To what extent was the Chinese imperial state responsible for the period of economic expansion taking place during the Song Dynasty.
During the Song Dynasty, the Chinese economy saw financial prosperity, expansion of crucial international trade contracts, as well as the agricultural revolution (Gernet 1962). Growth in private finance stimulated the development of market network in the entire nation, linking the interior and the coast. The Song economy led to population explosion, triggering the revolution in agriculture (Hartwell 1966). The hard work of Chinese people took them to great heights. The Chinese got sufficient food supply that was the reason the people started to reproduce. This paper will explain the extent to which the Chinese imperial state was responsible for the period of economic expansion taking place during the Song Dynasty.
The Song Dynasty was a reason behind high commercial contacts between China and the outside world. In fact, there was exchange of services and goods via investments with overseas merchants. Moreover, this era witnessed the application and usage of the first in the world bank notes. The trade was a combination of a unified tax system and effectual trade routes by both canals and roads leading to a real Chinese market. The Song government introduced monopolies for certain trade goods such as minerals used in gunpowder production in order to boost its incomes. Talking about the incomes from taxes and monopoly trade, they were used for the purpose of providing security.
The government made an effort to encourage people to plough the land through reclaiming the barren land. In fact, reclaiming new land and consequent tax payment qualified a person for permanent ownership of the land. The development was also manifested by enhancements in seeds, farm tools and fertilizers. For instance, the curved plough made of iron was improved and then substituted by a steel plough specifically designed for wetland reclamation. The blade of the steel plough was thicker, stronger and shorter. The plough especially served as a means of cutting roots and reeds growing in wetlands.
The Song Dynasty introduced cotton growing in Central China. Apparently, cotton was processed in China to give quality material that was dyed in various colours. The clothing introduced market in China and trade to other nations. Moreover, sugarcane was grown in a valley near Lake Tai. The sugarcane was processed to produce sugar; thus, it was a cash crop in China during the reign of the Song Dynasty. In the same era, the cultivation of tea is recorded to bring the biggest profit than ever before. The government had much control over tea cultivation as farmers were encouraged to work (Twitchett & Jakov, 2009).
In this era, the class of merchants became cultured, organized and well-respected. The wealth these classy merchants accumulated exceeded that of government officials. In such a way, this means they had wealth that was worth noting. With regard to businesses, they were established to be separated from the owners; in fact, they are called joint stock companies today. The tax established resulted from negotiation between the wealthy merchants and the government. Sea trade was successful during the reign of the Song Dynasty. The trading took place in East Africa, the Islamic world, Hindu world and East Pacific. As a consequence, the trade generated wealth for merchants and government. Furthermore, there was also trade along lakes, rivers, and canals that were used as a means of transport to take goods to the appointed zones of trade.
Wealthy merchants and landowners were the only people that could provide the highest level of education for their children. Therefore, the selection to government posts was most likely limited to children from wealthy families. The repeated selection of candidates from the same families caused the emergence of social elite as well as ruling elite. With the matter of divided inheritance, social downward mobility was a problem. Yuan suggested that people with decent salaries had to try to improve their financial state by investing instead of bartering it for silver and gold. Yuan gave the example of investing 100,000 strings in pawn-broking, when a person could earn some interest equal to the principle in three years. Therefore, the family would divide the interest while the capital of 100,000 strings would stand. Apparently, that was the best way to acquire wealth instead of exchanging it for silver or gold. Shen Kuo in 1077 supported Yuan’s argument saying that money’s utility is dependent on loan-making and circulation. He cited the example of an area with ten households that have 100,000 coins, which would remain of the same value if stored in one household. Otherwise, the value of the 100,000 coins would reach 1,000,000 if allowed be used by all households. Thus, continued circulation would earn more value with time.
Studies investigating the living standards of the Song Dynasty by Minsheng Cheng show that in developed preindustrial economies, low-class income average was 100 wen a day. The estimate of per capita consumption of silk and grain was two bolts per year and eight jin (400g) per day respectively (Hartwell 1966).
Industrial revolution in China began with the widespread paper money printing. Although it is questionable for other historians, Hartwell (1966) estimated that the Chinese per capita production of iron rose six times from 806 to 1078. In his estimation, Hartwell (1966) found that by 1078, Chinese iron production was one hundred and twenty-five thousand tons. Historians such as Wagner, D. question the methods Hartwell used to make his estimations, thereby discrediting them.
The smelting process led to high deforestation of Northern China forests since bellows were waterwheels-driven, which were dependent on charcoal. In the late 11th century, the Chinese discovered bitumen, which could substitute the charcoal use in the production process. The use of bitumen ceased further deforestation. Iron and steel produced as a result of this process were important for the mass production of chains for suspension bridges, ship nails, musical cymbals, ploughs, hammers, pins, needles and Buddhist statues. Iron also played an essential role in the production of copper and salt. Moreover, canals were constructed linking major steel and iron production areas with the capital city’s market. The market extended and started to trade with foreigners, expanding greatly with the intensive maritime activity of the Chinese during the southern Song period abroad (Twitchett, & Jakov, 2009).
Using many petitions from regional administrators of the Song Dynasty to the central government, historians can gather evidence to estimate the scope and size of Chinese iron industry during the reign of the Song Dynasty. Qingtian, B. a judge of 999 to 1062 wrote about the iron industry of the present-day Eastern Shaanxi province, Hancheng, and Tongzhou prefecture, which had government regulators overseeing iron smelting households. According to Qingtian, there were seven hundred iron smelting households, and two hundred of the total was receiving government support. The smelters hired unskilled labour to work in their firms (Kuhn 2009). There was a law that banned private iron smelting, which limited the benefit from iron smelting. The ban was lifted in 1055, expanding iron smelting and increasing profit from it. Consequently, 100,000 jin (60 tons) of iron were produced annually at lower prices in Shaanxi.
The Song Dynasty was characterized by bureaucracy and organized labour in order to extract resources from Chinese provinces. The production of gunpowder followed the extraction from pyrite and processing of sulphur (vitriol liquid). Sulphur was also used for the production of pharmaceutical products. The extraction of sulphur occurred through the roasting of pyrites to transform the sulphide into oxide. Piled with coal briquettes, the pyrites were roasted, in earthenware furnaces, with still heads which sent sulphur as vapour, where it then solidified and crystallised. The extracted sulphur was used for mass production of gunpowder (So & So 2002).
The Chinese imperial state during the reign of the Song Dynasty made commerce the central activity of the economy. There was an arrangement that those competitive industries were cultivated to flourish in some regions, while other places had a controlled form of business, when the government regulated the activities to be undertaken. The government also established production in monopolies in order to make money and offer services to its people, thereby making life affordable. The commerce was performed in a manner that created an atmosphere making it possible to feel the effect the government had on the entire economy. The silk fabrication got leadership backing silk mills as well as brocade factories in Kaifeng, the head city, and the eastern regions. At that time, there was a regime institution that forbade merchants to sell silk that was manufactured by private holders. The prohibition triggered rebellion, but reforms followed. The monopoly on tea in the state provided a major income for purchasing horses that were used in the forces.
Bank notes development originated from the Tang Dynasty. The Song Dynasty, however, set a firm foundation regarding the use of bank notes. The Song government had conducted numerous economic activities that brought a wave of economic growth in China. Moreover, many undertakings that the government programs introduced led to accumulated wealth. There were many transactions that needed to have a simpler way of operations so that the application of banking took stable turn to meet the aims of the merchants and consumers. The Song government issued copper coins that were ordinary in Western Xia, Liao, Japanese and Asian Economies. The Song government also minted paper notes and iron coins, thereby meeting the increasing demand.
Employment in cities was something that was worth noting. Professionals had a wide range of jobs from which they could choose (So & So 2002). The growing economy provided all sorts of jobs, from formal to informal. Professionals and the casual labourers were needed in building houses and running errands in home industries, among others. Some people inherited jobs from their parents, while others created businesses that were designed to offer services to others. Food bases began to serve the working. The available opportunities in urban cities caused emigration of people from rural to urban areas. Ordinary mortals moved to cities to search for employment. Consequently, this led to insufficient housing leading to the emergence of shanties to house a large population. Crime also became part of the daily business. Nevertheless, the Song government created firm security in order to allow for economic expansion. The Song government had planners in establishing business premises. The shops were arranged in a systematic manner. The military of different kinds of brigades was required to strategically solve the problems that pertained to safety in China and the persons conducting commerce, especially the wealthy merchants who generated large revenue for the Song government in forms of taxations. The government knew the secret of commerce, namely protection of those trading and their goods.
Overseas trade was never taken lightly in the Song Dynasty. Approximately fifty nations traded with the Song. Some of the major international trade associates were Champa, Indi, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Tanzania and Mait, among others. For the purpose of controlling overseas profits and trade in general, a supervisory of maritime trade was created in Guangzhou, Hangzou and Mingzou (So & So 2002). The imported goods got taxed, and the tax was not uniform but rather varied within a range of ten to forty percent. In fact, the tax was in the form of goods not cash. The Song government issued a prohibition of private sales of imported goods. Thus, all imports were bought by the Song government. Therefore, a person who violated this rule was punished, having the worst penalty, namely face tattooing and forced labour (Kuhn 2009).
In conclusion, the responsibility of the Chinese imperial state regarding the economic expansion in the reign of Song Dynasty was unprecedented. The economy grew from subsistent to large-scale agriculture. Cities such as Guangzou grew out of the trade. Cash crops like oranges and sugar of paramount importance. Employment opportunities were rather different. International trade thrived. The Song government took control of the economic undertakings to solve disputes arising from private control. In fact, only government played the monopoly role. Security was good since taxes and other incomes such as from tea production aided the government financed security activities. The Chinese imperial state was well-founded to solve problems related to the economy. Thus, almost all areas of economic expansion saw the Chinese imperial state contribution.