SONG DYNASTY CULTURE: TEA-HOUSE THEATER, POETRY AND CHEAP BOOKS

SONG DYNASTY CULTURE


wine container

Culturally, the Song refined many of the developments of the previous centuries. Included in these refinements were not only the Tang ideal of the universal man, who combined the qualities of scholar, poet, painter, and statesman, but also historical writings, painting, calligraphy, and hard-glazed porcelain. Song intellectuals sought answers to all philosophical and political questions in the Confucian Classics. This renewed interest in the Confucian ideals and society of ancient times coincided with the decline of Buddhism, which the Chinese regarded as foreign and offering few practical guidelines for the solution of political and other mundane problems. [Source: The Library of Congress *]

The Song Neo-Confucian philosophers, finding a certain purity in the originality of the ancient classical texts, wrote commentaries on them. The most influential of these philosophers was Zhu Xi (1130-1200), whose synthesis of Confucian thought and Buddhist, Taoist, and other ideas became the official imperial ideology from late Song times to the late nineteenth century. As incorporated into the examination system, Zhu Xi's philosophy evolved into a rigid official creed, which stressed the one-sided obligations of obedience and compliance of subject to ruler, child to father, wife to husband, and younger brother to elder brother. The effect was to inhibit the societal development of premodern China, resulting both in many generations of political, social, and spiritual stability and in a slowness of cultural and institutional change up to the nineteenth century. Neo-Confucian doctrines also came to play the dominant role in the intellectual life of Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. *

During the Song dynasty Taoism and Taoist art were lavishly supported by the emperors Chen-tsung (998-1022) and Hui-tsung (1101-1125). The zenith of Taoist painting occurred in the 11th century, when 100 artists, chosen from 3,000 candidates, lead by chief painter Wu Tsung-yuan, were commissioned to paint the wall mural Immortal Protectors of the Dynasty in the Three Purities temple at Lonyang. The Northern Song dynasty poet Su Xun and his sons Su Shi and Su Zhe are highly regarded.

Maxwell Hearn of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “ The tenth and eleventh centuries witnessed the flowering of one of the supreme artistic expressions of Chinese civilization: monumental landscape painting. During the period of social and political chaos that accompanied the fall of the Tang dynasty in 906, scholars retreated to the mountains, living in hermitages or in Buddhist temples. In nature they discovered the moral order they had found lacking in the human world. For Northern Song (960–1127) artists, the great mountain, towering above lesser mountains, trees, and men, was like "a ruler among his subjects, a master among servants". Continuing to uphold reclusion as a pure way of life, the Song landscapists painted "the heart of forests and streams" as a release from worldly concerns (1981.276). [Source: Maxwell Hearn, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]

“The momentous shift during the early Song—from a society ruled by a hereditary aristocratic order to a society governed by a central bureaucracy of scholar-officials—also had a major impact on the arts. Song scholar-officials quickly laid claim to calligraphy and poetry as expressive vehicles uniquely suited to their class and sought to revive the natural and spontaneous qualities of earlier centuries. They also applied their new critical standards to painting. Rejecting the official view that art must serve the state, these amateur scholar-artists pursued painting and calligraphy for their own amusement as a form of personal expression." \^/

Good Websites and Sources on the Song Dynasty: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; San.beck.org san.beck.org ; Tang Dynasty: Wikipedia ; Google Book: China’s Golden Age: Everday Life in the Tang Dynasty by Charles Benn books.google.com/books; Chinese History: Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia Books: “Daily Life in Traditional China: The Tang Dynasty”by Charles Benn, Greenwood Press, 2002; "Cambridge History of China" Vol. 3 (Cambridge University Press); "The Culture and Civilization of China", a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press); "Chronicle of the Chinese Emperor" by Ann Paludan; “Housing, Clothing, Cooking, from Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion 1250-1276" by Jacques Gernet (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962.

