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The Tang Dynasty


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Title: The Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty
  • Day Two
  • Session 3A
  • Craig Benjamin

ERA 4China to 1500 Part I
Introduction Significance of the Tang
  • After the fall of the Han in c.220 CE, China
    suffered almost 300 years of division and
    fragmentation, until it was once again unified
    under the Sui Dynasty (581618)
  • Political and governmental institutions
    established during this Sui period laid the
    foundation for the growth and prosperity of the
    succeeding Tang dynasty
  • Tang Dynasty Era is marked by strong and
  • benevolent rule, successful diplomatic
  • relationships, economic expansion, and a
  • cosmopolitan culture
  • Tang China emerged as one of the
  • greatest empires in the medieval world

To Include
Part One After the Han Three Kingdoms and Sui
Dynasty Part Two Tang Government Part Three
Tang Culture and Decline
Part 1. After the Han Rise of the Warlords
  • Following the fall of the Han in 220, China fell
    into disorder
  • After the quelling of the Yellow Turbans uprising
    by the Eastern Han, local warlords and tyrants
    sprung up everywhere in a struggle for the
    control of China
  • These included
  • Military groups under warlords Yuanshao and Cao
    Cao in the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow
    River, who were the strongest
  • South of the Yangtze River, the weaker Sunquan
    and Liu Bei, which occupied the eastern and
    western areas respectively

Cao Cao Popular Chinese Movie
The Three Kingdoms(229-280 CE)
  • In 220 Caopi (son of Cao Cao) abandoned
  • Emperor Xian of the Han Dynasty and
  • proclaimed himself the emperor of the Wei
  • Kingdom (220 - 265)
  • The following year Liu Bei was crowned as emperor
    of the Kingdom of Shu (221 263)
  • And in 229 Sunquan founded the Kingdom of Wu
    (229 - 280)
  • So three rival powers came into existence and
    China entered the era of the Three Kingdoms
  • In 265 Sima Yan of the Wei, usurped power and
    established his reign as founder of the Jin
    Dynasty (265 - 420)
  • Eventually the Jin defeated the other two states,
    and by 280 the Three Kingdoms Period was over

Illustration of Xiahou Dun swallowing his own
eyeball from a Qing Dynasty edition of the
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Three Kingdoms
Xiahou Dun in the 84-episode TV serial Romance of
the Three Kingdoms. He was shot in the eye by Cao
Xing in this scene.
Succeeding Dynasties
Xianbei Imperial Buckle
Xianbei Emperor
  • Jin Dynasty historically divided into two
    periods the Western Jin (265 316 with Luoyang
    as its capital) and the Eastern Jin (with Nanjing
    as capital)
  • Jin succeeded in unifying the country, although
    this was not lasting
  • After the collapse of the Jin many rival regimes
    emerged (during the period of the Sixteen States)
    and China was torn apart between north and south
  • At the end of this chaotic period Northern China
    was pillaged by the Xiongnu who established a
    petty state and were gradually Sinotized (as the
  • In 386 the chief of the Xianbei unified the
    region north of the Yellow River this marks the
    beginning of the Northern Dynasties

The Wei Dynasty
  • By 471 Xiaowen of the Wei (a Xianbei offshoot)
    emerged as a power in his capital in Luoyang and
    promoted the learning of Han culture
  • Ordered his men to dress up like the Han, speak
    their language and adopt Han surnames
  • Also encouraged the intermarriage between the
    Xianbei and the Han and employed many Han
    officials in the court
  • Xiaowen also promulgated a decree to implement a
    land equalization system
  • All this contributed to the amalgamation of the
    various nationalities now living in China

Terracotta Models Soldiers of The Northern Wei
Establishment of the Sui
  • Reforms met strong opposition from conservative
    Xianbei aristocrats
  • After Xiaowen died conflicts between the Xianbei
    and Han elites led to the fragmentation of the
    Wei Empire (into the Eastern and Western Wei)
  • These were later supplanted by the Northern Qi
    (550-557) and the Northern Zhou (557-581)
  • In 577 Beizhou conquered Beiqi and in 581, a
    distant relative of the Beizhou royal family
    (also known as Emperor Wen) seized power and
    established the Sui Dynasty (581 - 618)

Emperor Wendi Founder of the Sui Dynasty
New Capital - Nanjing
  • The Sui Dynasty lasted only two generations (37
    years) but successfully reunified much of China
  • Leaders ruled from Nanjing (based on Confucian
    ethics of order and harmony) but this was
    increasingly challenged by Buddhism
Modern and Ancient Nanjing
The Sui Monarchs and Buddhism
Buddhist stupa built by the Sui
  • Sui monarchs in the north became Buddhists
  • Built splendid Buddhist monuments and revived
    economy by starting to build a huge canal to link
    rice-growing Yangtze with the north

The Sui Grand Canal
  • Most elaborate project undertaken by the Sui was
    the construction of the Grand Canal one of the
    worlds largest pre-modern waterworks projects
  • The 2nd emperor Sui Yangdi (604-618) completed
    the canal to make the abundant supplies of food
    grown along the Yangtze available for northern
  • This series of waterways reached from Hangzhou in
    the south to the imperial capital at Xian in the
  • Sui Yangdi used many pre-existing canals, but
    linked them together into an extensive network
  • In the end the canal stretched for 1240 miles,
    and had roads parallel to the waterway on either

Fall of the Sui
  • Sui Yangdis massive construction projects were
    good for China in the long term, but they
    depended on higher taxes and forced labor, which
    fostered resentment
  • Grand Canal alone required the conscripted
    services of an estimated million laborers
  • Eventually discontented subjects revolted
  • In 618 a disgruntled minister assassinated the
    emperor and brought an end to the Sui Dynasty

Sui Yangdi
Part Two The Tang Dynasty
  • Li Yuan (a governor under the Sui dynasty) rose
    in rebellion after being urged on by his second
    son (later Tang Taizong - pictured)
  • Li Yuan installed a puppet child emperor of the
    Sui Dynasty in 617 but he eventually removed the
    child emperor and established the Tang dynasty in
  • Tang Dynasty would survive for almost 300 years,
    and Tang rulers organized China into a powerful,
    prosperous and productive society

Tang Taizong (627-649)
  • Li Yuan ruled until 626 before being deposed by
    his son Li Shimin (known as Tang Taizong)
  • Much of the Tangs success
  • was due to the energy,
  • ability and policies of
  • Tang Taizong (627-649)
  • Although ruthless early in
  • his reign, he came to see
  • himself as a good
  • Confucian leader who
  • had his peoples best
  • interests at heart

Administrative Reforms
  • Taizong set out to solve internal problems within
    the government, problems which had constantly
    plagued past dynasties
  • Created three separate administrations which were
    obliged to draft, review, and implement policies
  • There were also six divisions under the
    administration that implemented policy, each of
    which was assigned different tasks

Mature Period Tang Government
  • Eventually Tang government became highly
    centralized a complex bureaucracy organized
    into specialized councils, boards and ministries
  • Local government was managed by 15 provincial
    governors military commanders collected state
  • Government officials had degrees from
    universities, had to pass regular exams
  • One ministry in charge of the national land
    registry, to check the growth of large estates
    and guarantee land to the peasants

Tang Emperor Xuan Zhong
Tang Government Initiatives Transportation and
Communications Policy
Model of a Tang Travelers Inn
  • Along with developing (widening and deepening)
    the Sui Grand Canal (principal route for
    long-distance communication in China) Tang rulers
    maintained an extensive communications network
  • This was based on roads, horses and human runners
  • Tang maintained inns and stables along the main
    routes, providing rest and refreshments for
    travelers, couriers and horses

The Grand Canal of ChinaBegun By the Sui,
Completed by the Tang
www.traveladdicts.connectfree art12_index.html
Speed of Communication Coast to Capital
  • Using couriers traveling by horse, Tang court
    could communicate with most distant parts of
    China in eight days
  • Relay teams of 9600 runners supplied the Han
    Court at Xian with seafood delivered fresh from
    Ningbo (over 600 miles away)

Ningbo Today
The Equal Field System
  • This system governed the allocation of
    agricultural land
  • Purpose was to ensure equitable distribution of
    land, and avoid the concentration of property
    that had caused problems under the Han
  • Land allocated to individuals and families
    according to its fertility and the familys needs
  • One-fifth of the land became the hereditary
    possession of the recipients
  • The rest remained available for redistribution
    when the original recipients needs had changed

Pressures on the System
  • System worked well for about a century, but by
    the early eighth century began showing signs of
  • Rapidly increasing population placed pressure on
    available land plus through bribery and favors,
    influential families retained more than their
    fair share
  • Also, large parcels of land fell out of the
    system when they were acquired by Buddhist
  • But the system provided stability during the
    first half of the Tang Era

