Why didn't the Song Dynasty Industrialize?

Topics: Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism, Technology Pages: 6 (2041 words) Published: December 11, 2013
Song Dynasty: The Almost Industrial Revolution

Between A.D 960-1279 China entered a phase of economic and agricultural growth that was much larger than ever before. Revolutions in farming, ideology, and bureaucracy allowed the Song Dynasty to become the world’s first modern economy. This great economy resulted in high levels of urbanization and favorable conditions for technological development, commerce and a rural-based proto-industrialization.1 Despite the rich development and likelihood of an industrious revolution, why didn’t the Song Dynasty in China go through social, economic, and technological advancement consistent with an industrial revolution, despite being at the pinnacle of production and having, for its time, the world’s first modern government? The 300 or so years leading up to the Song Dynasty were filled with radical social and economical development. A growing population and the creation of large cities such as Kaifeng, Hangzhou and Beijing provided homes and land for upwards of 20 million people. These cities were not only homes and places of work for millions of people but became market centers for trade and maritime commerce. Within these large cities, social classes started to develop, and through the competitive examinations elites began to take control and gain power. As social classes began to divide, private and maritime trade increased expanding the economic market creating a new wealthy mercantile class. The mercantile class became well versed and educated in the market system and proved to the working and middle class that production and trading of goods was extremely profitable. As money was becoming easier to come buy and the competitive examinations became increasingly important education started to develop to train people to take these extremely hard exams.2 The exams, when passed, gave people the chance to become government officials and provide honor and wealth for their families. The selection of qualified citizens to become elites or officers in the Song bureaucracy created what Max Weber refers to as a Confucian ideology.3 The philosopher Zhu Xi combined Weber’s Confucian ideology with Buddhism, and Taoism to create what we know as Neo-Confucian ideology. Weber suggests that the bureaucracy created by Neo-Confucian ideologies was stifling and tended to crowd out large-scale private activity. The new Neo-Confucian ideology taught people to put the interest of the whole over any individual interest. This Philosophy evolved into an official creed, which stressed one-sided duties of obedience and compliance of subject to ruler, child to father, wife to husband, and younger brother to elder brother.4 Any disruption of the hierarchy of power created by these philosophies was punishable by death. The effect of this was long term political, social, and spiritual stability at the expense of industrial development, extinguishing any private initiative, which in most cases would lead to the creation of advances in technology. The reduction of science based innovation and technological advances caused little to be passed on to future generations. The success of experiments comes from many trials and errors and discovering mistakes that were made in each one. The lack of these trials due to little private initiative made it difficult for the reception of foreign technology. David Landes, in his piece Why Europe and the West? Why not China? argues that the rejection of foreign technology was the more serious because China itself had long slipped into a regime of technological and scientific inertia, coasting along on the strength of previous gains and slowly losing speed as a result of the inevitable frictions of vested interest and divisions of talent and wealth into the comfort and gratification of gentility.5 Why would the Song people seek to improve their situation if they already had everything they needed? The institutions that pushed for entrepreneurship were not in place due to...

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