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[The Writer’s Name]
[The Name of the Institution]
The ancient civilization of China goes back thousands of years and they have achieved many great accomplishments. Since 221 B.C. when Qin Shihuangdi united China to 1911, many different ruling families have watched over and guided the people of China towards prosperity. These ruling families are called dynasties, but which one was the best of all? There has been great debate over this topic, but I think it was the Tang. The Tang Dynasty was the greatest, because they improved the government, made many technological advancements, and aided the flowering of their culture.
The Sui Dynasty, the one before Tang, had fallen because of internal rebellions so the remaining generals fought for power. The general Li Yuan won and founded the Tang Dynasty. He established a capitol in Chang'an (modern Xi'an) with a centralized government that presided over the provinces and brought together the noble families. Both nobles and peasants could become court officials; some got in on personal recommendation and others could get in through the civil service examinations. These tests measured the abilities of people in classical Confucian learning and literary composition. Besides expanding the administrative system, the Tang also made developments in the judicial department. They created the Tang Code that bases the punishment of a criminal on the crime and the extent of relation between the criminal and the offended person; it's the first complete Chinese code still existing. (1) Having a good government is important because it dictates how well the country will be run and it can also help later dynasties if the government works well. With this new government and judicial rules, 13,465 officials in 657 A.D. managed more than 50 billion people.
The people of Tang China were also able to contribute many inventions to the world like porcelain, block printing, and gunpowder. Porcelain was made in the late 700s and became a valuable export like silk. It's used to make delicate bowls and elegant vases with clear bluish glazes; porcelain is so closely related to the Chinese, it's called "china." Another invention of the Tang is block printing in the 700s. When the Chinese block printed, they carved an entire page into a block of wood. The first book to be printed was a Buddhist scripture, Jingang Jing. Block printing led to other inventions later on like moveable type. Gunpowder was originally invented by the Chinese in the 800s. It's an explosive powder that was originally used by the Chinese in fireworks, but later spread to Europe where they used it in firearms. All these inventions impacted the world, and developments in science and technology are very important or we'd still be living caves. The Tang did us a great favor by inventing this stuff so that it could lead to the other, more complex, things we use today.
Culture is very important in a society because it's their way of life, whether it's sophisticated or crass. The Tang Dynasty is known as the golden age of poetry. A few new forms of poetry were developed but the old styles, five or seven syllables per verse, were perfected. Some of the most famous poets were Li Bo, who wrote about the pleasures of life; Du Fu, admiring the merits of Confucianism; and Bo Juyi, who revealed the misery of the common people. Poetry wasn't the only form of art that flourished, painting, pottery, calligraphy, sculpture, music, dance, and literature were thriving as well. Religion also took a big part of the Tang way of life. Chang'an, the capitol, was the center of all religions. Buddhism and Taoism were the main ones, but the Tang government didn't proclaim a state religion so the Chinese were allowed to worship foreign religions like Christianity, Zoroastrian, etc. Religion also greatly affected art; there are still many sculptures and paintings of Buddha in temples all around China. From the trans-Asiatic trade routes in the northwest to Korea in the east, any event along the northern frontier might have important consequences for China. Emperor Yang realized this fact and spent vast sums in attempting to control the neighboring regions. Loss of prestige on that frontier, together with internal weakness, was directly responsible for the collapse of his dynasty. (2)
The Emperor's ambition and cupidity, plus the natural extension of trade attendant on peace and prosperity within the country, led to an expansion of Chinese influence further to the west than had been possible since Han times. At the very start of his reign merchants were already traversing the "Western Regions" (Hsi-yü), but there was no Chinese administration farther west than the bounds of China proper. Envoys were sent out by the Emperor to various states beyond the western borders of the empire, including parts of modern Turkistan and India. They returned with lion skins, agate goblets, asbestos, dancing girls, and Buddhist sutras.
With the imperial demand for "precious things" from the west came a further development of trade. The center of this exchange between the Chinese and the "barbarians" was Chang yeh. in Kansu. Desirous of knowing more about these peoples and the regions whence they came, the Emperor commissioned his trusted advisor, P'ei Chü, to go to Chang-yeh to superintend this commerce and to help decide upon an imperial foreign policy. The result was that P'ei Chü wrote a geographical work in which he recorded the information that he obtained from the traders concerning the geography and customs of their countries. The Chinese now controlled not only Tun-huang, which P'ei Chü had termed the "throat place" (3) —the key position on the western trade routes, but, to a great extent, the main southern route through Turkistan itself. The control of these regions, with their trade to the west, evidently increased the imperial revenue.
This new Sui territory—some four thousand li from east to west and two thousand from north to south—then became the scene of a great colonization project. Administrative subdivisions were set up. Lesser criminals were sent out to garrison them and to found military colonies. With this expansion Chinese prestige gained among the people of the Western Regions. Many of them came to the eastern capital ( Lo-yang) in the winter of 609-610 and were lavishly entertained for a month. Whether or not trade opportunities afforded adequate compensation to China, is difficult to estimate. Later in the early years of the T'ang dynasty, Chinese expansion went even further and yet the historians of that time described the great expenses involved in Emperor Yang's foreign policy as an extravagance.
A stronger organization than that of the Sui was necessary to continue this extension of territory. And in the period of confusion at the end of Emperor Yang's reign, the difficulties were aggravated. "Distances by road were long drawn out, and hence it happened that robbery and seizure, death and desertion came one upon another."
When troubles arose elsewhere, the Chinese were no longer able to maintain control over the T'u-yü-hun territory. Its ruler, who had formerly been expelled, returned to his domain and took advantage of the weakening of Chinese power to raid north western Kansu, the region "to the right [i.e., west] of the Yellow River." (4) In connection with these routes through Turkistan and Chinese expansion in that direction, one must also keep in mind that far more powerful neighbors—the T'u-chüeh or Turks—resided to the north and that much of China's prestige throughout Asia depended on her relation with these warlike nomads.
The Tang dynasty exhibited what any great civilization should. Stability, control and expansion allowed the Tang to flourish. Lasting from 618-907 the Tang dynasty established itself under the direction of Li Yuan. It was later that the dynasty really took off. Under the reign of Tang Taizong, the Tang dynasty literally put Ancient China on the map. With the construction of the "silk road" the Tang dynasty enabled trade from East Asia to the Mediterranean. This enabled gold, glass and ivory to move into Asia. In addition silk, porcelain, jade and bronze moved towards Rome. This appears to be the first known organized route for trade in history.
The expansion was not limited to trade. Through the leadership Li Yuan provided, the Tang dynasty with the military prowess to take over a majority of Asia. The dynasty took control and passed on its rich culture form the Himalayas to the lower part of the Yangtze provinces. Now all of Asia was made aware of Buddhism. The Tang dynasty was full of culture. Poetry and sculpture were a major part of the lifestyle. This particular aspect of the Tang dynasty appeals to me the most. The spread of Buddhism greatly influenced the literature, art and philosophy scene. The capital city of Chang'an had become a huge center for the arts and religion. Its vast temples and markets enriched the lives of its two million residents. It has been concluded that this was the world's largest metropolitan area.
In conclusion, the Tang Dynasty was the preeminent dynasty of China because they created a well-working centralized government and made a Tang Code. They were able to produce many inventions, like gunpowder, that helped their world at the time and led to the inventions of today. They were also recognized for having a culture that affected the whole world with its vitality in art and literature. Every Chinese dynasty has left behind a great legacy that helps us, the modern world, in all kinds of ways. We should pay them respect by at least learning about what wonders they gave us.