After the fall of the T’ang Dynasty, a period of unrest and war ensued, finally ending with the establishment of the Song Dynasty. The Song era was considered a time of consolidation for Chinese culture. Traditional text were reanalyzed and reinterpreted, bringing forth a revival of Confucianism peppered with new ideas. Once again, civil scholars became more influential than their military counterparts. This was an era of peace, where technology and innovation flourished. Trade now focused on the seas, since the Silk Road had since been cut off. The Song viewed themselves as the culmination of two thousand years of Chinese culture. However, splinters began to emerge among the various ethnic groups that had been unified under the T’ang. As these ethnic rivalries began to grow, the government became fractured as officials began to oppose each other, allowing the Mongols from the north to invade and conquer.
Although best known for their philosophical contributions, this sculpture of a crab attests to the rich artistic tradition that flourished under the enlightened rulers of the Song Dynasty. Carved from precious agate, this crab holds its claws up to its mouth as if nibbling on its latest catch. Each of the multiple legs is individually articulate, contributing to the illusion that this creature might scatter away, sideways of course. With beady, round eyes, the crab stares back at us unsure whether to run and hide or continue eating. We can picture this sculpture once decorating the imperial palace of Song Dynasty. Clearly the stunning artistry of the carving would have awed all who saw it. Likewise, finding this effigy of a sea creature inside the royal residence would have delighted the onlooker. Such a work, treasured both for its form as well as its material, would have been a luxury only afforded by the royals themselves or high-ranking officials within the court. Today, it continues to inspire us with its beauty and history that only increase with time.