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China: Northern Song dynasty (AD 960-1126)

The Tang dynasty (AD 618-906) was followed by a period of chaos in China (907-960), known as the Five Dynasties in the north, and Ten Kingdoms in the south. Under the Zhao family, the founders of the Song dynasty, China was once again unified and at peace.

The Song dynasty (AD 960-1279) is divided chronologically into two periods: the Northern Song, with its capital at Bianliang (present-day Kaifeng), and the Southern Song (1126-1279), with its capital at Lin'an, (now Hangzhou). The Song dynasty did not control all of China, nor did it have effective control over its northern borders. However, it did bring peace with powerful neighbours through trade and diplomacy.

The Northern Song was a period remarkable for its advances in science and technology, especially as they related to transport and trade. Trade was actively encouraged by the administration to finance military defence of the borders and tribute payments to aggressors, the Liao, Ruzhen (or Jurchen), Jin and Xi Xia peoples.

The Northern Song emperors were great patrons of the arts. The emperor Huizong (1101-25) supported a painting academy and was himself a fine painter and calligrapher. Ceramics of this period are among the most elegant in Chinese history, notable for their forms and pure glazes, using very little decoration.

In 1127 Bianliang was overrun by the Ruzhen, and the court escaped to the south, ending the Northern Song period. The Ruzhen established the Jin dynasty in the north, but were themselves overtaken by the Mongols in 1234.

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