The quickening of the economy in Song times
fueled the . Dozens of cities had 50,000 or
more residents, and quite a few had more than 100,000. As in previous
dynasties, the Song’s largest cities were its capitals — first in
the North, then in the
South. Both capitals are thought to have had about a million residents.
(The population of London at the time was around 15,000). (1)
Like the city in the scroll, the Song capitals
boasted , with
markets, shops, restaurants, and houses right on the street. Some of
these buildings were multi-story.
Kaifeng did have an ,
but its population spilled beyond it. Unlike previous capitals, such
as the Tang dynasty’s Chang’an, the Song capitals did not
have walled wards.The
wall we see in the scroll had no military purpose, but its gate (see
images below) still formed an impressive entrance into the city.
To combat , the government
stationed 2,000 soldiers at 14 fire stations within the city and more
was more of a problem in crowded cities than in the countryside. The Song government not only distributed alms, but operated public clinics, old age homes, and paupers’ graveyards.
“An ancient 17-foot painted scroll, now
in the Palace Museum in Beijing, shows the bustle and prosperity
of ancient Kaifeng. Hundreds of pedestrians
jostle each other on the streets, camels carry merchandise
in from the Silk Road, and teahouses and restaurants do a thriving
Kaifeng’s stature attracted people from
all over the world, including hundreds of Jews. Even today,
there are some people in Kaifeng who look like other Chinese
but who consider themselves Jewish and do not eat pork.” (2)
— Nicholas D. Kristof
• “Recollections of the Northern Song Capital,” in Hawai’i
Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture,
translated by Stephen
West, edited by Victor H. Mair, Nancy S. Steinhardt, and Paul R. Goldin
(Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005), 405-422.
(1) Nicholas D. Kristof, “China, the World’s
Capital (From Kaifeng
to New York, Glory Is as Ephemeral as Smoke and Clouds,” New
York Times, May 22, 2005.