The TANG DYNASTY or the TANG EMPIRE (Chinese : 唐朝 ) was an
imperial dynasty of China preceded by the
Sui dynasty and followed by
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period . It is generally regarded
as a high point in Chinese civilization, and a golden age of
cosmopolitan culture. Its territory, acquired through the military
campaigns of its early rulers, rivaled that of the
Han dynasty , and
the Tang capital at Chang\'an (present-day Xi\'an ) was the most
populous city in the world.
The dynasty was founded by the Lǐ family (李), who seized power
during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire. The dynasty was
briefly interrupted when Empress
Wu Zetian seized the throne,
proclaiming the Second
Zhou dynasty (690–705) and becoming the only
Chinese empress regnant . In two censuses of the 7th and 8th
centuries, the Tang records estimated the population by number of
registered households at about 50 million people. Yet, even when the
central government was breaking down and unable to compile an accurate
census of the population in the 9th century, it is estimated that the
population had grown by then to about 80 million people. With its
large population base, the dynasty was able to raise professional and
conscripted armies of hundreds of thousands of troops to contend with
nomadic powers in dominating
Inner Asia and the lucrative trade routes
Silk Road . Various kingdoms and states paid tribute to the
Tang court, while the Tang also conquered or subdued several regions
which it indirectly controlled through a protectorate system. Besides
political hegemony, the Tang also exerted a powerful cultural
influence over neighboring East Asian states such as those in Japan
Korea as well as
Tang dynasty was largely a period of progress and stability in
the first half of the dynasty's rule, until the
An Lushan Rebellion
and the decline of central authority in the later half of the dynasty.
Like the previous Sui dynasty, the
Tang dynasty maintained a civil
service system by recruiting scholar-officials through standardized
examinations and recommendations to office. This civil order was
undermined by the rise of regional military governors known as
jiedushi during the 9th century.
Chinese culture flourished and
further matured during the Tang era; it is considered the greatest age
Chinese poetry . Two of China's most famous poets,
Li Bai and Du
Fu , belonged to this age, as did many famous painters such as Han Gan
Zhang Xuan , and Zhou Fang . There was a rich variety of historical
literature compiled by scholars, as well as encyclopedias and
geographical works. The adoption of the title Tängri Qaghan by the
Tang Emperor Taizong in addition to his title as emperor was eastern
Asia's first "simultaneous kingship".
There were many notable innovations during the Tang, including the
development of woodblock printing .
Buddhism became a major influence
in Chinese culture, with native Chinese sects gaining prominence.
Buddhism would later be persecuted by the state, subsequently
declining 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 economy , though the country's mercantile affairs stayed
intact and commercial trade continued to thrive regardless, at least
until agrarian rebellions in the latter half of the 9th century
brought the dynasty to its knees, resulting in damaging atrocities
such as the
Guangzhou Massacre .
* 1 History
* 1.1 Establishment
* 1.2 Wu Zetian\'s usurpation
* 1.3 Emperor Xuanzong\'s reign
An Lushan Rebellion
An Lushan Rebellion and catastrophe
* 1.5 Rebuilding and recovery
* 1.6 End of the dynasty
* 2 Administration and politics
* 2.1 Initial reforms
* 2.2 Imperial examinations
* 2.3 Religion and politics
* 2.4 Taxes and the census
* 3 Military and foreign policy
* 3.1 Protectorates and tributaries
* 3.2 Soldiers and conscription
* 3.3 Turkic and Western regions
* 3.4 East Asia
* 4 Economy
* 4.2 Seaports and maritime trade
* 5 Culture and society
* 5.1 Leisure
* 5.2 Chang\'an, the Tang capital
* 5.3 Literature
* 5.4 Religion and philosophy
* 5.5 Position of women
* 5.6 Cuisine
* 6 Science and technology
* 6.1 Engineering
* 6.3 Medicine
* 6.5 Alchemy, gas cylinders, and air conditioning
* 7 Historiography
* 8 See also
* 9 Notes
* 10 References
* 10.1 Citations
* 10.2 Works cited
* 11 Further reading
* 12 External links
Timeline of the Tang dynasty
Transition from Sui to Tang
Portrait painting of
Emperor Yang of Sui , commissioned in 643 by Taizong , painted by Yan
The Li family belonged to the northwest military aristocracy
prevalent during the
Sui dynasty and claimed to be paternally
descended from the Daoist founder,
Laozi (whose personal name was Li
Dan or Li Er), the
Han dynasty General
Li Guang , and Western Liang
Li Gao . This family was known as the Longxi Li lineage
(隴西李氏), which includes the Tang poet
Li Bai . The Tang
emperors also had
Xianbei maternal ancestry , from Emperor Gaozu of
Xianbei mother, Duchess Dugu.
Li Yuan was Duke of Tang and governor of
Taiyuan during the Sui
dynasty's collapse, which was caused in part by the Sui failure to
conquer the northern part of the Korean peninsula during the
Goguryeo–Sui War . He had prestige and military experience, and
was a first cousin of
Emperor Yang of Sui (their mothers were
sisters). Li Yuan rose in rebellion in 617, along with his son and
his equally militant daughter
Princess Pingyang (d. 623), who raised
and commanded her own troops. In winter 617, Li Yuan occupied
Chang\'an , relegated Emperor Yang to the position of Taishang Huang
or retired emperor, and acted as regent to the puppet child-emperor,
Emperor Gong of Sui . On the news of Emperor Yang's murder by General
Yuwen Huaji on June 18, 618, Li Yuan declared himself the emperor of a
new dynasty, the Tang.
Li Yuan, known as
Emperor Gaozu of Tang , ruled until 626, when he
was forcefully deposed by his son Li Shimin , the Prince of Qin. Li
Shimin had commanded troops since the age of 18, had prowess with bow
and arrow , sword and lance and was known for his effective cavalry
charges. Fighting a numerically superior army, he defeated Dou
Jiande (573–621) 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 (b. 603)
Li Jiancheng (b. 589), in the
Xuanwu Gate Incident on
July 2, 626. Shortly thereafter, his father abdicated in his favor
and Li Shimin ascended the throne. He is conventionally known by his
temple name Taizong . Emperor Taizong (r. 626–649) receives Gar
Tongtsen Yülsung , ambassador of the
Tibetan Empire , at his court;
painted in 641 by
Yan Liben (600–673)
Although killing two brothers and deposing his father contradicted
the Confucian value of filial piety , Taizong showed himself to be a
capable leader who listened to the advice of the wisest members of his
council. In 628, Emperor Taizong held a Buddhist memorial service for
the casualties of war, and in 629 he had Buddhist monasteries erected
at the sites of major battles so that monks could pray for the fallen
on both sides of the fight. This was during the Tang campaign against
the Eastern Turks , a
Turkic Khaganate that was destroyed after the
capture of its ruler,
Illig Qaghan , by the famed Tang military
officer Li Jing (571–649), who later became a Chancellor of the Tang
dynasty . With this victory, the Turks accepted Taizong as their
khagan , a title rendered as
Tian Kehan in addition to his rule as
emperor of China under the traditional title "Son of Heaven".
WU ZETIAN\'S USURPATION
Palace ladies in a garden from a mural of Prince Li Xian 's tomb
Qianling Mausoleum , where
Wu Zetian was also buried in 706
Zhou dynasty (690–705)
Although she entered Emperor Gaozong's court as the lowly consort Wu
Wu Zetian rose to the highest seat of power in 690, establishing
the short-lived Wu Zhou. Empress Wu's rise to power was achieved
through cruel and calculating tactics: a popular conspiracy theory
stated that she killed her own baby girl and blamed it on Gaozong's
empress so that the empress would be demoted. Emperor Gaozong
suffered a stroke in 655, and Wu began to make many of his court
decisions for him, discussing affairs of state with his councilors,
who took orders from her while she sat behind a screen. When Empress
Wu's eldest son, the crown prince, began to assert his authority and
advocate policies opposed by Empress Wu, 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. (He was later obliged to commit
In 683, Emperor Gaozong died. He was succeeded by Emperor Zhongzong ,
his eldest surviving son by Wu. Zhongzong tried to appoint his wife's
father as chancellor: after only six weeks on the throne, he was
deposed by Empress Wu in favor of his younger brother, 12-year-old
Emperor Ruizong . This provoked a group of Tang princes to rebel in
684; Wu's armies suppressed them within two months. She proclaimed
the Tianshou era of Wu Zhou on October 16, 690, and three days later
demoted Emperor Ruizong to crown prince . He was also forced to give
up his father's surname Li in favor of the empress's Wu. She then
ruled as China's only empress. A palace coup on February 20, 705,
forced her to yield her position on February 22. The next day, her son
Zhongzong was restored to power; the Tang was formally restored on
March 3. She died soon after. To legitimize her rule, 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 written characters to the written language
, which reverted to the originals 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 represented in Chinese politics and government.
