Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 February 2022
While China’s rural economy predominated during the imperial era, some of the world’s largest cities were part of the Chinese landscape. From the Song dynasty (960–1279) onward, the number of cities and towns rose, the urban population expanded, and the urban sector of the economy became a significant indication of the wealth and prosperity of the Chinese empire. Even though large cities such as Chang’an and Luoyang had existed both before and during the Tang dynasty (618–907) and featured sites of production and services, they were founded and functioned primarily as political capitals. In the Song era an extensive array of types of cities besides capitals – maritime ports, provincial transport hubs, manufacturing and commercial centers – flourished as trade and cultural metropoles. Chinese cities took on a different configuration during the Song – one may speak of a “new urban paradigm”: in contrast to the cities of the Tang era with their enclosed wards, gridiron streets, tightly controlled markets, and sharp hierarchical social structure, the Song-era city was shaped by mercantile society and managed by pragmatic bureaucrats.