By Donna Carey, LAc and Ellen F. Franklin, Phd
Oriental Medicine Journal - Wood/Spring 2018 - Vol. 26, No 3
The Song dynasty (960-1279 AD) was a time of cultural richness, advanced learning, and sophistication when the arts, sciences, and Chinese medicine flourished. Culinary arts, theatre, painting, poetry, and literature took their places beside philosophy and technological and scientific advancements, in fields as diverse as agriculture, ironworking, printing, and healthcare, including the printing of authoritative editions of medical classics published by the Bureau for Editing Medical Books, founded in 1057. This article paints a picture of what life was like in a culture that contributed so greatly to the advancement of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It explores the conditions within which the practice of TCM flourished and draws comparisons with what is happening to TCM in modern China.
The Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD)
The Song did not try to match the military strength of earlier dynasties or of their neighbors. Instead they focused their energies on the establishment of a civil state. Recognizing the strength of their neighbors, they chose cultural advancement. Founded as they emerged from the Warring States period, after more than a century of civil war, what developed was a period of unprecedented economic and industrial growth. A definitive moral, ethical, and metaphysical philosophy governed the political and social spheres of the Song dynasty. The teachings of Confucius and Mencius, who wrote from a desire to restore order after times of chaos and political unrest, were revisited; and neo-Confucianism emerged and remained prominent during the Song and Ming dynasties. In an exploration of the Northern Song Commentaries, Wood (1995) reflects: “If there is any single quality that the many varied expressions of early Sung culture share, it is the impulse to unify, to synthesize, to bring together rather than to separate, to discern underlying essence rather than temporary accident.”
Wood cites three significant commentators of the Northern Song – Sun Fu (992-1057), Ch’eng I (1033-1107), and Hu An-kuo (1074-1138) – who referenced the classics, particularly the Ch’un-ch’iu (The Spring and Autumn Annals), a chronicle of events covering 722-479 BC and believed at the time to have been compiled by Confucius. These scholars shared an optimistic view with regard to change and believed that the purpose of political order is moral, not material. They expressed a fundamental concern with regard to authority that constituted a basis for civil order and national unity while also acknowledging that the moral purposes of human social life are to restrain arbitrary imperial power and prevent government from degenerating into tyranny.
Sung neo-Confucian commentators on the Ch’un-ch’iu owed their ultimate loyalty to what they believed were universally valid moral principles, and in the practical application of those principles to political events (in the Ch’un-ch’iu) they demonstrated a deep understanding of the irreconcilable tension between what one can do in an imperfect world of conflicting interests and loyalties and what one ought to do. (Wood, 1998, p. 158)
The Song Dynasty is considered China’s golden age, with many similarities to the early modern period of Europe which did not begin until nearly two hundred years later with the invention of movable type in 1450, the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and the beginning of the high Renaissance in Italy around 1490.
The Silk Road and the Song Dynasty
The elevated high culture of the Song would not have been possible without the Silk Road, which brought rich ideas and diverse cultures together. Many of the advances at this time were linked to this vast network of trade routes that stretched across Asia from the Pacific to the Mediterranean, with cities such as Constantinople and Damascus serving as homes to brilliant scholars. Recent articles on the new Silk Road, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, led us to a more in-depth study of this initiative which we explore later in this article.
From the 2nd century BC to the 15th century AD, civilizations such as China, India, Greece, Persia, and Rome exchanged goods and knowledge along trade routes that linked Asia and Europe through economic, political, religious, and cultural bridges. The Silk Road connected the Orient to the Occident and modern day western China with Europe via Bukhara and Samarkand, ancient cities that were part of the Persian Empire and now belong to Uzbekistan, Afghanistan’s northern neighbor. This critical cultural nexus stretched from the Korean Peninsula and Japan to the Mediterranean Sea. It was all-encompassing, incorporating routes on land and sea, connecting Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southern Europe. Its later permutations connected the Eurasian Steppe Routes. In modern times, new initiatives, such as China’s Belt and Road (also known as “One Belt, One Road” or OBOR) Initiative, are focused on building a modern-day Silk Road, already opening a vast new network of rail lines, sea, and air routes.
MAIN TRADERS DURING ANTIQUITY:
AND FROM 5TH TO 8TH CENTURY SOGDIANS
It was during this cultural exchange between China and the West that China’s Four Great Inventions emerged, papermaking, printing, gunpowder, and the compass. All of these along with silkworm breeding and spinning skills were transmitted to the West, accelerating development of world culture. Trade and economy flowed both ways. The Chinese exported silk textiles, medicinal herbs from China’s first public pharmacies, carved jade, and many luxury goods, like porcelains and lacquers. They imported horses for the military, glassware, raw jade, gold, and silver; many luxury items came from
western Eurasia, including rare animals, flavorings, jewelry, grapes, clover, walnuts, carrots, peppers, beans, spinach, cucumbers, and pomegranates.