EMPEROR XUANZONG\'S REIGN
Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
Giant Wild Goose Pagoda , Chang\'an (modern-day Xi\'an ),
built in 652, repaired by Empress
Wu Zetian in 704.
There were many prominent women at court during and after Wu's reign,
including Shangguan Wan\'er (664–710), a poet, writer, and trusted
official in charge of Wu's private office. In 706 the wife of Emperor
Zhongzong of Tang, Empress Wei (d. 710), persuaded 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 (which before was a male right only).
Empress Wei eventually poisoned Zhongzong, whereupon she placed his
fifteen-year-old son upon the throne in 710. Two weeks later, Li
Longji (the later Emperor Xuanzong) entered the palace with a few
followers and slew Empress Wei and her faction. He then installed his
father Emperor Ruizong (r. 710–712) on the throne. Just as Emperor
Zhongzong was dominated by Empress Wei, so too was Ruizong dominated
Princess Taiping . This was finally ended when Princess Taiping's
coup failed in 712 (she later hanged herself in 713) and Emperor
Ruizong abdicated to Emperor Xuanzong .
During the 44-year reign of Emperor Xuanzong, the Tang dynasty
reached its height, a golden age with low economic inflation and a
toned down lifestyle for the imperial court. Seen as a progressive
and benevolent ruler, Xuanzong even abolished the death penalty in the
year 747; all executions had to be approved beforehand by the emperor
himself (these were relatively few, considering that there were only
24 executions in the year 730). Xuanzong bowed to the consensus of
his ministers on policy decisions and made efforts to staff government
ministries fairly with different political factions. His staunch
Zhang Jiuling (673–740) worked to reduce
deflation and increase the money supply by upholding the use of
private coinage, while his aristocratic and technocratic successor Li
Linfu (d. 753) favored government monopoly over the issuance of
coinage. 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. This policy ultimately
created the conditions for a massive rebellion against Xuanzong.
AN LUSHAN REBELLION AND CATASTROPHE
An Lushan Rebellion
An Lushan Rebellion The
Leshan Giant Buddha , 71
m (233 ft) high; begun in 713, completed in 803
Empire was at its height of power up until the middle of the
8th century, when the
An Lushan Rebellion
An Lushan Rebellion (December 16, 755 –
February 17, 763) destroyed the prosperity of the empire. An Lushan
was a half-Sogdian , half-Turk Tang commander since 744, had
experience fighting the
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. After
capturing Luoyang, he named himself emperor of a new, but short-lived,
Yan state . Despite early victories scored by Tang General Guo Ziyi
(697–781), the newly recruited troops of the army at the capital
were no match for An Lushan's die-hard frontier veterans, so the court
fled Chang'an. While the heir apparent raised troops in
Xuanzong fled to
Sichuan province, they called upon the help of the
Uyghur Khaganate in 756. The Uyghur khan Moyanchur was greatly
excited at this prospect, and married his own daughter to the Chinese
diplomatic envoy once he arrived, receiving in turn a Chinese princess
as his bride. The Uyghurs helped recapture the Tang capital from the
rebels, but they refused to leave until the Tang paid them an enormous
sum of tribute in silk. Even
Arabs assisted the Tang in
putting down An Lushan's rebellion. The Tibetans took hold of the
opportunity and raided many areas under Chinese control, and even
Tibetan Empire had fallen apart in 842 (and the Uyghurs soon
after ) the Tang were in no position to reconquer Central Asia after
763. 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, this time of troubles and widespread insurrection
continued until rebel
Shi Siming was killed by his own son in 763.
Nanchan Temple (Wutai) , built during the late 8th century
One of the legacies that the Tang government left since 710 was the
gradual rise of regional military governors, the jiedushi , who slowly
came to challenge the power of the central government. After the An
Lushan 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, these military
governors slowly phased out the prominence of civil officials drafted
by exams, and became more autonomous from central authority. The rule
of these powerful military governors lasted until 960, when a new
civil order under the
Song dynasty was established. Also, the
abandonment of the equal-field system meant that people could buy and
sell land freely. Many poor fell into debt because of this, forced to
sell their land to the wealthy, which led to the exponential growth of
large estates. With the breakdown of the land allocation system after
755, the central Chinese state barely interfered in agricultural
management and acted merely as tax collector for roughly a millennium,
save a few instances such as the Song's failed land nationalization
during the 13th-century war with the
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
Yangtze River with little resistance. In 858, enormous floods
along the Grand Canal inundated vast tracts of land and terrain of the
North China Plain
North China Plain , which drowned tens of thousands of people in the
process. 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 was gathered, and tens of thousands faced famine
and starvation. In the earlier period of the Tang, the central
government was able to meet crises in the harvest, as it was recorded
from 714–719 that the Tang government responded effectively to
natural disasters by extending the price-regulation granary system
throughout the country. The central government was able then to build
a large surplus stock of foods to ward off the rising danger of famine
and increased agricultural productivity through land reclamation .
In the 9th century, however, the Tang government was nearly helpless
in dealing with any calamity. Eighty Seven Celestials, draft
painting of a fresco by
Wu Daozi (c. 685–758)
REBUILDING AND RECOVERY
Xumi Pagoda , built in 636
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 boosted by the merchant class. Cities in the Jiangnan
region to the south, such as
Suzhou , and Hangzhou
prospered the most economically during the late Tang period. The
government monopoly on the production of salt, weakened after the An
Shi Rebellion, was placed under the Salt Commission , which became one
of the most powerful state agencies, run by capable ministers chosen
as specialists. The commission began the practice of selling merchants
the rights to buy monopoly salt , which they would then transport and
sell in local markets. In 799 salt accounted for over half of the
government's revenues. S. A. M. Adshead writes that this salt tax
represents "the first time that an indirect tax, rather than tribute,
levies on land or people, or profit from state enterprises such as
mines, had been the primary resource of a major state." Even after
the power of the central government was in decline after the mid 8th
century, it was still able to function and give out imperial orders on
a massive scale. The Tangshu (
Old Book of Tang
Old Book of Tang ) 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:
In the second year of the Taihe reign period , in the second
month...a standard model of the chain pump was issued from the palace,
and the people of Jingzhao Fu (d footnote: the capital) were ordered
by the emperor to make a considerable number of machines, for
distribution to the people along the Zheng Bai Canal , for irrigation
purposes. Painting of the scholar Fu Sheng, by the Tang poet,
musician, and painter Wang Wei (701–761)
The last great ambitious ruler of the
Tang dynasty was Emperor
Xianzong (r. 805–820), whose reign was aided by the fiscal reforms
of the 780s, including a 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. However, Xianzong's
successors proved less capable and more interested in the leisure of
hunting, feasting, and playing outdoor sports, allowing eunuchs to
amass more power as drafted scholar-officials caused strife in the
bureaucracy with factional parties. The eunuchs' power became
unchallenged after Emperor Wenzong 's (r. 826–840) failed plot to
have them overthrown ; instead the allies of Emperor Wenzong were
publicly executed in the West Market of Chang\'an , by the eunuchs'
However, the Tang did manage to restore at least indirect control
over former Tang territories as far west as the
Hexi Corridor and
Gansu . In 848 the ethnic Han Chinese general Zhang Yichao
(799-872) managed to wrestle control of the region from the Tibetan
Empire during its civil war . Shortly afterwards Emperor Xuānzong of
Tang (r. 846-859) acknowledged Zhang as the protector (防禦使,
Fangyushi) of Sha
Prefecture and jiedushi military governor of the new
Guiyi Circuit .
END OF THE DYNASTY
In addition to natural calamities and jiedushi amassing autonomous
Huang Chao Rebellion (874–884) resulted in the sacking
Chang'an and Luoyang, and took an entire decade to suppress.
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.
