Week 3: Song politics before the Mongol conquests

For the sake of understanding much of the secondary material on this period, it is important to note that in terms of Chinese history, the Mongols are often regarded as the third of three 'conquest dynasties' that confronted the Song dynasty (960-1276) in China. Understanding the Song dynasty is therefore important if we are to get more than a one-sided picture of the Mongol conquest of China. The Song will be our focus this week, but I offer here a little information about the first two of the 'conquest dynasties', not least because the Mongols conquered the second of them (the Jurchen Jin), which had itself conquered the first (the Kitan Liao). It happened like this:

The Liao (907-1125) was founded by a group known as the Kitan, originating in Manchuria. Note that their dynasty predates the Song. The Liao never actually took permanent control by military means of any part of 'China' – the lands they held south of the line of the Great Wall were given in payment for assisting a neighbour to gain a throne for himself. As such, they were not strictly a conquest dynasty, but most history you will read counts them as one nevertheless! After 960 the expansionist leaders of the Song fought with the Liao until the two made a treaty in 1005. Peace lasted until 1115, when the rising power of the Jurchen challenged Liao authority. Assisted by the Song, the Jurchen destroyed the Liao dynasty in 1125. Thus the Liao had ended well before the rise of the Mongols.

The Jin (1115-1234) was the dynasty founded in North China by the Jurchens, noted above. They were another Manchurian people, from further east and south than the Kitan. Not content with conquering Liao, the Jurchen turned against their erstwhile allies, the Song, and drove them out of the lands on both sides of the Yellow River, comprising roughly a third of the previous Song realm. The Jurchen took the Song capital at Kaifeng near the Yellow River in 1126, and the Song court withdrew to the south, reestablishing the dynasty in 1127 with a supposedly 'temporary capital' at Hangzhou (known at the time as Lin'an). Now known as the Southern Song, periods of peace and hostility with Jin alternated until the advance of the Mongols in the 1220s led the Song to seek an alliance with the new Mongol power against the Jin, which fell to the Mongols in 1234.

Although the Kitan Liao and the Jurchen Jin are often bracketed with the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1260-1368) as 'conquest dynasties', you should note the differences between them. Mongol origins, for instance, lay much further west and north than their Manchurian predecessors (that is, the Mongols came from Mongolia), and their economic base was not identical.

So, for this week you need to keep in mind that the northern third of the Song dynasty was conquered by the Jin in 1126. Subsequently this section of the dynasty has become known as the Northern Song (960-1126). The reestablished dynasty in the south is known to us as the Southern Song (1127-1276). Both halves of the dynasty had very complex political relations with numerous neighbours, and the basic political history of this period has finally(!) been published. Foreign enemies were a major concern throughout the dynasty, so that even in those rare periods when there was an absence of 'hot' war (that is, during the eleventh century) Song officials still worried about their neighbours.

What is now becoming recognised is that the Song was itself a conquering dynasty. In the tenth century it fought to bring all the peoples south of the line of the Great Wall under its control, its wars with the Liao in the tenth and eleventh centuries were by no means one-sidedly defensive, and it allied first with the Jin against the Liao (which fell in 1125) and then with the Mongols against the Jin (which fell in 1234). When the Mongols then turned to conquer the Song, the dynasty held out for some four decades before it finally succumbed.

Furthermore, not everyone in the Song dynasty responded to foreign enemies in the same way. Officials disagreed about what to do, individuals sometimes exhibited greater resistance than their masters, and some blamed the dynasty for their hardships rather than the invaders.

Some issues to consider

Primary sources

The 'south first' strategy, from: Edmund H. Worthy, 'The founding of Sung China, 950-1000: integrative changes in military and political institutions' (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1976), pp. 15-17.

The Treaty of Shanyuan, 1005, from: David C. Wright, From war to diplomatic parity in eleventh-century China: Sung's foreign relations with Kitan Liao (Leiden: Brill, 2005), pp. 74-77.

Franke, Herbert, ‘Chinese texts on the Jurchen: translation of the Jurchen monograph in the San-ch’ao pei-meng hui-pien’, Zentralasiatische Studien 9 (1975), 119-86.

Seminar questions and secondary materials

ESSENTIAL (to skim and dip into)

Twitchett, Denis, and Paul J. Smith, ed. CHC 5: The Sung dynasty and its precursors, 907-1279, Part 1 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009), Chapters 1, 3-7.

