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China Travel Guide

From the Tang dynasty to the Song dynasty

Tang dynasty The Tang dynasty
The Tang dynasty marked the beginning of the medieval period of Chinese history in the seventh century. It was an age of prosperity and innovations in arts and technology when Chinese culture reached its most sophisticated and cosmopolitan peak.

During the Tang, China was the cultural center of East Asia. Merchants, pilgrims, missionaries, and students traveled to Chang’an (modern Xi'an), the Tang capital, in huge numbers, converting it in the world's largest city at that time with a population of over two millions. Chang’an became the heart of a centralized and powerful state. Luoyang also was a great metropolis considered as the second capital of the Tang. Buddhism became the principal religion and was adopted by the imperial family and many of the common people.

Li Yuan, called later Gao Zu, consolidated his power defeating all his rivals in many years. Tai Zong, Gao Zu’s successor, expanded the empire influence in the world. His armies conquered to the Turks and Tibetans, and established relations with Byzantium. China was transformed in a free land for traders and travelers of all races and creeds, who established in the mercantile cities of Guangzhou and Yangzhou, transporting with them their religions, principally Islam, and influencing the arts, cookery, fashion and entertainment. Chinese products came to India, Persia, the Near East and many other countries, and her language and religion were adopted by Japan and Korea.

Gao Zong and Wu Zetian (China's unique empress), expanded the Tang empire's direct influence from Korea to Iran, and south into Vietnam in the next decades. Wu Zetian was a patron of Buddhism, commissioning the famed Longmen carvings outside Luoyang.

Ten Kingdoms Period The empire collapsed with her successor, Xuan Zong, when rebels took Chang’an. Xuan Zong's son, Su Zong, recaptured Chang’an; but though the court was re-established, it had lost its authority, and the provinces again got the control of their fortune.

Ten Kingdoms Period
The following two hundred years was a time of political disunity and internal conflicts. The Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period lasted from 907 to 960.

In the north, five brief dynasties succeeded each other without any significant alter. The defenses of the northern frontiers were constantly weakened, while her economic dependence on the south increased and the dispersion of power brought considerable social changes. During this same time, appeared ten kingdoms in the south. They preserved some aspects of the Tang civilization and had stability and economic prosperity sustaining a relatively high cultural level.

The Song dynasty
In 960 the general Song Tai Zu founded the Song dynasty (960-1279) on the north and established its capital in Kaifeng near to the Huang He River basin, well-placed at the head of the Grand Canal for transport to supply its million people with grain from the Yangtze River basin. The Song economy benefited from a commercial revolution that had started during the mid-Tang. Agricultural advances and technological progresses created an extraordinary growth of the country. In the principal cities, a particularly urban way of life developed. Several amenities, such as a great variety of food, entertainment, and luxury goods, were accessible to city inhabitants.

The Song also limited the power of the military in the provinces and the army was subordinated to the civil central government.

Song Dynasty This military weakness caused that the Song never recovered the territory dominated by the Tang and stayed in permanent invasion danger.

In 1115, an aggressive kingdom from Manchuria called the Jin, devastated the Northern Song, took Kaifeng, captured the emperor and forced the Song imperial court to move to Hangzhou in the south close to the Yangtze River basin, where their culture continued to thrive from 1126 as the Southern Song.

Despite the unstable military situation, the Song period was one of prosperity and creativity. Developments during their 150-year dynasty included gunpowder, the magnetic compass, fine porcelain and portable type printing. In the 13th century, the Mongols took advantage of the Song preoccupation with art and sophistication, and conquered the Chinese empire, destroying the Song dynasty.

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