The Song depended heavily on civilian government growth; funding the military was not a priority. As early as 1127, the Song began to fall to Northern
invaders, decreasing their dynasty by half. By the late twelfth century the southern Song was focused on strengthening the state and recovering the northern territories. Their focus was on transforming society by promoting a culture of self-cultivation, coherence, and education grounded in the moral lessons contained in the works of Confucius. Hinrichs (2010) identifies the most common writings from this period as formularies offering a pragmatic approach to medicine, treatises on the Five Circulatory Phases and Six Climatic Qi associated with Cold Damage and epidemics, as well as cosmological approaches to diagnosis and therapy.
After the Song state lost control over the Central Asian trade routes, northwestern and northeastern China fell into non-Chinese hands. The Silk Road, which developed in the Han Dynasty, flourished and thrived in the Tang dynasty, and, for the most part, was relatively stable over the centuries, began to play a more attenuated role in the Song. This was due in part to the loss of the North to Ruzhen invaders from Manchuria, which forced the Song into maritime trade routes from central and southern Chinese coastal regions.
Although Genghis Khan and others demolished the oasis cities, they did succeed at ushering in another great age of trade along the Silk Road. The bloodthirsty Mongols demolished anything that stood in their way. Yet, despite the discord and disagreements, trade flourished. This made way for the era of Marco Polo, who traveled from Italy to China and back over the already established maritime routes. Other travelers from many countries began to make their way into these territories to stake claims along the Silk Road. France and, of course, the Papal Palace at Rome came to Mongolia to try some diplomacy with Genghis Khan’s successors to crusade against the Arabs in the Holy Land. However, the Mongols shut down negotiations.
The grandsons of Genghis Khan who were in power oversaw the collapse and disintegration of the Mongol Empire. In the 14th century Tamerlane (Timor Leng) established the capital city of the new Mongol Empire in Samarkand. It was under this brutal campaign of destruction that the reconstructed oasis cities met their final demise. From this point on cities that had flourished depopulated, fields and orchards that were abundant dried up, and the Silk Road never really recovered.
The mighty Ottoman Empire, which eclipsed the Byzantine and Arab-Islamic Empires in the 15th century, did not extend its control into Central Eurasia. Meanwhile, China’s Ming Dynasty worked deals with the Mongols and other nomads from the north, advancing maritime trade in the 15th century although they wanted nothing to do with foreign trade. By the 16th century western and eastern Eurasia placed bets on the maritime routes. With a very different geopolitical climate, a new cast of characters with competing needs emerged. Europe, engaged in a rich renaissance, was on the cusp of opening totally different maritime routes to take trade into their own hands. Today, we are writing an entirely new history, complete with new, technologically-driven trade routes, like the Internet and Ethernet, and global social media platforms prompting new forms of invasions and warring among nations.
As we look ahead into the 21st century, China is investing billions of dollars into their new Silk Road created to open pathways into Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East. Although the goods are different, their influence on the rest of the world is strong. China holds a strong position in global world trade and internet sales that have no boundaries. This new network, not so different from the networks of traders of antiquity, is enhanced through modern transportation, the desire for natural resources such as oil and gas, as well as new technologies. We explore China’s new Silk Road and geopolitical repercussions later in this article.
Science and the Arts During the Song Dynasty
Unmistakably, China was the most advanced society in the world during the time of the Song Dynasty. By 1100 China was by far the largest country in the world with 100 million people. Similar to 21st century China, the Song led the way with innovations in commerce, technology, arts, culture, and the sciences.
People gravitated towards dwelling in cities, and the population literally exploded during this time. Government was advanced and visionary. Although China did not dominate its neighbors through the power and prestige of its military, power came from maintaining and striving for peaceful relationships with their more militarily mighty northern neighbors, which greatly extended their trading networks. It was a time of technological innovation and developments in advanced mathematics.