Southern Song (1127-1279) Culture


Ma Yuan landscape

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Southern Song portion of the Song dynasty, lasting for 153 years (from 1127 to 1279), was a crucial period in the history of China's cultural development. The Southern Song court not only promoted itself as inheriting the line of orthodox rule by reinvigorating traditional rules of rites and music, it also helped breathe life into literary trends of the Jiangnan area in the south, attaching great importance to education in Confucian studies, converging Buddhist and Daoist thought, and firmly establishing Zhu Xi as representing the Confucian orthodoxy in the study of the Classics. Furthermore, the court successfully encouraged various forms of economic development, to such an extent that agriculture expanded, commerce thrived, handicrafts blossomed, and foreign trade flourished at this time. Economic prosperity helped drive the winds of change in art and culture as well. All forms of literary expression reveal in one way or another fulfillment of the Way as well as the scholarly pursuit of ease and naturalness. Cultivated scholars were fond of connoisseurship and collecting objects of culture and refinement, paying particular attention to expressions of taste in life. In terms of painting and calligraphy as well as arts and crafts, guidance from the imperial family, new geographic and climatic conditions of the area, and changes in humanistic trends all helped to yield unique and highly artistic qualities in both content and form that had a profound influence on developments in later art. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“After remnants of the Song court moved south following capture of the capital, and in response to the new political situation, geographical environment, and cultural atmosphere, the Southern Song rulers promoted art as a vehicle for the Way, paying particular attention to the edifying role of rites and music. Such emperors as Gaozong (along with Empress Wu), Xiaozong, and Ningzong (with Empress Yang) all followed previous members of the Song imperial family in showing an appreciation for the art of calligraphy. They emphasized the tradition of cultivation in the arts and used painting and calligraphy to put into practice the didactic function of art. Texts often mention stories of them personally transcribing the ancient Classics to be presented to the National University and local prefecture schools. Members of the imperial family also inscribed paintings with poetry, giving them to high officials. And by writing eulogies for paintings in praise of ancient rulers and sages, they further promoted traditional ethics in culture. By reaffirming the Confucian orthodoxy of morality, the Southern Song imperial clan re-established an ideal order for both politics and society. \=/

Precious artifacts of the period include imperial calligraphy, the works of court artists, scholar-official painting and calligraphy, and calligraphy by famous sages, important officials, and Buddhist and Daoist figures. The antiquities feature Guan (Official) porcelains, Duan inkstones, jade carvings, and bronze mirrors, along with Song editions of rare books. Some art historians divide the period in terms of four themes: "Cultural Invigoration," "Artistic Innovation," "Life Aesthetics," and "Transmission and Fusion". These “help explain how the Southern Song promoted, respectively, the notion of continuing the orthodox line of rule, innovative artistic tastes, aesthetic ideas in the Jiangnan area, and various directions in regional exchange and transmission in cultural circles through painting and calligraphy, arts and crafts, and books and publishing. \=/

Chinese Opera Takes Shape in Tea Houses of the Song Dynasty (960–1279)

Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen of the Theater Academy Helsinki wrote: After the Tang dynasty the empire split into several smaller states. A new cultural renaissance took place from c. 1000 onwards when the Song dynasty rose to power. At the beginning of the dynasty the capital was Kaifeng in the middle regions of the country, some 500 kilometers to the east of the earlier Tang capital, Changan. Later, because of enemy attacks, a new capital, Hangzhou (Hang-chou), was founded in the south-eastern coastal area. The period was politically unstable. However, many kinds of art, such as ceramics, painting, calligraphy and poetry, attained their classical forms. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theater Academy Helsinki **]

Many of the Tang period theatrical traditions were continued. Most of the information we have from the Tang period focused on the court practices. From the Song period, however, much information is available concerning public performances. Maybe because of the impoverished court, the entertainers were obliged to find their audiences from among the growing merchant and handicraft population.In both Song period capitals, in northern Kaifeng and in southern Hangzhou, there were large entertainment or “red light” districts (wazi, wa-tzû) offering any kinds of amusements. In the theater houses and in the teahouses it was possible to see mimes, dance spectacles, acrobatics, circuses with animals, and magic shows. Prostitutes lured customers by singing and dancing, and the alleys were lined with fortune-tellers and street musicians. **


Song-era theater performance


The popular repertory included several dances reflecting the traditions of foreign cultures and earlier times. They encompassed powerful male dances related to the martial arts, popular drum dances, and numbers imitating animals, such as butterflies and peacocks. Dancing lions appeared on the streets during festivals. Ordinary people enjoyed the shows of yangge (yang-ke) village music groups. Their performances featured familiar stock characters such as monks, young scholars and sturdy villagers. Female dancers added their gracefulness to these shows, which were, more or less, improvised kinds of commedia dell’arte.

At court the performing traditions inherited from the Tang court were continued, although on a reduced scale. Adjutant plays were still popular and the most spectacular dance performances could almost evoke those of the Tang period and the smaller-scale performances gave pleasure even to connoisseurs. The process of merging together different forms of performing arts intensified further and resulted in theatrical genres, which had already many of the distinguishing features of later Chinese opera. **

Zaju, an Early Form of Opera from the Song Period (960-1279)

During the Song period, a new form of theater was born. It was zaju (tsa-chü), which combined drama, music and dance. It gradually evolved into two forms, the southern and the northern. The northern one, characterised by its string accompaniment, continued to be performed for a longer period. A performance started with a music and dance “prelude”, after which the actual dramatic action followed. It combined acting, speech, declamation and singing. The show ended with a comic number and instrumental music. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theater Academy Helsinki **]

