China Golden Age

The Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty is also known as the greatest imperial dynasty in Chinese history. It was the golden age of transformation and cultural advancement. It also laid the groundwork for policies that are still being observed today.

As the golden age in Chinese history, the Tang marked a period of exceptional political and military dominance. It was well-known and noted for its material affluence, artistic & cultural feat. It also had a level of interest & tolerance on foreign cultures and religions. This made Chang-an, Tang’s capital, the most cultured city in the world.

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Chang’An: The Capital of Tang

Chang’an was the site capital of the earlier Han and Jin, but the Sui made up the Tang period’s capital. The square measurement of the city had 6 miles of outer walls that ran east to west. Over five miles of outer walls ran from north to south.

From the large Mingde Gates, a wide city avenue expanded all the way north. This was up to the central administrative city. There were 14 primary streets that ran east to west. Then 11 main streets went from north to south.

These intersecting roads formed rectangular wards, each with walls and gates. The city was famous for this checkerboard pattern of the main roads. Out of the 108 wards, only two had labels as government-supervised markets.

The Tang’s capital was the biggest city in the world during the time. Its population reached a total of 2 million inhabitants. The capital was very modern. It had ethnicities from Central Asia, Persia, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, India, and more.

Establishment of the Tang Dynasty

The last two kings of the Sui, Wen and Yang, put all their efforts into military expansion. They also focused on creating big monuments honoring their names. Yang inherited a bankrupt government but still pursued his policies. This drove China further into debt.

He was soon assassinated by Yuwen Huaji, his own chancellor. Then a famous general of the army rose in rebellion then took over. Li Yuan marshaled an army and attacked the capital city. He then became Emperor Gaozu who founded the Tang Dynasty.

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Ancient China

Emperor Taizong

In the beginning under Emperor Taizong, the country controlled its nomadic neighbors. The goal was to secure peace and safety on overland trade routes.

The 7th century was a period of social change. An official examination system allowed educated men to function as government officials. This replenished old aristocracy.

Also, recruiting gentlemen from the south contributed to the cultural mix. It is something that already started in the 6th century.

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The Empress

Wu Zetian

Wu Zetian entered Emperor Gaozong’s court as the low consort named Wu Zhao. In time, Wu Zetian rose to the highest seat and was in power during 690. She then established momentary Wu Zhou.

Her rise to power all happened via calculating and cruel tactics. One popular theory states that she killed her own daughter to blame Gaozong’s empress. This was to demote the female.

In 655, Emperor Gaozong suffered a stroke. This was when Wu started making court decisions in his stead. Wu discussed state affairs with Gaozong’s councilors. They took orders from her while sitting hidden behind a screen.

The crowned prince of that time was Empress Wu’s eldest son. Soon, he began using his authority to advocate policies that opposed his mother. In 675, the prince suddenly died, and many suspect that she poisoned him for opposing her.

The next heir kept a lower profile. Yet in 680, Wu accused him of plotting a rebellion, so Wu banished him from the court. The heir was later forced to commit suicide.

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Females of the Court

There were prominent women at court during and after Empress Wu’s reign. This included Shangguan Wan’er – a writer, poet, and trusted official. She was in charge of Wu’s private office.

Empress Wei, the wife of the Tang Emperor, urged her husband to staff the government offices with females. She wanted his sister and her daughters there.

In 709, she requested that he grant women the right to entrust hereditary rights to their sons. Later, she poisoned her husband Zhongzong then placed his son on the throne.

After two weeks, Li Longji – the later Emperor Xuan Xong – slew Empress Wei and her party. Later on, he established his father Emperor Ruizong to the throne. Like Zhongzong, Ruizong was soon dominated by Princess Taiping.

It ended when Taiping’s coup failed. She hung herself in 713 then Ruizong gave up his position to Emperor Xuanzong.

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Culture and Society

Both the Sui and Tang turned away from the militant culture. They were more in favor of the secure civil Confucianism. With that, a special government system was being perfected under the Tang.

A class of Confucian literati supported this. They were thoroughly chosen via civil service examinations.

This competitive process emerged to interest the best talents into the government. A bigger consideration for the leaders was to establish a unit of officials. They had to be without territorial power base or autonomous function. Generally, these official get their status from varying situations.

The situations include local communities and family ties. Also, there were shared values linking them to the imperial court. During the Tang and end of the Qin, scholar officials also worked as intermediaries.  This was usually between grass-root and government levels.

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“The swing of a sword cannot cut the mist from the sky.”

~ Li He, Tang Dynasty

Welcoming of Foreign Influence

Tang aristocratic society was very much influenced by foreign arts and music. Musicians and dancers from Central Asia was a thing in the Tang court and on a popular level. Fine dishes made from expensive ingredients prepared  for the rich was common as well. These were often accompanied by grapes and wine

Female Chinese would set their hair with the Uighur style. Fashionable males would adopt the Turkic leggings, headgear, and tight-fitting bodices.

The profitable and peaceful relationship among the Chinese and its foreign residents continued. This was until conflict appeared between Chinese merchants and foreign traders. This was in the late 8th century.

This conflict escalated the form of growing suspicion and resentment. This was of the expatriate tradesmen who lived in Chang’an. It wasn’t until laws appeared in the year 836. They forbade unnecessary social contact between foreigners and Chinese.

In 845, liberal policies of the court towards religion changed. Banning all foreign religions that were current during the time.


Literature of the Tang Dynasty

The arts flourished during this Dynasty. It was also then that poetry became an vital part of the culture. People studied poetry to pass the civil service exams. Talented poets were also respected and usually recited their poems at parties.

There were great poets during this stage in Chinese history. These poets included Li Po, Li Bai, Du Fu, ang Wang Wei.

While the Tang was famous for poetry, other arts were also popular during this period. Many forms of literature were present. These include histories, short stories, and encyclopedias. Painting was also popular. The dynasty also had great painters like Zhou Fang, Wu Daozi, and  Wang Wei.

Painting in the Tang Dynastyy


Painting had a major role in this era’s culture, so painters were vital court figures. A Tang minister of state, Yan Liben, was better known as a painter. Wu Daozi, the master of figure painting, did 300 wall paintings. These were for temples at Chang’an and Luoyang.

Horse paintings were a favourite theme during the Tang. This was because military steeds was a matter of life and death to the warrior. It was also due to the hobby of court ladies who played a type of polo.

Landscape painting was also a favorite and was dominated by Wang Wei. He was also a court official but better known as an artist. Freedom of brushwork became popular. It provided a wide range of effects on tone and texture. Chan or Zen Buddhist artists brought more freedom with the brush to religious art.

Religion during the Tang

At the start of the Tang, the emperors tolerated a lot of religions. Buddhism became very popular throughout the country. Yet by the end of the dynasty, rulers chose Confucianism as the national religion. They later banned all other religions including Buddhism.

Lots of Buddhist temples and monasteries shut down.  With various ethnicities in Chang’an, different religions were available. Such included Buddhism, Manichaeism, Nestorian Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism.


The Tang Dynasty was known for the time that people allotted for leisure activity. This was common among upperclassmen. They enjoyed outdoor sports and activities including archery, cuju football, hunting, cockfighting, horse polo, and tug of war.

For government officials, they were given 15 or 30 days off per three years to visit their parents. The number of days off depended on how far their parents lived. There were also vacation periods to attend weddings of their children and for the nuptials of close family members.

The Chinese also enjoyed traditional Chinese holidays. These include the Lantern Festival, Chinese New Year, Cold Food Festival, and various universal holidays.

Woodblock Printing

Block printing made written words available to more audiences. The text of the Diamond Sutra is one of the earliest samples of Chinese woodblock printing.  It was complete with texts and fine illustrations. With an influx of books appearing for the general public, literacy rates improved.

Also, the lower classes were able to get cheaper sources and references for study. This showed that more lower class people entered the Imperial Examinations. And to much surprise, they passed the tests by the later Song Dynasty.

In the 11th century, Bi Sheng’s movable-type printing was innovative for the time. Yet despite this, woodblock printing remained as the favored printing type in China. This was until more advanced printing from Europe became accepted and utilized in East Asia.

An Lushan Rebellion

The An Lushan Rebellion was also known as the An-Shi Disturbances. This was among the most devastating revolutions against the Tang. It began on the 16th of December in 755.

This was the time when An Lushan, a Tang general, claimed himself emperor of North China. They established a rival Yan Dynasty, and ended when Yan was defeated in 763.

The rebellion spanned the rule of three Tang emperors before it ended. There involved an array of regional powers. Aside from the Tang loyalists, others involved were anti-Tang families. This was prominent in An Lushan’s base area in Hebei. Others included the Uyghur, Arab, and Sogdian forces or influences.

The rebellion and disorder resulted in large-scale destruction and loss of life. It weakened the dynasty, causing them to lose the Western Regions.

End of the Tang Dynasty

Natural calamities and Jiedushi gaining autonomous control disrupted the era. Include the Huang Chao Rebellion which resulted in sacking Chang’an and Luoyang. All these issues took a whole decade to suppress.

Though the rebellion was soon defeated by the Tang, it never revived from this crucial blow. All this weakened the dynasty for the future military powers that would take over.

Large groups of bandits were present to ravage the countryside. They were the size of small armies who ambushed convoys and merchants. They even smuggled salt and attacked walled cities.

Zhu Wen was a salt smuggler who served under the rebel Huang Chao. Yet he soon surrendered to Tang forces to help defeat Huang.  Wen received a series of military promotions then rapidly became a military governor. In 907 the Tang dynasty ended when he dethroned the last emperor of Tang, then took the throne for himself.

He established the Later Liang. This installed the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. A year later Zhu Wen had Emperor Ai, the deposed Tang emperor, poisoned to death.

Interesting Details about the Tang Dynasty

The Tang has benefited from the earlier dynasty’s hard work. This was their successful completion of the Grand Canal and rebuilding of the Great Wall. It was during this period that drinking tea became a popular activity. Even the author, Lu Yu, wrote about the art of drinking tea.

It was during this time that toilet paper was invented. The government also took a consensus in 609, showing that there were about 50 million people in China. The capital city, Chang’an was the largest city in the world at that time. It was estimated that the population in the area reached close to two million.

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