From its establishment in 618 to its downfall in 907, the Tang Dynasty is the most prosperous dynasty in Chinese history.
The Tang can be divided into two periods: the early period and the late period, with the eight-year An Lushan-Shi Siming Rebellion as its turning point. The early period was a golden age, while the latter was a period of decline.
Marked by strong and benevolent rule, successful diplomatic relationships, economic expansion, and a cultural efflorescence of cosmopolitan style, the Tang dynasty emerged as one of the greatest empires in the medieval world. Merchants, clerics, and envoys from India, Persia, Arabia, Syria, Korea, and Japan thronged the streets of Chang’An, the capital, and foreign tongues were a common part of daily life. China was the world leader in politics, economy and culture.
In the beginning decades of the Tang, especially under the leadership of Emperor Taizong, China subdued its nomadic neighbors from the north and northwest, securing peace and safety on overland trade routes reaching as far as Syria and Rome. The seventh century was a time of momentous social change; the official examination system enabled educated men without family connections to serve as government officials. This new social elite gradually replaced the old aristocracy, and the recruitment of gentlemen from the south contributed to the cultural amalgamation that had already begun in the sixth century.
The Tang period marked the beginnings of China’s early technological advancement over other civilizations in the fields of shipbuilding and firearms development.
The eighth century heralded the second important epoch in Tang history, achieved largely during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, called minghuang—the Brilliant Monarch. It is rightfully ranked as the classical period of Chinese art and literature, as it set the high standard to which later poets, painters, and sculptors aspired. The expressions contained in the poetry and images reflect the flamboyant lives of the court and the conflicting sentiments generated by military campaigns. Tang poetry was the most remarkable in Chinese history.
The most serious problem of the last century of Tang was the rise of great landlords who were exempt from taxation. Unable to pay the exorbitant taxes collected twice a year after the An Lushan rebellion in the middle of the century, peasants would place themselves under the protection of a landlord or become bandits. Peasant uprisings left much of central China in ruins.
Although the An Lushan rebellion considerably weakened the power and authority of the court, marking its decline. The restored government ruled for another century and a half, providing stability for lasting cultural and artistic development but never fully recovered the central authority, prosperity, and peace of its first century.