The ‘Golden Age’ of the Song Dynasty: part 3 of 4

April 26, 2018

The invention of movable type during the Song Dynasty also helped. The Dream Pool Essays (still in print more than a thousand years later) records most of the scientific achievements of the time, which included knowledge of petroleum and geological changes. The most important achievement recorded in the ancient encyclopedia was the invention of movable type by Bo Sheng.

The first printed characters were engraved in tiny cubes of baked clay.

The age of paper in the history of human civilization started in China. Papermaking had been developed during the Han Dynasty in 105 A.D. However, the quality of this paper was poor and was not ideal for writing. Later, during the Song Dynasty papermaking was improved to a high level.

Thanks to improved paper and printing presses, Song era books were printed in large numbers. Even today, original Song Dynasty books tell the world about the innovations and achievements of that era. At the time, Hangzhou (almost 110 miles southwest of Shanghai) was the greatest printing center in the world.

Movable type printing became widespread and had an important role in the cultural development of the time. The shape of books also changed. During the Tang Dynasty, books were rolled. However, with movable type, books were printed in volumes similar to modern books.

Han Qi, a research fellow at today’s Chinese Academy of Sciences, believes that the development of Neo-Confucianism during the Song Dynasty was due to the widespread availability of printed books.

Those printed books also promoted the development of science, technology, and education, and during the Song Dynasty, both private and public school spread at a faster rate.

This was also the age of the scholar-bureaucrat. A scholar from an impoverished background could become a member of the higher social class by scoring high on the imperial examinations.

China was also the first country to introduce bronze-block printing for advertisements.

Porcelain from China during the Song Dynasty also helped make China a well-known trading partner with the West.

Continued in Part 4 on April 27, 2018, or return to Part 2

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The ‘Golden Age’ of the Song Dynasty: part 2 of 4

April 25, 2018

The Song Dynasty was responsible for innovations and prosperity that doubled the population from 50-million at the end of the Tang Dynasty to 100-million.

Here are a few examples of what happened. A new type of canal lock was invented in 1373 AD, four hundred years before someone in Europe invented a similar lock. This enabled China to finish building the Grand Canal, the longest canal in the world that is still in use.

The focus on astronomical observations helped improve agriculture and the Song Dynasty’s grain yield was ten to twenty times that of Europe at the time. In addition, methods to fertilize land that was not suitable for growing crops was also developed leading to two or three annual harvests that helped support the large population. For a comparison, the 3rd edition of Introduction to Medieval Europe reports, “Bold estimates for the whole of continental Europe (including Russia and the Balkans) place the number of inhabitants in the year 1000 at 30 and 40 million.”

Although China’s four greatest inventions came long before the Song Dynasty, it wasn’t until then that papermaking, the large-scale application of printing, the compass, and gunpowder made their mark about four hundred years before the German inventor Johannes Gutenberg invented his printing press in 1440 AD.

It was also during this dynasty that the compass was improved for navigation making it less likely for ships to get lost at sea and allowed ships to travel farther from China.

To preserve these innovations, Shen Kuo published his Dream Pool Essays in 1088 AD (still in print today), a huge encyclopedic book that covered a wide range of subjects, including literature, art, military strategy, mathematics, astronomy, meteorology, geology, geography, metallurgy, engineering, hydraulics, architecture, zoology, botany, agronomy, medicine, anthropology, archeology, etc.

Continued in Part 3 on April 26, 2018, or return to Part 1

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The ‘Golden Age’ of the Song Dynasty: part 1 of 4

April 24, 2018

Fifty-three years after the Tang Dynasty collapsed (618 – 907AD), the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) was born and established its first capital in Kaifeng City, Henan Province.

The Song Dynasty survived for 319 years — thirty years longer than the Tang Dynasty.

Reference.com says, “While the Tang and Song dynasties shared much in common, there were a couple of major differences in the way they ruled over the populous territory of China. During both periods China experiences political, cultural and social blossoming. Some common traits include the development of trade, the flourishing of painting and poetry and the improvement of bureaucracy. Even though both Tang and Song were Chinese dynasties, they did not rule over the same territory. The Song power was centered on the southeastern part of the country, whereas the Tang power extended over much of modern China, as well as Manchuria, Tibet, and Mongolia.”

In addition, during the Song Dynasty, astronomy was one of the areas where advances were made. In July 1054, an unknown nova appeared in the sky. The sudden appearance of this nova alarmed the bureau of astronomy. A year later, the star vanished. The nova was important because Chinese astronomers discovered the Crab Nebula near Taurus and careful records were kept that still benefits science today.

In fact, the world’s largest and earliest star chart was carved on a stele in Suzhou, Jiangsu.

