Tang Dynasty ruled China for a little less than three centuries during which China saw a period of progress and growth both militarily and culturally. Many great poets belong to the Tang era and several important inventions were made in medicine and technology. Here are 10 major achievements and accomplishments of one of the greatest dynasties to serve China.
#1 China became the largest nation in the world
During the Tang Dynasty, China reached unprecedented heights becoming the largest and strongest nation in the world. It covered most of the territory of present-day China, Vietnam and much of Central Asia as far as eastern Kazakhstan. Its capital Chang’an (present-day Xi’an) was the most populous city in the world at the time. It was a cosmopolitan urban center with considerable foreign populations from other parts of Asia and beyond.
#2 The first comprehensive criminal code in China was created
The first comprehensive criminal code in China was created in 624 AD in the Tang Dynasty. It was divided into 500 articles specifying different crimes and penalties ranging from ten blows with a light stick, one hundred blows with a heavy rod, exile, penal servitude, or execution. The Tang Code is considered as one of the greatest achievements of traditional Chinese law and it became the basis for later dynastic codes not only in China but elsewhere in East Asia.
#3 The imperial examination became the major path to office
The imperial examination was a civil service examination system in Imperial China to select candidates for the state bureaucracy. Although it started as early as the Han Dynasty, it became a major path to office only during the Tang era and remained so until its abolition in 1905. It was during Tang that the process became a comprehensive system with students being tested on Confucian classics, knowledge of governance and politics, ability to compose original poetry and to a lesser extent calligraphy, mathematics and law.
#4 Chinese Poetry reached its pinnacle
The Tang era is considered the greatest age for Chinese poetry. Such was the importance of poetry that skills in composing poems were required to pass the imperial examinations. Many prominent Chinese poets belonged to the Tang age including Li Bai, often considered the greatest Chinese poet of all time; and Du Fu, another all-time great who is called the “Poet-Historian”. Poetry styles that were popular in the Tang were gushi, unregulated or “old (or ancient) poetry”; and jintishi, regulated or “modern-form poetry”.
#5 Literature flourished
The Tang period was a golden age of Chinese literature. Apart from poetry, short stories and tales were popular. Yuan Zhen was a prominent writer and his work Yingying’s Biography was widely circulated and is considered to be one of the first works of fiction in Chinese literature. Another important work is Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang by Duan Chengshi which contains varied content including foreign legends and hearsay, reports on natural phenomena, short anecdotes and notes on such topics as medicinal herbs and tattoos.
#6 World’s earliest dated printed book was made in the Tang period
Woodblock printing saw great development during the Tang period. The Diamond Sutra, the world’s earliest dated printed book, has been dated precisely to 868, which falls during the Tang era. Woodblock printing which became prevalent during the Tang period would remain the dominant printing type in China till the printing press from Europe overtook several centuries later. The new age of printing during Tang also led to the invention of playing cards.
#7 Physicians of Tang Dynasty were the first to successfully treat patients with goitre
During the reign of Tang Dynasty, pharmacopeias were compiled with text and illustrated drawings for 833 different medicinal substances. Medicine authors during Tang included Zhen Chuan, who first identified in writing that patients with diabetes had an excess of sugar in their urine; and Sun Simiao, who was the first to recognize that diabetic patients should avoid consuming alcohol and starchy foods. Also thyroid glands of sheep and pigs were successfully used to treat goiters, a technique not used in the west until 1890.
#8 World’s first clockwork escapement mechanism was invented
An escapement is a device in mechanical watches and clocks which transfers energy to the clock’s timekeeping element and allows the number of its oscillations to be counted. The Tang Dynasty Buddhist monk Yi Xing along with government official Liang Lingzan made the world’s first clockwork escapement mechanism. It was used to create a device for astronomical observation which also had a mechanically timed bell that was struck automatically every hour, and a drum that was struck automatically every quarter hour.
#9 A better form of porcelain and gunpowder was invented
Gunpowder was invented during the Tang Dynasty by Taoists who were attempting to create a potion of immortality. It is usually listed among the “Four Great Inventions” of China along with compass, papermaking and printing. Tang people collected natural gas into portable bamboo tubes which could be carried around for dozens of km and still produce a flame. These were essentially the first gas cylinders. The vitrified, translucent ceramic known as porcelain was invented during the Tang reign, although many types of glazed ceramics preceded it. Porcelain was exported to the Islamic world, where it was highly prized.
#10 Painting matured and the first Opera troupe was formed
Chinese painting developed dramatically, both in subject matter and technique. Among the most prominent painters of the period are Han Gan, Zhang Xuan, and Zhou Fang. Emperor Xuanzong of Tang founded the Pear Garden which was the first known royal acting and musical academy in China. The performers formed the first known opera troupe in China mostly performing for the emperor. To this day operatic professionals in China are still referred to as “Disciples of the Pear Garden”.