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Jiāngsū was a relative backwater until the Song dynasty (960–1279), when it emerged as an important commercial centre because of trading routes opened up by the Grand Canal. The province particularly flourished in the south, where the towns of Sūzhōu and Yángzhōu played an important role in silk production and began to develop a large mercantile class. While southern Jiāngsū became synonymous for wealth and luxury, the northern parts of Jiāngsū remained un­developed and destitute.

Prosperity continued through the Ming and Qing dynasties and with the incursion of Westerners into China in the 1840s, southern Jiāngsū opened up to Western influence. During the Taiping Rebellion (1851–64), the Taipings established Nánjīng as their capital, calling it Tiānjīng or ‘Heavenly Capital’.

Jiāngsū was also to play a strong political role in the 20th century, when Nánjīng was established as the capital by the Nationalist Party until taken over by the communists in 1949, who moved the capital to Běijīng.

Today, because of its proximity to Shànghǎi, southern Jiāngsū benefits from a fast-growing economy and rapid development, although northern Jiāngsū still lags behind.