The Sui, T’ang, and Song Dynasties



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The Sui, T’ang, and Song Dynasties

  • The Chinese Renaissance

The Sui Dynasty

  • After the collapse of the Han Dynasty in 220 CE, China endured three and a half centuries of contraction and disorder before unification returned under the Sui.
  • The short-lived Sui Dynasty (598-618 CE) restored order and paved the way for the success of the T’ang Dynasty.

The Sui Dynasty

  • In the early 580’s, Sui Wendi, a Chinese nobleman and general, created a marriage alliance between his daughter and the ruler of the Northern Zhou empire.
  • Wendi then seized the throne of his son-in-law (who died) and proclaimed himself emperor.

The Sui Dynasty

  • Wendi quickly moved to get the support of the local nomadic tribal leaders and after he had that, in 589 CE, his armies attacked and defeated the weak Chen kingdom which controlled southern China.
  • Wendi united the Zhou and Chen kingdoms creating the first united China since the fall of the Han, three and a half centuries earlier.

The Sui Dynasty

The Sui Dynasty

  • A Buddhist known for his frugality and tireless work to rebuild a great China, Sui Wendi had widespread support because he lowered taxes, he had the foresight to build granaries throughout the major cities of the empire, and had the Great Wall repaired.
  • It has also been said he had the fewest concubines of any Chinese emperor (2) because he loved and respected his wife so much.

The Sui Dynasty

  • By storing excess food and creating a reserve, the Sui were prepared to ride out floods and droughts (anything that could cause famine).
  • It was said enough food was stored to last 50 years.

The Sui Dynasty

  • Wealthy and poor farmers each contributed a portion of their crop to the granaries.
  • Surpluses were brought to market to help keep prices affordable.

The Sui Dynasty

  • In 604, Wendi was murdered by his son Yangdi.
  • Yangdi carried on most of the policies of his father.

The Sui Dynasty

  • He supported Confucian educations for the nobility and he restored the examination system for entrance into the bureaucracy.
  • Yangdi is most noted for large construction projects, including the building of his capital city, Luoyang, and the Grand Canal, linking the Yangzi and Huang He (Yellow ) Rivers.

The Sui Dynasty

The Sui Dynasty

  • The Grand Canal is not as well known as the Great Wall but it is every bit as impressive an accomplishment.

The Sui Dynasty

  • By connecting two large east/west river systems the canal facilitated trade between northern and southern China.
  • It was the world’s largest waterworks project before modern times, extending over 1100 miles, with roads running alongside.

The Sui Dynasty

The Sui Dynasty

  • Food was easily transported across the empire, especially rice from the Yangzi River Valley.
  • The Grand Canal not only linked the economies of northern and southern China, it created the basis for political and cultural unity as well.
  • The Canal was the major conduit of international trade until railroads were built in the late 19th century.

The Sui Dynasty

  • Luoyang (Yangdi’s capital): During the Sui and T’ang dynasties the city had over 1m people.

The Sui Dynasty

  • Luoyang was the home of Lao Tsu (Daoism) and the first Buddhist temple in China (the fabled White Horse Temple).

The Sui Dynasty

  • Yangdi’s oppression, his fondness for extravagance and luxury, his building projects, and his repeated and unsuccessful military attempts to conquer Korea made him very unpopular.
  • He was assassinated by his own ministers in 618 (ending the Sui dynasty after only 20 years).

The Sui Dynasty

  • The Sui were the first postclassical dynasty in China.
  • They were important because they reestablished a strong, centralized state in China .
  • The Sui also undertook a series of new conquests, pressing into Vietnam, the Island of Taiwan, and westward into the Turkish lands of central Asia.

The T’ang

  • With the assassination of Yangdi, China might have fallen back into political chaos if it hadn’t been for the political savvy of one of his officials, Li Yuan, the Duke of T’ang.

The T’ang

  • The T’ang emperors and nobility descended from the nomadic Turks and Chinese officials who lived in northern China after the Han era.
  • They upheld Confucian values, but were heavily influenced by central Asian cultures promoting Buddhism and a strong military organization.

The T’ang

  • The T’ang moved their imperial capital to Chang’an (near the old Qin capital of Qin Shi Huangdi). Today’s Xi’an.

The T’ang

  • Chang’an (means “Perpetual Peace”) was at the end of the Silk Road. At 2 million people, it was the world’s largest city.

The T’ang

The T’ang

  • Li Yuan, together with his son Tang Taizong (teye-zohng), built a strong foundation for their dynasty by extending China’s borders and placating the nomadic people who had long threatened Chinese stability.
  • They moved in every direction but east, eventually extending China’s borders beyond the Han.

The T’ang

  • Li Yuan
  • Tang Taizong

The T’ang

  • They brilliantly played one nomadic group off of another to gain control, and they completed repairs to the Great Wall begun by the Sui.
  • The T’ang military forces were formidable, and as they pushed into central Asia, they forced the Turks further westward (setting in motion the Turkish advance towards the Middle East).

