Yang, the second and last emperor of the Sui Dynasty (581 - 618) proved to be unpopular due to his tyranny. Unrest amongst the population was rife due to the heavy toll on life through such projects as the Grand Canal, coupled with continual military campaigns and profligate spending. Liyuan, an aristocratic official stationed in Taiyan, seized the opportunity to assume control of the capital, Changan (now Xian City in Shaanxi Province). Taking advantage of the political turmoil and with the aid of his son, Li Shimin, Liyuan declared that Emperor Yang had retired and set Yangs son Emperor Gong upon the throne, in 617.
The following year, while under siege in Jiangdu (now Yangzhou City in Jiangsu Province), Emperor Yang was assassinated by an aide. On hearing this news, Liyuan deposed the puppet prince and declared himself emperor taking as his temple name Gauzu. Over the next ten years all opposition to Emperor Gauzu was eliminated and his new regime effected a reunification of the whole of China in 628 AD.
The Tang Dynasty, which maintained its rule for nearly 300 years, is probably the most well-known dynasty in Chinese history. Successively witnessing three florescences, namely "the Prosperity of Zhenguan", the reign of Emperor Wu and "the Heyday of Kaiyuan" in its period, the Tang Empire justifiably became the largest, richest and most sophisticated state in the world at that time. Greatly and widely admired abroad, the Tang influence spread into Asia, Europe and Africa. Neighbouring countries sought and established ties with the empire and Changan became the center of cultural exchange between the East and the West.
This was an epoch that was unprecedented in China. Dominance in the fields of politics, economics, military power and foreign relations exceeded all that had gone before. In terms of culture, the one thing that places the Tang Dynasty above all others is the literature of the age. The brilliance of poetry during the period attests to an unparalleled and glorious flowering of creativity.
At the outset, the political structure set up by the Sui continued to be used. In 626 Li Shimin disposed of his two brothers, deposed his father, and became Emperor Taizong. The new emperor set about introducing reforms.
Both imperial and local government functions were restructured thus creating a centralized administration. The former Three Departments and Six Ministries favored by the Sui continued to be used. The departments were called Shangshu, Zhongshu (the Neili Department of the Sui) and Menxia and respectively were responsible for the issuance, verification and implementation of imperial edicts. The senior secretary of each department fulfilled the function of Zaixiang (prime minister). Taizong made changes in the appointment of senior officials in each of these departments in order to strengthen his own influence while decreasing that of the Zaixiang.
Local administrative power was taken away from the heads of powerful clans. A new two tier system of prefectures and counties was introduced to direct affairs at a local level. Jiedushi was the title given to those who were placed in charge of fortresses and they were given the task of protecting the empires frontiers. The extensive area south of the Tianshan Mountain was placed under the control of the office of the Anxi Military Viceroy. Similarly, the vast land to the north of this mountain range was brought under the control of the office of the Beiting Military Viceroy. Between them these two bodies became the supreme authorities over military and administrative affairs in the Western Regions of the country. Periodically, a censor appointed by the central government would inspect local administration. In this way, governors who performed well could be assured of promotion.
The Imperial Examination system (or civil service examinations) was perfected by the Tang. More subjects were added and the examination divided into two sections, namely Changju and Zhiju. Changju comprised many subjects among which Minjing (the study of Confucian classics) and Jinshi (laid stress on literature) were the most important. Zhiju, which was presided over by the emperor, had no fixed subjects and was less frequently held. There would be between two and five prize winners which made it less popular than Changju which produced more graduates. The examination system opened a door of opportunity for all commoners. This gave people the chance to become officials on the strength of their talents and only the most talented were allowed to participate in the administration of the empire. Many advances were made in the legal system. Based on the laws of earlier dynasties the Tang Code was compiled in the year 624. This is the earliest complete Chinese code that is still in existence. It designated various crimes and set standards for both conviction and punishment. The Tang Code is a mature feudal corpus juris. Not only did it provide an example of codification for subsequent dynasties but it also extended an influence abroad. The lawmakers of ancient Korea, Japan and Vietnam all derived benefit from the Tang Code.
The Sui had instituted an army of professional soldiers known as Fubing, a basis for a standing army that was adopted by the Tang. Military service was rotated between defence of the national frontiers and duty in the capital. Using this army together with auxiliaries recruited from ethnic groups the Tang rulers pushed back would be invaders and so extended their territorial control beyond China proper. At its peak of power, the Tang controlled large parts of central Asia all the way into Iran as well as Manchuria, most of the Korean peninsula and into the Ili Valley. The Tang became the greatest power in Asia.
Iron ploughshares - a pair of manufacturing tool. The agricultural technology had been improved a lot until the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and every resident can simply support himself.Upon reunification of the country, agriculture made a gradual recovery. Large areas of wasteland were brought under cultivation and paddy fields laid out for the planting of rice. In the southern provinces, rice planting was organized so that a double harvest could be achieved. In the northern provinces a system for triple harvests was set up. Sorghum and buckwheat were grown in the Yellow River Valley.
