The story

Tang Dynasty

Tang Dynasty

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The Tang Dynasty is considered a golden age of Chinese arts and culture. In power from 618 to 906 A.D., Tang China attracted an international reputation that spilled out of its cities and, through the practice of Buddhism, spread its culture across much of Asia.

Beginning of the Tang Dynasty

At the beginning of the sixth century A.D., north and south China were divided, but would be united through conquest by the Sui Dynasty, which ruled from 581 to 617 A.D.

The Sui were led by General Yang Jian of the unified north. The Sui, however, lasted for only two emperors before falling to Li Yuan, founder of the Tang Dynasty.

Li Yuan was the cousin of the first Sui emperor and gained power during a period of mass rebellion after emerging from the northwest to beat other contenders for the throne. He ruled as Gaozu until 626 A.D. His son Taizong ascended the throne after killing his two brothers and several nephews.

In 630 A.D., Taizong seized a portion of Mongolia from the Turks and earned the title “Great Khan.” The Tangs made use of Turkish soldiers in an invasion of Khitan (far eastern Asia) and joint expeditions along the Silk Road.

Taizong also set up more aggressive systems to identify Confucian scholars and put them in civil service placements. He created Confucian state schools along with a sanctioned state version of The Five Classics, which also allowed talented scholars with no family connections to work their way up in the government.

Empress Wu

Taizong’s son, Gaozong, became emperor in 650 A.D., but spent most of his rule under the control of Empress Wu. Wu was one of Taizong’s concubines, sent away to a convent after his death, but Gaozong—long in love with her—initiated her return to the court.

Wu won his favor over his wife, who was dismissed against the wishes of Gaozong’s advisors. In 660 A.D. Gaozong became incapacitated because of a stroke and Wu took on most of his duties.

Gaozong died in 683 A.D. Wu maintained control through her two sons. Wu proclaimed herself Empress in 690 A.D. and announced a new dynasty, the Zhou.

At the same time, she released the Great Cloud Sutra, which claimed the Buddha Maitreya was reincarnated as a female ruler, giving herself divine Buddhist legitimacy. Wu ruled until 705 A.D., which also marked the end of the brief Zhou Dynasty.

Emperor Xuanzong

Empress Wu’s grandson, Emperor Xuanzong, is renowned for the cultural heights reached during his rule from 712 to 756 A.D. He welcomed Buddhist and Taoist clerics to his court, including teachers of Tantric Buddhism, a recent form of the religion.

Xuanzong had a passion for music and horses. To this end he owned a troupe of dancing horses and invited renowned horse painter Han Gan into his court. He also created the Imperial Music Academy, taking advantage of the new international influence on Chinese music.

The fall of Xuanzong became an enduring love story in China. Xuanzong fell so much in love with concubine Yang Guifei that he began to ignore his royal duties and also promote her family members to high government positions.

Sensing the emperor’s weakness, northern province warlord An Lushan mounted a rebellion and occupied the capital in 755 A.D., forcing Xuanzong to flee.

The royal army refused to defend Xuanzong unless Yang Guifei’s family was executed. Xuanzong complied, but the soldiers demanded Yang Guifei’s death as well. Xuanzong eventually complied, and ordered her strangled.

Lushan himself was later killed, and Xuanzong abdicated the throne to his son. The An Lushan Rebellion severely weakened the Tang Dynasty and eventually cost it much of its western territory.

Tang Dynasty Poets

The Tang Dynasty is well remembered for the era’s contributions to poetry, partly the result of Xuanzong’s creation of an academy for poets, which helped preserve over 48,900 poems written by well over 2,000 poets of the era.

One of the best remembered is Li Bai, born in 701 B.C. A Daoist recluse who left home at an early age, Li Bai spent most of his life wandering around, and his poems focus on nature, friendship and the importance of alcohol.

Bai Juyi, born in 772 A.D., ushered in a new style of poetry that was written to be understood by peasants and addressed political issues and social justice. Bai Juyi was a lifelong government worker and died in 846 A.D.

