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What the world was like, East and West?
- The Southern Song Dynasty 

    During the middle period, the imperial court furnished an example of decadence still famous in Chinese cultural history. The throne introduced religious and intellectual reforms designed to confirm the people in their social and economic situations. A revival of Confucianism was fostered, in combination with aspects of Taoism and Buddhism, that preferred what was called "the absolute order of Heaven and Earth", i.e., the feudal order. The people and their emperor were one, in the Taiji Tu Shuo (An Explanation of the Diagram of the Absolute), written by Zhou Dun-yi. Interaction between yin and yang produced vitality, wrote Zhang Zai (1020-1077), a contemporary of Zhou Dun-yi, and the ideal world and the actual world were one, as the throne and the people were one, as all things in nature are one. 


    The era of Shen Zong's "New Laws", or "Green Law ", favored cooperation between the central government and the peasant farmers. The leading reformer Wang An-shi(1021-1086) supported allowing the farmers to borrow money to plant their crops, with an arrangement to payback based on the season's bounty and the land's fertility. Wang reasoned that among the principles of an ideal world was fate, which could be improved by "new learning" if men's laws could be added to natural laws. 


   Shen Kuo (1031-1095), another reformer, was one of China's great scientists. He knew mathematics, astronomy, calendar making, geography, physics, cartography, meteorology, weaponry, metallurgy, water conservancy, botany, and numerous if primitive sciences of the day. His most famous inventions were in the areas of observatory instruments and calendar making, for which he used his own mathematical deductions about circumferences. He also measured the difference between true and magnetic north. His overall contribution was to begin the separation between something like pure science and the more than primitive 

"science" of social organization in his era. 


     Sima Guang (1019-1086) was the leading idealist and fatalist. He argued that any opposition to the order of Nature, the feudal order, brought bad luck. People should live with resignation, he believed, and thereby obtain freedom from destructive cares. In his History as a Mirror (Zi Zhi Tong Jian),  he wrote that all rites governing conduct and even gestures should be observed in order for life to be kept in the order of Nature. Cheng Hao (1032-1085), another conservative, wrote, "There is only one thing under Heaven called reason, and men and all material things must obey it, forming an inseparable whole. Different as the places might be wherein fate had placed people, each must obey the logic of his place, as things do in Nature." 


     This is, of course, the era of the great Song Dynasty poet Su Shi (Su Dong-po), who took the side of the Confucian conservatives until he had lived the life of the peasantry, and had seen their plights and miseries up close. Then he joined them in their protests against corrupt officials working for an indifferent government, which put him again in the disfavor of the Dragon Throne. He lived most of his life writing his poems and essays and performing his official duties out in the provinces, often about as far from the capital as the Emperor could find to send him. 


      In 1120 a successful peasant uprising was led by Fang La. In three months he and his armies controlled six prefectures and fifty-two counties in what is now Zhejiang and Anhui Provinces, in the east. Eventually, his army consisted of a million men. He promised to unify the entire country in ten months. A battle of one year's duration ensued and Fang La was defeated and put to death, but the ordeal exhausted the rulers' ability to govern. His campaign was organised to furnish peasants with work and other assistance in return for food and other kinds of support. He had popular support, needless to say. 


Furthermore, after a successful Song attack on the Liao, with the assistance of Jin armies under an alliance, the Jin in turn attacked the Song and even sacked their capital Dongjing in 1127. More than three thousand members of the court, including Emperor Qin Zong and his father Hui Zong, with their wives and concubines, other members of the royal family and the court's ministers, were taken captive and carried off north to the territory of the Jin. 


    In 1127, Zhao Gou, a brother of Emperor Qin Zong, assumed the imperial title at Nanjing (modern Shangqiu, in Henan Province), and began what historians call the Southern Song 

Dynasty. Zhao Gou became Emperor Gao Zong. In 1138 he moved his capital to Linan (Modern Hangzhou, in Zhejiang Province), The emperor gave up on any plans to retake the great Yellow River Plains from the strong Jin armies. 


