Monday, September 8, 2008

Culture of the Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty was a culturally-rich and sophisticated age for China. There was blossoming of and advancements in the visual arts, music, literature, and philosophy. Officials of the ruling bureaucracy, who underwent a strict and extensive examination process, reached new heights of education in Chinese society, while general Chinese culture was enhanced by widespread printing, growing literacy, and appreciation for the various arts. The Song Dynasty also saw improvements of many cultural developments of previous centuries. This included refinements of the ideal of the universal man, who combined the qualities of scholar, poet, painter, and statesman that pursued interests in historical , , , and the collection of antiquarian items such as hard-glazed and Chinese inkstones. People in urban areas enjoyed , restaurants that catered to a variety of regional cooking, lavish clothing and apparel sold in the markets, while both urban and rural people engaged in .

The visual arts

Chinese painting during the Song Dynasty reached a new level of sophistication with further development of landscape painting. The ''shan shui'' style painting—"shan" meaning mountain, and "shui" meaning river—became prominent features in Chinese landscape art. The emphasis laid upon landscape painting in the Song period was grounded in Chinese philosophy; stressed that humans were but tiny specks amongst vast and greater cosmos, while Neo-Confucianist writers often pursued the discovery of patterns and principles that they believed caused all social and natural phenomena. The making of glazed and translucent porcelain and celadon wares with complex use of s was also developed further during the Song period. Longquan celadon wares were particularly popular in the Song period. Black and red lacquerwares of the Song period featured beautifully-carved artwork of miniature nature scenes, landscapes, or simple decorative motifs. However, even though intricate bronze-casting, and lacquerware, jade carving, sculpture, architecture, and the painting of s and closely viewed objects like birds on branches were held in high esteem by the Song Chinese, landscape painting was paramount. Chinese landscape artists mastered the formula of creating intricate and realistic scenes placed in the foreground, while the background pertained qualities of vast and infinite space, with distant mountain peaks rising out of high clouds and mist, as streaming rivers would run from afar into the foreground.

There was a significant difference in painting trends between the Northern Song period and Southern Song period . The paintings of Northern Song officials were influenced by their political ideals of bringing order to the world and tackling the largest issues affecting the whole of their society, hence their paintings often depicted huge, sweeping landscapes. On the other hand, Southern Song officials were more interested in reforming society from the bottom up and on a much smaller scale, a method they believed had a better chance for eventual success.

Ever since the Southern and Northern Dynasties , painting had become an art of high sophistication that was associated with the gentry class as one of their main artistic pastimes, the others being calligraphy and poetry. During the Song Dynasty there were avid art collectors that would often meet in groups to discuss their own paintings, as well as rate those of their colleagues and friends. The poet and statesman Su Shi and his accomplice Mi Fu often partook in these affairs, often borrowing art pieces to study and copy, or if they really admired the art piece then a persuasion to make a trade for it was often proposed. The small round paintings popular in the Southern Song were often collected into albums as poets would compose poems to the side to match the theme and mood of the painting.



Poetry and literature

Chinese literature during the Song period contained a range of many different genres and was enriched by the social complexity of the period. Although the earlier Tang Dynasty is viewed as the zenith era for Chinese poetry , there were still significantly famous poets of the Song era. This included the social critic and pioneer of the "new subjective style" Mei Yaochen , the politically controversial yet renowned master Su Shi , the eccentric yet brilliant Mi Fu , the premier Chinese female poet Li Qingzhao , and many others. Although it found its roots during the Liang Dynasty , the of Chinese poetry found its greatest acceptance and popularity during the Song Dynasty, and was used by most Song poets. The high court Chancellor Fan Zhongyan , ardent Neo-Confucian Ouyang Xiu , the great calligrapher Huang Tingjian , and the military general Xin Qiji were especially known for their ci poetry, amongst many others.

Historiography in literature remained prominent during the Song, as it had in previous ages and would in successive ages of China. Along with Song Qi, the essayist and historian Ouyang Xiu were responsible for compiling the ''New Book of Tang'' by 1060, covering the history of the Tang Dynasty. Chancellor Sima Guang , the political nemesis of Wang Anshi , was responsible for heading a team of scholars that compiled the enormous historical work of the ''Zizhi Tongjian'', a universal history completed in 1084 AD with a total of over 3 million written Chinese characters in 294 volumes. It covered the major themes and intricate nuances of Chinese history from 425 BC during the all the way up to the 10th century and the fall of the Tang Dynasty.