Wang Wei, born in 699 A.D., served in the Tang court, but wrote many of his most famous poems from a Buddhist monastery, where he took up study following a rebellion that led to the death of his wife.

Late period poet Li Shangyin, born in 813 A.D., is known for his eclectic, visual style that evoked eroticism alongside political satire. His popularity came primarily after his death.

Tang Dynasty Printing

Woodblock printing was developed in the early Tang era with examples of its development dating to around 650 A.D.

More common use is found during the ninth century, with calendars, children’s books, test guides, charm manuals, dictionaries and almanacs. Commercial books began to be printed around 762 B.C.

In 835 B.C. there was a ban on private printing brought on because of the distribution of unsanctioned calendars. The oldest surviving printed document from the Tang era is the Diamond Sutra from 868 A.D., a 16-foot scroll featuring calligraphy and illustrations.


Woodblock printing is credited for helping make Buddhism a regular part of ordinary Chinese life by giving Buddhist monks the opportunity to mass-produce texts.

Monasteries had gained power under Empress Wu, though Xuanzong tried to temper that.

Monasteries insinuated themselves in many aspects of life, including schools for children, lodging for travelers and spaces for gatherings and parties. Monasteries were large landowners, which provided them with the funds to act as moneylenders and pawnbrokers as well as own businesses like mills.

Buddhist monks were proactive in spreading Buddhist stories into the Chinese popular culture, which led to Buddhist festivals that were embraced by the people.

There was some backlash, however, to the growing influence of Buddhism. In 841 A.D. the royal court ordered a crack down on Buddhism, as well as other religions.

Nearly 50,000 monasteries and chapels were destroyed, 150,000 slaves seized and 250,000 monks and nuns forced back into civilian life. The orders were abolished in 845 A.D.

The Fall of the Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty after 820 A.D. was full of palace intrigue marked by plotting eunuchs assassinating one emperor after another.

In 835 A.D., Emperor Wenzong hatched a plot with his chancellor and general to put an end to eunuch plotting. Their plan, later known as “The Sweet Dew incident,” led to the murder of 1,000 government officials, as well as the public executions of three top ministers and their families.

By 860 A.D. the countryside was in chaos, with gangs and small armies robbing merchants, attacking cities and slaughtering scores of people. Huang Chao, who had failed his civil service exams, led his army on the capital and took control.

In contrast to the golden age of poetry in the Tang Dynasty, Huang Chao ordered the deaths of 3,000 poets after an insulting poem had been written about his regime.

In 907, the Tang Dynasty was obliterated for good when Zhu Wen, a former follower of Huang Chao, proclaimed himself “Emperor Taizu,” the first emperor of the Hou Liang dynasty. His would be the first of the infamous “Five Dynasties,” short-lived kingdoms that rose and fell during the next 50 years of chaotic power struggles in Chinese history.


The Dynasties of China. Bamber Gascoigne.

Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Patricia Buckley Ebrey.

China Condensed: 5000 Years of History and Culture. Ong Siew Chey.

Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty (June 18, 618 – June 4, 907 C.E.) was preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period in China. The dynasty was founded by the Li family, who seized opportunity in the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire. The dynasty was interrupted briefly by the Second Zhou Dynasty (October 16, 690 – March 3, 705) when Empress Wu Zetian seized the throne (the first and only Chinese Empress to rule in her own right).

The Tang Dynasty, with its capital at Chang'an (present-day Xi'an), the most populous city in the world at the time, is regarded by historians as a high point in Chinese civilization—equal to or surpassing that of the 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 dynasty featured two of Chinese history's major prosperity periods, the Zhen'guan Prosperity (Tang Taizong) and Kaiyuan Prosperity (Tang Xuanzong's early rule). The enormous Grand Canal of China (still the longest canal in the world) built during the previous Sui Dynasty facilitated the rise of new urban settlements along its route, as well as increased accessibility in mainland China to its own indigenous commercial market.

