Against the backdrop of a thriving commodity economy, the rise of the citizen class and a relatively loose political atmosphere, such fields as science and technology, as well as ideology and culture, took on a new look.
In the Song Dynasty, the previous monopoly of power by military officials was broken and the national policy of "desisting from military activities and encouraging culture and education" was implemented. Against the backdrop of a thriving commodity economy, the rise of the citizen class and a relatively loose political atmosphere, such fields as science and technology, as well as ideology and culture, took on a new look.
The scientific and technological achievements during the Song and Yuan dynasties were mainly reflected in the improvement and wider application of the printing techniques, compass and gunpowder, as well as the renovation in cot-ton-spinning techniques.
The Chinese philosophy underwent great changes in the Song Dynasty. Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi of the Northern Song Dynasty and Zhu Xi of the Southern Song Dynasty abstracted the concepts of the three cardinal guides and five ethical norms to "law," and set up Neo-Confucianism, jointly called "Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism." It argued the validity of despotism and class orders between the ruler and the subjects and father and son from the height of philosophy. They insisted on deepening experience to preexisting "law" on the basis of experiencing knowledge by means of investigation of things and finally understanding the law. Lu Jiuyuan, a scholar of the Southern Song Dynasty, proclaimed that "the universe is my mind and vice versa" and one should conduct self-examination. His philosophy is called the School of Mind.
Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism emphasized the immutability of the three cardinal guides and five ethical norms to maintain the rule of despotism and compress the natural appeal of the people and generated adverse influence. However, Neo-Confucianism attaches importance to will, moral integrity, moral character, self-discipline and working energetically, and emphasizes one's social responsibility and historical mission, highlighting the dignity of human beings.
Cheng-Zhu Neo-Confucianism set up an exquisite and rigid theoretical system and became the mainstream of Confucianism, having a far-reaching impact on political life, cultural education and social cultivation.
In the Song Dynasty, the emerging Ci was the mainstream in Chinese literature. Ci, also known as the "long and short sentences," made it easy to express one's ideas flexibly and could be sung accompanied by music. After Tang Dynasty poetry, Ci poetry was another peak in ancient Chinese literature. Su Shi and Xin Qiji were representatives of the Heroic School of Ci poetry. Su Shi's Ci poetry was open and vast, elegant and unconstrained. The Ci poetry of Xin Qiji, who lived in the chaos caused by war in the Southern Song Dynasty, were generous, fevered and sorrowful. In the Song Dynasty, urban life was rich, so the Gracious School of Ci poetry emerged. Liu Yong was a representative. His poems were periphrastic and implicit, and were so popular that there was a saying that "where there was a well, there were people singing Liu Yong's Ci poetry." Li Qingzhao was the most noticeable woman Ci poet in the Song Dynasty. The style of her poems was distinct. In the early stage, her poems were happy and joyful, while in the later stage after the destruction of the state and the death of her husband, her poems conveyed feelings of homelessness and regret at the country's rise and fall.
The rise of the Neo-Confucianism made scholars pay more attention to self-cultivation. As for calligraphy, there were four great calligraphy artists in the Song Dynasty, namely Su Shi, Huang Tingian, Mi Fu and Cai Xiang. They admired the calligraphic style of the Wei and Jin Dynasties, stressed personality, ignored rules, and advocated "with verve and without rules." The landscape paintings of the time focused more on the impressionistic style and expressions of temperament and highlighted verve and spirit. Among the realistic paintings that showed ordinary life, Along the River during the Qingming Festival by Zhang Zeduan of the Northern Song Dynasty, was the most famous of all. By adopting the "scattered dot" perspective painting technique, the painter vividly reproduced the prosperous scenes in Bianjing and along the Bianke River at the end of the Northern Song Dynasty on a five-meter-long scrolling paper, making those who watch it feel like "being personally in the bustling crowds in the city of Bianjing."
From the 10th to the 13th century, Europe was oppressed by feudal land ownership. The serfs were humble in position and ideology was still fettered by theological obscuration. On the other hand, the great inventions and their application, as well as the boom in urban economy and overseas trade in the Song Dynasty of the same period, marked a new height of Chinese social economy and technology, giving it a leading position in the world at the time.