Ancient Buddhist Monastery, Qinghai Province
Bureaucracy of Merit
  • Dynasty relied heavily on a bureaucracy selected
    by merit (not family connections)
  • Government officials were selected from the ranks
    of candidates who had progressed through the
    Confucian education system, mastering the
    classical works of Chinese literature and
  • Members of this talented class were generally
    loyal to the dynasty, and worked hard to preserve
    and advance the state
  • This version of the civil service worked so well
    that the system essentially remained intact for
    1300 years, disappearing only after the collapse
    of the Qing in the 20th Century

Tang Confucian Official
The Empress Wu
  • Tang Era also marked by the extraordinary reign
    of Empress Wu (concubine of the 2nd and 3rd
    emperors) - ruled for 20 years
  • Only woman ever to rule China - weakened old
    aristocracy, favored Buddhism, strengthened exam
    system, defeated Korea
  • Studied music and literature sponsored the
    writing of biographies about famous women
  • Had many favorites and lovers (thus several
    enemies at court) - deposed in 712 and replaced
    by Emperor Xuan Zhong (713-756)
The Empress Wu (Limestone, Tang Dynasty)
Empress WuToday TV, Opera and Movie Star!
Tang Foreign Relations
  • Soon after its foundation, powerful and dynamic
    Tang began to flex its military muscles
  • In the north Tang forces brought Manchuria under
    Chinese control, and forced the Silla in Korea to
    acknowledge Tang hegemony
  • To the south Tang forces conquered the northern
    part of Vietnam

Engagement With the West
Tang officials meet Sogdian officials, Central
  • To the west the dynasty extended Tang control as
    far as the Aral Sea, and brought some of the high
    plateau of Tibet under its control
  • Tang Taizong was fascinated by the monk Xuanzang
    (602-64) who returned to China in 645 to tell
    about his fifteen years traveling across Central
    Asia and India
  • Knowledge of the outside world was also
    stimulated by the presence of envoys, merchants,
    and pilgrims who came from the tributary states
    in Central Asia as well as from neighboring
    countries like Japan, Korea, and Tibet

  • Xuanzang born into a scholarly family near
    Luoyang in 599 as Chen Yi, and died 664 in Yu Hua
  • Famous for his 17 year-long trip to India, during
    which he studied with many famous Buddhist
    masters, especially at the famous center of
    Buddhist learning in Nalanda
  • When he returned, he brought with him some 657
    Sanskrit texts
  • With the emperor's support, he set up a large
    translation bureau in Xian drawing students and
    collaborators from all over East Asia
  • Credited with the translation of 1,330 fascicles
    of scriptures into Chinese
  • The force of his own study, translation and
    commentary of the texts of these traditions
    initiated the development of the Faxiang school
  • Its theories regarding perception, consciousness,
    karma and rebirth found their way into the
    doctrines of other more successful schools

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Revival of the Silk Roads
  • Goods from these distant regions - horses,
    jewels, musical instruments, and textiles - were
    sources of endless fascination to the court and
    capital elite
  • Foreign fashions in hair and clothing were
    copied, and foreign amusement like the game of
    polo became favorite pastimes of the well-to-do
  • Caravans that came from Central Asia were so
    appreciated that pottery representations of
    camels and their non-Han grooms were among the
    objects people commonly placed in tombs
  • Foreign religions, including Islam, Judaism,
  • Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism and Nestorian
  • Christianity were practiced among the
  • thousands of foreign merchants resident there
  • However, none of these religions
  • spread into the Chinese population
  • the way Buddhism had
  • centuries earlier

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Battle of the Talas
Talas Valley Today
  • The Battle of Talas in 751 was a conflict between
    the Arab Abbasid Caliphate and the Tang Dynasty
    for control of Central Asia
  • Chinese army was defeated following the routing
    of their infantry by the Abbasid cavalry on the
    bank of the River Talas
  • Commander of the Tang forces, Gao Xianzhi,
    realized his defeat was imminent and managed to
    escape with some of his Tang regulars
  • Though Gao was able to rebuild his forces within
    months, he never again gained the confidence of
    the local tribes residing in the area.
  • Exact location of the battle has not been
    confirmed but is believed to be near Taraz in
    present day Kazakhstan
  • Russian historian Barthold argued that this
    battle "determined the question which of the two
    civilizations, the Chinese or the Muslim, should
    predominate in the land (of Turkestan)

Part Three Tang Culture and Decline
  • Government monopolized salt, liquor and tea
    industries receipts they issued to merchants
    evolved into paper money under the Song
  • Crafts like papermaking, iron casting, porcelain
    and silk processing popular in the Middle East
    Silk Roads trade flourished again by old land
    routes and by sea
  • 100,000 foreign merchants lived in busy southern
    ports (Guangzhou Canton)

