In 960, a scholarly general named Zhao Kuangyin reunited much of China and founded the Song (sung) dynasty. The Song ruled for 319 years, slightly longer than the Tang, but they controlled less territory than the Tang. The Song also faced the constant threat of invaders in the north. In the early 1100s, the battered Song retreated south of the Huang River. There, the southern Song continued to rule for another 150 years. However, in the late 1200s Mongol invaders from the north attacked and overthrew the Song.
The invention of gunpowder made possible the cannon, such as this one with a dragon head at its mouth.
Despite military setbacks, the Song period was a time of great achievement. China's wealth and culture dominated East Asia even when its armies did not. Under the Song, the Chinese economy expanded because of improved farming methods and open border policy. The latter allowed a new type of faster-growing rice to be imported from Southeast Asia. Farmers were now able to produce two crops a year, one of rice and one of a cash crop to sell.
The rise in productivity created surpluses, allowing more people to pursue commerce, learning, or the arts. As people became more educated, they developed technology such as an improved compass, shipbuilding innovations, and gunpowder.
Under the Tang and Song, foreign trade flourished. Merchants arrived by land and seas from India, Persia, and the Middle East. The Chinese built better ships, and their merchants carried goods to Southeast Asia in exchange for spices and special woods. Tea was introduced to China from Southeast Asia, while Song porcelain has been found as far away as East Africa. To improve trade, the government issued paper money. China's cities, which had been mainly centers of government, now prospered as centers of trade. Several cities boasted populations over one million.
The Song dynasty used a network of rivers and canals to improve local trade. Ships carried items from different parts of China to trading ports.
Trade spread ideas as well as goods. Merchants traveled in both directions along the 4,000-mile Silk Road, which linked China to India, Persia, and the Middle East. They helped spread technologies, advances in science and mathematics, religious beliefs, music, and artistic styles. Advances made in China were slowly carried westward to the Mediterranean world. At the same time, Chinese Buddhist monks headed west to India, the birthplace of Buddhism. There, they studied Indian culture.
Within China itself, the government promoted trade through a system of canals. From China's earliest history, rulers had supported the building of canals to improve transportation across large areas. The Grand Canal, completed under the Sui, linked areas in the south of China to the north.