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Technological Advances in Song Dynasty Essay


The Song dynasty is credited with a majority of the critical technological advancements of ancient China. Most individuals who contributed to the technological developments were gifted statesmen. The government used imperial examinations to identify talented people. Granet (2013) posits, “The ingenuity of advanced mechanical engineering had a long tradition in China” (p. 40).

Engineers from the Song dynasty borrowed ideas from the developments made by ancient inventors and astronomers. The knowledge acquired from woodblock printing enabled them to develop the first movable type. Besides, the Song dynasty invented gunpowder that marked the commencement of the production of sophisticated weapons. Other notable technological advancements that had significant impacts on human civilization were in the fields of metallurgy and nautics. This paper will discuss the technological advancements of the Song dynasty and their influences on human civilization.

The Song Dynasty

The Song dynasty existed between 960 and1279, which is about 319 years ago (Von Glahn, 2011). The regime is credited with the invention of some of the most critical technologies that are useful today. However, a majority of the techniques were not refined during the time of the dynasty. The Chinese used the technologies in their crude form. Over time, people improved their techniques and applied them to enhance their life. Some technologies that the Song dynasty invented included the movable type and gunpowder among others.

Printing via Movable Type Machine

The Song dynasty is associated with the development of mass printing that is still in use to date. The regime invented movable type that facilitated the mass production of books (Deng & Zheng, 2015). A study of the genesis of books indicates that even though writing had existed for a long time, it was concentrated around a few intellectuals. Most of the population was illiterate because reading and writing were preserves of the elite (Granet, 2013).

The invention of movable type led to many people developing an interest in studies. Parents started encouraging their children to learn how to read and write. The production of books meant that people could access intellectual materials. Eventually, a lot of Chinese enrolled in studies leading to an increase in the number of scholars (Granet, 2013). Von Glahn (2011) argues that the invention of movable type resulted in the development of money. The Song dynasty could print money and use it for trade.


According to Schirokauer and Brown (2012), the Song dynasty had experienced sailors who traveled to different parts of the world. They made sure that their ships were well-equipped to facilitate the voyage. The desire of sailors to explore the world led to the development of the directional compass. Later, the Song dynasty invented the magnetic compass that made navigation easy. For a long time, sailors had relied on the position of the moon and the sun to determine the bearing.

Additionally, they depended on the polestar for direction. It became hard for sailors to travel at night, particularly when they could not see the stars or the moon. The magnetic compass made it easy for people to find the way, therefore enhancing trade between the Song dynasty and other empires. Additionally, it facilitated navigation, enabling people to explore new worlds.

The Song dynasty mastered the art of building ships that could carry a lot of goods and individuals. Sun (2015) wrote, “The new technologies enhanced the maritime culture in the Song dynasty and across the globe” (p. 56). The government started using ships to offer transport services. Besides, people began to make private shipping vessels. The experience in maritime that engineers from the Song dynasty had enabled them to build efficient vessels dubbed paddle-wheel ships.

The construction of the ships helped to reinforce the military in times of war. For instance, the Song dynasty used paddle-wheel ships in the Battle of Tango. Sun (2015) claims that the development of paddle-wheel ships marked the onset of the production of warships. Besides, the Chinese had other uses for the ships. Schirokauer and Brown (2012) allege that they were used as tugboats. According to Deng and Zheng (2015), the construction of paddle-wheel ships paved the way for the development of modern vessels.

The invention of the Gunpowder

The Song dynasty invented gunpowder in the twelfth century. The regime wanted to come up with protective measures to guard it against aggressive neighbors. The Song people developed explosive bombs which they used to attack ships of their enemies. The invention of gunpowder led to the development of guns. The dynasties that had guns were superior and feared by their enemies. Deng and Zheng (2015) maintain that the invention of gunpowder was a turning point in the art of war. The Song dynasty used the powder to overcome the Mongols who used to attack China. After defeating the Mongols, the Chinese came up with numerous gunpowder-based weapons including grenades and cannons.

