Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty was an preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire. The dynasty was interrupted briefly by the Second Zhou Dynasty when Empress Wu Zetian seized the throne, becoming the first and only Chinese , ruling in her own right.

The Tang Dynasty, with its capital at Chang'an , the most populous city in the world at the time, is regarded by historians as a high point in civilization—equal to or surpassing that of the earlier Han Dynasty—as well as a golden age of cosmopolitan culture. Its territory, acquired through the military campaigns of its early rulers, was greater than that of the Han period, and rivaled that of the later Yuan Dynasty and Qing Dynasty. The enormous Grand Canal of China, built during the previous Sui Dynasty, facilitated the rise of new urban settlements along its route as well as increased trade between mainland Chinese markets. The canal is to this day the longest in the world. In two censuses of the 7th and 8th centuries, the Tang records stated that the population was about 50 million people. However, even when the central government was breaking down and unable to exact an accurate census of the population in the 9th century, it is estimated that the population in that century had grown to the size of about 80 million people. With its large population base, the Tang was able to raise professional and conscripted armies of hundreds of thousands of troops to contend with powers such as Tibet in dominating Inner Asia and the lucrative trade routes along the Silk Road. to the Tang court, while the Tang also conquered or subdued several regions which it indirectly controlled through . Besides political hegemony, the Tang also exerted a powerful cultural influence over neighboring states such as those in Korea and Japan.

In , the Tang Dynasty was largely a period of progress and stability, except during the An Shi Rebellion and the decline of central authority in the latter half of the dynasty. Like the previous Sui Dynasty, the Tang Dynasty maintained a civil service system by through and recommendations to office. This civil order was undermined by the rise of regional military governors known as jiedushi during the 9th century. flourished and further matured during the Tang era; it is considered the greatest age for Chinese poetry. Two of China's most famous historical poets, Du Fu and Li Bai, belonged to this age, as well as the poets Meng Haoran, Du Mu, and Bai Juyi. Many famous visual artists lived during this era, such as the renowned painters Han Gan, Zhang Xuan, and Zhou Fang. There was a rich variety of compiled by scholars, as well as encyclopedias and books on geography. There were many notable innovations during the Tang, including the development of woodblock printing, the escapement mechanism in horology, the government compilations of ''materia medicas'', improvements in cartography and the application of hydraulics to power air conditioning . The religious and philosophical ideology of Buddhism became a major aspect of Chinese culture, with becoming the most prominent. However, Buddhism would eventually be persecuted by the state and would decline in influence. Although the dynasty and central government were in decline by the 9th century, art and culture continued to flourish. The weakened central government largely withdrew from managing the , but the country's mercantile affairs stayed intact and commercial trade continued to thrive regardless.



The belonged to the northwest military aristocracy prevalent during the . The mothers of both Emperor Yang of Sui and the founding emperor of Tang were sisters, making these two emperors of different dynasties first cousins. was the Duke of Tang and former governor of Taiyuan when other government officials were fighting off bandit leaders in the collapse of the Sui Empire, caused in part by a . With prestige and military experience, he later rose in rebellion along with his son and his equally militant daughter Princess Pingyang who raised her own troops and commanded them. In 617, Li Yuan occupied Chang'an and acted as regent over of the Sui, relegating Emperor Yang to the position of ''Taishang Huang'', or retired emperor.

Li Yuan ruled until 626 before being forcefully deposed by his son Li Shimin, Prince of Qin. Li Shimin had commanded troops since the age of 18, had prowess with a , , lance, and was known for his effective cavalry charges. Fighting a numerically superior army, he defeated Dou Jiande at Luoyang in the Battle of Hulao on May 28, 621. In a violent elimination of royal family due to fear of assassination, Li Shimin ambushed and killed two of his brothers, Li Yuanji and Crown Prince Li Jiancheng in the Incident at Xuanwu Gate on July 2, 626. Taizong showed to be a capable leader who listened to the advice of the wisest members of his council. This was during the , a khanate that was destroyed after the capture of Jiali Khan Ashini Duobi by the famed Tang military officer Li Jing , who later became a Chancellor of the Tang Dynasty. With this victory, the Turks accepted Taizong as their Khagan, or Great Khan, in addition to his rule as the .

Administration and politics

Initial reforms

Taizong set out to solve internal problems within the government which had constantly plagued past dynasties. Building upon the Sui legal code, he issued that subsequent Chinese dynasties would model theirs upon, as well as neighboring polities in Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. The legal code clearly distinguished different levels of severity in meted punishments when different members of the social and political hierarchy committed the same crime. For example, the severity of punishment was different when a servant or nephew killed a master or an uncle than when a master or uncle killed a servant or nephew. yet there were several revisions in later times, such as during the Song Dynasty .

The Tang had three departments , which were obliged to draft, review, and implement policies respectively. There were also six ministries under the administrations that implemented policy, each of which was assigned different tasks. included the personnel administration, finance, rites, military, justice, and public works—an administrative model which would last until the fall of the Qing Dynasty . Although the founders of the Tang related to the glory of the earlier Han Dynasty , the basis for much of their administrative organization was very similar to the previous Southern and Northern Dynasties. These had their own signature and that of a witness and scribe in order to prove in court that their claim to property was legitimate. Therefore, Emperor Taizong ordered the government agencies in charge of construction to build every visiting official his own private mansion in the capital. The ''mingjing'' was based upon the , and tested the student's knowledge of a broad variety of texts. Candidates were also judged on their skills of deportment, appearance, speech, and level of skill in calligraphy, all of which were subjective criteria that allowed the already wealthy members of society to be chosen over ones of more modest means who were unable to be educated in rhetoric or fanciful writing skills. although having wealth or noble status was not a prerequisite in receiving a recommendation. In order to promote widespread Confucian education, the Tang government established state-run schools and issued standard versions of the Five Classics with selected commentaries. As it turned out, these scholar-officials acquired status in their local communities and in family ties, while they also shared values that connected them to the imperial court. From Tang times until the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, functioned often as intermediaries between the grassroots level and the government. Yet the potential of a widespread examination system was not fully realized until the Song Dynasty, where the merit-driven scholar official largely shed his aristocratic habits and defined his social status through the examination system. As historian Patricia Ebrey states of the Song period scholar-officials:

Nevertheless, the Sui and Tang dynasties institutionalized and set the foundations for the civil service system and this new elite class of exam-drafted scholar-officials.

Religion and politics

From the onset, religion played a role in Tang politics. In his bid for power, Li Yuan had attracted a following by claiming descent from the sage Laozi . People bidding for office would have monks from Buddhist temples pray for them in public in return for cash donations or gifts if the person was to be selected. Before the persecution of Buddhism in the 9th century, Buddhism and Daoism were accepted side by side, and Emperor Xuanzong of Tang invited monks and clerics of both religions to his court. In the previous year of 713, Emperor Xuanzong had liquidated the highly lucrative , which was run by a prominent Buddhist monastery in Chang'an. This monastery collected vast amounts of money, silk, and treasures through multitudes of synonymous people's repentances, leaving the donations on the monastery's premise.

Taxes and the census

The Tang Dynasty government attempted to create an accurate census of the size of their empire's population, mostly for effective taxation and matters of military conscription for each region. The early Tang government established both the grain tax and cloth tax at a relatively low rate for each household under the empire. This was meant to encourage households to enroll for taxation and not avoid the authorities, thus providing the government with the most accurate estimate possible. In the Tang census of the year 754, there were 1,859 cities, 321 , and 1,538 throughout the empire. Although there were many large and prominent cities during the Tang, the rural and agrarian areas comprised the majority of China's population at some 80 to 90 percent. There was also a dramatic migratory shift of the population from , as the North held 75% of the overall population at the dynasty's inception, but by its end was reduced to 50%.

Chinese population size would not dramatically increase until the Song Dynasty period, where the population doubled to 100 million people due to extensive rice cultivation in central and southern China, coupled with rural farmers holding more abundant yields of food that they could easily provide the growing market.

Military and foreign policy

Protectorates and tributaries

The 7th century and first half of the 8th century is generally considered the zenith era of the Tang Dynasty. Emperor Tang Xuanzong brought the to its golden age while the Silk Road thrived, with sway over Indochina in the south, and to the west Tang China was master of the and protector of Kashmir bordering Persia. Turkic nomads addressed the Emperor of Tang China as ''Tian Kehan''. Protectorate Generals were given a great deal of autonomy to handle local crises without waiting for central admission. After Xuanzong's reign, military governors were given enormous power, including the ability to maintain their own armies, collect taxes, and pass their titles on hereditarily. It was commonly recognized as the beginning of the fall of Tang's central government. It was more economically feasible as well, since training new recruits and sending them out to the frontier every three years drained the treasury. Hard-pressed peasants and vagrants were then induced into military service with benefits of exemption from both taxation and corvée labor service, as well as provisions for farmland and dwellings for dependents who accompanied soldiers on the frontier. By the year 742 the total number of enlisted troops in the Tang armies had risen to about 500,000 men. The horse is seen dancing with a cup of wine in its mouth, just how the horses of Emperor Xuanzong were trained to do. To handle and avoid any threats posed by the Turks, the Sui government repaired fortifications and received their trade and tribute missions. As early as the Sui Dynasty the Turks had become a major militarized force employed by the Chinese. When the Khitans began raiding northeast China in 605, a Chinese general led 20,000 Turks against them, distributing Khitan livestock and women to the Turks as a reward. While most of the Tang army was made of fubing Chinese conscripts, the majority of the army led by Turkic generals was of non-Chinese origin, campaigning largely in the western frontier where the presence of fubing troops was low.

Civil war in China was almost totally diminished by 626, along with the defeat in 628 of the Chinese warlord Liang Shidu; after these internal conflicts, the Tang began an offensive against the Turks. In the year 630, Tang armies captured areas of the Ordos Desert, modern-day Inner Mongolia province, and southern Mongolia from the Turks. While the Turks were settled in the Ordos region , the Tang government took on the military policy of dominating the central steppe. Like the earlier Han Dynasty, the Tang Dynasty conquered and subdued Central Asia during the 640s and 650s. There was a long string of conflicts with Tibet over territories in the Tarim Basin between 670–692 and in 763 the Tibetans even captured the capital of China, Chang'an, for fifteen days amidst the An Shi Rebellion. In fact, it was during this rebellion that the Tang withdrew its western garrisons stationed in what is now Gansu and Qinghai, which the Tibetans then occupied along with the territory of what is now Xinjiang. Hostilities between the Tang and Tibet continued until they signed a formal peace treaty in 821. The terms of this treaty, including the fixed borders between the two countries, are recorded in a bilingual inscription on a stone pillar outside the Jokhang temple in Lhasa.

During the Islamic conquest of Persia , the son of the last ruler of the Sassanid Empire, , fled to Tang China. ultimately reaching Europe by the 12th century. Although they had fought at Talas, on June 11, 758, an Abbasid embassy arrived at Chang'an simultaneously with the Uyghur Turks in order to pay tribute. From even further west, a tribute embassy came to the court of Taizong in 643 from the .