No complete Song zaju scripts exist today, although it is known that there once were hundreds of them. Some of them were, however, assimilated into some of the later theater forms. Certain stock characters of zaju had their roots in the clowns of the earlier adjutant plays, but the gallery of characters expanded further. Instead of two characters, several actors performed on stage. The male lead was called moni, and a kind of narrator or the primus motor of the play was called yinzi (yin-tzü). An actor who could play officials and female roles was called zhuanggu (chuang-ku). The characters derived from earlier adjutant plays were the clowns with painted faces, fujing (fu-ching) and fumo (fu-mo). **

The stories covered a wide range and featured ghosts or heroes and villains of ancient times, who made their dramatic entrance onto the stage in their elaborate costumes. Love stories were also popular. Many of the plots were loosely based on earlier story material, such as religious or historical legends, and stories about the supernatural. The plots often involved a young scholar who was forced to leave for the capital to attend the imperial examination. Young lovers are separated and they have to go through many hardships and adventures – a basic theme for countless later operas. **

Nanxi, Early Southern Opera, and the Earliest Play Script


scene from a Song-era play

In 1125 the northern Song capital, Kaifeng, was conquered and the Emperor was captured. Part of the court fled to the south, where a new capital, Hangzhou, was founded in 1138. The southern regions had their own local drama form, called nanxi (nan-shi), which combined indigenous dialect and melodies with mime and dance numbers. Nanxi was popular in southern parts of China from the 11th to the 15th centuries. Some twenty nanxi scripts exist today and almost three hundred titles of plays are known. The stories were more or less similar to those of the northern zaju plays. The play started with a spoken introduction while the number of acts varied. [Source: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theater Academy Helsinki **]

Top Graduate Zhang Xie, Zhang Xie zhuangyuan (Chang Hsieh chuang-yüan) is so far the earliest known complete Chinese play script (synopsis). It represents the nanxi style and it was written in the city of Wenzhou (Wen-chou) in the south-eastern coastal region in the middle of the 13th century. It recounts the hardships and cruelty of a young selfish scholar who is determined to attend the imperial examination in the capital. According to the nanxi convention the play was performed by seven actors, all of them specialised in their own particular types of role. **

The male lead, called sheng, acts the role of the selfish scholar, Zhang Xie. The female lead is called dan. She plays the role of the poor orphan girl, who becomes the first wife of Zhang Xie. The clown character or chou, distinguished by his make-up, a white patch round the nose and eyes, appears, for example, in the roles of a fortune-teller, a villain, a servant god, and the Prime Minister. **

The role category, which is distinguished by its extremely stylised and usually colourful make-up, is called jing or painted face. In this play the jing actor appears in the roles of a friend of Zhang Xie, the mountain god, an elderly lady, and a prison guard. An actor of the mo type acts as a kind of master of ceremonies introducing the play and the main actors to the audience. Furthermore, he is seen in several minor roles. The supporting female actor, tie, plays the role of the Prime Minister's daughter, who becomes Zhang Xie's second wife. A second supporting female actor, wai, plays the role of the Prime Minister's wife. **

Seven actors in all are seen in the eighteen different roles. Acting styles vary according to the character portrayed. The sung “arias” and the spoken dialogue as well as the stylised dance-like movements, postures and gestures are all accompanied by music while the orchestra is present on the stage all the time. **

The music of the northern zaju was dominated by its quick and rhythmic accompaniment, whereas the music of nanxi was softer, characterised by its lyrical, lingering melodies. The music of the present opera styles, of course, differs from the music of zaju and nanxi; however, this regional stylistic difference is still very much the same. The northern style is usually quicker and more accentuated, while the southern style is generally softer and more lyrical in character. **

Song Dynasty Literature and Poetry

According to the “Middle Ages Reference Library”: “Song China produced several notable writers as well, among them the philosopher Zhu Xi, who like Han Yu helped to reinvigorate Confucian teachings. He became a leader in the movement called Neo-Confucianism, and Zhu Xi's philosophical writings became required reading for generations of civil service applicants. Also during the Song era, the historian Sima Guang (1019–1086) wrote the “Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Chinese Government”, which is one of the most important works of Chinese historical scholarship. Writers of the Song dynasty also included a woman, the poetess Li Qingzhao (1081–c. 1141). Thus the Song era produced one of premodern China's few notable women other than imperial wives and concubines; but the Song also introduced a practice that became a symbol of male domination — foot-binding. [Source: Middle Ages Reference Library, Gale Group, Inc., 2001]