Between 960 and 1127, China passed through a phase of economic growth that was unprecedented in earlier Chinese history, perhaps in world history up to this time. It depended on a combination of commercialization, urbanization, and industrialization that has led some authorities to compare this period in Chinese history with the development of Early Modern Europe six centuries later. (Curtin, 2008)
The vast accomplishments during the Song in science and the arts had cross-cultural implications in all areas of learning. These advances prepared the way for new socio-politico and socio-economic societies that led the way in the arts and sciences, promoting a rich culture and the strongest empire in the world during this time. The foundation for the modern China of today began during this time. Political activities were conducted through a centralized bureaucracy; the mercantile class grew in power; and agricultural production soared, as did trade along the Silk Road, Grand Canal, and coastal regions of China and South East Asia. On the religious front Taoism, Buddhism, and Ancestor Worship continued, but a shift began from Confucianism, which served as the most important and official philosophy and ideology, to Neo-Confucianism, which included metaphysical elements and put increasing importance on ethics in government, society, and the culture at large.
All was not golden, as we still see today. The poor did not thrive; the farmers’ lot did not improve appreciably; and women remained oppressed. This is the dynasty during which the binding of women’s feet was prominent. Those who were fortunate enough to move to the new cities enjoyed rich culinary experiences and great music, art, and entertainment; and, for those who could afford it, just like today, there were many opportunities for travel and exploration. During this time Confucian scholars were emulated, and the military was not exalted or respected.
A particular characteristic of the Song was the emphasis on education, which was considered a cultural imperative. There was an abundance of new schools and architectural improvements to homes, and intellectual life soared with the invention of the magnetic compass and calculator. The innovation of woodblock printing made books more widely available to the masses, making possible significant growth in literacy and numerous advances in medicine.
During the Song Dynasty Chinese Medicine thrived through the systemizationand integration of earlier theories developed in antiquity and expanded on during the Han dynasty (221 BC-220 AD). Of particularnote was the printing and broad dissemination of Warring States and Han error doctrines such as the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon and the Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Eighty-One Problems which explored the human body in principles related to the microcosm and macrocosm, yin and yang, and the Five Phases. This development was also influenced by the philosophical tradition of Confucianism. Changes in medicine were largely driven by the emperors’ personal interests, resulting in a focus on scholarship, the revision and printing of medical texts and their integration into formal education, and the creation of the Imperial Pharmacy. In 982 the first official prescription book was published with more than 16,000 prescriptions including details of proper administration, and many sponsored institutions were established for public health and epidemics.
During the Northern Song dynasty perceptions about medicine changed. To disseminate medical knowledge, the Northern Song emperors commissioned the collection, revision, and printing of ancient medical canons as well as innovative medical manuals. With the help of the officials they also established a medical education and examination system. They further complemented these enterprises by establishing imperial institutions that aided the common people – or, in modern terms, they engaged in public health initiatives. (Goldschmidt, 2009, p. 20)
Around 1027 a book illustrating the meridians and acupuncture points was published as well as a reference on moxa therapy. During this time a life-size bronze model was also created to show all of the points to be used in the practice of acu-moxa therapy. A bureau was created for collecting and editing medical texts that spanned 1000 years of history, resulting in the revision and publication of many earlier texts, such as those attributed to the Yellow Emperor. The classified Materia Medica, listing more than 1500 drugs with illustrations and explanations of their use, was published and remained the model for more than 500 years.
During the Song the Imperial Bureau of Medicine was established to oversee all drug manufacturing. The first work on small pox was published, and major advances were made in women’s health, including the earliest text addressing how to turn a fetus to facilitate delivery and works that addressed gynecology and obstetrics. This was also a period that saw significant development in pediatrics under Qian Yi, whose student Yan Xiaozhong published a book on the treatment of childhood diseases. A formulary for Pediatrics was also created during the Song. A treatise on Spleen and Stomach Disease written by Li Gao is still an important modern-day resource.
Before the Northern Song, medicine was not considered to be a worthy profession, and many of the teachings of prior generations were lost or not valued. However, as can be seen from the numerous examples provided above, things changed rapidly, in part because of the emperors’ and government’s interests but also a likely result of the rich scientific times including major advances in printing.
During the reign of Emperor Huizong (1100-1126) there were major advances in medical education including the formation of a new Medical School with a specific goal of elevating the study of medicine to attract higher caliber students including the sons of the elite. This new school had three distinct branches of study including internal and general medicine, acu-moxa therapy, and external medicine with thirteen specializations such as pediatrics, ophthalmology, and orthopedics. The texts studied included the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon and Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Eighty-one Problems, as well as the Origins and Symptoms of Medical Disorders and Jiayou Era Materia Medica. There were also many specialized publications on Pulse and the treatment of Cold Damage Disorders. There was a great emphasis on the important works of Classical Chinese Medicine.
A focus on public health also emerged during the second half of the Northern Song dynasty. They created social programs for medicine, homes for the elderly, welfare programs, and government-sponsored burial plots. The Song government also had to deal with poverty, a byproduct of crowded urban cities, as well as many epidemics.
