Life Under the Southern Song
The Civil & the Martial
Civil Door God (Men Shen)
Map of Northern and Southern Song Dynasty
Martial Door God (Men Shen)
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The Great Wall
 
Chinese Characters for Liao, Xi Xia and Jin
The Threat from the North
The Liao, the Xi Xia & the Jin
The threat from the north confronted by the Song was one of the most basic justifications for the state-strengthening policies Wang Anshi had advocated. ... The northern neighbors of the Song all had Chinese ministers advising them, used some of the language and symbols of the Chinese imperial state, and adopted Chinese patterns of bureaucracy and taxation to administer any Chinese territories they conquered. This adaptation can be seen most clearly in the Khitan people ... [who] took advantage of the turmoil of the Five Dynasties (907-960) to proclaim their own Liao dynasty and to occupy the area around modern Beijing, which they made their southern capital, and parts of the north-central frontier around the modern city of Datong. In 946 they raided all the way to the Yellow River, overthrowing one of the short-lived north Chinese dynasties. Developing separate Khitan and Chinese bureaucracies and drawing some talented Chinese officials into their service, the Liao held on to their conquered territories and taxed and administered them in Chinese fashion. ... The situation was further complicated by the emergence on the northwest frontier of a vigorous multiethnic state with a Tangut ruling elite, which occupied some important trading centers in the 1030s and proclaimed itself the Xia, as in the name of the first dynasty; the Chinese called it the Xi (Western) Xia. ...
Map of Northern and Southern Song with Khitan, Tangut and Jurchen Ethnic Groups
All this was dramatically changed by the rebellion in 1102 of the king of the Jurchen people, inhabiting what is now the northern part of northeast China, against the Liao. In 1115 the Jurchen king proclaimed himself the first emperor of the Jin (Gold) dynasty. Jin power expanded rapidly in the face of the weakening Liao. ... In a planned joint campaign in 1122, the Song armies were not able to advance against the weakened Liao even enough to retake the Liao southern capital, and they had to stand idly by while the Jin took it. The Jin refused to honor fully the territorial division agreed on in 1120, since the Song had contributed so little to the defeat of Liao. The Jin went on to finish off the remnants of Liao, picked a quarrel with the Song, and in 1125 mounted a great two-pronged attack on the north China plain. [Emperor] Huizong abdicated in a vain attempt at appeasement. The capital fell at the end of 1126; in 1127 the Jin armies withdrew to their home bases, taking with them the abdicated Huizong and his successor. (MOF, 168-170)
 
Emperor Huizong
Map of the Southern Song with Northern Capital (Kaifeng) and Southern Capital (Hangzhou) Highlighted
Emperor Huizong
 
When the Jin took the Song capital in 1126 and withdrew to the north with two hostage emperors, the best prospect for maintaining a Song succession and rallying loyal forces seemed to be Prince Kang, who was inexperienced, inclined to make peace, only twenty years old, and trapped behind enemy lines. Yue Fei was among those who met the prince and tried to organize forces to defend him. In 1127 the prince managed to withdraw to the southeast, where he was proclaimed emperor; he is usually referred to by the posthumous title Gaozong. Eventually he established his capital at Hangzhou, the lovely city that owed so much to Su Dongpo’s periods of enlightened and energetic administration; it remained the Southern Song capital until the Mongol conquest of the 1270s and became one of the greatest cities of the world of that time. (MOF, 171-172)
Song Dynasty Icon
Civil Door God
The Patriot Yue Fei
Martial Door God
 
Yue Fei was born in 1103 to a family that apparently was literate but farmed the land and had only the most modest heritage of official rank. ... [He] is said to have been an excellent and diligent student, sometimes reading and writing all night. ... But he also was very much interested in military pursuits. ... It was as if this obscure young provincial already was casting himself as the realizer of all the Song moralists’ exhortations to selfless public service and at the same time as the reintegrator of the civil and military virtues, of wen and wu, that had drifted so far apart in the eleventh century. (MOF, 171)
 