Zhu Wen , originally a salt smuggler who had served under the rebel
Huang, surrendered to Tang forces. By helping to defeat Huang, he was
granted a series of rapid military promotions. In 907 the Tang
dynasty was ended when Zhu Wen, now a military governor, deposed the
last emperor of Tang,
Emperor Ai of Tang , and took the throne for
himself (known posthumously as Emperor Taizu of Later Liang). He
established the Later Liang , which inaugurated the Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms period . A year later
Zhu Wen had the deposed Emperor Ai
poisoned to death.
ADMINISTRATION AND POLITICS
Administrative divisions of the Tang dynasty
A Tang sancai -glazed carved relief showing horseback riders
Taizong set out to solve internal problems within the government
which had constantly plagued past dynasties. Building upon the Sui
legal code , he issued a new legal code that subsequent Chinese
dynasties would model theirs upon, as well as neighboring polities in
Korea , and
Japan . The earliest law code to survive was
the one established in the year 653, which was divided into 500
articles specifying different crimes and penalties ranging from ten
blows with a light stick, one hundred blows with a heavy rod, exile,
penal servitude, or execution.
The legal code 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.
Tang Code was largely retained by later codes such as the early
Ming dynasty (1368–1644) code of 1397, yet there were several
revisions in later times, such as improved property rights for women
Song dynasty (960–1279).
The Tang had three departments (Chinese: 省; pinyin: shěng), which
were obliged to draft, review, and implement policies respectively.
There were also six ministries (Chinese: 部; pinyin: bù) under the
administrations that implemented policy, each of which was assigned
different tasks. These
Three Departments and Six Ministries included
the personnel administration, finance, rites, military, justice, and
public works—an administrative model which would last until the fall
Qing dynasty (1644–1912). Tang era gilt -gold bowl with
lotus and animal motifs
Although the founders of the Tang related to the glory of the earlier
Han dynasty (3rd century BC–3rd century AD), the basis for much of
their administrative organization was very similar to the previous
Northern and Southern dynasties . The
Northern Zhou (6th century)
fubing system of divisional militia was continued by the Tang, along
with farmer-soldiers serving in rotation from the capital or frontier
in order to receive appropriated farmland. The equal-field system of
Northern Wei (4th–6th centuries) was also kept, although there
were a few modifications.
Although the central and local governments kept an enormous number of
records about land property in order to assess taxes, it became common
practice in the Tang for literate and affluent people to create their
own private documents and signed contracts. These had their own
signature and that of a witness and scribe in order to prove in court
(if necessary) that their claim to property was legitimate. The
prototype of this actually existed since the ancient Han dynasty,
while contractual language became even more common and embedded into
Chinese literary culture in later dynasties.
The center of the political power of the Tang was the capital city of
Chang\'an (modern Xi\'an ), where the emperor maintained his large
palace quarters and entertained political emissaries with music,
sports, acrobatic stunts, poetry, paintings, and dramatic theater
performances . The capital was also filled with incredible amounts of
riches and resources to spare. When the Chinese prefectural government
officials traveled to the capital in the year 643 to give the annual
report of the affairs in their districts, Emperor Taizong discovered
that many had no proper quarters to rest in and were renting rooms
with merchants. Therefore, Emperor Taizong ordered the government
agencies in charge of municipal construction to build every visiting
official his own private mansion in the capital.
Imperial examination Further information: Imperial
examination in Chinese mythology Tang statue of a civil official
dressed in Hanfu , made of sancai glazed earthenware; he wears a tall
hat, wide-sleeved outer garment tied at the waist with a wide belt,
and rectangular "kerchief" in front. A white inner gown hangs over his
square shoes. He holds a tablet to his chest, preparing to provide a
report to his superiors.
Students of Confucian studies were potential candidates for the
imperial examinations , the graduates of which could be appointed as
state bureaucrats in the local, provincial, and central government.
There were two types of exams that were given, mingjing ('illuminating
the classics examination') and jinshi ('presented scholar
examination'). The mingjing was based upon the Confucian classics and
tested the student's knowledge of a broad variety of texts. The
jinshi tested a student's literary abilities in writing essay-style
responses to questions on matters of governance and politics, as well
as their skills in composing poetry . 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. There was a disproportionate number of civil
officials coming from aristocratic as opposed to non-aristocratic
families. The exams were open to all male subjects whose fathers were
not of the artisan or merchant classes , 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.
This competitive procedure was designed to draw the best talent into
government. But perhaps an even greater consideration for the Tang
rulers, aware that imperial dependence on powerful aristocratic
families and warlords would have destabilizing consequences, was to
create a body of career officials having no autonomous territorial or
functional power base . The Tang law code ensured equal division of
inherited property amongst legitimate heirs, allowing a bit of social
mobility and preventing the families of powerful court officials from
becoming landed nobility through primogeniture . 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, scholar-officials 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, when 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
The examination system, used only on a small scale in Sui and Tang
times, played a central role in the fashioning of this new elite. The
early Song emperors, concerned above all to avoid domination of the
government by military men, greatly expanded the civil service
examination system and the government school system.
RELIGION AND POLITICS
Emperor Xuanzong of Tang wearing the robes and the hat of a
From the outset, religion played a role in Tang politics. In his bid
for power, Li Yuan had attracted a following by claiming descent from
the Daoist sage
Laozi (fl. 6th century BC). 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 selected. Before
the persecution of
Buddhism in the 9th century,
Buddhism and Daoism
were accepted side by side, and Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712–56) invited
monks and clerics of both religions to his court. At the same time
Xuanzong exalted the ancient
Laozi by granting him grand titles, wrote
commentary on the Daoist Laozi, set up a school to prepare candidates
for examinations on Daoist scriptures, and called upon the Indian monk
Vajrabodhi (671–741) to perform Tantric rites to avert a drought in
the year 726. In 742 Emperor Xuanzong personally held the incense
burner during a ceremony led by
Amoghavajra (705–74, patriarch of
the Shingon school ) reciting "mystical incantations to secure the
victory of Tang forces."
While religion played a role in politics, politics also played a role
in religion. In the year 714, Emperor Xuanzong forbade shops and
vendors in the city of
Chang'an to sell copied Buddhist sutras,
instead giving the Buddhist clergy of the monasteries the sole right
to distribute sutras to the laity . In the previous year of 713,
Emperor Xuanzong had liquidated the highly lucrative Inexhaustible
Treasury , which was run by a prominent Buddhist monastery in
Chang'an. This monastery collected vast amounts of money, silk, and
treasures through multitudes of anonymous people's repentances,
leaving the donations on the monastery's premise. Although the
monastery was generous in donations, Emperor Xuanzong issued a decree
abolishing their treasury on grounds that their banking practices were
fraudulent, collected their riches, and distributed the wealth to
various other Buddhist monasteries and Daoist abbeys, and to repair
statues, halls, and bridges in the city.
TAXES AND THE CENSUS
A Man Herding Horses, by
Han Gan (706–783), a court artist
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 census of 609, the population was tallied
by efforts of the government at a size of 9 million households, or
about 50 million people. The Tang census of 742 again approximated
the size of China's population at about 50 million people. Patricia
Ebrey writes that even if a rather significant number of people had
avoided the registration process of the tax census, the population
size during the Tang had not grown significantly since the earlier Han
dynasty (the census of the year 2 recording a population of roughly 58
million people in China). S.A.M. Adshead disagrees, estimating that
there were about 75 million people by 750.
In the Tang census of the year 754, there were 1,859 cities, 321
prefectures , and 1,538 counties 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%. There was also a dramatic migratory shift of the
population from northern to southern China , 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, when the population doubled to 100 million people
because of extensive rice cultivation in central and southern China,
coupled with rural farmers holding more abundant yields of food that
they could easily provide to the growing market.
