The Tang Dynasty was the seventh, and possibly greatest, major dynasty of Ancient China.
While the Han Dynasty is also considered to have been one of the most important dynasties to the cultural and political fabric of China, the Tang Dynasty can be considered to be equally important.
The policies and laws put into place during the Tang Dynasty laid the framework for the rules of modern China and saw a huge amount of cultural development as well.
The Tang Dynasty began in 618 AD when the Sui Dynasty and its tyrannical ruler were overthrown.
The man who overthrew the Sui Dynasty, Li-Yuan, would later go on to found the Tang Dynasty and become the first Tang Emperor: Emperor Gaozu. Gaozu was a skilled leader who managed to correct most of the corruption that had been left behind by the Sui Emperors.
Many of the bureaucratic systems (the systems on which the government operates, in terms of hierarchy, authority, paperwork, etc.)
Gaozu installed are still in place today. Gaozu’s creation of the Tang Legal Code in 624 AD was hugely important to establishing law and order in China.
This code was even copied by other countries, like Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
There was a struggle for power around this time after Gaozu chose one of his sons above the others as his heir, but eventually, his son Li-Shimin took the throne and had his father executed.
Li-Shimin was a very ambitious leader and saw room for improvement even after all the work his father had done. He took the name Taizong after becoming emperor.
Emperor Taizong strengthened his base of power by using the concept of “ancestor worship” to his advantage; he claimed that his dead father was now his heavenly advisor, which kept his popularity high among the people.
Emperor Taizong made a great number of reforms to the legal system of China, particularly in terms of religious tolerance.
These reforms allowed religions like Christianity and Buddhism to take hold in China alongside the old practice of Taoism. Taizong’s reign became a model for a fair and balanced rule in the years to come.
When Taizong died, one of his mistresses – a woman named Wu – was sent to a temple to become a nun, as was customary for widows at the time.
However, she was no ordinary mistress, and she’d reappear in the future in a much more powerful role.
The next emperor of the Tang Dynasty was Taizong’s son, Li Zhi, who took the name Gaozong when he ascended to the throne.
Gaozong did not do very much during his time in power, at least not compared to his father and grandfather.
Gaozong made the decision to call Wu back to his imperial court, to keep as his own mistress.
Wu, however, was hungry for power and schemed to eliminate all of Gaozong’s other mistresses to ensure that she would become the next ruler of China.
When Gaozong died in 683 AD, Wu became Empress and changed the name of the dynasty to Zhou to show the beginning of her new dynasty.
Empress Wu is regarded as one of the greatest rulers of ancient China. Her work led to improvements in education, taxation, and agriculture.
She reigned from 683-704 AD and died in 705 AD. Her son, Zhongzong took the throne following her death but was poisoned by his wife shortly afterward.
A struggle for power began within the royal family, which ended with Wu’s grandson, Xuanzong, taking the throne.
Under Xuanzong’s reign, the Tang Dynasty’s golden age began. Xuanzong put an end to the death penalty, helped the economy by increasing security on the Silk Road, built roads, and aided the development of industry.
Xuanzong put great emphasis on the arts and encouraged creative expression.
Over 50,000 poems, short stories, plays and many other literary works were produced during the Tang Dynasty, mainly under Xuanzong’s reign.
The first clock in the world was invented during the Tang Dynasty too, by the engineer Yi Xing in 725 AD. The Tang Dynasty also invented gunpowder, waterproofing, fireproofing, gas stoves, and air conditioning.
While the Tang Dynasty lasted all the way to 907 AD, its greatness declined from 750 AD onwards; Xuanzong’s appointment of an inexperienced politician, Li-Linfu, to the position of chancellor did a lot to destroy the Tang Dynasty, but it took nearly two hundred years more for the dynasty to officially come to an end following a period of war.
The Tang Dynasty ended in relative disgrace due to how its later years went, but the first few emperors were remembered fondly, and the work they did help to prevent the entire collapse of the country in the years to come.