A wave of epidemics and their probable southern origin triggered interest in an old and almost forgotten medical genre – Cold Damage Disorders. The government published three books on the topic creating interest in it. Lastly, the shift in population during the Song to South China created havoc in drug markets and a need for medications that treated southern disorders. Consequently, the government standardized information about drugs while the number of listed drugs nearly doubled. All these changes created a new medical environment in which medical treatises from different genres presented incompatible views of medicine, namely medical doctrines and practices. This compelled physicians to rethink the situation and to gradually bridge the gaps of incompatibility creating a new comprehensive systematic medicine by integrating ancient doctrines and practices. By the end of the process, during the last decades of the twelfth century, we find a medicine that resembles what is now thought of as “traditional Chinese medicine.” (Goldschmidt, 2009)
Influenced by the ethics teachings of Confucius as well as Mencius, there was emphasis on the role of scholar-officials in caring for the people. Emperor Yingzong (1063-1067) and then Emperor Huizong (1100-1126) implemented programs and policies to address public health issues and provide for the poor. However, it was under the leadership of Huizong that the most significant changes were made. He endeavored not just to elevate the study of medicine but to reform all aspects of health care including the creation of government-sponsored charity institutions, regulation of prescriptions, and provision of relief in the event of natural disasters. A Poorhouse System was established that included a charity clinic and free medical care for those who could not afford treatment, as well as hospice to provide shelter and food to the indigent. Pauper cemeteries were created both to address issues of sanitation and also as a way to honor and care for the dead, which was an important family responsibility. Although cuts were eventually made to these programs, they remained in place for several decades during the time of the Southern Song dynasty.
In the arts, the Song was a time of monumental landscape painting, innovative watercolor ink washes, and soaring poetry to reflect a combination of tradition, politics, painting and calligraphy, and the emergence of new artistic hybrids. The ci, a lyrical form of Classical Chinese poetry based on 800 fixed rhythmic prototypical forms that drew their origins from tunes of songs,
reached its apex during this time. Each song title holds to fixed patterns of rhythm, tone, number of syllables per line, and number of lines. Poems often had the same or similar names, as it was the lyrical patterns, diverse topics, and insights of the poems that would identify their uniqueness. The prime poets of the age and of the ci were women.
Li Ch’ing-chao (1084-c. 1151)
Tune: “Manifold Little Hills” (Hsiao-ch’ung-shan)
Spring has come to the gate-spring’s grasses green;
Some red blossoms on the plum tree burst open,
Others have yet to bloom.
Azure clouds gather, grind out jade into dust.
Let’s keep this morning’s dream:
Break open a jug of spring!
Li Ch’ing-chao (1084-c. 1151)
Tune: “Telling of Innermost Feelings”
Night found me so flushed with wine;
I was slow to undo my hair.
The plum petals still stuck onto a dying branch.
Waking up, the scent of wine stirred me from
My dream once broken, there was no going back.
Now it’s quiet,
The moon hovers above,
The kingfisher blinds are drawn.
Still: I feel the fallen petals;
Still: I touch their lingering scent;
Still: I hold onto a moment of time.
The other form of poetry that developed during this time is the Xiaoxiang genre; these poems were essentially poems of dissent on censorship, imperial power, and historical processes, representing discontent among the masses. These poems were somewhat subtler.
Calling on Administrator Chao Duanzhi (1079)
Author: Fanghui (He Zhu)
The West Wind blows an evening rain;
starving magpies make a racket in the chilly thicket.
Wenju faces the chatting guests;
so chagrined that the goblets and tripods are empty!
Alas for us wanderers-in-office:
poverty and illness more or less the same.
A peck of salary: by bending waist obtained;
cash to get tipsy on: usually not issued.
Look you, sir, at the lads of the North Ward:
lofty halls with songs from Yan, and bells.
“filled with your bounties”—whence comes such richness?
Could I ever be one who begs by the tombs?!
I don’t put on a pleasing face for my wife and concubine.
Always I cherish the integrity of ice and cork,
unabashed before heroes among the butchers and brewers.
(The poetry of He Zhu 1052-1125, p. 19)
Economy and Manufacturing
Merchants played a key role in the advancement of Song economics. Both the North and South Song had many waterways and canals, and water served as a very economical way to travel. Employing water transport by ship, as well as horses, camels, donkeys, and wagons, they transported goods from the interior over vast distances of desert terrain. The farmers of the Song did market their goods, and they also specialized in the commercial sales of surpluses, working with merchants. Specialization became an economic theme, as did organizations, partnerships, and guilds. Commerce was a huge driver in the Song. There were local farmers markets within cities, and market towns were established and thrived, serving as both import and export market bases. Marco Polo was astounded by the sophistication of towns along major river ways and the sheer volume of shipping and trade particularly along the Yangzi River, which, to him, seemed more like a sea in size. It is reported that he once beheld 15,000 vessels transporting goods to the 16 provinces and 200 great cities along this historic thoroughfare.
