Song Dynasty Timeline

The Song Dynasty, reigning from 960 to 1279, stands as one of the most culturally rich and innovative periods in Chinese history.

Emerging after a time of fragmentation and military strife, the Song era brought significant advancements in technology, art, literature, and philosophy.

Split into two major periods, the Northern Song (960–1127) and the Southern Song (1127–1279), the dynasty faced both internal political challenges and external pressures, particularly from nomadic neighbors to the north and west.

Its eventual fall came at the hands of the Mongols, ushering in the Yuan Dynasty. Yet, the Song’s intellectual and artistic legacy continued to influence subsequent dynasties and remains a pivotal chapter in China’s vast historical tapestry.

Time Period Key Events
960 Zhao Kuangyin establishes the Song Dynasty
960-976 Reign of Emperor Taizu
976-997 Reign of Emperor Taizong
1004 Treaty of Shanyuan with the Liao Dynasty
1040s-1080s Wang Anshi’s reforms
1085 Death of Emperor Shenzong
1100s Border conflicts with Western Xia & Jurchens
1126 Jurchens capture Kaifeng
1127 Start of Southern Song in Hangzhou
1130-1160s Military efforts of Yue Fei
1170s-1180s Reign of Emperor Xiaozong
1200s Rise of the Mongol Empire
1259 Death of Möngke Khan
1271 Kublai Khan establishes the Yuan Dynasty
1276 Mongols capture Hangzhou
1279 Battle of Yamen, end of the Song Dynasty

Timeline of the Song Dynasty

960 – Zhao Kuangyin establishes the Song Dynasty

Zhao Kuangyin, also known as Emperor Taizu of Song, was a military general under the Later Zhou dynasty.

Also Read: Song Dynasty Accomplishments

In 960, through a coup known as the Chenqiao mutiny, he overthrew the Zhou and founded the Song Dynasty. He was a wise and capable ruler who strengthened central authority and brought stability to the empire.

This marked the beginning of an era known for its rich culture, advances in technology, and flourishing of arts and literature.

960-976 – Reign of Emperor Taizu

Emperor Taizu’s reign focused on consolidating power and establishing the foundation for the dynasty.

He implemented military reforms, which included disbanding the military jiedushi (warlords) that had dominated much of the previous centuries, centralizing command, and reducing the threat of military coups.

Also Read: Yuan Dynasty Facts

Additionally, he promoted Confucian scholars to high-ranking government positions, thus reinforcing the importance of civil administration over military prowess.

976-997 – Reign of Emperor Taizong

After the death of Emperor Taizu, his younger brother Zhao Guangyi ascended to the throne as Emperor Taizong. He continued many of the policies and reforms initiated by Taizu.

Taizong expanded the territory of the Song Dynasty and faced several military challenges, most notably from the Northern Liao Dynasty. His reign also saw the strengthening of centralized power and the continuation of the scholarly class’s influence in governance.

1004 – Treaty of Shanyuan with the Liao Dynasty

The Song Dynasty and the Khitan Liao Dynasty in the north had been in conflict over territory and influence. In 1004, after several battles, the two empires negotiated the Treaty of Shanyuan.

Under the treaty’s terms, the Song Dynasty agreed to pay annual tribute to the Liao in silver and silk, effectively recognizing the Liao’s claim to parts of northern China.

In return, the Liao agreed to a peace pact with the Song. This treaty ensured relative peace between the two dynasties for the next century.

1040s-1080s – Wang Anshi’s reforms

Wang Anshi was a prominent scholar-official during Emperor Shenzong’s reign. Concerned about the dynasty’s fiscal health, the plight of peasants, and corruption in the bureaucracy, Wang proposed and implemented a series of radical reforms.

Some of these included instituting a land survey to correct tax inequities, introducing low-interest government loans for farmers, and creating a new militia system to reduce military costs.

While well-intentioned, his reforms met resistance from conservative factions within the government, and their impact was mixed. After Wang’s death, many of his reforms were rolled back.

1085 – Death of Emperor Shenzong

Emperor Shenzong ruled the Song Dynasty from 1067 to 1085. His reign is particularly noted for the deep reforms instigated by his chief minister, Wang Anshi, which aimed to strengthen the dynasty both economically and militarily.

However, these reforms also stirred substantial controversy, creating significant rifts within the bureaucracy. The disagreements over Wang Anshi’s policies persisted even after the emperor’s death, leading to political instability.

Upon Emperor Shenzong’s death, his son, Emperor Zhezong, took the throne.