There were also very large encyclopedic works written in the Song period, such as the ''Four Great Books of Song'' compiled first by Li Fang in the 10th century and fully edited by the time of Cefu Yuangui in the 11th century. The largest of these was the 1013 publication of the ''Prime Tortoise of the Record Bureau'', a massive encyclopedia consisting of 9.4 million written Chinese characters divided into 1000 volumes. There were are also written during the Song Dynasty, such as the ''Jiyun'' of 1037. Although Neo-Confucianism became dominant over Buddhism in China during this period, there was still a significant amount of Buddhist literature. For example, there was the collection of Zen Buddhist kōans in the ''Blue Cliff Record'' of 1125, which was expanded by Yuanwu Keqin . 'Travel record literature' was also a popular category of literature during the Song period, which was accounts of one's own travel experiences typically written in narrative or prose styles, and included authors such as Fan Chengda . A great example of Chinese travel literature in the Song period would be Su Shi's ''''.

There were many technical and scientific writings during the Song period. The two most eminent authors of the scientific and technical fields were Shen Kuo and his contemporary Su Song . Shen Kuo published his ''Dream Pool Essays'' in 1088 AD, an enormous encyclopedic book that covered a wide range of subjects, including literature, art, military strategy, mathematics, astronomy, meteorology, geology, geography, metallurgy, engineering, hydraulics, architecture, zoology, botany, agronomy, medicine, anthropology, archeology, and more. As for Shen Kuo's equally brilliant peer, Su Song created a celestial atlas of five different star maps, wrote the 1070 AD pharmaceutical treatise of the ''Ben Cao Tu Jing'' , which had the related subjects of botany, zoology, metallurgy, and mineralogy, and wrote his famous treatise of the ''Xin Yi Xiang Fa Yao'' in 1092 AD, which described in full detail his ingenious clock tower constructed in the capital city of Kaifeng. Although these two figures were perhaps the greatest technical authors in their field during the time, there were many others. For producing textiles, Qin Guan's book of 1090 AD, the ''Can Shu'' , included description of a silk-reeling machine that incorporated the earliest known use of the in order to function. In the literary field of agronomy, there was the ''Jiu Huang Huo Min Shu'' edited by Dong Wei in the 12th century, the ''Cha Lu'' written by Cai Xiang in 1060 AD, the ''Zhu Zi Cang Fa'' written by Zhu Xi in 1182 AD, and many others. There were also great authors of written works pertaining to and during the Song Dynasty, such as Yue Shi , Wang Zhu , Li Dechu , Chen Kunchen , Ouyang Wen , and Zhu Mu . Although an early form of the local geographic gazetteer existed in China since the 1st century, the matured form known as "treatise on a place", or ''fangzhi'', replaced the old "map guide", or ''tujing'', during the Song Dynasty. The major differences between the two were that ''fangzhi'' were products of local initiative and decision-making, were typically ten to fifty chapters in length, and were almost always printed for a large audience, whereas ''tujing'' were products of infrequent demands from the central government and were typically only four chapters long. The widespread availability of printing in the Song allowed many ordinary people to access materials that were once read almost exclusively by experts, such as printed texts and handbooks on agriculture, childbirth, , , , divination, and Daoist rituals.

Performing arts

trace their roots back to the academy of music known as the Pear Garden, founded in the early 8th century during the Tang Dynasty. However, historian Stephen H. West asserts that the Northern Song era capital Kaifeng was the first real center where the performing arts became "an industry, a conglomerate involving theatre, gambling, prostitution, and food." The rise in consumption by merchants and scholar-officials, he states, "accelerated the growth of both the performance and the food industries," asserting a direct link between the two due to their close proximity within the cities. Of the fifty some theatres located in the 'pleasure districts' of Kaifeng, four of these theatres were large enough to entertain audiences of several thousand each, drawing huge crowds which nearby businesses thrived upon. The chief crowd that gathered were comprised of those from , while only went to restaurants and attended theatre performances during holidays.

