Southern Song Dynasty

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  • Dates: 1127-1279
  • Chinese/Japanese: 南宋 (Nánsòng / Nansou)

The Southern Song Dynasty, based at Hangzhou (then called Lin'an), ruled the southern half of China following the loss of northern China to invasion by the Jurchens in 1127. The period was one of many notable artistic and cultural developments; much poetry and painting of the period centered on themes of loss and of desire to reconquer the north.

After the first emperor of the dynasty, Emperor Gaozong of Song, spent some time fleeing from the Jurchens, and then hiding out on a small off-shore island, he returned to the mainland to establish Lin'an as the capital in 1138. He then concluded a treaty with the Jurchen Jin Dynasty in 1142, agreeing to pay regular tribute to the Jin, and accepting the Huai River as the northern boundary of Song territory. Fighting broke out again between the Song and the Jin in 1161-1165, though the superior Song navy was able to keep the Jurchens from crossing the Yangtze. This pattern repeated in a series of conflicts in 1206-1208.[1]

The Jin fell to the Mongols in 1234; the Southern Song managed to resist the Mongol advance for another 45 years, before finally falling in 1279.

Demographics & Economics

Following the fall of Kaifeng (the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty) to the Jurchens, hundreds of thousands of people, including 20,000 high officials, tens of thousands of lower-ranking members of official staffs, and over 400,000 members of the military and their families, fled south and resettled in the new Imperial capital of Lin'an. Roughly two-thirds of the people, and the wealth, in China were located in the south already by this time;[1] as a result, even after losing huge swaths of territory to the north, the Southern Song was still able to remain fairly strong economically.

The dynasty's production of copper coins dropped off dramatically, to only 2-3% of what annual production had been under the Northern Song.[2] By the 13th century, the Song dynasty's governmental fiscal administration was operated chiefly with paper money, which was used extensively in private exchanges as well, alongside metal cash. Much Chinese coin made its way to Japan, where, by 1300, imported Chinese coins were the chief mode of currency.[3]

While ports in Fujian and Guangdong provinces remained quite active, Ningbo came to eclipse Quanzhou as the chief port of the empire, rising in large part due to its proximity to both the imperial capital of Lin'an and the Japanese port of Hakata.[4]


Footbinding, which began to spread among elite society in the Northern Song Period, became firmly entrenched by the end of the Southern Song, especially among the wives & daughters of officials.[5] In certain other respects, however, women enjoyed a fair degree of rights and autonomy; they were able to inherit, hold, and pass down property, and when they married, retained their dowries as their own property. Women could also petition for divorce, and though Confucian orthodoxy looked down upon it, it was quite common for women to remarry after divorce, or after being widowed. While women did not officially study for the Confucian civil exams, and were not permitted to sit for the exams, fathers came during the Song to take pride in educating their daughters, and suitors came to more highly value & seek out a cultured and educated bride.[6]

Chan (J: Zen) Buddhism was at the heights of its popularity in China at this time; Chan temples came to outnumber those of any other sect, and a variety of prominent masters and teachings emerged at this time. Many of the greatest Chan painters in Chinese tradition also date to the Southern Song, including Muqi and Liang Kai.[7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations, Fourth Edition, Cengage Learning (2012), 208.
  2. Richard von Glahn, "The Ningbo-Hakata Merchant Network and the Reorientation of East Asian Maritime Trade, 1150-1350," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 74:2 (2014), 251-252.
  3. Bonnie Smith, et al. Crossroads and Cultures, vol. B, Bedford St. Martins (2012), 387-388.
  4. Richard von Glahn, "The Ningbo-Hakata Merchant-Monk Network And The Reorientation Of East Asian Maritime Trade 1150-1300," talk given at UC Santa Barbara Confucius Institute, 17 May 2018.
  5. Patricia Ebrey, The Inner Quarters: Marriage and the Lives of Chinese Women in the Sung Period, University of California Press (1993), 37-40.
  6. Schirokauer, et al, 215.
  7. Schirokauer, et al, 202-203.

Preceded by:
Northern Song Dynasty
Southern Song Dynasty
Succeeded by:
Yuan Dynasty