The Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty was highly influenced by Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism, which were reflected in its art.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the significance of Neo-Confucianism and literature on the art of the Song dynasty

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Advances in landscape and portrait painting heightened the visual arts during the Song Dynasty .
  • The elite engaged in the arts as accepted pastimes of the cultured scholar-official, including painting, composing poetry, and writing calligraphy .
  • Emperor Huizong was a renowned artist as well as a patron of the arts, and his court entourage included painters, calligraphers, poets, and storytellers.
  • In philosophy, Chinese Buddhism had waned in influence, but it retained its hold on the arts and the charities of monasteries.
  • Buddhism had a profound influence upon the budding movement of Neo- Confucianism , led by Cheng Yi (1033–1107) and Zhu Xi (1130–1200), which strongly influenced the art of the time.
  • Different clothing styles distinguished peasants, soldiers, artisans, merchants, scholars, and officials.

Key Terms

  • Neo-Confucianism: A moral, ethical, and metaphysical Chinese philosophy that originated with Han Yu and Li Ao (772-841) in the Tang Dynasty and became prominent during the Song and Ming dynasties.
  • Buddhism: The religion and philosophy founded by the Indian teacher Gautama Buddha.
  • calligraphy: The art of writing letters and words with decorative strokes.

The Song Dynasty ruled China between 960 and 1279 CE and is divided into two distinct periods, Northern and Southern. During the Northern Song (960–1127), the capital was in the northern city of Bianjing (now Kaifeng) and the dynasty controlled most of what is now Eastern China. The Southern Song (1127–1279) refers to the period after the Song lost control of its northern half to the Jurchen Jin dynasty in the Jin-Song Wars.

The Song dynasty restored unity and became the richest, most skilled, and most populous country on earth. The population doubled in size during the 10th and 11th centuries, growth made possible by expanded rice cultivation in central and southern Song, the use of early-ripening rice from southeast and southern Asia, and widespread food surplus. The Song was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money and the first Chinese government to establish a permanent navy.

The Proliferation of Art

Social life during the Song Dynasty was vibrant. Citizens gathered to view and trade precious artworks, the populace intermingled at public festivals and private clubs, and cities had lively entertainment quarters. The spread of literature and knowledge was enhanced by the rapid expansion of woodblock printing and the 11th-century invention of movable-type printing. Technology, science, philosophy, mathematics, and engineering flourished over the course of the Song. Philosophers such as Cheng Yi and Zhu Xi reinvigorated Confucianism with new commentary, infused with Buddhist ideals and emphasized a new organization of classic texts that brought out the core doctrine of Neo-Confucianism. The visual arts were heightened by new developments such as advances in landscape and portrait painting, and the elite engaged in the arts as accepted pastimes of the cultured scholar-official, including painting, composing poetry, and writing calligraphy.

The imperial courts of the emperor’s palace were filled with his entourage of court painters, calligraphers, poets, and storytellers. Emperor Huizong was a renowned artist as well as a patron of the arts. One venerated court painter was Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145), who painted an enormous panoramic painting, Along the River During the Qingming Festival. Emperor Gaozong initiated a massive art project during his reign, known as the Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute, from the life story of Cai Wenji (b. 177).

The Significance of Literature in Art

Poet and statesman Su Shi and his associate Mi Fu were highly influential in the development of literature during the Song era. Poetry and literature profited from the rising popularity and development of the ci form , a type of lyric poetry. Enormous encyclopedic volumes were compiled, such as works of historiography and treatises on technical subjects. Chinese travel literature also became popular with the writings of geographer Fan Chengda (1126–1193) and Su Shi, the latter of whom wrote the daytrip essay known as Record of Stone Bell Mountain that used persuasive writing to argue a philosophical point. Although an early form of the local geographic gazetteer existed in China since the 1st century, the matured form known as “treatise on a place,, or fangzhi, replaced the old “map guide”, or tujing, during the Song Dynasty.

The Influence of Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism

In philosophy, Chinese Buddhism had waned in influence, but it retained its hold on the arts and on the charities of monasteries. Buddhism also had a profound influence upon the budding movement of Neo-Confucianism, led by Cheng Yi (1033–1107) and Zhu Xi (1130–1200). Neo-Confucianism was an attempt to create a more rationalist and secular form of Confucianism by rejecting superstitious and mystical elements of Taoism and Buddhism that influenced the philosophy during and after the Han Dynasty. Although the Neo-Confucianists were critical of Taoism and Buddhism, the two did have an influence on the philosophy, and the Neo-Confucianists borrowed terms and concepts from both. However, unlike the Buddhists and Taoists, who saw metaphysics as a catalyst for spiritual development, religious enlightenment , and immortality, the Neo-Confucianists used metaphysics to develop a rationalist ethical philosophy.