7th Century Tang Wallpaper Panel depicting scenes
from the production of porcelain
Prosperity in the South
  • Economic development of the south particularly
    impressive, aided by convenient water
    transportation along rivers and streams
  • River traffic had grown so heavy that storms at
    Yangzhou in 721 and 751 were said to have led to
    the destruction of over 1,000 boats each time
  • Tea, native to the south, was no longer looked on
    as a medicinal herb, useful primarily to those
    trying to stay awake, but had come to be drunk
    all over the country, making it a major trade
  • Southern port cities of Canton, Quanzhou, and
    Fuzhou grew in size as maritime trade along the
    coast and throughout Southeast Asia expanded
    greatly, much of it in the hands of Arab
  • By 742, when a census was taken, the proportion
    of the registered population living in the south
    had increased from only a quarter in the early
    seventh century to nearly a half

Tang Cities Xian
  • Xian (Tang capital) also home to many foreigners
    largest planned city in the world (30 square
  • One of four Tang cities with populations of one
    million plus

Walls of Ancient Xian
The Planned City Xian
  • Xian a planned city laid out on a square grid,
    but constructed on a much larger scale than any
    previous capital
  • Outer walls (made of pounded earth 15 feet thick
    and 35 feet tall) extended over five miles north
    to south and nearly six miles east to west
  • Palace was in the north, so the emperor could, in
    a sense, face south towards his subjects, whose
    homes were in the 108 wards, each enclosed by a
  • Certain blocks were set aside for markets, open
    at specified hours each day.
  • Great southern gate of the city opened out to an
    extremely board avenue about 500 feet wide
  • Foreign envoys seeking to see the emperor all
    traveled along this thoroughfare directly to the
  • This and other main avenues were bordered by
    ditches planted with trees

(No Transcript)
Tang Women
  • Severe legal codes for wives who disobeyed or
    were unfaithful to husbands
  • Some women had power at court, others active in
    the arts, but laws limited their rights to
    divorce, remarriage and inheritance of property
  • Tang literature often depicts active, strong
    women fighting against convention anthropology/
  • Ballad of Mulan (Disneys film Mulan) tells of
    a loyal daughter who dresses as a man and goes
    off to war to save her father from conscription
  • After twelve years fighting the barbarians she
    returns to her village and changes back into a
    woman, astonishing her soldier companions
  • So she has initiative and can master the world of
    men, but ultimately wants to remain a good
    Confucian daughter
Extract Ballad of Mulan
Her parents hearing their girl returns, Out to
the suburbs to welcome her back. Elder sister
hearing her sister returns, Adjusts her rouge by
the doorway. Little brother hearing his sister
returns, Sharpens his knife for pigs and lamb.
"I open my east chamber door, And sit on my
west chamber bed. I take off my battle cloak,
And put on my old-time clothes. I adjust my
wispy hair at the window sill, And apply my
bisque makeup by the mirror. I step out to see
my comrades-in-arms, They are all surprised and
astounded 'We traveled twelve years together,
Yet didn't realize Mulan was a lady!'" The
buck bounds here and there, Whilst the doe has
narrow eyes. But when the two rabbits run side
by side, How can you tell the female from the
Ten thousand miles she rode in war, Crossing
passes and mountains as if on a wing. On the
northern air comes the sentry's gong, Cold light
shines on her coat of steel. The general dead
after a hundred battles, The warriors return
after ten years. They return to see the Son of
Heaven, Who sits in the Hall of Brilliance. The
rolls of merit spin a dozen times, Rewards in
the hundreds and thousands. The Khan asks her
what she desires, "I've no need for the post of
a gentleman official, I ask to borrow a camel
fleet of foot, To carry me back to my hometown."