From Kaifeng, the ''zaju'' dramatic style employed the ''beiqu'' style of poetic lyrics. These two different regional genres of musical drama used different regional dialects of speech, recitation, and dialogue, entailed their own unique sets of role types , and employed different types of . In Kaifeng drama, one singer was preferred for each play, accompanied by string and percussion instruments. Similar to vendors who wore specific outfits to identify which guild they belonged to, actors' generic costumes reflected the role type they played on stage, whether it be student, young man, young woman, official, soldier, etc. Although trained to speak in the erudite Classical language, acting troupes commonly drew their membership from one of the lowest classes in society: prostitutes. Themes enjoyed in stage skits varied from satires about corrupt officials to comedy acts with titles like "Setting fire when delivering the soup," "Raising a ruckus in the winehouse," "The peony smells best when the wine is stolen," and "Catching a monkey in a restaurant." The only ''xiwen'' play to have survived from the Southern Song era is the ''Zhang Xie zhuang yuan'', featuring interludes such as a clown stealing food and wine at a wedding banquet in act 16 and a quick comedy sketch about renting a room in act 24.

Surprisingly, actors on stage did not have a wholesale monopoly on theatrical entertainment, as even vendors and peddlers in the street, singing lewd songs and beating on whatever they could find to compensate for percussion instruments, could draw crowds. This practice was so widespread that West claims "the city itself was turned into a stage and the citizens into the essential audience." Many of the songs played for stage performances were tunes that originated from vendors' and peddlers' songs. Contests were held on to determine which vendor or peddler had the best chants and songs while selling wares; the winners were brought before the imperial court to perform. Puppet shows in the streets and wards were also popular.


In ancient China there were many domestic and public pleasures in the rich urban environment unique to the Song Dynasty. For the austere and laborious peasantry, annual festivals and holidays provided a time of joy and relaxation, and for the poorest it meant a chance to borrow food and alcoholic drink so that everyone could join in the celebration. The fesitivities on were considered the most important of the year by the Chinese, its momentous occasion correlating with the beginning of February on the Western calendar. Preparations for the New Years festival took place over a month's time, as people busied themselves painting door gods, crafting paper streamers with lucky characters for "welcoming the spring," making printed images of Zhong Kui, and cooking special kinds of foods such as porridge of red haricot beans. The widely popular Lantern Festival was held every 15th day of 1st lunar month. According to the scholar official Zhou Mi , during the Xiao-Zong period the best lantern festivals were held at Suzhou and Fuzhou, while Hangzhou was also known for the its great variety of colorful paper lanterns, in all shapes and sizes. Written in his memoirs, Meng Yuanlao recalled how the earlier Northern Song capital at Kaifeng would host festivals with tens of thousands of colorful and brightly-lit paper lanterns hoisted on long poles up and down the main street, the poles also wrapped in colorful silk with numerous dramatic paper figures flying in the wind like fairies. the female musicians in the center of the image are playing and '''', and the male musician is playing a wooden clapper called ''paiban''.]]
With the advent of the discovery of gunpowder in China, lavish fireworks displays could also be held during festivities. For example, the martial demonstration in 1110 AD to entertain the court of , when it was recorded that a large fireworks display was held alongside Chinese dancers in strange costumes moving through clouds of colored smoke in their performance. The common people also purchased firecrackers from city shopkeepers and vendors, made of simple sticks of bamboo filled with a small amount of gunpowder. Nationwide Chinese carnival celebrations were held nationwide when the emperor felt a great occasion warranted a grand display of his benevolence and generosity, such as renowned military victories, abundant harvests after long droughts or famines, the granting of grand by the throne, sacrifices to deities, the installation of a crown prince, marriages within the imperial family, etc.