Su Shi

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: “The Wang Anshi school of political philosophy had opponents also in the field of literary style, the so-called Shu Group (Shu means the present province of Sichuan), whose leaders were the famous Three Sus. The greatest of the three was Su Shi (Su Dongdpo1036-1101); the others were his father, Su Xun, and his brother, Su Zhe. It is characteristic of these Shu poets, and also of the Jiangxi school associated with them, that they made as much use as they could of the vernacular. It had not been usual to introduce the phrases of everyday life into poetry, but Su Shi made use of the most everyday expressions, without diminishing his artistic effectiveness by so doing; on the contrary, the result was to give his poems much more genuine feeling than those of other poets. These poets were in harmony with the writings of the Tang period poet Bai Juyi (772-846) and were supported, like Neo-Confucianism, by representatives of trade capitalism. Politically, in their conservatism they were sharply opposed to the Wang Anshi group. Midway between the two stood the so-called Loyang-School, whose greatest leaders were the historian and poet Sima Guang (1019-1086) and the philosopher-poet Shao Yong (1011-1077). [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

“In addition to its poems, the Song literature was famous for the so-called pi-chi or miscellaneous notes. These consist of short notes of the most various sort, notes on literature, art, politics, archaeology, all mixed together. The pi-chi are a treasure-house for the history of the culture of the time; they contain many details, often of importance, about China's neighboring peoples. They were intended to serve as suggestions for learned conversation when scholars came together; they aimed at showing how wide was a scholar's knowledge. To this group we must add the accounts of travel, of which some of great value dating from the Song period are still extant; they contain information of the greatest importance about the early Mongols and also about Turkestan and South China.

Three Perfections of the Scholar-Official: Poetry, Painting and Calligraphy

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “ The life of the educated man involved more than study for the civil service examinations and service in office. Many took to refined pursuits such as collecting antiques or old books and practicing the arts — especially poetry writing, calligraphy, and painting (“the three perfections”). For many individuals these interests overshadowed any philosophical, political, or economic concerns; others found in them occasional outlets for creative activity and aesthetic pleasure. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Consultants Patricia Ebrey and Conrad Schirokauer afe.easia.columbia.edu/song ]

In the Song period the engagement of the elite with the arts led to extraordinary achievement in calligraphy and painting, especially landscape painting. But even more people were involved as connoisseurs. A large share of the informal social life of upper-class men was centered on these refined pastimes, as they gathered to compose or criticize poetry, to view each other’s treasures, or to patronize young talents.

Su Shi (Su Dongpo)—the Quintessential Scholar-Official-Poet

Perhaps the best example of a scholar-official with strong interests in the arts is Su Shi (Su Dongpo, 1036-1101). Su Shi had a long career as a government official in the Northern Song. After performing exceptionally well in the examinations, Su Shi became something of a celebrity. Throughout his life he was a superb and prolific writer of both prose and poetry. Because he took strong stands on many controversial political issues of his day, he got into political trouble several times and was repeatedly banished from the capital. Twice he was exiled for his sharp criticisms of imperial policy. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Consultants Patricia Ebrey and Conrad Schirokauer afe.easia.columbia.edu/song ]

Su was one of the most noted scholars and literary figures of the Northern Song period. According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Best known as a poet, Su was also an esteemed painter and calligrapher and theorist of the arts. He wrote glowingly of paintings done by scholars, who could imbue their paintings with ideas, making them much better than paintings that merely conveyed outward appearance, the sorts of paintings that professional painters made.”

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: Su Shih is probably perhaps best known to Western audiences by his pen name, Su Tung-p'o. Born in 1036, five emperors came to the throne during his lifetime. Eleventh-century China, however, was a period of great political instability. The bitter rivalry between revisionist and conservative factions at court made a political career precarious. For Su Shih, known for his sharp wit and stubborn personality, it was even more difficult. However, the ups and downs of his life and career provided constant inspiration in his art and writing, for which he is so highly regarded by later generations.” It has now been almost 900 years since Su Shih passed away in 1101. Although his writings were once blacklisted, even destroyed, his genius could not be repressed. His poetry and writing have been reprinted, studied, and enjoyed by generations since. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/]

Yue Fei, 1103-1142


Yue Fei with students

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “In 1127 the Northern Song dynasty came to an end as the Jurchen Liao conquered northern China and drove the Song court south to the Yangzi valley. There, from the capital at Hangzhou, the Song court continued as the Southern Song (1127-1279) to rule southern China. The Southern Song empire was an economically and culturally vibrant place, but the defeat at the hands of non-Chinese Jurchen people and the loss of territory rankled. So did the fact that the court was simply not strong enough to recover the lost territory. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

“Yue Fei (1103-1142) was an officer in the Northern Song army. When the Song retreated south in the face of Jin attacks, Yue Fei opposed the retreat. He continued, however, to serve the emperor, rising to the rank of general and engaging in battles with the Jin and in suppression of peasant uprisings. Yue Fei experienced success in his campaigns against the Jin in 1140. The Southern Song Gaozong Emperor and his advisors, however, sought to make peace with the Jin — which involved returning the northern territories that Yue Fei had just recaptured in his campaigns. Yue Fei and his allies stood in the way of the peace negotiations. Accordingly, Yue Fei was ordered to withdraw — which he did, declaring that “the achievements of ten years have been dashed in a single day.” Yue Fei was arrested on charges of plotting rebellion (charges that his defenders insisted were trumped up) and executed in 1141.”