Much attention was given to the matter of irrigation. During the first one hundred and thirty years of their rule, the Tang constructed some 170 water conservancy schemes. New mechanical systems such as waterwheels were introduced to raise water to higher levels thereby increasing efficiency and making it possible to bring yet more land into use.
The increased agricultural output facilitated population growth and during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, the population reached a peak of over 50 millions.
'Land Policy and Tax System'
Land distribution formed an important part of Tang agricultural reform and economic development. In the early years of the dynasty, a triennial nation wide census was taken and all inhabitants registered. This was to ensure a sustainable level of tax revenue to the state. In 624, using the census as a basis, the Tang governors reintroduced the land equalization system of earlier times. In this way it was possible to ensure that all families had sufficient land to be self-sufficient and be able to pay taxes.
The tax system was then adjusted and two important reforms introduced.
The tri-colored tomb figure - a hunter is riding to hunt - is one sort of Tang Tri-color porcelains which with rich colors and various categories accesses to reflect the golden era during the entire Chinese history.
Under this system, although tax was raised from landowners, it took the form of a poll tax and was levied on the number of people in a family rather than on the acreage owned. Each person was responsible for three kinds of tax: in grain (Zu), in textiles or other materials (Diao) and in corvee labour or military service (Yong).
After a period of time, this proved unworkable as vast areas of land were owned by merchants, officials, monasteries and others who were not of the peasant classes. The amount of land available for distribution decreased as more was acquired by legitimate means by the aristocracy and members of the imperial clan. These great estates and the tax free land holdings of the Buddhist monasteries failed to render tax, as did the land endowments held by the counties and prefectures. The majority of the peasantry became tenants rather than landowners with a consequent diminution of government revenues.
'Double Tax System'
In 780 Yangyan, the then Zaixiang (prime minister), advocated a new tax regime. This provided for tax collection twice a year, in summer and autumn, hence the title Double Tax System. This varied from the Zuyongdiao System inasmuch as it was based on the size of the land owned (land tax) and the amount of the harvest (income tax).
To a certain extent the Double Tax System rectified the inequality of the level of taxes imposed on the rich and poor while increasing the revenues of the central government.
Gold coins inscribed with characters Kai Yuan Tong Bao means that the period of time was at the height of the power and splendor during the prosperous Tang Dynasty (684-755).Manufacture was undertaken in both state owned and privately owned workshops. Mostly located in larger cities, the crafts included brocade weaving, papermaking, iron smelting, casting, pottery making and others.
The textile industry prospered. The silk products from Songzhou (now Shangqiu City in Henan Province) and Bozhou (now Bo County in Anhui Province) were most renowned for their high quality. In the south areas of the country, many silk products were listed as tributes. Advances were also made in the production of cotton goods. Cotton was widely grown in Turpan, Yunnan, Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian provinces. In addition, there were very obvious improvements in painting and dyeing technology.
Marked improvements were introduced in the manufacture of pottery and porcelain. The porcelain from the Xingzhou kiln (in Hebei Province) was particularly noted for its quality and described as white as silver and snow. The white and green porcelain produced in Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province won itself the nickname emulous jade ware. In southern China, the Yuezhou kiln (in Zhejiang Province) made its mark by producing celadon characterized by its elegance, lightness and strength. Tang Tricolor Porcelain, decorated with yellow, green, white, brown and blue, became famous for the beauty of its designs and the pieces were acknowledged as fine works of art.
The rapid growth of both agriculture and manufacturing industry enabled commerce to flourish and created the need for an improved transport system.
Painted crouching camel, which is regarded as the ship of desert, is a kind of vehicle availably in the ancient Silk Road.So as to speed the transport of grain from the rich area around the Yangtze River to the north of the country, the Grand Canal was extended. Yilu (post roads) were opened running through the country and stimulating trade. The famous Silk Road enabled trade to flourish between China, central Asia and Arabia. After the Rebellion of An and Shi, the Silk Road by sea blossomed. Merchant ships from countries in Asia and Africa flooded in with cargos of spices, medicines and jewellery to be exchanged for Chinese silks and porcelain. The capital, Chang'an, became the richest and most populous city in the world. It had one million inhabitants, including people from other ethnic groups and countries. Fortified with a wall and moat, the city was divided into quarters including two markets full of shops and stores. These included more than two hundred types of businesses dealing in a wide variety of goods from home and abroad.
'The Ehnic Groups'
The Sui had done much to bring about a political union within the country. However, due to their short term in power they had achieved little by way of integrating the various nation states that made up the empire. The Tang played an important role in this respect and accelerated the process that had been commenced under the Jin (265 - 420) and continued under the Northern and Southern Dynasties. The obvious benefits of the Tang political and social structures were attractive to neighboring states and they sought contact and intercourse with the empire.
