Episode 21: Taizong* and the Rise of the Tang
Foundations of Eastern Civilizaiton
Dr Craig Benjamin (2013)
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.
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