China: A Short Cultural History

By C. P. Fitzgerald; C. G. Seligman | Go to book overview

Chapter XXI

THE NOMAD INVADERS

INTERCOURSE between China and foreign nations in the Sung period was of two kinds; peaceful trading relations with the Arabs who came by sea to the ports along the south-east coast, and devastating invasions by nomadic raiders from the Mongolian steppes. The contact with the Arabs not only brought great wealth to the southern Chinese provinces, but also increased geographical knowledge of the countries to the west of the Indian Ocean. The nomadic invasions largely ruined the north-west of China, and led to the rapid decline of the ancient caravan route to Central Asia and the Chinese cities which formed its eastern termini.

The Mongol invasion, the last and most destructive of these incursions, destroyed for ever the ancient importance of the "land within the passes"--Shensi and Kansu--which in Han and T'ang times had been the centre of Chinese civilisation. The diminished population was no longer able to keep the irrigation works in repair, and many of the cities on the northern frontier were in time overwhelmed by the drifting sands of the desert. The south, on the other hand, escaping the worst fury of the Mongols, became the real centre of Chinese culture, and it was from this region, a mere colonial territory in Han times, and still very little exploited in the T'ang dynasty, that the later Chinese dynasties took their origin and derived their support. The invasions of the north, and its separation from the south for more than a century, had another consequence. It is after the Sung dynasty that the rivalry and distinction between north and south first becomes a factor of importance in Chinese history. In earlier dynasties the south was not sufficiently important to claim equality with the older provinces north of the Yangtze, but after the Sung the pretensions of the southern provinces, and the hostility they aroused in the north, are a constant feature of Chinese politics, and even affected questions of literature and art.

Although the outlook of the Chinese in the Sung period was less cosmopolitan than it had been under the T'ang, geographical

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