TANG Dynasty

How should one interpret one of China’s most memorable dynasties? The Tang dynasty is one of China’s most remarkable and glistening historic periods known today. The Tang dynasty established a strong centralized state system, starting in 618 after the fall of the Sui dynasty in the early seventeenth century. Although the early Tang monarchs were good rulers over all, one emperor in particular parts from the group. “Li Shih-min” who would assume the title of T’ai-tsung. T’ai-tsung was the son of the first emperor in the Tang dynasty Gaozu. He was a bold, energetic, and powerful emperor that was determined to solve the international problems that had destroyed past weaker dynasties. T’ai-tsung was responsible for the recreation of Chinese government. (“quote source”) According to “source 1” at the top of the hierarchy was the emperor; below him were three administrations; council of the state, military affairs, and the censorate. The most important out of the three was the council of the state, which drafted policy, reviewed policy, and implemented policy. The military affairs directed the military under the control of the emperor. The censorate watched over the government and the government officials to prevent misgoverning and corruption. The new government policies set into place that T’ai-tsung had ingeniously derived led to the central state system working. The geographical area of the Tang Empire stretched across a vast part of China. Chang’an was the western capitol of the Tang dynasty, and became a centralized meeting place for traders, merchants, artist, and religious leaders. Chang’an became one of the richest and most powerful cities in the world at that time. The Tang dynasty flourished in part due to the new economic and trading ties with different regions. Trade was possible because the government maintained good foreign trade relation. The Tang Empire traded with India, Middle East, and Central Asia. Silk road connected Chang’an to Greece, Rome, and parts of Europe. This highway brought new products of trade to the countries which included silk, tea, herbs, spices and hand crafted items. The Tang dynasty is responsible for many great things, the dynasty had several world changing inventions, famous literature, and changing religious movements that would spark a revolution that would forever change the way Chinese people interacted and lived within society.

One reason that the Tang Dynasty is known for being one of the best empires in Chinese history is because of the brilliant and world changing inventions that some of the greater minds in that era created, forever changing the way people lived. Inventions are essential for ever changing technologic advances towards a greater way of life and the Chinese understood this concept with the invention of making paper, gunpowder, printing technique and compass. All of which were not completely new concepts but the Tang Dynasty found ways to improve some of the already thought of inventions. The invention of paper making greatly contributed to the spread and development of civilization. Prior to the invention of paper making; bones, tortoise shells, and bamboo slips were all used as writing surfaces. As Chinese civilization developed the usage of their materials proved to be unsuitable, because they were extremely too heavy and took up a lot of space. The next material used in trying to make paper was the combination of hemp fiber and silk, but the quality of the material was found to be unsatisfactory. The use of that material also had far better uses . According to (“quote” ) Xue fu wu che which is a Chinese idiom describing a learned man. The story behind paper making is that a scholar by the name of Hui Shi who lived during the Tang dynasty. He needed five charts to carry around his books while teaching. At the time books were made of wood and bamboo slips, so one could imagine how heavy and inconvenient they would be to carry from place to place. Not to mention how much space the books would take up. If a person had ten or more books that person might need a cart with wheels just to carry them around. Reading books at the time, a person would not only need to have brain power, but would also have to be in good physical condition. According to Chinese history experts “In 105 A.D. Cai Lun, a eunuch during the Tang dynasty, invented paper from worn fishnet, bark, and cloth.” The fact that these raw materials were available at such a low cost and easily able to obtain the process of making paper in large quantities just made sense! The technique of paper making was eventually exported to Korea in 384 A.D. Japan acquired the skill of making paper when a Korean monk traveled there taking the information and process with him. Paper making traveled to the Arab empire during a war between the Arabs and the Tang dynasty, when some of the soldiers of the Tang army, and paper making workers were captured during the war. Soon after, a paper factory was established in the Arab nation. In the eleventh century the skill of making paper was carried to India when Chinese monks traveled there in search for spiritual enlightenment. The skill then traveled the world from one continent to the next, eventually the skill was brought to America. The invention of paper is accredited to one of the greatest dynasties know in Chinese history, the Tang Dynasty.

