The Tang Dynasty in China: A Golden Era

Horse in parade, terracotta statue, China, Chinese Civilisation, Tang Dynasty, 6th-9th century

The Tang Dynasty, following the Sui and preceding the Song Dynasty, was a golden age that lasted from 618 to 907 A.D. It is considered the highpoint in Chinese civilization.

Under the rule of the Sui Empire, the people suffered wars, forced labor for massive government construction projects, and high taxes. They eventually rebelled, and the Sui dynasty fell in the year 618.

The Early Tang Dynasty

Amid the chaos of the end of the Sui Dynasty, a powerful general named Li Yuan defeated his rivals; captured the capital city, Chang’an (modern-day Xi'an); and named himself emperor of the Tang Dynasty empire. He created an efficient bureaucracy, but his reign was short: In 626, his son Li Shimin forced him to step down.

Li Shimin became Emperor Taizong and reigned for many years. He expanded China’s rule westward; in time, the area claimed by the Tang reached the Caspian Sea.

The Tang empire prospered during Li Shimin’s reign. Situated along the famed Silk Road trade route, Chang'an welcomed traders from Korea, Japan, Syria, Arabia, Iran, and Tibet. Li Shimin also put in place a code of law that became a model for later dynasties and even for other countries, including Japan and Korea.

China After Li Shimin: This period is considered the height of the Tang Dynasty. Peace and growth continued after Li Shimin’s death in 649. The empire prospered under stable rule, with increased wealth, growth of cities, and the creation of enduring works of art and literature. It’s believed that Chang’an became the biggest city in the world.

The Middle Tang Era: Wars and Dynastic Weakening

  • Civil War: In 751 and 754, armies of the Nanzhao domain in China won huge battles against Tang armies and gained control of the southern routes of the Silk Road, leading to Southeast Asia and Tibet. Then, in 755, An Lushan, general of a large Tang army, led a rebellion that lasted eight years, seriously undermining the power of the Tang empire.
  • External Attacks: Also in the mid-750s, the Arabs attacked from the west, defeating a Tang army and gaining control of western Tang lands along with the western Silk Road route. Then the Tibetan empire attacked, taking a large northern area of China and capturing Chang’an in 763. Although Chang’an was recaptured, these wars and land losses left the Tang Dynasty weakened and less able to maintain order throughout China.

The End of the Tang Dynasty

Reduced in power after the mid-700s wars, the Tang Dynasty was unable to prevent the rise of army leaders and local rulers who no longer pledged their loyalty to the central government.

One result was the emergence of a merchant class, which grew more powerful due to the weakening of the government’s control of industry and trade. Ships loaded with merchandise to trade sailed as far as Africa and Arabia. But this did not help to strengthen the Tang government.

During the Tang Dynasty’s last 100 years, widespread famine and natural disasters, including massive floods and severe drought, led to the deaths of millions and added to the empire’s decline.

Eventually, after a 10-year rebellion, the last Tang ruler was deposed in 907, bringing the Tang Dynasty to a close.

The Tang Dynasty’s Legacy

The Tang Dynasty had a major influence on the culture of Asia. This was particularly true in Japan and Korea, which adopted many of the dynasty’s religious, philosophical, architectural, fashion, and literary styles.

Among the many contributions to Chinese literature during the Tang Dynasty, the poetry of Du Fu and Li Bai, considered China’s greatest poets, is remembered and highly regarded to this day.

Woodblock printing was invented during the Tang era, helping to spread education and literature throughout the empire and into later eras.

Still, another Tang-era invention was an early form of gunpowder, considered one of the most important inventions in pre-modern world history.


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  • Nelson SM, Fagan BM, Kessler A, Segraves JM. "China." In The Oxford companion to archaeology, Brian M. Fagan, Ed. Oxford University Press (1996).
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Gill, N.S. "The Tang Dynasty in China: A Golden Era." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 27). The Tang Dynasty in China: A Golden Era. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "The Tang Dynasty in China: A Golden Era." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 26, 2023).