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Wang Anshi’s Reform in the Northern Song Dynasty: A Comprehensive Reform and Its Pros and Cons


By Wang Yingying & Liang Qi, Research Team on “Methodology of Reform”, Research Department of Macro-Economy of DRC

Research Report [Special Issue No.48 (Total 1451), 2015] 2015-12-25

Abstract: In middle of the Song Dynasty, owing to a series of rules exercised by feudal emperors’ families in such areas as politics, military, and economy, excessive “decentralization and balancing” within the state led to a weakened and scattered administrative system, depleted treasury, and a number of military failures. The entire country fell into a vicious cycle of poverty and weakness. In 1069 A.D., Wang Anshi (1021-1086) launched a comprehensive supplementary reform with relevant supporting measures, which centered on the management of financial sector and the rectification of army relating to various areas such as politics, economy, culture, social and military affairs. The new law was in play for 16 years and the situation of poverty and weakness was relieved more or less. However, due to the inherent problems of the new law, improper ways of implementation, and strong objections, the reform was finally abandoned. Enlightenments drawn from Wang Anshi’s reform for current reform include: when we push forward reform, we should not only be concerned about efficiency, but also pay attention to the overall frequency and impacts of reform; we should lay stress on both overarching designing and drawing on grassroots feedback; while enabling talents to come to the fore, we should strengthen the construction of supplementarymechanism such as supervision and examination.

Key words: Wang Anshi’s reform, family rules in the Song Dynasty, methodology