Tang Dynasty (618-907) Golden age of cosmopolitan culture. Its territory, acquired by the military adventures by early rulers, was the most extensive so far. One of the strongest and most prosperous powers in the world at its height.
Beginnings Founded by General Li Shimin and his father; of mixed heritage (Chinese and “barbarian”). Later named Taizong, or the “Great Ancestor,” he expanded trade along the silk road.
Tang territorial expansion • Overseas trade increased with addition of Fujian region and southeast coastal areas. • Reincorporated northern Vietnam, Xinjiang, and southern Manchuria into the empire. • Made Korea a tributary state.
Capital at Chang’an 1 Million people, including foreign traders and merchants in 30 square miles laid out according to feng shui principles, oriented north to south.
Government with scholar/officials • Expansion of civil service exams • Supported by government schools • Forbidden to serve in native places “ rule of avoidance” • Limited to terms of 3 years • Moved to different districts • Reduced power of great families
Military based on militia • Revenue system based on land tax • Government monopoly on salt, tea, and liquor • Rebuilt road and canal networks with post stations • Time of artistic and literary achievements especially painting and poetry
Tang Dynasty Poetry: The Peak of Chinese Literary Achievement • In the Tang Dynasty, writing poetry became part of the exams by which intellectuals entered government service. Because of this, poetry became an important part of social life, a medium of basic social exchange. Perhaps nowhere else in the world has lyric poetry ever occupied such a central position. • All of the surviving Tang poetry is the product of the literati or scholar-bureaucrats.
Two Primary Purposes • Tang poetry addressed important social and ethical issues. This is what the poets considered to be the primary function of poetry. • Tang poetry spoke of personal matters—for some it was almost like a diary
Main Subjects:NaturePhilosophyOccasions Main Poets: Wang Wei Li Po Du Fu
Wang Wei (699-761): Austere Artist Painter as well as poet, Wang Wei wrote short poems which are noted for their simplicity, their celebration of nature and a reflection of the Buddhist idea of “emptiness.”
Deer Fence/Enclosure I see no one in the deserted hills Hear only the echo of men’s speech. Sunlight cast back comes deep in the woods And shines once again upon the green moss Translated by Stephen Owen On the empty mountain, seeing no one, Only hearing the echoes of someone’s voice; Returning light enters the deep forest, Again shining upon the green moss. Translated by Richard W. Bodman and Victor H. Mair
Li Po (701-762): Romantic Eccentric Called the “banished Immortal” by his contemporaries, Li Po’s poems are known for their unrestrained emotion, deep appreciation of people, and love of nature. His poetry reflects Taoist tendencies.
Drinking Alone by Moonlight Here among flowers a single jug of wine, No close friends here, I pour alone And lift cup to bright moon, ask it to join me, Then face my shadow and we become three, The moon never has known how to drink, All my shadow does is follow my body, But with moon and shadow as companions a while, This joy I find must catch spring while it’s here. I sing, the moon just lingers on, I dance, and my shadow scatters wildly. When still sober we share friendship and pleasure, Then entirely drunk each goes his own way— Let us join in travels beyond human feelings And plan to meet far in the river of stars. Translation by Stephen Owen
Du Fu (712-770): Confucian Moralist Often called China’s greatest poet, Du Fu wrote poems reflecting his political commitment, his social concerns, and his love of family.
Spending the Night in a Tower by the River A visible darkness grows up mountain paths, I lodge by river gate high in a study, Frail cloud on cliff edge passing the night, The lonely moon topples amid the waves. Steady, one after another, a line of cranes in flight; Howling over the kill, wild dogs and wolves. No sleep for me. I worry over battles. I have no strength to right the universe Translated by Stephen Owen
“The Tang poets . . . Employ [ed] poetry to record their deepest and most intimate feelings, crying out for the alleviation of social ills, noting with wry candor the waning of their physical powers, longing for absent friends, or dreaming of the last journey home. And because they dealt with the basic impulses of the human being, their works easily survive the transition into another language and milieu.” Burton Watson, “Tang Poetry: A Return to the Basics”
Cast iron Gunpowder Compass Porcelain Coal for fuel Waterwheels Paper currency Wheelbarrow Wallpaper New technologies allow for growth
Ladies Preparing Newly woven Silk, copy after lost painting by Zhang Xuan of Tang dynasty attributed to Emperor Huizong, early 12th century, handscroll, ink and colors on silk, 14 x 57"
Collapse of the Tang • Revenue base began to erode • Imperial land grants to notables who avoided taxes • Population grew more quickly than land and money could provide • Began outlawing contact with other ethnicities
Military supported by mercenaries • Eunuchs’ power increased • Rebellions break out • Country divided by generals • Attacked by groups from the north, who take control of southern Manchuria region • Dynasty ends in chaos and civil wars
Spring View The nation is ruined, but mountains and rivers remain. This spring the city is deep in weeds and brush. Touched by the times even flowers weep tears. Fearing leaving the birds tangled hearts. Watch-tower fires have been burning for three months To get a note from home would cost ten thousand gold. Scratching my white hair thinner Seething hopes all in a trembling hairpin. Translated by Gary Snyder
Thanks to Dr. Jessica Stowell at the Oklahoma Consortium for Teaching about Asia for assistance with the content of this presentation.