Korea and Japan

In terms of foreign policy to the east, the Chinese had more unsuccessful military campaigns as compared with elsewhere. , Taizong established a military campaign in 644 against the Korean kingdom of Goguryeo in the Goguryeo-Tang Wars. Since the ancient Han and Jin dynasties once had a in ancient northern Korea, the Tang Chinese desired to conquer the region. Allying with the Korean Silla Kingdom, the Chinese fought against Baekje and their allies in the Battle of Baekgang in August of 663, a decisive Tang-Silla victory. The Tang Dynasty navy had at its disposal to engage in naval warfare, these ships described by Li Quan in his ''Taipai Yinjing'' of 759. The Battle of Baekgang was actually a restoration movement by remnant forces of Baekje, since their kingdom was toppled in 660 by a joint Tang-Silla invasion, led by notable Korean general Kim Yushin and Chinese general Su Dingfang. In another joint invasion with Silla, the Tang army severely weakened the Goguryeo Kingdom in the north by taking out its outer forts in the year 645. With joint attacks by Silla and Tang armies under commander Li Shiji , the Kingdom of Goguryeo was destroyed by 668. Although they were formerly enemies, the Tang accepted officials and generals of Goguryeo into their administration and military, such as the brothers Yeon Namsaeng and Yeon Namsan . From 668 to 676, the Tang Empire would control northern Korea. However, in 671 Silla began fighting the Tang forces there. At the same time the Tang faced threats on its western border when a large Chinese army was defeated by the Tibetans on the Dafei River in 670. By 676, the Tang army was driven out of Korea by Unified Silla. Following a revolt of the Eastern Turks in 679, the Tang abandoned its Korean campaigns. The Japanese Emperor Temmu even established his conscripted army on that of the Chinese model, his state ceremonies on the Chinese model, and constructed his palace at on the . Many Chinese Buddhist monks came to Japan to help further the spread of Buddhism as well. Two 7th century monks in particular, Zhi Yu and Zhi You, visited the court of Emperor Tenji , whereupon they presented a gift of a South Pointing Chariot that they had crafted. This 3rd century mechanically-driven directional-compass vehicle was again reproduced in several models for Tenji in 666, as recorded in the ''Nihon Shoki'' of 720. The Japanese monk Enchin stayed in China from 839 to 847 and again from 853 to 858, landing near and setting sail for Japan from Taizhou, Zhejiang during his second trip to China. The Chinese also gradually adopted the foreign concept of stools and chairs as seating, whereas the Chinese beforehand always sat on mats placed on the floor. To the Middle East, the Islamic world coveted and purchased in bulk Chinese goods such as silks, lacquerwares, and porcelain wares. These musical instruments included oboes, flutes, and small lacquered drums from Kucha in the Tarim Basin, and percussion instruments from India such as cymbals.

There was great contact and interest in India as a hub for Buddhist knowledge, with famous travelers such as Xuanzang visiting the South Asian subcontinent. After a 17-year long trip, Xuanzang managed to bring back tons of valuable Sanskrit texts to be translated into . There was also a -Chinese dictionary available for serious scholars and students, while Turkic folksongs gave inspiration to some Chinese poetry. In the interior of China, trade was facilitated by the and the Tang government's rationalization of the greater canal system that reduced costs of transporting grain and other commodities.

Silk Road

The Silk Road was the most important pre-modern Eurasian trade route. During this period of the Pax Sinica, the Silk Road reached its golden age, whereby and merchants benefited from the commerce between East and West. At the same time, the Chinese empire welcomed foreign cultures, making the Tang capital arguably the most cosmopolitan area in the world.

Although the Silk Road from China to the West was initially formulated during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han , it was reopened by the Tang in 639 when Hou Junji conquered the West, and remained open for almost four decades. It was closed after the Tibetans captured it in 678, but in 699, during Empress Wu's period, the Silk Road reopened when the Tang reconquered the Four Garrisons of Anxi originally installed in 640, once again connecting China directly to the West for land-based trade. The Tang captured the vital route through the from Tibet in 722, lost it to the Tibetans in 737, and regained it under the command of the Goguryeo-Korean General Gao Xianzhi. After the An Shi Rebellion ended in 763, the Tang Empire had once again lost control over many of its outer western lands, as the Tibetan Empire largely cut off China's direct access to the Silk Road.

Despite the many western travelers coming into China to live and trade, many travelers, mainly religious monks, recorded the strict border laws that the Chinese enforced. yet it was during the Tang Dynasty that a strong Chinese maritime presence could be found in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, into Persia, Mesopotamia , Arabia, Egypt, Aksum , and Somalia in East Africa. From the same Quraysh tribe of Muhammad, Sa'd ibn Abi-Waqqas sailed from Ethiopia to China during the reign of Emperor Gaozu. He later traveled back to China with a copy of the Quran, establishing , the Mosque of Remembrance, during the reign of . To this day he is still buried in a Muslim cemetery at Guangzhou.

During the Tang Dynasty, thousands of foreigners came and lived in Guangzhou for trade and commercial ties with China, including Persians, Arabs, Hindu Indians, , , , , and of the Near East, and many others. In 748, the Buddhist monk Jian Zhen described Guangzhou as a bustling mercantile center where many large and impressive foreign ships came to dock. He wrote that "many big ships came from Borneo, Persia, Qunglun ...with...spices, pearls, and jade piled up mountain high", as written in the ''Yue Jue Shu'' . After Arab and Persian pirates burned and looted Guangzhou in 758, However, when the port reopened it continued to thrive. In 851 the Arab merchant Suleiman al-Tajir observed the manufacturing of Chinese porcelain in Guangzhou and admired its transparent quality. He also provided description on the mosque at Guangzhou, its granaries, its local government administration, some of its written records, the treatment of travellers, along with the use of ceramics, rice-wine, and tea. However, in another bloody episode at Guangzhou in 879, the Chinese rebel Huang Chao sacked the city, and purportedly slaughtered thousands of native Chinese, along with foreign Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the process. Chao's rebellion was eventually suppressed in 884.

