The Sung period (960–1279), as is generally recognized, shaped the pattern of China's development for the last millennium. Carrying forward the trends originating in late T'ang, it integrated both the traditional and the new ingredients into a distinctive way of life which gradually permeated the entire society down to the level of the average villager. The result was a broadly based, deeply rooted, stable, but conservative culture. Remarkable economic advancement and social reconstruction took place. The same was generally true, though to a lesser extent, of political institutions and thought: the bureaucratic empire was now thoroughly centralized under a generally attentive and restrained absolutism; great gains were achieved in the number, quality, and especially the status of the nonaristocratic scholar-officials; the enriching variety of theoretical formulations known as neo-Confucianism carried increasing weight. Government administration in particular, the most effective ever to exist in China itself, was probably the best in the world then and for several centuries to come. Improvements made by the Ming and the Ch'ing, after the intervening period of the Mongols, were more or less within this general pattern.

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