    But in the autumn of 1128, Wanyan Zongbi led a Jin army southward to Shandong and took Xuzhou. They crossed the Huai River and drove on Yangzhou, from which the Emperor had to flee again. He went to Hangzhou, then fled again to the East China Sea. But the Jin were more interested in raiding and carrying fortunes back than in land conquest. In 1130 they headed back north. They were attacked in retreating by Song Generals Han Shi-zhong and Yue Fei, who inflicted heavy casualties on the Jin army of as many as 300,000 men. In 1130 Zongbi himself was killed out west in a battle at Heshangyuan, near Baoji, in what is now Shaanxi Province. Beginning in 1133 other Jin armies marched south and engaged Song armies repeatedly, with major wins and defeats on both sides. 


    General Yue Fei became the most heroic military figure of the age, defeating Jin armies at Zhengzhou and Luoyang and Yancheng, in modern Henan Province. A subsequent military proverb had it that it was easier to move a mountain than to defeat an army led by Yue Fei (1103-1141). 


    But victories did not change Emperor Gao Zong's determination to sue for peace. He even feared the popularity of his winning generals. In 1139, an imperial edict from the Jin ordered the Song court to pay an annual tribute of 250,000 taels of silver and the same number of bolts of silk, and the Song accepted. 


     From then on the Song were a subjected state. Yue Fei and other generals were put to death. In spite of political and dynastic instability among the Jin rulers, the Song remained unable to defend themselves from the superior military power. As late as 1161 the Jin invaded Song territory with an army of perhaps 600,000 men and raided at will. The Song Emperor fled again to the sea. The Jin plan to conquer all of south China ended only when General Liang Wan-yan was murdered by his own troops. 


    In 1162 Emperor Gao Zong abdicated in favour of his adopted son Zhao Shen, who became known as Emperor Xiao Zong. Under his rule, General Zhang Jun recaptured some Song territories. Conflict among the Song generals, though, presented the throne with too much military instability, and Emperor Xiao Zong again sued for peace, with a sizable duty to be paid. Thirty years of peace with the Jin were the result of the treaty. 


     In 1194 Zhao Kuo ascended the throne, as Emperor Ning Zong. Another campaign against the Jin followed, in 1206, and the Song armies were defeated and another heavy duty was enforced, this time 3,000,000 taels of silver annually after an initial penalty of 3,000,000 taels to the Jin armies for their losses. 


     Beginning in 1211, however, the Jin themselves were attacked from the north by Mongol invaders and could not defend themselves adequately. In 1234 the Mongols finally defeated the Jin totally and the era of Song-Jin conflict was ended. It had lasted a century, with untold costs in human life and suffering and wellbeing. 


  Needless to say, the literature and arts of the era reflected the struggles between classes and between nationalities. Both Lu You (1125-1210) and Xin Qi-ji (1140-1207) had participated in the conflicts with the Jin and they also wrote ci poems to old tunes, imitating the masters of the form from back in the later Tang Dynasty era. General Yue Fei wrote ci also. Su Shi was exceedingly famous for his ci as well as his shi,  or lyric poems. In its simple form, drama, or zaju, made its appearance in the Song era, consisting in humorous and satirical recitations and dialogues, later with songs and dances, too. The "Wenshou Drama", or southern drama, from Wenzhou and other coastal regions in Zhejiang Province, came into being at this time, and consisted in, again, songs and dances and recitations, but with a purpose of telling a continuous or epic tale. Hua ben,  or vernacular tales, long ones and short ones, became popular, and formed the beginnings of fiction. The longer ones, the jiang shi, preserved epic matters. They were the beginnings of the novels of the Yuan and Ming 



    Dynastic and general histories were written, notably Li Tao's (1115-1184) A Sequel to History as a Mirror (Xu Zizhi Tongjian Changpian). Li Xing-chuan (1166-1244) compiled A Chronicle of the Most Important Events Since the Jianyan Reign Period,  a history of the rule of Gao Zong. Zheng Qiao's Historical Collections recorded not only major historical events, but it also recorded studies of various clans, cities, alterations to learning, and summarized scholarly tomes. 