The Tang adopted a policy of extending friendship and co-operation with the ethnic group states along its borders but at the same time developed a strong defence system in order to prevent an attack. During the sixth and seventh centuries, the Tubo (Tibet), Tujue (Turk) and Huihe emerged as the most powerful of the neighboring tribes and special efforts were made to consolidate relations with them.
'Tang and Tubo'
The Tubo inhabited the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and was the ancestry group of present day Tibetans. Early in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 BC), they had contact with the Han people of the Central Plains. In the seventh century, a hero of the Tubo, Songtsan Gambo, united a number of tribes and formed the Tubo Khan Kingdom, proclaiming himself Zanpu (king) of it.
At this time, the Tang Empire was at its peak and the Tubo in common with other countries was eager to form an alliance with their all-powerful neighbor. Early in 634, Songtsan Gambo twice dispatched envoys to the Tang court in Chang'an seeking the hand of one of the emperors daughters in marriage.
Emperor Taizong saw the benefit of such an alliance and Princess Wencheng was betrothed to the Tubo Zanpu. In 641, the Princess accompanied by the Shangshu of the Ministry of Rites set out for the Tubo kingdom. The Princess took with her offerings of grain and vegetable seeds, technology and medicine books as well as Buddhist scriptures. The marriage sealed an amicable link between the Tubo and Tang and engendered economic development in the country. Such was the importance of this event, that it is still remembered by the Han and Tibetan peoples.
Later, in the eighth century, Emperor Zhongzong's daughter, Princess Jincheng, was betrothed to yet another Tubo king, Chidaizhudan. Thus it was said, the Tubo and Tang had been combined into one family.
'Tang and Tujue'
The Tujue was a nomadic tribe that lived in the Altai Mountains. In the mid sixth century, they formed the Tujue Khan kingdom and set about extending their territory. They had maintained a close alliance with the people of the Central Plains for a very long time. However, from the days of the Northern Qi (550 - 557) and Northern Zhou (557 - 581) Tujue armies had frequently harassed the Central Plains plundering property and enslaving captives.
By the end of the sixth century, the kingdom was split in two and became Eastern and Western Tujue. In the early years of the Tang Dynasty, the eastern Tujue continually raided the Chinese border. Gathering up his military might, Emperor Taizong finally defeated the Eastern Tujue and made it a tributary of the Tang. Later, during the reign of Emperor Gaozong, a series of campaigns against the Western Tujue resulted in the collapse of that kingdom.
'Tang and Huihe'
Huihe, the ancestry group of the Uigur ethnic group, gradually became a powerful state during the Sui Dynasty (581-618). During the Tang Dynasty they managed to defeat the Tujue and in the mid eighth century Gulipeiluo, chief of the Huihe united the tribes and established the Huihe Khan kingdom.
The Huihe maintained good relations with the Tang. By way of recognition, Emperor Xuanzong named Gulipeiluo "Khan Huairen" which meant "a Benevolent Khan." Following this, no less than three Tang Princesses were to be married to Khans of the Huihe. Such was the strength of the alliance between the two countries that the Huihe provided troops on two occasions to help quell the Rebellion of An and Shi.
The Tang Dynasty also marked a golden age of relations with foreign powers. The excellence of its advanced civilization rendered the Chinese Empire the envy of countries throughout Asia, Europe and Africa. Each in their turn sent envoys and merchants to trade with the Tang, whose empire was to become a world center for trade and cultural exchange.
The Tang was trading with more than seventy countries. To foster this trade, the government allowed tax concessions to foreigners, who were permitted to settle in China and to marry Chinese citizens. Some even went on to secure positions within the government. Many foreign countries began to call the Chinese Tang people, an appellation that survives in some countries to this day.
'Tang and Japan'
Contact between China and Japan had been established in the early part of the Han Dynasty. This was enhanced by both the Sui and the Tang. During the Tang Dynasty Japan sent envoys to China on nineteen separate occasions. Students and monks swarmed into the empire to study.
There were two people in particular worthy of mention here. They were Apeizhongmalu and a monk named Konghai.
Apeizhongmalu was the most famous of the Japanese students who came to China. Emperor Taizong gave him the Chinese name Chaoheng. Not only did he become an official in the central government through the examination system but he also became a close friend of famous poets such as Libai and Wangwei. Of the monks who came to China, Konghai was the most outstanding. They arrived in 804 and studied Buddhism at the Qinlong Temple. On his return to Japan, he took with him over one hundred and eighty Buddhist scriptures and established the Tantra sect of Buddhism there.