The Tang dynasty was also responsible for the invention of gunpowder. In Chinese, the word gunpowder is called, huo yao, which means flaming medicine. Unlike so many of the other Chinese inventions the making of gunpowder was pure accidental. Gunpowder is an invention that has had a profound effect on human society. Gunpowder was first discovered when alchemist was trying to make an elixir of immortality. According to legend “During the Tang dynasty, around 850 A.D., an enterprising alchemist (whose name has been lost to history) mixed 75 parts saltpeter with fifteen parts charcoal and ten parts sulfur. This mixture had no discernable life-lengthening properties, but it did explode to an open flame. According to a text from the era, “smoke and flames result, so that (the alchemist) hands and faces have been burnt, and even the whole house where they were working burned down.” After the discovery of gunpowder the Chinese people found many useful purposes for this new and amazing invention. It is thought that the only use for gunpowder was for making fireworks, used by the Chinese during celebrations, such as, parades and ceremonial events for the emperor; but gunpowder was destined for greater usages. One usage of gunpowder was in weapons. The Chinese people used gunpowder devices against their enemies during the war against the Mongolians. These weapons were called, “Flying Fire” or (Feihuo). This weapon was an arrow with a little bomb at the end of it. The Chinese would fire the flying fire arrows at their enemy. The sight of the arrows propelling into the sky would terrify the enemy and their horses. The early warriors of the Mongolians must have thought this was some kind of awful witchcraft. Another astounding use of gunpowder that the Chinese came up with was the cannon. The first artillery devices of the cannon were made of hollow bamboo shoots. As time progressed, the hollow bamboo shoots would be made in to what we know today as cannons with cast iron. The Chinese government became very concerned about the advancement of technology of gunpowder spreading it’s way to other countries. In 1076 the sale of saltpeter to foreigners was banned. Although the Chinese government tried their best to keep this technology confined to its original location, it was the will of the world to expand this technology. With the ever-growing trade and commerce taking place in the capitol and along the silk road it was but a matter of time before China’s secret about gunpowder was out. Throughout the centuries Chinese inventions had a profound effect on human society, but none of them had the effect like gunpowder did.

In today’s society we use the printer on an everyday basis, but do we know where this technique came from. Today we just use a click of a mouse on a computer that sends a signal from one device to another, the printer, and out comes words or pictures onto a sheet of paper. It has not always been this simple, technology has progressed through the years, making us take printing for granted. The invention of the printing technique originated in the great Tang dynasty of China. Around 600 A.D. the Chinese people invented block printing. Block printing was inspired by engraved name seals. This technique took a long period of time, and energy to prepare. The amount of materials that were used in this technique were overwhelming. Although block printing has its drawbacks the concept to transcribing words was revolutionary. Block printing was done by taking a piece of wood and carving letters of Chinese symbols into the wood, then the block would be dipped into ink then pressed onto the paper. A new block would have to be carved for each page in a book. Block printing was costly and time consuming. As printing became more popular a new method advanced and it was called movable type printing. Movable type printing was much easier and affordable. The fact that the idea of printing came from the Tang dynasty only adds to the evidence that it is one of the greatest eras in Chinese history. A fourth and important invention that came out of the tang dynasty was the ever important compass. Compasses are used all over world, by all different kinds of people for many purposes. Some of the reasons people use them range from helping ships navigate around the world to helping lost hikers in the woods find there way back to civilization. The invention of the compass transpired when one spring while mining ores and melting copper a group of Chinese people stumbled onto a natural magnetite that attracted iron and fixed its position towards the north. During the tang dynasty they improved the compass by devising a way to suspend magnetized iron in water. After doing so they enclosed the two items into an enclosure, providing the world with what we know today as the compass. Eventually this invention made its way to Europe where it was then used by the famous explorer Christopher Columbus. Christopher Columbus would later go on to discover the new world which is known today as the United States of America.

Since ancient times, the Chinese believed in a type of folk religion that incorporated many types of beliefs. The Chinese believed that the afterlife was a reality parallel to the living world. The tang dynasty’s main religion was Buddhism. Daoism, and Confucianism were also religions followed by the people during the tang dynasty, but were not as influencing towards the government or impacting on society during that era of history. The practice of the religion Buddhism rose up through the fall of the han dynasty. The demise of the han dynasty brought chaos and disaster to the people of that region. During the tang dynasty people looked at this religion as a way of salvation, and solutions to their problems. The popularity of Buddhism made rulers curious about the religion. The tang dynasty had many different emperors, and each emperor treated the religion with different actions. Some emperors sent people to India to find out more information about it. Xuanzang a Buddhist monk went on a pilgrimage to India to find out more about this religion. This trip took sixteen years on is return to china he brought back with him books about Buddhism. He spent the rest of his life translating those books to the Chinese people, so they could gather a better understanding of how one should be a Buddhist. The Buddhist monk Xuanzang would later be honored by the emperor Gaozong for his services rendered. Also some emperors promoted the religion of Buddhism for personal gain. An example of personal gain through Buddhism is that of empress “Wu”.

