shizhong 白時中, Li Bangyan 李邦彥, and Zhang Bangchang 張邦昌 proposed to submit to the Jurchens, while others like Li Gang 李綱, Li Zhuo 李棁 and Zheng Wang 鄭望 advocated a war of resistance. Emperor Qinzong stayed in the capital Kaifeng. After a few initial skirmishes, Wanyan Zongwang presented his conditions: Song China would have to cede the whole northern part of its territory, to pay annual tributes, to accept the emperor of the Jin as his nominal "uncle", and to provide hostages to ensure peace. During the negotiations some Song troops advanced towards the capital and forced Wanyan Zongwang to withdraw some miles. The resistance faction at the court now gained the upper hand, and the Jin army ended this campaign. Yet the capital was only safe after paying heavy tributes to the Jurchens.
One year later, in 1126, the Jin armies again poured southwards, this time conquering Taiyuan and Daming 大名, a city that offered direct access to the capital Kaifeng. This time Emperor Qinzong was ready to cede the taxes of the northern provinces to the Jin, and even to cede all territory down to the Yellow River. But many local governors and the population of the northern provinces were not willing to become subjects of the "barbarian" Jurchens. When two armies of the Jurchens started besiegingKaifeng, Emperor Qinzong personally met with the Jurchen generals and signed the capitulation. He was kept as a host until the members of the imperial family had coughed up all their gold and money, the city was plundered, and Zhang Bangchang 張邦昌 was installed as puppet emperor of an empire called Chu 楚 that was dominated by the Jin empire. The emperor and his father, Huizong, were abducted together with their whole courtiers and harems. The Song dynasty seemed to be have been ended after this disastrous reign period with the name Jingkang 靖康 (1126).


After the catastrophy of the year 1126, the Prince of Kang 康王, Zhao Gou 趙構 (posthumous title Emperor Gaozong 宋高宗, r. 1127-1162) proclaimed himself emperor of the Song. He resided in the southern capital Yingtian 應天 (Nanjing 南京; modern Shangqiu 商丘, Henan) and proclaimed the reign motto Jianyan 建炎 (reign period 1127-1130), which marked the beginning of a historical period that is called the Southern Song 南宋 (1127-1279), while the period until the catastrophy of the Jingkang reign (1126) was called Northern Song 北宋 (960-1126). The old main (and eastern) capital Kaifeng (Dongjing 東京; modern Kaifeng, Henan) was guarded by Zong Ze 宗澤.
The next decades until 1141 were characterized by a permanent struggle between a pro-war faction that wanted to conquer back the territories occupied by the Jurchens, and an appeasement faction that wanted to conclude a peace treaty with the Jin empire in order to secure the political and financial stability of the weak and young Southern Song government. Counsellor-in-chief Li Gang 李綱, Zhang Suo 張所, and Wang Xie 王[玉+燮] used the spirit of large groups among the population of the occupied territories to organise resistance against the Jurchens. But Emperor Gaozong and his advisors Huang Qianshan 黃潛善 and Wang Boyan 汪伯彥 preferred a peaceful settlement of the status quo. The anti-war faction was so strong that opponents like Chen Dong 陳東 and Ouyang Che 歐陽澈 were even executed for advocating a resistance war.
Meanwhile the popular resistance war against the government of the Jin empire went on, peasant troops built a so-called red scarf army (hongjinjun 紅巾軍) and were even able to defeat a smaller Jurchen contingent under marshal Wanyan Zonghan 完顏宗翰. The largest partisan army were the fighters under Zhao Bangjie 趙邦傑 and Ma Kuo 馬擴 who had Prince Zhao Zhen 趙榛 made King Xin 信王 "the Trustworthy". The troops of the "Eight-Character Army" bazijun 八字軍 under Wang Yan 王彥 had tatooed their fronts with eight Chinese characters declaring their willingness to fight against the Jurchens. Other groups were led by Liu Liyun 劉立芸, Yang Hao 楊浩, Liu Limang 劉里忙, Shao Long 邵隆 (Shao Xing 邵興), Shao Yi 邵翼 and the monk Zhihe 智和. The naval troops of the Liangshan swamp 梁山泊 were commanded by Zhang Rong 張榮. While the court of the surviving Song dynasty did not welcome these resistance warriors, it was only a few state officials that employed these volunteer troops in their war against the Jurchens, expecially Zong Ze 宗澤, governor of the old capital of Kaifeng. His proposal that the emperor might return to Kaifeng as a symbol for the population of northern China was not adopted, and within the next few years, the resistance among the inhabitants of the Yellow River plain weakened or was crushed by Jurchen troops.
