The military governors who brought down the Tang founded five short-lived regimes, which, in turn, were replaced by a new age of prosperity under the Song (Sung; 960–1279), the beginning of China's early modern age. Although never so militarily powerful as the Han or Tang, the Song is nevertheless notable for establishing political, social, economic, and cultural patterns that remained largely unaltered in China for a millennium. The Song saw the final demise of the old aristocratic domination of government. Replacing the old aristocrats was a new group, the scholar-gentry class, whose power came from landholding and long years of educational training. Agriculture benefited by the introduction of new, early-ripening strains of rice, and enormous advances were made in commerce. Cities based on trade and industry multiplied rapidly, especially along the southeastern coast and in the Yangtze River valley. Many of the Chinese arts, such as storytelling, drama, and vernacular fiction, became increasingly oriented toward the urban classes. Chinese landscape painting reached its full maturity (see Chinese art and architecture). A new form of Confucianism, a syncretism of Confucian ethics and Buddhist metaphysics called neo-Confucianism, became state orthodoxy, a policy that persisted until the 20th century. Not everyone benefited, however. The peasants fell ever deeper into tenantry, and the status of women declined. The latter was symbolized by the growth of concubinage and the introduction of foot-binding.

Song military weakness eventually took its toll. Even at the height of Song power, parts of northern and northwestern China were occupied, respectively, by the Khitan and Tanguts. From 1127, all of North China was conquered by the Jurchen, leaving the Song in control of only a truncated southern regime, with its capital at Hangzhou (Hangchow).


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