Buddhism gained great power during the time of empress “wu” who was the only woman ruler in the tang dynasty. She gained power when the third emperor died. Since the aristocracy before her control favored the Daoism and Confucianism religions’ over Buddhist, she encouraged the spread of Buddhism to weaken her opponents. The idea was that the more Buddhists there were, the less daoist there would be, and the weaker the aristocracy would be. The Buddhist revolution grew rapidly among the Chinese people during the tang dynasty. Buddhist monasteries played an important role in Chinese society during the tang dynasty, offering lodging for travelers in remote areas, and schools for children throughout the country. Buddhist monasteries were engaged in the economy, since their land, property, and serfs gave the government enough revenue to set up mills, oil presses, and other enterprises. The religion of Buddhism affected the tang dynasty because it influenced higher governmental officials, and in doing that it influenced the people and their actions. Daoism was another religion that was practiced during the tang dynasty. The primary beliefs of this religion is learning and practicing “the Way” which is the ultimate truth to the universe. Daoism has no single founder, such as Buddha with the religion of Buddhism, or Confucius with the religion of Confucianism. Daoism also does not have any key messages like the four noble truths of Buddhist or the five guidelines of Confucianism. Although Daoism was not the main religion of the tang dynasty it did play very important roles in history of the dynasty. Many daoist were associated with alchemy in their pursuits to find an elixir of immortality, and a means to create gold from mixtures of many different elements. Those daoist never did discover the way to make gold or an elixir of immortality, but did manage to discover new metal alloys and gun powder. Another religion that was associated with the tang dynasty was Confucianism, which had existed before Buddhism and Daoism. Confucianism enforced loyalty, order, respect, and was based compassion or kindness. Love for ones ancestors was necessary, and that old age associates with wisdom were ideas of this religion. Although Confucianism was a widely practiced belief system it lost much influence in the tang dynasty. The people during the tang dynasty believed in Buddhist concepts, and not the Confucian concepts. One concept that influenced the people into the ideas of Buddhism was karma. The people liked this idea because this was a time in Chinese history where many bad events were taking place and people were suffering. Confucianism says that suffering events were the events of fate and no one could control the outcome. Buddhist believed that suffering was due to a person’s behavior, and that if a person was good in their life they would be rewarded in the next life. Buddhists believed if a person was bad then he or she would suffer in the next life. This concept is what sparked the transition from Confucianism to Buddhism during the tang dynasty. Buddhism also led to great literature during the tang dynasty.

During the tang dynasty unforgettable literature was produced. Three of the more famous authors that came out of that time period were the writer and poet “Wang Wei”, “Li Bai”, and “Du Fu”. The writings of each person added greatness to that time period of the tang dynasty. “Wang Wei” was a gifted young person excelling in poetry, painting and music. When he was around the age of sixteen Wang Wei moved to the capitol city of the tang dynasty chang’an where he worked as a mid level government official, serving as assistant secretary of music. Wang Wei would later be transferred to another province due to a minor infraction. After that he would take up the role as a poet in exile living in an estate that he purchased on the Wang River after the death of his wife. This estate is where wang wei “began to cultivate in his poetry and painting the deep appreciation for and sensibility to landscape and nature for which he is celebrated.” Wang Wei was a deeply religious person who practiced Buddhism. he lived his life in a simple way, not desiring the material things of the world. This statement is backed up by Pauline Yu by saying “His contemplative, dispassionate observations of the sensory world affirm its beauty at the same time as they call its ultimate reality into question, by emphasizing its vagueness, relativity, and ‘emptiness’.” Wang Wei was a person who transcribed great poetry during the tang dynasty. Another great poet of the tang dynasty that had a big influence on Chinese literature was “Li Bai”

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