The years 1128 and 1129 saw a huge offensive of the Jin troops to the south. They attacked Yangzhou 揚州 (modern Yangzhou, Jiangsu) and forced the emperor to withdraw to the south, to Hangzhou (also called Lin'an 臨安). In this situation, the state officials Miao Fu 苗傅 and Liu Zhengyan 劉正彥 attempted a coup d'état to replace Emperor Gaozong, but the rebellion was ended by Lü Yihao 呂頤浩, Zhang Jun 張浚, Han Shizhong 韓世忠, Liu Guangshi 劉光世, and Zhang Jun 張俊. The governor of Kaifeng, Du Chong 杜充, left the old capital and prepared to defend Jiankang 建康 (modern Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu). The Jin troops under Wanyan Zongbi 完顏宗弼 crossed the Yangtse river and took Jiankang. Emperor Gaozong retreated across the sea, and only the resisting defenders under Han Shizhong that fought around Huangtiandang 黃天蕩 were able to prevent the Jurchen troops from pursuing the fleeing emperor. The famous general Yue Fei 岳飛 liberated Jiankang and threw the Jurchen back north of the Yangtse. Other Jurchen contingents were defeated by Zhang Rong from the Liangshan Swamp who almost captured the Jin general Wanyan Chang 完顏昌.
The Jurchen installed another Chinese puppet emperor, Liu Yu 劉豫, as ruler of a Qi dynasty 齊. In the year 1131 the Jin armies were gravely defeated by the Song under Wu Jie 吳玠 on the Heshang plain 和尚原 (near Baoji 寶雞, Shaanxi). Three years later, the Song armies again further advanced after defeating the Jin. Wu Jie and Yue Fei were able to reconquer a large strip of territory in the region of modern Henan. Although these years brought great successes to the Song dynasty that gradually began to stabilize in her new home in the south, the Emperor Gaozong and his Chief Counsellor Qin Hui 秦檜 favored a defensive politcs instead of further expanding the territory to the north. State officials opposing this appeasement policy, like Li Gang, Zhang Jun 張浚, Han Shizhong and Yue Fei were dismissed from office.
At the court of the Jin empire, there were also factions advocating the conclusion of a peace treaty, in which some territory was ceded to the Song. Yet Wanyan Zongbi overthrew the peace faction and commanded a new army south against the Song. Liu Qi 劉錡, leading the "eight-character" army, defeated Wanyan Zongbi. Yue Fei who had connections with the partisan armies, proposed to drive back the Jurchen after they had been defeated several times in 1140. Trapped by his political opponent Zhang Jun he was faced with the much larger units of Wanyan Zongbi, but the hero was able to defeat again the Jurchen general in the battle of Yancheng 郾城. The central government of the Song, shying away from a larger involvement in war, prohibited the Song generals to advance farther to the north, in spite of repated victories. The political enemies of Yue Fei and Han Shizhong arranged them being stripped off their tanks and being imprisoned. In 1141 the Song government concluded the peace treaty of the Shaoxing period (Shaoxing heyi 紹興和議; reign period 1131-1162) with the Jin empire, determining the following points: The government of the Song empire accepted the Jin dynasty as their superior. A borderline between the two empires was fixed, running approximately in the middle between the lower courses of the Yellow River and the Yangtse. And third, the Song Dynasty had to provide to the Jin empire annual tributes of silver ingots and silks of a certain height.


After the Song elite had fled to the south, members of the imperial house and highest civil and military officials occupied the most fertile lands of the lower Yangtse region - although new catasters were organised (jingjiefa 經界法) in order to register as much tax-liable households as possible. Much like during the Southern Dynasties period 南朝 (420~589), taxation was in many instances a duty left to the landowners, in order to secure their loyalty to the dynasty. The southern gentry therefore often did only care for their wealth and neglected tasks that were traditionally laid into the hands of the local elites, namely the improvement of the irrigation systems
Many peasants had to make their lives as tenant farmers and often paid high rents for land, tools and drawing animals, and also high interest rates for loans obtained from the landowners. It was expecially debts that forced many free peasants into tenantry. Free peasants had also to pay considerably higher land taxes than during the Northern Song period: the continuing military campaigns were very costly and could only be paid for by the Song government by increasing the land tax and imposing lots of "miscellaneous taxes" (zashui 雜稅). Grain and cloth that had, according to law, to be delivered to the state, was often not accepted but had to be paid in money instead of in kind. The argument of the liberation of northern China often served as an pretext for the introduction of a new tax. During the reign of Emperor Ningzong 宋寧宗 (r. 1194-1224) miscellaneous taxes were reorganized as "money of general supply" (jingzongzhi qian 經總制錢).
