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Tang Dynasty — Flourishing Golden Age of Ancient China

Building Complex of Daming Palace

Building Complex of Daming Palace, the Royal Palace of the Tang Dynasty, Based on Architectural Historian Yang Hongxun's Restored Model.

Tang Dynasty

What Is Tang Dynasty?


Tang Dynasty (618 — 907) was one of the most prosperous empires that included a series of great reigns in which culture, economy, science, poetry, art, and technology all developed preeminently. 


It inherited valuable legacies from the former transient but flourishing Sui Dynasty (581 — 618) and further expanded the empire to a golden age in the ancient history of China. 


Tang Empire lasted for 289 years and was ruled by 21 emperors.

Unearthed Food (Dumplings and Desserts) and Utensils from the Tang Dynasty

Unearthed Food (Dumplings and Desserts) and Utensils of Tang — National Museum of China (Photo by Kanjianji)


Facts About the Tang Dynasty


  • The founder of the Tang, Li Yuan, was a cousin of Emperor Yang of Sui (the last emperor of the previous Sui Dynasty). Still, initially, he only controlled one city with around 30000 soldiers that he recruited by himself and his family. 


Some of his sons and daughters are excellent generals who defeated and unified the nation alone. 


  • The writer of Tao Te Ching and the founder of Taoism, Li Er (also honored as Lao Zi or Lao Tzu), was respected as the ancestor of the Tang royal family. 


Therefore, the Taoism philosophy was highly respected by the ruling class, and the Taoism Religion was the national religion of Tang. 

Golden Dragons (Zou Long) that used as Ritual Implements of Taoism Religion Ceremony in the Tang Dynasty

Golden Dragons (Zou Long) that Were Used as Ritual Implements of Taoism Religion Ceremony in Tang — Shaanxi History Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • The Imperial Examination was completed and widely applied by the only Empress in Chinese history, Wu Zetian.


She selected and empowered more talented commoners to balance strong, old noble clans.


The system was inherited and well developed since then, allowing talented people, regardless of origin and social status, to get involved in the ruling class and obtain power.

  • Clans that obtained political powers were forbidden to get involved in industry and commerce, so they couldn’t use their power and privilege to gain profit through unfair competition with commoners. 

Inlaying Gold Ruler of the Tang Dynasty

Inlaying Gold Ruler of Tang — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • The capital city of Tang Chang An (now named Xi’an) was the biggest in the world during that period.


Chang An was about 87 square kilometers (approximately 33.59 square miles), with 110 districts and over 1.5 million population. 


Compared to big cities in the same era, Chang An was seven times bigger than Constantinople and 6.2 times bigger than Baghdad.  


​This fabulous city had been occupied six times by rebellions during the entire Tang Dynasty and was destroyed by Zhu Wen before the empire ended.

  • The leader of the most destructive rebellion army that heavily jeopardized the empire in late Tang had participated in the Imperial Examination but failed. Then he started to rebel and fought against the Tang army. 


The terminator Zhu Wen, who destroyed the Fabulous capital city Chang An, was from this rebel army.

Capital Chang An City of the Tang Dynasty

Restored Picture of Part of the Chang An City of Tang

  • Tang was a golden age of Chinese Poetry and had the best poets and poems in history, many of which are still popular today.


  • Many famous civil officials were also excellent at military and martial arts; great poets and artists, like Yan Zhenqing and Li Bai, were also brave and excellent warriors. 


  • The turning point of Tang was an eight-year-long rebel war that happened during the reign of Emperor Li Longji, the An-Shi Rebellion.


Around 36 million people were dead during this war.


After this war, many solid and half-independent regimes were formed and kept growing. 

  • In the late Tang, the eunuch group got military power for the first and only time in Chinese history, allowing them to abrogate and enthrone emperors.  

Unearthed Silver Tea Set (Cha Long) of the Tang Dynasty

Silver Tea Set (Cha Long) of Tang — Shaanxi History Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Night Market appeared and became famous.


  • The earliest record of the takeout service was in the Tang Dynasty. 

  • Polo and Tug-of-War were popular sports in Tang. Empress Wu Zetian was very good at Polo. 


