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"Essay on Sung Dynasty"
Essay on Sung Dynasty
Helene Hannah
The Sung Dynasty has been referred to the "golden age" of Chinese culture. It immediately precedes the Yuan or Mongol Dynasty, which the West associates with time of Marco Polo's expeditions. Sung Dynasty rulers were content to be masters of China itself, unlike the preceding Tang Dynasty, whose rulers had great expansionist tendencies and brought Central Asia into their political and cultural orbit. China, during the Sung Dynasty, looked inward to herself. Traditional ideas in art forms and religious thought were now modified and made more truly Chinese. Buddhist philosophy was fused with the meditative mysticism of native Chinese Taoism.

Over 300 years of Sung history is divided into the two periods of Northern and Southern Sung. Because of the barbarian occupation of northern China the second half of the Sung rule was confined to the area south of the Huai River. Artistic and intellectual output increased enormously. Sung thinkers turned back to the Confucian classics, attempting to purge them of Han and Tang accretions. The resulting Neo-Confucianism was most concerned with good government, and the hierarchical but compassionate ordering of society. Yet, this era was also heavily influenced by Buddhist ideals of compassion and kinship with all sentient beings and by the Buddhist/Taoist concept that the two are mutually interactive, making Sung the most egalitarian of all periods in China's dynastic history.

Icons created for new Buddhist establishment give sufficient evidence of sculptural creativity during Sung. Guanyin was the most popular deities at that time, particularly in the newer embodiments based on the Lotus and Flower Garland sutras. Over time, Guanyin combined major elements from Chinese folk culture, including a growing feminization of the image type and its increasing association with aid in conception and childbirth.

Guanyin (Kuan Shih Yin) was first known as a male figure; it was not until later...

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