Tang Dynasty ruled China from 618 to 907 with a brief period of intervention when the Second Zhou dynasty was established for 15 years. The Tang extended China’s territory through military campaigns to make it the largest nation in the world. Know more about the reign, prominent rulers, religion, culture and impact of the Tang dynasty through these 10 interesting facts.

 

#1 Li Yuan was the founder of the Tang Dynasty

Li Yuan was the governor of the key city of Taiyuan (modern Taiyuan, Shanxi) under Emperor Yang of the Sui dynasty. After gathering forces on the pretext that it was necessary to defend against the Turks, Li Yuan declared rebellion against the emperor. In the winter of 617 he captured Chang’an and declared a puppet child emperor, Emperor Gong of Sui. After Emperor Yang was killed in a coup, Li Yuan had Emperor Gong yield the throne to him on 18 June 618, hence establishing the Tang Dynasty and becoming Emperor Gaozu of Tang.

Emperor Gaozu of Tang
Li Yuan or Emperor Gaozu of Tang

 

#2 Emperor Taizong was the greatest emperor of the Tang

Li Yuan ruled until 626 before being forcefully deposed by his son Li Shimin, who went on to become Emperor Taizong of Tang. Taizong is considered one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history and during his reign China became 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. Known for taking criticism constructively, Taizong was later regarded as an exemplary model against which all future emperors were measured.

Emperor Taizong of Tang
Li Shimin or Emperor Taizong of Tang

 

#3 The reign of Tang Dynasty was interrupted by Empress Wu of Zhou

Wu Zetian was a concubine of Emperor Taizong who later married his successor and ninth son, Emperor Gaozong. She became actively involved in the affairs of the state after the emperor suffered a stroke. After his death, Gaozong was succeeded by their sons but Wu Zetian deposed them. In 690, Zetian proclaimed the era of the Second Zhou dynasty and became Empress Wu. She ruled China as the only female emperor till 705 when a palace coup forced her to yield her position and Tang Dynasty was restored.

Empress Wu
Empress Wu (Wu Zetian)

 

#4 An-Shi Rebellion devastated the Tang Dynasty and ended its golden period

The Tang dynasty reached its pinnacle of culture and power during the 44-year reign of Emperor Xuanzong from 712 to 756. Xuanzong was a fair and progressive ruler who remained the longest reigning Emperor of Tang. However he is blamed for over-trusting An Lushan by giving him the entire area north of the Yellow River. An Lushan declared himself emperor in Northern China, established the rival Yan Dynasty and started the An–Shi Rebellion which lasted from 755 to 763 and during which the capital Chang’an was captured by the rebels.

 

#5 Tang’s 274 year reign was brought to an end in 907 by Zhu Wen

Tang’s golden age ended with the An-Shi Rebellion. Although the dynasty was able to recover partially, it could never reach its former heights. During the Huang Chao Rebellion (874–884), capital Chang’an was captured and the Tang Emperor had to flee. Though it was defeated, Tang was never able to recover its military power which suffered during the rebellion. Tang Dynasty’s rule ended in 907 when Zhu Wen, a salt smuggler who became a military governor, deposed Emperor Ai, the last emperor of Tang. Tang dynasty ruled China for 274 years and was followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.

Zhu Wen
Zhu Wen

 

#6 Trade prospered and exposed China to many new things

Tang dominated the lucrative trade through the Silk Road, which was established during the Han dynasty, though it had to be closed several times during their reign due to their war against the Tibet. Also maritime trade reached unprecedented heights during their reign. All this exposed China to many new technologies, cultural practices, contemporary items etc. Songs, dances, and musical instruments like oboes, flutes etc. became popular in China. It also led to thousands of foreigners coming to China and residing in numerous Chinese cities.

Tang Era Trade Routes Map
Map showing trade routes in 870 AD during Tang era

 

#7 Buddhism became the dominant ideology during the golden age of Tang

Buddhism, which had begun to flourish in China during the Southern and Northern Dynasties, became the dominant ideology during the golden age of Tang. It became an integral part of Chinese culture and Buddhist monasteries influenced society by offering lodging for travelers, schools for children and a place for cultural events. Buddhism declined with the dynasty’s decline and the low point came when Emperor Wuzong shut down 4,600 Buddhist monasteries along with 40,000 temples and shrines to drive “foreign” influences from China. Although the ban was lifted later, Buddhism never regained similar heights in China.

Giant Buddha Statue of Leshan
Giant Buddha Statue of Leshan constructed during the Tang period

 

#8 Confucianism remained prominent and Daoism was also followed

Apart from Buddhism, native Chinese philosophies of Confucianism and Daoism were prevalent during the Tang era. Confucianism is based on the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius while Daoism has its roots in the book of the Daodejing. The imperial examination, which was a civil service examination system to select candidates for the state bureaucracy, required students to go through a written test on knowledge of the Confucian classics. The Tang dynasty also officially recognized various foreign religions.

Confucius
Confucius

 

#9 Concepts of women’s rights of Tang were liberal-minded for the period

Elite women enjoyed considerable social status and equality during the Tang era. They took part in social activities, popularized a new form of lyrical verse, played the sport of polo and even castigated males when they stepped out of line. Rural women were usually occupied with the domestic tasks of weaving textiles and rearing of silk worms. Also there were many women who gained access to religious authority by taking vows as Daoist priestesses.

A ceramic female polo player of Tang Dynasty
A ceramic female polo player of Tang Dynasty

 

#10 Tang era was a golden age for literature and art

The Tang era is considered the greatest age for Chinese poetry with two all-time greats: Li Bai and Du Fu belonging to the period. Two of the most famous works of literature during the period were Yingying’s Biography by Yuan Zhen and Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang by Duan Chengshi. Woodblock printing saw great development with the world’s earliest dated printed book, Diamond Sutra, being created in the Tang era. Landscape painting matured with the most prominent artists being Han Gan, Zhang Xuan, and Zhou Fang.

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