Clothing and apparel

painting of , showing the and official headgear of the emperor. This type of headgear, along with the headgear of officials and merchants, was made of black-colored silk. The clothing material preferred by the rich was silk, and for special occasions they had with gold brocade. and so was the case for the upper class and elite. In fact, wealthy and leading members of society followed accepted guidelines and ritual requirements for clothing. In the upper class, each stratified grade in the social hierarchy was distinguished by the color and specific ornamentation of robes, the shape and type of headgear, and even the style of girdle worn. This rigid order was especially so during the beginning of the dynasty. However, the lines of hierarchy slowly began to blur as the color purple, once reserved solely for the attire of third rank officials or higher, began to diffuse amongst all ranks of officials who bore the color indiscriminately. Yet there were still visible distinctions between civil officials and the class of rich merchants and business owners; the officials were distinguished by reaching to the ground, while merchants often wore a blouse that came down below the waist with trousers. every soldier wore trousers as part of his uniform, while trousers were also worn by the common people.

The attire of Song women was distinguished from men's clothing by being fastened on the left, not on the right. Only Buddhist monks shaved their heads and strolled about with no headgear or hat of any sort to cover their heads. Many of the peculiar names for these dishes do not provide clues as to what types of food ingredients were used. Descendents of those from Kaifeng owned most of the restaurants found in Hangzhou, but many other regional varieties in foodstuffs and cooking were sponsored by restaurants. This included restaurants catering that emphasized use of pimento pepper, dishes and beverages from Hebei and Shandong, and coastal foods of shrimp and saltwater fish. The memory and patience of waiters had to be keen; in the larger restaurants, serving dinner parties that required twenty or so dishes became a hassle if even a slight error occurred. If a guest reported the mistake of a waiter to the head of the restaurant, the waiter could be verbally reprimanded, have his salary docked, or in extreme cases, kicked out of the establishment for good.

In the early morning in Hangzhou, along the wide avenue of the Imperial Way, special breakfast items and delicacies were sold. This included fried tripe, pieces of mutton or goose, soups of various kinds, hot pankaces, steamed pancakes, and iced cakes. According to one Song Dynasty source on Kaifeng, the night markets closed at the third night watch but reopened on the fifth, while they had also gained a reputation for staying open during winter storms and the darkest, rainiest days of winter. Although grape-based wine had been known in China since the ancient Han Dynasty Chinese ventured into Central Asia, grape-wine was often reserved for the elite. Dairy products and farming were foreign concepts to the Chinese, which explains the absence of cheese and milk in their diet. Beef was also rarely eaten, since the bull was an important draft animal. Common fruits that were consumed included melons, pomegranates, lychees, longans, , jujubes, Chinese and Japanese quinces, apricots and pears; in the region around Hangzhou alone, there were eleven kinds of apricots and eight different kinds of pears that were produced. Specialties and combination dishes in the Song period included scented shellfish cooked in rice-wine, geese with apricots, lotus-seed soup, pimento soup with mussels and fish cooked with plums, sweet soya soup, baked sesame buns stuffed with either sour bean filling or pork tenderloin, mixed vegetable buns, fragrant candied fruit, strips of ginger and fermented beanpaste, jujube-stuffed steamed dumplings, fried chestnuts, salted fermented bean soup, fruit cooked in scented honey, and 'honey crisps' of kneaded and baked honey, flour, mutton fat and pork lard. Dessert molds of oiled flour and sugared honey were shaped into girls' faces or statuettes of soldiers with full armor like door guards, and were called "likeness foods" .


Song intellectuals sought answers to all philosophical and political questions in the . This renewed interest in the Confucian ideals and society of ancient times coincided with the decline of Buddhism, which was then largely regarded as foreign, and as offering few solutions for practical problems. However, Buddhism in this period continued as a cultural underlay to the more accepted Confucianism and even Daoism, both seen as native and pure by conservative Neo-Confucians. The continuing popularity of Buddhism can be seen with strong evidence by achievements in the arts, such as the 100 painting set of the ''Five Hundred Luohan'', completed by Lin Tinggui and Zhou Jichang in 1178.