Korean Silla, Manchurian Balhae and Japanese vessels were all involved in the Yellow Sea trade, in which Silla dominated the trade and Japanese vessels ventured into from . After Silla and Japan reopened renewed hostilities in the late 7th century, most Japanese maritime merchants chose to set sail from towards the mouth of the Huai River, the Yangzi River, and even as far south as the Hangzhou Bay in order to avoid Korean ships in the Yellow Sea. In order to sail back to Japan in 838, the Japanese embassy to China procured nine ships and sixty Korean sailors from the Korean wards of Chuzhou and Lianshui cities along the Huai River. It is also known that Chinese trade ships traveling to Japan set sail from the various ports along the coasts Zhejiang and Fujian provinces.

The Tang government and Chinese merchants became interested in by-passing the Arab merchants who dominated the trade of the Indian Ocean, to gain access to thriving trade in the vast oceanic region. Beginning in 785, the Chinese began to call regularly at Sufala on the East African coast in order to cut out Arab middlemen, with various contemporary Chinese sources giving detailed descriptions of trade in Africa. The official and geographer Jia Dan wrote of two common sea trade routes in his day: one from the coast of the Bohai Sea towards Korea and another from Guangzhou through Malacca towards the Nicobar Islands, Sri Lanka and India, the eastern and northern shores of the Arabian Sea to the Euphrates River. In Fustat , Egypt, the fame of Chinese ceramics there led to an enormous demand for Chinese goods, hence Chinese often traveled there, also in later periods such as Fatimid Egypt. From this time period, the Arab merchant Shulama once wrote of his admiration for Chinese seafaring s, but noted that the draft was too deep for them to enter the Euphrates River, which forced them to land small boats for passengers and cargo. Shulama also noted in his writing that Chinese ships were often very large, large enough to carry aboard 600 to 700 passengers each.

Empress Wu and Emperor Xuanzong

Usurpation of Wu Zetian

Although she entered Emperor Gaozong's court as the lowly consort Wu Zhao, Wu Zetian would rise to the highest seat of power in 690, establishing the short-lived latter Zhou Dynasty. Empress Wu's rise to power was achieved through cruel and calculating tactics. For example, she allegedly killed her own baby girl and blamed it on Gaozong's empress so that the empress would be demoted. When Empress Wu's eldest son and crown prince began to assert his authority and announce his support for issues that were opposed to Empress Wu's ideas, he suddenly died in 675. Many suspected he was poisoned by Empress Wu. Although the next heir apparent kept a lower profile, in 680 he was accused by Wu of plotting a rebellion and was banished . After only six weeks on the throne in 683, was deposed by Empress Wu after his attempt to appoint his wife's father as chancellor.

In order to legitimize her rule in a religious sense, she circulated a document known as the ''Great Cloud Sutra'', which predicted that a reincarnation of the Maitreya Buddha would be a female monarch who would dispel illness, worry, and disaster from the world. She even introduced numerous revised to , which were reversed back to the originals only after her death. Arguably the most important part of her legacy was diminishing the power of the northwest aristocracy, allowing people from other clans and regions of China to become more representative in Chinese politics and government.

Rise of Xuanzong

There were many prominent women at court during and after Wu's reign, including Shangguan Wan'er , a female poet, writer, and trusted official in charge of Wu's private office. In 706 the wife of Emperor Zhongzong of Tang, , convinced her husband to staff government offices with his sister and her daughters, and in 709 requested that he grant women the right to bequeath hereditary privileges to their sons . This was finally ended when Princess Taiping's coup failed in 712 and Emperor Ruizong abdicated to Emperor Xuanzong.

During the 44 year reign of Emperor Xuanzong, the Tang Dynasty was brought to its height, a golden age, a period of low economic inflation, as well as a toning down of the excessively lavish lifestyle of the imperial court. Xuanzong bowed to the consensus of his ministers on policy decisions and made efforts to fairly staff government ministries with different political factions. After 737 most of Xuanzong's confidence rested in his long-standing chancellor Li Linfu, who championed a more aggressive foreign policy employing non-Chinese generals that would cement the conditions for a massive rebellion against Xuanzong.


Rebellion and catastrophe

The Tang Empire was at its height of power up until the middle of the 8th century, when the An Shi Rebellion destroyed the prosperity of the empire. An Lushan was a half-, half- Tang commander since 744, had experience fighting the of Manchuria with a victory in 744, yet most of his campaigns against the Khitans were unsuccessful. He was given great responsibility in Hebei, which allowed him to rebel with an army of more than one hundred thousand troops. The Uyghur khan was greatly excited at this prospect, and even married his own daughter to the Chinese diplomatic envoy once he arrived, yet the Uyghur khan would in turn receive a Chinese princess as his bride. So significant was this loss that half a century later ''jinshi'' examination candidates were required to write an essay on the causes of the Tang's decline. Although An Lushan was killed by one of his eunuchs in 757, After the An Shi Rebellion, the autonomous power and authority accumulated by the jiedushi in Hebei went beyond the central government's control. After a series of rebellions between 781 and 784 in today's Hebei, Shandong, Hubei and Henan provinces, the government had to officially acknowledge the jiedushi's hereditary ruling without accreditation. The Tang government relied on these governors and their armies for protection and to suppress locals that would take up arms against the government. In return, the central government would acknowledge the rights of these governors to maintain their army, collect taxes and even to pass on their title to heirs. As time passed on these military governors slowly phased out the prominence of civil officials drafted by exams, and became more autonomous from central authority.

