Tang dynasty or the Tang
Empire (/tɑːŋ/; Chinese: 唐朝[a])
was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the
Sui dynasty and
followed by the 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)
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.[b] 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 along the 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 Vietnam.
Tang dynasty was largely a period of progress and stability in the
first half of the dynasty's rule, until the
An Lushan Rebellion
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
for 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
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
4.1 Silk Road
4.2 Seaports and maritime trade
5 Culture and society
5.2 Chang'an, the Tang capital
5.4 Religion and philosophy
5.5 Position of women
6 Science and technology
6.2 Woodblock printing
6.5 Alchemy, gas cylinders, and air conditioning
8 See also
10.2 Works cited
11 Further reading
12 External links
Further information: Timeline of the Tang dynasty
Main article: Transition from Sui to Tang
Portrait painting of Emperor Yang of Sui, commissioned in 643 by
Taizong, painted by
Yan Liben (600–673)
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
Han dynasty General Li Guang, and Western Liang
ruler 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
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
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, Yang
You. 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
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) and
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
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
Wu Zetian's usurpation
Palace ladies in a garden from a mural of Prince Li Xian's tomb in the
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
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
The 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,
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 by 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
An Lushan Rebellion and catastrophe
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
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
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 after the
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
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, which drowned tens of thousands of people in the
process. The Chinese belief in the
Mandate of Heaven
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.
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
Jiangnan region to the south, such as Yangzhou, 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) 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
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' command.
However, the Tang did manage to restore at least indirect control over
former Tang territories as far west as the
Hexi Corridor and Dunhuang
in 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
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
See also: Administrative divisions of the Tang dynasty
A Tang sancai-glazed carved relief showing horseback riders playing
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 Vietnam,
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 the
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.
Main article: Imperial examination
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 (明經;
"illuminating the classics") and jinshi (進士; "presented
scholar"). 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
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 period scholar-officials:
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
Emperor Xuanzong of Tang wearing the robes and the hat of a scholar
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,
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
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
Amoghavajra (705–74, patriarch of the Shingon school)
reciting "mystical incantations to secure the victory of Tang
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 under
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
Main articles: 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
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, Khotan, Kucha, Kashgar, Korea, Champa, and kingdoms
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 special exhibit
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
Main articles: Protectorate General to Pacify the West, Protectorate
General to Pacify the North,
Inner Asia during the Tang dynasty, and
Tibet and the Tang and Song dynasties
Further information: Shule Kingdom, Kingdom of Khotan, Kingdom of
Qocho, Shanshan, and Turks in the Tang military
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. When the
Khitans began raiding northeast
China in 605, a Chinese general led 20,000 Turks against them,
distributing Khitan livestock and women to the Turks as a reward.
On two occasions between 635 and 636, Tang royal princesses were
married to Turk mercenaries or generals in Chinese service.
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
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
the 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 the Xueyantuo. Under Emperor Gaozong, a campaign led by the
Su Dingfang was launched against the Western Turks ruled by
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
manuscripts of Dunhuang.
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 Gansu
and Qinghai, which the Tibetans then occupied along with the territory
of what is now Xinjiang. Hostilities between the Tang and Tibet
continued until they signed a formal peace treaty in 821. The
terms of this treaty, including the fixed borders between the two
countries, are recorded in a bilingual inscription on a stone pillar
Jokhang temple in Lhasa.
A bas-relief of a soldier and the emperor's horse, Autumn Dew, with
elaborate saddle and stirrups, designed by Yan Liben, from the tomb of
Emperor Taizong c. 650
Islamic conquest of Persia
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, Pirooz was made
the head of a Governorate of
Persia in what is now Zaranj,
Afghanistan. During this conquest of Persia, the
Uthman Ibn Affan
Uthman Ibn Affan (r. 644–656) sent an embassy to the Tang
court at Chang'an. By the 740s, 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 Islamic
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
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
Gaochang in Dzungaria, and in 791 near
Ningxia on the
Illustration of the Byzantine embassy to
Tang Taizong in 643 CE
Henry Yule and other early 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).
Friedrich Hirth instead asserted that Boduoli (波多力), the "king
of Fu-lin" who sent a tributary embassy to the court of Emperor
Taizong in 643, was not a Byzantine Emperor. Joseph Needham
agrees with Hirth that the embassy was likely sent by the Patriarch of
Antioch or the nominally subordinate Patriarch of the Church of the
East,[verification needed] and further embassies were
recorded as being sent into the 8th century. Furthermore,
the Old and
New Book of Tang also provide a description of the
Constantinople and how it was besieged by the Da shi
(大食, i.e. Umayyad Caliphate) forces of Muawiyah I, who forced them
to pay tribute to the Arabs.[obsolete source] 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
See also: 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
General 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
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
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 Kingdom of
Goguryeo was destroyed by 668.
A 10th-century mural painting in the
Mogao Caves at
monastic architecture from Mount Wutai, Tang dynasty; Japanese
architecture of this period was influenced by Tang Chinese
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 Korean campaigns.
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 Enchin
(814–891) stayed in China from 839 to 847 and again from 853 to 858,
landing near Fuzhou,
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 do.
Through use of the land trade along the
Silk Road and maritime trade
by sail at sea, the Tang were able to acquire and gain many new
technologies, cultural practices, rare luxury, and contemporary items.
From Europe, the Middle East, Central and South Asia, the Tang dynasty
were able to acquire new ideas in fashion, new types of ceramics, and
improved silver-smithing techniques. The Tang 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. In 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 state. 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 boat.
Silk Road from China to Europe and the Western World 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 period, the
Silk Road reopened when the Tang
Four Garrisons of Anxi
Four Garrisons of Anxi originally installed in
640, once again connecting China directly to the West for
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 prefectures from
Tibet in 851. These lands contained
crucial grazing areas and pastures for raising horses that the Tang
dynasty desperately needed.
Despite the many expatriate European travelers coming into China to
live and trade, many travelers, mainly religious monks and
missionaries, 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
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 have 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 Gulf and Red Sea, into Persia,
Mesopotamia (sailing up the
Euphrates River in modern-day Iraq), Arabia, Egypt in the Middle East
Aksum (Ethiopia), and
Somalia in the Horn of Africa.
Tomb Figure of a Sogdian merchant, 7th-century
A gilt Buddhist reliquary with decorations of armored guards, from
During the Tang dynasty, thousands of foreign expatriate merchants
came and lived in numerous Chinese cities to do business with China,
including Persians, Arabs,
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 described
Guangzhou as a bustling mercantile business center where many large
and impressive foreign ships came to dock. He wrote that "many big
ships came from Borneo, Persia, Qunglun
(Indonesia/Java)...with...spices, pearls, and jade piled up mountain
high", as written in the Yue Jue Shu (Lost Records of the
State of Yue). During the
An Lushan Rebellion
An Lushan Rebellion Arab and Persian pirates
burned and looted
Guangzhou in 758, and foreigners were massacred
Yangzhou in 760. The Tang government reacted by shutting the port
of Canton down for roughly five decades, and foreign vessels docked at
Hanoi instead. However, when the port reopened it continued to
thrive. In 851 the Arab merchant
Sulaiman al-Tajir observed the
manufacturing of Chinese porcelain in
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 Han Chinese, along with foreign Jews, Christians,
Zoroastrians, and Muslims in the process. Huang's
rebellion was eventually suppressed in 884.