Painting during the Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty is considered a golden age in Chinese civilization, and Chinese figure painting developed dramatically during this time.

Learning Objectives

Describe the advancements of the &ldquopainting of people&rdquo style, the shuimohua style, the shan-shui style, and painting on architectural structures that occurred during the Tang Dynasty

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Figure painting reached the height of elegant realism in the art of the court of Southern Tang (937-975).
  • Buddhist painting and court painting&mdashincluding paintings of the Buddha, monks, and nobles&mdashplayed a major role in the development of painting.
  • The landscape (shan-shui) painting technique developed quickly in this period and reached its first maturation.
  • The painting of people also peaked. The outstanding master in this field is Wu Daozi , referred to as the &ldquoSage of Painting.&rdquo

Key Terms

  • Wu Daozi: (680&ndash740) A Chinese artist of the Tang Dynasty, famous for initiating new myths in his artwork.
  • Wang Wei: (699-759) A Tang Dynasty poet, musician, painter, and statesman one of the most famous men of arts and letters of his time.

During the Tang Dynasty , considered a golden age in Chinese civilization , Chinese painting developed dramatically both in subject matter and technique. The advances that characterized Tang Dynasty painting had a lasting influence in the art of other countries, especially in East Asia (including Korea, Japan, and Vietnam) and central Asia.

Developments in Painting

During the early Tang period, the painting style was mainly inherited from the previous Sui Dynasty. The &ldquopainting of people&rdquo developed greatly during the Tang Dynasty, primarily due to paintings of the Buddha, monks, and nobles known as court paintings. Figure painting reached the height of elegant realism in the art of the court of Southern Tang (937-975). The theory of painting also developed during this time as Buddhism , Taoism , and traditional literature influenced the art form. Paintings on architectural structures, such as murals, ceiling paintings, cave paintings, and tomb paintings, were very popular, exemplified in the paintings of the Mogao Caves in Xinjiang.

Painting of People

Brothers Yan Liben and Yan Lide were among the most prolific painters of this period. Yan Liben was the personal portraitist to the Emperor Taizong, and his most notable works include the Thirteen Emperors Scroll.

Yan Liben, Thirteen Emperors Scroll (detail): Yan Liben was the personal portraitist to the Emperor Taizong.

The outstanding master in this field is Wu Daozi, referred to as the &ldquoSage of Painting&rdquo. Wu&rsquos works include God Sending a Son and The Teaching Confucius, and he created a new technique of drawing known as &ldquoDrawing of Water Shield.&rdquo Most Tang artists outlined figures with fine black lines and used brilliant colors and elaborate detail. However, Wu Daozi used only black ink and freely painted brushstrokes to create ink paintings that were so exciting, crowds gathered to watch him work. Ink paintings were no longer preliminary sketches or outlines to be filled in with color instead, they were valued as finished works of art.

Wu Daozi, The Teaching Confucius (685-758): The painting of people peaked under the Tang Dynasty.


The great poet Wang Wei first created the brush and ink painting of shan-shui, literally &ldquomountains and waters.&rdquo He also combined literature, especially poetry, with painting. The use of line in painting became much more calligraphic than in the early period. Li Sixun and Li Zhaodao (father and son) were the most famous painters of shan-shui. In these landscapes, which were monochromatic and sparse (a style that is collectively called shuimohua), the purpose was not to reproduce exactly the appearance of nature (the technique of realism) but rather to grasp an emotion or atmosphere so as to catch the &ldquorhythm&rdquo of nature.

Food of an empire

Due to the large size of the empire under the Tang, dozens of what we today consider distinct culinary regions were brought together under one umbrella and it led to an explosion in creativity and variation.

At this time, all manner of cooking methods was practised, including boiling, stir-frying, deep-frying, roasting, steaming and stewing. Boiling was one of the most popular since it allowed for easy infusion of the enormous amounts of spices available to the Chinese at the time. Mustard seeds, cinnamon, cardamon, garlic, scallions, peppers and ginger were all common items.

