The Tang Dynasty
The Tang Empire (618-907 AD) was the second large and long-enduring empire in the region after the Han Empire. It resembled the Western Han Empire (206 BC – 9 AD) in some ways. Like the Western Han Empire, when the Tang Empire was at its height, Changan（today's Xian） was its capital city, and Changan was one of the largest cities in the world. At its height, the Tang Empire had about the same size of population as the Western Han Empire did at its height, and the land area was about the same as well. However, the Tang Empire didn't include the southern regions around Yunnan, but the empire was expanded westward and incorporated more of the area of Central Asia. Like the Western Han Dynasty, the Tang Dynasty benefited from trade along the Silk Road trade routes and was influenced by contact with the West. A general in the Sui Empire succeeded in defeating rivals to become the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty. Benefiting from the reestablishing of trade with the West and conquests in Central Asia, the Tang Empire grew larger and more prosperous, and a new direction was set for religion and culture.
Cultural Relices of The Tang Dynasty
The Tang Empire's history has a lot of similarities with that of the Western Han Empire. Both had long enduring dynastic clans that were begun by generals who defeated rivals. Both of the first emperors defeated severe, ruthless, but short-lived dynasties that forced the people to build large construction projects such as the Great Wall of China. The rulers in both the Tang and the Western Han eras had to fight and defeat northern nomadic tribes to survive. Both dynasties established Silk Road trade, and they were prospered and influenced by contact and trade with the West. After a period of prosperity, during the middle of the 700s, civil wars and the attacks of other empires weakened the Tang Empire. Changan that was the largest city and the capital was captured and devastated several times by different armies. At the end, the city of Luoyang became the capital city, but the empire survived for only a few years after this. The change of capital city from Changan to Luoyang marked the end of the Western Han Dynasty as well.
Pre-Tang Era: AD 25 - 618
After the Western Han Dynasty ended, another long-enduring dynastic period called the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 AD) lasted for about 200 years. Since the first Eastern Han Emperor belonged to the Western Han dynastic clan, the Eastern Han Empire is considered to be a continuation of the Western Han Empire, but its capital was in Luoyang. At its end, the Eastern Han Empire split into three warring states. There were rival states and warfare in the region until the first Sui Emperor gained control of the whole territory in the year 581.
The Sui Empire lasted from the year 581 to the year 618. It is often compared with the Qin Empire (221 to 206 BC) that preceded the Western Han Empire. Both empires were the result of the unification of the region under ruthless emperors. The emperors of both empires forced the people to build mammoth construction projects. Both built up the Great Wall of China. A major engineering achievement of the first Sui Emperor was the construction of much of the Grand Canal by the labor of millions of workers. The Grand Canal is the longest canal in the world, and the relative ease of travel on it added to the Tang Empire's prosperity. However, the high taxes and forced labor for the huge construction projects and wars made the dynasty unpopular, and the Sui Empire ended in rebellions.
Early Tang Dynasty
The Li family emerged as powerful rulers. After capturing Changan, a noble and general named Li Yuan (566 to 635) declared himself the emperor of the Tang Empire in the year 618. He defeated rival commanders, and his rule lasted until the year 626 when his son forced him to retire.
His son was named Li Shimin (599 to 649). Li Shimin killed his two brothers to gain the position of emperor. He was a famous and long-lived emperor and is known the Emperor Taizong (唐太宗, Tang Great Religion). He promoted Buddhism in the Tang Empire. He also promoted Nestorian Christianity. During his reign, the empire prospered. The Gokturks in central Asia were defeated, and the Tang Empire expanded westward. The Emperor Taizong also instituted a legal code that served as a model for following eras and for the governments of other countries such as Korea and Japan. Silk Road trade flourished, and the Taizong Emperor received foreign emissaries in Changan. He died in 649.
There was a period of relative pace and prosperity afterwards. The Tang court used examinations to appoint many Confucian scholars to the ruling bureaucracy. These examinations tested the candidates' literary skills and knowledge of Confucian texts. The courts used this exam system to staff a portion of the empire's bureaucracy. This was a foreshadowing of the rule of Neo-Confucian literati in the Song Dynasty. The rule by the literati was useful because the bureaucracy was staffed by intelligent people who often didn't have a regional base of power of their own. They were dependent on the courts for their pay. They also had the respect of the people from their homelands and were thought to be of noble character. So they helped to order the affairs of the peasants and their homelands. This bureaucratic system broke down in the middle of the 700s however.