Students and monks were sent also to Japan from China. Jianzhen is considered to be the most influential of the monks. He successfully traveled to Japan in 754 after five attempts to visit. It was he who introduced Lu Buddhism to the Japanese and he taught sculpture, architecture and painting.
It was thanks to these cultural exchanges that benefits were derived by both nations. Chinese culture and technology spread to Japan. The Japanese political system, legislation, economic policy, life style and culture were all deeply influenced by that of the Tang. In return, Japanese culture was introduced into China, in particular this was true of music and dance, which became very popular.
'Tang and Xinluo'
In the early years of the Tang, the Korean Peninsula was divided into three separate kingdoms. These were Gaoli, Baiji and Xinluo. All three had contact with China but in 660 China conquered Baiji and in 668 did likewise with Gaoli. Xinluo resisted the might of the empire and the Tang retreated from the Korean Peninsula. In 675, Xinluo united the peninsula.
Xinluo maintained its relations with China and its students formed the greatest number studying in China. Meanwhile, on the basis of the volume of imports from the empire, Xinluo became Chinas greatest trading partner.
The Tang culture began to have an enormous influence on the Xinluo. In 675 they adopted the tang calendar. In mid eighth century, they reformed their administration on the lines of that of the Tang and then in 788 adopted the civil service examination system for the appointment of officials. Tea cultivation, engraving and printing skills were also introduced from China. In return, Gaoli music was introduced to China and imported goods from Xinluo further enriched the lifestyle of the people of the Tang Empire.
'Friendship with Persia and Dashi'
Friendly relations were established and maintained with both Persia (today's Iran) and Dashi (Arab nations).
Two Persian princes settled in Chang'an and Persian merchants established themselves all over the empire. In Chang'an, Luoyang, Yangzhou and Guangzhou, shops owned by Persian merchants were noted for the gems, coral, carnelian, spices and medicines that they offered for sale. Persian dates and spinach were introduced into China. Chinese merchandise such as silk, porcelain and paper was brought by the Persians and traded in the West via the Silk Road.
Arabians were known to the Tang as Dashi. In 651, the Dashi sent envoys to Chang'an to establish trade on over forty occasions and their merchants set up businesses in Guangzhou, Yangzhou, Chang'an, Luoyang, Quanzhou and other cities. They settled down and learned Chinese culture, while some were appointed to government posts. They built their mosques and their religion was given due respect by the Tang.
Founded upon their prosperous economy, the Tang Empire saw a flowering of creativity in many fields. Science and technology, art, music, painting, pottery, calligraphy, literature and religion all enjoyed a golden age, a flourishing era unprecedented in Chinese history.
So as to win support from influential religious communities, the Tang government adopted a liberal attitude towards various religions. Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism as well as a number of foreign religions each attracted converts in this period.
Buddhism had been introduced to China via the Silk Road during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 24 AD). After five hundred years of peaks and troughs, it reached its height during the Tang Dynasty. Changan, the capital became the main center of Buddhist learning in East Asia. Monasteries and temples were built throughout the country in order to bring the teachings to the people. Some of the emperors adopted Buddhism as their religion. Due to its dominance during the Tang Dynasty, the influence of Buddhism can be seen in a variety of aspects of social life.
The expansion enjoyed by the faith resulted in an increase in temples and the numbers of monks. Shaolin Monastery, one of the most famous Buddhist temples in China, amassed wealth and influence during the Tang and became a place of pilgrimage for both monks and laymen alike. In the capital, Changan (present day Xian), Daxingshan Temple, Straw Hut Temple, Xingjiao Si and Xiangji Temple still exist as witness to the glory of Buddhism during the Tang era.
The spread of Buddhism in China increased mutual understanding and links with other countries, promoting friendly relations and cultural exchanges. Many monks traveled into India. The Big White Goose Pagoda and Small White Goose Pagoda serve as reminders of these famous pioneers, such as Monk Xuanzang (602-664), who was a prominent Buddhist traveler and translator and Monk Yijing.
The Small Wild Goose Pagoda is a historical legacy left by the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Its well-known Morning Bell Chimes is regarded as one of the eight famous scenic features in Shaanxi Province. Xuanzang, concerned by the diversification of Buddhism at home, decided to go to India in order to study original texts and teachings. He left Changan in 629 to make his pilgrimage. After seventeen years of untold hardships and a journey of some 50,000 kilometers, Xuanzang returned to China bringing with him a large volume of Buddhist scriptures. He then spent twelve years at the Da Cien Temple translating the scriptures. The famous novel A Journey to the West is based on his true story.
Another famous monk worthy of mention is Jianzhen (688-763). He was invited to preach in Japan and finally arrived there after five abortive attempts to undertake the journey there. His statue is still enshrined in some Japanese temples to this day.
