As it approached its end, the Southern Sung dynasty had been weakened by spendthrift emperors, disabled by squabbling bureaucrats, and stretched to the brink of bankruptcy by the costs of wars that had lingered for six decades. By the 1260s a certain disillusionment and fatalism hung over Lin-an. The emperor, Li-tsung (r. 1224–64), seemed to be evading despair by escaping into lechery. His high officials evaded responsibility for their failures by engaging in political vendettas. Attempts at reviving economic prosperity through government initiatives had lost their appeal after several disastrous failures. The active pursuit of peace was similarly abandoned. Adding to this malaise was the inability of the Chao imperial line to provide suitable heirs on a regular basis.
Three of the six Southern Sung emperors before 1275 did not produce a son who survived him, and this lack of patrilineal succession necessitated the adoption of sons from less prestigious branches of the imperial clan. Kao-tsung, Ning-tsung, and Li-tsung all had lengthy reigns that began in early adulthood and continued for three decades or more, yet they all died without sons to succeed them. Hsiao-tsung, Kuang-tsung, and Tu-tsung (r. 1264–74) were succeeded by infant sons who were ineffectual rulers. Historical records provide few clues as to why sons were in short supply. What is known is that the absence of a proper heir, namely the son of the emperor’s primary wife, created political instability at the time of succession.
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