Continued with Part 2 on April 25, 2018

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Judaism in China

April 18, 2018

The Jews settled in Kaifeng, Henan Province in 960 AD after arriving along the Silk Road.  The Jews who first arrived in China were welcomed by the Imperial government, which encouraged them to retain their cultural identity by building a synagogue that was finished in 1163 AD.

The Kaifeng Synagogue had a Torah written on sheepskin. The architecture of the buildings reflects Jewish culture. Evidence indicates that the Kaifeng Jews were very traditional and obeyed Kosher dietary laws and practiced circumcision for males.

The Jewish community in China thrived for centuries before it was assimilated into Chinese culture through intermarriage. But by the middle of the 18th century, little survived of that Jewish community.

In 1849, the Yellow River flooded causing what was left of the Jewish community to break apart. Today there are about five hundred descendants of the Kaifeng Jewish community that want to reclaim their Jewish traditions.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Religious Influence in China

April 17, 2018

The Financial Times reports, “Christianity first reached China in the 7th century AD, brought by Nestorian Eastern Syriac believers.” The Review of Religions.org says Islam arrived about the same time, but in the 17th century, The downturn for Muslims began with the rise of the Qing Dynasty in 1644. Qing Emperors made life very hard for Muslims. First they prohibited the Halal slaughter of animals, then they banned the construction of new Mosques and the pilgrimage for Hajj. Conditions grew bleak for Islam in the second half of the 19th Century when rebellion led to the slaughter of possibly millions of Chinese Muslims.”

This helps explain why China has never had an organized religion dominate the culture as religions have in Western and Middle Eastern countries.

In fact, when organized religions meddle too much, the Chinese eventually strike back. During the Tang Dynasty in 878 A.D., a rebel leader named Huang Chao burned and pillaged Guangzhou (better known in the West as Canton) killing tens of thousands of Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

Then there were two Opium Wars during the middle of the nineteenth century where France and England invaded to force opium and Christian missionaries on China.

That resulted in the Taiping Rebellion, which was led by a Christian convert, Hong Xiuquan, known as God’s Chinese son. Hong claimed to be Jesus Christ’s younger brother. Estimates say twenty to thirty million Chinese may have died during this religious war to rid China of opium and turn China into a Christian nation, far more than all the Crusades combined.

The culmination of a series of campaigns against organized religions starting in the late 19th century, including Mao’s Cultural Revolution, destroyed or forced Christians, Jews, and Muslims to hide their religious beliefs.

More than thirteen hundred years have passed since Christianity and Islam were introduced to China, but after all those centuries only 0.45-percent of the Chinese population follows Islam while about 2.5-percent are Christians. That means about 97-percent of the population does not belong to an organized religion like Christianity or Islam that often has an influence on politics.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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China’s Feminist Emperor Wu Zetian

March 27, 2018

Emperor Wu Zetian (624 – 705 AD) of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) ranks alongside Cleopatra—the last Pharaoh of Egypt, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Isabella of Spain, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Catherine the Great, and the British Empire’s Queen Victoria.

We Zetian was the only woman in China’s history to become an emperor, and her rise to power and reign as an emperor has been unjustly and harshly criticized by Confucian historians. She is one of the most remarkable women in Chinese and world history.

The second and third emperors of the Tang Dynasty were her husbands and seventeen of the emperors that ruled after her second husband died were her children and their children.

Historical records claim Zetian was a stunning beauty and that because of this Emperor Gaozong was attracted to her, but some modern scholars think it was her intelligence that won him over.

The evidence speaks for itself. While she ruled the Tang Dynasty, the economy, culture, social and political affairs prospered. She was also a talented military leader who reformed the army. After the reforms, without leaving her palace, she managed military conflicts with rival states and defeated them, and under her leadership, the empire expanded and grew stronger. She promoted officials that earned the right through merit. There is no evidence of favoritism. In fact, officials convicted of failing in their duties to the people were punished and often beheaded.

Zetian clearly respected decisive men such as her Prime Minister De Renji, and she often talked about Li Shimin, her first husband, with respect.

She also did not rule as a tyrant. Before making decisions, she listened to all opinions on an issue. Modern historians have studied her ruling style, and the evidence reveals that her political decisions were wise ones.

During the fifty years that Zetian ruled the Tang Dynasty as Dowager Empress and then as an Emperor, China’s borders expanded north, south, and west, and she did not lose any of the territory gained.

She also wrote many books and collected art. In addition, she edited the Book of Agriculture that  influenced agricultural development during the Tang Dynasty.

The historical evidence also reveals that as an ancient feminist, she should have earned praise since she did a better job as Emperor than most of the men that ruled China during the Tang Dynasty.

It also helped that the Tang Dynasty was a time of relative freedom for women. Women did not bind their feet or lead submissive lives. Binding feet did not start until the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD).

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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