~~The Tang Dynasty
(June 18, 618 June 4, 907) followed the Sui Dynasty and preceded
the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period in China. The dynasty
was interrupted by the Second Zhou Dynasty (October 16, 690 March
3, 705) when Empress Wu Zetian seized the throne. The dynasty was
founded by the Li family.
The Tang Dynasty, with its capital at Chang'an (modern day suburb
of Xi'an), the most populous city in the world at the time, is regarded
by historians as a high point in Chinese civilization ª equal,
or even superior, to the Han period. Its territory, acquired through
the military exploits of its early rulers, was greater than that
of the Han. Stimulated by contact with India and the Middle East,
the Empire saw a flowering of creativity in many fields. Buddhism,
originating in India around the time of Confucius, continued to
flourish during the Tang period and was adopted by the imperial
family, becoming thoroughly sinicized and a permanent part of Chinese
traditional culture. Block printing made the written word available
to vastly greater audiences.
The Tang period was the golden age of Chinese literature and art
(see Tang Dynasty art). A government system supported by a large
class of Confucian literati selected through civil service examinations
was perfected under Tang rule. This competitive procedure was designed
to draw the best talents into government. But perhaps an even greater
consideration for the Tang rulers, aware that imperial dependence
on powerful aristocratic families and warlords would have destabilizing
consequences, was to create a body of career officials having no
autonomous territorial or functional power base. As it turned out,
these scholar-officials acquired status in their local communities,
family ties, and shared values that connected them to the imperial
court. From Tang times until the closing days of the Qing Empire
in 1911, scholar officials functioned often as intermediaries between
the grassroots level and the government.
Li Yuan founded the Tang Dynasty but only ruled for a few years
before being deposed by his son, Li Shimin, later known as "Tang
Taizong". Taizong then set out to solve internal problems within
the government. Internal problems have constantly plagued past dynasties.
The Emperor had three administrations : Military Affairs, Censorate,
and Council of State. Each administration had its own job. It was
also during the Tang dynasty that the only female ruler of China
Empress Wu Zetian made her mark. Her rule would be only a handful
of examples where women seized power and ruled China and the only
one in Chinese history to rule in her own right.
The early decades of the eighth century was ultimately considered
the zenith point of the Tang dynasty if not the whole Chinese civilization.
Emperor Tang Xuan Zong brought China to its golden age and Tang
influences reached all the way to Japan and Korea in the east, Vietnam
in the south and central and western Asia in the west. The turning
point came in 755 during the closing years of Xuanzong's reign,
where the An Lushan rebellion all but destroyed the Tang dynasty
and the prosperity that took years to buildup. It left the dynasty
weakened and for the remaining 150 years the Tang never regained
its glory days of the 7th and 8th century.
Near the end of the Tang Dynasty, regional military governors (jiedushi)
became increasingly powerful, and began to function more like independent
regimes on their own right. The dynasty was ended when one of the
military governors, Zhu Wen, deposed the last emperor and took the
throne for himself, thereby beginning the Five Dynasties and Ten