Sung (Song) Chinese
960 AD – 1279 AD
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
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.)
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.