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Chinese History
Imperial China - Tang Empire
Tang Dynasty 618–907
( Second Zhou 690–705 )

The Tang dynasty ushered in a new period of prosperity and gave rise to many arts and crafts that still flourish today in China. They also accepted both Buddhist and Taoism, and implemented an advanced system of feudal land use known as ‘Equal Field System’, which they developed from their predecessors the Sui. However, this was from direct government control, and land was apportioned according to peoples needs, and not their wealth. They also kept trade routes open, especially to the West (Overland), and South by sea (Guangzhou). Trade flourished and the Empire became very prosperous

Map courtesy of Wikipedia:

At its zenith, the Tang controlled a vast country which included, which in the West included the Pamirs (Tajikistan). Kingdoms paying tribute (Protectorates) such as: Kashmir, Nepal, Khotan, Kucha, Kashgar, Japan, Korea, Champa; and kingdoms located in Amu Darya and Syr Darya River valleys, which both flow into the Aral Sea

One of the more confusing periods is centred on Tibet. I will later write about Tibetan history separately, so briefly:
Originally most Tibetans had common stock with Mongol tribes, and were known as the Zang Zang or Tufan - the ancestors of The Bon Culture. They also have wars with the Burmese tribes, who are also directly related top some Tibetans.

Eventually Tibet becomes an Empire. Songtsan Gampo became ruler in 623, and 10 years later send a tribute mission to the Tang. The price was marriage to the Tang Emperors daughter. This was refused, but after several wars, the request was acceded. War between Tibet and China continued for centuries, and it was not brought to an end until the formal signing of treaties in 821

Map: Click for full image

Click for full map

After the Goktuks rebellion was put down in 658, Emperor Gaozong established Protectorates to help control the massive Empire. Each Protectorate General was given many and increasing powers. After Xuanzong's reign, military governors (jiedushi) were given enormous power, including the ability to maintain their own armies, collect taxes, and pass their titles on hereditarily. This is commonly recognized as the beginning of the end of Tang's central government, and eventually the Tang themselves

Second Zhou

The dynasty was interrupted briefly by the Second Zhou Dynasty (690 – 705) when Empress Wu Zetian ( A former concubine) seized the throne, becoming the first and only Chinese empress regnant (Empress ruling in her own right). She is regarded with high esteem by modern Chinese - especially women.

More Tang

After her death the dynasty collapsed, and the Tang Emperor Zhongzong retakes control of the Empire for the Tang

The An Shi uprising of 755 to 763 destroyed the power of the Tang. An Lushan was given great lower in Hebei Province, and he later rebelled - founding the rival Yan Dynasty. He defeated the Tang and took their Capital, and the court was forced to flee. The Tang eventually overwhelmed the Yan, and retook Luoyang in alliance with the help of Abbasid Arabs and the Uyghurs. However, the Uyghurs demanded colossal payment in silk, which had disastrous ramifications. Seizing on the instability, the Tibetans also attacked, taking much of Sichuan Province

After 755, the Equal Field System was quickly abolished by the powerful military Governors, who seized land from the poor, and gave it to the wealthy and influential. The Tang civil service could no longer function effectively, as it was over-ridden at Regional level. The Tang no longer had the power to defeat their own military governors in battle - so we reach a period that can best be described as a 'stand-off'. The Tang continue to rule China, but real power lies with various military Governors

From about 860 the Tang Dynasty began to decline due to a series of rebellions within China itself, and in the previously subject Kingdom of Nanzhao to the south. One of the warlords, (Huang Chao), captured Guangzhou in 879, killing most of the 200,000 inhabitants including most of the large colony of foreign merchant families there. In late 880 Luoyang surrendered to him, and in 881 he conquered Chang'an. The emperor Xizong fled to Chengdu and Huang established a new temporary regime, which was eventually destroyed by Tang forces, but another time of political chaos followed.


The Tang dynasty is overthrown and followed by another unruly period. Pertinent factors for foreigners to China: The Dali Empire based from Yunnan province comes and goes, but brings conflict and understandings between nomadic Tibetan's and lowland Chinese. You may want to trace your modern thinking about Tibet back to this era, or better, 623


The Tang leave a legacy of flourishing arts, science, and social development. They brought an era of prosperity to everyone in China, promoted trade, and extended Chinese power an influence in all cardinal directions. However, by empowering Protectorate Generals, they unwittingly re instigated a world of Warlords, which proved to be their ultimate downfall

This information is as supplied by Wikipedia, as dated March 2009 or later, and/or other reliable sources.

Maps (Unless stated otherwise) are provided in association with Thomas Lessman

Please check this information yourself as it may alter without notice, and whilst we try our best to ensure it is correct, please do not hold us responsible for any errors - this is intended as a simple guide only
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