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Tang Dynasty

With all of China's (approximately) four thousand years of existence, you would have thought that their golden age would be the Han Dynasty; after all, it's the dynasty from whom the Han Chinese people take their names from. Or maybe the Zhou Dynasty, the longest-lasting Chinese dynasty ever. Perhaps it would be the Song dynasty, the dynasty in which half of the four Great Chinese inventions came about. Or maybe it would be the Ming, the dynasty where Zheng He set out with hundreds of ships, all bigger than any of Columbus' vessels.

Unfortunately, if you guessed any of the above dynasties:

  • Han
  • Zhou
  • Song
  • Ming
Well... if you chose any of them, you would be wrong. There's another famous dynasty - the title of the post, actually. It's called the Tang Dynasty.

Tang Dynasty
Just a simple map allows you to see the power of the Tang. Of all the native Han Chinese dynasties (Shang, Zhou, Qin, Han, Jìn, Sui, Tang, Song, and Ming), the Tang controls the most territory.

By now, you're probably scratching your head in confusion. Whatever happened to the Jīn (P.S. Yes, that's different from the Jìn), the Qing, the Yuan, the Liao-

The problem is that I said "native Han Chinese dynasties". The Jīn were Jurchens who invaded the northern Song. The Qing were Manchus who invaded the 'Shun Dynasty', which overthrew the Ming. The Yuan were Mongols who invaded the Jīn and Song. The Liao were Khitans who invaded and occupied northern China.

There's another problem. Did the Ming control more or did the Tang control more? Ultimately, the Tang directly controlled more lands. The Ming only held nominal authority over the tribes in Manchuria, and though they did control Zhuang and Bai areas (modern-day Guangxi and Yunnan), that control was limited to appointing officials.

The Tang Dynasty is known as the Golden Age of Chinese history. From the start, the Grand Canal allowed quickly-ripening Champa rice from the south to be transported to the north, providing for greater food security for the entirety of China. With this, China's population exploded.

Even today, the Tang Dynasty is the origin of the Chinese name for Chinatowns - 唐人街 (tangrenjie) - or literally, Tang People Street.

Meanwhile, unlike the later Song, the Tang Dynasty is known for their military prowess. Their armies reigned undefeated by the nomads to the north, unlike the Song. To do this, though, they hired loads of Turkic people as mercenaries, which would later lead to problems as they rebelled against China; in one example, Turkic mercenary An Lushan rebelled against the Tang Dynasty in the An Shi Rebellion.

The Tang Dynasty was also a time of unparalleled Chinese influence in the rest of East Asia. The Tang held Korea for a while until releasing it as a vassal kingdom under the Silla. Tang poets influence Japan's Nara Period, a time of increasing Chinese influence in Japan. The Tang Dynasty was the time of Li Bai, a famous Chinese poet who wrote many poems.

A major problem for the later Tang was the military. The Tang gave near-unconditional powers to their military (and especially the military in border areas like Central Asia). Often times, these military commanders would no longer obey the Tang and would rebel. Other times, they would become corrupt and siphon off Tang resources.

Other than that, the Tibetan Empire often raided deep into the Tang dynasty, and as with all other dying dynasties, many officials were corrupt.

The Tang had been a long and prosperous dynasty, and they had been expanding in all directions - until the Battle of Talas, where the new Abbasids defeated the Tang armies and stopped their western expansion.

After the Tang fell, China became disunited again. This period was known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. The Song Dynasty was the dynasty that reunited China after this long civil war.

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