A Daring Experiment
With the rise of the Song in 960, China seemed to enter the modern era with a materialistic culture in evidence. The circulation of money became more widespread. The use of gunpowder, the flame thrower, compass navigation, the astronomical clock, the blast furnace, water power in spinning, and bulkheads and watertight compartments in shipbuilding emerged with the Song. During the first two centuries of the present millennium, the standard of living in prominent Chinese cities must have compared favorably with that of any other city in the world.
The founder of the Song dynasty, Zhao Kuangyin, was an army officer. He made no effort to redistribute agricultural land; nor did he design a universal conscription program. The Song was the only major dynasty in Chinese history to rely on recruited soldiers to fill out army ranks. Immediately after his accession, Zhao Kuangyin built an artificial lake in the southern suburbs of Kaifeng--the city that was to become the site of the imperial capital of the Song but that of no other major dynasty. Instead of giving lectures and attending Confucian seminars, the sovereign often visited the lake to watch naval and marine exercises and inspected the nearby dockyards, where warships