Su Sung was an imperial astronomer who designed the False Sky Observatory during the Sung dynasty. Sung felt a deep committment to his studies and helping to teach younger students about the universe. In his observatory students sat in a chair suspended in a spherical tent and learned about the movements of the heavens. Sung also charted the stars for the emperor and perhaps led to the Chinese zodiac. Another of Sung's contributions to China was the astronomical clock.
Chu Hsi was a philosopher who tried to work the teachings of Confucianism, Buddism, and Taoism into one system. Chu Hsis school was called Neo-Confucianism. It taught that human nature needs to be refined by education and self-improvement. Even a perfect ruler, said Chu Hsi, could use the counsel of well-educated advisors. Neo-Confucianism helped keep alive the ideal of the scholar-official. Chu Hsis teachings had a strong hold on Chinese thought and attitudes until the twentieth century.
Other schools of thought had an impact on China as well. The Ying and Yang focused on the maintaining the equilibrium between different forces. Mohism emphazised the well-being and care of all individuals regardless of their economic status.
Legalism had a more immediate impact on society. This school of thought can be compared to the Western version of realism who believe humans are inately evil. Although each philosophy have different views on human nature, all five helped create and shape China as it is known today.
Ouyang Xiu (1007-72) was one of the foremost prose stylists of the Song period, adopting a clear, simple style of writing in contrast to the balanced, rhythmic style called pien-wien. He is celebrated for his compositions in the fu genre, part prose, part poetry, which reached its peak during the Han period, and which he modernized and gave new content.
His two most famous fu are the Fu of Autumn's Voice and the History of the Pavilion of the Old Drunkard. Ouyang Xiu held important posts in the administration and directed the committee of scholars charged with compiling the New History of the Five Dynasties. He was also interested in archaeology, and published the texts of ancient inscriptions on bronze furnished with explanatory notes.
Su Shi (1036-1101) is generally held to have been the stylistically most perfect and most delightful poet of the Song period. He entered the imperial civil service while still extremely young, but he was a failure as a politician, and alternated between high posts at court and long periods of exile.
He is also known by the pseudonym of Su Dong-po, "Su of the eastern slope," because in one of his periods of retirement from public life he had a hut built on the eastern slope of a hill, where he spent his time writing poetry and observing nature together with his refined companion, Zhao Yun.
Although Su Shi was not a convinced Taoist, nor indeed a Confucian or Buddhist, he had absorbed the Taoist contemplative love of nature, and his verses reflect this feeling. His most famous composition is called The Fu of the Purple Rock.
Liang Kai (1182-1253) was a painter during the last part of the Song period, when artists began to react against academic authority and the caste ethos of the court painters. He was a disciple of the Ch'an Buddhist sect (better known in the West under its Japanese name of Zen), and renounced all worldly honors to retire to the peace of a monastery.
His artistic technique was completely original, and the works attributed to him frequently combine huge backgrounds of landscape or monochrome backgrounds with human figures executed with a few vigorous brushstrokes. His masterpiece is the Portrait of the Poet Li Bo, preserved in the National Museum in Tokyo, which evokes the intense vitality of the subject with only a few strokes to convey line, depth, and movement.
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