Table of Contents
The Tang Dynasty ruled China for about 300 years beginning from 618 to 907. During this period of time, a unified national culture, a more centralized government, advancements in foreign relations, and changes in economic policy aided in making Imperial China one of the most powerful and wealthiest regions in the entire globe during that era (Lewis 10). The Tang dynasty which was founded under the influence of Li Shih-min, a former coup leader, was built under the achievements of the prior Sui dynasty. Considering that the Sui Empire had reunified the southern and northern parts of China, the Tang dynasty was in a better position to create a highly centralized government and set its goals toward unifying the cultural and political divisions between its people.
Moreover, other achievements of the Sui Empire such as granaries and canals assisted the Tang dynasty to transport people and goods as well as communicating throughout the empire. Thus, such preliminary achievements enabled the Tang dynasty to dominate during this era. However, the Tang dynasty greatly influenced the history and culture of its neighbouring nations such as Japan and Korea especially through porcelain, Chinese tea, and Silk Road (Lewis 16).
The Tang dynasty lasted between June 18th 618 and June 4th 907. This dynasty was an imperial China dynasty preceded by Sui Dynasty and followed by the Ten Kingdoms and Five Dynasties era. The Tang dynasty was formed by the Li family who took hold of power during the collapse and decline of the Sui Empire (Lewis 8). The leadership of the dynasty was briefly interrupted by the second Zhou Dynasty between 690 and 705 when Empress Wu Zetian got hold of the throne, becoming the one and only Chinese Empress Regnant. The Tang Dynasty which initially had its capital at Changa’n (present Xi’an) was the most populated city in the entire world at the time. Furthermore, it’s regarded as a high turning point in the civilization of China in comparison to the earlier Han Dynasty which involved a golden period of cosmopolitan culture (Lewis 21).
The Tang territory which was acquired through military operations of its early leaders was greater than the territory acquired during the Han era and challenged that of Qing and Yuan Dynasty. The records of the Tang dynasty estimated the population to being about 50 million people based on the registered households in the 7th and 8th centuries (Benn 11). According to Benn (2002), when the central government was collapsing and unable to compile an exact population census in the 9th century, it’s approximated that by then the population had grown to about eighty million people (33). Following its large population base, the Tang dynasty was in a position of raising conscripted and professional armies of thousands of troops to challenge the nomadic powers in productive trade routes along the Silk Road and those dominating Inner Asia. As a matter of fact, a number of states and kingdoms paid honour to the Tang court, whereas the Tang also subdued and conquered various regions which the dynasty indirectly ruled through a protectorate system. More to the point of political supremacy, the Tang dynasty also extended a great cultural influence over neighbouring nations such as Vietnam, Korea, and Japan.
It is quite obvious that religion played a key role in Tang dynasty politics. Essentially, people bidding for political offices would have priests from Buddhist temples hold prayers in public places on their behalf in exchange for gifts and cash if the candidate emerged a winner. Furthermore, before Buddhism persecution in the 9th century, Daoism and Buddhism were acknowledged side by side, and in 712-756, Emperor Xuanzong of Tang invited clerics and monks of the two religions to his court.
However, while religion had a hand in politics, politics also played a major role in religion. In 714, Emperor Xuanzong forbade vendors and shops in the Chang’an city from trading copied Buddhist sutras, which alternatively gave the monasteries’ Buddhist clergy the exclusive right to distribute and sell sutras to the laity. Previously in 713, Emperor Xuanzong had shut down the highly profitable Inexhaustible Treasury run by a well-known Buddhist monastery in Chang’an. Apparently, this monastery collected large amounts of silk, treasures, and money through multitudes of unidentified people’s repentances, leaving the gifts on the premise of the monastery. Even though the monastery was generous in contributions and donations, Emperor Xuanzong issued a verdict abolishing their treasury on the basis that their banking methods were deceptive, got hold of their riches, and distributed the acquired wealth to several other Daoist abbeys, Buddhist monasteries, and to repair statues, bridges, and halls in the city (Benn 41).