In the central government, Qin Hui 秦檜 dominated the politics after the peace treaty with the Jurchen in 1141, together with Wang Jixian 王繼先 and Zhang Quwei 張去為. Their opponents Zhang Fei 張飛 and Shao Long 邵隆 were dismissed or even murdered. A censorship of writings was intented to prohibit the distribution of literature that advocated the reconquest of the north. Poetry that praised the actual politics of appeasement was promoted by the government. Although Emperor Gaozong 宋高宗 (r. 1127-1162) relied on the help of Qin Hui, he did not want that Qin's son to become his successor in the office of Counsellor-in-chief. After Qin Hui's death the adherents of the mighty chancellor were stripped of their ranks. Nontheless, the politics of appeasement was maintained under the new ministers Wan Sili 萬俟卨 and Tang Situi 湯思退. But during their reign many peasant uprisings emerged in the regions of modern Jiangxi (Wang Zongshi 王宗石, Chen Yong 陳顒, Luo Xian 羅閑, Wu Zhong 吳忠, Song Potan 宋破壇, Liu Dongtian 劉洞天, Deng Zhuang 鄧裝, Hu Yuanshi 胡元奭), Hunan (Li Dongzhi 李冬至), Fujian (Fan Ruwei 范汝為, Ye Tie 葉鐵) and Zhejiang (Monk Juzheng 居正). Their large number proved that large parts of the population was exploited by both the government and the local gentry. The largest rebellions took place around Lake Dongting 洞庭湖 (Hunan) and wer led by Zhong Xiang 鍾相 and Yang Mo 楊麼 during the years 1130 to 1135. It was the famous general Yue Fei who commanded the troops quelling those rebellions.
Martial activities with the Jin empire were resumed when Prince Hailing 海陵王 (r. 1149-1160), Wanyan Liang 完顏亮, became empire of the Jin. The border between the Jin and the Song empire was attacked by Song rebels under Xin Qiji 辛棄疾 in the region of modern Shandong. The Song general Li Bao 李寶 established contacts with the rebel armies and destroyed part of the Jin naval forces. During this naval battle, black powder was for the first time in the history of war used for military purposes. Prince Hailing wanted to cross the Yangtse River at Caishi 采石 (modern Ma'anshan 馬鞍山, Anhui), but the naval army of the Song under Yu Yunwen 虞允文 defeated the Jin. At the same time Wanyan Yong 完顏雍 (posthumous title Emperor Shizong of the Jin 金世宗, r. 1161-1189) proclaimed himself emperor of Jin, Prince Hailing was killed, and the Jin army withdrew to the north. The Song armies pursued them and liberated territory occupied by the Jin, yet these gains were again lost to the Jin general Tushan Hexi 徒單合喜. In 1162 Emperor Gaozong abdicated in favour to his son Zhao Shen 趙昚 (posthumous title Emperor Xiaozong of the Song 宋孝宗, r. 1162-1189) who immediately adopted a new politic of resistance against the Jin empire. He reappointed Yue Fei and Zhang Jun 張浚 as the highest military commanders, but after some initial victories the generals Li Xianzhong 李顯忠 and Shao Hongyuan 邵宏淵 were defeated by the Jin general Heshilie Zhining 紇石烈志寧. The peace faction again gained the upper hand at the court, and the peace treaty with the Jin empire was renewed (the treaty of the Longxing reign 隆興和議; reign period 1163-1164). Although secret preparations for a further invasion of the north were made that were intended to begin simultaneously in Sichuan and the lower Yangtse region, these were given up after the death of general Yu Yunwen. The military effectiveness of the Song troops seemed not to suffice for a new engagement with the Jin, and the peace faction at the court, including Emperor Xiaozong's retired father, was too strong. Above all the precarious financial situation did not allow a new invasion of the north within the next few years. Emperor Xiaozong planned to restrict the power of the Counsellor-in-chief and therewith adopted the proposals of informal advisors like Zeng Di 曾覿, Long Dayuan 龍大淵, Zhang Yue 張說, Wang Bian 王抃 and the eunuch Gan Sheng 甘昇. The economical and social problems of the peasantry further aggravated and provoked some rebellions in the area of modern Hunan and Guangdong (Wang Xuan 王宣, Zhong Yu 鍾玉, Li Yun 李雲, Li Jin 李金, Lai Wenzheng 賴文政, Xin Qiji, Chen Tong 陳峒, Li Jie 李接, Jiang Dalao 姜大老).