The Song created an economic revolution. From 750 to 1100 the population of China doubled, the money supply grew, and paper money, a major innovation, came into use. Merchants and traders moved away from bronze and copper coin, which were cumbersome for merchants and traders to carry and which, with the increase in trade, become unfeasible for the government to produce in enough volume. There was an evolution in the creation of currency from certificates of deposits handled by the merchants themselves; by 1120, the government was producing and issuing paper money.
The iron industry during the Song also grew at an unprecedented rate. Products such as nails, chains, and other manufactured goods were used in bridges and other infrastructure, as well as by the military. The military was the largest consumer of iron and steel. In the Song, iron was used for arrows, armor, and swords; and innovative technologies appeared, such as high temperature metallurgy. Many Buddhist statues created during this time were made by the iron and steel industry. There was also a move from charcoal to more efficient coal to superheat the ores.
Textiles and silk contributed greatly to economic growth. Silk has always been a highly sought product worldwide. As is the case throughout history common people wore clothes made of plant fibers such as hemp, ramie, and cotton. The process of silk making and manufacture is labor-intensive. Silkworms require huge amounts of mulberry leaves for their diet. What goes in must come out, so poop trays had to be cleaned, cocoons unfurled, silk filaments reeled and spun, and the final products created through the weaving of cloth on hand looms. This was largely accomplished by women, who were able to own property
and work in the silk industry, though they were still subjugated through foot binding. The male weavers were professional, high government officials working in private workshops since they could afford more complex looms. The male weavers were able to create and sell more fanciful products, which the elite gobbled up—not unlike the designer products of today.
Ceramics from China throughout their history have always been an export jewel and financial homerun. Dinnerware, cups, bowls, plates, boxes, ink slabs, and headrests were painted, carved, stamped, and molded, with more than 20,000 items fired per single kiln per day. That was a serious contribution to the economy both locally and globally.
Rice, a supremely labor-intensive crop, requires weeding, harvesting, threshing, and husking, as well as the leveling of paddy fields, the opening and clearing of irrigation ditches and systems, and the delicate task of transplanting seedlings. The innovation of developing many varieties of rice required skills in hybridizing for early ripening, disease resistance, and drought resistance, and especially for cultivating varieties for brewing and fermentation.
The Song cultivated new strains of rice from other parts of Asia and developed new methods of irrigating and controlling water to increase yields. The major rice belt south of the Yangzi River was uniquely positioned because of the climate which made it possible to produce more than one harvest a year; further, it was in a strategically prime location for shipping, which reduced the transportation costs and allowed it to become both specialized and the economic center of China. City people needed to be fed, too, forcing most of the Chinese population to remain farmers. The south produced rice, and the north produced things like sorghum, wheat, and millet. Needless to say, the awards for genetic engineering for double cropping, drought resistance, early ripening, hardiness, and terracing on hilly slopes, as well as the algorithms for supply and demand, should go not to Monsanto, but to the Song dynasty.
Trade, industry, and technology worked collaboratively to great advantage, particularly in the arena of agriculture and agribusiness, but also in steel, textiles, and ceramics. All of these factors worked in harmony to support a major economic transformation, such as we are witnessing again today.
Engineering and inquiry into the physical universe were hallmarks of the Song. Many believe that the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe laid the foundation for the modern sciences. Because China lagged behind the Western world during much of the 19th and 20th centuries, it is too commonly assumed that Chinese culture or Confucian thought was incompatible with scientific inquiry and experimentation. But, as Joseph Needham notes in Science and Civilization in China, China was well ahead of the West in the development of several fields of knowledge about the physical world, such as magnetism and optics, and Chinese advances in engineering, at least until 1500, were frequently superior to anything in Europe. (Needham, 1962)
By the 9th century, the craftsmen of China were mass producing books, something that did not happen on the European continent until hundreds of years later. Words and pictures carved onto wooden blocks, inked, and pressed onto paper made mass production of books possible. Thus, we witness a significant increase in literacy, the production of literature, and the development of drama and other forms of popular culture. Paper became hugely important both as currency and as the medium for spreading and communicating ideas.
A large number of waterways and the need for transport at home and abroad allowed the art and science of shipbuilding to thrive. During the Song bulkheads were engineered with enhanced buoyancy and water tightness to protect precious cargo. The size and sophistication of ships increased, powered by oars and sails and steered with more accurate stern post rudders. Depth-determining innovations made travel possible in crowded harbors, narrow channels, and river rapids.
Ocean-faring vessels and ancient mariners would be lost without the compass, which was perfected in Song times. Instead of floating in water, the needle was reduced in size and attached to a fixed stem where it could point magnetically from north to south. Putting it in a case with a glass top made it handy and compact for sea travel.
No great civilization would be complete without gunpowder and siege warfare. Gunpowder became a favorite toy of military engineers, evolving from a fireproducing compound into the stuff of bombs, rockets, cannons, and mines. In the 13th century gunpowder was extensively used in weaponry by both the Chinese and the Mongols. Before that, other conquerors of the Song captured the Chinese engineers and gunners to steal, extract, improve, and reproduce their military technology.
Su Song’s (1020-1101) mechanical clock tower is a famous innovation of the later Song. The clock tracked time of day, day of the month, lunar phases, and star and planetary positions. It was chain driven and did not rely on the standard waterwheelpowered mechanisms.
One of the most interesting and brilliant minds of this time, and quite possibly in all of Chinese history, was polymath Shen Gua (Shen Kuo, 1031-
1095), whose interests and contributions cover a vast wealth of diverse fields that include geography, engineering, medicine, archaeology, economics, military strategy, diplomacy, and divination. He also explored botany, zoology, cartography, ethnography, meteorology, agronomy, poetry, and music.
In his “Dream Pool Essays” Shen Gua was the first to describe the magnetic needle, a major advancement in navigation. In addition, he discovered the concept of true north in terms of astronomical declination, and he measured the distance between the pole star and true, not magnetic, north. He was aware of the orbital paths of the moon and planets, but political opponents shut down his mapping. To aid and advance his work in astronomy, he greatly improved the designs of the armillary sphere, the gnomen, and the sighting tube; and he invented a new type of water clock.
Shen Gua knew about land formation and climate change based on petrified bamboo. He wrote extensively about movable type and many subjects of the sciences and the arts. A few paragraphs cannot do this man justice. His knowledge base ranged widely, across forensics, trigonometry, geomorphology, fossil shells, tornadoes, planetary motion, starch retrogradation, solar and lunar eclipses, predator insects, divination, art criticism, sinology, raised relief maps, optics, rainbow hypothesis, pharmacology and herbology, agricultural propagation, and on and on. His contributions to science and the scientific method covered a vast number of topics and challenged many previously held notions. Most of his books were burned, destroyed, or purged; but the “Dream Pool Essays” survived. “Dream Pool Essays” consists of some 507 separate essays exploring a wide range of scientific and artistic subjects on aspects of nature, science, reality, and human curiosity about the world and universe in which one lives. The chapter on “Strange Happenings” even touched on UFO’s.
Other works to survive were astronomical and poetic; many other writings were scattered.
Lu Chao says that the tide of the sea is formed because it is stirred up by the rising and setting of the sun. This had not the slightest basis. If the tide were due to this cause it would have a diurnal regularity. How could it happen that it sometimes comes in the morning and sometimes in the evening?
I have myself given much study to its periodic motion and found that the tide comes to high water whenever the moon makes its meridian transit. If you wait for that moment, you will never miss the tides. (Needham, 1962)
Unlike prior times in Chinese history cities burst forth during the Song to accommodate the rapid economic and population growth. The largest cities were the capitals: Kaifeng in the North, Hangzhou in the South, boasting populations of over a million, with a thriving urban life, including markets, shops, restaurants, fire stations, multistoried downtown condos, and urban sprawl.
It is the travels of Marco Polo that provide much written commentary into this historic time. According to Marco Polo, Hangzhou, “The City of Heaven,” is the finest and noblest city in the world with its twelve thousand bridges of stone, as if floating on water. These bridges, known as rainbow bridges because of their arches, have been the subject of PBS documentaries and many essays pertaining to Song inventions and technological feats. The bridges were not anchored but rather spanned the many rivers, using giant curved, cantilevered timbers that locked horizontally. Song cities had paved streets, highways, bathhouses, restaurants, farmers markets selling produce and seasonal fish, craftsmen selling jewels and spices and pearls, and rice wines, all very affordable, and moats surrounding the cities.
Many clubs were formed by the cities’ elites, including poetry clubs, Buddhist tea societies, fitness clubs, chorus clubs, exotic food clubs, antique collecting clubs, occult clubs, fine music clubs, and horse-lover clubs. Does this sound oddly familiar?