The T’ang

  • The T’ang also formed protectorates over Tibet, Vietnam, and they defeated kingdoms on the Korean peninsula (and Korea remained a loyal vassal state to China until the 19th century—known as Silla).
  • Japan even paid tribute to the T’ang.
  • China was the greatest empire in the world and controlled the world as they knew it.

The T’ang

  • Tang Taizong receiving the ambassador from Tibet.

The T’ang

  • Even though the T’ang were influenced by their central Asian roots, they identified with Chinese culture, and valued the scholar-gentry tradition based on knowledge and an appreciation of Confucianism.
  • An effective and efficient bureaucracy was developed (along the Han model) to govern over the ever increasing size of China.
  • This structure endured for 1,000 years.

The T’ang

  • The Chinese scholar-gentry bureaucrat occupied a position at the top of Chinese society, for he possessed prestige, wealth, and power.
  • Because of the difficulty of mastering the classical Chinese writing style, only a tiny fraction of the population was fully literate, and government officials were selected from this small group of highly educated scholars.

The T’ang

  • An ambitious young man would pursue an arduous course of study in the Chinese classics in preparation for the civil service examination.
  • These exams required thorough knowledge of the Confucian canon, plus the ability to write essays on moral issues and current affairs and poems in a variety of formal styles.

The T’ang

  • The candidate had to develop talent and worldly sophistication, as well as his erudition, to become a successful well-rounded literatus (man of letters).
  • If he passed the examination, there was virtually only one career open to him, and that was to enter government service.

The T’ang

  • During the T’ang era, the numbers of the educated scholar-gentry rose far above those of the Han era, and the examination system was greatly expanded.
  • The Chinese under the T’ang connected merit to position more than any of their predecessors (which isn’t to say wealth/connections didn’t also get you a job).

The T’ang

  • Under the auspices of the Ministry of Rites, scores on Confucian exams determined the level of government service you could attain.
  • The highest offices went to a very select group known as the jinshi, men who passed the most rigorous exam on philosophy and legal classics.

The T’ang

  • Students taking the Confucian exams.

The T’ang

  • If you earned the title of jinshi, your name was announced throughout the empire, and you were immediately made a dignitary.
  • You had the right to wear special clothes and were exempted from corporal punishments.

The T’ang

  • The peasant was not only the backbone of the Chinese economy, he was the muscle of Chinese power: he grew the food, and he also fought the battles.
  • In war, as on the farm, his equipment improved as Chinese culture advanced.

The T’ang

  • A farmer who was conscripted for war had little hope of resuming a normal life, and being captured was no guarantee of survival.
  • Victorious generals (and nomadic leaders) liked to enhance their reputation for ferocity and to chill the hearts of future enemies by the mass execution of prisoners.

The T’ang

  • With any luck a soldier might become a farmer again, but not necessarily on his own land.
  • The T’ang established military colonies on unstable frontiers and seed, plows, and oxen were provided by the state.
  • There the semiprofessional farmer-soldiers were expected to protect their farms and families (and the state) against all invaders.

The T’ang

  • T’ang rulers conscripted thousands of farmer’s sons to extend the rule of the emperor into the remotest parts of the continent (often by intermarrying with the “barbarians”).

The T’ang

  • A simple soldier of the T’ang wore hide armor and sometimes breastplates made of wood, felt , or paper—the best soldiers were provided with iron-plate armor, sometimes gilded, or with fine chain mail recently introduced from the Iranian west.

The T’ang

The T’ang

  • This soldier had a bow made of mulberry wood or the palmyra palm and steel tipped arrows.
  • The best swords were made of steel and were exceptionally tough (from a process learned in India), and their shagreen (sharkskin)-wrapped hilts were decorated with gold, silver, or rhinoceros horn.

The T’ang

  • For the privileged classes, military life offered excitement and danger under exotic skies.
  • Aristocratic young Chinese officers, armed with their new weapons and clothed in brocaded gowns and hats of marten fur, left their wives and sweethearts to fight the nomads on the edge of the Gobi Desert.

The T’ang

  • But death on the battlefield was usually preferred to the lot of the captured, who were almost always condemned to slavery.
  • Despite occasional attempts by humane emperors to abolish the commerce in slaves, the institution of slavery was never effectively challenged.

The T’ang

  • Prisoners of war were only one source of supply…great numbers were Hua men (northern barbarians) and some sold themselves into slavery to pay a family debt.
  • Thousands of nomads captured by the T’ang became state horse-herders, groomsmen, falconers, and outriders to the carriages of Chinese noblemen.

The T’ang

  • A few of them—expert potters, weavers, or musicians—might become the gifts of the emperor to great vassals.
  • Unskilled captives were herded into feverish jungles, where they died in droves working to make the land habitable for their Chinese masters.

The T’ang

  • Many female slaves were entertainers; the Chinese counterparts to the Japanese geishas.
  • These women learned popular arts under rigid discipline; the most successful of them were not only beautiful and talented but also gifted in witty repartee.
  • Some attracted the devotion of eminent personages…

The T’ang

  • More is known about slaves and peasants than about the merchant class (which for a long time wasn’t even acknowledged).
  • Traders and merchants had always been looked upon with distrust and disdain by the privileged; the few merchants mentioned in Chinese literature were usually foreigners.

