China: Tang Dynasty and Song Dynasty


The Tang and Song Dynasties of China provide a glimpse into ancient Chinese splendor and reveal Chinese advances in all aspects of human life.

The Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty is regarded by some historians as the height of Chinese civilizations. In this dynasty, China saw governmental reforms, intended to strengthen the internal government by centralizing, with a large civil service, and large territory expansion. Anyone with talent was eligible for a governmental post as long as they could pass ethical testing based upon Confucian classics. Tang law codes are still in existence, and to some extent, were used by the Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese. It was a dynasty of prosperity and education. Literature, science, technology, art, and poetry flourished along with inventions such as the printing block. Advances in agriculture and irrigation doubled harvests is some provinces. Increased harvests brought increased populations. Craftsmanship in both pottery and porcelain, and manufacturing within silk and cotton saw in noticeable improvement.

With a friendly foreign policy and use of the Silk Road, trade with more than seventy countries flourished, which also brought foreigners with new technologies and ideas, such as astronomy and mathematics. Neighboring countries, most particularly Japan and Korea, respected the Tang emperors and paid tribute. Through contact with the Middle East and India, Buddhism took roots within the Tang rulers. The Tang capital of Chang’an became the most populated and wealthiest city in the world at the time. Including foreign traders and visiting students, well over one million people resided there.

The only recognized female ruler of China, Wu Zetian, disrupted the flow of the dynasty, but when she was ousted for her son, the dynasty continued. This dynasties’ decline is believed to have begun as a result of a series of rebellions and military defeats around the eighth century CE.

The Tang Dynasty is one that is extraordinary within Chinese history. Tang dominance in politics, economics, foreign relations, and military power perhaps made them the greatest civilization of their time. To this day, people in some countries still refer to the Chinese as Tang people.

The Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty ranks along with the Tang in the aspects of economic growth, artistic and intellectual achievement. This dynasty has been measured with the Renaissance in Europe. Song government consisted of centrally appointed officials which gave the Song emperors more control than the Tang emperors. Song cities developed into notable centers of trade, administration, and industry. Paper money was established along with a unified tax code.

The Song dynasty may have been the start of a Chinese industrial revolution. Industry such as iron multiplied as much as six times over some two hundred years. Mass produced products included products for agriculture and construction. During this dynasty the Chinese enhanced gunpowder, the cannon, and flamethrowers. Refinement of the arts continued and was seen in painting, calligraphy, and porcelain. Expansion of the printing technologies increased supplies of printed materials, which lead to increased literacy. From the Song Dynasty we see the development of the obligations of obedience to rulers, fathers, and husbands, a trait still practiced in modern China.

The decline of the Song dynasty was in most part due to the invading Mongols.