“Yue Fei wrote the following poem as a song to be sung to the tune of “Full River Red.” The “Jingkang period” to which he refers is the last reign-period of the Northern Song — the period in which the Northern Song were defeated by the Jurchen Jin and retreated to the south:[Source: “ Poem to be Sung to the Tune of "Full River Red" by Yue Fei, 1103-1142, from “”Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”,” edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 169-170.


My hair bristles in my helmet.
Standing by the balcony as the rain shower stops,
I look up to the sky and loudly let Heaven know,
The strength of my passions.
My accomplishments over thirty years are mere dust.
I traveled eight thousand li with the clouds and the moon,
Never taking time to rest,
For a young man’s hair grows white from despair.

The humiliation of the Jingkang period,
Has not yet been wiped away.
The indignation I feel as a subject,
Has not yet been allayed.
Let me drive off in a chariot,
To destroy their base at Helan Mountain.
My ambition as a warrior,
Is to satisfy my hunger with the flesh of the barbarians,
Then, while enjoying a rest,
Slake my thirst with the blood of the tribesmen.
Give me the chance to try again,
To recover our mountains and rivers,
Then report to the emperor.

Poem by the Female Song Poet Li Qingzhao

The female poet Li Qingzhao (1084-1151) lived during the Northern and Southern Song Dynasty periods. During her lifetime, the Song lost northern China to the expansionist Jurchen Jin dynasty, which had arisen in Manchuria and driven the Song out of their capital, Kaifeng, in 1126. This defeat and the Song retreat to the Yangzi valley marked the end of the Northern Song period (960-1127) and the beginning of the weaker and smaller Southern Song (1127-1279). Li Qingzhao was raised in a family of notable scholar-officials. Both her parents were highly educated, and Li Qingzhao herself began to attract attention for her poetry when she was still in her teens. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

In the poem below — “Poem to be Sung to the Tune of "Southern Song" (Nan-ge-zi) — Li describes her autumn dress decorated with a lotus-pond scene:
Up in heaven the star.river turns,
in man’s world below, curtains are drawn.
A chill comes to pallet and pillow,
damp with tracks of tears.
I rise to take off my gossamer dress, and just happen to ask,
“How late is it now?” The tiny lotus pods,
kingfisher feathers sewn on;
as the gilt flecks away the lotus leaves grow few.
“The same weather as in times before,
the same old dress — only the feelings in the heart,
are not as they were before.
[Source: “An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911,” edited and translated by Stephen Owen (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), 581-582]

Lu You and Southern Song Poetry


Li Qingzhao

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Lu You (1125~1210), style name "Wuguan" and sobriquet "Fang Weng", was a native of Shanyin, Yuezhou (now Shaoxing City, Zhejiang). He was a famous patriotic poet during the Southern Song Dynasty and is referred to as one of the Four Masters of Southern Song; more than 9,300 of his poems survive today. Born during the "Jingkang Incident" of late Northern Song Dynasty, the young Lu Yo had crossed the Yangtze River with his family to escape the invasion; as an adult, he saw how the imperial administration had continuously pacified and bowed down to the enemy, giving him no opportunity to give himself for the country. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

The majority of his poetry therefore elucidated his blighted ambitions, and many of these verses have resounded through the ages. For example in "The Golden Sword" he wrote: "The Chu Kingdom had destroyed Qin even with only three houses remaining; how is it possible that no man remains in the great China?" The tone of this verse is magnificent and dignified, using the inspiration of the Golden Sword to sonorously expound upon his ambition and determination to recover the lost territories of his country. Besides such powerful verses, Lu You had also written leisurely pieces in admiration of beautiful landscapes. \=/

Popular verses from the "The Golden Sword" go: "For my shame I am to remain unknown in a thousand years records of history, but I have a pure heart longing to serve my emperor" and "The Chu Kingdom had destroyed Qin even with only three houses remaining; how is it possible that no man remains in the great China?" These passionate verses have won him the place he deserves in history. \=/

Printing and the Popularization of Reading in the Song Dynasty

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “By the 9th century, Chinese craftsmen had developed a way to mass produce books by carving words and pictures into wooden blocks, inking them, and then pressing paper onto the blocks. Each block consisted of an entire page of text and illustrations. As in Europe centuries later, the introduction of printing in China dramatically lowered the price of books, thus aiding the spread of literacy. Inexpensive books also gave a boost to the development of drama and other forms of popular culture. The storytellers depicted in the Beijing Qingming scroll may have benefited from “prompt books” that would help them review the stories that they told orally to their audiences. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Consultants Patricia Ebrey and Conrad Schirokauer afe.easia.columbia.edu/song ]