With the central government collapsing in authority over the various regions of the empire, it was recorded in 845 that bandits and river pirates in parties of 100 or more began plundering settlements along the Yangtze River with little resistance. The Chinese belief in the Mandate of Heaven granted to the ailing Tang was also challenged when natural calamities occurred, forcing many to believe the Heavens were displeased and that the Tang had lost their right to rule. Then in 873 a disastrous harvest shook the foundations of the empire, in some areas only half of all agricultural produce being gathered, and tens of thousands faced famine and starvation. yet the Tang government in the 9th century was nearly helpless in dealing with any calamity.

Rebuilding and recovery

Although these natural calamities and rebellions stained the reputation and hampered the effectiveness of the central government, the early 9th century is nonetheless viewed as a period of recovery for the Tang Dynasty. The government's withdrawal from its role in managing the economy had the unintended effect of stimulating trade, as more markets with less bureaucratic restrictions were opened up. By 780, the old grain tax and labor service of the 7th century was replaced by a semiannual tax paid in cash, signifying the shift to a money economy bolstered by the merchant class. Cities in the Jiangnan region to the south, such as Yangzhou, Suzhou, and Hangzhou prospered the most economically during the late Tang period. Even after the power of the central government was in decline since the mid 8th century, it was still able to function and give out imperial orders on a massive scale. The ''Tangshu'' compiled in the year 945 recorded that in 828 the Tang government issued a decree that standardized irrigational square-pallet chain pumps in the country:

The last great ambitious ruler of the Tang Dynasty was Emperor Xianzong of Tang , his reign period aided by the fiscal reforms of the 780s, including the government monopoly on the salt industry. He also had an effective well trained imperial army stationed at the capital led by his court eunuchs; this was the Army of Divine Strategy, numbering 240,000 in strength as recorded in 798. Between the years 806 and 819, Emperor Xianzong conducted seven major military campaigns to quell the rebellious provinces that had claimed autonomy from central authority, managing to subdue all but two of them. Under his reign there was a brief end to the hereditary jiedushi, as Xianzong appointed his own military officers and staffed the regional bureaucracies once again with civil officials. Although the rebellion was defeated by the Tang, it never recovered from that crucial blow, weakening it for the future military powers to take over. There were also large groups of bandits, in the size of small armies, that ravaged the countryside in the last years of the Tang, who smuggled illicit salt, ambushed merchants and convoys, and even besieged several walled cities. In 907, after almost 300 years in power, the dynasty was ended when this military governor, Zhu Wen , deposed the last emperor of Tang, Emperor Ai of Tang, and took the throne for himself. He established his Later Liang Dynasty, which thereby inaugurated the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. A year later, the deposed Emperor Ai was poisoned to death by Zhu Wen.

Although cast in a negative light by many for usurping power from the Tang, Zhu Wen turned out to be a skilled administrator. Emperor Taizu of Later Liang was also responsible for the building of a large seawall, new walls and roads for the burgeoning city of Hangzhou, which would later become the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty. Many outdoor sports and activities were enjoyed during the Tang, including archery, hunting, horse polo, cuju football, cockfighting, and even tug of war. Government officials were granted vacations during their tenure in office. Officials were granted 30 days off every three years to visit their parents if they lived 1000 miles/1609 km away, or 15 days off if the parents lived more than 167 miles/268 km away . Between the years 628 and 758, the imperial throne bestowed a total of sixty-nine grand carnivals nationwide, granted by the emperor in the case of special circumstances like important military victories, abundant harvests after a long drought or famine, the granting of , the installment of a new crown prince, etc. For special celebration in the Tang era, lavish and gargantuan-sized feasts were sometimes prepared, as the imperial court had staffed agencies to prepare the meals. This included a prepared feast for 1,100 elders of Chang'an in 664, a feast for 3,500 officers of the Divine Strategy Army in 768, and a feast for 1,200 women of the palace and members of the imperial family in the year 826. A court official in the 8th century allegedly had a serpentine-shaped structure called the 'Ale Grotto' built with 50,000 bricks on the groundfloor that each featured a drinking bowl for his friends to drink from.

Chang'an, the Tang capital

Although Chang'an was the site for the capital of the earlier Han and Jin dynasties, after subsequent destruction in warfare, it was the Sui Dynasty model that comprised the Tang era capital. The roughly-square dimensions of the city had six miles of outer walls running east to west, and more than five miles of outer walls running north to south. During the Heian period, the city of Heian kyō of Japan like many cities was arranged in the checkerboard street grid pattern of the Tang capital and in accordance with traditional geomancy following the model of Chang'an. Some city wards were literally filled with open public playing fields or the backyards of lavish mansions for playing horse polo and cuju football.

The Tang capital was the largest city in the world at its time, the population of the city wards and its outlying suburbs reaching 2 million inhabitants. Exotic green-eyed, blond-haired serving wine in agate and amber cups, singing, and dancing at taverns attracted customers. If a foreigner in China pursued a Chinese woman for marriage, he was required to stay in China and was unable to take his bride back to his homeland, as stated in a law passed in 628 to protect women from temporary marriages with foreign envoys.

Chang'an was the center of the central government, the home of the imperial family, and was filled with splendor and wealth. However, incidentally it was not the economic hub during the Tang Dynasty. The city of Yangzhou along the and close to the Yangtze River was the greatest economic center during the Tang era. Yangzhou was the headquarters for the Tang's government monopoly on salt, and the greatest industrial center of China; it acted as a midpoint in shipping of foreign goods that would be organized and distributed to the major cities of the north.

There was also the secondary capital city of Luoyang, which was the favored capital of the two by . In the year 691 she had more than 100,000 families from around the region of Chang'an move to populate Luoyang instead. An artificial lake used as a transshipment pool was dredged east of Chang'an in 743, where curious northerners could finally see the array of boats found in southern China, delivering tax and tribute items to the imperial court.


