For any government or political system to flourish, whether in the lower cadre or higher levels, there must be a strong and established leadership, in place, to offer guidance and direction. The same scenario was exonerated in China. This came after the defeat of the Sui Dynasty, by the Tang Dynasty1.
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Li Yuan2 established the Tang Dynasty3 with the help of formidable sons, who went to war against the Sui Dynasty. The Tang Dynasty ruled from the year 618 AD until the year 907 AD. The Tang Dynasty formed one of the greatest empires ever experienced in China.
This paper highlights the reasons that enabled the Tang Dynasty to become so large. Great investment in agricultural development, trade, conscripted army, and development in science technology and medicine are among the reasons behind the great achievements of the Tang Dynasty.
However, the Tang Dynasty did not rule forever; it started to experience problems in the mid 8th century, and thus divisions emerged. Consequently, the empire failed. The paper later discloses the reasons that proved difficult to keep the empire intact, after the mid 8th century. Eroding economy and weakened power and authority of the central court are among the reasons behind the fall of the Tang Dynasty.
What enabled the Tang dynasty to become so large?
Good governance depends on the ability to feed the population. Tang Dynasty made it through agriculture. The Tang dynasty investment in agricultural production enabled the empire kingdom to feed its population. Rice was established as a staple food for the Chinese diet.
Rice production nourished especially in the warmer and wetter central and southern areas. “When the officials4 debated on the settlement policy, they submitted Eastern Turks in 630” (Zhenping 2009, 262). Even the groupings that had fought against the taking power of the Tang dynasty were considered and allocated fields for farming.
The Tang dynasty ensured the development of cultivation into a scale section of agricultural production. The constant supply of food to the population contributed enormously to the general population growth. Establishment of stable and constant food production meant trustworthy health.
There were established farms during the Tang dynasty. This ensured self-sustainability of this particular dynasty.
More investment in agricultural production contributed immensely to the growth in population. With the evident excess in production, there came a need for trade. The presence of rivers such as Yangste River provided an excellent ground for the irrigation agriculture. This specifically provided a new base area for Ham settlement afterwards.
The other pillar for the growth of the Tang dynasty is the established trading routes with other countries. This need brought about the establishment of the first maritime Silk Road paths using the Indian and Persian coastlines. “Taizong’s whose primary concern was without doubt to keep the Silk Road open” (Xiong 1999, 339).
It connected the Arabian Peninsula and oceanic island to Egypt in East Africa. This provided an opening to other parts of the world. This qualifies as a main contributor to the great establishment of trade with other countries. The Tang dynasty established the seaports on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.
This provided a direct connection to the Mesopotamia areas. The sea and ocean routes allowed free movement of goods and items from other countries into China. The establishment opened up trade routes to Euphrates River, Arabia, Egypt, and Somalia. The main challenge remained the ambush by the armies from other states.
As Graff (2009) states, “on July 7 756 A Lushan’s generals smashed the large government army guarding the road to Chang’an” (105). The trade over the ocean has been risky since time immemorial especially when the country participating does not have a well-established army to guard its people.
The maritime trade provided a trading network that ran through Middle East, India, Persia, and Central Asia including Africa. The well-established trading channels opened up working opportunities for the large population. They were able to exchange their surplus with the items not found in their area of jurisdiction.
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The connection to other centres of the world increased the cultural ties with other centres that they interacted during their trade. It, further, led to intermarriage that enhanced the population of the empire.
Trading across the ocean is risky even today. The Tang dynasty understood this extremely well and established an exceptionally strong army. The Tang Dynasty had strong, professional, and conscripted armies made up of hundreds of thousands of troops5. Skaff (2004) states that, “the military and civil consolidation of the much longer lasting Tang” (119).
They controlled the trade along their routes by protecting the traders of any harm along the route. They countered the nomadic points in inner Asia and necessitated the lucrative trade routes along the Silk Road. Strong investment in the army is a necessity for any established country.
The developed countries have strong established armies to provide protection to their citizens. Trading across the sea and ocean is dangerous especially when it involves the crossing of other countries territories. It requires the trading state to provide its traders with an escort drawn from their army.