The 7th and 8th centuries are generally considered as the zenith period of the Tang Dynasty. On the other hand, a number of kingdoms paid tribute to the Tang dynasty. These included Kucha, Champa, Nepal, Kashmir, Korea, Khotan, Kashgar, and Japan. Others included kingdoms located in Syr Darya and Amu Darya valley. However, Emperor Gaozong established a number of protectorates governed by a Grand Protectorate General or protectorate General which extended the Chinese influential sphere as far as Herat. In fact, Protectorate Generals were granted a great deal of self-government to handle ordinary crises without lingering for central admission. After the reign of Xuanzong, military governors were given huge power including the power to maintain their own armies, pass their titles on hereditary and collect taxes. This is generally recognized as the starting point of the fall of Tang Dynasty’s central government. By 737, Emperor Xuanzong disposed the policy of recruiting soldiers that were replaced after every three years, by replacing them with long-term soldiers who were more efficient and battle-hardened. Furthermore, the new recruitment policy was more economically feasible since training and dispatching new recruits to the border in every three months exhausted the treasury. By the late 7th c, the Fubing multitudes started to abandon military service and homes offered to them in the system of equal-field. By the end of 742, the total number of troops enlisted in the armies of Tang dynasty had gone up to about 50,000 men (Lewis 56).
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The Chinese military campaigns in the east were less successful than elsewhere. In 644, Taizong established a strong military campaign against Goguryeo in Korean kingdom in the wars of Goguryeo-Tang. However, this led to the kingdom’s defeat in the first Goguryeo-Tang War since they failed to rise above the successful defence led by Yeon Gaesonum General. In collaboration with the Korean Silla Kingdom, the Chinese raged war against their Yamato Japanese and Baekje supporters in 663 Baekgang battle, a decisive Silla-Tang victory. Actually, the Baekgang battle was a restoration movement by Baekje remnant forces, because their kingdom was overthrown in 660 by a common Tang-Silla attack, led by outstanding Korean general Kim Yushin and Su Dingfang the Chinese general (Lewis 47).
Arguably, the people of Tang dynasty were able to gain several new technologies, contemporary items, cultural practices, and rare luxury through the use of maritime trade by sail at sea and land trade along the Silk Road. From Central Asia, Middle East, Persia, and India the Tang people were in a position to acquire new ideas in ceramics, improved silver-smithing, and fashion. In addition, the Chinese also slowly adopted the foreign idea of chairs and stools as seats, while the Chinese initially always sat on floor mats (Lewis 71). On the other hand, the people of Middle East admired and bought in plenty of Chinese goods such as porcelain, silks, and lacquer wares. Moreover, dances, musical instruments and songs from foreign countries became common in China during the Tang dynasty. The foreign musical instruments included flutes, oboes, percussion instruments (from India) like cymbals, and small lacquered drums from Tarim Basin. There existed great interest and contact in India as a Buddhist knowledge hub, with prominent tourists such as Xuanzang visiting the subcontinent of South Asia. Furthermore, there was a Turkic-Chinese dictionary that was made available for serious students and scholars whereas Turkic folksongs were of inspirational significance to certain Chinese works of poetry. However in interior China trade was enhanced by the Grand Canal and the rationalization of the great canal by the government which reduced the transport costs of grain and other commodities (Ju and John 41).
The Tang Dynasty of China highly influenced the history and culture of its neighbouring countries such as Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. For instance, the development of the Silk Road opened new routes and avenues fro trade between China and its surroundings (Lewis 2). A number of settlements emerged along the route, especially in the oasis area, and made large profits from the passing trade. Through this, the people of China absorbed local culture as well as that of foreign traders. On the other hand, the foreign traders operating along this route also adopted quite a number of Chinese cultural practices including the women’s way of dressing. Apparently, the Buddhism religion was the major commodity passing through this route and not silk. As a matter of fact, Sogdian and Persian merchants benefited greatly from the trade between West and East (Lewis 66).