The Tang Empire reached its height before the An Lushan Rebellion in 756. A census was taken in 742, and based on this, the population of the empire is thought to have been about 50 or 60 million. If this figure is valid, then the population of the height of the Tang Empire was about the same as the population of the Western Han Empire at its height as determined by a census taken in 2 AD. Changan become one of the biggest cities in the world. Perhaps only Baghdad in the Middle East was bigger. Along with the increase of wealth and urbanization, arts and literature flourished. In the middle of the 700s, the best poets in their history named Li Bai and Du Fu were writing, and they lived through the An Lushan Rebellion.
Middle Tang Era: External Attacks and Civil War
But then civil war, famine, and external attacks caused the death of millions. First in the year 750, the Nanzhao in Yunnan rebelled against the Tang Dynasty. The Nanzhao Empire became a comparatively small but powerful empire that was centered in what is now Yunnan Province. Its capital city was near modern Dali. They destroyed a large Tang army that was sent against them in 751. Another large Tang army was defeated in 754. The Nanzhao Empire expanded into Burma, Thailand, the rest of Yunnan and Sichuan. In 829, their army took the city of Chengdu in Sichuan. The Nanzhao Empire took control of the lucrative Chama Road or Southern Silk Road routes to Tibet and Southeast Asia, and it was wealthy from the trade in tea, silk and other products produced in the southern part of the Tang Empire and the Nanzhao Empire.
At the same time, the Muslim Arabs attacked from the west. In the Battle of Talas in 751, they defeated a Tang army composed of Tang troops and local mercenaries along the western border. The mercenaries tricked the Tang troops. They secretly changed sides and attacked them during the battle. Perhaps about 8,000 Tang troops were killed. This loss wasn't considered a big defeat compared to the losses against the Nanzhao. The Tang court prepared to send another army into the region, but these troops were called back to fight the An Lushan army in 756. In this way, the Tang Empire lost a portion of their western territory, and they lost their control of the Silk Road route to the West as well.
An Lushan was a general of a large Tang army. He was of Central Asian descent. He rebelled in 755 and captured the major Tang city of Luoyang. Then he captured Changan. The emperor fled the city. The Tang army recaptured it a year later. Shortly after that, An Lushan was killed. Another general of the rebel army was also killed by his own son. The rebellion lasted eight years and ended in 763, but it severely weakened the empire.
The Tibetan Empire was a large and dangerous one on the southeast border of the Tang Empire. Taking advantage of the war, they attacked the Tang Empire and captured a large part of the northern land area including Changan in 763. It is thought that perhaps millions of people died during this time from the battles, the resulting famines, and the Tibetan attacks.
Latter Tang Dynasty
After this, the power of the Tang Dynasty was diminished. Though Changan was retaken and the Tibetans were driven back, local rulers and army leaders had more of the power. Though the population recovered, the power of the Tang court was diminished. Various regions became more autonomous. The lucrative Silk Road trade was diminished because rival countries had control in Central Asia. Changan was attacked several more times until Luoyang became the capital just before the end of the Tang Empire era. Arts, literature and culture had flourished before the An Lushan Rebellion. Afterwards, during the last hundred years of the dynastic era, the quality of the literature wasn't as fine. At times various regions prospered, but on the whole the empire was weaker and smaller and beset by internal struggles and external attacks.
The rebellions and wars weakened the power of the dynasty. Regional rulers called Jiedushi raised their own armies and taxed the areas under their control. They started to act more like kings, and they appointed their own successors. In the places where the Tang court didn't have direct control, the regional rulers relied less on the Confucian literati. The imperial dynasty attacked several regions, but the emperors could not regain the earlier imperial control.
Several regions in the south such as those around Hangzhou and Suzhou prospered. Foreign merchants settled in large and rich cities such as Hangzhou. Large ships were built that sailed all the way to the Arabia and Africa to trade. Since the imperial government had less direct control of trade and industry, the merchant class prospered and grew in power. Private trade and industry developed. An imperial land allocation system that was used for taxation in the earlier Tang era was abandoned, and this allowed large agricultural estates to form.
At the end of the Tang era, there were natural disasters and more rebellions. In 858, an enormous flood along the Grand Canal inundated much land in the northern part of China. In 873, there was much famine and starvation. There was then a large rebellion called the Huang Chao Rebellion (874-884). Both Changan and Luoyang were captured This rebellion weakened the Tang Dynasty. Afterwards, small armies controlled various areas. In 907, Zhu Wen deposed the last Tang ruler, and he named himself the emperor of his own dynasty.