MILITARY AND FOREIGN POLICY
Military history of China before 1911 , Naval history
of China , and
Jimi system Further information: Imperial Guards (Tang
dynasty) An 8th-century silk wall scroll from
Dunhuang , showing
the paradise of Amitabha
PROTECTORATES AND TRIBUTARIES
The 7th and first half of the 8th century are generally considered to
be the era in which the Tang reached the zenith of its power. In this
period, Tang control extended further west than any previous dynasty,
stretching from north
Vietnam in the south, to a point north of
Persia in the west, to northern
Korea in the
Some of the kingdoms paying tribute to the
Tang dynasty included
Kashmir , Nepal,
Champa , and
kingdoms located in
Amu Darya and
Syr Darya valley. Turkic nomads
addressed the Emperor of Tang China as
Tian Kehan . After the
Göktürk revolt of
Shabolüe Khan (d. 658) was put down at
Issyk Kul in 657 by
Su Dingfang (591–667), Emperor Gaozong
established several protectorates governed by a Protectorate General
or Grand Protectorate General, which extended the Chinese sphere of
influence as far as
Herat in Western Afghanistan. Protectorate
Generals were given a great deal of autonomy to handle local crises
without waiting for central admission. After Xuanzong's reign,
military governors (jiedushi) were given enormous power, including the
ability to maintain their own armies, collect taxes, and pass their
titles on hereditarily. This is commonly recognized as the beginning
of the fall of Tang's central government. A Tang pottery
warrior from Duan's Tomb,
Shaanxi . Military Museum: Ancient Weapons
SOLDIERS AND CONSCRIPTION
By the year 737, Emperor Xuanzong discarded the policy of
conscripting soldiers that were replaced every three years, replacing
them with long-service soldiers who were more battle-hardened and
efficient. It was more economically feasible as well, since training
new recruits and sending them out to the frontier every three years
drained the treasury. By the late 7th century, the fubing troops
began abandoning military service and the homes provided to them in
the equal-field system. The supposed standard of 100 mu of land
allotted to each family was in fact decreasing in size in places where
population expanded and the wealthy bought up most of the land.
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.
TURKIC AND WESTERN REGIONS
Protectorate General to Pacify the West , Protectorate
General to Pacify the North , and
Inner Asia during the
Shule Kingdom , Kingdom of
Khotan , Kingdom of
Shanshan , and
Turks in the Tang military A Tang dynasty
painted warrior and armored horse figurine similar to the one
unearthed from the tomb of Crown Prince
Li Chongrun .
The Sui and Tang carried out very successful military campaigns
against the steppe nomads. Chinese foreign policy to the north and
west now had to deal with Turkic nomads, who were becoming the most
dominant ethnic group in Central Asia. To handle and avoid any
threats posed by the Turks, the Sui government repaired fortifications
and received their trade and tribute missions. They sent four royal
princesses to form marriage alliances with Turkic clan leaders, in
597, 599, 614, and 617. The Sui stirred trouble and conflict amongst
ethnic groups against the Turks. As early as the Sui dynasty, the
Turks had become a major militarized force employed by the Chinese.
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. On two occasions between 635 and
636, Tang royal princesses were married to Turk mercenaries or
generals in Chinese service. Throughout the
Tang dynasty until the
end of 755, there were approximately ten Turkic generals serving under
the Tang. While most of the Tang army was made of fubing Chinese
conscripts, the majority of the troops led by Turkic generals were of
non-Chinese origin, campaigning largely in the western frontier where
the presence of fubing troops was low. Some "Turkic" troops were
nomadisized Han Chinese, a desinicized people. A tomb guard
(wushi yong), terracotta sculpture, Tang dynasty, early 8th century
Civil war in China was almost totally diminished by 626, along with
the defeat in 628 of the Ordos 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
Inner Mongolia province, and southern
the Turks. After this military victory, Emperor Taizong won the
title of Great Khan amongst the various Turks in the region who
pledged their allegiance to him and the Chinese empire (with several
thousand Turks traveling into China to live at Chang'an). On June 11,
631, Emperor Taizong also sent envoys to the
Xueyantuo bearing gold
and silk in order to persuade the release of enslaved Chinese
prisoners who were captured during the transition from Sui to Tang
from the northern frontier; this embassy succeeded in freeing 80,000
Chinese men and women who were then returned to China.
While the Turks were settled in the Ordos region (former territory of
Xiongnu ), the Tang government took on the military policy of
dominating the central steppe . Like the earlier Han dynasty, the Tang
dynasty (along with Turkic allies) conquered and subdued Central Asia
during the 640s and 650s. During Emperor Taizong's reign alone, large
campaigns were launched against not only the Göktürks , but also
separate campaigns against the Tuyuhun , the oasis city-states , and
Xueyantuo . Under Emperor Gaozong, a campaign led by the general
Su Dingfang was launched against the Western Turks ruled by Ashina
Empire competed with the
Tibetan Empire for control of areas
in Inner and Central Asia, which was at times settled with marriage
alliances such as the marrying of
Princess Wencheng (d. 680) to
Songtsän Gampo (d. 649). A Tibetan tradition mentions that Chinese
troops captured Lhasa after Songtsän Gampo's death, but no such
invasion is mentioned in either Chinese annals or the Tibetan
There was a long string of conflicts with
Tibet over territories in
Tarim Basin between 670–692, and in 763 the Tibetans even
captured the capital of China, Chang\'an , for fifteen days during the
An Shi Rebellion . In fact, it was during this rebellion that the
Tang withdrew its western garrisons stationed in what is now
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. A bas-relief of a soldier and the
Autumn Dew , with elaborate saddle and stirrups ,
Yan Liben , from the tomb of Emperor Taizong c. 650
Islamic conquest of Persia (633–656), the son of the
last ruler of the
Sassanid Empire , Prince Pirooz , fled to Tang
China. According to the
Old Book of Tang
Old Book of Tang , Pirooz was made the head
of a Governorate of
Persia in what is now
Zaranj , Afghanistan. During
this conquest of Persia, the
Rashidun Islamic Caliph Uthman Ibn Affan
(r. 644–656) sent an embassy to the Tang court at Chang'an. By the
Arabs of Khurasan had established a presence in the Ferghana
basin and in
Sogdiana . At the
Battle of Talas
Battle of Talas in 751, Qarluq
mercenaries under the Chinese defected, helping the Arab armies of the
Caliphate to defeat the Tang force under commander Gao Xianzhi
. Although the battle itself was not of the greatest significance
militarily, this was a pivotal moment in history; it marks the spread
of Chinese papermaking into regions west of China as captured
Chinese soldiers revealed secrets of Chinese papermaking to the Arabs.
These techniques ultimately reached Europe by the 12th century through
Arab-controlled Spain . Although they had fought at Talas, on June
11, 758, an
Abbasid embassy arrived at
Chang'an simultaneously with
the Uyghur Turks bearing gifts for the Tang Emperor. In 788–9 the
Chinese concluded a military alliance with the Uighur Turks who twice
defeated the Tibetans, in 789 near the town of
and in 791 near
Ningxia on the Yellow River. Illustration of the
Byzantine embassy to
Tang Taizong in 643 CE
Joseph Needham writes that a tributary embassy came to the court of
Emperor Taizong in 643 from the Patriarch of Antioch . However,
Friedrich Hirth and other sinologists identified Fu lin (拂菻) in
the Old and
New Book of Tang as the
Byzantine Empire , which those
histories directly associated with
Daqin (i.e. the
Roman Empire ).
The embassy sent in 643 by Boduoli (波多力) was identified as
Constans II Pogonatos and further embassies were
recorded as being sent into the 8th century. Furthermore, the Old
New Book of Tang also provide a description of the Byzantine
Constantinople and how it was besieged by the Da shi (大食,
Umayyad Caliphate ) forces of
Muawiyah I , who forced them to pay
tribute to the Arabs. The 7th-century Byzantine historian
Theophylact Simocatta wrote about the reunification of northern and
southern China by the
Sui dynasty (dating this to the time of Emperor
Maurice ); the capital city Khubdan (from Old Turkic Khumdan, i.e.
Chang'an); the basic geography of China including its previous
political division around the
Yangzi River ; the name of China's ruler
Taisson meaning "Son of God ", but possibly derived from the name of
the contemporaneous ruler Emperor Taizong.
Protectorate General to Pacify the East A clay haniwa
model of a ship, from Japan's
Kofun period (250–538)
In East Asia, Tang Chinese military campaigns were less successful
elsewhere than in previous imperial Chinese dynasties. Like the
emperors of the
Sui dynasty before him , Taizong established a
military campaign in 644 against the Korean kingdom of
Goguryeo in the
Goguryeo–Tang War ; however, this led to its withdrawal in the first
campaign because they failed to overcome the successful defense led by
Yeon Gaesomun . Allying with the Korean Silla Kingdom , the
Chinese fought against
Baekje and their Yamato Japanese allies in the
Battle of Baekgang in August 663, a decisive Tang–Silla victory. The
Tang dynasty navy had several different ship types at its disposal to
engage in naval warfare , these ships described by Li Quan in his
Taipai Yinjing (Canon of the White and Gloomy Planet of War) of 759.
