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Northern Song

In 960, General Zhao Kuangyin of the Later Zhou Dynasty (951 - 960) staged a mutiny at Chenqiao (a town in Fengqiu County in Henan Province) about 20 km (12 miles) northeast of the city of Kaifeng (in Henan Province), and then he dethroned Emperor Gongdi of the Later Zhou and established the Northern Song Dynasty with Kaifeng as its capital. After founding his dynasty, Zhao Kuangyin, Emperor Taizu, cut the throats of the surviving members of the Later Zhou, and crushed the separatist regimes of Jingnan, Later Shu, Southern Han and Southern Tang through 19 years of fighting in the north and south. Later, Emperor Taizong – Zhao Guangyi pacified the Northern Han (951 - 979). Thus, China was basically unified again after experiencing 225 years of division and internecine warfare.

As one of the great politicians in Chinese history, Zhao Kuangyin made many policies to consolidate his reign and prevent the Northern Song from turning into another ephemeral dynasty in succession to the Five Dynasties (907 - 960) and Ten States (902 - 979). First, militarily, Emperor Taizu put the army under civilian control, and reduced the power of officials to a certain extent. Thus the emperor's power exceeded that of all of the former dynasties, which had some positive effect on political stability. Second, in imperial examinations, Emperor Taizu took the unprecedented step of testing examinees ultimately by means of the Final Court Examination (Dianshi). As a result, a number of talented politicians were discovered and employed.

After Emperor Zhao Guangyi pacified the Northern Han, the Northern Song fought against the Liao State in the north time after time in order to recover the 'sixteen prefectures of Yanyun' (16 states located to the north of Beijing and Tianjin, Shanxi, Hebei Province) ceded to the Liao State of Khitan in the Later Jin Dynasty (936 - 946). In the year 1004, Emperor Zhenzong formed an alliance with the Liao State at Chanyuan (Puyang City of Henan Province), and called for the Song and Liao to be 'brothers' and not encroach upon the other. However, the Song had to present a tribute of 100,000 taels of silver and 200,000 bolts of silk annually. Thereafter, the Chinese people lived more peaceful lives, and the territory of the Northern Song spread to the coast in the south and east; in the north, it bordered the Liao State along the Haihe River, Bazhou County of Hebei Province, and Yanmen Pass of Shanxi Province; in the northwest, it reached the Baiyu Mountain of Shaanxi Province, east of Gansu Province as well as the northeast of Qinghai Province, and abutted on Western Xia (Tangut) and Tufan (Tubo); in the southwest, it bordered Vietnam.

From Emperor Zhenzong to Emperor Zhezong's rule (998 - 1099) was an important development period of the Northern Song Dynasty. The implementation of the Semiannual Tax System (a kind of farmland system in feudal society originating from the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), prescribing that the government should collect taxes in terms of the quantity of property and grade of the household each summer and fall.), greatly fired up farmers' enthusiasm for production, so the economy was greatly developed and improved. For example, in 997 of Emperor Taizong's rule, there were 5,230 thousand households in the residence booklet, while in 1063 of Emperor Renzong's rule, the number had increased to over 14,260 thousand; in 996 of Emperor Taizong's rule, the area of the cultivated land was about 3 hundred million mu (200 thousand square kilometers), and in 1021 of Emperor Zhenzong's rule, it had reached over 5.2 hundred million mu (346,667 square kilometers). Along with the development of the agriculture, the handcraft industry and commerce were also improved. The emergence and wide use of paper currency were of epoch-making significance in Chinese history. In science and technology, the compass, printing and gunpowder – three of the Four Great Inventions of ancient China - were all further developed and made use of during this period of time. In literature and arts, illuminaries came forth in great number such as Wang Anshi, Fan Zhongyan, Su Shi, and Sima Guang. Moreover, the poetry of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Song Ci, was recognized as the gem of Chinese classical literature together with the poetry of the Tang Dynasty. In painting and calligraphy, Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival by Zhang Zeduan was a mirror of the life during the Song Dynasty, and a work of unsurpassed excellence in the history of painting in China.

However, hidden behind the prosperity of the society was inevitable corruption of the bureaucracy especially during the reigns of Emperors Huizong to Qinzong (1100 - 1127). In 1069, after the failure of the reforms of Wang Anshi (prime minister at that time), the Northern Song went into decline gradually. More and more people rose against the corrupt regime, among whom were Fang Na and Song Jiang who launched large-scale rebellions. Thus, the productive forces were badly destroyed. When the society was in chaos, the Liao, Jin and Western Xia (Tangut) States seized the opportunity to attack the Northern Song. In 1126 the Jin State occupied Kaifeng, the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty, and the next year, they carried away Emperor Huizong and Qinzong as well as a large amount of property. The sun had set on Northern Song Dynasty.