Additionally, numerous ways of food preservation were practised, some of which required cooking beforehand, and some of which involved the more traditional salting or brining. Many items were also pickled and fermented and it’s from this era that we find a huge range of preserved fruits, vegetables and meats.

Tang dynasty (618–907), an introduction

Tomb figure of a woman on horseback, Tang dynasty, c. 700–750, earthenware with lead-silicate glazes and painted details, China, Henan province, possibly Luoyang, 43.1 high x 14.8 x 37.6 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1952.13)

Expansion of the Tang dynasty over time (map: 玖巧仔, CC BY 3.0)

The Tang dynasty (618–907) is considered a golden age in Chinese history. It succeeded the short-lived Sui dynasty (581–618), which reunified China after almost four hundred years of fragmentation. The Tang benefited from the foundations the Sui had laid, and they built a more enduring state on the political and governmental institutions the Sui emperors established. Known for its strong military power, successful diplomatic relationships, economic prosperity, and cosmopolitan culture, Tang China was, without doubt, one of the greatest empires in the medieval world.

Head of a tomb figure of a Sogdian or Central Asian traveler, Tang dynasty, c. 700–c. 750, ceramic and paint, China, 7 1/2 x 3 9/16 x 4 3/4 in (Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: The Dr. Paul Singer Collection of Chinese Art of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution a joint gift of the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, Paul Singer, the AMS Foundation for the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, and the Children of Arthur M. Sackler, S2012.9.3603)

During the Tang dynasty, China stretched its territory (including the protectorate states) from the Korean peninsula in the east, to the steppes of Mongolia in the north, to present-day Afghanistan in the west, and to northern Vietnam in the south. Tang secured peace and safety on overland trade routes—the Silk Road—that reached as far as Rome. Merchants, diplomats, and pilgrims came from all over East and Central Asia. They brought with them new religions, ideas, and cultural practices that were eagerly embraced by Tang elite circles. The two capital cities of Chang’an and Luoyang were flooded with foreigners from different parts of the world.

Detail of textile with floral medallions and lozenges, mid-Tang dynasty, first half of the 8th century, brocade (jin): woven silk (weft-faced compound twill), China, 150.1 high x 59.3 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1911.597a-b)

This confident cosmopolitanism is reflected in all the arts of Tang China. The constant exchange of goods along the Silk Road , such as textiles, metalwork, and glassware, inspired Tang craftsmen to experiment with novel techniques, shapes, and designs.

Sancai tomb figure of a man on horseback, Tang dynasty, c. 700–750, earthenware with lead-silicate glazes and painted details, China, Henan province, possibly Luoyang, 39.5 high x 11.7 x 34 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1952.12)

One of the most typical and well-known Tang ceramics are the “three-colored” glaze ( sancai ) wares. Energetically modeled and brightly colored, Tang sancai wares are thought to have been reserved for burial use. Sancai tomb figurines gave a vivid picture of daily life in Tang times.

Tomb figure of a groom, Tang dynasty, c. 700–750, earthenware with lead-silicate glazes and painted details, China, 20.7 x 6.7 cm (Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC: Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment, F1952.14)

Bactrian camels, horses with riders, as well as foreign servants, merchants, and musicians were all popular subjects. Tang potters also experimented with and developed the skills in making single color wares, including white ware and green-glazed celadons, which laid the groundwork for the Song dynasty’s taste in ceramics.

Wu Daozi, detail of Eighty-Seven Immortals, 8th century (Tang dynasty), handscroll, ink on silk, 30 x 292 cm (Xu Beihong Memorial Museum, Beijing)

Wu Daozi, Eighty-Seven Immortals, 8th century (Tang dynasty), handscroll, ink on silk, 30 x 292 cm (Xu Beihong Memorial Museum, Beijing)

Tang painting prospered, partly thanks to the patronage of the Tang court. Painters from all over the empire were attracted to the court. Figure painting thrived during this period. Famous court painters established themselves with their masterful drawing skills. For example, Yan Liben (c. 601–673) was known for his rich and glowing colors and delicate details while Wu Daozi (c. 680–759) was famous for his vigorous brushwork.

An example of a blue-green landscape. The Emperor Ming Huang Travelling in Shu’, a later 11th-century copy of a Tang dynasty original of the 8th century C.E., painted silk (Palace Museum, Taipei)

Attributed to Wang Wei (王維), Snowy Stream (雪溪圖), part of a handscroll, ink and color on silk (formerly Manchu Household Collection, Beijing, now lost)

Landscape painting took two directions during the Tang. One was a style of painting known as blue-green landscape developed by the court painters, executed in fine lines with added mineral colors. It may have been inspired by Central Asian painting styles. The other was the monochrome ink painting developed by the poet-painter Wang Wei (701–761). This style was favored by the newly emerging social elite who became government officials through the official examination system. The division between the two styles became more apparent during the Song dynasty (960–1279). Besides their excellent painting skills, many of the cultivated scholar-officials were also great poets and calligraphers. The three arts—painting, poetry, and calligraphy—have since been connected and appreciated as “the three perfections.”

This resource was developed for Teaching China with the Smithsonian, made possible by the generous support of the Freeman Foundation

Tang Dynasty - HISTORY

The Tang Dynasty was extraordinary in the history of China’s economic development. The Tang government devised various programs to bolster survival and economic improvement, both of which grew stronger as time went by.

In the early Tang Dynasty, agricultural production declined terribly, affecting the national economy negatively. This changed later after Tang Dynasty was reunified under the leadership of Emperor Gaozu (566-635), who ruled as emperor from 618 to 626. The Emperor came up with reforms in agriculture and successfully implemented Juntian Zhi which was all about land equalization and the Zuyongdiao system. All these systems improved efficiency in production and ultimately improved the economy of China. This was also attributed to improvements in agricultural techniques and tools. Irrigation was also used to grow crops in areas that were arid but were very fertile as this improved the economy which was regarded as a source of power in the Dynasty (Taxes from land allotment were important source of income in the Dynasty). It should be noted that these developments were more concentrated towards the south than the north.

The handicraft industry also played a role in the economy of Tang Dynasty as people engaged in textile technology especially silk making. They also engaged in the ceramics Industry, paper making, porcelain making, tea-leaf processing, metallurgical among other activities which helped boost their economy.

The people in Tang Dynasty were involved in commercial activities due to developed and improved agriculture and the handicraft industry. These paved way to both domestic and international trade with other countries, for example with India. Common trade goods include salt, foodstuffs, spirits, tea, medicine, gold, silver, and textiles. Cities were established wherever trading was strong, which then provided ready market for goods produced from the farms and handcraft sector. The development of the Silk Road led into marine trade also. Tang ships traded as far as the Persian Gulf.

Types and Wear Styles of Tang Dynasty Women’s Clothing

Tang Dynasty History

The Tang Dynasty was golden age in China. Art, philosophy, literature and technology all flourished during this period. International trade grew along the Silk Road.

The Tang was established in 618 by a military family based in northwest China. This military family took advantage of a time of chaos in the wake of the Sui’s failed military campaigns in Korea to seize power.

The height of Tang power was the mid-8th century AD. However, in 755 AD a Tang military commander named An Lushan led a rebellion against the Tang Dynasty. Although the rebellion was finally crushed in 763 AD, it caused huge losses for China. Lives, money and huge areas of territory in Central Asia were lost.

In time, the military commanders with more authority than the central government arose in Tang territories. These commanders, as well as a number of natural disasters including drought and famine, weakened the empire in the latter half of the 9th century AD. In 907 AD a military governor deposed, and later murdered, the last Tang emperor.

Tang Dynasty Culture

The Tang Dynasty was an era of unprecedented progress in art and technology. Poetry and literary skills became required for imperial officials. Many of China’s most famous poets lived during the Tang Dynasty.