1100s – Border conflicts with Western Xia & Jurchens

During the 1100s, the Song Dynasty faced external threats from neighboring states. The Western Xia (also known as the Tanguts), situated to the northwest of Song China, frequently clashed with the Song over territory and tribute.

The larger threat, however, emerged from the northeast in the form of the Jurchens, who established the Jin Dynasty. Initially allies with the Song against the Liao, the Jurchens turned against the Song, leading to a series of military conflicts.

This tension culminated in the Jin’s invasion and capture of the Song capital of Kaifeng in 1126, marking a significant turning point in the Song Dynasty’s history.

1126 – Jurchens capture Kaifeng

The capture of Kaifeng by the Jurchens was a devastating blow to the Song Dynasty. Emperor Qinzong, along with thousands of his court members and citizens, were taken captive and forcibly relocated to the Jin capital.

This traumatic event marked the end of the Northern Song Dynasty. However, remnants of the Song court fled south, regrouping and re-establishing the dynasty. This period that followed is known as the Southern Song Dynasty, with Hangzhou as its new capital.

1127 – Start of Southern Song in Hangzhou

With the north under Jurchen control, the Song court re-established itself in the south, marking the beginning of the Southern Song Dynasty.

The capital was set in Hangzhou, a city that would flourish under Song rule to become one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the world at the time. The Southern Song witnessed an era of cultural and economic resurgence.

However, militarily, the Song were on the defensive, with continued threats from the Jin to the north.

1130-1160s – Military efforts of Yue Fei

Yue Fei is one of China’s most celebrated military heroes and played a pivotal role during the early years of the Southern Song Dynasty. He was a staunch patriot who sought to reclaim lost Song territories from the Jurchens.

Under his leadership, the Song armies achieved several victories against the Jin. However, his efforts were often undermined by court politics, particularly by those who advocated for peace with the Jin.

In a tragic turn of events, due to political conspiracies and the peace faction’s influence, Yue Fei was wrongly accused of treason and executed in 1142.

His death remains one of the most significant and controversial episodes of the Song Dynasty, and he is remembered as a symbol of loyalty and patriotism in Chinese culture.

1170s-1180s – Reign of Emperor Xiaozong

Emperor Xiaozong reigned from 1162 to 1189. He was recognized as a competent ruler who worked on stabilizing the dynasty following the turmoil of the earlier Southern Song period.

While he continued diplomatic efforts with the Jin Dynasty in the north, his reign also saw the strengthening of the southern defenses and military revitalization.

Additionally, he worked on economic reforms, improving the fiscal health of the empire, and encouraging cultural and scholarly activities.

1200s – Rise of the Mongol Empire

During the 13th century, the Mongol Empire, founded by Genghis Khan, rapidly expanded across Asia. Their conquests were vast and reached as far as Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

As the Mongol Empire grew, it started to pose a significant threat to the states of East Asia, including the Song Dynasty.

The initial conflicts between the Song and the Mongols were intermittent, but by the mid-13th century, the Mongol aim of subduing the Song became more apparent.

1259 – Death of Möngke Khan

Möngke Khan was the fourth Khagan of the Mongol Empire. His reign saw some of the largest military campaigns by the Mongols, which included the invasions of the Middle East, South China, and the attempted invasions of Japan.

During a campaign against the Song Dynasty, Möngke Khan died in 1259. His death led to a halt in the Mongol advances against the Song, as a succession crisis ensued. Kublai Khan, Möngke’s brother, would ultimately emerge as his successor and focus his energies on conquering the Song.

1271 – Kublai Khan establishes the Yuan Dynasty

After consolidating his power, Kublai Khan declared the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty in 1271, effectively marking the Mongol rule of China.

Though he established the Yuan Dynasty, the Song Dynasty still resisted Mongol control. Kublai Khan would spend the next few years in an aggressive campaign to annex the entire Song territory.

1276 – Mongols capture Hangzhou

The Mongol campaigns against the Song culminated in the siege and eventual capture of Hangzhou in 1276. Hangzhou, being the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty, was a significant prize for the Mongols.

With its fall, the Song Dynasty was dealt a severe blow. The young Song Emperor Gongzong was captured, but a few members of the Song royal family managed to escape further south.

1279 – Battle of Yamen, end of the Song Dynasty

The remnants of the Song court and their remaining naval forces made a last stand against the Mongols at the Battle of Yamen in 1279. It was a naval engagement where the vastly outnumbered Song fleet was defeated by the Mongol navy.

The last Song emperor, Emperor Bing, a child of just eight years, perished after the battle, symbolically marking the end of the Song Dynasty. With this, the Mongol conquest of China was complete, and the Yuan Dynasty would rule over the unified Chinese territories.