In the early and middle ninth century, large numbers of Japanese monks were sent to China to study Buddhism scriptures. Among the well-known "eight monks entering the Tang", six monks including Monk Konghai, the most famous one, once studied Buddhism in Qinglong Temple, which is now known as the ancestor temple of Tantra sect of Japan Buddhism.
The Tang brought great vitality to Taoism. With the exception of Wu Zetian, all the emperors from the first period of the dynasty embraced Taoism. The growth of this religion can be attributed to two factors. Firstly, the emperors shared the same surname Li with the founder of Taoism, Li Er. As a consequence, they considered themselves to be descendants of Li Er, thus affording a special position to Taoism. Secondly, the so-called "pills of immortality" made by the Taoists to some extent flattered the emperors belief in their own divine incarnation.
During the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, Taoism reached its peak. Taoist buildings were to be found all over the country. However, the faith spread mainly through the upper class and so had less influence when compared with Buddhism.
Due to the presence of many foreign merchants, a number of foreign religions were introduced into Tang China. These included Nestorian Christianity, Manicheans, Zoroastrians, Judaism and Islam. However, none of these spread through the population in the way that Buddhism had in earlier times.
Nestorianism was a form of Christianity that had become established in Persia and other Middle Eastern countries. Due to Persias links with China, it is understandable that Nestorianism should follow in the wake of Persian traders. Early in the Tang Dynasty, Nestorian preachers arrived in China. They preached in the Western Regions and in an area around Gansu Province. In 635 Aluoben, a missionary brought Nestorian scriptures to Changan. He was granted an audience with Emperor Taizong, who then granted him permission to teach in the capital city. The Popular Stele of Daqin Nestorianism, which is housed in the Forest of Stone Steles Museum in Xian, marked the opening of a Nestorian church and the spread of this form of religion during the Tang Dynasty.
The other major foreign religion to be introduced at this time was Huijiao. Known today as Islam, it was brought to China by the very many Moslems who came to trade with the empire from the Dashi (Arabian) countries. While most of the traders would return home with the goods they had purchased, some remained in China and set up in business. Consequently, mosques were built and the Huaisheng Mosque in Guangzhou is one of the earliest examples from that period.
The enlightened religious policy exercised by the Tang was welcomed by the many communities within the country and in turn this did much to help consolidate the rule of new dynasty.
As a calligraphy treasure forest, the Stone Stele Museum holds a large number of the collections from the earliest stone steles of different periods from the Han Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty (206 B.C - 1911).Due to extensive and frequent contact with foreign countries, the culture of the Tang became more splendid, diverse and cosmopolitan than that of any civilization prior to the nineteenth century. In the field of science, and technology there were major achievements in astronomy, geography, medicine and pharmaceutics. The introduction of block printing meant that knowledge could be recorded and shared as at no other time before. Literature and the arts flourished as a consequence of the long period of economic and social stability. This was a time when calligraphy, poetry, music and dance reached a high level of excellence. Painting and sculpture were of the finest quality as eminent artists produced their work for an ever increasing wealthy elite in the thriving cities. Men of letters emerged in large numbers as the demand for education and learning spread among the people. The changes that affected the lifestyle of the Chinese people in the heyday of the Tang Dynasty were reflected in their costumes, recreation and sophistication of articles of daily use.
'Science and Technology'
The Chinese were the first to develop the process of printing. During the Sui (581-618) and Tang dynasties, engraved plates were widely used to print Buddhist scriptures, calendars and collections of poems. In 1900, a Buddhist scripture produced during the Tang Dynasty was found in Mogao Caves in Dunhuang. Entitled Jingang Jing (Diamond Sutra) this is the oldest example of engraved printing that can be accurately dated.
Monk Yixing was a pre-eminent astronomer and in 724 he directed a survey in the Henan area in order to measure the length of the suns shadow and the altitude of the North Pole. This was the first recorded ground measurement of the meridian line.
The batch of Buddha statues five or six times life-size in Fengxian Temple is the highlight of Longmen Grottoes in Henan Province.Medicines became highly developed under the Sui and then the Tang. In the early part of Emperor Taizongs reign, the government opened medical schools and specialist subjects were devised and studied. Then during the reign of Emperor Gaozong, the government implemented the compilation of the Tang Materia Medica. This had the distinction of being the first ever pharmacopoeia to be published by a state and it was not for some 800 years or so that a similar project was undertaken in Europe.
This was also a time when skilled doctors came to prominence. Probably the most famous was, Sun Simiao. He studied the practices of previous leading physicians and collected folk remedies. He investigated hitherto secret treatments and acquired medical knowledge from foreign sources. All this he documented and subsequently published his work in two important books: Qianjin Fang (One Thousand Golden Prescriptions) and Qianjin Yifang (One Thousand Supplementary Golden Recipes). Both texts included extensive medical information regarding pharmacology, aetiology, gynaecology, paediatrics, dietetics, acupuncture and moxibustion. Specific diseases were described and a wide collection of prescriptions was included in the books. These works had a distinct influence on and contributed greatly to the development of Chinese medicine. Sun Simiao became know to later generations as the "King of Herbs".