Musical Courtesans
  • Tang poets frequented entertainment quarters of
    the cities where they could call on female
  • In the late Tang period, courtesans played an
    important part in popularizing a new verse form
    by singing the lyrics written by famous men and
    by composing lyrics themselves

Lyric Poet, Li Qingzhao
Tang High Culture
  • Like the bureaucracy, the arts also attracted
    scholars, many of whom were esteemed for their
  • Almost all educated men wrote an occasional poem,
    and poetic composition was tested on the most
    prestigious of the civil service examinations,
    the jinshi, or presented scholar exam
  • Perhaps that contributed to the art of poetry,
    for the Tang produced many of Chinas greatest
    poets, including Wang Wei, Li Bai, Du Fu, Bai
    Juyi, and Li Shangyin
  • Over 48,900 poems by 2,200 Tang poets have
  • The parting of friends was a common theme of
    these poems, perhaps because officials were
    frequently transferred to the provinces
  • The immense distances of the empire, the dangers
    of travel, and the difficulty of keeping in touch
    once separated evidently made every parting seem

Tang Literature
  • Literature thrived under the Tang, strengthened
    by papermaking and block printing (in about 600
  • History writing also achieved great heights under
    the Tang history a mirror for Emperors in which
    they could foresee the rise and fall of empires
  • Poetry achieved great heights under Li Bai
    (701-763) who loved wine during a drinking party
    he leaned out of a boat to scoop the moon out of
    the water, fell in and drowned!

Tang poet Li Bai
Li Bai Drinking Alone by Moonlight
  • A cup of wine, under the flowering treesI
    drink alone, for no friend is near.Raising my
    cup I beckon the bright moon,For he, with my
    shadow, will make three men.The moon, alas, is
    no drinker of wineListless, my shadow creeps
    about at my side.Yet with the moon as friend and
    the shadow as slaveI must make merry before the
    Spring is spent.To the songs I sing the moon
    flickers her beamsIn the dance I weave my
    shadow tangles and breaks.While we were sober,
    three shared the funNow we are drunk, each goes
    his way.May we long share our odd, inanimate
    feast,And meet at last on the Cloudy River of
    the sky

Highpoint of Tang Culture
  • High point came in the first half of the eighth
    century during the reign of Xuanzong (r.712-56)
    whose court became the focal point of high
  • Xuanzong conducted state ceremonies
  • on a grand scale and authorized a
  • major codification of state ritual
  • Buddhist and Daoist clerics were
  • also welcome at his court
  • Xuanzong invited teachers of the new
  • Tantric school of Buddhism, in 726
  • calling on the Javanese monk
  • Vajrabodhi to perform Tantric rites
  • to avert drought

Xuanzong and Yang Gueifei
Dancing Horses!
  • To liven up the poetry written at his court and
    amuse him on his outings with palace ladies,
    Xuanzong established a new academy for poets
  • Poet Li Bai served in this academy for a few
    years, writing light sensual poems celebrating
    the beauty of the imperial parks and the ladies
    in them
  • Xuanzong also enjoyed music and horses and even
    kept a troupe of dancing horses
  • Han Gan, a great horse painter, served at his

  • Costumes of the High Tang Dynasty Beijing Opera

Revolt of An Lushan
  • While the Tang had outstanding rulers who focused
    on government, it remained strong and powerful
  • But Xuanzangs casual rule and neglect of public
    affairs for his mistresses, poetry and music led
    to Tang decline
  • In 755 CE, one of the dynastys foremost military
    commanders, An Lushan, mounted a rebellion and
    captured Xian
  • By 757 An Lushan had been murdered and Tang
    forces recaptured Xian, but the dynasty was
    badly weakened

From the movie House of Flying Daggers about
An Lushans revolt
Tang Decline
  • Late in the 750s,
  • Uighur Turks gained
  • control of Mongolia
  • military governors
  • took over the
  • provinces
  • One was a woman
  • (Yang Guifei) who
  • marched on Xian in 755 remembered in China
    today as conniving, power-hungry and sexually
  • She left her husband (the Emperors son) for the
    Emperor himself, later became close to a Turkish
    general, and was eventually executed by the old
    emperor Xuanzong who died of sorrow a month later
Yang Guifei, often described as one of the four
most beautiful women of ancient China
End of the Tang
  • Succession of weak rulers presided over a
    disintegrating China until the last Tang emperor
    was killed in 907
  • Near the end of the Tang Dynasty, regional
    military governors (jiedushi) became increasingly
    powerful, and began to function more like
    independent regimes on their own right
  • The dynasty was ended when one of the military
    governors Zhu Wen deposed the last emperor and
    took the throne for himself, thereby beginning
    the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period

Five Dynasties Map 907-923
Although division returned to China following the
fall of the Tang, one of the states of divided
China (the Song) almost instituted an industrial
revolution that would have dramatically impacted
subsequent world history
Tang Dynasty was one of the great imperial
structures of the post-classical world, rivaled
only by the Islamic caliphate of the
Abbasids Remains one of the most fascinating
historical eras for contemporary China, and is
featured in numerous films, television serials,
books and opera