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Song Dynasty - Facts History and Emperors in Order

7 Quick Facts on Song Dynasty

1.Song Dynasty lasted 319 years in Chinese history.

2.The first banknote and true paper money in the world appeared in Song Dynasty.

3.The first permanent standing navy was established in Song Dynasty.

4.Gunpowder was first used in Song Dynasty.

5.Song Dynasty is composed of Northern Song and Southern Song two periods.

6.The direction of true north was firstly discerned by using a compass in Song Dynasty.

7.Song Dynasty is the only dynasty in China whose perishing resulted from the foreign aggression.

Brief Introduction

Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) is an imperial dynasty succeeded the Period of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms and preceded the Yuan Dynasty. It is divided into Northern Song and Southern Song two phases, totaling 18 emperors and 319 years. In 960, the military mutiny in Chenqiao helped Zhao Kuangyin to usurp the throne of Later Zhou Dynasty and establish the Song Dynasty. To avoid the chaotic situations of separating regimes and eunuch holding powers, Zhao Kuangyin valued the civil officials and deprived the military generals from their power.

In the following decades, Northern Song prospered until Jin Kingdom launched a series of attacks in 1125. After the Jingkang Incident, Northern Song Dynasty ended. King Kang Zhao Gou fled to southern China and established the Southern Song dynasty in Nanjing. In 1276, Yuan dynasty broke into Lin'an (current Hangzhou, capital of Southern Song Dynasty) resulting the complete falling of Southern Song Dynasty. Song Dynasty was a prosperous era for commodity economy, culture and education and scientific innovation in Chinese history. Although the Song court was weak and poor, the Song dynasty folks and social economy were better than that in Tang Dynasty.

In terms of culture, the neo- Confucianism emerged, along with which was the rapid development of the scientific innovation. Comparing to other dynasties in Chinese history, the military mutinies peasant uprisings and eunuch politics were much less in Song Dynasty. Therefore, the famous scholar Chen Yange said that the Chinese culture, with thousand years of development, reached the prime times in Song Dynasty.

Song Dynasty Emperors in Order



Reign Years


Big Events


Northern Song (960 - 1127)


Song Taizu

Zhao Kuangyin

960 - 976

Jianlong (960 - 963)

Qiande (963 - 968)

Kaibao (968 - 976)

Bianliang (current Kaifeng, Henan)

He established Song Dynasty, greatly weakened the military powers of generals and strove to complete the unification.

Yongchang Mausoleum in Gongyi, Henan


Song Taizong

Zhao Guangyi

976 - 997

Taiping Xingguo (976 - 984)

Yongxi (984 - 987)

Duangong (988 - 989)

Chunhua (990 - 994)

Zhidao (995 - 997)

Bianliang (current Kaifeng, Henan)

Taizong Emperors brother, he strengthened the centralized governance and expanded the scale of imperial examination.

Yongxi Mausoleum in Gongyi, Henan


Song Zhenzong

Zhao Heng

997 - 1022

Xianping (998 - 1003)

Jingde (1004 - 1007)

Dazhong Xiangfu (1008 - 1016)

Tianxi (1017 - 1021)

Qianxing (1022)

Bianliang (current Kaifeng, Henan)

The third son of Taizu emperor, he signed the Chanyuan Alliance with Liao Kingdom, resulting in heated social contradictions. During his reign, Jiaozi - the earliest paper money appeared.

Yongding Mausoleum in Gongyi, Henan


Song Renzong

Zhao Zhen


Tiansheng (1023 - 1032)

Mingdao (1032-1033)

Jingyou (1034 - 1038)

Baoyuan (1038 - 1040)

Kangding (1040 - 1041)

Qingli (1041 - 1048)

Huangyou (1049 - 1054)

Zhihe (1054 - 1056)

Jiayou (1056 - 1063)

Bianliang (current Kaifeng, Henan)

The fourth son of the Zhenzong emperor, he supported the reform initiated by Fan Zhongyan, which proved to be a failure.

Yongzhao Mausoleum in Gongyi, Henan


Song Yingzong

Zhao Shu

1063 - 1067

Zhiping (1063 - 1067)

Bianliang (current Kaifeng, Henan)

The great grandson of Taizong emperor, he ruled smoothly.

Yonghou Mausoleum in Gongyi, Henan


Song Shenzong

Zhao Xu ()

1067 - 1085

Xining (1068 - 1077)

Yuanfeng (1078 - 1085)

Bianliang (current Kaifeng, Henan)

The eldest son of Yingzong emperor, he applied Wang Anshi to reform. During his reign, the first  chronicle history book History As A Mirror in China was edited.

Yongyu Mausoleum in Gongyi, Henan


Song Zhezong

Zhao Xu ()

1085 - 1100

Yuanyou (1086 - 1094)

Shaosheng (1094 - 1098)

Yuanfu (1098 - 1100)

Bianliang (current Kaifeng, Henan)

The sixth son of Shenzong emperor, he advocated the social reform, ended the negotiation with Western Xia Kingdom, and strengthened the frontier defense system.

Yongtai Mausoleum in Gongyi, Henan


Song Huizong

Zhao Ji

1100 - 1125

Jianzhong Jingguo (1101)

Chongning (1102 - 1106)

Daguan (1107 - 1110)

Zhenghe (1111 - 1118)

Chonghe (1118-1119)

Xuanhe (1119 - 1125)

Bianliang (current Kaifeng, Henan)

The eleventh son of the Zhezong emperor, during his reign, loying ministers were used, resulting in multiple times of peasant uprisings. In 1127, he was captured by Jin Kingdom. Although the emperor himself is a failure in ruling a country, he was an artist and created the calligraphy style of slender gold.

Yongyou Mausoleum in Shaoxing, Zhejiang


Song Qin Zong

Zhao Huan

1125 - 1127

Jingkang (1126 - 1127)

Bianliang (current Kaifeng, Henan)

Son of Huizong emperor, he lost the Northern Song Dynasty to Jin Kingdom and was also captured the enemy.

Yongxian Mausoleum in Gongyi, Henan

Southern Song (1127 - 1279)


Song Gaozong

Zhao Gou

1127 - 1162

Jianyan (1127 - 1130)

Shaoxing (1131 - 1162)

Linan (current Hangzhou, Zhejiang)

The ninth son of Huizong emperor, he established the Southern Song Dynasty and killed the famous loyal general Yue Fei unjustly and used a lot of treacherous ministers.

Yongsi  Mausoleum in Shaoxing, Zhejiang


Song Xiaozong

Zhao Shen

1162 - 1189

Longxing(1163 - 1164)

Qiandao (1165 - 1173)

Xunxi (1174 - 1189)

Linan (current Hangzhou, Zhejiang)

The great great great great grandson of Taizu emperor, He made peace with Jin Kingdom.

Yongfu Mausoleum


Song Guangzong

Zhao Dun

1189 - 1194

Shaoxi (1189 - 1194)

Linan (current Hangzhou, Zhejiang)

The third son of Xiaozong emperor, he was muddleheaded and henpecked.

Yongchong Mausoleum in Shaoxing, Zhejiang


Song Ningzong

Zhao Kuo

1194 - 1224

Qingyuan(1195 - 1200)

Jiatai (1201 - 1204)

Kaixi (1205 - 1207)

Jiading (1208 - 1224)

Linan (current Hangzhou, Zhejiang)

The second son of Guangzong emperor, he signed the humiliating agreement of Jiading Peace Treaty with Jin Kingdom.

Yongmao Mausoleum in Shaoxing, Zhejiang


Song Li Zong

Zhao Yun

1224 - 1264

Baoqing (1225 - 1227)

Shaoding (1228 - 1233)

Duanping(1234 - 1236)

Jiaxi (1237 - 1240)

Chunyou (1241 - 1252)

Baoyou (1253 - 1258)

Kaiqing (1259)

Jingding (1260 - 1264)

Linan (current Hangzhou, Zhejiang)

The adopted son of Ningzong emperor, he established the dominating position of neo- Confucianism and allied with Mongol people to destroy the Jin Kingdom.

Yongmu Mausoleum in Shaoxing, Zhejiang


Song Duzong

Zhao Qi

1264 - 1274

Xianchun(1265 - 1274)

Linan (current Hangzhou, Zhejiang)

The nephew of Lizong emperor, he was luxurious, extravagant and connived with the powerful minister. The Southern Song Dynasty was at stake.