The Tang Dynasty was the golden age of Chinese poetry. In the number of poems and variety of poetic forms, the beauty of imagery and broadness of themes, Tang poetry surpassed all that had preceded it. The Complete Anthology of Tang Poetry, edited during the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), contains over 50,000 poems written by some two thousand poets. The collection provides a magnificent insight into all aspects of the social life of the period.
Mural paintings are the must-see of Mogao Grottoes that make every thought of visitors coming into their minds.Tang poets are held in high regard and among the most notable are Li Bai, Du Fu and Bai Juyi.
Li Bai (712-770), the Immortal Poet, living during the peak of the Tang period, wrote as many as nine hundred poems. He was probably the greatest of the ancient Chinese poets. It is generally agreed that between them, Li Bai and Du Fu elevated the poetic form to a level of power and expression that remains unsurpassed by poets of subsequent generations. His work is characterized by its imaginative and unrestrained expression of feeling. Rated as a romantic poet, his writings are endowed with a deep appreciation of people and their lives. The magnificent scenery he saw and enjoyed as well as the profound expression of his own desires and sorrows are subjects of his work.
One of Li Bais best known poems is Bringing in the Wine, of which the following is a snippet: ' Oh, let a man of spirit venture where he pleases. And never tip his golden cup empty towards the moon! Since heaven gave the talent, let it be employed!'
Du Fu (712 - 770), the Sage of Poets, lived in a period of change when the prosperity of the Tang began to decline. Having suffered obstacles in his official career, he began to travel around the country and to write poetry. Living as a refugee during the Rebellion of An and Shi gave him a personal empathy with the sufferings of the poor. His work shows a great depth of feeling for the plight of the common people. In 759, Du Fu went to live in Chengdu and it is here that his former residence the Thatched Cottage is open for viewing by visitors. Recording as they do both the military and political situations pertaining at this time, Du Fus poems are referred to as "the mirror of his time". He is regarded as providing a typical representation of realism in poetry.
The most popular of his poems are the Three Officials and Three Leaves.
Bai Juyi (772-846) was the son of an official. As a young man, he wandered about to escape from the wars and hence suffered from poverty and hunger. Later, after having succeeded in the civil service examinations, he served for fifteen years as an official. He was disliked and ostracized by his noble colleagues and was sent away from the capital to work in remote cities.Bai Juyi wrote almost three thousand poems, his output exceeding that of the other Tang poets. With their themes centring on the important social and political problems, Bai Juyi used plain and simple language that proved enlightening even for those who had not received even the poorest education. He also wrote many lyrics expressing his personal feelings. His long narrative poem The Song of the Pipa Player is among the best known. (A pipa is a musical instrument).
A word goes like this Mountain is a Buddha, Buddha is a mountain. Small wonder that Leshan Giant Buddha is the largest stone sculpture of Buddha in the world.The prosperity of Buddhism is reflected in the Buddhist art. During both the Sui and Tang periods the most outstanding examples of grotto art were created. In the Longmen Grottoes in Henan Province, there are 2345 caves and niches that contain some 2800 inscriptions, 40 pagodas and over a hundred thousand Buddhist images. Sixty percent of the caves were decorated during the Tang Dynasty. The art is the representative of the political, economic and cultural conditions of the age as seen from the point of view of the Buddhist community. What is considered to be the finest work created during the Tang Dynasty and a consummate example of Chinese Buddhist stone carving, is to be seen in the Fengxiansi Cave, which is the largest of the Longmen Grottoes.
Another important site is the Mogao Caves in Dunhang. The earliest carvings here date from the fourth century but further and the most extensive of the work was completed during the Tang Dynasty. The caves contain 492 murals and statues. Of these, 95 date from the Sui period and 213 from the Tang. This latter figure confirms beyond doubt that the Tang Dynasty was the most outstanding era of cave sculpture.
In addition, Grotto Art in Dazu County, which is referred to as The Oriental Carved Bible is especially famous for its large scale, rich content and exquisite craftsmanship. The Leshan Buddha, which was carved between 713 and 803 is the world's largest sculpture of its kind and was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1996.
'Painting And Calligraphy'
Known as the Sage of Painting, Wu Daozi was one of the most prominent artists of the Tang period. Under his expressive brush, birds, beasts, fish as well as the landscape, plants and people took on vitality and realism. Particularly adept at painting Buddhist and Taoist figures, his artistry adorns most of the temples of Changan and Luoyang. In all, over three hundred murals bear his signature.