Various technologies were developed and improved during the Tang Dynasty as well. The development of woodblock printing increased the availability of written works and allowed literacy to spread to the lower classes. Medicine, architecture, mapmaking and more all saw progress during this period.

While Confucianism was firmly rooted in China, Buddhism became prominent in China during the Tang Dynasty, and even received official support from the government. The Tang was a time of religious diversity, and many foreign religions, including Christianity, also grew.

Tang Dynasty upper-class women enjoyed many rights compared to earlier and later dynasties. Some women attained religious authority as Daoist priestesses and many of the best Tang poets and writers were women.

Tang Dynasty Imperial Examinations

Since the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), those wishing to serve as imperial officials had to first pass a written examination. In the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the system became more meritocratic. Anyone that had studied the relevant materials was able to take the exams and work his way up, regardless of social status.

The reforms of the Tang examination system set the stage for further developments in the Song Dynasty. Military leaders had less and less power, while trained civil servants became more influential.

The Silk Road and the Tang Dynasty

The Tang capital of Chang’an (modern-day Xi’an) was the world’s largest city and a cosmopolitan center of trade. It was the start of the Silk Road trade route in China.

The Silk Road is the collective name for a number of caravan routes, roads and paths that ran between China, Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe in ancient times. The Tang Dynasty period was one of the most active times for Silk Road trade.

Products like silk, spices and precious artwork were traded along the Silk Road. Technology like gunpowder, printing presses and compasses also made their way from east to west.

A Brief History of Chinese Furniture

The ancient people in China created the first piece of furniture for people to sit on: the floor mat. Various prototypes of wooden furniture were designed around the sitting mat, such as short-legged wooden desks for the lap, chopping boards with legs, and short tables. Wealthy and important Chinese sat on platforms.

Some classic forms of Chinese furniture developed as early as the Eastern Zhou period (770B.C. - 221B.C.). Often referred to in the West as "altar tables", Chinese developed long, narrow tables to hold musical instruments or to display items of wealth and beauty such as jade, porcelain or flower arrangements.

Furniture now widely regarded as Chinese in style began appearing in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Furniture height began to rise along with the power and status of Chinese elite. (In English we speak of being "elevated to a position".) The furniture makers of the Tang Dynasty began using high round and yoke back chairs for the wealthy elite. Beautiful ceramics and porcelains appeared, such as the ceramic horses that are still popular in reproductions.

The Classical style of Chinese furniture began in the Northern and Southern Song (960&ndash1279) dynasty. Mid level seating became common. New furniture forms, such as bookcases, cabinets, stools and tables, were designed. New technical developments in woodworking began with the mid level furniture. Newer and more complex designs appeared, such as rounded backs that were molded to the body, Though, at first, only used by official and higher class Chinese, such furniture pieces eventually spread to the homes of all who could afford them. Long-legged beds, tables, towel racks, chairs and stools became trendy even among the peasants. But mat level sitting has never been abandoned . In China today, both elevated living and mat level forms are still in use.

Chinese furniture began to develop some of its distinguishing characteristics:

  • the use of meditation chairs, large enough to sit cross legged in
  • tall yoke chairs where the feet are to rest on a bottom stretcher
  • day beds
  • opium beds where one can sit cross legged and use small tables to eat from or write on while sitting on a mat or platform.
  • use of thick lacquer finish
  • exotic hardwoods
  • detailed engravings and paintings for ceremonial purposes and artistic expression Sacred mountain images, dragons and clouds, bird and flowers all had specific Taoist connotations.

During the Ming (1368 to 1644) and Qing (1644 to 1911) Dynasties the ban on imports was lifted, allowing for much larger quantities and varieties of woods to be brought in. Denser imported woods allowed craftsmen to execute finer work, including more elaborate styles of joinery. With the rapid rise of the merchant class, imported furniture styles of the West increased the desire for mid level seating. But at the same time mat level seating signaled a return to some more traditional designs. Ming Dynasty furniture items are beautifully shaped. They combine aesthetic principles and practical considerations into a graceful whole.