Foreign nations readily accepted and welcomed Chinese culture making it cosmopolitan in its urban areas. Trade commodities such as tea and porcelain also influenced the culture and history of China’s neighbouring nations. The people of Tang dynasty wore clothes mainly made of silk which was highly considered as light and soft (Lewis 35). During the Tang dynasty era, hundreds of thousands of foreigners arrived and settled in various Chinese regions for commercial and trade ties with China, including Arabs, Malays, Nestorian Christians, Jews, Hindu Indians, Chams, Sinhalese, and many others. The foreigners brought with them jade, spices, and pearls and took with them silk clothing, tea, and porcelain. The Chinese tea drinking culture gradually spread through Tang dynasty and was readily adopted by foreigners who traded with the Chinese people (Ju and John 37).
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During the Tang dynasty era, the Silk Road was the most valued pre-modern Eurasian commercial route. Although the Silk Road between China and the West was originally devised during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han in 141-87 BC, the Tang reopened it in 639 when Hou Junji conquered the West and remained open for about four decades. Basically, the Silk Road directly connected China to the Western regions for land-based trade. There were notable life style changes along the route (Lewis 101). As various communities from China and the neighbouring countries interacted during trade, the people involved absorbed and adopted each other’s culture. For instance, India, Persia, Iran, and other Central-Asia countries adopted the Tang dynasty way of dressing in terms of garment adornments and forms, and used them to improve their culture (Lewis 81).
The way of dressing and personal adornment among Tang dynasty women was quite outstanding in China’s history. The clothing materials were beautiful with natural structure, elegant and graceful, and the decorations were splendid. Thus, this forms of garment greatly influenced the arts and cultures of other nations especially those in the Western regions (Woo 5). The cultural exchanges and trade with Vietnam, Persia, Korea, and Japan gradually became common, and they dispatched representatives and students of other nations. In this manner, romantic and open style of dress and women adornments was formed in these regions. Generally, the garments in the Tang dynasty greatly affected the pieces of clothing of neighbouring nations. In certain circumstances, the Japanese kimono adopted the best of Tang dynasty dresses in terms of the Hanbok (Korean traditional clothing) and colors (Woo 55).
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By the time tea entered the Tang dynasty, the kingdom was in middle stages of feudal society, where state power and the economy formed the basis of developed and flourished culture. Furthermore, the dynasty had a developed communication network and its cultural and political influence was beyond its territory. As a matter of fact, production of tea was highly promoted because of increased social productivity and development of feudal economy (Woo 9). As a major commodity tea entered the day-to-day life of common people. Actually, a lot of famous and tribute teas appeared then. Hence, tea drinking techniques and customs began to develop in Tang dynasty and had a major influence on the neighbouring countries. However, the culture of tea drinking became popular among the people and many forms of tea parties and ceremonies emerged. The Koreans and Japanese who interacted with the Tang Chinese gradually adopted the tea drinking culture. Generally, the Chinese history and culture was influenced by that of other regions while at the same time it also influenced their culture and history. Chinese religions, items of trade such as porcelain, and cultural habits such as tea drinking highly influenced its neighbouring countries (Benn 151).
The Chinese Tang dynasty was actually looked upon as a basis of culture, with its form of civil government in which the Confucian encouraged civil service assessment played a key role. There existed much cultural and trade exchanges between China and Japan, and China and Korea during the Tang dynasty. A number of well-educated people from the neighbouring nations took up residence in Tang dynasty, involved themselves with local administrators and were in turn respected and admired by their Chinese hosts. The inter-cultural heritage (Chishan Fahua Temple) remains a constant symbol of the long-term interaction and friendship between the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans. The Tang Dynasty held great cultural, religious, and intellectual sway over neighbouring nations for its highly efficient government administration method and advanced culture, whereby people who served the government were recruited on merit. Fundamentally, China influenced the culture of its neighbours through trade along the Silk Road.
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