World History 1 218 - 14.1 Song China and the Steppe Peoples

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the political and economic structures of Song China
  • Describe the way of life of Song China’s northern neighbors
  • Discuss Chinggis Khan’s role as unifier and empire builder

The disintegration of China’s Tang dynasty in 907 CE left a chaotic power vacuum in the territory it had ruled. Generals turned the jurisdictions they could control into small independent sovereign states. More traditional seminomadic peoples from the sparsely settled semiarid grasslands and mountains to the north of China’s borders, such as the Khitan Liao and the Xia, seized control of many former Tang domains. As they occupied these areas, some groups switched from migrating periodically for animal grazing and hunting, with the occasional raid on neighbors, to living a more agrarian life with urban centers and formal government, which would become hallmarks of Chinese civilization. The absence of central authority and legitimate succession led to frequent conflicts within and between these groups. Other seminomadic people located farther from China such as the Tatars and Mongols in the west and north, however, continued to live in loosely organized groups that were fluid in composition and unsettled in duration. They built no permanent structures and had only sporadic interaction with those to the south, occasionally exchanging or plundering goods.

Meanwhile, in the central and southern parts of what had been Tang China, the Zhao family convinced the fractured political units that they held the Mandate of Heaven—the favor of the natural order that sustained them but could be lost by those less worthy—thus beginning the Song dynasty in the 960s. The Khitan Liao and Xia, who ruled much of northern China, refused to recognize the Zhao patriarch as the Son of Heaven, the rightful Chinese ruler. Attempts to force such recognition failed, leaving the Song with a much smaller realm than the Han or Tang. Despite this, Song China was largely stable, with a steadily rising population and standard of living. In the 1120s, military reversals led to the loss of substantial territory and set back economic growth, but the Song were able to recover, only to be faced with the Mongol invasion in the 1230s.

This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 1: to 1500 textbook by Openstax