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The Sung Dynasty: Barbarians Threaten the Empire A. D. 960 – 1279

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DURING THE turbulent Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms era, the main outside threat to China came, as usual, from the north. A tough Mongol people from Manchuria helped one of the Chinese Warlords conquer North China. In return, he let them settle around Peking. Some of them became farmers, but their nomadic habits of roving and fighting remained strong. From time to time they raided the North China Plain, striking terror into the hearts of the peasants. These troublesome people were called the Khitan. Another form of their name, Khitai, sounded like “Cathay” to European travelers who later came to China. Throughout the Middle Ages, China was known in Europe as Cathay. In 960, the ruler of north China sent his best general after the Khitan to teach them a lesson. Instead, the general seized power and proclaimed himself emperor. As founder of the Sung dynasty, he was later called T’ai Tsu, or “Great Beginner.” Before he died in 976, he conquered most of China. His brother T’ai Tsung — “Great Ancestor”– conquered the rest, except for the Khitan kingdom in the northeast. The Sung dynasty was to reign until 1279. A1though it started out boldly, it never became as powerful as the Han and T’ang dynasties. One reason was that the emperors deliberately kept their army commanders short of men and money to make sure they did not revolt. As a result, the empire was constantly menaced by barbarians. In the end, it was destroyed by them. For generations, the Sung emperors bought peace by bribing the Khitan and a northwestern barbarian nation called the Hsi Hsia. Then a third barbarian nation entered the picture. In 1114, Manchurian nomads who called themselves the Chin, meaning “Golden,” attacked the Khitan. Seeing a chance to recover the long-lost northeast territory, Emperor …

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