The Tang era's main contribution to Chinese literature was in the poetry of Dufu, Li Bai and many other poets who lived during the beginning and middle periods of the Tang Empire. Dufu and Li Bai are often thought of as China's greatest poets. They were contemporaries and lived through the warfare and widespread suffering of the middle years of the Tang Empire. They both traveled widely and wrote about the scenery in various locations. Both lived in Changan at one time and described their experiences of war and suffering. It is thought their poems improved through these experiences. Their poems are appreciated because of their simple style and common subject matter.
Li Bai (701–762) was one of the greatest romantic poets of ancient China. He wrote at least a thousand poems on a variety of subjects from political matters to natural scenery.
Du Fu (712-770 AD) also wrote more than a thousand poems. He is thought of as one of the greatest realist poets of China. His poems reflect the hard realities of war, dying people living next to rich rulers, and primitive rural life. He was an official in the Tang capital of Changan, and he was captured when the capital was attacked. He took refuge in Chengdu that is a city in Sichuan Province. It is thought that he lived in a simple hut in Chengdu where he wrote many of his best realist poems. Perhaps more than 1,400 of his poems survive. See Dufu's Thatched Cottage in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Achievements in Technology
Woodblock printing was a famous invention of the Tang era. Early in the Tang era, the spread of Buddhism was assisted with the invention of woodblock printing techniques. Buddhist texts and charms were printed and disseminated. It is recorded that woodblock printing was used to print scriptures around the year 640. Woodblock printing raised the level of education and literature in the empire and following empires. It was used to spread Buddhist teachings around Asia.
Another invention was an early form of gunpowder. In the Song era, improved types of gunpowder were very important for making explosives, guns and missiles. Gunpowder is considered one of the greatest inventions in pre-modern world history.
Religion and Philosophy
During the Western Han era, early Mahayana Buddhism developed in Yuezhi controlled territory in northern India and Central Asia. The Yuezhi from the Tarim Basin region and the land bordering the northern Han Empire conquered Hellenized regions of the former Greek Empire. When the Silk Road trade was redeveloped during the early Tang Dynasty era, Buddhist teachers from Central Asia were welcomed by the Tang court, and several large indigenous Buddhist sects developed. Some monasteries were large and wealthy. It became a dominant religion.
Many people also became Nestorian Christians, and churches were built in some cities. Nestorian Christianity spread widely in Central Asia. In the year 635, Alopun went to Changan. The Emperor Taizong (599-649) approved of the preaching of the religion all over the empire and ordered the construction of a church in Changan.
At the end of the Tang Dynasty, the Tang rulers became intolerant of "foreign religions." Emperor Wuzong (814 – 846) decreed that all foreign religions were banned. In 845, Emperor Wuzong closed thousands of monasteries and temples. Though Buddhism wasn't as popular, it remained one of the main religions. In its place, Confucianism became the dominant political philosophy of the later imperial eras.
Culture and Society
The Confucian model of society held that the emperor was at the top of the hierarchy. It was believed that the emperor was a god. Confucianism taught that the people born into various classes and roles in society should conform to the standards set by tradition and also obey their superiors. An imperial Confucian examination system was used in the early Tang era. Though the imperial examination and bureaucratic system broke down in the latter part of the Tang era, the method of appointment was adopted in later imperial eras.
The Tang Empire influenced the culture of Asia greatly. During this time, Mahayana Buddhism was adopted by both the Koreans and Japanese. The Japanese and Koreans adopted the Tang philosophies and political ideas. The Japanese adopted much of Tang civilization, and mimicked their architectural styles, fashions of dress and literary styles.
Hi LAL, to see the pandas, Chengdu, China is first recommended. Because it is the hometown of pandas. Besides, you can also see pandas in below the cities: Beijing, Xian, Chongqing, Guilin, Hongkong, Guangzhou, etc.Whitney Liao Replied on 2013-05-24
- Chinese Dynasties
- The Xia Dynasty
- The Shang Dynasty
- The Zhou Dynasty
- Spring and Autumn Period
- Warring States Period
- The Qin Dynasty
- The Han Dynasty
- Three Kingdoms
- The Jin Dynasty
- The Sui Dynasty
- The Tang Dynasty
- The Western Xia Dynasty
- The Song Dynasty
- The Yuan Dynasty
- The Ming Dynasty
- The Qing Dynasty
- The Kingdom of Dali