Chinese Characters for "Serve the Country with Utmost Loyalty"
Yue Fei's Mother Tatooing "Serve the Country with Utmost Loyalty" on his Back
 
Yue Fei was just the kind of northern military man on whom Gaozong’s court was so uneasily dependent. In one incident, Yue rode straight into a bandit camp, made a rousing speech condemning the Jin as rebels and recruited the whole bandit force into his army. Soon he was dismissed from Gaozong’s entourage after impetuously urging an immediate counterattack on the Jin. After the Jin withdrawal he returned to the area of Kaifeng, the Northern Song capital, and remained with the forces trying to hold it. But these forces often fought with each other and were so independent that there was little to distinguish them from the “bandits” they fought. Then in 1129 Yue’s warrior band was among those that fell back to try to hold the line at the Yangzi as the Jin advanced. The Jin got a beachhead on the south bank, and the Song forces started to disintegrate. But Yue, dripping with blood from the battle, rallied his troops with a fiery speech reminding them of their obligation to repay with loyalty the dynasty’s benevolence to them, of their chance to gain undying fame if they stood fast, and of his own orders to behead anyone who fled. He was able to stabilize the situation around Jiankang (modern Nanjing). Recommended by the senior commander Zhang Jun, he began to receive modest honors and promotions from Gaozong. Although he was ready to participate in the pacification of the south and to give advice on how to do it, he made it clear that as soon as possible he wanted the Song forces to go on the offensive against the Jin and the Chinese puppet regimes it had set up in the north. (MOF, 172-173)
 
Loyal Soldier or Potential Threat?
With [his victories against the Dongting Lake rebels] late in 1135 Yue’s power and prestige reached new heights. He received new honors and titles and was granted wide powers to make official appointments in the area under his control. ... Circumstances looked reasonably favorable for Yue to accomplish something in his great cause and for the Song to regain its mountains and rivers. ... but then he made what may have been a crucial mistake. Gaozong’s older brother, who had been briefly enthroned in 1126 and then taken away by the Jin, still was alive in captivity, and if the Jin decided to set him up as a puppet, he might provide a dangerous alternative focus of power. ... Yue brought [up the question of naming an heir] in audience with Gaozong. He emerged ashen-faced, evidently realizing that he had gone too far. Gaozong professed to admire Yue’s frankness, but it seems that from this time on he was wary of any measure that would give still more power to this impetuous soldier who did not know his place. (MOF, 175-176)
 
Why did Gaozong change his attitude towards Yue Fei after this event?
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What potential threats could Yue have posed to the regime?
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Qin Gui (Official of the Southern Song Dynasty)
 
Qin Gui & the Advocates of Peace
Until about 1137 Gaozong and his court at least had to appear to heed this advice [to send troops north to attack the Jin], since they needed the aid of Yue and other northern generals. Advocates of peace with the Jin were not denied office, but their views [were] not acted on. One of the most conspicuous of them was one Qin Gui, who had been taken away to the north with the captive emperors but at the end of 1130 had found his way south, probably with Jin connivance, and immediately had been given high office. (MOF, 173)
 
Map of Battles with the Jurchen Jin
 
[T]he Jin were finding it hard to keep control of the north China plain. They faced guerrilla resistance in several areas. The puppet regime that ruled Henan (the area around the old Northern Song capital, on the Yellow River) was barely holding on. In 1137 the Jin abolished it and made serious overtures to Gaozong’s court for peace negotiations. ... Control of Henan would be handed back to the Song. The coffins of Huizong and a dowager empress who had died in captivity would be returned for proper mourning and burial. But the conditions would be humiliating: the Song would have to acknowledge the ceremonial superiority of the Jin and send substantial gifts of silk and silver every year. Gaozong insisted that he was ready to bear these humiliations for filial piety’s sake, that is, so that the imperial coffins could be brought back. And of course peace would lessen his dependence on the generals. A humiliating peace, in which the Southern Song emperors were not even called emperors and their regime was simply called Jiangnan, south of the river, not Song, was concluded early in 1139. (MOF, 176-177)
 
What were the advantages of suing for peace?
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Battle of Yancheng
Yue Fei’s Last Chance
But then circumstances gave him a last amazing chance for success. In 1140 the Jin broke the new treaty and invaded Song territory along several fronts, avoiding the sector where Yue’s army was stationed. ... Gaozong and his ministers, among whom Qin Gui now was the most influential, were wary of the consequences of advances in the north but approved Yues plans for a campaign. With Yue and his son personally leading cavalry charges, the Jin forces were defeated in battle after battle and the Song occupied several of the great cities of Henan, approaching [the] old capital of Kaifeng. ...
 
Yue Fei's Northern Campaign
 
But if Yue’s forces advanced … they would be in a dangerously exposed position, where a defeat might open the way for the Jin to advance again and threaten the Yangzi valley. A victory might leave Gaozong’s court at the mercy of this impetuous general with his alarming views on the question of imperial succession [or, as noted on p. 166 of A Brief History of China, a “rapprochment with the north might lead to the return of the hostage emperors and the end of his own hold on power”]. Yue was ordered to withdraw from his conquests on the north China plain. He said, “My ten years of effort are destroyed in a single day! It is not that I have not been able to fulfill my responsibilities, but that the powerful official Qin Gui truly has deceived His Majesty!” But he was a loyal minister, and he did withdraw. (MOF, 177-178)
 
This weakness of culturally approved forms of military success certainly was a major source of the nonmobilizing character of the Chinese state. (MOF, 180)
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Qin Gui and Yue Fei
 
The Denouement
Qin was determined to get rid of Yue; some writers assert that the Jin were demanding his execution. After much investigation an officer was found who claimed that the best of Yue’s generals had been plotting to use Yue’s armies to force his release from the capital. It was easy enough to claim that Yue had been in on the plot and to imprison him. But Yue admitted to nothing. When first questioned, he tore off his shirt to reveal the four characters on his back. The judicial authorities would not convict him. According to one story, Qin’s wife said to him, “Well, old man, are you so weak-willed after all? It’s easy to catch a tiger, but hard to get rid of him!” Qin finally sent orders to the prison officials, and just before Chinese New Year Yue was murdered in prison, either by poison or by strangling. His son was executed, the family’s property was confiscated, and many records of his career were destroyed.
 
Yue Fei Temple
 
In 1141, Qin Gui also managed to secure a peace treaty with the Jin, ceding more territory and promising ceremonial subordination and larger annual presents. ... Beginning in 1161, after a new Jin invasion, Yue’s honors were [posthumously] restored and there were new plans and abortive efforts to reconquer the north. Legends of Yue’s heroism continued to grow. In some places, especially near Hangzhou, temples were erected to his memory.
 
Qin Hui Being Beaten by Worshippers
 
Outside these temples were statues of a kneeling Qin Gui; those who came to pay their respects to Yue were expected to spit on Qin as they passed. For some Yue became a warrior spirit who could be worshipped or summoned in trance, although far less widely venerated than Guan Yu. (MOF, 178-179)
Yue Fei vs. Guan Yu
 
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Hangzhou
 
The Consequences of Losing the North
An enormous number of people fled to the south … in the early twelfth century. Hundreds of thousands of people, including twenty thousand high officials, tens of thousands of their office staff, and over four hundred thousand military and their families moved to the new capital of Hangzhou and its surrounding towns. ... Even as the total population of China — in both the north and the south — remained around one hundred million, the number of men studying for the exams grew dramatically. In  some districts after 1200 as many as three hundred men competed for one slot — a far higher ratio than had existed earlier. Scholars agree that the increased interest in the examinations must have raised the literacy rate, with some estimating that one in ten men, but many fewer women, could read.
 
