Tang Dynasty, the Golden Age (618-907) The Tang
emperors set up a political system in which the emperor was supreme
and government officials were selected on the bases of merit and
education. The early Tang rulers applied the equal allocation system
rigorously to bring about a greater equity in taxation and to insure
the flow of taxes to the government. A census was taken every three
years to enforce the system, which also involved drafting people
to do labor. These measures led to an agricultural surplus and the
development of units of uniform value for the principal commodities,
two of the most important prerequisites for the growth of commerce
and cities. The Tang capital of Chang'an was one of the greatest
commercial and cosmopolitan cities in the world at that time. Like
most capitals of China, Chang'an was composed of three parts: the
palace, the imperial city, and the outer city, separated from each
other by mighty walls. The Tang was a period of great imperial expansion,
which reached its greatest height in the first half of the 8th century.
At that time, Chinese control was recognized by people from Tibet
and Central Asia in the west to Mongolia, Manchuria (now the Northeast
region of China), and Korea in the north and Annam in the south.
The An Lu-shan rebellion. Most of the Tang accomplishments were
attained during the first century of the dynasty's rule, through
the early part of Emperor Hsuan Tsung's long reign from 712 to 756.
However, late in his reign he neglected government affairs to indulge
in his love of art and study. This led to the rise of viceroys,
commanders responsible for military and civil affairs in the regions.
An Lu-shan was a powerful viceroy commanding the northwest border
area. He had both connections at the imperial court and hidden imperial
ambitions. In 755 he rose in rebellion.
The emperor fled the capital with an ill-equipped army. These troops
soon rebelled and forced the emperor to abdicate in favor of his
son. The new emperor raised a new army to fight the rebels. An Lu-shan
was assassinated in 757, but the war dragged on until 763. Afterward,
the Chinese Empire virtually disintegrated once again. The provinces
remained under the control of various regional commanders. The dynasty
continued to linger on for another century, but the Tang Empire
never fully recovered the central authority, prosperity, and peace
of its first century.
The most serious problem of the last century of Tang was the rise
of great landlords who were exempt from taxation. Unable to pay
the exorbitant taxes collected twice a year after the An Lu-shan
rebellion, peasants would place themselves under the protection
of a landlord or become bandits. Peasant uprisings, beginning with
the revolt under the leadership of Huang Chao in the 870s, left
much of central China in ruins. In 881 Huang Chao's rebels, now
numbering over 600,000 people, destroyed the capital, forcing the
imperial court to move east to Luoyang. Another rebel leader founded
a new dynasty, called Later Liang, at Kaifeng in Henan Province
in 907, but he was unable to unify all China under his rule. This
second period of disunity lasted only half a century. Once again,
however, China was divided between north and south, with five dynasties
in the north and ten kingdoms in the south. Tang culture. Buddhist
influence in art, especially in sculpture, was strong during the
Tang period. Fine examples of Buddhist sculpture are preserved in
rock temples, such as those at Yongang and Longmen in northwest
China. The invention of printing and improvements in papermaking
led to the printing of a whole set of Buddhist sutras (discourses
of the Buddha) by 868. By the beginning of the 11th century all
of the Confucian classics and the Taoist canon had been printed.
In secular literature, the Tang is especially well known for poetry.
The great Tang poets such as Li Bai and Du Fu were nearly all disillusioned
officials. The Tang period marked the beginnings of China's early
technological advancement over other civilizations in the fields
of shipbuilding and firearms development.