Yongshao Mausoleum in Shaoxing, Zhejiang


Song Gongdi

Zhao Xian

1274 - 1276

Deyou (1275 - 1276)

Linan (current Hangzhou, Zhejiang)

The eldest son of Duzong emperor, during his reign, Yuan Dynasty army broke into Linan and seized the emperor himself. In 1288, Gongdi went to Tibet and became a monk until he died.


Song Ruizong

Zhao Shi

1276 - 1278

Jingyan (1276 - 1278)

Linan (current Hangzhou, Zhejiang)

The second son of Duzong emperor, during his ruling, the Southern Song army was defeated again and again.

Yongfu Mausoleum


Song Huaizong

Zhao Bing

1278 - 1279

Xiangxing (1278 - 1279)

Linan (current Hangzhou, Zhejiang)

The third son of Duzong emperor, lost the Southern Song Dynasty to Yuan Dynasty and became the last emperor of Song Dynasty.

Song Shaodis Tomb in Chiwan, Shenzhen

Northern Song Dynasty

The Establishment of Song Dynasty

In 960, general Zhao Kuangyin from Later Zhou Dynasty usurped the throne and established the Song Dynasty. He settled Bianjing (current Kaifeng) as the new capital city and continued to unify the whole country. After he died in 976, his brother Zhao Guangyi ascended the throne and proceeded his brother’s unification and regained a lot of territories that belonging to previous Tang Dynasty. Zhao Guangyi took hobby in poems and calligraphy, which influenced the Song government to attach great importance in cultural development. In 997, Zhao Guangyi’s son Zhao Heng came to the throne, along with which was a prosperous time in Song Dynasty.

Times of Peace and Prosperity

Song Zhenzong Zhao Heng was diligent and attentive about state affairs, he applied loyal ministers and created the era of Xianping’s Reign. In 1004, a large scale of war broke out between Liao Kingdom and Song Dynasty, the emperor personally led the army and encouraged the soldiers to defeat the Liao army, resulting in the Alliance of Chuanyan. In 1022, with the death of Zhao Heng, Zhao Zhen became the emperor. Sixteen years later, the lasting wars broke out between Western Xia Kingdom and Song Dynasty, and the latter was beaten again and again. To save the country, Song Renzong Zhao Zheng appointed a lot of capable ministers like Fan Zhongyan, Lv Yijian, Fu Bi, Bao Zheng and others to implement the Qingli Reform and achieved great results. The country entered the most prosperous time. Later, the emperor was instigated by other ministers and deposed those contributing ministers. After Song Renzong died, Song Yingzong Zhao Shu ascended the throne and reused the competent ministers. Meanwhile, he also initiated the historical work of Zi Zhi Tong Jian (History As A Mirror).

Reforms and Factionalism

During Song Shenzong’s reign, many policies set in early Song Dynasty were failing the system and Liao and Western Xia Kingdoms also imposed great threat to the country. In this scenario, the emperor used Wang Anshi to perform a deep reform and strengthened the country in some levels. Unfortunately, the natural disasters, interior sabotages, and the shortcomings of the reform itself doomed the experiment. Song Shenzong also paid attention to foreign aggression. In 1072, he launched a series of war against Western Xia Kingdom and won victory at first. In 1081, another expedition was made by Song court against Western Xia, but this time, Song army failed hard. In despair, Song Shenzong died. When Song Zhezong ascended the throne in 1085, there was serious factionalism until the Zhezong emperor finally ruled personally and promoted the reformative ministers.

Jingkang Incident

With no son left to ascend the throne, Song Zhezong demised the throne to his brother Zhao Ji, aka Song Huizong. The new emperor was extravagant, ignorant and only interested in art, calligraphy, and painting. He left the state affairs at the hands of Cai Jing, who was treacherous, autocratic and selfish. In 1118, when Jin Kingdom was attacking the Liao Kingdom, Song court made an alliance with Jin Kingdom and joined the attack. However, the Song army was defeated and Jin army turned against Song army as well. In panic, Song Huizong demised the throne to his son Song Qinzong. In 1126, Jin army broke into the capital Kaifeng and demanded tons of wealth. To save the throne, Song Huizong exploited and plundered the commons. A year later, Song Huizong and Song Qinzong were both preyed. Northern Song Dynasty perished.

Southern Song Dynasty

Establishment of Southern Song Dynasty

After Jingkang Incident, Jin Kingdom seized a lot of imperials of Song court, but there was one lucky person - King Kang Zhao Gou. In 1127, he escaped southwards to Nanjing, claimed himself Song Gaozong and established the Southern Song Dynasty. However, with the powerful Jin army chasing behind, Song Gaozong had no choice but to flee. He also appointed Han Shizhong and Yue Fei to fight against the Jin army and temporarily settled in Lin’an (current Hangzhou). In the following decades, the valiant general Yue Fei was appointed to expedite northwards multiple times to defeat the Jin army many times. In 1141, Song court made the Shaoxing Peace Treaty with Jin Kingdom, which required Song court to offer yearly tribute to Jin Kingdom. Since then, Southern Song Dynasty gradually became stable. In 1161, Song Gaozong demised the throne to Song Xiaozong.

Momentary Ease in the South

Song Xiaozong was relatively a good emperor, he reformed the administration and reorganized the army to regain the central China territories. However, his big picture was broken when the Song Army was crushingly defeated in 1163. Song court had no choice but to sign the Longxing Peace Treaty with Jin Kingdom a year later. Still, Song Xiaozong wanted to restore the unification of the whole China, so he continued the reform and created a relatively good phase. When his father Song Gaozong died, Song Xiaozong was too sorrowful to attend the state affairs, so he let his son Song Guangzong ascend the throne. Unlike his predecessors, the new emperor was suspicious of everyone, he even got mad two years after the ascending. In 1195, Song Ningzong Zhao Kuo became the emperor.

Domestic Turmoils and Foreign Aggression

In early times of Song Ningzong’s reign, Zhao Nuyu, a loyal person with good merits, was the prime minister. However, according to the regulations set by the Song Taizu that no prime minister was allowed in Song court, several ministers with Han Tuozhou as leader framed and fomented the emperor to dismissed Zhao Nuyu. The time of Han Tuozhou’s dictatorship began. In 1206, Han ordered Song army to expedite north and failed and he himself was killed by Shi Miyuan. The autocratic times of Shi Miyuan started. During Shi’s ruling, Song Lizong Zhao Yun was propped up to be the emperor in 1224. Nine years later, with Shi Miyuan’s death, Song Lizong finally could rule personally and launch a series of reforms. In 1232, Mongolian Kingdom began to attack Jin Kingdom, it made alliance with Song court to fight against Jin Kingdom together in the premise of giving back Henan territory to Song court after the victory. In 1234, Jin army was completely annihilated and Jin Kingdom fell apart.

Song army successfully entered Kaifeng, but it was ambushed by Mongolian army in Luoyang and lost countless of soldiers. Song Lizong not only failed to restore the army and continue the reform, but ignored the state affairs for about 30 years. In 1264, the retarded Song Duzong Zhao Qi became the emperor and left the state affairs to the bane Jia Sidao. While in the north, Mongolian regime grew stronger and more aggressive. It launched a series of wars against Southern Song court, but all failed. In 1259, the Mongolian Khan died in a war with Song army, his brother Kublai decided to go back north and ascend the throne. Song court seized the opportunity and made peace with Kublai. In 1271, Kublai established Yuan Dynasty in Dadu (current Beijing). Three years later, Song Duzong died.

Sea Battle in Yashan and the End of Southern Song Dynasty

With the death of Song Duzong, Song Gongzong Zhao Xi’an ascended the throne in 1275. Yuan army went southwards again and aimed in terminating the Southern Song Dynasty. In 1276, Yuan army broke into Lin’an and captured Song Gongzong, hereby Southern Song Dynasty perished. However, some royal members and commons refused to give in. They escorted Song Gongzong’s brother Zhao Shi and Zhao Bing to escaped Lin’an and made Zhao Shi the emperor. Two years later, Zhao Shi died of illness, Zhao Bing ascended the throne. Yuan army conquered Song cities one by one and forced Zhao Bing and his followers to Yashan (current Xinhui, Guangdong). To avoid being humiliated by the Yuan army, over 800 royal members and subjects threw themselves into the sea. When Zhang Shijie, the general of the last navy of Song court heard the news, he led about 100,000 soldiers and subjects to jump into the sea in despair.

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