Tang Dynasty 唐 (618-907)

The Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) was the second great dynasty of Chinese history that was able to unify a vast territory, to spread its culture to the surrounding countries and to absorb and adapt the cultures of states and tribes in the neighbourhood. A great part of the Tang aristocracy even was of non-Chinese, especially Türkic origin, and merchants from Inner Asia, like Sogdhians and Persians, lived in the quarters of the capital Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi). Official and private trade was run with many countries in the South East Asian archipelago. The religion of Buddhism spread, in its Chinese form, to Korea and Japan. But at the same time, Confucianism again rose as a semi-religious instrument of state doctrine, and was able to vanquish Buddhism in the last century of the Tang period.

The founder of the Tang, Li Yuan 李淵 (known as Emperor Gaozu 唐高祖, r. 618-626), was a military leader and regent of the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618). He largely took over the administrative organization of the Sui. His son and successor, Emperor Taizong 唐太宗 (r. 626-649), with the support of many competent ministers, perfected the political, jurisdictional and military administration of the empire. Taizong also conducted a series of military campaigns against the Türks (Chinese rendering Tujue 突厥) and Korea, and conquered the Western Territories (Xiyu 西域, modern Xinjiang) which opened the access to Inner Asia. The "younger" Silk Road allowed free trade and travel, and numerous Buddhist monks, like Xuanzang 玄奘, went to India in search for original writings and monastic rules. International relations of the Tang empire included the Tibetan kingdom of Tubo 吐藩 and that of Nanzhao 南詔 (in today's Yunnan), but also Southeast Asian merchandize reached the court in the "chequerboard" city of Chang'an.

The late 7th century saw a rule of women, in the first place the usurpation of the throne by Empress Wu Zetian 武則天 (r. 690-704), who proclaimed herself emperor of China and renamed the dynasty Zhou 周. The long reign of Emperor Xuanzong 唐玄宗 (r. 712-755) is often seen as a turning point in the history of the Tang dynasty. The tripartite tax system (zuyongdiao 租庸調) was perfected, the granary system refined, and the Hanlin Academy (hanlinyuan 翰林院) made the most important institution for managing the bureaucracy.

On the other hand, the local administration was laid into the hands of military commissioners (jiedushi 節度使), some of which gained highest powers and independence from the court. Commissioner An Lushan 安祿山 finally rose in rebellion and endangered the capital. Emperor Xuanzong had to flee to Sichuan, and his dynasty was only saved with the support of loyal troops. Yet the power of the commissioners could not be diminished, and the dynasty gradually lost its grip on many regions of the empire. The reduction of revenues therefore made a reform of the tax system necessary. The result was the twice-taxation system (liangshuifa 兩稅法), nominally in force until the Ming period 明 (1368-1644).

The second half of the Tang period saw not only the increasing dominance of the military commissioners, but also the rose of court factions and eunuch cliques, who fought against each other. In 845 a great persecution of Buddhism and other "foreign" religions reduced their political influence for centuries. Instead, Daoism won prominence, and its various schools became regular "churches".

The Tang period is particularly famous for its literary achievements, like the field of poetry (see shi poetry 詩) or the reintroduction of the "old-style" prose (guwen 古文), with the prominent representative Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修. Literary refinement became one of the preconditions for official career, a tendency that eventually found its completion in the creation of the examination system under the Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279). The dominance of educated scholars over the field of thought and literature led to a revival of Confucianism and a renewed study of and a wave of commentaries on the Confucian Classics.

In the late 9th century social unrest increased, and the rebellion of Huang Chao 黃巢 initiated the end of the Tang dynasty. The rebels were put down by military commissioners, whose merits in the victory allowed them to engage in widespread warlordism. In 907 China was again divided into many small and short-lived empires, ruled by the so-called Five Dynasties 五代 (907-960) and Ten States 十國 (902-979).

Watch the video: Battle of Talas River Abbassids vs Tang Empire (July 2022).


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