The Rise and Accomplishments of the Song Dynasty in China

During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), China boasted the largest cities in the world; Hangzhou, Nanjing, and Beijing. At least five cities had populations of over a million people, and about 50 other cities contained roughly 100,000 residents each. This was at a time when major cities in Western Europe and Asia had decreased greatly in population: Rome fell to 35,000 and Baghdad to 125,000. China’s urban residents largely enjoyed a higher standard of living. Song China represented the peak of Chinese commerce and foreign trade.

A dramatically grown merchant class meant more productivity and even three times the tax revenue than was seen in the Tang Dynasty. The Grand Canal that connected the Yellow and Yangzti Rivers, served as a kind of important cornerstone, providing for the mass movement of goods between north and south.

The first fully monetized economy would be developed; widely implementing the usage of paper money and silver coins. Song China would reap much applause in its time for having the most advanced farming in the world, with constantly flourishing productivity to meet new agricultural needs.

Rice and sugar were two major products. Soon foreign trade could be conducted via maritime networks that connected China to Africa, Europe and the rest of Asia.

Merchants regularly visited Southeast Asia and traded around the Indian Ocean. Markets as far away as Persia, Egypt, and East Africa took an interest in industrial and Chinese food products.

The Song Dynasty introduced an era of true world leadership reflected in its export of manufactured goods and import of raw materials across many geographical lines.

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One such example was Chinese porcelain which was traded all over Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Africa, resulting in the term “china” being associated with the finest porcelain on earth. Before the 18th century, China had the largest iron industry, making them first in the world for producing steel for tools, weapons, stoves, ploughshares, cooking equipment, nails, building materials, and bridges. Mass production and metal-casting techniques supplied standardized iron products to the world’s largest internal market, and the Song mined coal for fuel and produced salt on an industrial scale.

Song China also developed a significant shipbuilding industry. Its huge compartmentalized ships had four decks and four to six masts and were capable of carrying 500 sailors and extensive cargo. Thousands of cargo ships plied the rivers and canals. This maritime technology was the world’s best at that time. Incredibly, they would be behind other major inventions as well. The Song would build the longest bridge and would grow the popularity of water-powered clocks and mills.

In medicine, Chinese doctors inoculated against smallpox, a disease that ravaged much of Africa, Europe, and Asia. Some Chinese medical ideas reached the Middle East and Europe by the 13th century. Printed books fostered the spread of education, exposing a wider audience to the values of the social and political elite, and the Song government established schools in every district.

Despite all their urban, technological, and economic achievements, China’s society was never truly revolutionized. Also, the Song government, became more concerned with economic growth than political growth and military expansion. Prosperity, trade, and urban living made peace more attractive than conquest. While they had maintained the largest army, the Song took a different approach from the Tang and Han dynasties, reduced the power of military leaders so they could not threaten civilian authority, a chronic problem in the Tang. The Song adopted a passive attitude toward controlling the pastoral nomads across the border, attempting not to conquer but to appease them with generous payments. By the 14th century, Song China was conquered by the Mongols.

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The Rise and Accomplishments of the Song Dynasty in China. (2023, May 16). Retrieved from

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