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The Song dynasty (Chinese: 宋朝; pinyin: Sòng cháo; 960–1279) was an era of Chinese history that began in 960 and continued until 1279. It was founded by Emperor Taizu of Song following his usurpation of the throne of Later Zhou, ending the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The Song government was the first in world history to issue banknotes or true paper money nationally and the first Chinese government to establish a permanent standing navy. This dynasty also saw the first known use of gunpowder, as well as the first discernment of true north using a compass.
Religion in China during this period greatly influenced people's lives, beliefs, and daily activities, and Chinese literature on spirituality was popular. The major deities of Daoism and Buddhism, ancestral spirits, and the many deities of Chinese folk religion were worshipped with sacrificial offerings. Tansen Sen asserts that more Buddhist monks from India travelled to China during the Song than in the previous Tang dynasty (618–907). With many ethnic foreigners travelling to China to conduct trade or live permanently, there came many foreign religions; religious minorities in China included Middle Eastern Muslims, the Kaifeng Jews, and Persian Manichaeans.
During this period, Buddhism had a profound influence upon the budding movement of Neo-Confucianism, led by Cheng Yi (1033–1107) and Zhu Xi (1130–1200). Mahayana Buddhism influenced Fan Zhongyan and Wang Anshi through its concept of ethical universalism, while Buddhist metaphysics deeply affected the pre–Neo-Confucian doctrine of Cheng Yi.
The philosophical work of Cheng Yi in turn influenced Zhu Xi. Although his writings were not accepted by his contemporary peers, Zhu's commentary and emphasis upon the Confucian classics of the Four Books as an introductory corpus to Confucian learning formed the basis of the Neo-Confucian doctrine. By the year 1241, under the sponsorship of Emperor Lizong, Zhu Xi's Four Books and his commentary on them became standard requirements of study for students attempting to pass the civil service examinations. The East Asian countries of Japan and Korea also adopted Zhu Xi's teaching, known as the Shushigaku (朱子學, School of Zhu Xi) of Japan, and in Korea the Jujahak (주자학). Buddhism's continuing influence can be seen in painted artwork such as Lin Tinggui's Luohan Laundering. However, the ideology was highly criticized and even scorned by some. The statesman and historian Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072) called the religion a "curse" that could only be remedied by uprooting it from Chinese culture and replacing it with Confucian discourse.
A true revival of Buddhism in Chinese society would not occur until the Mongol rule of the Yuan dynasty, with Kublai Khan's sponsorship of Tibetan Buddhism and Drogön Chögyal Phagpa as the leading lama. The Christian sect of Nestorianism, which had entered China in the Tang era, would also be revived in China under Mongol rule.
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