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 Chinese general
Su Dingfang and Korean
Kim Yushin (595–673). 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 (594–669), the
Goguryeo was destroyed by 668. A 10th-century mural
painting in the
Mogao Caves at
Dunhuang showing monastic architecture
Mount Wutai , Tang dynasty;
Japanese architecture of this period
was influenced by Tang
Although they were formerly enemies, the Tang accepted officials and
Goguryeo into their administration and military, such as
Yeon Namsaeng (634–679) and
Yeon Namsan (639–701).
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
Although the Tang had fought the Japanese, they still held cordial
relations with Japan. There were numerous Imperial embassies to China
from Japan, diplomatic missions that were not halted until 894 by
Emperor Uda (r. 887–897), upon persuasion by Sugawara no Michizane
(845–903). The Japanese
Emperor Tenmu (r. 672–686) even
established his conscripted army on that of the Chinese model, his
state ceremonies on the Chinese model, and constructed his palace at
Fujiwara on the Chinese model of architecture .
Many Chinese Buddhist monks came to
Japan to help further the spread
Buddhism as well. Two 7th-century monks in particular, Zhi Yu and
Zhi You, visited the court of
Emperor Tenji (r. 661–672), whereupon
they presented a gift of a south-pointing chariot that they had
crafted. This 3rd century mechanically driven directional-compass
vehicle (employing a differential gear ) was again reproduced in
several models for Tenji in 666, as recorded in the
Nihon Shoki of
720. Japanese monks also visited China; such was the case with Ennin
(794–864), who wrote of his travel experiences including travels
along China\'s Grand Canal . The Japanese monk
stayed in China from 839 to 847 and again from 853 to 858, landing
Fujian and setting sail for
Japan from Taizhou, Zhejiang
during his second trip to China.
A Tang period gilt -silver jar, shaped in the style of northern
nomad 's leather bag decorated with a horse dancing with a cup of
wine in its mouth, as the horses of Emperor Xuanzong were trained to
Through use of the land trade along the
Silk Road and maritime trade
by sail at sea, the Tang were able to gain many new technologies,
cultural practices, rare luxury, and contemporary items. From the
Middle East, India, Persia, and Central Asia the Tang were able to
acquire new ideas in fashion, new types of ceramics, and improved
silver-smithing. 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. Songs, dances, and
musical instruments from foreign regions became popular in China
during the Tang dynasty. These musical instruments included oboes ,
flutes , and small lacquered drums from
Kucha in the
Tarim Basin , and
percussion instruments from
India such as cymbals . At the court
there were nine musical ensembles (expanded from seven in the Sui
dynasty) representing music from throughout Asia.
There was great contact and interest in
India as a hub for Buddhist
knowledge, with famous travelers such as
Xuanzang (d. 664) visiting
the South Asian subcontinent. After a 17-year-long trip, Xuanzang
managed to bring back valuable
Sanskrit texts to be translated into
Chinese. There was also a Turkic –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 Grand Canal and the Tang government's
rationalization of the greater canal system that reduced costs of
transporting grain and other commodities. The state also managed
roughly 32,100 km (19,900 mi) of postal service routes by horse or
Silk Road from China to the West was initially
formulated during the reign of Emperor Wu (141–87 BC) during the Han
, it was reopened by the Tang in 639 when
Hou Junji (d. 643) 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
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. A Tang dynasty
tri-color glazed figurine of a horse
The Tang captured the vital route through the
Gilgit Valley from
Tibet in 722, lost it to the Tibetans in 737, and regained it under
the command of the Goguryeo-Korean General Gao Xianzhi. When the An
Lushan Rebellion ended in 763, the Tang
Empire had once again lost
control over its western lands, as the
Tibetan Empire largely cut off
China's direct access to the Silk Road. An internal rebellion in 848
ousted the Tibetan rulers, and Tang China regained its northwestern
Tibet in 851. These lands contained crucial grazing
areas and pastures for raising horses that the Tang dynasty
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. As the monk
Xuanzang and many
other monk travelers attested to, there were many Chinese government
checkpoints along the
Silk Road that examined travel permits into the
Tang Empire. Furthermore, banditry was a problem along the
checkpoints and oasis towns, as
Xuanzang also recorded that his group
of travelers were assaulted by bandits on multiple occasions.
Silk Road also affected
Tang dynasty art. Horses became a
significant symbol of prosperity and power as well as an instrument of
military and diplomatic policy. Horses were also revered as a relative
of the dragon.
SEAPORTS AND MARITIME TRADE
Chinese envoys had been sailing through the Indian Ocean to India
since perhaps the 2nd century BC, yet it was during the Tang dynasty
that a strong Chinese maritime presence could be found in the Persian
Red Sea , into
Mesopotamia (sailing up the Euphrates
River in modern-day
Arabia , Egypt,
Ethiopia ), and
Somalia in the
Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa . Tomb Figure of a Sogdian
merchant, 7th-century A gilt Buddhist reliquary with
decorations of armored guards, from Silla, 7th-century
During the Tang dynasty, thousands of foreign expatriate merchants
came and lived in numerous Chinese cities to do business with China,
including Persians ,
Hindu Indians, Malays , Bengalis ,
Sinhalese , Khmers , Chams , Jews and Nestorian Christians of the Near
East , among many others. In 748, the
Buddhist monk Jian Zhen
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 (Lost Records of the State of Yue). During
An Lushan Rebellion
An Lushan Rebellion Arab and Persian pirates burned and looted
Guangzhou in 758, and foreigners were massacred at
Yangzhou in 760.
The Tang government reacted by shutting the port of Canton down for
roughly five decades, and foreign vessels docked at
However, when the port reopened it continued to thrive. In 851 the
Sulaiman al-Tajir observed the manufacturing of Chinese
Guangzhou and admired its transparent quality. He also
provided a description of Guangzhou's mosque, its granaries, its local
government administration, some of its written records, the treatment
of travelers, along with the use of ceramics , rice-wine, and tea.
However, in another bloody episode at
Guangzhou in 879 , the Chinese
Huang Chao sacked the city, and purportedly slaughtered
thousands of native Chinese, along with foreign Jews, Christians,
Zoroastrians, and Muslims in the process. Huang's rebellion was
eventually suppressed in 884.
Vessels from Silla,
Hizen Province of
Japan were all
involved in the
Yellow Sea trade, which Silla dominated. After Silla
Japan reopened renewed hostilities in the late 7th century, most
Japanese maritime merchants chose to set sail from Nagasaki towards
the mouth of the
Huai River , the Yangzi River, and even as far south
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 of
The Chinese engaged in large-scale production for overseas export by
at least the time of the Tang. This was proven by the discovery of the
Belitung shipwreck , a silt-preserved shipwrecked Arabian dhow in the
Gaspar Strait near
Belitung , which had 63,000 pieces of Tang
ceramics, silver, and gold (including a
Changsha bowl inscribed with a
date: "16th day of the seventh month of the second year of the Baoli
reign", or 826, roughly confirmed by radiocarbon dating of star anise
at the wreck). Beginning in 785, the Chinese began to call regularly
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
(730–805) wrote of two common sea trade routes in his day: one from
the coast of the
Bohai Sea towards
Korea and another from Guangzhou
Malacca towards the
Nicobar Islands , Sri Lanka and India, the
eastern and northern shores of the Arabian Sea to the
In 863 the Chinese author
Duan Chengshi (d. 863) provided a detailed
description of the slave trade , ivory trade , and ambergris trade in
a country called
Bobali , which historians suggest was
Cairo ), Egypt, the fame of Chinese ceramics
there led to an enormous demand for Chinese goods; hence Chinese often
traveled there (this continued into later periods such as Fatimid
Egypt). From this time period, the Arab merchant Shulama once wrote
of his admiration for Chinese seafaring junks , but noted that their
draft was too deep for them to enter the
Euphrates River, which forced
them to ferry passengers and cargo in small boats. Shulama also noted
that Chinese ships were often very large, with capacities up to
CULTURE AND SOCIETY
Tang dynasty art A Tang sancai -glazed lobed dish
with incised decorations, 8th century
Tang dynasty Kai Yuan
Tong Bao (開元通寳) coin , first minted in 621 in Chang\'an , a
model for the Japanese 8th-century
Both the Sui and Tang Dynasties had turned away from the more feudal
culture of the preceding Northern Dynasties, in favor of staunch civil
Confucianism . The governmental system was supported by a large class
of Confucian intellectuals selected through either civil service
examinations or recommendations. In the Tang period,
Buddhism reigned as core ideologies as well, and played a large role
in people's daily lives. The Tang Chinese enjoyed feasting, drinking,
holidays, sports, and all sorts of entertainment, while Chinese
literature blossomed and was more widely accessible with new printing
Much more than earlier periods, the Tang era was renowned for the
time reserved for leisure activity, especially for those in the upper
classes. 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 1,000 mi (1,600 km) away, or 15 days off if the parents lived
more than 167 mi (269 km) away (travel time not included). Officials
were granted nine days of vacation time for weddings of a son or
daughter, and either five, three, or one days/day off for the nuptials
of close relatives (travel time not included). Officials also
received a total of three days off for their son's capping initiation
rite into manhood, and one day off for the ceremony of initiation rite
of a close relative's son.