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “During the Southern Song period rule by the literati and literary pursuits were highly emphasized. Reading and other aspects of culture were the height of fashion from the government to the private sector, from governmental officials to every people. While this trend demonstrates on the one hand the diversity of printed books and reading options, on the other hand it is inspired by the revolution of the paper-making and printing industry. These changes gave rise to a new age of printing culture during the Southern Song Period. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Transmission and fusion of culture are heavily reliant upon the printing, selling and distribution of books. Both the Southern Song government and printers from the private sector made use of their respective advantages in printing books. Governmental publications were widely circulated and finely printed, while private publishers made use of advertising and marketing in making known their publication rights. Both government and private sector printed books ultimately became parts of private collections, while others were transmitted to other countries as testament to the richness of cultural fusion. \=/

“During Southern Song the printing industry was highly developed; in the beginning the imperial printers and private printers had generally focused on duplicate prints or reprints of Northern Song editions. At first the printers had primarily published books on Confucianism and references for imperial examinations; later as poetry and literature became more popular, the poetry and prose of famous Tang and Song literati also became popular for publication, leading to creation of a new print font that had a sculpturistic style, was concise in form and visually balanced, and that was unique in the history of printing development in China. The print font adopted by the Zhejiang edition was highly regular in character stroke order and strict in structure, resembling the writing style of Ouyang Xun of Tang Dynasty.

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: Books, which until then had been very dear, because they had to be produced by copyists, could now be produced cheaply and in quantity. It became possible for a scholar to accumulate a library of his own and to work in a wide field, where earlier he had been confined to a few books or even a single text. The results were the spread of education, beginning with reading and writing, among wider groups, and the broadening of education: a large number of texts were read and compared, and no longer only a few. Private libraries came into existence, so that the imperial libraries were no longer the only ones. Publishing soon grew in extent, and in private enterprise works were printed that were not so serious and politically important as the classic books of the past. Thus a new type of literature, the literature of entertainment, could come into existence. Not all these consequences showed themselves at once; some made their first appearance later, in the Song period.[Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

Popular Books in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279)

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Confucianism and its studies experienced a revival in Song dynasty and evolved to form as Lixue ("Learning of the Principle", also known as Neo-Confucianism), from which were derived different schools. Zhu Xi, being the great synthesizer, advocated that through investigation of things and cultivation of one's mind, the ultimate truth and wisdom can be attained, while Lu Jiuyuan established Xinxue ("Learning of the Mind"). Lixue became the major intellectual force of Southern Song dynasty. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Southern Song dynasty had achieved innovation in many fields, including Jingxue, Lixue, technological development and historical studies. During Southern Song period, development in technology went on. Moreover, it revealed its unique ways of thinking and approach toward technology. Yang Hui's “Mathematical Methods” ushers in the beginning of mathematics education. Chen Fu's “On Farming” records the cultivation technology of rice. \=/

“Study of history was extremely popular during the Southern Song Period, and a great number of historians wrote excellent treatises and records. Li Tao's “A Sequel to the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Governance” compiled historical events from the nine reigns of the Northern Song Period; Li Xinchuan's “A Chronicle of the Most Important Events since the Jianyan Period” recorded historical events during the reign of Gaozong of Song Dynasty; Yuan Shu's “Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Governance, a Narrative Edition” created historical chronicles as a form of recording history; Zheng Qiao's “A General History” expanded the scope of historical recordings about governmental and administration systems.” \=/

“Critical Compilation of All Books by Mr. Shantang”

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Critical Compilation of All Books by Mr. Shantang: compiled by Zhang Ruyu of Song Dynasty, also referred to as the "Critical Compilation by Mr. Shantang" or "Critical Compilation of All Books", was an important reference material for imperial examinations during the Southern Song Dynasty. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Zhang Ruyu, style name Junqing, was a native of Jinhua, Wuzhou (now Jinhua, Zhejiang). Having angered the powerful Han Tuozhou, he resigned from his position and returned to teach in the mountains. He was respected far and wide as a teacher, and was referred to as "Mr. Shantang". His compilation of "Shantang Examination Reference" originally comprised of 100 volumes in 10 catalogues, which was continuously added during the Yuan and Ming Dynasties, and it finally became 212 volumes in 46 catalogues. The entire treatise compiles the current political affairs and system of ceremony from earlier dynasties, citing innumerous classics and historical records, and can be said to be a most comprehensive reference. The National Palace Museum holds only 10 volumes of one anthology, "Governmental Appointment System", covering the subjects of positions and offices, examinations, remuneration, official farms, employ, honors and awards. \=/

