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4. The Tang Dynasty
By Han_Wudi, 2001; Revised
Category: East Asia: China
The Tang dynasty was founded by Li Yuan, who became emperor Gaozu, the first emperor of Tang. He had defeated the armies of the declining Sui dynasty, led by the fatuous emperor Yang Ti. In this he was actively and ably assisted by his sons, prominent among which was Li Shimin, later emperor Tang Taizong.
In AD 618 Xi'an fell, and the Sui Dynasty ended. After spending some time consolidating against other factions, Li Yuan ascended the throne as Emperor Gaozu, and with his eldest son as the Crown Prince.
The years of his reign were spent consolidating the kingdom, and he was again ably assisted by Li Shimin. However, Li Shimin got wind of a plot against him by his elder brothers(or so he said), including Crown Prince Li Jiancheng, and he pre-empted them by assasinating them at the Xuanwu Gate of the palace in Chang'an in 626 AD. Li Yuan was then compelled to abdicate in favour of his Li Shimin, and the latter ascended the throne as Emperor Taizong.
Tang Taizong was a wise and able ruler, and was as well-versed at politics as he was at military affairs. During his reign China flourished, seeing a population explosion, an economy boom, a flowering of the arts and culture and the expansion of her borders. Koryo was defeated and subjugated, and China rose to preeminence in Central Asia after defeating the Eastern Turks several times. However, as he got to the end of his reign, Taizong became tyrannical and extravagant, and he pursued elixirs of immortal life. One of these was said to have cost his death in 649 AD.
Tang Taizong was suceeded by his son Gaozong, who was a weak man and allowed his domineering wife Wu Zetian to run the state and become the power behind the throne. He was replaced by his son Zhongzong after his death. Virtually Wu Zetian's puppet, the latter was pushed aside after only a short while as ruler.
Wu Zetian then took the throne, the only woman to rule in her own right as an "emperor" in 5000 years of Chinese history. She has been branded as a wicked woman by most Chinese scholars but in fact was wise and capable. She instituted the imperial examination system and governed China ably. Wu Zetian, or Wu-hou was deposed as empress shortly before her death in 705 AD. Xuanzong, one of the most celebrated and tragic figures in Chinese history, took her place.
He was young and very capable, and the Tang Empire reached new heights. The ecnomy flourished as foreign traders poured into China, and Chang'an at this time was a great city of a million people. Tang pottery and poetry became popular during this period, and it can be said that Xuanzong presided over the Golden Age of China and the Tang dynasty.
However things changed as his time wore on. He became infatuated with the infamous Yang Guifei and neglected state affairs. Incursions by barbarians became more common and the Chinese army and economy declined in strength due to bureaucratic corruption. The rebellion of An Lushan and Shi Siming(see above)occured and took 8 years to put down, weakening the state and putting power into the hands of powerful regional warlords. The famous Battle of Talas River occured, and China lost its hold on Central Asia, never to regain it.
The Tang Empire had begun a long decline that would lead to its final collapse in 907 AD. Floods and famine wreaked havoc and the people, heavily taxed and suffering great hardship, revolted frequently. China was devastated and the population fell greatly. Northern incursions became more common, and at last, in 907 AD, a general seized power in a ruined Chang'an, bringing the once-mighty Tang Empire to an end.
The Xuanwu Gate Coup (626AD)
After allegedly learning of a plot hatched by his elder brothers to get rid of him, Li Shimin, the second son of Li Yuan(first emperor of Tang), ambushed his siblings --- Li Jiancheng, who was the legal crown prince, and Li Yuanji in front of the Xuanwu Gate in the palace, and killed them. Li Yuan, Tang Gaozu, was forced to abdicate in favour of Li Shimin. Although Li Shimin got the throne by force, he is still one of the most intelligent emporers in Chinese history.
The Event of Dew (835AD)
In the late Tang, the empire fell under the control of eunuches. They held so much power that emperors were killed and deposed as they pleased. While Wen Zong(Li Ang) was on the throne, some officals planned an attempt to kill the eunuches and destroy the power of the eunuch faction. They told the emperor that there was a pomegranate tree that was covered by dew in the palance(that means auspice), and invited all eunuches to see that. At same time, a general in the conspiracy ordered a group of solders to hide near the tree and prepare to kill all the latter. Unfortunately, a eunuch found those solders when he was approaching the tree. He acted quickly and held the emperor hostage. The plot had failed. All officals who participated in the Event of Dew were killed, and the emperor Wen Zong was put under house arrest, becoming a mere figurehead with little power. He died in depression.
The Rebellion of An and Shi (756AD-763AD)
In 756AD, An Lushan, a high-ranking general of Turkish descent and the adopted son of Tang Xuanzong, rebelled. The rebellion lasted seven years and two months. It seriously weakened Tang dynasty. During the war, An Lushan occupied the capital Chang'an, and the emperor Xuan Zong(Li Longji) was forced to escape to sichuang. An Lushang was killed by his son in 757AD, then his subordinate Shi Siming became the commander-in-chief of insurgent troops. Later, after Shi Siming died in 761AD, his son Shi Zhaoyi took over his forces, until the rebellion was put down in 763AD. After this war, Tang entered its middle-and-late period.
The Rebellion of Huang Chao (874AD-884AD)
This rebellion was the biggest one in the history of the Tang dynasty. Its leaders were Huang Chao and Wang Xianzhi. The entire China was a battlefield, and the number of rebels was up to six hundred thousand. The Tang dynasty was utterly exhausted by this terrible conflict. 23 years later, in 907AD, the throne was usurped by Zhu Quangzong(Zhu Huang), who was a general of Tang but surrendered from the rebels of Huang Chao.