Emperor Xuanzong

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About Emperor Xuanzong

Reign Years:712 – 756 A.D

Given Name: Li Longji

Reign Name:Emperor Xuanzong

Emperor Xuanzong – Tang Dynasty

Xuanzong of Tang, also known as Emperor Ming of Tang, was the 7th emperor of China. He ruled from 713 to 756, which was the longest reign in the Tang Dynasty.

During his rule, he was known to be a diligent and perceptive ruler.

Early Life

Li Longji was born in the Tang Dynasty’s eastern capital of Luoyang. It was during the time of his father’s first reign. However, Emperor Ruizong’s mother was the person who had power and control. With that, she was known as empress dowager and regent of the dynasty.

Li Longji was Emperor Ruizong’s third son with his highly-ranked concubine, Consort Dou. In 687, he was then given the title Prince of Chu.

After taking the position, Empress Wu considered the future Tang Dynasty emperor as a threat to her grasp on power. However, he was fiercely protected by his aunt, Princess Taiping.

Before His Reign

In 705, a palace coup broke out, which had Empress Wu lose her power over the dynasty. And there, Emperor Zhonzong was able to ascend the throne.

The new Tang Dynasty emperor appointed Li Longji as the deputy minister of the military’s supplies. In 708, the emperor made him the Lu Prefecture’s secretary-general, which is equivalent to a governor.

In 710, Emperor Zhongzong suddenly died, and it was believed that his wife, Empress Wei, poisoned him. She tried usurping power and gaining the throne just like what Empress Dowager Wu did.

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The Reign of Emperor Xuanzong

With the events occurring in 710, Li Longji plotted with Princess Taiping to halt Empress Wei’s attempt to usurp power. An ambush was launched against the empress’ forces, killing those who were loyal to her. With that, she fled the palace and was finally caught and beheaded.

Emperor Ruizong ascended the throne once again and appointed Li Longji as chancellor. Eventually, the latter became crown prince.

When Emperor Ruizong retired in 712, Li Longji ascended as Emperor Xuanzong. But the previous emperor still retained the title of the supreme emperor of the Tang Dynasty.

When he became emperor, he made his wife, the Crown Princess Wang, empress. Despite that, Princess Taiping, the daughter of Empress Wu Zetian, remained highly influential at the court.

She continued having power in governmental matters through the retired emperor Ruizong. Plus, most chancellors in the government were her associates.

In 713, Emperor Xuanzong won a short power struggle with Empress Taiping, who eventually committed suicide. Ruizong retired into seclusion, so Xuanzong took full power as the emperor.

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The Golden Age of the Tang Dynasty

The emperor was credited for bringing the Tang Dynasty to its golden age. With the assistance of capable chancellors like Song Jing, Yao Chong, and Zhang Yue, the empire met its pinnacle.

Emperor Xuanzong also abolished the death penalty. He decreed financial reforms, improved the economy by securing the Silk Road, and enhanced the industry. During his rule, temples, roads, and administrative complexes were built.

Most of the significant cultural and scientific achievements in China were made during Xuanzong’s reign. He improved trade and foreign commerce, resulting in the cross-cultural exchange of a lot of innovations.


Buddhism was the primary and most popular religion in China under the earlier rules of Emperor Taizong and Wu Zetian. This changed when Emperor Xuanzong ruled since he saw that Buddhist teachings lacked spirituality. He felt that it focused on the individual at the expense of the community.

Instead, the Tang Dynasty emperor promoted Taoism and declared that each household must have a copy of the Tao teachings. He thought that Taoism was a unifying belief that brought more harmony.

Cultural Advancements

Xuanzong of Tang was a cultured man who encouraged the patronization of the arts. With that, the Tang Dynasty had reached its golden age.

Among the cultural achievements during his rule was the construction of the popular Leshan Giant Buddha. It was a colossal statue of a Maitreya or future Buddha.

The Leshan Giant Buddha construction was a project started by the Buddhist monk Hai Tong in 713. The reason behind this project was to ward off evil spirits from the river at the cliffs’ bottom. The statue of the Maitreya was carved into the cliff, and it measures 233 feet tall.

Although Emperor Xuanzong didn’t support Buddhism, he didn’t prohibit these forms of art from being created. In fact, he encouraged creative expression during his rule.

Over 50,000 poems, short stories, plays, and various literary works were produced during his reign. Also, an encyclopedia was created.

Woodblock printing was also improved during Xuanzong’s rule, promoting literacy and better jobs for the lower classes. Thus, these people became eligible for taking the civil service examinations to qualify for government jobs.

Moreover, public libraries were built to collect all printed books, and calendars were printed for large-scale distribution.

The Decline of Emperor Xuanzong’s Rule

Within 720 and 737, Xuanzong became more withdrawn from the public, and he depended more on consort Wu Huifei. She was an instrument in the rise of the administrator Li Linfu to power.

After Wu Huifei died in 737, Xuanzong began having an affair with Yang Guifei, his son’s wife. As a result, he paid less attention to ruling the empire, which consequently fell to corrupt officials like Li Linfu.

In 760, Xuanzong of Tang was placed on house arrest by his own son. In 762, the Tang Dynasty emperor died before the An Lushan Rebellion was finally ended.

Compared to all the Tang Dynasty rulers, Emperor Xuanzong had the longest reign of the Tang Dynasty. It almost lasted for 44 years.