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Prosperity in Song China (960-1279)

Overview of innovation and causes of prosperity and stability during the Song Dynasty (both Northern and Southern Song Dynasties). First movable type block printing, government sanctioned paper money, gunpowder, etc.

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Video transcript

- [Narrator] In other videos when we talked about the various Chinese empires, we talk about the Song dynasty in particular as a time of significant technological innovation. And here are just some of the examples that we talk about, most notably gunpowder, movable block print, you have block printing emerge during the Tang dynasty but during the Song dynasty, it gets perfected and it becomes more efficient with movable block print. You have the compass being perfected, especially for naval use, the boats being perfected, you see this reinvigoration, really the high point of the Chinese civil service, you see the emergence of Neo-Confucianism. But one question is well what allowed all of this innovation to take place? And also what allowed for the stability of the Song dynasty? When you look at it on the timeline like this, that's covering over 2,000 years, it might not look that long but when you actually think about it this is over 300 years of dynastic rule by one dynasty. Now it is split in the middle between the Northern Song and the Southern Song, that happens in 1127, we'll talk about that in a little bit. But for the most part, it is a very prosperous time for China. The population actually grows from roughly 50 million people during the Tang dynasty, to, it is estimated, 100 million people by the Northern Song dynasty and eventually keeps growing so that by the time we get to the Ming dynasty, we have a population of about 200 million people. So what are the things that allows for that population explosion, really? Well one thing you can imagine is food is very important, and it's during this time period that the Song dynasty is able to leverage a more robust rice seed from Southeast Asia that allows it to feed many, many more people. And so this obviously allows a population growth, but any time you're able to feed people, and there's more prosperity, you're going to have a more stable empire. Now another major input into prosperity and the stability of empires is the notion of trade. And China had always many river systems, which helped facilitate agriculture and trade. But as you get into the Sui dynasty, right over here, you have the completion of the Grand Canal, which is even today the largest man-made canal. It stretches from Beijing to Hangzhou and actually goes beyond that and has other tributaries and that connected with the existing river systems allowed for a lot of trade to happen, especially as we get into the Tang and Song dynasties. Now the Song dynasty in particular, you have the pound lock being invented, which allows for easier travel across waterways when you have a change in the level of water. The pound lock is still the standard technology used in canals throughout the world. You also have the first use of paper money. This is a big deal. We use paper money today. Our ability to have transactions in our society are not dependent on our ability to mine for gold or silver or copper. And one of the things that allowed for paper money to even be used was this notion of block printing, and block printing with movable type in particular. Once again, a Song dynasty innovation. Now as I mentioned, as we get into 1127, you have conquerors from the north, in particular the Jin, who are able to conquer Northern China. They caused the Song to move their capital from Kaifeng in the north, to Hangzhou in the south. Here you see Hangzhou is a major southern terminal of the Grand Canal. And even though the Northern Song had to move and essentially become the Southern Song dynasty, you continue to have that prosperity for roughly another 150 years and once again, this comes from this meritocracy from the civil service system. This abundance of food, this stability from having the dynastic rule, the trade, the money, all of these technological advances, which make the Song dynasty one of the notable periods of Chinese history.