In 1189 the frustrated emperor resigned and transmitted the throne to his son Zhao Dun 趙惇 (posthumous title Emperor Guangzong 宋光宗, 1189-1194). Only four years later the emperor proved insane and was by his grandmother forced to abdicate. His son Zhao Kuo 趙擴 was enthroned as the new emperor (posthumous title Emperor Ningzong 宋寧宗, r. 1194-1224). At the beginning of his reign, his relatives Zhao Ruyu 趙汝愚 and Han Tuozhou 韓侂冑 and their adherents fought for the political power. An important supporter of Counsellor-in-chief Zhao Ruyu was the Neoconfucian philosopher Zhu Xi 朱熹. In 1196 Han Tuozhou proved victorious and had Zhu Xi and his political faction forbidden (an instance known as the faction prohibition of the Qingyuan reign 慶元黨禁; reign period 1195-1200).
In 1206 a new invasion of the north was undertaken, but it soon collapsed under the attacks of the well-prepared Jin armies. The pacification commissioner (xuanfushi 宣撫使) of Sichuan, Wu Xi 吳曦, submitted to the Jin and was rewarded with the title of king of Shu 蜀, but Sichuan was soon liberated by Song troops. In 1208 a third peace treaty among the two states of the Song and the Jin was concluded. After Han Tuozhou and his invasion of the north had failed, Counsellor-in-chief Shi Miyuan 史彌遠 determined the politics of the Song court for the next decade. The economical situation aggravated when more and more paper currency (kuaizi 會子) was issued. In 1197 the fisher-people of Daxishan Island 大奚山島 rebelled against the cruelty of financial officials and was massacred, in 1208 Yao tribes 瑤 under Luo Shichuan 羅世傳 and Chinese peasants under Li Yuanli 李元礪 staged an uprising in the region of modern Hunan. In 1220 Zhang Fu 張福 and Mo Jian 莫簡 led the "Red Turban" or "Red Scarves" (hongjin 紅巾) uprising in Sichuan.
The military commander Luo Riyuan 羅日愿 planned to to remove Counsellor Shi Miyuan but his intrigue was discovered and aborted. Amidst all these internal struggles and rebellions, a new external challenge seemed to pose a new chance for the Southern Song government.


From the early 13th on century the Jin empire in northern China suffered from the intrusions and the military pressure of the steppe federation of the Mongols 蒙古 that had been united by Temüjin, called Chinggis Khan. In 1215 Zhen Dexiu 真德秀 prosposed to refuse any further tributes to the Jin empire. Emperor Xuanzong of the Jin 金宣宗 (r. 1213-1223) therefore resumed war campaigns against the Song in the south, the first reason being a punishment for the delay of the annual tributes, and the second a territorial compensation in the south for the losses to the Mongols in the north. In Sichuan the Jin armies suffered great losses against the Song troops that had allied with the Tangut empire of Western Xia. In Shandong the Song troops were supported by rebel armies under Yang An'er 楊安兒, Yang Miaozhen 楊妙真 and Li Quan 李銓 whose troops used to wear red jackets (hence called the "Red Jacket Armies" hong'aojun 紅襖軍). These defeats of the Jin led to the political decision of Emperor Aizong of the Jin 金哀宗 (r. 1223-1233) to end the war with Song China. In order to secure the central government against the ever more aggressive attacks of the Mongols the Jin capital was transferred from Daxing 大興 (modern Beijing) to Kaifeng. In 1217 the Song Counsellor Shi Miyuan managed the throne accession of Zhao Yun 趙昀 (posthumous title Emperor Lizong 宋理宗, r. 1224-1264) instead of the heir apparent Zhao Hong 趙竑. The latter's rebellion was suppressed, and hi Miyuan reigned for another decade. Li Quan, one of the rebels in Shandong, decided to fight against the Song government, attacked the capital Lin'an and could only be defeated in 1231.
