The civilization of ancient China reached its peak during the rule of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). The Tang was the most successful imperial dynasty in ancient Chinese history, and the time of their rule is recognized as a golden age of reform and cultural advancement.
The improvements introduced by Tang emperors served as a base for rules and strategies that still exist in modern China.
The majority of great inventions and improvements in Chinese history – including the print, gunpowder, gas stoves, air conditioning, as well as developments in science, technology, medicine, literature, and architecture – took place during this dynasty.
Reformist Emperors (and an Empress)
The Tang dynasty was established by Emperor Gaozu and his son, Li-Shimin.
- Gaozu was an active ruler who immediately started reforming the rules and procedures which were often abused during the rule of the previous Sui Dynasty. This ambitious emperor implemented the bureaucratic and legal practices that still persist in China. In 624 CE, he created the Tang Legal Code, which was so good and functional that future dynasties – as well as other nations, such as Korea, Vietnam, and Japan – continued using that code.
- Emperor Taizong, who ruled 626-649 CE, was an exemplary leader who improved this society in many ways. He reformed the government, the system of education, military, social structure, and religious practices.
- His successor, Gaozong (r. 649-683 CE) and his wife, Empress Wu Zetian (624-705 CE) continued with reforms. The change of the society was so profound that it was possible for the empress to take control of the government – and that’s what she did. She was very persistent in her efforts to improve the country, and she made it possible for her successor, emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-756 CE), to be even more successful.
- With Xuanzong’s decline, the golden age ended, as well as the order and stability. It would take China two hundred years to restore the order under the new dynasty, the Sung.
Cultural and Technological Developments
- Thanks to Emperor Xuanzong’s love for poetry and the arts, over 50,000 notable literary works were produced in a short time. These works included short stories, plays, and poems. On top of that, a whole encyclopedia was completed, and that was certainly a massive achievement for that age.
- Large-scale woodblock printing began under Emperor Taizong, but it was significantly improved under Xuanzong, when large quantities of books became available to people. As a result, literacy increased. Furthermore, the lower classes became eligible to hold government offices; interested individuals only had to be properly educated and to pass civil service exams.
- The availability of books influenced the nation’s health. Everyone could read about the advances in medicine and learn how to develop useful habits and prevent diseases.
- In 725 CE, the engineer Yi Xing created the first clock mechanism not only in China but in the whole world. Mechanical expertise of Chinese engineers was so advanced during the Tang Dynasty, so that they even produced motorized figures and automatons – such as a mechanical monk who collected donations and a hydraulic wine-pourer – based on blueprints made by Hero of Alexandria.
- Other notable inventions include gunpowder, air conditioning, gas stoves, waterproofing, and fireproofing.
- Thanks to the advances in agriculture, especially new machines, the processes of planting, irrigating, and harvesting crops became faster and easier.
- Poverty was reduced so much that the poor could afford to buy some linen. Until this point in history, they could only wear animal skins.
- The quality of life for the rich and the poor alike improved massively. At the same time, the escalation in trade brought new products and ideas.
The golden age in Chinese history happened during which dynasty?
It was the Tang Dynasty.
What was Emperor Gaozu famous for?
He established the dynasty and created the famous legal code, the Tang Code.
What’s the name of the emperor who increased literacy and book production?
His name was Xuanzong.
What was the sign of great advancement in mechanical engineering?
It was the world’s first clockwork mechanism.
Who was Wu Zetian?
She was the first female ruler in the history of China.
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