A: How did the Song and their predecessors regard their neighbours during the tenth century?

*Lau Nap-yin, 'Waging war for peace? The peace accord between the Song and the Liao in AD 1005', in Van de Ven, pp. 180-221.

*Lorge, Peter, 'The Great Ditch of China and the Song-Liao border', in Wyatt, Battlefronts, pp. 59-74.

Lorge, Peter, 'War and the creation of the Northern Song' (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1996).

*Standen, Naomi, 'Raiding and frontier society in the Five Dynasties', in Di Cosmo and Wyatt, pp. 160-91.

Worthy, Edmund H., 'The founding of Sung China, 950-1000: integrative changes in military and political institutions' (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1976).

Wright, David C., 'The Sung-Kitan war of AD 1004-1005 and the Treaty of Shan-yüan', JAH 32:1 (1998), 3-48.

B: How did the Song regard their neighbours during the eleventh century?

*Tao Jing-shen, 'Barbarians or northerners: Northern Sung images of the Khitans', in Rossabi, China among equals, pp. 66-86.

Tao Jing-shen, 'Yü Ching and Sung policies toward Liao and Hsia, 1042-44', JAH 6:2 (1972), 114-22.

Tao Jing-shen, 'Peace with the barbarians: the policies of Wang An-shih', Two Sons of heaven: studies in Sung-Liao relations (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1988), pp. 68-78.

*Wang Gungwu, 'The rhetoric of a lesser empire: early Sung relations with its neighbors', in Rossabi, China among equals, pp. 47-65.

*Wright, David Curtis, 'Parity, pedigree, and  peace: routine Sung diplomatic missives to the Liao, JSYS 26 (1996), 55-85.

Wyatt, Don J., 'In pursuit of the Great Peace: Wang Dan and the early Song evasion of the "just war" doctrine', in Wyatt, Battlefronts, pp. 75-110.

C: How did the Song regard their neighbours in the century before 1234?

Aubin, Françoise, 'The rebirth of Chinese rule in times of trouble: north China in the early thirteenth century', Foundations and limits of state power in China, ed. Stuart Schram (London: SOAS, 1987), pp. 113-46.

*Liu, James T.C., 'The Jurchen-Sung confrontation', China under Jurchen rule, ed. Hoyt C. Tillman and Stephen H. West (Albany: SUNY, 1995), pp. 39-49.

Liu, James T.C., China turning inward: intellectual-political changes in the early twelfth century (Harvard University Press, 1988).

*Peterson, Charles A., 'Old illusions and new realities: Sung foreign policy, 1217-1234', in Rossabi, China among equals, pp. 204-39.

*Tao Jing-shen, 'Allying with the Chin to destroy the Liao', Two Sons of heaven: studies in Sung-Liao relations (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1988), pp. 87-97.


Haeger, John W., 'Between north and south: the Lake Rebellion in Hunan, 1130-1135', JAS 28:3 (1969), 469-88.

Lamouroux, Christian, 'Geography and politics: the Song-Liao border dispute of 1074/75', China and her neighbours: borders, visions of the other, foreign policy 10th to 19th century, ed. Sabine Dabringhaus, Roderich Ptak, Richard Teschke (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1997), pp. 1-28.

Leung, Irene S., '"Felt yurts neatly arrayed, large tents huddle close": visualizing the frontier in the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127)', in Di Cosmo and Wyatt, pp. 192-219.

Standen, Naomi, 'What nomads want: raids, invasions, and the Liao conquest of 947', in Amitai and Biran, pp. 129-74.

Tietze, Klaus-Peter, 'The Liao-Sung border conflict of 1074-1076', Studia Sino-Mongolica: Festschrift für Herbert Franke, ed. Wolfgang Bauer (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1979), pp. 127-51.

Wilhelm, Helmut, 'From myth to myth: the case of Yüeh Fei's biography', in Wright and Twitchett, pp. 146-61.

Wright, David Curtis, From war to diplomatic parity in eleventh-century China: Sung's foreign relations with Kitan Liao (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2005).

Wyatt, Don J., 'The invention of the Northern Song', in Di Cosmo and Wyatt, pp. 220-44.
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