China: Southern Song dynasty (AD 1127-1279)

When the Northern Song court fled Bianliang, they established Lin'an (present day Hangzhou) south of the Yangzi River as their new capital. This was intended to be only a short-term solution (the name means 'temporary peace'), but it served as the capital until the end of the dynasty.

The Southern Song period, despite its reduced territory, was commercially rich and powerful. Further advances were made in transport and communication, enhancing trade and urban growth. By this time, at least four cities in China had populations exceeding a million people. In most ways, the Chinese economy dwarfed that of contemporary Europe.

Agricultural techniques, mining productivity and industrial skills all improved, creating great wealth. Rich landowners and merchants were eager consumers of luxury goods. Gold and silver, jade and pearls, sumptuous textiles and elegant porcelains were in great demand, although the government tried to restrict such extravagance.

The Southern Song used past authority to create legitimacy for the present political situation (they had lost the north and were re-establishing their dynasty). The court encouraged renewed interest in ancient Chinese history and literature and Neo-Confucianism. The emperor Gaozong (1127-62) purportedly executed the calligraphy himself on a series of scrolls illustrating an ancient text. Ceramics made for the court featured archaistic shapes, copying bronze vessels of an earlier golden age, the Zhou dynasty (about 1050-221 BC).

The Southern Song adminstration was weakened by corruption, high inflation, high taxation and general laxity by the middle of the thirteenth century. Internal rebellions occurred. At the same time, the unstoppable Mongols were forcing their way across Asia. The Song dynasty could not resist forever, and finally collapsed in 1279.

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