Calligraphy has been a form of art in China from the earliest times to the present day. The work of the most famous calligraphers of the Tang Dynasty is highly regarded and the masters of the art are Oyang Xun, Yan Zhenqing and Liu Gongquan. Just as handmade illuminated books produced in the West are things of beauty, regardless of the textual content, so calligraphy can be regarded as abstract art. It is pleasing to the eye and gives enjoyment in its form, texture and design.
'Decline and Fall'
In China there is an old saying "It is easy to establish a business but hard to sustain it".
The Tang Empire founded by the Li family achieved glory unprecedented in Chinese history. Politically, an effective centralized bureaucratic and communication system was implemented which ensured stability. Due to the successful military actions of Tang army, the frontiers were secured and boundaries expanded again. The social economy flourished and its capital, Changan became the richest and most populous city in the world.
However, the splendid appearance covered up the depravity. By the eighth century, during the later part of Emperor Xuanzong's reign, the Tang Empire was in decline. Of the many reasons that caused the ebb in the Empire's tide of fortune the main factors can be summarized as:
1. Tianbao Crisis
2. Rebellion of An and Shi
3. Separatist Reigns of Fanzhen
4. Monopolization of Power by Eunuchs and Dissension between Parties
5. Peasant Uprising
'1. Tianbao Crisis'
During the later years of his reign, a period referred to as Tianbao, Emperor Xuanzong became more and more lordly and extravagant. He doted upon his Concubine Yang while neglecting state affairs. He foolishly appointed fraudulent and treacherous people such as Li Linfu and Yang Guozhong as his ministers. This resulted in the political corruption, which became a potential crisis at his court.
Historically, Emperor Xuanzong was regarded as a wise emperor. At the beginning of his rule, he helped the Tang reach its peak, a period that never been exceeded by other dynasties. Society was stable and the nation strong. However, everything changed when he fell in love with his daughter-in-law, Yang Yuhuan, whom he forced to become one of his concubines.
The emperor was so infatuated with Yang that he spent all his time in search of pleasure and neglected his imperial duties. Lacking any firm leadership, the court deteriorated and political stability fell into decay. Tang thus walked on its road to destruction.
Emperor Xuanzong's downfall also due to the improper appointment of officials. Be infatuated with Concubine Yang, Emperor Xuanzong let the affairs of the government in the hands of some notorious officials. Xuanzongs appointment of Li Linfu as his prime minister proved disastrous. Li was a jealous and suspicious man and during his sixteen year long career he adopted the role of dictator. He would find ways to entrap and eliminate those who would oppose him, thereby securing his hold on affairs. Following Li Linfus death, the Emperor appointed Yang Guozhong as his successor. A relative of the favored concubine, Yang was inept and his appointment meant that she was able to use her influence to stuff the administration with her family members. This enabled the Yang family to gain virtual control over the Empire.
'2. Rebellion of An and Shi'
While Emperor Xuanzong was still wallowing in his infatuation with Concubine Yang, the flames of war rose on the frontiers.
During the years of Jingyun (710-711AD), many fortresses, normally known as Fanzhen, were established to improve the frontier protections in some key areas along the border. Jie Du Shi, the official title given to the top leader of the fortresses, held military, civil administration and financial powers. With the passing of time and the decline of court, the influence of the fortress increased. Until the Rebellion of An and Shi, over 90 percent of the military army was under the control of Fanzhen. The central government gradually lost its control over regional administration and in particular, control of the military commands along the northwestern frontiers.
In 755AD, An Lushan, a trusted "Jie Du Shi", led a rebellion in Fanyang with a view to ending the corrupt rule by Yang Guozhong. The civil war lasted for eight years, and was very destructive. When the rebel army conquered Luoyang and Changan, the Emperor Xuanzong, together with this court, fled to Sichuan. On the way, the imperial army established a station in Ma Weipo and refused any further advance. The soldiers disposed of the notoriously corrupt Yang Guozhong. Later, members of the palace guard, blamed Concubine Yang for all the problems that had beset the dynasty, strangled her and threw her corpse in a ditch. The rebellion was called "The Rebellion of An and Shi".
Led by the General Guo Ziyi and Li Guangbi, the Tang army, with the help of Huihu troops, finally defeated the rebel army in 763 AD.
The revolt severely damaged the production in the northern areas, as the wasteland became larger. People were displaced from their homelands and many towns and cities were destroyed. This proved to be the turning point for the Tang Dynasty and brought it to the brink of its eventual downfall.
'3. Separatist Reigns of Fanzhen'
During and after the rebellions, the Tang Dynasty increased the total number of "Jie Du Shi". The Tang emperors were obliged to pay a high price for their loyalty: The Jie Du Shi were allowed to establish their own troops, to collect taxes. They were also able install their own sons as hereditary successors to their military positions. Many areas controlled by Jie Du Shi only nominally adhered to the Tang regime, as they established themselves as separatist regimes. These Fanzhens, relying on their military power and financial ability, attacked each other and even antagonized the government. Thus, the inter-Fanzhen conflict coupled with the fighting against the forces of the central government endured until the final destruction of the Tang regime.