Examination System
 
Although more men were taking the examinations, more were also exercising the shadow privilege, with the result that the number of positions going to those who had passed the open examinations declined throughout the dynasty. In 1046, 57 percent of the new officials had passed the regular, nonpreferential exams; in 1213 only 27 percent did so, with the bulk of the remaining positions going to those who had used the shadow privilege. (OE, 257-270)
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Suzhou: Master of Nets Garden

The Gentry Class
The Emphasis on Local Society
In the years before the fall of the north, powerful bureaucratic families had assumed that their sons would pursue careers in officialdom. But the factional infighting between the classicists and the historicists forced them to rethink their strategies. When the classicists banned all the sons of leading historicist families from taking the examinations, they cut off what had been a certain career course — preparation for the examinations, sitting for the exams, and taking office. The powerful historicist families had to devise career paths outside the bureaucracy, and when the tables were turned and the historicists banned the sons of the classicists from taking the exams, they too had to shift gears.
 
Master of the Nets Garden
 
These once prominent families turned away from government service. Instead they lived on their estates and devoted themselves to local society. They donated money to religious institutions, to Buddhist or Daoist monasteries, and to popular temples. They sought to help their communities and incidentally to enhance their local reputations by building bridges and roads, distributing grain during famine, and making loans to the needy. They also organized the all-important local militia, which tried to keep order. (OE, 268-269)
 

The Confucian Revival
The years following the fall of the north saw a change in the type of person worshiped in [Confucian shrines to worthy men]. The famous men who had held positions in the central government were joined by less famous men who had even occasionally been rejected by the state. These were intensely learned men, but men whose contemporaries misunderstood them. One such figure, Gao Deng, had joined the thousands of students who urged the emperor to declare war on the Jurchens who had just taken the north. A meeting with the prime minister who made peace with the Jurchens led to Gao’s first demotion; his second demotion came after he wrote an examination question critical of that minister. He never served again in the government. Zhu Xi (1130-1200) one of the leading Confucian thinkers of his generation, wrote a text commemorating Gao’s virtues, and he said: “The whole day long, like a torrent, he spoke of nothing but being a filial son and loyal minister and of sacrificing one’s life in favor of righteousness. Those who heard him were in awe; their souls were moved and their spirits lifted.” Gao was able to live a life of virtue and learning, both Confucian values, because he had not served the corrupt government that had failed to win back the north. (OE, 267-268)
 
Zhu Xi's White Deer Grotto (Confucian Academy)
 
Portrait of Zhu XiStarting in 1181, Zhu Xi (1130-1200) taught at the White Deer Academy, where he stressed that the goal of education was moral self-cultivation, not the pursuit of civil service examination degrees. The students studied the Confucian classics, especially The Analects, Mencius, and two chapters taken from the Book of Rites [collectively known as the Four Books]. At the time, these texts were already circulating among Buddhist monks interested in learning more about Confucian teachings, but Zhu Xi taught that they offered the best models for those wanting to understand the Way of the ancient sages. Zhu stressed “apprehending the principle in things” (sometimes translated as “the investigation of things”), the cornerstone of his Neo-Confucian teachings. If someone very carefully examined the world around him and the teachings contained in the classics, he could perceive the pattern, or principle, underlying all human affairs.
 
Zhu Xi's "Four Books"
 
Zhu Xi and his followers also encouraged members of the community to help one another without causing the government to intervene, although their plans enjoyed little success. They founded community granaries, which, unlike Wang Anshi’s ever-level granaries, were to be run privately by local people, not government officials. Like Wang Anshi’s Green Sprouts reforms, the private granaries also lost money, and all were defunct by 1308.
       The significance of the private academies and community granaries was that they expressed the growing suspicion of government institutions among those who advocated the Confucian revival. Shut out of the examination system, these men chose to dedicate themselves to a new ideal. They wanted to attain sagehood, not by government service but by devotion to the community. From the very beginning, Confucius and his followers had been torn about whether to join government as ministers, and most had not. The students of Zhu Xi and the other Confucian revivalists looked to Confucius himself as a model. They claimed to have a direct line of transmission of the Way from him, and they thought they could best pass on his teachings outside of the government. (OE, 271-2)
 
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