Otherwise, there is a possibility of hijacking in deep seas and consequential loss of trading products or even abduction. The Tang dynasty understood this and hence invested fully in their army along the Silk Road and staffing of their territorial boundary.
The Tang dynasty invested heavily in the establishment of arms for their defence. This necessitated the protection of their civilians. During the reign of Tang dynasty, the army was equipped with many soldiers that protected both the land and routes over the ocean.
The Tang dynasty invested heavily in science and technology6. This acted as a boost to their industrial advancement. They trained their own personnel who worked in these industries7. With the high level of technology, the Tang dynasty was able to invest in the medicinal provision.
The Tang dynasty was able to build hospitals as well. Large population is realised only and only if there is a well-established medical provision. The Tang dynasty knew this and hence made a great investment in the medical provision counter for their ever-increasing population.
The investment in technology assisted tremendously in security provision. It, further, enabled ready employment for their population especially for the trained personnel. The civil service provided jobs to the population without discrimination.
The major cause of failure of many governments is the inability to provide job openings for their population contrary to what the Tang dynasty practised. For the Tang dynasty to control and manage their high population, they invested heavily in the medical provision. They established laboratories and equipped them with well-trained personnel.
The Tang dynasty established the Tang courts that assisted with the administration of law and order. It was during the Tang dynasty governance that they established the first legal code in China. As Xiong (1999) states, “the Tang dynasty also issued land statutes aimed at the implementation of equal field system” (328).
The foresaid legal code has survived up-to-date. The survival of many governments depends largely on investment and independency of the courts. The Tang dynasty ensured this, hence, keeping at bay trouble with its people.
Many of the skirmishes reported so far have been drawn from the poor established judicial system that protects few who are in power. The judicial system that was established looked mainly at the interests of the population without any discrimination.
The success of many societies has been attributed to their cultural and religious beliefs8. “Peaceful and violent encounters between cultures and civilization have been the prime causes of social, economic, political, and material changes” (Skaff 2004, 117).
The Tang dynasty had its feet rooted strongly in its culture and Buddhism religion. This cultural influence spread over the neighbouring states including Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, just to mention but a few. In the real sense, it spread to all the countries with which they traded.
These included Middle East, India, Central Asia, and even Africa. They knew “cultures restricted within the boundaries or countries were static and homogeneous” (Skaff 2004, 118).
Their strong cultural beliefs led to established poets such as Li Bai, Du Fu, Han Gan, and Zhang Xuan who are among the best world-renowned literature men and women of the time. People appreciated their literature, which is even reproduced in the contemporary world.
Why did it prove difficult to keep this empire together after the mid 8th century?
In the mid 8th century, it became difficult to keep the Tang dynasty9 based on the weakened power and authority of the central court at Chang. An “Enforcement of regulations broke down in Poa A Lushan period” (Tackett 2008, 108). The weak governance came about following the Lushan rebellion in the final year of the brilliant Tang Xuanzong rein.
As Tackett (2008) states, it is “the Huang Chao rebellion that effectively brought an end to Tang imperial power” (103). The political instability came about as a great cost to the people of China. It led to civil war strikes. There were hurdles in trading with other countries. The fight brought about weakened army.
This consequentially led to displacement of people. Agricultural development became a problem. Even feeding people was compromised. Worth noting is the injuries suffered by the health sector. The scientific and technological development was compromised.
This meant that medicinal research and production suffered the greatest injuries. It proved difficult to feed the nation and consequentially provide medical services to the society. The inability to attend the two automatically meant more death. It affected cultural diversity and literature. The religious values, which are built on well-established governance, were also affected.
The inability to manage the professional and conscripted armies led to eroding of the economy. The army fell apart. “When the Tang emperor Xuanzong placed non-Chinese in charge of the frontier commands in 747 it set the stage for A Lushan rebellion” (Skaff 2000, 23).
Unity among the army was a particularly crucial practise. The idea of was iterated by Zhenping (2009) who says, “China should also maintain military vigilance even when the non-Chinese were submissive to the Chinese court” (264).
It posed a substantial risk to the traders who were still operating on their established routes10. The agricultural production was considerably hampered based on the unfavourable governance and lack of commitment from the government.