The separatist reigns of Fanzhen severely weakened the ruling strength of the Tang during the closing years.
'4. Monopolization of Power by Eunuchs and Dissension between Parties'
Monopolization of Power by Eunuchs originated in the reign of Emperor Xuanzong. During the late period of Emperor Xuanzong, the Eunuch Gao Lishi was favored by the emperor. When the Emperor Suzong was in power, Li Fuguo, one of the eunuchs was given an important position as advisor of the emperor. He also became the leader of the forbidden army (the imperial guards). Later on, more and more functions were assigned to the eunuchs, including policy making, nomination of officials and even the accession and deposition of the emperors.
Furthermore, dissension between parties also became serious. During the years from the reign of Emperor Xianzong (762-779) to the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, named Li Chen, (846-859), the court officials gradually divided into two parties, namely, the Li Party taking Li Deyu as its head and the Niu Party with Li Zongmin as its leader. These two factions were in conflict and each was motivated by self-interest. Later generation came to refer to this period as Peng Dang Zhi Zheng (Dissension between Parties).
This corruption of political influence undermined the strength of the Tang and accelerated its decline.
'5. Peasant Uprising'
The administrative system of the Tang was founded on a system of equal land allotment. People paid an annual tax to the government in the form of grain or cash. The Tangs military power derived from the periodic militia service. However, problems arose when the government realized that the great population growth had resulted in greatly reduced plots of land, but the same tax. Peasants fled their fields, thus slowing the economy down. The military could no longer protect its frontiers.
In the late period of the Tang regime, rulers were more greedy and corrupt, annexing land without limits and collecting taxes even when natural disasters took place. Additionally, the endless fights caused the death of a large number of farmers.
As in previous periods, once the peasant was put into the desperate situation, the dynasty was near its end. In 875 AD, a farmers uprising, led by Wang Xianzhi and Huang Chao, started in Henan and Shandong. After several years, Wang Xianzhi died on the battleground and Huang Chao succeeded. He led his troops within a large area, about half China's territory. Later on, the rebel army entered Changan City to found their own regime - Da Qi. Emperor Xizong (873-888) escaped to Chengdu.
However, the rebel army failed to beat the Tang army. Emperor Xizong gathered the remaining Tang troops and by combined them with Fanzhen army, fought against the rebels, forcing them to withdraw from Changan. In 884 AD, Huang Chao committed suicide after being defeated. Although its main leaders had been sacrificed, the rebellion lasted for about ten years, sweeping through a dozen of provinces with more than one million soldiers involved. The rebellion effectively weakened the landlord class and the Tang power base, further hastening the disintegration of the Tang Empire.
'End of Tang Empire'
During the process of putting down the peasant uprising, Zhu Quanzhong (852-912), originally named Zhu Wen, contributed much. Zhu Wen had been a general serving under Huang Chao, but at a critical moment, he surrendered to the Tang army. As a reward for his actions, Emperor Xizong gave Zhu Wen an honorable name Quanzhong, which means absolute loyalty and ordered him to quell the rebellion without delay.
Assisted by Li Keyong, Zhu Wen quickly suppressed the Huang Chao rebels. By his great contribution in defeating the rebels, Li Keyong also gained the favor of the emperor. This caused Zhu Wen to become envious of his former comrade and he decided to do away with him but failed. From then on, deep-seated rancor grew between the two men. They each contested land holdings and frequent conflict between Zhu and Li brought more disasters to people.
At this time, a disturbance caused by eunuchs occurred at court in which Emperor Zhaozong (888-904) was immured. Under the direction of Prime Minister Cui Yin, Zhu Wen killed the leading eunuchs. Other eunuchs who were unhappy with the prevailing situation then kidnapped Emperor Zhaozong, taking him to Fengxiang (present Fengxiang County in Shaanxi Province) and threw in their lot with Li Maozhen.
Soon, Zhu Wens army surrounded the city and defeated Li Maozhen. In 903, Fengxiang was short of food. Li was obliged to kill the eunuchs who had kidnapped Emperor Zhaozong and released him. When Emperor Zhaozong returned to Changan, Zhu Wen killed the remaining eunuchs and forced Emperor Zhaozong move the capital to Luoyang. Subsequently, Zhu Wen killed the emperor and put the son of Emperor Zhaozong on the throne, who later known as Emperor Aizong (reigned 904-907). In 907, Zhu Wen deposed Emperor Aizong and established the Liang Dynasty. The once glorious Tang Dynasty finally collapsed. This resulted in great confusion and disorganization, which characterized the following period Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms.