Tang Dynasty History


The Tang Dynasty was golden age in China. Art, philosophy, literature and technology all flourished during this period. International trade grew along the Silk Road.

The Tang was established in 618 by a military family based in northwest China. This military family took advantage of a time of chaos in the wake of the Sui’s failed military campaigns in Korea to seize power.

The height of Tang power was the mid-8th century AD. However, in 755 AD a Tang military commander named An Lushan led a rebellion against the Tang Dynasty. Although the rebellion was finally crushed in 763 AD, it caused huge losses for China. Lives, money and huge areas of territory in Central Asia were lost.

In time, the military commanders with more authority than the central government arose in Tang territories. These commanders, as well as a number of natural disasters including drought and famine, weakened the empire in the latter half of the 9th century AD. In 907 AD a military governor deposed, and later murdered, the last Tang emperor.

Tang Dynasty Culture

The Tang Dynasty was an era of unprecedented progress in art and technology. Poetry and literary skills became required for imperial officials. Many of China’s most famous poets lived during the Tang Dynasty.

Various technologies were developed and improved during the Tang Dynasty as well. The development of woodblock printing increased the availability of written works and allowed literacy to spread to the lower classes. Medicine, architecture, mapmaking and more all saw progress during this period.

While Confucianism was firmly rooted in China, Buddhism became prominent in China during the Tang Dynasty, and even received official support from the government. The Tang was a time of religious diversity, and many foreign religions, including Christianity, also grew.

Tang Dynasty upper-class women enjoyed many rights compared to earlier and later dynasties. Some women attained religious authority as Daoist priestesses and many of the best Tang poets and writers were women.

Tang Dynasty Imperial Examinations

Since the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), those wishing to serve as imperial officials had to first pass a written examination. In the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the system became more meritocratic. Anyone that had studied the relevant materials was able to take the exams and work his way up, regardless of social status.

The reforms of the Tang examination system set the stage for further developments in the Song Dynasty. Military leaders had less and less power, while trained civil servants became more influential.

The Silk Road and the Tang Dynasty

The Tang capital of Chang’an (modern-day Xi’an) was the world’s largest city and a cosmopolitan center of trade. It was the start of the Silk Road trade route in China.

The Silk Road is the collective name for a number of caravan routes, roads and paths that ran between China, Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe in ancient times. The Tang Dynasty period was one of the most active times for Silk Road trade.

Products like silk, spices and precious artwork were traded along the Silk Road. Technology like gunpowder, printing presses and compasses also made their way from east to west.