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How elegant Song Dynasty declined

Author  :  YU YUGUO     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2019-01-29

The Decline of the Southern Song Dynasty: The Era from Emperor Guangzong to Emperor Ningzong

Strictly speaking, The Decline of the Southern Song Dynasty is not a new book. It is a revised edition of an older book of mine, Emperor Guangzong (c. 1189–1194) and Emperor Ningzong (c. 1194–1224 ) that was published over two decades ago. 

The reign of Emperor Guangzong and Emperor Ningzong lasted for 36 years. Before them, it was Emperor Xiaozong (c. 1162–1189), and after them it was Emperor Lizong (c. 1224–1264). Emperor Xiaozong was the only emperor in the Southern Song Dynasty who tried to make some positive contribution to his realm. It was exactly after Emperor Xiaozong abdicated the throne that the Southern Song Dynasty began to decline. Emperors Guangzong and Ningzong ruled at the turning point from a period that seemed promising to a period that approached collapse.

Emperor Guangzong eventually became mentally unhinged. However, before then, he couldn’t wait to take the throne. After he lost his sanity, he refused to give up the throne. He ruled as a lunatic for nearly three years. Emperor Ningzong, his son, had mediocre intelligence and capability. As an emperor, he was definitely unqualified and incompetent. These two emperors found themselves at this turning point of the Southern Song history because of a hereditary monarchy; the outcome is obvious. 

The ruling of Emperor Guangzong led to the decline of the prosperous years of the Qiandao Period (1165–1174) and Chunxi Period (1174–1189) during the reign of Emperor Xiaozong (c. 1162–1189). During Emperor Ningzong’s reign, Han Tuozhou (1152–1207) and Shi Miyuan (1164–1233) seized power as they served as prime minister in succession. In order to get rid of dissidents, Han Tuozhou dismissed Zhu Xi (1130–1200), a prominent Confucian master, from office and banned all kinds of political parties. To strengthen his own power, he redressed the unjust case of the executed patriotic general Yue Fei (1103–1142) for Yue’s determination to resist against the military forces of the Jin people. Han also tried to win the support of Lu You (1125–1210) and Xin Qiji (1140–1207), and he recklessly launched a northern expedition to fight against the Jin people.

The reversal of fortune in the history of the Southern Song Dynasty was shaped during the reign of Emperors Guangzong and Ningzong. If we compare the political, military, economic and cultural situation of 1189 when Emperor Xiaozong gave up the throne, with that of 1224 when Emperor Ningzong died, we may find that spanning a gradual change of over 30 years, the Southern Song Dynasty irreversibly turned from a peaceful and prosperous age to a declining one. 




(edited by CHEN ALONG)

Editor: Yu Hui

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