The Tang period was a golden age of Chinese literature and . There are over 48,900 poems penned by some 2,200 Tang authors that have survived until modern times. Perfecting one's skills in the composition of poetry became a required study for those wishing to pass imperial examinations, while poetry was also heavily competitive; poetry contests amongst esteemed guests at banquets and courtiers of elite social gatherings was common in the Tang period. Poetry styles that were popular in the Tang included and , with the renowned Tang poet Li Bai famous for the former style, and Tang poets like and famous for their use of the latter. Jintishi poetry, or regulated verse, is in the form of eight-line stanzas or seven s per line with a fixed pattern of tones that required the second and third couplets to be antithetical . Tang poems in particular remain the most popular out of every historical era of China. This great emulation of Tang era poetry began in the Song Dynasty period, as it was Yan Yu who asserted that he was the first to designate the poetry of the High Tang era as the orthodox material with "canonical status within the classical poetic tradition." a man who would not be viewed as such in his own era of poetic competitors, and branded by his peers as an anti-traditional rebel. Below is an example of Du Fu's poetry, ''To My Retired Friend Wei'' . Like many other poems in the Tang it featured the theme of a long parting between friends, which was often due to officials being frequently transferred to the provinces:


''人生不相見, It is almost as hard for friends to meet''

''動如參與商。 As for the morning and evening stars.''

''今夕復何夕, Tonight then is a rare event,''

''共此燈燭光。 Joining, in the candlelight,''

''少壯能幾時, Two men who were young not long ago''

''鬢髮各已蒼。 But now are turning grey at the temples.''

''訪舊半為鬼, To find that half our friends are dead''

''驚呼熱中腸。 Shocks us, burns our hearts with grief.''

''焉知二十載, We little guessed it would be twenty years''

''重上君子堂。 Before I could visit you again.''

''昔別君未婚, When I went away, you were still unmarried;''

''兒女忽成行。 But now these boys and girls in a row''

''怡然敬父執, Are very kind to their father's old friend.''

''問我來何方。 They ask me where I have been on my journey;''

''問答乃未已, And then, when we have talked awhile,''


There were other important literary forms besides poetry during the Tang period. There was Duan Chengshi's ''Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang'', an entertaining collection of foreign legends and hearsay, reports on natural phenomena, short anecdotes, mythical and mundane tales, as well as notes on various subjects. The exact literary category or classification that Duan's large informal narrative would fit into is still debated amongst scholars and historians.

Short story fiction and tales were also popular during the Tang, one of the more famous ones being ''Yingying's Biography'' by Yuan Zhen , which was widely circulated in his own time and by the Yuan Dynasty became the basis for plays in Chinese opera. Timothy C. Wong places this story within the wider context of Tang love tales, which often share the plot designs of quick passion, inescapable societal pressure leading to the abandonment of romance, followed by a period of . Wong states that this scheme lacks the undying vows and total self-commitment to love found in Western romances such as ''Romeo and Juliet'', but that underlying traditional Chinese values of inseparableness of self from one's environment served to create the necessary fictional device of romantic tension.

There were large encyclopedias published in the Tang. The ''Yiwen Leiju'' encyclopedia was compiled in 624 by the chief editor Ouyang Xun as well as Linghu Defen and Chen Shuda . The encyclopedia ''Treatise on Astrology of the Kaiyuan Era'' was fully compiled in 729 by Gautama Siddha , an ethnic Indian astronomer, astrologer, and scholar born in the capital Chang'an.

such as Jia Dan wrote accurate descriptions of places far abroad. In his work written between 785 and 805, he described the sea route going into the mouth of the Persian Gulf, and that the medieval s had erected 'ornamental pillars' in the sea that acted as lighthouse beacons for ships that might go astray. Confirming Jia's reports about lighthouses in the Persian Gulf, Arabic writers a century after Jia wrote of the same structures, writers such as al-Mas'udi and al-Muqaddasi. The Tang Dynasty Chinese diplomat Wang Xuance traveled to Magadha during the 7th century. Afterwards he wrote the book ''Zhang Tianzhu Guotu'' , which included a wealth of geographical information.

Many histories of previous dynasties were compiled between 636 and 659 by court officials during and shortly after the reign of Emperor Taizong of Tang. These included the ''Book of Liang'', ''Book of Chen'', ''Book of Northern Qi'', ''Book of Zhou'', ''Book of Sui'', ''Book of Jin'', ''History of Northern Dynasties'' and the ''History of Southern Dynasties''. Although not included in the official ''Twenty-Four Histories'', the ''Tongdian'' and ''Tang Huiyao'' were nonetheless valuable written historical works of the Tang period. The ''Shitong'' written by Liu Zhiji in 710 was a meta-history, as it covered the history of Chinese historiography in past centuries until his time. The ''Great Tang Records on the Western Regions'', compiled by Bianji, recounted the journey of Xuanzang, the Tang era's most renowned Buddhist monk.

The Classical Prose Movement was spurred large in part by the writings of Tang authors Liu Zongyuan and Han Yu . This new prose style broke away from the poetry tradition of the 'piantiwen' style begun in the ancient Han Dynasty. Although writers of the Classical Prose Movement imitated 'piantiwen', they criticized it for its often vague content and lack of colloquial language, focusing more on clarity and precision to make their writing more direct. This ''guwen'' style can be traced back to Han Yu, and would become largely associated with orthodox Neo-Confucianism.

Religion and philosophy

Since ancient times, the Chinese believed in that incorporated many deities. The Chinese believed that the afterlife was a reality parallel to the living world, complete with its own bureaucracy and afterlife currency needed by dead ancestors. This is reflected in many short stories written in the Tang about people accidentally winding up in the realm of the dead, only to come back and report their experiences. Buddhist monasteries were also engaged in the economy, since their land property and serfs gave them enough revenues to set up mills, oil presses, and other enterprises. Although the monasteries retained 'serfs', these monastery dependents could actually own property and employ others to help them in their work, including their own slaves.