The T’ang

  • Merchants were allowed only a small, carefully supervised role in the transfer of everyday commodities.
  • The finest and most expensive goods—glassware, drugs, gold and incense—were brought to the imperial court by vassals of the ruler in the form of “tribute.”

The T’ang

  • For basic products vital to the economy—salt, iron, wine and tea—imperial agents took charge of their production and distribution.
  • Historians don’t know much about shopkeepers or the people who sold products produced by farms or workshops for the common man.

The T’ang

  • In the great public markets of cities like Chang’an, merchants sold objects made of bronze, leather, silk and wood, and were entertained by street acrobats, storytellers, and all sorts of strolling foreigners—Persian gem dealers, Turkish pawnbrokers, and many others.

The T’ang

  • A market scene from Chang’an:

The T’ang

  • There were shops specializing in herbs and medicines, cakes and sweetmeats.
  • There were places for relaxation with cups of tea or wine.
  • The product most sought after by a city dweller was millet, the grass cereal that had been the stable of the Chinese diet since ancient times (Confucius existed mostly on millet cakes and dried beef).

The T’ang

  • Millet:

The T’ang

  • Wheat and barley cakes became popular with the T’ang, and even a poor man might augment his meal with beans, turnips and melons, flavor it with onion, ginger or basil, and top it off with peaches, plums, or persimmons.
  • A moderately well-off man might add some pork or chicken to the menu.

The T’ang

  • For settlers in the south, rice became the staple, and was supplemented by taro root, grown—like rice—in flooded fields.
  • Subtropical orchards supplied tangerines and oranges, bananas, coconuts and stewed frogs.
  • The T’ang developed a taste for all kinds of pickles and preserves, as well as fermented sauces and relishes.
  • Added to Chinese cuisine under the T’ang were spinach and pistachio nuts from Persia, dill from Indonesia, and almonds from Turkestan.
  • T’ang gastronomic sophistication included understanding the properties of various kinds of native mushrooms, eating dumplings shaped and flavored like 24 different flowers, and a kind of ice cream—a chilled mixture of milk, rice, and camphor.
  • The T’ang

The T’ang

  • The Chinese equivalent to the popular beers and wines of the West were fermented products of home-grown cereals, especially millet and rice.
  • But there were also more exotic drinks: grape wine for fashionable parties, fermented coconut milk for exiles in tropical jungles, and palm toddies (totties) in the south where malaria and poisoned arrows were always a threat.

The T’ang

  • It was during the T’ang era that a non-alcoholic beverage, a close relative of the camellia, was picked in the warm south and brewed in water for a hot, strengthening drink…tea.
  • Initially the drink of southern “barbarians,” tea quickly caught on in northern China, especially among the elites, where blue and white porcelain teacups were made for connoisseurs.

The T’ang

  • By the Ninth Century, the T’ang had created a series of formalities and even a cult of tea preparation and drinking (which eventually went to Japan where it still exists).

The T’ang

  • Beauty and formality were seen in the clothing of the T’ang.
  • The elite wore silk while commoners made fine fabrics out of hemp, ramie, and even banana.
  • The basic costume, as it had been for a thousand years, consisted of a two-piece outfit—a long tunic usually belted or sashed, topped by a jacket.

The T’ang

  • The design was the same for all classes, but the fabric and the details were what differentiated the wearer’s social position.

The T’ang

  • Chinese men were especially proud of their shoes, which separated them from the barefooted “barbarians.”
  • Peasants wore sandals of straw while the elites wore fine cloth slippers of heavy damask or brocade.

The T’ang

  • Elite ladies of the T’ang period were proud to appear in public wearing the latest Turkish or Persian styles.

The T’ang

  • During the Han period and continuing well into the T’ang period, clothing influences from the northern nomads included underwear, leather trousers, leather shoes, and leather belts.
  • Hair styles for men during the T’ang period included the top-knot or wearing a gauze cap stiffened with lacquer.

The T’ang

  • Upper class men and women wore gold and gems on their heads—even men required elaborate hairpins to hold their topknots in place and the women balanced tinkling golden crowns decorated with pearls and precious stones.

The T’ang

  • Upper-class women owned little compartmentalized boxes with mirrors, which was where they kept their cosmetics.
  • These included rouge for their lips and cheeks, colored with safflower or cinnabar, white lead or rice powder for their faces and shoulders, and blue or green grease to create false eyebrows.
  • Eyebrows were shaped as “distant mountains” and fashionable foreheads were painted yellow.

The T’ang

  • In T’ang China, just as it had been for 2,000 years, peasant and king alike lived in the same style of house… essentially an exaggerated manor house made of wood with a courtyard that has a gate in its south wall (the direction of holiness), several out-buildings in the yard and a garden behind.

The T’ang

  • It was the T’ang who created the architectural feature considered “typically” Chinese…the upwardly curved eves of the roof.

The T’ang

  • By the Ninth Century, homes of the elite in Chang’an were equipped with baths, heaters, mechanical fans, artificial fountains, and ice-cooled rooms.
  • Villas of some aristocrats boasted what was called “automatic rain,” similar to a modern shower.