     A great student of philosophy in the era, Zhu Xi (1130-1200) composed Commentary on the Great Learning and the Doctrine of the Mean, Collected Commentaries on the Analects of Confucius and Mencius,  and his own moral essays in defense of reason as preceding all other realities. Liu Jiu-yuan (1139-92), on the other hand, wrote that "the universe lies within my mind", and "all things are complete within me." Clearly, his was the other idealism. Chen Liang and Ye Shi were two materialists. Chen Liang (1143-1194) took the view that things amounted to objective existences, there to be ordered by universal principles. He advocated practical subjects, maintaining order, even an ability of the foundations of the society to correct the top. Ye Shi (1150-1223) actually maintained a sort of modern theory of knowledge, of science anyway, that deduced all its gestures from observation of a so called objective world. Decency and correctness were both utilitarian necessities. Like Western 

thought near the end of the Middle Ages, one can see the collective wisdom of the Chinese people trying to come to terms with the vicissitudes and opportunities presented by old struggles and new learning. 


In the year 1206, at a conference of ten clans, held on the banks of the Onon River, Temujin, one of the Mongolian chieftains, made himself Genghis Khan, " the great Khan", and began an era of conquests that lasted for generations and extended at times as far as central Europe and into most of China. Genghis Khan and his successors Ogdai Khan and Mangu Khan at one time ruled lands that included the Danube's lower reaches, the areas south of the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, and in 1235 marched on what remained of Song territories in central and eastern China. 


      Mongol campaigns into Song China continued for forty years, throughout the dissolute reigns of emperors Li Zong and Gong Di. In 1274 a Mongol army, under Kublai Khan, with a force of 200,000, drove into Song territories by both land and river and defeated the main Song force in the battle of Wuhu in 1275. In 1276, Mongol general and prime minister Bayan led his men into Hangzhou, the Song capital, and carried off to the north Emperor Gong Di, Empress Dowagers Quan and Xie. Kublai Khan thus founded the Yuan Dynasty and came to be referred to in Chinese history as Shi Zu. The regime of the Mongol conquerors came to appreciate both the political organization of the central government of the Song and the agricultural way of life in the great river valley countryside. Food and revenues impressed the warriors from the north and they eventually adapted themselves to that way of life. 


    Gone from History were the Song elite, whose poet had written, of the good life in Hangzhou. No more. In the middle of the last struggles of their era, a poet wrote, of the beautiful people: 


Brilliant chaps and writers of ci 

are like prime ministers, all in white. 

Easily would I give up all glory 

for a cup and a whispered song. 

Waking from wine again, 

where am I? 

By the river, surrounded by willows. 

In a morning breeze, beneath a sinking moon. 


    Another poet's  ci  sang the praises of his favorite courtesan: 


On horseback trailing perfumed dust 

here is lady Hsieh, riding south of the city. 

Even with no makeup she is the loveliest. 

All charms shine in her smile. 

A cloud of hair meets crescent eyebrows: 

wine's blush rises in her rainbow cheeks. 

Waking from her Spring dream, 

the very sun begins to fall in the west. 


      Whether the art of poetry thrived in spite of or because of the turbulence of the times we leave it to the philosophers and historians to tell. Li Qing-zhao lived her life and wrote her poems at some distance from the Dragon Throne, though she was immensely interested in what others did and in the meaning of her country's artistic past. 

- Europe during Li Qingzhao's time

    During Li Qing-zhao's lifetime, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, who had been crowned King of England on Christmas Day in 1066, was proceeding with the subjugation of the Anglo-Saxons, the inhabitants of the British Isles. He had ordered the counting of every single cow and pig as well as a general census of the population. He intended to tax the conquered people to pay for his conqueror's right to govern them.

