August 2014 Newsletter

Compared to the Tang and Han Dynasties the Song ruled over a comparatively small area, but it's influence has lasted beyond the Cultural Revolution. The Song Dynasty is seen as a time of cultural, economic, scientific and social prosperity, divided into two eras (Northern Song 960 - 1127 and the Southern Song 1127 - 1279) it produced 300 years of stability.

When the Tang Dynasty fell its territory was divided among Kingdoms and land conquered by Nomadic Tribes from the Steppes - fifty three years of war followed - until Zhao Kuangyin rebelled against the King and Court of the Western Zhou and started his own Dynasty taking the name Emperor Taizu. He went on to defeat the other Kingdoms around him and subduing the Nomadic tribes, founding the Song Dynasty. His legacy was immense, besides winning the wars of expansion his policies were visionary. His first act was to pronounce that all governing officials should be Confucian Scholars (Literati) who passed the Imperial Exams which had been laid down in the Tang Dynasty. This now meant that the dynastic succession was stabilised, as the Empires administration staff could carry on their duties when the Emperor died and the new Emperor was put in place. It guaranteed that the 'new civil service' was intelligent, literate and importantly loyal.

He created Academies, in the style of the Ancient Greeks, where debate, freedom of discussion and thought were encouraged and from here 'world leading scientists' came forward, as did artists, poets and great warriors. Scientists were said to have understood magnetism, establishing magnetic and true north, developing a more advanced compass than the loadstone compasses of the west. The moveable type face printing press was introduced with ceramic characters on a block that could be easily arranged. Gunpowder and it's different uses were developed out of the weak form that had been used by the Tang. The Song took it further using it for weaponry - making rockets, bombs, guns and as a propellant for chemical warfare and by 1277 the Song used landmines against the advancing Mongols. Complex gadgets were made including odometers and intricate clocks, but many were discontinued after the fall of the Song.

The economy in this period experienced a huge growth based on the political stability and the scientific advancements in all forms of industry and agriculture. The population doubled and the rice production not only kept up with the growth but surplus was produced which was traded preventing the crippling famines of the past and the neighbours of the Song did not attack to seize land to feed their population instead they could trade for it. The large population called for urbanization, the first of the modern world, the largest cities of the time were built and their populations learnt how to live peacefully in such cities, this was noted later by Marco Polo who was amazed by such cities.

Trade meant that large Merchant Ships were built and trade flourished with Asia, India and Arabia where tea, silk, iron and gunpowder were in great demand. The establishment of large iron foundries allowed a plentiful supply of weapons, agricultural implements, tools and some say sheet metal. Ceramics now moved on too.

With permanent residencies, lavish Palaces and wealth both rulers and the wealthy wanted to display and decorate with ceramics and have better vessels for food and drink. The ceramics too were to become a source of trade so demand flourished. There were more kilns in more areas making ceramic production more wide spread and owners were encouraged to expand, increase and refine their production. To do this kilns, reduced their costs and increased output by switching from wood to coal which also increased the temperatures to 1300C. Different areas produced different glazes and bodies but they all fired at the high temperature which produced porcelainious pieces. They passed all the tests for porcelain, non - porous, can withstand freezing and boiling temperatures, a light makes them translucent, except one, when tapped they do not ring they 'donked'. But the Song output of ceramics was 1000 years ahead of that of the west. The bowls, ewers and vases are simple, clean in
appearance and elegant. These ceramics are among most revered and influential in the world. Many of the 20th studio potters took their inspiration from these pieces including Dame Lucie Rie and Ruskin.

The admiration for these ceramics is in part due to their complicated and varied technologies but also because of the glazes which tend to be monochromatic and subtle with a tactile quality. It was at the kiln sites of Jingdezhen, where most of the important innovations were developed. But the inventiveness of all the kiln sites led to a variety of classic ware with the ceramics often taking their name from the area where they were produced. These included the famous kilns at Ding, Ru, Guan, Ge, Longquan, Qingbai and Cizhou. It is now believed that although some of the kilns were patronized by the court that all kilns sent their very best ware to the palace as tribute and in some instances were used to pay yearly taxes. During the Song Dynasty there developed ceramic collectors of Song pieces both as modern examples but also as Antiques as the Dynasty progressed which they prized. This in turn encouraged papers and scholarly appreciation of the 'Classical Era of Chinese