Vessels from neighboring East Asian states such as Silla and
Korea and the
Hizen Province of
Japan were all involved in the Yellow
Sea trade, which Silla dominated. After Silla and
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 as the Hangzhou
Bay in order to avoid Korean ships in the Yellow Sea. In
order to sail back to
Japan in 838, the Japanese embassy to China
procured nine ships and sixty Korean sailors from the Korean wards of
Chuzhou and Lianshui cities along the Huai River. It is also
known that Chinese trade ships traveling to
Japan set sail from the
various ports along the coasts 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 at
Sufala on the East African coast in order to cut out Arab
middlemen, with various contemporary Chinese sources giving
detailed descriptions of trade in Africa. The official and geographer
Jia Dan (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
Malacca towards the Nicobar Islands, Sri Lanka and
India, the eastern and northern shores of the Arabian Sea to the
Euphrates River. 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
Berbera in Somalia. In
Fustat (old 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
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 600–700 passengers.
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 Wadōkaichin
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
Traditional Chinese holidays such as Chinese New Year, Lantern
Festival, 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
Chang'an in 664, a feast for 3,500 officers of the Divine
Strategy Army in 768, and a feast for 1,200 women of the palace and
members of the imperial family in the year 826. 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
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
(present-day 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
ethnicities of 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
Christianity, Manichaeism, 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
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 court.
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 anti-traditional rebel.
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 orthodox
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, 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
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
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
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
Tongdian and Tang
Huiyao were nonetheless valuable written historical works of the Tang
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
Islam during the Tang dynasty
Islam during the Tang dynasty and Great Anti-Buddhist
Tang dynasty sculpture of a Bodhisattva
Since ancient times, the Chinese believed in a folk religion and
Daoism 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
Buddhism, originating in
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-
figures such as
Zhu Xi (1130–1200),
Buddhism had begun to flourish
in China during the 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
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
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
Confucianism and Daoism.
Han Yu (786–824)—who 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
Buddhism in the Tang, as well as the revival of
Confucian theory with the rise of Neo-
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, Baizhang, and 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
A timber hall built in 857, located at the Buddhist Foguang
Temple of Mount Wutai, Shanxi
Buddhism was 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
Joseph Needham labeled the work of the Daoist alchemists as
"proto-science rather than pseudo-science." However, the close
Daoism and alchemy, which some sinologists have
asserted, is refuted by Nathan Sivin, who states that alchemy was just
as prominent (if not more so) in the secular sphere and practiced more
often by laymen.
Details of the rubbing of the Nestorian scriptural pillar.
Tang dynasty also officially recognized various foreign religions.
The Assyrian Church of the East, otherwise known as the Nestorian
Christian Church, was given recognition by the Tang court. In 781, the
Stele was created in order to honor the achievements of
their community in China. A Christian monastery was established in
Shaanxi province where the
Daqin Pagoda still stands, and inside the
pagoda there is Christian-themed artwork. Although the religion
largely died out after the Tang, it was revived in China following the
Mongol invasions of the 13th century.
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 § Tang dynasty
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
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
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 the
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 encyclopedist 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 Yu's 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 Buddhism.
From the trade overseas and over land, the Chinese acquired peaches
from 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 product from Bengal, although it was during the
Tang that the Chinese began to grow and process cotton, and by the
Yuan dynasty it became the prime textile fabric in China.
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
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
Main article: Science and technology of the Tang dynasty
Further information: 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
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
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 [iron]
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 [holding more than 16
quarts/15 liters of wine] 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
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
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
Emperor Xuanzong of Tang
Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (712–756) there were 34,850 registered
craftsmen serving the state, managed by the Agency of Palace Buildings
Main articles: Woodblock printing, Playing cards, and Chinese playing
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 during the
Tang dynasty was an auxiliary
invention of the new age of printing.
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
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 design,
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
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
See also: Chinese historiography
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
the 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
Kaiyuan Za Bao
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 Inner Asia
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
The Tang Dynasty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Home of 300 Tang Poems, University of Virginia
Tang art with video commentary, from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Paintings of Sui and Tang dynasties
Zizhi Tongjian, vols. 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 190,
191, 192, 193, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199.
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