“These volumes are bound in the so-called "Pocket-sized Edition (kerchief box)" format, which is one of the special characteristics of these volumes. "Kerchief box" refers to the small box used to carry head-kerchiefs in ancient times. The publishers had deliberately published books in small sizes so that the scholars could conveniently carry them in their kerchief boxes, and these were then referred to as "Pocked-sized Edition". The book exhibited here not only to demonstrate how the popularity of imperial examinations had affected published contents of books at the time; more importantly, the ease of carriage of kerchief box editions evidences the convenience and diversity of dissemination of books during the Southern Song Dynasty. \=/

History and Culture Books from the Southern Song Dynasty

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “”The Recollections of the Southern Song Capital of Linan” is a book of informal historical records written by Zhou Mi of the late of Southern Song Dynasty and the early of Yuan Dynasty. Besides describing the urban sights of the Southern Song capital of Linan, it also describes aspects of palaces. In miscellaneous narratives, Zhou Mi describes in detail the Southern Song court ceremonies, landscapes, customs, seasonal products, schools and music, and it is an important reference for understanding the economics, culture and daily life of the Southern Song Dynasty. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“For example, volume six records: "There are entertainment houses, such as Bei Wa and Yang Peng Terrace, and there are also many golan. The thirteen golan within Bei Wa are the most popular; there may also be some who do not enter the theaters, but simply put up performances at in the open amongst crowds; these are called ‘dayehe' and are second class performance groups." "Wazi" and "golan" referred to fixed performance locations in Song Dynasty, with professional art and culture performance groups of varied sizes. According to Zhou Mi, in addition to the many golan", there were also second-class performances called "dayehe" put up "in the open amongst crowds". One can see that there were a large number of performance groups in Linan City and their performance locations were not particularly restricted; they could perform in all weather, in summer or winter, come rain or shine. The entertainment and cultural lives of the Linan people during the Southern Song Dynasty must have been extremely rich and colorful. \=/

“Zhao Gongwu (circa 1105~1180), style name "Zizhi", was native of Juye, Shandung. His family resided Shaode area of Bianjing, and he was therefore referred to as "Mr. Shaode". His work Study Notes of Zhao Gongwu is the earliest index of a private book collection with title explanations surviving in China today. Many of the items in his collection were books not mentioned of "Song History", and not only supplements the omissions in Song History: Art and Literature Record but also serves as a reference for various Classics and treatises written before and during Song Dynasty. In ancient times categories adopted for library indexes were created based on the kinds of books actually in the collection; the book collector would refer to the prevailing academic customs and earlier methods of indexing, in creating an indexing system that best expresses the particular characteristics of his book collection and that is most convenient to use. Study Notes of Zhao Gongwu not only shows cultural characteristics unique to those times, but also expressly or implicitly convey the personal academic views of the book collector; this is the special quality of private book collections in Song Dynasty. \=/

Commentaries on the Rites of Zhou

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “The Confucian classics are unshakeable as proponents of principles of the world. In their attempt to revitalize culture, the Song literati must also start from interpretation of the classics. "The Rites of Zhou", also referred to as "The Book of Zhou Officials", describes the governmental system of the Zhou Dynasty and the responsibilities of each official. To a certain extent, it is quite idealistic and is a must-read for all literati. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

It was said that this book was written by Zhou Gong, divided into six chapters: "Officies of Heaven (Tianguan Zhongzai)", "Officies of Earth (Diguan Situ)", "Officies of Spring (Chuanguan Zongbo)", "Officies of Summer (Xiaguan Sima)", "Officies of Autumn (Qiuguan Sikong)" and "Officies of Winter (Dongguan Sikong)". Zheng Xuan of Eastern Han (127~200) annotated the full book based on the views expressed by other famous scholars, while commentaries were provided by Jia Gongyen, a renowned scholar during the Tang Dynasty. "The Rites of Zhou" was especially meaningful for the Song literati; not only did they fully concur with the political and educational ideals expressed in the book, they also considered the governmental system described in the book a sound basis for governmental reforms during Song Dynasty.

This "Bureau of Tea and Salt edition" prints the original text, the notes and the commentaries in one book, a practice that first began in the reign of Gaozong Emperor of Southern Song Dynasty and reflected the popularity of scholarly pursuits during Southern Song Dynasty, as well as innovativeness in study of the classics. This practice facilitated the in-depth reading required for imperial examinations, and was followed by posterity. As a result there were "revised editions", which means that books were reprinted and published from printing plates that were repaired twice or more. This is the evidence of showing the importance of Southern Song imprint.

Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Governance by Yuan Shu

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: ““Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Governance, a Narrative Edition,” comprising of 42 volumes, was composed by Yuan Shu of the Southern Song Dynasty. Yuan Shu (1131~1205), style name Jizhong, was a native of Jianan (now Jianou in Fujian). Having passed the imperial examination in the first year of in the 1st Year of Longxing period (1163), he had worked on composing the chronicles of Chinese history as an editor of the National Historical Institute, and strictly adhered to the court historian's principle of stating the truth without concealments. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ ]

“Yuan Shu had enjoyed studying the “Comprehensive Mirror to Aid in Government” by Sima Guang, but was troubled by the extensiveness of its contents. In order to thoroughly understand this book, Yuan Shu had composed the Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Governance, a Narrative Edition, creating a new form of historical records. Ever since the Han Dynasty, historical records had been either biographical or chronological; however, biographical records often repeatedly referred to a single incident in several chapters, while chronological records resulted in an incident being recorded in different volumes and scrolls. Yuan Shu had the innovative idea of having each historical event being a separate unit, combining the spirits of both biographical and chronological recording, thereby creating a new "full chronicle form". His book began with "Partition of Jin" and finally ended on "Conquer of Huainan by Emperor Shizong of Later Zhou", totaling 239 events with additional 66 events appended. \=/

“The appearance of the "full chronicle form" of historical records in Southern Song Dynasty was particularly significant to the popularization and wide reach of historical studies, and therefore this book immediately enjoyed an important position in Southern Song. After Ming and Qing Dynasties, all kinds of books were printed under the titles of full chronicles, summarized chronicles and general plans. This exhibition displays the revision during during Yuan and Ming Dynasties printed by Zhao Yuchou in the 5th year of Baoyou period of Southern Song Dynasty, which was originally preserved in the Tianlu Linglang Library of the Qing Palace. In the phrase "Political discussions between Taizong Emperor and his vassals in the reign of Zhengguan period", the word "Zhen" was prohibited during Song Dynasty because of it referred to the emperor's name; therefore, it was replaced by anther "Zhen' character. \=/

Song Dynasty Cookbooks

Jacqueline M. Newman wrote in Food in History:“Many anecdotal food canons were published during” the Song Dynasty; “so were a few recipe books. The latter were a great improvement over earlier ones. One of these was the first ever to provide ingredients in measured amounts; it was called Madame Wu's Recipe Book and Wu Shih Ching Kuei Lu, in Chinese. This book was the first to offer more than simplistic generalized instructions, though they were a far cry from methods listed in steps, as they are these days. Instead, Madame Wu's book offered instructions such as 'bake on top of the stove' or 'drip oil over them' or 'cook... until very soft.' There was an oft quoted one that said 'cover the pot closely and add one or two mulberry stones which makes the meat tender.' Another frequently mentioned one is 'in summer, cook meat with only vinegar.' [Source: Jacqueline M. Newman, Food in History, Fall Volume: 2008 Issue: 15(3) page(s): 20 and 21 ***]

“One poet, Yu Shipi, wrote about eating plain meat, brains, frog's legs, pigs' knuckles, fish maw, and other exotica. He liked them and said that these unusual foods were served to the Crown Prince. Some culinary, he discussed, included blanching kidneys and cooking them with wine and vinegar, sauteing quail with bamboo shoots, cooking crab legs with venison, preparing river prawns in soup with fish maw, and stewing whitefish in wine. How long any of these were prepared and/or cooked or how they should look when done, he mentioned not. That seemed to be left to the knowledge or imagination of each individual cook. ***

“Books of these times were more booklets than books, as we know them today. For example, one popular one was just a few pages. It was called Menu of Delectables. Others were a mite longer such as A Chef's Manual, or the Imperial Food List. A one hundred-plus page volume was titled Basic Needs of Rustic Living. There was another of one hundred fifty-pages titled Records of the Corrigible Studio. ***

“One can get a mental taste of foods then looking at the first two recipes below. They are from Madame Wu's Cookbook and written in paragraph form as they were in the original before translation. They are here to show how recipes were written then, not to cook them. 1) Shortbread: Mix four ounces butter, one ounce of honey, and a pound of flour. Make this into cakes and bake. 2) Pickled Shrimp: Use large shrimp and remove their tails and tiny legs. For each pound use five mace and salt and let them stand half a day (covered and in the refrigerator). Drain and place in an earthenware jar and top each layer with thirty grains of wild pepper to make the flavor interesting. Add three ounces salt for each pound of shrimp and first dissolve it in good wine. Pour it over the shrimp. Seal the jar with mud. In spring and autumn it will become tasty in five to seven days; in winter it takes ten days.” ***

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons; Theater images: Dr. Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance website, Theater Academy Helsinki

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated August 2021


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