Mahayana Buddhism influenced Fan Zhongyan and Wang Anshi through its concept of ethical universalism, while Buddhist metaphysics had a deep impact upon the pre- Neo- Confucian doctrine of Cheng Yi. The philosophical work of Cheng Yi in turn influenced Zhu Xi. Although his contemporary peers did not accept his writings, Zhu’s commentary and emphasis upon the Confucian classics of the Four Books as an introductory corpus to Confucian learning formed the basis of the Neo-Confucian doctrine. By the year 1241, under the sponsorship of Emperor Lizong, Zhu Xi’s Four Books and his commentary became standard requirements of study for those attempting to pass the civil service examinations.

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Wood Bodhisattva: A wooden and gilded statue of the Buddha (bodhisattva) from the Chinese Song Dynasty (960-1279), from the Shanghai Museum.

The influence of both Buddhism and Neo-Confucianism can be seen in much of the artwork at the time, including the painted artwork of Lin Tinggui’s Luohan Laundering. A well-known Neo-Confucian motif includes paintings of Confucius , Buddha, and Lao Tzu all drinking out of the same vinegar jar, associated with the slogan “The three teachings are one!” However, the ideology of Buddhism was highly criticized and even scorned by some. The statesman and historian Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072) called the religion a “curse” that could only be remedied by uprooting it from Chinese culture and replacing it with Confucian discourse. Buddhism would not see a true revival in Chinese society until the Mongol rule of the Yuan Dynasty , with Kublai Khan’s sponsorship of Tibetan Buddhism and Drogön Chögyal Phagpa as the leading lama. The Christian sect of Nestorianism—which entered China in the Tang era—was also revived in China under Mongol rule.

The monk is depicted sitting, in colorful clothing, with a peaceful expression.

Portrait of the Zen Buddhist monk Wuzhun Shifan (1238): Portrait of the Zen Buddhist monk Wuzhun Shifan, painted in 1238.

The Art of Clothing

Clothing was made of hemp or cotton cloths in either black and white. Trousers were acceptable for peasants, soldiers, artisans, and merchants, although wealthy merchants might choose to wear more ornate clothing and male blouses that came below the waist. Acceptable apparel for scholar-officials was rigidly defined by social ranking system. Each official was able to display his status by wearing different-colored traditional silken robes that hung to the ground around his feet, specific types of headgear, and even specific styles of girdles that displayed his graded-rank of officialdom.
However, as time went on this rule of rank-graded apparel for officials was not as strictly enforced.

Women wore long dresses, blouses that came down to the knee, skirts, and jackets with long or short sleeves, while women from wealthy families could wear purple scarves around their shoulders. The main difference in women’s apparel from that of men was that it was fastened on the left, not on the right.

Painting under the Song Dynasty

Painting during the Song Dynasty (960–1279) reached a new level of sophistication with further development of landscape painting.

Learning Objectives

Compare and contrast the Northern and Southern Song styles of painting

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The shan shui style painting—”shan” meaning mountain, and “shui” meaning river—became prominent in Chinese landscape art. Distant mountain peaks rise out of high clouds and mist, while streaming rivers run from afar into the foreground.
  • The Northern Song period (960–1127) was characterized by large, sweeping landscapes, influenced by political ideals of bringing order to large societal issues.
  • In contrast , the Southern Song period (1127–1279) was more interested in reforming society from the bottom up and on a much smaller scale, and their paintings reflected this in smaller, more intimate scenes.
  • The imperial courts of the emperor’s palace were filled with his entourage of court painters, calligraphers, poets, and storytellers. One of the greatest landscape painters of the court was Zhang Zeduan , who painted the original Along the River During Qingming Festival scroll.

Key Terms

  • Taoism: A Chinese mystical philosophy traditionally founded by Lao-tzu in the 6th century BCE that teaches conformity to the tao by unassertive action and simplicity.
  • Zhang Zeduan: (1085–1145) A famous Chinese painter of the Song Dynasty, who lived during the transitional period from the Northern Song to the Southern Song and was instrumental in the early history of the Chinese landscape art style known as shan shui.
  • Neo-Confucian: A moral, ethical, and metaphysical Chinese philosophy that originated with Han Yu and Li Ao (772-841) in the Tang Dynasty and became prominent during the Song and Ming dynasties.

Introduction

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Snow Mountains by Guo Xi, located in the Shanghai Museum.: Guo Xi, a representative landscape painter in the Northern Song dynasty, is known for depicting mountains, rivers, and forests in winter. This piece shows a of deep and serene mountain valley covered with snow and several old trees struggling to survive on precipitous cliffs. This masterpiece uses light ink and magnificent composition to express his open artistic conception.