Culp (2016) argues that gunpowder was a coveted product across the globe. Its demand led to the rise of trade between China and European countries. In the mid-15th century, the first handgun was made resulting in the surfacing of a new class of soldiers. Today, gunpowder is used to make a majority of modern weapons. The invention of gunpowder ushered in new developments. Culp (2016) argues that the development of the car engine was a result of the invention of gunpowder.


The Song dynasty borrowed the art of metallurgy from other empires such as the Han administration. They perfected the art and introduced new methods that aided the production of inhomogeneous steel (Culp, 2016). The modern processes that are used to create steel can be traced back to the Song dynasty. The regime needed to reinforce its military. Besides, the demand for steel was high in the global market.

Thus, they had to come up with novel ways to boost the production of steel. The invention of the art of metallurgy led to the growth in agriculture. The dynasty manufactured many agricultural tools that enhanced farming. Besides, metallurgy resulted in the production of various cooking utensils that are in use today. Culp (2016) claims that the manufacture of steel promoted the industrial revolution. Steel was used to build machines that fueled industrial growth. Today, steel is among the most significant building materials. The contemporary civilization uses it to construct buildings. Besides, it is used to make industrial machines as well as ships.

Inventions in Medicine and Agriculture

The Song dynasty conducted numerous researches in the medical field that helped to determine the causes of various illnesses and their treatment. Deng and Zheng (2015) allege that the dynasty established various learning institutions that facilitated research.

The Song emperors encouraged scholars to carry out research within the precinct of the palace. Besides, individuals who showed interest in studying medicine were invited to specialize in disciplines such as pediatrics, dentistry, ophthalmology, and acupuncture among others (Von Glahn, 2011). The modern society uses some of the medical advancements made by the Song dynasty to treat diseases. For instance, doctors use acupuncture to assist patients who suffer from agonizing pain.

The Song dynasty invented many farming methods that helped to boost food production. In Southern China, the Song people practiced crop rotation. Von Glahn (2011) maintains that crop rotation contributed to preserving soil fertility, thus guaranteeing a bumper harvest. The Song people came up with methods of propagating seedlings. The seedbed used to raise seedlings these day was an invention of the Song dynasty.

The Song people invented different methods of tilling the land and domesticated many varieties of fruits and vegetables. Numerous scholars wrote books about fruit and tree planting. The books were helpful in cultivating fruits and trees like oranges and pine respectively. The Song dynasty developed agricultural practices that ensured food security. Besides, they came up with different varieties of rice that were drought-resistant (Culp, 2016, p. 23).


The Song dynasty played a significant role in technological advancement. Numerous developments achieved during the regime helped to shape human civilization. The manufacture of the movable type contributed to the publishing of books. In return, many people enrolled in schools leading to the rise in the number of intellectuals. Advancements in nautics opened the oceans making it easy for people to navigate and explore different continents. Additionally, the development of paddle-wheel ships facilitated trade. Later, engineers borrowed knowledge from the vessel which was vital in the elaboration of contemporary ships.

he invention of gunpowder revolutionized the art of war. It also facilitated the development of the car engine. The art of metallurgy played a significant role in the industrial revolution. The Song dynasty made numerous advancements in the medical field that promoted the treatment of different diseases. Knowledge acquired during the regime helped to revolutionize the medical field. Besides, the Song people domesticated numerous varieties of crops. They came up with types of plants that were drought-resistant, thus guaranteeing food security.


Culp, J. (2016). Ancient Chinese technology series: Spotlight on the rise and fall of ancient civilizations. New York, NY: Rosen Publishing Group.

Deng, K., & Zheng, L. (2015). Economic restructuring and demographic growth: Demystifying growth and development in Northern Song China, 960-1127. Economic History Review, 68(4), 1107-1131.

Granet, M. (2013). Chinese civilization. New York, NY: Routledge.

Schirokauer, C., & Brown, M. (2012). A brief history of Chinese civilization. London, UK: Cengage Learning.

Sun, X. (2015). Chinese calendar and mathematical astronomy: Handbook of archaeoastronomy and ethnoastronomy. New York, NY: Springer.

Von Glahn, R. (2011). The Song transformation: Song China (960-1279). Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 54(1), 773-780.

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