The scientific development was affected leading to the reduced qualified personnel in the industries. With massive displacement of population, the industries experienced low raw material production based on the reduced agricultural output. The industries also experienced reduced human labour.
In conclusion, the establishment of the Tang dynasty offered a key opening to the Chinese government. It necessitated the opening up of the first maritime Silk Road paths that enhanced trading routes in the Middle East, India, and Persia, Central Asia and East and the horn of Africa.
Cultural and religious diversity experienced during the Tang dynasty narrowed down the evident cultural and trading ties between Arabia and China. The Tang dynasty was shortly interrupted by the second Zhou dynasty between October 8, 690 and March 3, 705.
Otherwise, it stands out as the empire that ruled for a long period characterised by much success. It was during the governance of the Tang dynasty that the Chinese country experienced a vast scientific and technological advancement ever in the history of the Chinese.
The advancement in medical research and subsequent provision of medical services is one of the pillars of its growth of population. Improvement in food production ensured availability of food to the population. The territorial boundaries were well protected against any invaders.
Worth mentioning is the widespread culture that integrated the neighbouring trading countries. The Lushan rebellion eroded the economy causing a widespread displacement of people. It weakened the power and authority of the central court11.
This destabilised the Chinese people influencing heavily on their food production and trade. It left much ruin on science, technology and medicine, as well as dampening the hopes of continual culture and literature advancement.
Graff, David. “Fang Guan’s chariots: scholarship, war, and character assassination in The middle Tang.” Asia Major 3rd series 22 no.1 (2009):105-130.
Skaff, Jonathan. “Survival in the frontier zone: comparative perspective on identity And political allegiance in China’s inner Asian borderlands during the Sui
Tang Dynasty tradition (617-630).” Journal of World History 15 no.2 (2004): 117-153.
Skaff, Jonathan. “Barbarians at the gates? The Tang frontier military and An Lushan Rebellion.” War & society 18 no.2 (2000): 23-35.
Tackett, Nashon. “Great clansmen, bureaucrats, and local magnates: the structure And circulation of the elite in late-Tang.” Asia Major 3rd series 21 no. 2 (2008): 101-152.
Xiong, Victor. “The Land-tenure system of Tang China _ a study of the equal-field System and the Turfan documents.” T’oung Pao 85 no.4 (1999): 328-390.
Zhenping, Wang. “Ideas concerning diplomacy and foreign policy under the Tang Emperors Gaozu and Taizong.” Asia major 3rd series 22 no.1 (2009): 239-285.
1 Tang Dynasty was an imperial kingdom of China: Though Sou dynasty came before it, there were other five dynasties that followed it
2 “Li family belonged to the northwest military aristocracy prevalent during the reign of the Sui emperors” (Xiong 1999, 339)
3 Chiang’, its then capital city, was then the most popular city ever in the world
4 The kingdom upheld a civil service system by employing officials after a thorough examination and recommendation
5 “Li Shimin had commanded troops since the age of 18, had prowess with a bow, sword, lance, and was known for his effective cavalry charges” (Graff 2009, p.107)
6 “Through use of the land trade along the Silk Road and maritime trade by sail at sea, the Tang were able to gain many new technologies, cultural practices, rare luxury, and contemporary items” ((Skaff 2004, 118).
7 “Candidates were also judged on their skills of deportment, appearance, speech, and level of skill in calligraphy, all of which were subjective criteria that allowed the already wealthy members of society to be chosen over ones of more modest means who were unable to be educated in rhetoric or fanciful writing skills” (Skaff 2004, 117).
8 “The Chinese empire welcomed foreign cultures making it very cosmopolitan in its urban centres” (Graff 2009, p.107)
9 “The Tang Empire had once again lost control over many of its outer western lands, as the Tibetan Empire largely cut off China’s direct access to the Silk Road” (Skaff 2000, 23).
10 “Banditry was a problem along the checkpoints and oasis towns, as Xuanzang also recorded that his group of travellers were assaulted by bandits on multiple occasions” (Zhenping 2009, 257)
11 “Despite early victories scored by Tang General Guo Ziyi (697–781), the newly recruited troops of the army at the capital were no match for An Lushan’s die-hard frontier veterans, so the court fled Chang’an” (Zhenping 2009, 257)