Painting during the Song Dynasty (960–1279) reached a new level of sophistication with further development of landscape painting. The shan shui style painting—”shan” meaning mountain and “shui” meaning river—became prominent in Chinese landscape art. The emphasis on landscape painting in the Song period was grounded in Chinese philosophy. Taoism stressed that humans were but tiny specks among vast and greater cosmos, while Neo-Confucianist writers often pursued the discovery of patterns and principles that they believed caused all social and natural phenomena. While the painting of portraits and closely viewed objects such as birds on branches were held in high esteem by the Song Chinese, landscape painting was paramount.

Techniques

Artists of the time mastered the formula of intricate and realistic scenes in the foreground and vast open space in the background. Distant mountain peaks rise out of high clouds and mist, while streaming rivers run from afar into the foreground. Immeasurable distances are conveyed through blurred outlines and impressionistic treatment of natural phenomena.

Northern and Southern Song

There was a significant difference in painting trends between the Northern Song period (960–1127) and Southern Song period (1127–1279). The paintings of Northern Song officials were influenced by their political ideals of bringing order to the world and tackling the largest issues affecting the whole of their society; as such, their paintings often depict huge, sweeping landscapes. On the other hand, Southern Song officials were more interested in reforming society from the bottom up and on a much smaller scale, a method they believed had a better chance for success. Their paintings often focus on smaller, more intimate scenes, while the background is bereft of detail as a realm without substance or concern for the artist or viewer .

This change in attitude from one era to the next stemmed from the rising influence of Neo-Confucian philosophy. Adherents to Neo-Confucianism focused on reforming society from the bottom up, not the top down, which can be seen in their efforts to promote small private academies during the Southern Song instead of the large state-controlled academies seen in the Northern Song era.

A man sits under a tree by a river. Another figure approaches him from the foreground.

Ma Lin, Listening to the Wind (1246): Southern Song officials were interested in reforming society from the bottom up and on a small scale. Hence, their paintings often focused on small, visually closer, and more intimate scenes, while the background was often depicted as bereft of detail as a realm without substance or concern for the artist or viewer.

Influential Painters

Ma Yuan and Xia Gui

Ma Yuan was a Southern Song painter of the Song Dynasty. His works and those of Xia Gui formed the basis of the so-called Ma-Xia school of painting and are considered among the finest from the period. Although a very versatile painter, Ma is known today primarily for his landscape scrolls. A characteristic feature of his paintings is the so-called “one-corner” composition , in which the actual subjects of the painting are pushed to a corner or a side, leaving vast open spaces. As court painters, Ma Yuan and Xia Gui used strong black brushstrokes to sketch trees and rocks and pale washes to suggest misty space.

A man walks along a path, out of the trees and into an open space. A smaller figure walks behind him, carrying a long object.

Walking on Path in Spring by Ma Yuan (马远 c.1190 – 1279年)): Ma Yuan was one of the most prominent Chinese painters of the Song Dynasty.

Su Shi and Mi Fu

Painting became an art of high sophistication, associated with the gentry class as one of their main artistic pastimes along with calligraphy and poetry. During the Song Dynasty, avid art collectors often met in groups to discuss their own paintings and rate those of colleagues and friends. The poet and statesman Su Shi (1037–1101) and his accomplice Mi Fu (1051–1107) often partook in these affairs, borrowing art pieces to study, copy, or exchange. They created a new kind of art that used their skills in calligraphy to make ink paintings. From this time onward, many painters strove to freely express their feelings and capture the inner spirit of their subject instead of depicting its outward appearance. The small round paintings popular in the Southern Song were often collected into albums, with poets creating compositions on the side to match the theme and mood of the painting.

Zhang Zeduan, Yi Yuanji, and Other Court Painters

The imperial courts of the emperor’s palace were filled with his entourage of court painters, calligraphers, poets, and storytellers. One of the greatest landscape painters given patronage by the Song court was Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145), who painted the original Along the River During Qingming Festival scroll, one of the most well-known masterpieces of Chinese visual art. Emperor Gaozong of Song (1127–1162) commissioned an art project of numerous paintings for the Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute, based on the poet Cai Wenji (177–250 AD) of the earlier Han Dynasty. Yi Yuanji achieved a high degree of realism painting animals, in particular monkeys and gibbons.

This section of the painting depicts many different people and animals interacting with each other below a high temple.

