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Course description

The Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) Dynasties

This is the first part of a series of four upper-division courses that give a survey of late imperial and modern Chinese history (10th to 20th centuries); it covers the period from the founding of the Song dynasty in 960 through the end of the Mongol Yuan dynasty in 1368.
Within a chronological framework the course will focus on a series of topics that show how in the Song political and social institutions were transformed, changes that justify to call the Song a new society:
civil government dominated politics and the access to positions in the civil service was regulated by state examinations. To pass these examinations and join the ranks of the officials became the most important objective for the male intellectual elite.
During the Song dynasty several attempts for economic reforms were staged. We will discuss the controversies ignited by new policies concerning land distribution and tax payments.
Privately organized artisan and commercial enterprises as well as technical innovations resulted in an expansion of commerce and an increase of agricultural productivity.
Changes in the family system affected the role of women in society. These changes also found expression in the material evidence of popular and elite culture.
The influence of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism in politics did not remain without lasting consequences in their own specific way.
The internal thrive of Song society was not matched by military strength and vigor of the state. Its achievements were threatened by the empires of the Qidan, Ruzhen and Xixia nomads.
But it were the Mongols who overran and eventually defeated the Song and established the first foreign dynasty on Chinese territory which lasted more than a century. Exploiting their newly gained territory economically, the Yuan installed a government that called foreigners to serve in  the civil service. Many Chinese literati were left in a position where they had to find new strategies of economic and political survival. They came to employ drama,vernacular literature, and painting as their most important means of self-expression.
Despite the short duration of its rule the influence of the Yuan dynasty on Chinese society and later Chinese governments was to be felt until the end of the dynastic period. After a chronological survey of the main events we will examine how these influences changed ideological concepts of rulership in China.