The Sung Dynasty, 960-1280 A.D.
( Originally Published 1910 )
The Five Philosophers—Wang Ngan-shi, Economist—The Kin Tartars—The Southern Sungs Aid of Mongols Invoked to Drive Out the Kins—Mongols Exterminate Sungs
ON THE fall of the house of T'ang, a score of factions contended for the succession. During the fifty-three years preceding the establishment of the Sungs, no less than five of them rose to temporary prominence sufficient to admit of being dubbed a "dynasty." Collectively they are spoken of as the "Five Dynasties" (907-960)-
Their names are without exception a repetition of those of former dynasties, Liang, T'ang, Ts'in, Han, Chou with the prefix "Later"—suggesting that each claimed to be a lineal successor of some previous imperial family. Their struggles for power, not more instructive than a conflict of gladiators, are so devoid of interest that the half-century covered by them may be passed over as a blank. It may, however, be worth while to remind the reader that as the House of Han was followed by the wars of the " Three Kingdoms," and that of Ts'in by a struggle of North and South under four states, so the House of T'ang was now succeeded by five short-lived "dynasties," with a mean duration of scarcely more than ten years. The numerical progression is curious ; but it is more important to notice a historical law which native Chinese writers deduce from those scenes of confusion. They state it in this form: " After long union the empire is sure to be divided; after long disruption it is sure to be reunited."
So deep an impression has this historical generalisation made on the public mind that if the empire were now to be divided between foreign nations, as it has been more than once, the people would confidently expect it to be reintegrated under rulers of their own race.
The undivided Sung dynasty held sway from 96o to 1127; that of the southern Sungs from 1127 to 1280. The founder of the house was Chao-kwang-yun, an able leader of soldiers and an astute politician. So popular was he with his troops that they called him to the throne by acclamation. He was drunk, it is said, when his new dignity was announced, and he had no alternative but to wear the yellow robe that was thrown on his shoulders. Undignified as was his debut, his reign was one continued triumph. After a tenure of seventeen years, he left his successor in possession of nearly the whole of China Proper together with a fatal legacy of lands on the north.
The two main features of the Sung period are the rise of a great school of philosophy and the constant encroachment of the Tartars. The two Chengs being brothers, the names of the five leading philosophers fall into an alliterative line of four syllables, Cheo, Cheng, Chang, Chu. Acute in speculation and patient in research, they succeeded in fixing the interpretation of the sacred books, and in establishing a theory of nature and man from which it is heresy to dissent. The rise of their school marks an intellectual advance as compared with the lettered age of the T'angs. It was an age of daring speculation; but, as constantly happens in China, the authority of these great men was converted into a bondage for posterity. The century, in which they flourished (1020-1120) is unique in the history of their country as the age of philosophy. In Europe it was a part of the Dark Ages; and at that time the Western world was convulsed by the Crusades.
The most eminent of the five philosophers was Chu Fu-tse. Not the most original, he collected the best thoughts of all into a system; and his erudition was such that the whole range of literature was his domain. Chu Hi, the Coryphus of mediæval China, stands next in honour after that incomparable pair, Confucius and Mencius. Contemporary with the earlier members of this coterie appeared Wang Ngan-shi, an economist of rare originality. His leading principle was the absorption by the state of all industrial enterprises —state ownership of land, and in general a paternal system to supersede private initiative. So charming was the picture presented in his book "The Secret of Peace" (still extant) that the Emperor gave him carte blanche to put his theory into practice. In practical life however it was a failure—perhaps because he failed to allow for the strength or weakness of materials and instruments. His book is a Chinese Utopia, nearly akin to those of Plato and Sir John More.
in the northeast beyond the Wall were two Tartar kingdoms, one of which was the Kin or "Golden Horde"—remote ancestors of the Manchu dynasty. A constant menace to the settled population of the " inner land," they obtained possession of Peking in 1118. For a time they were kept at bay by a money payment which reminds one of the Danegeld paid by our forefathers to the sea-robbers of northern Europe. Payments not being punctual, the Tartars occupied portions of the northern provinces, and pushed their way as far south as K'ai-fung-fu, the capital of the Empire. The Emperor retired to Nanking, leaving in command his son, who, unable to resist the Tartars, made a disgraceful peace. A heavy ransom was paid to avert the sacking of the city; and all the region on the north of the Yellow River passed under Tartar sway.
Repenting of their hard bargain, the Chinese provoked a renewal of hostilities, which resulted in a heavier downfall. The capital surrendered after a severe siege, and the Emperor with his court was carried into captivity. The next emperor acknowleged himself a vassal of the Tartars; but peace on such conditions could not be of long duration. An intermittent warfare was kept up for more than a century, in the course of which Nanking was pillaged, and the court fell back successively on Hangchow and Wenchow. When there was no longer a place of safety on the mainland the wretched fugitives sought refuge on an island. Fitting out a fleet the Tartars continued the pursuit; but more used to horses than ships, the fleet was annihilated, and the expiring dynasty obtained a new lease of life.
This was about 1228. The Mongols under Genghis Khan and his successors had carried everything before them in the northwest. Thirsting for revenge, the Chinese appealed for aid to this new power—and the Mongols found an opportunity to bag two birds instead of one. As a Chinese fable puts it : "A A sea-bird failing to make a breakfast on a shellfish was held in its grip until a fisherman captured both."
The Kins were driven back into Manchuria; and the Chinese without asking leave of their allies re-occupied their old capital. But the revival of the Sungs was no part of the Mongol programme. The Sungs declining to evacuate K'ai-fung-fu and to cede to the Mongols the northern half of the empire, the latter resolved on a war of extermination. After a bitter struggle of fifteen years, the infant emperor and his guardians again committed their fortunes to the sea. The Mongols, more lucky than the other Tartars, were victorious on water as well as on land; and the last scion of the imperial house drowned him-self to escape their fury (1280).