In the Northern capital of Kaifeng, and in many Song cities, pagodas dominated the skyline. As the highest structures, they drew travelers to this mecca.
Neo-Confucianism in the Song
Buddhism, as well as more ancient Taoist traditions, flourished in the Tang and Song dynasties. During the Song there was a strong revival of Confucianism which contributed to the shaping of education, governance, and ethics. Confucian teachings were at the heart of the civil service examination process, which provided a new identity for the scholar-official class, and infiltrated into family and political life. This set the stage for meeting the challenges of Buddhist metaphysics through the development of philosophical, ideological, and ethical accounts of the interface between the natural and human worlds. Self-cultivation, self-enlightenment, and harmonious relationships between society and the state brought Confucian tenets into greater relevance, including the importance of education, family, and community.
Respect for family and family attitudes extended to respecting ancestors, honoring the deceased, and supporting future generations. Children were highly valued and indulged, and there was a great deal of emphasis placed on the development of a distinct medical specialty in pediatrics to focus on the needs of children. In spite of the focus on maternal and child health during the Song, the status of women in society did not improve. It was during the Song when foot binding had its inception, women’s political prowess declined, and widows could not remarry. However, women’s rights to property were secure, and crones were powerful family leaders. By contrast, women in the US were not allowed to own property until 1839, starting in Mississippi.
During the Song, a focus on the scholar-official class was inspired by the rise in Confucian thought and ethics. It became an honor and a duty to be a civil servant and take government positions to heart, to speak up when others in power were taking wrong directions, and to criticize those in power when ethical conduct was at risk. We so need this now.
The examination system for government service was a huge step forward and offered those with literary educations an opportunity to balance the power of landholding classes born into office. It also drew and identified people who would make good officials and required command of Confucian texts, policy issues, and poetry. The exams were very prestigious and often taken several times, requiring years of devoted study and preparation which, for some, did not lead to jobs.
The Five Confucian Classics
• Classic of Poetry (Shijing)
• Classic of History (Shujing)
• Classic of Changes (Yijing)
• Record of Rites (Liji)
• Chronicles of the Spring and Autumn Period (Chunqiu)
The Four Books
• The Great Learning (Daxue)
• The Doctrine of the Mean (Zhongyong)
• The Analects of Confucius (Lunyu)
• The Mencius (Mengzi)
Success was not just about test scores. The life of an educated man involved many other dimensions, including art and book collections, literary criticism, literary and artistic mentorship, and application of the arts—many took to calligraphy, painting, especially landscape painting, writing, and poetry. This makes the Song unique as it led to innovations and new appreciation for the arts.
A radical figure of the time was Su Shi, a scholar-official who was a sort of celebrity, a prolific writer of prose and poetry attuned to the teachings of Lao Tzu and Chung Tzu. Controversial in politics, he was banished from the capital many times because of his writing. As a provincial administrator he introduced liberal policies that made him a champion of the people, especially in the arena of infrastructure and relief work. He held many posts, and from this vast governmental and experiential knowledge came the intimate heartfelt knowledge of the lives of common people.
Su Shi from Sunflower Splendor (1970)
Tune: “As in a Dream: A Song”
Make yourself pure before you purify others.
Myself, I perspire and pant.
Let me say this to the bathers:
Why not play with your naked body?
Stoop yourself for the world’s every living thing
Su Shi from Sunflower Splendor (1970)
Too fragile to endure the heat of a long summer day.
Yet pretty enough to cheer the cool morning—
Head stooped, a golden cup raised high,
Reflecting the splendor of the sun’s first light.
A heart of sandalwood color forms its own halo;
Its leaves of kingfisher sheen grown dense and prickly.
Of all who sketched from still life since ancient times,
Who could have excelled the art of Chao Ch’ang?
Fresh morning makeup, or drunken stupor at noon:
Its true likeness holds the yin and the yang.
Just look within this flower and its stem,
There you’ll find the fragrance of wind and dew.
The Song, the Outside World, and Modern Perspectives
The Song for all of its incredible achievements in the arts, sciences, and medicine had a major vulnerability when it came to the military, priorities, and geography. Territories to the North had weapons of mass destruction, including horses, and they were experts at animal husbandry. The Khitans gained territory in the 10th century; the Jurchens defeated the Khitans in the early 12th century and pushed on to defeat the Song of the North completely. Meanwhile, the Mongols took control, defeating the Jurchens and defeating the Song to control all of China by the early 13th century.