The prominent status of Buddhism in Chinese culture began to decline as the dynasty and central government declined as well during the late 8th century to 9th century. Buddhist convents and that were exempt from state taxes beforehand were targeted by the state for taxation. In 845 Emperor Wuzong of Tang finally shut down 4,600 Buddhist monasteries along with 40,000 temples and shrines, forcing 260,000 Buddhist monks and nuns to return to life; this episode would later be dubbed one of the Four Buddhist Persecutions in China. Although the ban would be lifted just a few years after, Buddhism never regained its once dominant status in Chinese culture. This situation also came about through new revival of interest in native Chinese philosophies, such as Confucianism and Daoism. Han Yu —who Arthur F. Wright stated was a "brilliant polemicist and ardent "—was one of the first men of the Tang to denounce Buddhism. Nonetheless, gained popularity amongst the educated elite. There were also many famous Chan monks from the Tang era, such as Mazu Daoyi, Baizhang, and Huangbo Xiyun. The sect of Pure Land Buddhism initiated by the Chinese monk Huiyuan was also just as popular as Chan Buddhism during the Tang.

Rivaling Buddhism was Daoism, a native Chinese philosophical and religious belief system that found its roots in the book of the '''' and the ''Zhuangzi''. The ruling Li family of the Tang Dynasty actually claimed descent from the ancient Laozi. Although they never achieved their goals in either of these futile pursuits, they did contribute to the discovery of new metal alloys, porcelain products, and new dyes.

The Tang Dynasty also officially recognized various foreign religions. The Assyrian Church of the East, otherwise known as the , was given recognition by the Tang court. In 781, the Nestorian Stele was created in order to honor the achievements of their community in China. A Christian monastery was established in Shaanxi province where the Daqin Pagoda still stands, and inside the pagoda there is Christian-themed artwork. Although the religion largely died out after the Tang, it was revived in China following the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.

Tang women

Women's social rights and social status during the Tang era were incredibly liberal-minded for the medieval period. However, this was largely reserved for urbane women of elite status, as men and women in the rural countryside labored hard in their different set of tasks; with wives and daughters responsible for more domestic tasks of weaving textiles and rearing of silk worms, while men tended to farming in the fields. The head mistresses of the bordellos in the of the capital Chang'an acquired large amounts of wealth and power. Their high-class courtesans, who very much resembled Japanese geishas, Although they were renowned for their polite behavior, the courtesans were known to dominate the conversation amongst elite men, and were not afraid to openly castigate or criticize prominent male guests who talked too much or too loudly, boasted too much of their accomplishments, or had in some way ruined dinner for everyone by rude behavior . In example of the latter, the foreign horse-riding sport of polo from Persia became a wildly popular trend amongst the Chinese elite, as women often played the sport . A law was passed in 671 which attempted to force women to wear hats with veils again in order to promote decency, but these laws were ignored as some women started wearing caps and even no hats at all, as well as men's riding clothes and boots, and tight-sleeved bodices.

There were some prominent court women after the era of Empress Wu, such as Yang Guifei , who had Emperor Xuanzong appoint some of her friends and cronies in important ministerial and martial positions. During the Tang Dynasty, tea was synonymous with everything sophisticated in society. The Tang poet Lu Tong devoted most of his poetry to his love of tea. The 8th century author Lu Yu even wrote a treatise on the art of drinking tea, called the ''Classic of Tea'' . Tea was also enjoyed by Uyghur Turks; when riding into town, the first places they visited were the tea shops. during the Tang Dynasty the Chinese were using wrapping paper as folded and sewn square bags to hold and preserve the flavor of tea leaves. and in 851 an Arab Muslim traveler commented on how the Tang era Chinese were not careful about cleanliness because they did not wash with water when going to the bathroom; instead, he said, the Chinese simply used paper to wipe with. The Ming Dynasty Song Yingxing noted that rice was not counted amongst the five grains from the time of the legendary and deified Chinese sage Shennong into the 2nd millenniums BC, because the properly wet and humid climate in southern China for growing rice was not yet fully settled or cultivated by the Chinese. The various meats that were consumed included pork, chicken, , sea otter, bear , and even bactrian camels. Some foods were also off-limits, as the Tang court encouraged people not to eat beef , and from 831 to 833 Emperor Wenzong of Tang even banned the slaughter of cattle on the grounds of his religious convictions to Buddhism. From the trade overseas and over land, the Chinese acquired golden peaches from Samarkand, s, pistachios, and figs from Persia, pine seeds and ginseng roots from Korea, and mangoes from Southeast Asia. In China, there was a great demand for sugar; during the reign of Harsha over North India, Indian envoys to Tang China brought two makers of sugar who successfully taught the Chinese how to cultivate sugarcane. Cotton also came from India as a finished product from Bengal, although it was during the Tang that the Chinese began to grow and process cotton, and by the Yuan Dynasty it became the prime textile fabric in China. The emperor had large ice pits located in the parks in and around Chang'an for preserving food, while the wealthy and elite had their own smaller ice pits. Each year the emperor had laborers carve 1000 blocks of ice from frozen creeks in mountain valleys, each block with the dimension of 0.91 m by 0.91 m by 1.06 m . With so many books coming into circulation for the general public, literacy rates could improve, along with the lower classes being able to obtain cheaper sources of study. Therefore, there was more lower class people seen entering the Imperial Examinations and passing them by the later Song Dynasty. Although the later Bi Sheng's movable type printing in the 11th century was innovative for his period, woodblock printing that became widespread in the Tang would remain the dominant until the more advanced printing press from Europe became widely accepted and used in East Asia. The first use of the playing card during the Tang Dynasty was an auxiliary invention of the new age of printing.

