Taizong and the Rise of the Tang

Episode 21: Taizong* and the Rise of the Tang

Foundations of Eastern Civilizaiton

Dr Craig Benjamin (2013)

Film Review

The Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) was known for strong benevolent rule, diplomatic prowess, a surging economy (thanks to a resumption of Silk Road trade and a government monopoly on salt, liquor and tea production) and major military expansion.

Lui Huan, the first Tang emperor, was a Sui governor and member of the royal family when he deposed the last Sui emperor Yang Guang. Lui Huan maintained power by establishing an extremely sophisticated Confucian bureaucracy and undermining local nobles by making direct land grants to peasant

He established the very first state schools (which wouldn’t arrive in the West for another 1,000 years) and re-established competitive exams (on Confucian philosophy) for government officials. The Tang Dynasty was also known for a well-maintained transport system (of roads and canals) and a sophisticated courier system relying on hundreds of horses, thousands of human runners and a government network of inns and stables for travelers.

Lui Han continued to improve on the Equal Field System started under the Wei Dynasty. The system operated under the premise that all land belonged to the emperor (rather than a few powerful nobles). Although approximately 1/5 of this land was passed down through families, 4/5 could be reassigned by the state depending on family circumstances.

The Tang Dynasty brought Manchuria came under Chinese control and made Sella in Korea a tributary state. The Tang military conquered Tibet, as well as briefly occupying Vietnam, and their conquests in Western Asia extended as far as the Aral Sea.

Chinese western expansion halted following the 751 AD Battle of Talas (in modern day Kyrgyzstan), in which allied Muslim and Tibetan armies overpowered Chinese troops and forced them to retreat.

The initial Tang emperors were extremely tolerant of the foreign religions (mostly Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Nestorian Christianity) practiced by hundreds of thousands of foreign immigrants.

The Tang Dynasty is also famous for introducing the first paper money, which began as receipts for its primary industrial products (paper, cast iron, silk and porcelain).

Between 624 -705 AD China was ruled by the empress Wu Zetam, who began as the emperor Gaozong’s concubine and took over the government after he suffered a stroke.

*Emperor Taizong of Tang, previously Prince of Qin, personal name Li Shimin, was the second emperor of the Tang dynasty of China, ruling from 626 to 649. He is traditionally regarded as a co-founder of the dynasty for his role in encouraging Li Yuan, his father, to rebel against the Sui dynasty.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy


How the 751 Muslim War with China Left Steppes under Turkish Control

Episode 20: Clash Between the Turks and the Caliphate

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

In this lecture, Harl focuses on the long military campaign to bring the Turks on the central steppes under Muslim control.

In 671 AD the Abbasid Caliphate (see The Multiethnic Origins of the Muslim Conquest) builds a permanent military camp at Merv.* Throughout the 7th and early 8th century, they use this base to launch periodic raids into Transoxiana.** Their primary objective is to seize booty (mainly silver to melt down into coins) to pay their regiments (both Arab and tribal). This is the first use of coins featuring Arabic text, as previously the Caliphate printed their coins in Persian.

In 709 AD, Merv’s new governor launches a campaign to bring Tranoxiana under Arab rule. Owing to fierce resistance by the caravan cities, who summon Turkish allies to their defense, it will be 750 AD before Transoxiana comes under Muslim control. Despite being taxed and restricted, the majority of nomads resist conversion to Islam and continue to practice their Christian, Jewish and Zorarastrian religions.

In 751 AD, Abbassid and and Chinese armies clash on the border of the Tong Empire. In the Battle of Talas, both sides recruit Turkish steppes nomads as mercenaries. The Caliphate wins a technical victory after China’s Turkish mercenaries defect to fight with their brother Turks for the Caliphate.

Although both sides accept the outcome as a draw, Chinese influence on the steppes lapses when the emperor withdraws troops from Transoxiana to fight an attempted coup. This leaves the Turks in de facto control of the central steppes.

*Merv (aka the Merve Oasis or Marv) was a major Persian city in Central Asia, on the historical Silk Road.

**Transoxiana is the Roman name for the central steppes region roughly corresponding to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and southern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.