The Song made numerous efforts with ransom payments and silk in an attempt to buy peace and promises for non-invasion, but to no avail. The northern invaders were clear on their ethnic identity and sought to preserve that.
In the end, was it all about money, trade, and greed? During the Song, an emphasis was placed on trade and land deals, with a focus on great financial return. There was also a rise in corruption. Is this not why countries and democracies fall? As we explore the Song there are far too many familiar melodies. Perhaps we should give some consideration to the modern era and what is heralded by the creation of the new Silk Road which links an area rich in natural resources, including a vast network of oil and gas pipelines, and by the creation of transcontinental railroad lines that run from China to Germany.
Although receiving little attention in the West the new Silk Road encompasses major urban centers, luxury hotels, and tourism resorts that extend in all directions across the spine of Asia, creating new trade routes across Central Asia, the Middle East, and Europe and encompassing an area both of great wealth and of poverty that stretches from China to Germany and is now stretching into Africa. This is an area rich in new centers of learning with campuses administered by top tier US universities as well as new centers for the arts including cultural centers to promote the Chinese language and arts. Chinese President Xi Jinping is investing billions of dollars in his vision for a China-led Silk Road, which he calls the
Belt and Road Initiative, designed to streamline foreign trade, ensure stable energy supplies, and strongly promote the development of Asian infrastructure while also consolidating Beijing’s regional influence. The New Yorker reports that more than 68 countries have signed on to this China-led initiative, including countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
The new Silk Road is the purest illustration of Beijing’s budding influence as Washington is consumed with partisan bickering and fumbles for a coherent foreign policy. China has wrapped an amorphous group of projects in a tidy package that speaks to inclusiveness, cooperation and altruism. It speaks of China as an environmental leader, despite being the planet’s worst polluter; as a champion of free trade and investment, despite wreathing its economy in protectionist red tape; as a good guy, despite acting as an authoritarian state that is a serial violator of human rights. (Campbell, 2017)
The new Silk Road clearly provides a rich foundation for the establishment of new power structures, control of resources, and the creation of innovation and commerce. As we reflect back on the amazing advances that took place during the Song and the parallels to modern times, there are powerful themes that emerge around creativity, communication, travel, and power, all of which are embodied in the vision for the new Silk Road.
A clear mission put forth by China is to promote growth and awareness of the benefits to an integrative approach to medicine that incorporates Traditional Chinese Medicine, just as herbal remedies were shared on the Silk Road of old. Will we see the rest of the world incorporating many of the ancient teachings that arose during the Han dynasty, subsequently lost, and then regained during the Song? Promoting the growth of Chinese Medicine is clearly one of the initiatives of the new Road. Amidst a world that might be perceived to be in chaos, there is order, structure, and a recognition of the power associated with promoting new models for health in many developing countries or places where there are no clearly established standards for Traditional Chinese Medicine or new, more integrative models in health care.
According to a recent article in the China Daily, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, founded in 1956, is focused on just that to boost the development of TCM education globally. It is establishing a global TCM center focused on becoming the international platform for TCM consultation, research, and international development by both training and attracting the top TCM talent from around the globe. The University has been deeply involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, seeing it as a tremendous opportunity to spread TCM development throughout the participating Countries and to control the development of standards and the furthering of research. In 2016 an international development center was created to serve as a think tank that serves the development of TCM culture and promotes its integration into the Belt and Road Initiative.
A look back at the rich cultural, infrastructure, and medical advancements that took place during the Song begs one to question why cultures rise and fall. Although the Song dynasty is considered China's Golden Age, two foreign invasions, one from Manchuria (the Jurchen Jin dynasty) and the second by the Mongols (the Yuan dynasty), led to the downfall of the Song in 1279 in a bloody war led by Khubilai. So much knowledge and wisdom are lost when civilizations fall, or when warring states invade, burn books, and destroy lives and infrastructure. The unanswered question of the Song is whether a strong military would have prevented the fall of their culture, or whether there never would have been a Golden Age if
emphasis had been placed on building a strong military over investment in the arts, education, and technology.
What makes the Song culture or any culture great is the exchange and sharing of ideas; advancement in liberal arts, music, and medicine; technological advancement; and synthesis of knowledge from all corners of the globe, removing walls that separate us and opening dialogue and borders.
Perhaps the most valuable lessons from the Song, particularly relevant today, are the ethical teachings of Confucius and Mencius. As a new Silk Road and major shifts in the geopolitical landscape unfold globally, we can only hope that the profound teachings of Song scholars can be more deeply integrated into the path forward and that our future may be guided by the many varied expressions of Song culture to unify, synthesize, and bring together rather than to separate.
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