Song Dynasty: The Almost Industrial Revolution Between A. D 960-1279 China entered a phase of economic and agricultural growth that was much larger than ever before. Revolutions in farming, ideology, and bureaucracy allowed the Song Dynasty to become the world’s first modern economy. This great economy resulted in high levels of urbanization and favorable conditions for technological development, commerce and a rural-based proto-industrialization. Despite the rich development and likelihood of an industrious revolution, why didn’t the Song Dynasty in China go through social, economic, and technological dvancement consistent with an industrial revolution, despite being at the pinnacle of production and having, for its time, the world’s first modern government? The 300 or so years leading up to the Song Dynasty were filled with radical social and economical development. A growing population and the creation of large cities such as Kaifeng, Hangzhou and Beijing provided homes and land for upwards of 20 million people.
These cities were not only homes and places of work for millions of people but became market centers for trade and maritime commerce. Within these large ities, social classes started to develop, and through the competitive examinations elites began to take control and gain power. As social classes began to divide, private and maritime trade increased expanding the economic market creating a new wealthy mercantile class. The mercantile class became well versed and educated in the market system and proved to the working and middle class that production and trading of goods was extremely profitable.
As money was becoming easier to come buy and the competitive examinations became increasingly important education tarted to develop to train people to take these extremely hard exams. 2 The exams, when passed, gave people the chance to become government officials and provide honor and wealth for their families. The selection of qualified citizens to become elites or officers in the Song bureaucracy created what Max Weber refers to as a Confucian ideology. 3 The philosopher Zhu Xi combined Weber’s Confucian ideology with Buddhism, and Taoism to create what we know as Neo-confucian ideology.
Weber suggests that the bureaucracy created by Neo-confucian ideologies was stifling and tended to crowd out large-scale private activity. The new Neo-confucian ideology taught people to put the interest of the whole over any individual interest. This Philosophy evolved into an official creed, which stressed one-sided duties of obedience and compliance of subject to ruler, child to father, wife to husband, and younger brother to elder brother. 4 Any disruption of the hierarchy of power created by these philosophies was punishable by death.
The effect of this was long term political, social, and spiritual stability at the expense of industrial development, extinguishing any private initiative, which in most cases would lead to the creation of dvances in technology. The reduction of science based innovation and technological advances caused little to be passed on to future generations. The success of experiments comes from many trials and errors and discovering mistakes that were made in each one. The lack of these trials due to little private initiative made it OITTlcult Tor tne receptlon 0T Torelgn tecnnology. Dav10 Lances, In nls plece Europe and the West?
Why not China? argues that the rejection of foreign technology was the more serious because China itself had long slipped into a regime of echnological and scientific inertia, coasting along on the strength of previous gains and slowly losing speed as a result of the inevitable frictions of vested interest and divisions of talent and wealth into the comfort and gratification of gentility. 5 Why would the Song people seek to improve their situation if they already had everything they needed? The institutions that pushed for entrepreneurship were not in place due to Confucian ideas that considered private experimentation superficial. The role of the pre-modern state in China was to narrow any possibilities of private initiative f domestic competition and incentives. Discouraging any excessive capital gains including the use of taxes, pushed farmers into extra hours of work on the farm rather than leisure time with the possibility of tinkering and experimentation. This however, caused the Song people to be very good at what they already did. Without the presence of an ever-changing technological society the farmers, weavers, and builders could focus on improving their practice. Small improvements in many fields ultimately lead to success on a large scale.
The Song people became experts in gricultural techniques and developed new tools and strains of rice to increase the yield of their crops. Many agricultural developments during the time of the Song Dynasty helped it to not only become sustainable for a growing population but for a growing market of import and export. New strains of the rice gene were developed to increase the yield of crops. Rice that was resistant to drought and rice that ripened early gave the Song people ways to work around unusual weather patterns and areas of harsh climate. These new developments in rice produced larger yields than ever efore.
Larger rice yields required bigger and better tools to harvest them. The curved shaft plow and the use of Bison and Buffalo allowed for easier turning and maneuvering for quick and precise extraction of the rice. A vast system of canals throughout the Yangtze Valley was created to help irrigate crops and also to transport the harvest to distant markets. This made it possible for large amounts of food to reach places that have smaller populations due to food scarcity. The increase in food production, yield, and availability throughout the area, lowered the cost of hese items making it easier for parents to support their families.
Families with plenty of food in the kitchen became comfortable having more children. They could support multiple children and did not have to worry about the shortage or scarcity of food. This caused the population to rise tremendously in the years to come. A census taken in 1086 shows a population of over 100 million, which was double that of 200 years before. This increased population created a huge workforce of farmers, builders, sewers and elites that would do anything for work. This was great for the arket, however, the overflow of workhands made it unnecessary for the development of labor saving technologies.
It did not make sense for land and business owners to develop costly machinery when there were plenty of workers to do the Jobs no matter how tough and risky they were. Not only would new labor saving machinery be redundant, it would also cause large unemployment of the quickly growing population. The development of drought resistant rice also lessened the need for new technology because it allowed farmers to plant on lands that normally were not sul taDle Tor a sustalnaDle narvest. I nousanas 0T acres Decame available for farmers to plant and push even more product into the markets.
Without new tools and resistant species of rice, there may have been need for advancement in labor reducing technology. The need and demand were simply not there because of the production that could be attained with the current technological developments. The Song dynasty not only saw developments in agriculture but a flurry of technological breakthroughs such as the water powered spinning machine for textiles, the usage of coke to smelter iron, gunpowder, the compass, paper and he stirrup. 7 Heavvy industry, especially iron, also grew at an astounding pace.
With advances in metallurgy, iron production reached around 125,000 tons per year in 1078, a sixfold increase over the output in 800. 8 Much of the iron production was used for military purposes. Armor and weapons were created in all sizes through the development of metallurgy. The iron along with newly developed gunpowder, paper, tea, and sugar was transported all over china through the canals. 9 Merchants needed a sufficient and fast way to buy and sell these items. The creation of paper urrency (used over the copper coin) and credit institutions helped to do this and in turn strengthened the Song economy even more. 0 This economy flourished because of the Chinese feudalistic approach to military and the land used for defense. Rather than have private land used for military purposes, peasants were encouraged to use the land for agriculture and to sell the product in the markets. Combined with the Neo-confucian beliefs that military and war were unnecessary uses of resources and people, the Song Dynasty was vulnerable to military conquest and threats from militarized groups. Despite being one of the most technologically and culturally developed peoples in the world, the Song were limited by their military power.
Part of the reason for this may be because Neo-confucianism held military in very low concern. Neo-confucianism did not recognize the military as being part of the four official classes of occupations; therefore, the military consisted of either the poor, uneducated peasants, mercenaries or allies. The Song government offered diplomacy in forms of tribute and money to such groups as the Khitan, Jurchen, and Mongols to buy peace and an agreement not to invade. Rather than spend resources on improving the strength of their military, the Song decided to use the funds from the prosperous market systems. l Buying peace worked for many years until the Mongol invasion in the late 13th century. The Mongols took over control of the Song and tried to assimilate themselves into the culture and the Confucian beliefs that were held. This did not go so well because of the complex philosophies that were so strong within the Song people. Turmoil hit the Song region and a downhill spiral began affecting the economy and market systems ending any chance of movement towards ndustrial revolution.
This paper has investigated three main points as to why China failed to industrialize despite experiencing a period of rapid economic growth and technological progress for several centuries. First, the Song military was inadequate despite its expertise and production of iron for weapons and armor. The lack of horses, military movements, techniques and commanders due to the unimportance of military in the Confucian belief system, caused them to be susceptible to foreign attacks. The invasion and take over of the China by the Mongols ended any chance of an industrial revolution.
Secondly, the population growth of the time due to advancement In agrarlan tecnnology ana new stralns 0T rice tnat Increased production and yield would have made any labor saving machinery redundant. The creation of this machinery would of cause large amounts of unemployment and would have a negative effect on the Confucian ideas of self-worthiness. The availability of new lands due to drought resistant rice and an overwhelming number of people coming into the workforce extinguished any need for labor saving technologies. Land pressure, which usually inspires developments in technology, was irrelevant until the 15th century.
Lastly, the Song bureaucracy and its Confucian ideology steered merchants and peasants away from entrepreneurship that would lead to tinkering and experimentation. Philosophies that focused on the support of the state rather than privateers crowded out any possible technological development. There was no need for the Song people to try to improve their situation because they didn’t face any adversity that would challenge the social normativity. The Song hit an imaginative barrier in terms of industrial growth due to the ideals of the state and agricultural technology that were ahead of its time.
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