Sung (Song) Chinese
960 AD – 1279 AD

By Jim Brown

The Sung Dynasty is divided into two distinct periods: the Northern Sung and Southern Sung.  During the Northern Sung, 960–1127 AD, the Sung capital was in the northern city of Bianjing (Kaifeng) and the dynasty controlled most of China but they lost north of the Yangtze River to the Jin Dynasty.

The Southern Sung, 1127–1279,  established their capital at Lin'an (Hangzhou). There empire contained 60 percent of China's population and a majority of the most productive agricultural land.

The Jin Dynasty was conquered by the Mongols in 1234 putting the Mongols on the Sung borders. Möngke Khan, the fourth Great Khan of the Mongol Empire, died in 1259 while besieging a city in Chongqing. His younger brother Kublai Khan was now proclaimed the new Great Khan and after two decades of sporadic warfare Mongol armies conquered the Sung Dynasty in 1279.

During the Sung Dynasty the emperors focused on curbing the power of the local generals, who were basically autonomous, and making a centralized government and army, often at the expense of effectiveness in war, they also formed a national army directly controlled by the emperor. In addition, the Sung adopted a system in which commands by generals were ad hoc and temporary; this in an effort to reduce potentially rebels, while a successful general could be relieved or even executed.

The troops were trained to follow signal standards to advance at the waving of banners and to halt at the sound of bells and drums. Warfare was treated as a science that could be studied and perfected. Although the destructive effects of gunpowder were described in the earlier it Tang Dynasty it was during the Sung dynasty that cannons, fire-lances, gunpowder fire-arrows, rockets and hand-guns were developed.  (They also created China’s first standing navy.)

At its height of its power the Sung military claimed some one million soldiers. These were divided into sections with 5 men in a squad, which made a section with five sections making a platoon of 50 troops, two platoons to a company, with ten companies to a battalion, thus this comprised 500 men.

By the late 13 century they had the 'multiple bullets magazine erupter' ('bai zu lian zhu pao'), a tube of bronze or cast iron that was filled with about 100 lead balls and fired. An earlier Sung-era cast iron cannon known as the 'flying-cloud thunderclap eruptor' (fei yun pi-li pao) fired ‘shells are made of cast iron, as large as a bowl and shaped like a ball. Inside they contain half a pound of 'magic' gunpowder. They are sent flying towards the enemy camp from an eruptor; and when they get there a sound like a thunder-clap is heard, and flashes of light appear. If ten of these shells are fired successfully into the enemy camp, the whole place will be set ablaze.’

The spread of literature and knowledge was enhanced by the earlier invention of woodblock printing and in the 11th-century invention of movable type printing thus technology, science, philosophy, mathematics, engineering flourished under the Sung.

(The well known and popular TV program from the 1970s, ‘The Water Margin’ about the trials and tribulations of 108 outlaws, was set during the Sung Dynasty.  This was adapted from Shi Naian’s ‘The Water Margin’, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. For those interested clips can be found on You Tube.)

Emperor Chao (Zhao) K'uang-yin
Chao K'uang-yin was born in Lo-yang in central China. Before becoming emperor he was a general in the service of the preceding dynasty, Hou Zhuo. As had most of the dynasty founders before him, he usurped the throne by military force; however, unlike those who'd come before him, Chao was neither an aristocrat nor a minority leader.

He was from an army officer's family and was himself a professional army man. In 960 when an officer of the palace guard in the relatively minor state of Chao he staged a coup and proclaimed his own regime - the Sung. He embarked on an extraordinary series of conquests with his strategy being to pick off the weakest of his opponents first, and in this he was helped by the chronic hostility of other States towards one another.  This was to prevented them from forming an alliance against him, or even coming to each other's aid when attacked.

After his death he was given the formal posthumous name of Sung T'ai-tsu (Great Ancestor of the Sung). His usurpation in 960 AD would prove the last in Chinese history.