Traditional Chinese holidays such as
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year , Lantern
Cold Food Festival , and others were universal holidays. In
the capital city of Chang\'an there was always lively celebration,
especially for the
Lantern Festival since the city's nighttime curfew
was lifted by the government for three days straight. 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 such as important military victories, abundant
harvests after a long drought or famine , the granting of amnesties ,
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
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. Drinking wine and alcoholic beverages was
heavily ingrained into Chinese culture, as people drank for nearly
every social event. 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 bowl from which
his friends could drink.
CHANG\'AN, THE TANG CAPITAL
Main article: Chang\'an A mural depicting a corner tower , most
likely one of Chang\'an , from the tomb of Prince Yide (d. 701) at the
Qianling Mausoleum , dated 706 Map of
Chang'an in Tang Dynasty
Chang'an was 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 (10 km) of outer walls running
east to west, and more than five miles (8 km) of outer walls running
north to south. The royal palace, the Taiji Palace, stood north of
the city's central axis. From the large Mingde Gates located
mid-center of the main southern wall, a wide city avenue stretched
from there all the way north to the central administrative city,
behind which was the Chentian Gate of the royal palace, or Imperial
City. Intersecting this were fourteen main streets running east to
west, while eleven main streets ran north to south. These main
intersecting roads formed 108 rectangular wards with walls and four
gates each, and each ward filled with multiple city blocks . The city
was made famous for this checkerboard pattern of main roads with
walled and gated districts, its layout even mentioned in one of Du
Fu's poems. During the
Heian period , the city of Heian kyō
Kyoto ) 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. Of these
108 wards in Chang'an, two of them (each the size of two regular city
wards) were designated as government-supervised markets, and other
space reserved for temples, gardens, ponds, etc. Throughout the
entire city, there were 111 Buddhist monasteries, 41 Daoist abbeys, 38
family shrines, 2 official temples, 7 churches of foreign religions,
10 city wards with provincial transmission offices, 12 major inns, and
6 graveyards. Some city wards were literally filled with open public
playing fields or the backyards of lavish mansions for playing horse
polo and cuju football. In 662, Emperor Gaozong moved the imperial
court to the
Daming Palace , which became the political center of the
empire and served as the royal residence of the Tang emperors for more
than 220 years. The bronze Jingyun Bell cast 711, height 247 cm
high, weight 6,500 kg, now in the
Xi'an Bell Tower
The Tang capital was the largest city in the world at its time, the
population of the city wards and its suburban countryside reaching 2
million inhabitants. The Tang capital was very cosmopolitan, with
Persia , Central Asia, Japan, Korea,
Vietnam , Tibet,
India, and many other places living within. Naturally, with this
plethora of different ethnicities living in Chang'an, there were also
many different practiced religions, such as
Buddhism , Nestorian
Zoroastrianism , Judaism, and Islam being
practiced within. With widely open access to China that the Silk Road
to the west facilitated, many foreign settlers were able to move east
to China, while the city of
Chang'an itself had about 25,000
foreigners living within. Exotic green-eyed, blonde-haired Tocharian
ladies 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. Several laws enforcing segregation of foreigners from Chinese
were passed during the Tang dynasty. In 779 the
Tang dynasty issued an
edict which forced Uighurs in the capital, Chang'an, to wear their
ethnic dress, stopped them from marrying Chinese females, and banned
them from passing off as Chinese.
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
Yangzhou along the Grand Canal and close to the Yangtze River
was the greatest economic center during the Tang era. Spring
Outing of the Tang Court, by
Zhang Xuan (713–755)
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. Much like the seaport
Guangzhou in the south,
Yangzhou boasted thousands of foreign
traders from all across Asia.
There was also the secondary capital city of
Luoyang , which was the
favored capital of the two by Empress Wu . In the year 691 she had
more than 100,000 families (more than 500,000 people) from around the
Chang'an move to populate
Luoyang instead. With a
population of about a million,
Luoyang became the second largest city
in the empire, and with its close proximity to the Luo River it
benefited from southern agricultural fertility and trade traffic of
the Grand Canal. However, the Tang court eventually demoted its
capital status and did not visit
Luoyang after the year 743, when
Chang'an's problem of acquiring adequate supplies and stores for the
year was solved. As early as 736, granaries were built at critical
points along the route from
Yangzhou to Chang'an, which eliminated
shipment delays, spoilage, and pilfering. 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
Chinese literature and
Tang poetry Calligraphy
of Emperor Taizong on a Tang stele
The Tang period was a golden age of
Chinese literature and art .
There are over 48,900 poems penned by some 2,200 Tang authors that
have survived until modern times. Skill 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 guests at banquets and courtiers were common. Poetry
styles that were popular in the Tang included gushi and jintishi ,
with the renowned poet
Li Bai (701–762) famous for the former style,
and poets like Wang Wei (701–761) and Cui Hao (704–754) famous for
their use of the latter. Jintishi poetry, or regulated verse, is in
the form of eight-line stanzas or seven characters per line with a
fixed pattern of tones that required the second and third couplets to
be antithetical (although the antithesis is often lost in translation
to other languages). Tang poems remained popular and great emulation
of Tang era poetry began in the Song dynasty; in that period, Yan Yu
(嚴羽; active 1194–1245) was the first to confer the poetry of the
High Tang (c. 713–766) era with "canonical status within the
classical poetic tradition." Yan Yu reserved the position of highest
esteem among all Tang poets for
Du Fu (712–770), who was not viewed
as such in his own era, and was branded by his peers as an
Classical Prose Movement was spurred in large part by the
writings of Tang authors
Liu Zongyuan (773–819) and Han Yu
(768–824). This new prose style broke away from the poetry tradition
of the piantiwen (騙體文, "parallel prose") style begun in the 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 (archaic prose) style can be
traced back to Han Yu, and would become largely associated with
Short story fiction and tales were also popular during the Tang, one
of the more famous ones being Yingying's Biography by Yuan Zhen
(779–831), which was widely circulated in his own time and by the
Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) 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 melancholy . Wong states that this scheme
lacks the undying vows and total self-commitment to love found in
Western romances such as
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet , but that underlying
traditional Chinese values of inseparableness of self from one's
environment (including human society) served to create the necessary
fictional device of romantic tension.
Small Wild Goose Pagoda ,
built by 709, was adjacent to the Dajianfu Temple in Chang'an, where
Buddhist monks from
India and elsewhere gathered to translate Sanskrit
texts into Chinese
There were large encyclopedias published in the Tang. The Yiwen Leiju
encyclopedia was compiled in 624 by the chief editor Ouyang Xun
(557–641) as well as
Linghu Defen (582–666) and
Chen Shuda (d.
635). The encyclopedia
Treatise on Astrology of the Kaiyuan Era was
fully compiled in 729 by
Gautama Siddha (fl. 8th century), an ethnic
Indian astronomer, astrologer, and scholar born in the capital
Chinese geographers 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 Iranians (whom he called the people of Luo-He-Yi)
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
Magadha (modern northeastern
India ) during the 7th century.
Afterwards he wrote the book Zhang Tianzhu Guotu (Illustrated Accounts
of Central India), which included a wealth of geographical
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
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 .
Other important literary offerings included
Duan Chengshi 's (d. 863)
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.
RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY
Religion in China
Religion in China and
Chinese philosophy See also:
Islam during the Tang dynasty and
Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution
Tang dynasty sculpture of a
Since ancient times, the Chinese believed in a folk religion and
Taoism that incorporated many deities. The Chinese believed
the afterlife was a reality parallel to the living world, complete
with its own bureaucracy and afterlife currency needed by dead
ancestors. Funerary practices included providing the deceased with
everything they might need in the afterlife, including animals,
servants, entertainers, hunters, homes, and officials. This ideal is
Tang dynasty art . This is also 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.
Taoism was the official religion of the Tang.
Buddhism , originating
India around the time of
Confucius , continued its influence during
the Tang period and was accepted by some members of imperial family,
becoming thoroughly sinicized and a permanent part of Chinese
traditional culture. In an age before Neo-
Confucianism and figures
Zhu Xi (1130–1200),
Buddhism had begun to flourish in China
Northern and Southern dynasties , and became the dominant
ideology during the prosperous Tang. Buddhist monasteries played an
integral role in Chinese society, offering lodging for travelers in
remote areas, schools for children throughout the country, and a place
for urban literati to stage social events and gatherings such as
going-away parties. 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
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 temples 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 secular 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
Arthur F. Wright stated was a "brilliant polemicist
and ardent xenophobe "—was one of the first men of the Tang to
denounce Buddhism. Although his contemporaries found him crude and
obnoxious, he would foreshadow the later persecution of
the Tang, as well as the revival of Confucian theory with the rise of
Confucianism of the Song dynasty. Nonetheless, Chán Buddhism
gained popularity amongst the educated elite. There were also many
famous Chan monks from the Tang era, such as
Mazu Daoyi ,
Huangbo Xiyun . The sect of Pure Land
Buddhism initiated by the
Chinese monk Huiyuan (334–416) was also just as popular as Chan
Buddhism during the Tang. A timber hall built in 857, located
at the Buddhist
Foguang Temple of
Mount Wutai ,
Daoism , a native Chinese philosophical and
religious belief system that found its roots in the book of the
Daodejing (attributed to a 6th-century BC figure named
Laozi ) and the
Zhuangzi . The ruling Li family of the
Tang dynasty actually claimed
descent from the ancient Laozi. On numerous occasions where Tang
princes would become crown prince or Tang princesses taking vows as
Daoist priestesses, their lavish former mansions would be converted
into Daoist abbeys and places of worship. Many Daoists were
associated with alchemy in their pursuits to find an elixir of
immortality and a means to create gold from concocted mixtures of many
other elements. 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 historian Joseph
Needham labeled the work of the Daoist alchemists as "proto-science
rather than pseudo-science." However, the close connection between
Daoism and alchemy, which some sinologists have asserted, is refuted
Nathan Sivin , who states that alchemy was just as prominent (if
not more so) in the secular sphere and practiced more often by laymen.
Tang dynasty also officially recognized various foreign
Assyrian Church of the East
Assyrian Church of the East , otherwise known as the
Nestorian Christian Church , 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
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.
Although the Sogdians had been responsible for transmitting Buddhism
to China from
India during the 2nd to 4th centuries, soon afterwards
they largely converted to
Zoroastrianism due to their links to
Sassanid Persia. Sogdian merchants and their families living in
cities such as Chang'an, Luoyang, and Xiangyang usually built a
Zoroastrian temple once their local communities grew larger than 100
households. Sogdians were also responsible for spreading Manichaeism
in Tang China and the
Uyghur Khaganate . The Uyghurs built the first
Manichaean monastery in China in 768, yet in 843 the Tang government
ordered that the property of all Manichaean monasteries be confiscated
in response to the outbreak of war with the Uyghurs. With the blanket
ban on foreign religions two years later,
Manichaeism was driven
underground and never flourished in China again.
POSITION OF WOMEN
Main article: Women in ancient and imperial China §
Beauties Wearing Flowers, by Zhou Fang , 8th-century
Concepts of women's social rights and social status during the Tang
era were notably liberal-minded for the period. However, this was
largely reserved for urban 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. There were many women in the Tang era who
gained access to religious authority by taking vows as Daoist
priestesses. The head mistresses of the bordellos in the North Hamlet
of the capital
Chang'an acquired large amounts of wealth and power.
Their high-class courtesans , who likely influenced the Japanese
geishas , were well respected. These courtesans were known as great
singers and poets, supervised banquets and feasts, knew the rules to
all the drinking games , and were trained to have the utmost
respectable table manners . Woman playing polo, 8th-century
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 (on one occasion a courtesan even beat up a drunken man who
had insulted her). When singing to entertain guests, courtesans not
only composed the lyrics to their own songs, but they popularized a
new form of lyrical verse by singing lines written by various renowned
and famous men in Chinese history.
It was fashionable for women to be full-figured (or plump). Men
enjoyed the presence of assertive, active women. The foreign
horse-riding sport of polo from
Persia became a wildly popular trend
amongst the Chinese elite, and women often played the sport (as glazed
earthenware figurines from the time period portray). The preferred
hairstyle for women was to bunch their hair up like "an elaborate
edifice above the forehead", while affluent ladies wore extravagant
head ornaments, combs, pearl necklaces, face powders, and perfumes. 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 ,
Yang Guifei (719–756), who had Emperor Xuanzong appoint many
of her relatives and cronies to important ministerial and martial
A terracotta sculpture of a woman, 7th- to 8th-century; during
the Tang era, female hosts prepared feasts, tea parties, and played
drinking games with their guests.
During the earlier
Northern and Southern dynasties (420–589), and
perhaps even earlier, the drinking of tea (
Camellia sinensis ) became
popular in southern China. Tea was viewed then as a beverage of
tasteful pleasure and with pharmacological purpose as well. During
the Tang dynasty, tea became synonymous with everything sophisticated
in society. The poet
Lu Tong (790–835) devoted most of his poetry to
his love of tea. The 8th-century author
Lu Yu (known as the Sage of
Tea) even wrote a treatise on the art of drinking tea, called The
Classic of Tea . Although wrapping paper had been used in China since
the 2nd century BC, 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. Indeed, paper found many other uses besides
writing and wrapping during the Tang era.
Earlier, the first recorded use of toilet paper was made in 589 by
Yan Zhitui (531–591), and in 851 an Arab
Muslim traveler commented on how he believed the Tang era Chinese were
not careful about cleanliness because they did not wash with water (as
was his people's habit) when going to the bathroom; instead, he said,
the Chinese simply used paper to wipe themselves.
In ancient times, the Chinese had outlined the five most basic
foodstuffs known as the five grains: sesamum , legumes , wheat,
panicled millet , and glutinous millet. The Ming dynasty
Song Yingxing (1587–1666) noted that rice was not
counted amongst the five grains from the time of the legendary and
deified Chinese sage
Shennong (the existence of whom Yingxing wrote
was "an uncertain matter") 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. A page of Lu
The Classic of Tea
During the Tang, the many common foodstuffs and cooking ingredients
in addition to those already listed were barley, garlic, salt,
turnips, soybeans, pears, apricots, peaches, apples, pomegranates,
jujubes, rhubarb, hazelnuts, pine nuts, chestnuts, walnuts, yams,
taro, etc. The various meats that were consumed included pork,
chicken, lamb (especially preferred in the north), sea otter , bear
(which was hard to catch, but there were recipes for steamed, boiled,
and marinated bear), and even Bactrian camels . In the south along
the coast meat from seafood was by default the most common, as the
Chinese enjoyed eating cooked jellyfish with cinnamon ,
, cardamom , and ginger , as well as oysters with wine, fried squid
with ginger and vinegar, horseshoe crabs and red swimming crabs ,
shrimp and pufferfish , which the Chinese called "river piglet".
Some foods were also off-limits, as the Tang court encouraged people
not to eat beef (since the bull was a valuable working animal ), and
from 831 to 833
Emperor Wenzong of Tang even banned the slaughter of
cattle on the grounds of his religious convictions to
From the trade overseas and over land, the Chinese acquired peaches
Samarkand , date palms, pistachios, and figs from
Greater Iran ,
pine nuts 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 (r. 606–647), Indian envoys to the Tang
brought two makers of sugar who successfully taught the Chinese how to
cultivate sugarcane .
Cotton also came from
India as a finished
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.