    The resultant counting of everything was so severely accurate that it has become a chief source of scholarly and historical research. The Anglo-Saxons found it so severe a counting they called it the Domesday (Doomsday) Book, as if it amounted to the end of the world. Perhaps it did, considering William's division of their country among some five thousand of his knights. For two hundred years or so afterward, England's Law was French, her nobility French, and the influences of customs, alterations to Old English usage, and changes in arts and entertainment flowed from the Norman castles down to the Anglo-Saxon peasantry. 

    The Norman conquest transformed the social structure of England. Some two-hundred thousand Normans and French had settled in England, dominating the local population, something over one million. Many of the conquering warriors were adventuring bachelors, besides, and soon enough married local girls. Their children spoke English more readily than French, of course, and so began, early in the era of French domination, actually, a tendency in the castles to settle on English, the Lady's language and the language of everyone the Lord dealt with in his fields. 


    On the continent, among the Lombard peoples of northern Italy, Milan, Pavia, Genoa, Pisa, and Venice were already wealthy, powerful centres for trading with the lands far to the east of the Mediterranean world. In 1085, Venice was granted its own quarter in Byzantium and exempted from custom duties in the Eastern Empire. Wheat, wine, wood, horses and armor, wool and linen, salt and slaves were traded for spices, silk, jewellery, Eastern reliquaries and crucifixes. 


    In November of 1095, Pope Urban charged the French people with the sacredness of the cause of retaking the Holy Land, Palestine, from the heathen Mohammedan, a call to which a great many responded, being displaced anyway from their homelands by social reorganizations. The era of The Crusades was begun, in the lifetime of Li Qing-zhao. 


  The highest houses in Europe still used oiled linen for windows. The reforms of Pope Gregory were in progress. The question of investiture, the appointment of a bishop or an abbot by a lay, secular ruler, was answered by Gregory's negative ruling. The German King Henry, feeling his powers among his Barons threatened, because so many of his administrators were in fact his own appointed churchmen, summoned his churchly vassals to vote for Gregory's deposing. Gregory quickly excommunicated Henry. The German princes rebelled and sought to depose Henry, whose only chance of remaining in power was to appeal to Pope Gregory for forgiveness. He was made to wait three days in the freezing cold and snow outside the Castle of Canossa before Gregory offered him mercy. The question of the social authority of the church versus the authority of emerging national and secular governments was joined, that would not be settled for several centuries. 


     France was still mostly a coalition of powerful nobles who elected the weakest among them king; Scandinavia was pirates' nests. Moslem invaders controlled all of Spain except the strong- 

holds of Navarre and Leon. 


    Europe as we know it had hardly yet taken recognizable shape. Here and there, from time to time, conquering armies terrified local citizens and governments and changed local cultures irrevocably, in Europe as in Li Qing-zhao's China. 


    In Li Qing-zhao's time, gunpowder, which had been discovered already in the 5th Century B.C, and tamed for fireworks by the 7th, was the explosive matter in primitive shotguns and mines. It spread from China to Central Asia and the then to the Arab world by means of the Mongol conquests westward. Conflicts between the Arab world and Europe brought gunpowder to the Western world in the 14th Century. 


    By the 13th Century all of Europe was relying on the compass for open sea navigation. The Chinese had invented it, along with advanced methods for making steel, in the 9th Century. The magnetic compass came into common usage by Chinese navigators in the 11th Century, the Song era in which Li Qing-zhao lived. Chinese vessels traded on coasts as far away as Arabia and the eastern coast of Africa. Their Arab trading partners introduced the compass to the Europeans. 


    The world's first newspaper appeared in China around 1125, in Li Qing-zhao's time. It was printed with movable and inter-changeable blocks of Chinese characters made of fired tiles (instead of wood) that could be disassembled and reused repeatedly. This technology soon spread to book printing, and the Song era was the first great period of mechanical book production. The Imperial library, by the early 1400's, was said to contain over 600,000 such printed manuscripts. Some seven-hundred Song era books still remain in the rare book collections of China. Song inventor Shen Kua is credited with first writing descriptions of the 

moveable block process, in 1086. 

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