Clockworks and timekeeping

Technology during the Tang period was built also upon the precedents of the past. The mechanical gear systems of Zhang Heng and Ma Jun gave the Tang engineer, astronomer, and monk Yi Xing a great source of influence when he invented the world's first clockwork escapement mechanism in 725. This was used alongside a clock and waterwheel to power a rotating armillary sphere in representation of astronomical observation. Yi Xing's device also had a mechanically-timed bell that was struck automatically every hour, and a drum that was struck automatically every quarter hour; essentially, a striking clock. Yi Xing's astronomical clock and water-powered armillary sphere became well known throughout the country, since students attempting to pass the imperial examinations by 730 had to write an essay on the device as an exam requirement. However, the most common type of public and palace timekeeping device was the inflow clepsydra, improved in about 610 by the Sui Dynasty engineers Geng Xun and Yuwen Kai when they provided a steelyard balance that allowed seasonal adjustment in the pressure head of the compensating tank and could then control the rate of flow for different lengths of day and night.

Mechanical delights and automatons

There were many other technically impressive mechanical inventions during the Tang era. This included a 0.91 m tall mechanical wine server of the early 8th century that was in the shape of an artificial mountain, carved out of iron and rested on a lacquered-wooden tortoise frame. This intricate device used a hydraulic pump that siphoned wine out of metal -headed faucets, as well as tilting bowls that were timed to dip wine down, by force of gravity when filled, into an artificial lake that had intricate iron leaves popping up as trays for placing party treats. while Ma Jun in the 3rd century had an entire mechanical puppet theater operated by the rotation of a waterwheel. This weight-and-lever mechanism was exactly like Heron's penny slot machine. Another device included one by Wang Ju, whose "wooden otter" could allegedly catch fish; Needham suspects a of some kind was employed here. In addition to compiling pharmacopeias, the Tang fostered learning in medicine by upholding imperial medical colleges, state examinations for doctors, and publishing forensic manuals for physicians. Authors of medicine in the Tang include Zhen Qian and Sun Simiao , the former who first identified in writing that patients with diabetes had an excess of sugar in their urine, and the latter who was the first to recognize that diabetic patients should avoid consuming alcohol and starchy foods. As written by Zhen Qian and others in the Tang, the thyroid glands of sheep and pigs were successfully used to treat goiters; thyroid extracts were not used to treat patients with goiter in the West until 1890.

Structural engineering

In the realm of technical Chinese architecture, there were also government standard building codes, outlined in the early Tang book of the ''Yingshan Ling'' . Fragments of this book have survived in the ''Tang Lü'' , while the Song Dynasty architectural manual of the ''Yingzao Fashi'' by in 1103 is the oldest existing technical treatise on Chinese architecture that has survived in full. The Tang chancellor Xu Jingzong was also known for his map of China drawn in the year 658. However, the only type of map that has survived from the Tang period are star charts. Despite this, come from the ancient ; maps from the 4th century BC that were excavated in 1986.

Alchemy, gas cylinders, and air conditioning

The Chinese of the Tang period employed complex chemical formulas for an array of different purposes, often found through experiments of alchemy. These included a waterproof and dust-repelling cream or varnish for clothes and weapons, fireproof cement for glass and porcelain wares, a waterproof cream applied to silk clothes of underwater divers, a cream designated for polishing bronze mirrors, and many other useful formulas. The vitrified, translucent ceramic known as porcelain was invented in China during the Tang, although many types of glazed ceramics preceded it.

Ever since the Han Dynasty , the Chinese had drilled deep boreholes to transport natural gas from to stoves where cast iron evaporation pans boiled brine to extract salt. During the Tang Dynasty, a gazetteer of Sichuan province stated that at one of these 182 'fire wells', men collected natural gas into portable bamboo tubes which could be carried around for dozens of km and still produce a flame. These were essentially the first gas cylinders; Robert Temple assumes was used for this device. In 747, Emperor Xuanzong had the Cool Hall built in the imperial palace, which the ''Tang Yulin'' describes as having water-powered fan wheels for air conditioning as well as rising jet streams of water from fountains. During the subsequent Song Dynasty, written sources mentioned the air conditioning rotary fan as even more widely used.


The first classic work about the Tang is the ''Book of Tang'' by Liu Xu et al of the , who redacted it during the last years of his life. This was edited into another history in order to distinguish it, which was a work by the Song historians Ouyang Xiu , Song Qi , et al of the Song Dynasty . Both of them were based upon earlier annals, yet those are now lost. Both of them also rank among the ''Twenty-Four Histories'' of China. One of the surviving sources of the ''Book of Tang'', primarily covering up to 756, is the ''Tongdian'', which Du You presented to the emperor in 801. The Tang period was again placed into the enormous universal history text of the ''Zizhi Tongjian'', edited, compiled, and completed in 1084 by a team of scholars under the Song Dynasty Chancellor Sima Guang . This historical text, written with 3 million Chinese characters in 294 volumes, covered the history of China from the beginning of the Warring States until the beginning of the Song Dynasty .

Further reading

*Abramson, Marc S. . ''Ethnic Identity in Tang China''. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. ISBN 978-0-8122-4052-8.

*Chen, Guocan. . ''Encyclopedia of China'', 1st ed.

*Chen, Zhen. . ''Encyclopedia of China'', 1st ed.

*de la Vaissière, E. ''Sogdian Traders. A History''. Leiden : Brill, 2005. ISBN 90-04-14252-5

*Schafer, Edward H. . ''The Vermilion Bird: T’ang Images of the South''. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles.

*''The “New T’ang History” on the History of the Uighurs''. Translated and annotated by Colin Mackerras.

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