Methods of food preservation were important, and practiced throughout
China. The common people used simple methods of preservation, such as
digging deep ditches and trenches, brining , and salting their foods.
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 3 ft (0.91 m) by 3 ft by 3.5 ft (1.1 m). Frozen
delicacies such as chilled melon were enjoyed during the summer.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Science and technology of the Tang dynasty Further
History of science and technology in China , List of
Chinese inventions , and
List of Chinese discoveries
Wooden statues of tomb guardians; mechanical-driven wooden
statues served as cup-bearers, wine-pourers, dancers, and others in
this age. A square bronze mirror with a phoenix motif of gold
and silver inlaid with lacquer , 8th-century
Technology during the Tang period was built also upon the precedents
of the past. Advancements in clockworks and timekeeping included the
mechanical gear systems of
Zhang Heng (78–139) and
Ma Jun (fl. 3rd
century) gave the Tang engineer, astronomer, and monk Yi Xing
(683–727) inspiration when he invented the world's first clockwork
escapement mechanism in 725. This was used alongside a clepsydra
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. Its design was improved c. 610 by the
Sui-dynasty engineers Geng Xun and Yuwen Kai. 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.
There were many other mechanical inventions during the Tang era. This
included a 3 ft (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 dragon
-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. Furthermore, as the historian Charles Benn describes it:
Midway up the southern side of the mountain was a dragon…the beast
opened its mouth and spit brew into a goblet seated on a large lotus
leaf beneath. When the cup was 80% full, the dragon ceased spewing
ale, and a guest immediately seized the goblet. If he was slow in
draining the cup and returning it to the leaf, the door of a pavilion
at the top of the mountain opened and a mechanical wine server,
dressed in a cap and gown, emerged with a wooden bat in his hand. As
soon as the guest returned the goblet, the dragon refilled it, the
wine server withdrew, and the doors of the pavilion closed…A pump
siphoned the ale that flowed into the ale pool through a hidden hole
and returned the brew to the reservoir inside the mountain.
Yet the use of a teasing mechanical puppet in this wine-serving
device wasn't exactly a novel invention of the Tang, since the use of
mechanical puppets in China date back to the
Qin dynasty (221–207
BC). In the 3rd century
Ma Jun had an entire mechanical puppet
theater operated by the rotation of a waterwheel. There was also an
automatic wine-server known in the ancient
Greco-Roman world, a design
of the Greek inventor
Heron of Alexandria that employed an urn with an
inner valve and a lever device similar to the one described above.
There are many stories of automatons used in the Tang, including
general Yang Wulian's wooden statue of a monk who stretched his hands
out to collect contributions; when the amount of coins reached a
certain weight, the mechanical figure moved his arms to deposit them
in a satchel. This weight-and-lever mechanism was exactly like
Heron's penny slot machine . Other devices included one by Wang Ju,
whose "wooden otter" could allegedly catch fish; Needham suspects a
spring trap of some kind was employed here.
In the realm of structural engineering and technical Chinese
architecture , there were also government standard building codes,
outlined in the early Tang book of the Yingshan Ling (National
Building Law). Fragments of this book have survived in the Tang Lü
(The Tang Code), while the
Song dynasty architectural manual of the
Yingzao Fashi (State Building Standards) by Li Jie (1065–1101) in
1103 is the oldest existing technical treatise on Chinese architecture
that has survived in full. During the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of
Tang (712–756) there were 34,850 registered craftsmen serving the
state, managed by the Agency of Palace Buildings (Jingzuo Jian).
Woodblock printing ,
Playing cards , and Chinese
playing cards The
Diamond Sutra , printed in 868, is the world's
first widely printed book to include a specific date of printing.
Woodblock printing made the written word available to vastly greater
audiences. One of the world's oldest surviving printed documents is a
miniature Buddhist dharani sutra unearthed at
Xi'an in 1974 and dated
roughly from 650 to 670. The
Diamond Sutra is the first full-length
book printed at regular size, complete with illustrations embedded
with the text and dated precisely to 868. Among the earliest
documents to be printed were Buddhist texts as well as calendars, the
latter essential for calculating and marking which days were
auspicious and which days were not. 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 were 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 printing type in
China until the more advanced printing press from Europe became widely
accepted and used in East Asia. The first use of the playing card
Tang dynasty was an auxiliary invention of the new age of
The Chinese of the Tang era were also very interested in the benefits
of officially classifying all of the medicines used in pharmacology .
Emperor Gaozong of Tang (r. 649–683) commissioned the
literary project of publishing an official materia medica , complete
with text and illustrated drawings for 833 different medicinal
substances taken from different stones, minerals, metals, plants,
herbs, animals, vegetables, fruits, and cereal crops. 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 Chuan (d. 643) and
Sun Simiao (581–682),
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 Chuan 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. The use of the dental amalgam ,
manufactured from tin and silver, was first introduced in the medical
text Xinxiu Bencao written by Su Gong in 659.
Dunhuang map , a star map showing the North Polar region.
circa 700. The whole set of star maps contains over 1,300 stars.
In the realm of cartography , there were further advances beyond the
map-makers of the Han dynasty. When the Tang chancellor Pei Ju
(547–627) was working for the
Sui dynasty as a Commercial
Commissioner in 605, he created a well-known gridded map with a
graduated scale in the tradition of
Pei Xiu (224–271). The Tang
Xu Jingzong (592–672) was also known for his map of China
drawn in the year 658. In the year 785 the Emperor Dezong had the
geographer and cartographer
Jia Dan (730–805) complete a map of
China and her former colonies in Central Asia. Upon its completion in
801, the map was 9.1 m (30 ft) in length and 10 m (33 ft) in height,
mapped out on a grid scale of one inch equaling one hundred li
(Chinese unit of measuring distance). A Chinese map of 1137 is
similar in complexity to the one made by Jia Dan, carved on a stone
stele with a grid scale of 100 li. However, the only type of map that
has survived from the Tang period are star charts . Despite this, the
earliest extant terrain maps of China come from the ancient State of
Qin ; maps from the 4th century BC that were excavated in 1986.
ALCHEMY, GAS CYLINDERS, AND AIR CONDITIONING
A rounded ceramic plate with "three colors" (sancai ) glaze
Chinese scientists 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 (202 BC – 220 AD), the Chinese had
drilled deep boreholes to transport natural gas from bamboo pipelines
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 m (600 ft) 'fire wells', men collected
natural gas into portable bamboo tubes which could be carried around
for dozens of km (mi) and still produce a flame. These were
essentially the first gas cylinders ; Robert Temple assumes some sort
of tap was used for this device. This Tang yellow-glazed pottery
horse includes a carefully sculpted saddle, which is decorated with
leather straps and ornamental fastenings featuring eight-petalled
flowers and apricot leaves.
Ding Huan (fl. 180 AD) of the
Han dynasty invented a
rotary fan for air conditioning , with seven wheels 3 m (10 ft) in
diameter and manually powered. In 747, Emperor Xuanzong had a "Cool
Hall" built in the imperial palace, which the
Tang Yulin (唐語林)
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
Old Book of Tang
Old Book of Tang by Liu
Xu (887–946) et al. of the Later Jin , who redacted it during the
last years of his life. This was edited into another history (labelled
New Book of Tang ) in order to distinguish it, which was a work by
the Song historians
Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072), Song Qi (998–1061), et
al. of the
Song dynasty (between the years 1044 and 1060). 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 Old 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
(1019–1086). This historical text, written with 3 million Chinese
characters in 294 volumes, covered the history of China from the
beginning of the
Warring States (403 BC) until the beginning of the
Song dynasty (960).
Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup
Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup
Kaiyuan Za Bao (government newspaper for officials)
List of emperors of the Tang dynasty
* The family tree of the
Tang dynasty emperors
List of tributaries of Imperial China
Nine Pinnacle Pagoda
Tang dynasty in
Taxation in premodern China
* ^ The polite form Dà Táng (大唐 "Great Tang") was often used,
e.g. in the names of books of the period.
* ^ During the reign of the Tang the world population grew from
about 190 million to approximately 240 million, a difference of 50
million. See also medieval demography .
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to TANG DYNASTY .
Wikimedia Commons has media related to ART OF THE TANG DYNASTY .
Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia
article T’ANG .
* The Tang Dynasty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
* Home of 300 Tang Poems, University of Virginia
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