AN03c_Ch.12- Empires in East Asia: The Sui, Tang, and Sung dynasties. (China’s Golden Age)
Timeline: 6th -13th Century
FS: When Europe is ‘Dark’, China ‘Shines’.
Main Idea: While Europe was in the midst of an age that many scholars consider a regression from the classical period, China offers a stark contrast. During the Tang and Sung dynasties, China experienced an era of prosperity and technological innovation. Even in their ‘least favorable’ manifestation, Chinese dynasties accomplish feats that were just not possible in Europe. Under the Tang, China reached its cultural apex.
I. Overview: Map of China activity.
II. Sui Dyanasty (1)
A. 581 CE: Sui Wen-ti is the founder and first emperor of the Sui Dynasty.
B. Sui Wen-ti unites northern and southern regions. Imperial China is restored.
C. Yang-ti, son of Wen-ti becomes second, and last, emperor of the Sui Dynasty.
1. Builds Grand Canal (2)
a. North – South Direction of Flow (China’s great rivers flow West – East)
b. 1000 miles in length
2. Great Wall Fortified =\> Raiding Turks from Central Asia were an issue.
D. 618 CE.: Sui dynasty collapses after the reign of two emperors. The enmity of the population may have been nurtured by the following:
1. Massive public works projects that required the coerced labor of peasants. Many died during the construction of the Grand Canal and the fortification of the Great Wall.
2. Burdensome Taxes
III. Mandate of Heaven transferred to the Tang Dynasty
A. Tai-tsung leads a successful rebellion. In 618, he becomes first Tang Emperor.
B. Military campaign organized and executed against the Turks (NW China).
C. Korea becomes a tributary state.
D. China’s Golden Age
1. Taxes on peasants are lowered.
2. Land redistributed among the peasant population.
3. Civil Service Exam System is revived.
a. Women excluded from participation except during Wu-Zhao’s reign.
b. In theory, open to all economic classes. In practice, open to a select class that can afford the luxury of academic study and test prep.
c. ‘Gentry’ class is the social classification of the scholar-officials.
– Paid no taxes
– Exempt from military service
– Often grew long finger nails as a sign of his status/ position.
– Permitted to use his position to improve personal wealth.
d. Strength: Talent and knowledge are held in greater esteem than
e. Weakness: Corruption could thrive. Mastery of Confucian knowledge has limited application in political administration.
Ponder: If a government lowers taxes on its population, how might it compensate for the drop in funds? Where could it generate new revenues?
4. Commerce Thrives
a. Revenues generated by the expansion of commercial ventures with the West, South & Southeast Asia.
b. Trade routes by sea (threatened by pirates) and land routes (threatened by nomadic raiders) were safeguarded.
c. The “Silk Road” becomes a major thoroughfare for Chinese goods that move West and specie that moves East.
d. The increased trade accelerated the exchange of ideas and materials within Asia and between Asia and Europe.
5. Empress Wu-Zhao
a. Only woman to rule China “in her own name”.
b. Continued policy of lowering peasant taxes.
c. Organized a campaign against Korea
d. Endorsed the spread of Buddhism. (3)
6. Poetry Proliferates
a. Poetry writing went hand-in-hand with being educated.
b. Great Poets of Tang China
– Li Po
– Tu Fu
E. Collapse of the Tang Dynasty
1. Muslim/ Arab Incursions- Umayyad & Abbasid Caliphates.
2. Trade Declines
3. Rising Tax Burden.
4. Internal Rebellion
IV. Interregnum: 907 – 960 CE. (4)
A. Local rulers (warlords) divide China
B. Army officer (Sung T’ai-tsu) leads military campaign to unify China. The year 960 witnesses the birth of the Sung Dynasty.
V. Mandate of Heaven transferred to the Sung Dynasty
A. Sung T’ai-tsu becomes first emperor of the Sung.
B. Neo Confucianism
By the 2nd C., Buddhism had already reached many in China. Its presence and acceptance, combined with the native influence of Daoism, contributed to an evolution of Confucian philosophy from one of purely ethical concerns to one also emphasizing a ‘supernatural’ reality. The impact of these two schools of thought (Buddhism & Daoism) on the third (Confucianism) is evident in folklore and social values. The Confucian philosophy with the added depth of the supernatural, becomes ‘Neo Confucianism’. During the Northern Sung dynasty, 10th – 12th C., Neo Confucianism became accepted as the state’s official philosophy/ religion.
C. Foreign & Domestic Policies
1. Stabilize Northern borders by paying tribute and maintaining commercial ties with Northern peoples.
2. Commercial activity is expanded.
a. Use of Paper Money & Coin
b. Porcelain and Silk become dominant ‘cash’ products in Western trade. [Porcelain is still referred to as ‘China’ in the US.]
3. Universal Man The ‘ideal’, as in Arete for ancient Greece and frugalitas, Pietas, & Gravitas for Rome. (5)
D. Technological Advances
1. Magnetic Compass
2. Movable Type (books become increasingly numerous and inexpensive)
3. Gun Powder
4. Vaccinations via Injection
E. Nomadic peoples move south of the Great Wall. Establish two, non-Chinese, dynasties in Northern China- ‘Xia’ in NW China & ‘Jin’ in NE China. The Sung are ‘pushed’ south and center the civilization of the Yangtze river. The northern Sung capital (Kai-feng) is replaced by the new southern Sung capital (Hangzhou).
F. Collapse at the Hands of Nomadic Peoples (Southern Sung Dynasty, 1279)
In time, trade with the Northern peoples is halted. This proved to be a poor foreign policy. It heightened the distrust between the two cultures. Combined with the climatic change that materialized, the Northern peoples were in dire straights and had to react. The Sung were eventually conquered by the Mongols.
VI. Summary: Why it matters now.
Chinese inventions from this period, such as printing, gunpowder, and the compass, changed history.
(1) The similarity with the Qin is quite striking. Clearly, the consolidation of power is a main concern and the maintenance of a wall is part of that overall plan. When the grip on power is tenuous at best, homophobic reaction usually follow. The wall was more a psychological barrier than a impediment to invasion. We know that it didn’t keep anyone out, but it made it easy for the Chinese to mark where ‘barbarity’ ended and ‘civilization’ began. One should also consider, in the context of Qin and Sui rule, that walls often keep people ‘in’ as well as ‘out’.
(2) China’s three great rivers; the Huang He, Yangtze, and Xi, are predominantly east-west oriented.
(3) In the case of Buddhism, the ability to linger in China for several centuries, despite the initial Han distaste for it, proves that old adage that if you are exposed to some idea long enough you eventually claim it as your own.
(4) Interregnum- A period between monarchs/ rulers. Represents a ‘break’ in continual governance.
(5) Compare to our (H1G) discussions of the Heroic Ideal of Homer and ancient Greece, Gravitas of ancient Rome, Guru and Bodhisattva of the Indian tradition.
– World History: Patterns of Interaction
– Slide Presentation
– CNN’s Millennium Series- 11th Century: Century of the Sword
– Additional Source: Lecture by Prof. Morris Rossabi, Columbia Univ. 28 Sept. ’00 (Stuyvesant H.S.)/ Author of Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times
– http://campus.northpark.edu/history/WebChron/China/Tang.html (Text copyright 1996-9 by David W. Koeller. firstname.lastname@example.org. All rights reserved.)
– http://www.chaos.umd.edu/history/imperial2.html, Originally accessed 2003, and again Mar. 2011.