The conservative Confucian movement could be seen before the likes of Zhu Xi , with staunch anti-Buddhists such as Ouyang Xiu . In his written work of the ''Ben-lun'', he wrote of his theory for how Buddhism had so easily penetrated Chinese culture during the earlier Southern and Northern Dynasties period. He argued that Buddhism became widely accepted when China's traditional institutions were weakened at the time. This was due to many factors, such as foreign Xianbei ruling over the north, and China's political schism that caused warfare and other ills. Although Emperor Wen of Sui abolished the Nine Ranks in favor of a Confucian-taught bureaucracy drafted through civil service examinations, he also heavily sponsored the popular ideology of Buddhism to legitimate his rule. Hence, it was given free rein and influence to flourish and dominate Chinese culture during the Sui and Tang periods; historian Arthur Wright describes Confucianism in this period as being reverted to a state of "stale archaism". Ouyang Xiu wrote:

"This curse has overspread the empire for a thousand years, and what can one man in one day do about it? The people are drunk with it, and it has entered the marrow of their bones; it is surely not to be overcome by eloquent talk. What, then, is to be done?

In conclusion on how to root out the 'evil' that was Buddhism, Ouyang Xiu presented a historical example of how it could be uprooted from Chinese culture:

Of old, in the time of the Warring States, Yang Zhu and Mo Di were engaged in violent controversy. Mencius deplored this and devoted himself to teaching benevolence and righteousness. His exposition of benevolence and righteoussness won the day, and the teachings of Mo Di and Yang Zhu were extirpated. In Han times the myriad schools of thought all flourished together. Tung Chung-shu deplored this and revived Confucianism. Therefore the Way of Confucius shone forth, and the myriad schools expired. This is the effect of what I have called "correcting the root cause in order to overcome the evil".

Although Confucianism was cast in stark contrast to the perceived alien and morally-inept Buddhism by those such as Ouyang Xiu, Confucianism nonetheless borrowed ideals of Buddhism to provide for its own revival. From Mahayana Buddhism, the Bodhisattva ideal of ethical universalism with benevolent charity and relief to those in need inspired those such as Fan Zhongyan and Wang Anshi, along with the Song government. In contrast to the earlier heavily Buddhist Tang period, where wealthy and pious Buddhist families and Buddhist temples handled much of the charity and alms to the poor, the Song Dynasty government took on this ideal role instead, through its various programs of welfare and charity . In addition, the historian Arthur F. Wright notes this situation during the Song period, with philosophical nativism taking from Buddhism its earlier benevolent role:

It is true that Buddhist monks were given official appointments as managers of many of these enterprises, but the initiative came from Neo-Confucian officials. In a sense the Buddhist idea of compassion and many of the measures developed for its practical expression had been appropriated by the Chinese state.

Although Buddhism lost its prominence in the elite circles and government sponsorships of Chinese society, this did not mean the disappeance of Buddhism from Chinese culture. Zen Buddhism continued to flourish during the Song period, as Emperor Lizong of Song had the monk Wuzhun Shifan share the Chán doctrine with the imperial court. Much like the Eastern Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate promoting Roman paganism and Theurgy amongst the leading members of Roman society while pushing Christianity's influence into the lower classes, so too did Neo-Confucians of the 13th century succeed in driving Buddhism out of the higher echelons of Chinese society.

In terms of Buddhist metaphysics, the latter influenced the beliefs and teachings of Northern Song-era Confucian scholars such as Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi , the former being one of the tutors of Zhu Xi. They emphasized moral self-cultivation over service to the ruler of the state , as opposed to statesmen like Fan Zhongyan or Su Shi, who pursued their agenda to advise the ruler to make the best decisions for the common good of all. The Cheng brothers also taught that the workings of nature and metaphysics could be taught through the principle and the vital energy . The principle of nature could be moral or physical, such as the principle of marriage being moral, while the principle of trees is physical. Yet for principles to exist and function normally, there would have to be substance as well as vital energy. His approach to Confucianism was shunned by his contemporaries, as his writings were forbidden to be cited by students taking the Imperial Examinations. However, Emperor Lizong of Song found his writing to be intriguing, reversing the policy against him, and making it a requirement for students to study his commentaries on the Four Books.

Zhu Xi's Neo-Confucian philosophy evolved into a rigid official creed, which stressed the one-sided obligations of obedience and compliance of subject to ruler, child to father, wife to husband, and younger brother to elder brother. The effect was to inhibit the societal development of pre-modern China, resulting both in many generations of political, social, and spiritual stability and in a slowness of cultural and institutional change up to the 19th century. Neo-Confucian doctrines also came to play the dominant role in the intellectual life of Korea, Vietnam, and Japan until modern times.

No comments: