The first part of the Sung dynasty is called the Northern Sung. In
960 AD, one of the generals of the declining
T'ang Dynasty managed to reunify China under
his control. This general's name was Chao K'uang-yin, but once became
emperor he renamed himself Sung T'ai Tsu. Sung T'ai Tsu was a strong
emperor who kept the army firmly under his control, but after Sung
T'ai Tsu died, his successors did not do as well, and China's defenses
became weak. The Sung Dynasty never controlled as large an empire
as the T'ang had. In 1004 AD, the Sung made peace with the Khitans in the north-east, and in 1044 they made peace with the Western Hsia
in the north-west. The emperors had to pay heaps of gold
to these people every year in order to keep them from attacking China.
On the other hand, the old Han Dynasty examinations became more and more important to Chinese government, and from the Sung dynasty on, these examinations were really the only way to get political power in China. But paying out the gold meant that poor people had to pay high taxes, and everyone was unhappy. Some people wanted to keep making the payments anyway, and other people thought it would be better to try to fight the northern invaders off. These two groups kept fighting with each other. First one would get into power and then the other.
Then about 1110 AD, the Sung emperor made an alliance with the Jurchen of Manchuria to fight the Khitans and get them out of China. It worked great! But once the Khitans were out, in 1115, the Juchens took over the Sung capital of Kaifeng. The Jurchens took the emperor and his son prisoner.
The second part of the Sung dynasty is called the Southern Sung. Another
son of the Sung emperor ran away to southern China and in 1126 he
started a new Sung Dynasty with its capital at Hangzhou. He took the
name Kao Tsung. Kao Tsung and his successors were not very strong
militarily, and could not take back northern China from the Juchen.
But they did develop thriving trade. Because the Juchen had cut off
their traditional route along the Silk Road, traders began sailing
to South-East Asia and to India.
Paper money helped to create growth in the economy.
In the 1230s, the Sung Dynasty made an alliance with the Mongols to get rid of the Juchen. Again, the plan worked, but the Mongols took over northern China instead. In 1279 AD the Mongols came even further south and killed the last of the Sung emperors.
To find out more about the Sung dynasty in China, check out these books from Amazon.com or from your library:
Eyewitness: Ancient China, by Arthur Cotterell, Alan Hills, and Geoff Brightling (2000). For kids, with lots of excellent pictures.
China (History of Nations), by Greenhaven Press (2002). For middle schoolers. The negative review on Amazon is actually for a different book - don't be alarmed!
Daily Life in China, on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276, by Jacques Gernet (1962).
Inner Quarters: Marriage and the Lives of Chinese Women in the Sung
Period, by Patricia Buckley Ebrey (1993).