Detail of the original “Along the River during Qingming Festival” by Zhang Zeduan, early 12th century: Zhang Zeduan was instrumental in the early history of the Chinese landscape art style known as shan shui. Zhang’s original painting of the Along the River During the Qingming Festival reveals much about life in China during the 11th-12th century. Its depiction of different people interacting with one another reveals the nuances of class structure and the many hardships of urban life. It also displays accurate depictions of technological practices found in Song China.

Ceramics under the Song Dynasty

Ceramics from the Southern Song dynasty focused primarily on small, intimate scenes.

Learning Objectives

Distinguish the characteristics of painting and ceramics in the Southern Song style from its counterpart in the North

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE) was a culturally rich and sophisticated age for China. Great advancements were made in the ceramics , painting, and other visual arts.
  • In 1004, Emperor Zhenzong established the city of Jingdezhen as the main production hub for imperial porcelain ; during the Song and following Yuan dynasties , porcelain made in the city and other southern Chinese kiln sites used crushed and refined pottery stones alone.
  • The making of glazed and translucent porcelain and celadon wares with complex use of enamel was highly developed during the Song period. Longquan celadon wares were particularly popular.
  • Black and red lacquerwares of the Song period featured beautifully carved artwork of miniature nature scenes, landscapes, or decorative motifs .
  • Trends in illustration styles among the gentry shifted from the Northern (960–1127) to Southern Song (1127–1279) periods, influenced in part by the gradual embrace of the Neo-Confucian political ideology at court.

Key Terms

  • celadon: A term for ceramics denoting both wares glazed in the jade green color (also known as greenware) and a type of transparent glaze, often with small cracks, that was first used on greenware but later used on other porcelains.
  • Neo-Confucianism: A moral, ethical, and metaphysical Chinese philosophy that originated with Han Yu and Li Ao (772-841) in the Tang Dynasty and became prominent during the Song and Ming dynasties.
  • shan shui style: A style of Chinese painting that depicts scenery or natural landscapes such as mountains, rivers, and waterfalls, using brush and ink rather than conventional paints.

The Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE) was a culturally rich and sophisticated age for China. Great advancements were made in the visual arts, music, literature, and philosophy. Officials of the ruling bureaucracy reached new heights of education in Chinese society, while general culture was enhanced by widespread printing, growing literacy, and various arts.

Advances in Ceramics

Appreciation of the arts among the gentry flourished during the Song Dynasty, especially in painting and ceramics. The city of Jingdezhen (also Jingde Zhen) has been a central place of production of ceramics since the early Han dynasty; in 1004, Emperor Zhenzong established the city as the main production hub for imperial porcelain. During the Song and following Yuan dynasties, porcelain made in the city and other southern Chinese kiln sites used crushed and refined pottery stones.

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Porcelains from the Song Dynasty: Left item: A Northern Song qingbai-ware vase with a transparent blue-toned ceramic glaze, from Jingdezhen, 11th century. Center item: A Northern or Southern Song qingbai-ware bowl with incised lotus decorations, a metal rim, and a transparent blue-toned glaze, from Jingdezhen, 12th or 13th century; Right item: A Southern Song miniature model of a granary with removable top lid and doorway, qingbai porcelain with transparent blue-toned glaze, Jingdezhen, 13th century.

Longquan Celadon

The making of glazed translucent porcelain and celadon wares with complex use of enamels became highly developed during the Song period. Longquan celadon wares were particularly popular. These were produced in kilns in the city of Longquan, located in Lishui prefecture in southwestern Zhejiang Province. More than 200 kiln sites have been discovered in Longquan, comprising one of the largest historical ceramic producing areas in China. Southern Song celadons display a great variety of shape and glaze color, and Japanese tea masters and collectors have treasured examples with a distinctive bluish glaze termed kinutaseiji. Chinese collectors have noted a greater variety of Longquan ware and devised a special vocabulary to describe them, such as meizi ching or “plum green” celadon. After the end of the Southern Song period, Longquan celadon experienced expanded production and lessened quality.

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Longquan celadon ware vase: A Longquan ware celadon vase, Song Dynasty, 13th century, from the Nantoyōsō Collection, Japan.

Illustrations

Black and red lacquerwares of the Song period featured beautifully carved artwork of miniature nature scenes, landscapes, or decorative motifs. Trends in illustration styles among the gentry shifted from the Northern (960–1127) to Southern Song (1127–1279) periods, influenced in part by the gradual embrace of the Neo-Confucian political ideology at court. Even though intricate ceramics and lacquerware, often painted with closely-viewed objects like birds on branches, were held in high esteem by the Song Chinese, landscape painting was paramount during this era.

A porcelain bottle with branch and leaf-like decorations.

Song Dynasty ding ware porcelain bottle, 11th century: The making of glazed and translucent porcelain and celadon wares with complex use of enamels was developed further during the Song period.