The T’ang

  • One T’ang emperor had a large hall of the palace completely air-conditioned, where guests sat on stone benches that were cooled from within as they sipped iced drinks.
  • It was said he had a whirling fan that sprayed water behind the royal throne from which blew a cool artificial breeze.

The T’ang

  • The typical house of a wealthy T’ang family was decorated with furniture and accessories made of wood, metal, lacquer, glass, and ceramics.
  • Wooden articles included spoons and chopsticks of fine-grained jujube, writing brushes of bamboo, and perhaps a harp of paulownia wood.

The T’ang

  • The family probably owned a bronze mirror, its back inlaid with amber and turquoise; ewers and goblets of hammered gold and silver; and dishes made of fine porcelain or blown glass.
  • The favored colors were the colors of the best jade: white, pale blue, or green.

The T’ang

  • The T’ang enjoyed sports (they played a game similar to football), parlor games, music and dancing, and the great seasonal and ceremonial festivals that marked special occasions like the new year or the emperor’s birthday.

The T’ang

  • Music and dancing formed the core of most entertainments—especially those of the great palace-shows which celebrated an emperor’s birthday.
  • On one in the Eighth Century, a troop of 100 dancing horses adorned with rich silks and precious stones danced with tossing heads to popular music played by the palace orchestra.
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zK23_kJMRss

The T’ang

  • Dancing was inseparable from life, religion, and all ceremonial acts.
  • The most popular for the wealthy was to watch Sogdian (today’s Uzbekistan) twirling girls; they performed on the tops of large rolling balls while dressed in costumes of green pantaloons and crimson robes.

The T’ang

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErJ7UmT74hU
  • The T’ang elite enjoyed the game of polo, which had recently come from Persia, and polo players preferred Persian horses (as did soldiers and the emperor).

The T’ang

  • Persian horses augmented the emperor’s royal herd of Mongolian ponies and were so glamorous, they were known as “dragon horses” or “horses of heaven.”

The T’ang

  • Less active sports included board and table games, some of which were related to the modern Parcheesi and Backgammon.
  • Playing cards are thought to be an invention of the T’ang.

The T’ang and Song

  • The T’ang (618-907) and the Song (960-1279) dynasties have long been regarded as the “golden age” of Chinese arts and literature.
  • These dynasties set standards of excellence in poetry, music, landscape painting, architecture, and ceramics.

The T’ang and Song

  • T’ang Dynasty (618-907)

T’ang Dynasty

  • Herder’s Horse
  • The 13 Emperors (Tang Taizong had this painted as a warning to his son. It shows Tang with 12 emperors going back to the Han dynasty.

The T’ang and Song

  • The Wild Goose Pagoda in Chang’an (Xi’an), built in 652.

The T’ang and Song

  • Song Dynasty (960-1279)

The T’ang and Song

  • The Liuhe Pagoda of Hangzhou, built in 1165 during the Song Dynasty.

The T’ang

  • When the T’ang reunified China in the Seventh Century, they reestablished a strong central government and huge bureaucracy…and reestablished a state religious philosophy built around Confucianism.
  • But Confucianism was now complimented by Buddhism and Daoism. To the T’ang, these were known as the Three Doctrines.

The T’ang

  • Some thought all three were basically the same, especially concerning the spiritual destiny of man…but the emphasis was different in each one.
  • Confucianism was conservative (like the state religion of ancient Rome) and emphasized man’s duties to his fellow man and to his gods.

The T’ang

  • Confucianism stressed the importance of ancient ritual in determining man’s fate.
  • An explosion of scholarship among the elites gave rise to Neo-Confucianism, an effort to revive Confucian thinking while incorporating into it some insights from Buddhism and Daoism.

The T’ang

  • If a man asked “What must I do among other men in this everyday world?” Confucianism’s answer was “Rely on the wisdom of the ancient sages, correctly interpreted.”
  • Meaning: be a responsible citizen aware of your duties to your civilization and of your relationship to the eternal powers that preserve you.

The T’ang

  • Daoism stressed the search for immortality through man’s understanding of nature.
  • Even emperors, who served as heads of the official Confucian cult, honored Daoist books and practices.

The T’ang

  • One example was the emperor Xuanzong (Hsuan Tsung) who was so inspired by Daoist principles concerning the sanctity of life, he tried to abolish capital punishment and the harsh treatment of animals.

The T’ang

  • Emperor Xuanzong even established an official examination in Taoist philosophy for the title of “Master of Mystic Studies.”
  • Daoist legend says that once while burning incense at his private altar, he was wafted up to Heaven.

The T’ang

  • If a man asked, “What is my place in nature?” Daoism would say “You are a part of it, and must understand its subtle ways.”
  • From this came Chinese technologies in the natural sciences, an awareness of the idleness of ambition, and a vision of eternity seen in wild places, gardens, in painting and poetry.

The T’ang

  • Related to the Daoist vision of immortality was the Buddhist doctrine of salvation.
  • It maintained that salvation lay in one’s understanding that ordinary experiences were all merely illusion (like living in the Matrix).
  • This caused thousands of men to leave the everyday world for the serenity of monastic life and Buddhist monasteries filled the land.

The T’ang

  • Among the masses, this salvationist strain of Mahayana Buddhism (known as pure land ) won thousands of converts to Buddhism because of its belief in a heaven type after-life that was open to all (not just the wealthy/powerful).

The T’ang

  • The T’ang Dynasty was the height of the Buddhist age of China, and those elites that were Buddhists gravitated towards a strain known as Ch’an (Zen in Japanese).
  • Both the words Zen (Japanese) and Ch'an (Chinese) come from the Sanskrit word Dhyana, meaning "meditation.“

The T’ang

  • Ch’an/Zen Buddhism focuses on attaining enlightenment (bodhi) through meditation as Prince Gautama did.
  • It teaches that all human beings have the Buddha-nature, or the potential to attain enlightenment within them, but the Buddha-nature has been clouded by ignorance.

The T’ang

  • To overcome this ignorance, Ch’an/Zen rejected the study of scriptures, religious rites, devotional practices, and good works in favor of meditation leading to a sudden breakthrough of insight and awareness of ultimate reality.
  • Training in the Ch’an/Zen path is usually undertaken by a disciple under the guidance of a master.

The T’ang

  • A Ch’an student and his master.

The T’ang

  • As Ch’an developed in China, it was influenced by Daoist concepts.
  • This is especially apparent in the Ch'an emphasis on spontaneity and naturalness in all things, which significantly influenced Chinese painting, writing, and other arts.

The T’ang

The T’ang

  • The great city of Chang’an fell into ruins after the collapse of the Han, and during the ‘Age of Division’ northern barbarians grazed their flocks in the city and suburbs.
  • But the T’ang revived the city and it rivaled Baghdad, Alexandria, Constantinople, or Rome in their greatest days.

The T’ang

  • The city was laid out in beautiful symmetry—a model of the land of the gods, designed as a paradise on earth.
  • The city was structured in accordance with the divine plan, in the form of a rectangle oriented according to the cardinal directions.

The T’ang

  • The grid was subdivided into smaller squares with major streets leading to ceremonial gateways, named in accordance with the symbolism of the Five Elements (Wood, Earth, Fire, Water, and Metal).

The T’ang

The T’ang

  • The gateways faced the four sacred mountains, the most important of them facing the south, the holy direction symbolized by Yang, red, and summer—the special direction of the Son of Heaven himself.

The T’ang

  • Chang’an stretched about six miles east to west and about five miles north to south and was protected by a wall 17.5 feet high.

The T’ang

  • The basic grid consisted of 25 broad streets flanked by drainage ditches and fruit trees.
  • All of the chief north-south streets were 480 feet wide (Fifth Avenue in NYC is only 100 feet wide).
  • The city had several canals which connected to the Wei River, so goods were easily brought from all over the empire.

The T’ang

  • There were many magnificent buildings, both public and private.
  • These included the residences of the great nobles, fantastically large and extravagantly furnished.

The T’ang

  • Syrians, Jews, Arabs, Persians, Koreans, Tibetans, and Japanese all lived side by side with the Chinese of Chang’an.
  • At one time, there were 64 Buddhist monasteries, 27 Buddhist nunneries, 10 Taoist monasteries and six Taoist nunneries, four Zoroastrian temples (chiefly for the Persian expatriates), and a Nestorian Christian church.

The T’ang

  • In 636, Nestorian Christians from Syria were allowed to build a church and hold Christian services barely six hundred years after the founding of Christianity and less than three hundred years after Christianity had become the state religion of Rome.

The T’ang

  • The Great Mosque of Chang’an, built during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 713-756).

The T’ang

  • It was said that people lived and worked in such peace and contentment that there was virtually no crime and doors were not locked at night.

The T’ang

  • The foreigners not only brought in new religions, but new clothes, cuisine, literature, and music as well.
  • The imperial court itself had several performing troupes gathered from surrounding nations permanently installed at the court.

The T’ang

  • The palace enclosure was a city in itself, called “Great Luminous Palace.”
  • It was built on a majestic height called “Dragon Head Plain,” from which it overlooked the rest of the city.
  • You approached the complex from a bluish stone paved road that curved like a dragon’s tail.

The T’ang

The T’ang

  • To the T’ang, a journey to Chang’an was a holy pilgrimage. This was the city of the king, the “Son of Heaven,” and the ascent to the palace on its dragon hill—like a paradise on the summit of a holy mountain—was an enactment of the journey of the human soul to the mountain of the gods.

The T’ang

  • When the T’ang dynasty ended (in 904 CE after a quarter century of civil war), the great mansions and palaces were ravaged by arson and pillage.
  • They were dismantled and their timbers were floated downstream to the new capital of Loyang (Louyang).
  • Massive walls were demolished; beautiful water parks were allowed to silt up.

The T’ang

  • For generations afterward, the site of the once great capital provided a theme of melancholy reflection by poets on the transience of human glory.

The T’ang

  • According to Confucian beliefs, having a woman rule would be as unnatural as having a “hen crow like a rooster at daybreak.”
  • But during the most glorious years of the T’ang dynasty, a woman did rule and she ruled very successfully.

The T’ang

  • She was Wu Zetian, the only woman in Chinese history to rule as emperor (b. 625; r. 690-705).

The T’ang

  • The T’ang dynasty was a time of relative freedom for women…and Wu was born into a wealthy and powerful aristocratic family (of Sui lineage).
  • The daughter of an important general, she was taught to read and write, she read the Confucian Classics, and she played music.
  • By 13, she was known for her wit, intelligence, and beauty and was recruited to the Emperor’s court.

The T’ang

  • She soon became a favorite concubine of the second emperor, Tai Tsung, but when he died in 649, she was sent (with all the other court concubines) to a Buddhist nunnery … in Chinese society, once a woman had served the emperor, she could never marry another man.
  • Luckily for Wu (who was 24), the new emperor (Tsung’s son Kao Tsung) wanted her back in the palace.

The T’ang

  • Within a few years, she had provided the new emperor with several sons.
  • But five years into their relationship (660), he suffered a crippling stroke so Wu took over the administrative duties of the court.

The T’ang

  • The court was a dangerous place so Wu created a secret police force to spy on any opposition, and it is said she was ruthless towards anyone who opposed her.
  • When her husband died (several years later), she was able to out maneuver her eldest sons and she placed her youngest (and weakest) son on the throne.
  • But she was always the real power.

The T’ang

  • In 690 (at the age of 65) her son “resigned” (she actually had him deposed) and she became Emperor herself, the first and only woman ever to occupy that office in Chinese history.

The T’ang

  • Under Empress Wu (r. 690-705), Buddhism reached the height of its importance in China.
  • She unsuccessfully tried to make Buddhism the state religion.

The T’ang

  • Chinese historians tend to vilify Empress Wu and she was painted as a usurper who was both physically cruel and erotically wanton; she first came to prominence, it was hinted, because she was willing to gratify certain of the emperor’s more unusual sexual appetites. “With a heart like a serpent and a nature like that of a wolf,” one contemporary summed up, “she favored evil sycophants and destroyed good and loyal officials.”

The T’ang

  • A small sampling of the empress’s other crimes followed: “She killed her sister, butchered her elder brothers, murdered the ruler, poisoned her mother. She is hated by gods and men alike.”

The T’ang

  • But Empress Wu was perhaps one of the most able and brilliant of the Chinese emperors, and she had a profound influence on Chinese culture.
  • She oversaw the greatest expansion of T'ang military power and recruited her government heavily from the civil service examinations.

The T’ang

  • Among her accomplishments, Empress Wu raised the status of women, had hundreds of Buddhist monasteries built, and encouraged the arts.
  • Under her rule great works of art such as Buddhist statuary, mounted dolls playing musical instruments, gold and silverworks, ceramics and glassware were produced.

The T’ang

  • Buddhist carvings in rock walls commissioned by Empress Wu.

The T’ang

  • She was the first emperor of China to assume a Buddhist title, "Divine Empress Who Rules the Universe."
  • She also promoted Taoism.
  • In 666 AD, while she reigned in the place of her incapacitated husband, Lao Tzu was officially recognized as the “Most High Emperor of Mystic Origin.”

The T’ang

  • In order to challenge Confucian beliefs about women, Wu started a campaign to elevate the position of women.
  • She had scholars write biographies of famous women, and raised the position of her mother’s clan by giving them high political posts.
  • She said the ideal ruler was one who ruled like a mother over her children.

The T’ang

  • She reportedly had her own harem of men and ruled until 705 when she died (at the age of 80).
  • The T'ang reached its military height during the reign of Empress Wu; after she died, the empire soon fell into a series of court schemes and intrigues (like that of Empress Wei) which severely weakened the central government.

The T’ang

  • For a brief period, during the reign of Xuanzong (Hsuan-tsung)(685-762 r. 713-756), the government revived.
  • Xuanzong was the grandson of Empress Wu and considered one of the greatest of the T’ang emperors.

The T’ang

  • As the “Son of Heaven,” Xuanzong epitomized the worldly sophistication and social responsibility of the Confucian tradition.
  • It was said he was a man of strong personality, impressive appearance, and exemplary manners.

The T’ang

  • He was skilled in the manly arts of horsemanship, archery, polo-playing, and martial arts (said to be one of the best in the country), and he was learned in the “noble” arts of calligraphy, astronomy, and music.
  • He was an accomplished performer on several instruments and gave discourses on music theory.

The T’ang

  • In Chang’an, he founded academies to study music and dance and he had his own company of actors living at the palace.
  • His abilities in poetry and visual art were also said to be among the finest in the country.

The T’ang

  • He also took a keen interest in scientific and technological problems; among other achievements, his reign is noted for the building of an iron suspension bridge over the Yellow River (Huang He), its bamboo cables held on the banks by cast-iron supports in the shape of oxen, and for the construction of a water-powered astronomical clock that revised the Chinese calendar.

The T’ang

  • Xuanzong was also a humane man—he decreed the abolition of capital punishment and he founded a hospital for the sick and maimed beggars of the capital city.
  • Twenty years into his reign a courtier noted that he was getting thin…”Let my figure be lean” he said “but all under Heaven must be fat.”
  • During a drought in 723CE, he stood on a mat for three days, exposed to the open sky, and prayed to the Heavens for water.

The T’ang

  • During the 44 years of his rule, Chang’an became an incredibly wealthy city and was the centerpiece of Chinese culture.

The T’ang and Song

  • During the later years of his reign, Xuanzong became more and more oppressive and extravagant (and less interested in running his empire).
  • The lonely old emperor (aged 60) doted upon Yang Guifei, a beautiful young woman from the harem of one of the imperial princes (his own son)...a tragic love story.
  • She was considered one of the four most beautiful women of ancient China.

The T’ang and Song

  • Yang Guifei had the emperor place relatives of hers in key offices, causing widespread corruption and discontentment.
  • Xuanzong spent all his time in search of pleasure and neglected the court as well as politics.

The T’ang and Song

  • The emperor’s neglect of his state duties led to a military uprising that took eight years to put down.
  • The T’ang dynasty was saved but before it was over, the emperor watched as Yang was executed (she jumped over a cliff). The emperor was 77, Yang was 36).
  • He was never the same and less than a year later he gave up the throne to his son.

The T’ang

  • The end of the dynasty came on March 17, 905…a festival day in the official almanac.
  • On this holiday a great banquet was prepared in the imperial park of Loyang, the ancient capital of the divine kings of Chou, now the eastern capital of the T’ang.
  • The host was Chu Ch’uan-chung, all-powerful warlord and protector of his most-honored guest, the 15 year Emperor Li Tsu.

The T’ang

  • Pre-eminent among the silk-clad guests were the nine brothers of the young monarch.
  • Wine was served, then the nine young princes, possible heirs to the throne, were seized by Chu’s men, hanged and thrown into the lake.
  • Two years later, the 17 year-old emperor formally abdicated to Chu.
  • A year later, he was executed.

The T’ang and Song

  • Politically, the T’ang and Song built a state structure that lasted over 1000 years.
  • Six major ministries—personnel, finance, rites, army, justice, and public works—were accompanied by a Censorate, an agency that watched over the rest of the government, checking on the character and competency of public officials.

The T’ang and Song

  • To staff the bureaucracy, the examination system was made more elaborate…to prevent cheating on exams, students were searched when entering the examination hall and numbers, rather than their names, were put on the exams.
  • Schools and colleges expanded to prepare candidates, which became a feature of upper-class life.

The T’ang and Song

  • Underlying the cultural and political achievements of the T’ang/Song was an economic revolution that made China the richest, most technologically advanced, and populated country on earth.
  • The most obvious sign of this prosperity was the enormous population growth.

The T’ang and Song

  • T’ang China had 50-60 million people…Song China had over 120 million by the year 1200.
  • The Chinese had remarkable achievements in agricultural production, especially the adoption of a fast-growing and drought-resistant strain of rice from Vietnam.

The Song

  • China became the most urbanized country, with dozens of Chinese cities in excess of 100,000 people.
  • The Song capital of Hangzhou had more than 1,000,000 people.
  • There were specialized markets for meat, herbs, vegetables, books, rice, and much more as troupes of actors performed for the crowds.

The Song

  • Hangzhou:

The Song

  • Restaurants advertised their offerings—sweet bean soup, pickled dates, juicy lungs, meat pies, pig’s feet.
  • Inns developed to serve different types of clients.
  • Inns that only served wine, a practice known as “hitting the cup,” were regarded as “unfit for polite company.”

The Song

  • “Luxuriant inns,” marked by red lanterns, featured prostitutes, and “the wine chambers were equipped with beds.”

The Song

  • Specialized agencies managed elaborate dinner parties for the wealthy, complete with a Perfume and Medicine Office to “help sober up the guests.”
  • Numerous clubs provided companionship for poets, Buddhists, physical fitness enthusiasts, fisherman, horse lovers, antique collectors, etc.

The Song

  • Schools for musicians offered thirteen different courses.
  • It’s no wonder that in the late 13th century Marco Polo remarked that Hangzhou was “beyond dispute the finest and noblest city in the world.”

The Song

  • Zhao Kuangyin (also known as Emperor Taizu) founded the Song dynasty.
  • It was Taizu who reunited most of China after the fragmentation and rebellion between the fall of the T’ang (907) and the establishment of the Song Empire.
  • He was a general, made emperor by his soldiers in 960 A.D.

The Song

  • Emperor Taizu.

The Song

  • Another reason that his dynasty lasted longer was that he did not try to fight the Khitans to the north (a nomadic peoples living in Manchuria).

The Song

  • Taizu focused on conquering the southern half of China.
  • The southern kingdoms, while economically and culturally advanced, did not have strong militaries and were relatively easy to defeat.

The Song

  • In order to maintain peace with the Khitans, the Song were forced to pay them annual tributes.
  • These annual tributes were more cost effective than maintaining a military that could hold the Khitans back.

The Song

  • Supplying Hangzhou and other major cities with food was made possible by the immense network of internal waterways—canals, lakes, rivers—stretching almost 30,000 miles.
  • Waterways created cheap and efficient transportation binding the country together and creating the “world’s most populous trading area.”

The Song

  • Industrial production was unmatched by anyone in the world.
  • By the 11th century, China’s iron industry had large-scale production facilities that employed thousands of men and provided the government over 32,000 suits of armor and 16 million arrowheads a year (plus metal for coins, tools, construction, and bells for Buddhist monasteries).

The Song

  • The Iron Pagoda in Kaifeng was built in 1049 (it’s actually brick, not iron).
  • At 13 stories (187 ft), it has an inner stone spiral staircase, over 1600 intricate carvings, and 104 bells that ring in the wind.

The Song

  • Inventions in printing, both woodblock and movable type, generated the world’s first printed books (500 years before Gutenberg).
  • By 1000, relatively cheap books on religious, agricultural, historical, mathematical, and medicinal topics became widely available.

The Song

  • Chinese navigational and shipbuilding technologies led the world (invention of the compass).
  • Their ships contained as many as four decks, six masts, and a dozen sails.

The Song

  • The ships were guided by a stern post rudder and had water-tight compartments.
  • These ships could carry 500 men (European caravels carried 30-40). European ships on the other hand used muscle power and an inefficient steering oar.

The Song

  • A Song warship.

The Song

  • The Chinese invention of gunpowder in the 8th century (originally to treat skin diseases and fumigate insects), would within a few centuries revolutionize warfare.
  • By the 13th century, the Chinese shot gunpowder-filled bamboo tubes of arrows.
  • They soon discovered these tubes could launch themselves, creating the world’s first true rockets.

The Song

  • 13th century Chinese “fire-arrows.”

The Song

  • Advances were also made in medicine, as the first autopsy was performed in about 1145 AD on the body of a Southern Chinese captive.

The Song

  • Amazingly, almost all of Chinese production was for the market, not for local consumption (China had the world’s most highly commercialized society).
  • Cheap transportation allowed peasants to grow specialized crops for sale, while they bought rice or other staples on the market.

The Song

  • Government demand for taxes paid in cash rather than in kind required the peasants to sell something in order to meet their obligations.
  • The growing use of paper money and financial instruments like letters of credit (“flying money”) and promissory notes added to this commercialization.
  • All this made Song China inventive and extremely wealthy.

The Song

  • While they were the most technologically and culturally advanced people in the world at the time, the Song were not militarily powerful.
  • Part of the reason for this may be because Confucianism held the military in very low regard.

The Song

  • Confucianism did not recognize the military as being part of the four official classes of occupations: the shi (scholar-gentry), the nong (peasant farmers), the gong (artisans and craftsmen) and the shang (merchants and traders); therefore, the military consisted of either the poor, uneducated peasants, mercenaries or allies.

The Song

  • Diplomacy was the favored form of dealing with enemies.
  • This prolonged period of paying tribute to enemies, rather than being militarily strong enough to defeat them, left the Song susceptible to attack from others.
  • This weakness allowed for two non-Chinese kingdoms to exist to the north of the Song. They were the Liao and the Western Xia (the Tangut who were T’ang and created their own kingdom when the T’ang dynasty disintegrated).

The Song

The Song

  • All three of these kingdoms favored diplomacy over military aggression.
  • By 1125 A.D., a group called the Jin were able to conquer the Liao and the Song, along with part of the territory of the Western Xia.
  • A brother of the Song emperor fled south, and declared himself emperor. His dynasty is generally known as the Southern Song.

The Song

  • The “golden age” of the Song dynasty was probably less than “golden” for many of the country’s women.
  • Under the influence of steppe nomads, whose women led less restricted lives, elite women of the T’ang era, at least in the north, had a social life with greater freedom than in classical times.

The Song

  • Paintings and statues show aristocratic women riding horses, while the Queen Mother of the West, a Daoist deity, was widely worshipped by women.

The Song

  • By the Song dynasty, Confucianism and rapid economic growth seemed to tighten patriarchal restrictions on women and restore the earlier Han dynasty images of female submission and passivity.
  • Confucian writers highlighted the subordination of women and the need to keep men and women separate in every domain of life.

The Song

  • A Song dynasty historian wrote “The boy leads the girl, the girl follows the boy; the duty of husbands is to be resolute and wives to be docile begins with this.”
  • Women were frequently looked at as a distraction to men’s pursuit of a contemplative and introspective life.

The Song

  • The remarriage of widows, though legally permissible, was increasingly condemned, for “to walk through two courtyards is a source of shame for a woman.”
  • One of the worst expressions of this tightening patriarchy was in footbinding.

The Song

  • Apparently beginning with dancers and courtesans in the 10th or 11th century, this practice involved the tight wrapping of young girl’s feet, usually breaking bones and causing intense pain.

The Song

  • Footbinding spread among elite families and later even to the general population.
  • It was associated with Song images of feminine beauty and eroticism that emphasized small size, delicacy, and reticence (silence/reserve).
  • It is also believed that small feet made it very hard for a woman to run away from her husband and his family.

The Song

  • It certainly served to keep women restricted to the “inner quarters,” where Confucian tradition said they belonged.
  • Many mothers forced this painful procedure on their daughters, probably to help them compete with concubines for the attention of their husbands.

The Song

  • Footbinding in China.


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