  • Incense was widely used. 

  • Women could dress up as men, and low-cut blouses were quite popular during the Tang era. 

  • Men could wear flowers in their hair, both royals and commoners. 

Figurines Made During Tang Era (Photo by Dongmaiying) 

  • Many foreigners participated in the Imperial Examination and became political or military officials; some even made very high ranks, like the minister or marshal. 


More importantly, they didn’t need to change their nationality to Tang. 


  • Application of the international law: when two foreigners disputed, if they were from the same country, then applied their laws; if they came from different countries, then they should follow the Law of the Tang. 

  • Nestorianism was disseminated and got many believers.  

Brocade Embroidery of the Tang Dynasty

Brocade Embroidery of Tang — Datang Xishi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)


Brief History of the Rise and Fall of the Tang Dynasty



Chaotic Era and Warfare Among Warlords

In the later years of the Sui Dynasty, since 611, many peasant uprising armies and warlords from powerful aristocratic clans kept fighting against Sui’s troops.


Meanwhile, the former complied Turkic Khaganate started to expand its territory, and their Khan claimed himself as the most honorable king again.

Therefore, most of those warlords who wanted Khan’s support complied and respected Khan as their monarch. 

In the year 617, a warlord named Li Yuan, who came from a powerful military clan, claimed he would try his best to bring peace to the country.

Unearthed Tri-coloured Glazed Pottery Horse (Tang San Cai) of the Tang Dynasty

Unearthed Tri-coloured Glazed Pottery Horse (Tang San Cai) of Tang — Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Rise of the Tang Dynasty

Starting from only one city, Taiyuan, Li Yuan's territory was primarily expanded thanks to his talented sons and generals. 

Then, Li Yuan, Emperor Yang Guang's cousin, occupied the capital city and respected Emperor Yang Guang's grandson as emperor. 

The following year, after hearing that Emperor Yang Guang had been assassinated, Li Yuan took the throne and named his new dynasty Tang.

A new chapter was opened up; the Tang Empire was another unified and glorious dynasty in China when agriculture, economy, art, and science all developed to an advanced level, as well as frequent cultural communication and booming international trade through Silk Road and maritime routes.

Gilding Silver Cup of the Tang Dynasty

Gilding Silver Cup of Tang — Metropolitan Museum of Art (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Expansion Led by Genius Li Shimin


In the next five years, Tang’s army defeated other strong uprising forces and unified the nation.


At the same time, Empire Turkic Khaganate became super large and aggressive and planned to occupy Tang’s land. 


Besides those brave warriors, an important reason the early Tang army could achieve such extraordinary success in such a short time was that they had an excellent chief commander. 

This military genius was the second son of Emperor Li Yuan, named Li Shimin. He suggested his father rebel; he led Tang’s army to win countless decisive wars and gained a good reputation among civilians. 

Sculpture Stone Horses in Tang Tai Zong's Mausoleum (Zhao Ling), War Horses of His Six Important Wars.

Sculpture Stone Horses in Li Shimin's Mausoleum (Zhao Ling), War Horses of His Six Important Wars.
Their Names Are Te Le Biao, Qing Zhui, Shi Fa Chi, Bai Ti Wu, Quan Mao Guan, Sa Lu Zi.
The Last Two Are In Penn Museum, The Rest Are in the Forest of Stone Steles Museum of Xi'an.

Prosperity Under Reign of Tang Taizong

In 626, Li Shimin ambushed his big brother, the crown prince.


Afterward, his father, Li Yuan, nominated him as the crown prince and soon abdicated the throne. 

Emperor Li Shimin, also respected as Tang Taizong of Emperor Taizong of Tang, started his 23 years long reign.


He defeated his biggest enemy, the Empire Turkic Khaganate, vastly extended the territory and brought wealthy and stable lives to his people. 

After he departed, he left the prosperous Tang to his ninth son, Li Zhi, another excellent sovereign who flourished the empire further.

Tang Tai Zong or Emperor Taizong Receiving the Tibetan (Tu Bo) Envoy, Painted by Politician/Artist Yan Liben (601 — 673)