Even Kaifeng proved not to be secure from the Mongol invaders. In 1233 the Song government decided to become an ally of the Mongols who promised to the Song that, after conquering the Jin empire, to return all territory south of the Yellow River to the Song. Song general Meng Gong 孟珙 defeated the Jin general Wu Xian 武仙 and directed his troops to besiege the city of Caizhou 蔡州, where the last emperor of the Jin had fled to. With the help of the Mongols, the Song armies were finally able to extinguish the Jin empire that had occupied northern China since more than a century. A year later, the generals Zhao Kui 趙葵 and Quan Zicai 全子才 prepared their troops to occupy the former capitals of the Northern Song empire, but the cities were already plundered by the Mongols. The nomad warriors, now led by Great Khan Öködei, attacked the Son and so initated their slow but steady invasion of the south.
From 1235 on the Mongol general Kuoduan Hequ 闊端和曲 started to attack the region of Sichuan. The occupation of this region had often been an import step for the conquest of southern China. The important city of Xiangyang 襄陽, the gateway to the Yangtse plain was defended by general Cao Youwen 曹友聞. He capitulated in 1236. In the east the generals Meng Gong 孟珙 and Du Guo 杜果 were able to withstand the pressure of the Mongol armies under Kouwen Buhua 口溫不花. In Sichuan, governor Yu Jie 余玠 adopted the plan of the brothers Ran Jin 冉璡 and Ran Pu 冉璞 to fortificate important locations in mountainous areas, like Diaoyucheng 釣魚城 (modern Hechuan 合川, Sichuan). From this point, Yue Jie was able to hold Sichuan for a further period of ten years.
The Mongol attacks on Song China intensified with the election of Möngke as Great Khan in 1251. After their takeover of Sichuan the Mongols under Qubilai and Uriyangqadai 兀良合台 conquered the empire of Dali 大理 in modern Yunnan in 1253. In 1259 Möngke died during the battle of Diaoyucheng that was defended by Wang Jian 王堅. The Chinese general Jia Sidao 賈似道 collaborated with the Mongols and took the opportunity of Möngke's death to occupy Sichuan as subject of the Mongols.
The central government of the Southern Song meanwhile was unable to cope with the challenge of the Mongols and new peasant uprisings in the region of modern Fujian (led by Yan Mengbiao 晏夢彪) and Hunan (Chen Sanchuang 陳三搶, Zhang Mowang 張魔王). The court of Emperor Lizong was dominated by the consort families Yan 閻 and Jia 賈 and the eunuchs Dong Songchen 董宋臣 and Lu Yunsheng 盧允昇. In 1260 Jia Sidao became Counsellor-in-chief and took control over the new emperor Zhao Qi 趙禥 (posthumous title Emperor Duzong 宋度宗, r. 1264-1274). He expelled his opponents like Wen Tianxiang 文天祥 and Li Fu 李芾. Because the revenues of the Song state was not sufficient to finance the troops fighting against the Mongols, Jia Sidao tried to reform the regulations for the merchandise of lands with his state field regulation (gongtianfa 公田法).
In 1260 Möngke's brother Qubilai was elected Great Khan and proclaimed himself emperor of the Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368) in 1271. Advised by the Chinese collaborator Liu Zheng 劉整, the Mongols besieged and in 1273 conquered the cities of Xiangyang and Fancheng 樊城 (modern Hubei). The cities had been defended by Zhang Tianshun 張天順 and Lü Wenhuan 呂文煥. The Yangtse River was now open for a large fleet that could conquer the Song empire. A year later, the under-age Prince Zhao Xian 趙[顯-頁] was made emperor (posthumous title Emperor Gong 宋恭帝, r. 1274-1275), the political power still being in the hands of Jia Sidao.
When the Yuan fleet advanced and one prefecture after the other fell to the Yuan, Jia Sidao offered his own submission, but the Yuan Counsellor Bayan 伯顏 refused. The last contingents of the Song army were heavily defeated, the old city of Jiankang 建康 (modern Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu) fell, and Jia Sidao was killed. The capital of the Song, Lin'an, was defended by Wen Tianxiang and Zhang Shijie 張世傑. Emperor Gong abdicated, but faithful loyalists like Zhang Jue 張珏, Wen Tianxiang, Zhang Shijie and Lu Xiufu 陸秀夫 enthroned the emperor's younger brother Zhao Shi 趙昰 (posthumous title Emperor Duanzong 宋端宗, r. 1276-1277). Zhao Shi was enthroned far away from the capital, in the region of Fuzhou, but he soon died during the flight to the south in the region of modern Guangdong. Prince Zhao Bing 趙昺 (r. 1278-1279) was enthroned on an island in the South China Sea (Yaishan 崖山, near Xinhui 新會, Guangdong). In 1279 the Yuan took the island, and Lu Xiufu drowned himself, embracing the last emperor of Song.


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May 17, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail