Society, Culture, Religion, Arts and Inventions during Tang dynasty: Because of advancements in these fields in quantitative and qualitative terms it requires special article related only to mentioned fields.

Lets begin first from the political system of Tang dynasty.  As already known on top was Emperor. Directly under emperor were 3 departments and six ministries. Those 3 departments were: Central Secretariat, Chancellery and Department of State Affairs. To them were subordinated 6 ministries of: finance, military, justice, personal administration, rites and public affairs. Structure was based on Han dynasties concept of government but was more complex and detailed in order to assure effective governing. Political system created in Tang dynasty served as concept for governments of other dynasties until end of imperial China.

Tang dynasty made administrative reforms too such as new administrative division of country. China was divided on 15 Daos( a new administrative division). On top of every Dao was Guancha Shi what literally means observer. Daos were divided on Zhous whose chiefs were Ci Shis. Within Zhous there were Xians which were cities and Cuns( villages). Within cities and villages there was division on 5 or 4 families as local communities.

Legal system advanced on very high level during Tang dynasty. Never before in Chinese history legal system was so advanced and complex like in Tang dynasty. Emperor Taizong adopted Tang Lushu Yi what is known as Legal Code of Tang. It was separated on 4 major parts- criminal law, institutional regulations, administrative rules and provisions of official documents. Law covered all aspects of life including provisions on imperial officers, defense, order, marriage, social relations, census, taxation and religious issues. There is a census from 750 that says that population counted up to 70mln people. Under Tang Code women were protected had to accept arranged marriage but could divorce or if they didnt want marry could become religious scholars in Taoism or Buddhism.

Education became more available for male population. There was standardized system  of education that required knowledge of Confucian classics, poetry and caligraphy. Also rhetorical and analytical skills of attendees of Imperial Academy. Moreover they had to show except verbal their writing skills in terms of essays. Once a year in Changan best students could attend Shangshu Sheng( national exam). If they passed it they were becoming governmental officials in imperial service. Taoist Classic Tao Te Qing became part of compulsory literature since Emperor Xuanzong until Qing dynasty.  Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism were classics important for imperial education. Since Emperor Xuanzong it wasnt only privilege of rich aristocrats or elites whose parents worked in imperial service. He enabled middle and low income citizens and peasants to enter academy if they were talented. Only merchants and arists were prohibited from taking part into this. Such  political and educational system served as model for educational systems of that time in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

Society of Tang dynasty was divided on aristocrats, bureaucrats and lower classes. Aristocrats as always were on the top of the power due to their wealth. But it wasnt rule that all aristocrats were members of imperial service. Some were just feudal landowners some had important positions in government. Below aristocrats were bureaucrats who were either civil servants or scholars. Below them were clerks and below them peasants. They had high position thanks to theri knowledge and positions that they had in offices. On lower place were again artists and merchants traditionally. On lowest place were slaves that were often used in forced labor. Eunuchs were special  privileged category who were servants in imperial residence and residence of rich. Because of new law on examination more social flexibility was induced and social class of bureaucrats appeared. Also because of rapid development of religion position of clerks and their respect was strengthened. Only by education person could advance in social classes but that right was reserved for men. Women were subordinated to men and stuck in households especially in lower classes. In higher classes women could attend some ceremonies, dinners and debates. But women couldnt hold any governmental position except if they were part of imperial family. Women could also participate in arts especially in poetry.  Education beyond home was prohibited for women. Women could hold positions only if they joined Taoist or Buddhist temples and became nuns. There they could be educated and hold high positions in temples. Despite restrictions women especially those of higher classses were allowed to clothe very freely. They wore purple, green or red dresses and skirts. They were even allowed to show their chest and wore quite open dresses.

Tang cloth
clothing of Tang era

Economy reached outstanding development in all of its spheres durign Tang dynasty. Lets start from agriculture. Emperor Gaozu equalized land among peasants in order not to raise inequality among them. Thanks to these reforms food scarcity was overcame and agriculture developed rapidly. New tools were used and irrrigation was often applied. Mostly rice,  vegeables, various spices, tea and various fruits were grown.  Living standard of peasants improved during Tang dynasty and most of them were able to pay taxes on time without making debt.

Industry was rapidly developing too. Except agricultural products salt, pottery, jade, silk, porcelain and glaze were produced widely. Different kinds of manufacturing were widely developed such as building of ships, paper proccessing and metallurgy.  These products were produced for domestic but also international market. Silk road ( established in Han era) was revived during Tang era ( existed between Han and Tang but not that frequent trade) and was even more prosperous and densely crowded than in Han dynasty.  Tang dynasty kept monopoly over salt only while iron and other were in private hands. China exported mentioned goods but also imported a lot of goods such as glass, wine, gold, ivory, vegetables, horses and spices. Also maritime trade was developing between China and other countries. Chinese and foreign ships were circulating between Chinese cities and other parts of the world. Trade was conducted with Central Asian states, Indian states, Borneo, Korean kingdoms, Japanese states, Qunglun,( todays Indonesia), Arab caliphates, Persia, Byzantine Empire, Champa, Funan,  cities of African horn, Northern European and Italian states. Many of foreign merchants inhabited China and large developed cities such as Changan, Guangzhou, Hanoi, Hangzhou and Chengdu. Most of them were Khmers, Arabs, Persians, Sinhalese, Bengals, Vietnamese, Japanese, Koreans, Jews, Byzantines and others. Foreigners were respected and real multicultural open environment existed. Large triangle of trade between Horn of Africa, India and southern China was created through Indian ocean.

Inventions, science and technology of this period deserve special attention. Inventions were used in different fields of industry, literature, army, leisure and in improving functionality in life. One of most important inventions is printing woodblock machine. Printing was developed in China in middle of 7th century. Smaller scripts were printed at beginning and largest printed scripture was dates from middle of 9th century and it is Buddhist Diamond Sutra. In Europe only in 15th century printing machine appeared. Chemistry was very advanced and was specially used in alchemy. Also gas extraction appeared during Tang dynasty. Gas was transported through bamboo pipelines or portable tubes( from bamboo) and was used in salt extraction. Chinese people were first who used mechanical clock which was known as astronomic clock. Special hydraulic wine server was developed. One of most important inventions was paper money. Chinese were famous for that and one of main reasons was increased wealth as coins were too hard for holding in bags and too impractical for keeping them all.  Another stunning discovery was air conditioning that appeared in 8th century. It was used to reduce summer heats in rich palaces of wealthy people. Air conditioner was special device that was composed of fans and wheels and could stream out a water. Also motorized monk for collecting donations was invented. One of  most famous discoveries is gun powder. Powder was used for fireworks during celebrations and in army for warfare purposes. Construction was very advanced and frequent.  Many temples, palaces, tombs and bridges were built. Most notable constructions are Xumi Pagoda, Qianling mausoleum and White Goose Pagoda. Stone and brick becomes dominant construction material of that time together with wood. Architecture of Tang dynasty had core impact on architecture of Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Even when in China architecture was slightly changing model of Tang architecture remained crucial one in mentioned countries.

Tang Dynasty mechanical clock

Military during Tang dynasty experienced enlargement and reforms. From Emperor Taizong army wasnt compulsory anymore since he believed army is more efficient if it is composed of trained professionals that devote their life to serving in army. Soldiers were given some land so they could also have benefit from other spheres than army in order to assure stability for their families. Land among soldiers was based on equal level and higher size of fields was given to higher ranks. There were two militia groups too. Chinese army during Tang dynasty had most powerful and technologically advanced army in the world. Its army counted 500 000 soldiers in 8th century.

In the field of medicine were done significant improvements during Tang dynasty especially during 7th century. Medical knowledge and education was systematized. Emperor Gaozong initiated creating a list of all substances used as medication. List contained more than 800 different substances from plants, minerals, fruits, vegetables, stones and animals. Also forensic manuals for doctors was published. Medical colleges were established that educated future doctors and annually state examination in field of medicine for future doctors was conducted.  Among most outsanding achievements of Chinese medicine was discovering of higher level of sugar in patients with diabetes. In analyzing urine was found that diabetes patients have too high level of sugar and there was issued treatment  proposal that they should avoid alcohol and food with sugar. Goiter was successfully treated with thyroid extracts of pigs and sheeps while in Europe until end of XIX century thyroid extract wasnt used in treating this condition. Manuals for preventing diseases and good diet for maintaining good health were published very often.


Arts experienced real boom too. Thanks to woodblock printing machine books were easier rewriten and were distributed on large level. Poetry was most favorite art during Tang dynasty. More than 50 000 poems were writen by 2000 poets of Tang dynasty. These poems were collected in book „Quantangshi“. There was special style in poetry developed that was typical for Tang dynasty but also some forms that were popular in Han dynasty and Southern dynasties were used. Poets used to write about life, habbits, nature, love and religious topics. Nature, singing of birds, snow, mountains, water flow and blooming of flowers were written in poems. Habbits, female beauty, relations between people, friendships, cheating, drinking wine, playing music or daydreaming were common topics too. Love was very popular topic of poems in terms of happy love, missing and love tragedies. Many poems were influenced by Taoist and Buddhist teaching and expressed view on life in terms of these teachings. It was often emphasized on simplicity, nostalgia, kindness, wisdom, letting go, respect, harmony,appreciating and enjoying life. Mentioning of pilgrimages, monks and holy mountains was common.  Various topics were often approached in simple, enthusiastic, serious and descriptive manner. Also comedy style poems were written. Most famous poets of Tang dynasty were Du Fu( 712-770), Li Bai( 701-762), Cui Hao( 704-754) and Wang Wei( 701-761).  Here are two poems that I love a lot.

Li Bai- „Night Thoughts“

In front of my bed the moonlight is very bright.

I wonder if that can be frost on the floor?

I lift up my head and look at the full moon, the dazzling moon.

I drop my head, and think of the home of old days. (

Li Bai- „A Bitter Love“

How beautiful she looks, opening the pearly casement,

And how quiet she leans, and how troubled her brow is!

You may see the tears now, bright on her cheek,

But not the man she so bitterly loves.


Poetry became importnt part of life during Tang dynasty. Creativity and good style in writting poems were among most appreciated indicators of educated and intelligent person. Showing your poetical skills was compulsory part of imperial exam that determined whether you will advance further in  carreer.  There were often organized poetic evenings with banquets where competitions in reciting poems were organized. Poetry style of Tang dynasty influenced poetry of Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Even at beginning of XX century in Japan knowing of Tang poems was considered as important part of high education.

Other styles in literature appeared too. Short stories and anecdotes were commonly written. Also various fictions were popular.

Scientific literature was developed too. Many astrological books were published such as Yiwen Leiju encyclopedia on astrology. Geograhpic encyclopedias were printed and used commonly. Duan Chengshi in IX century wrote a collection of anecdotes, myths and stories about natural phenomena from foreign countries.

Painting was developing at large scale during Tang dynasty. Wu Daozi was most famous painter of that time. Painting was done using mostly brush and ink on linen, walls and stone. Paintings were used as decoration in palaces, gardens, tombs, caves, temples. Mostly painted were landscapes from nature and animals. But also painting humans become very popular what wasnt so popular before Tang dynasty.  Different sceneries from all different scenes of daily life were painted such as village life, dinner, wine drinking, walking, market, cities, festivals, celebrations… Taoism and Buddhism had big impact on painting since painting of temples, pagodas and monks was common. Also painting of Buddhist and Taoist deities was typical both in temples but also in houses. Erotic paintings were common showing sexual intercourses between both genders but also with same gender. Sex scenes were depicted freely and without restrictions on body parts. Even group sex scenes were depicted.  Again Tang painting had great impact on painting styles of East Asian countries.  Painting of Tang dynasty didnt set up basement of painting for future in China but for majority of East Asia.

example of

Sculpturing was widely popular and mostly used materials were jade, stone, wood, ceramic and porcelain. Sculptures of people and animals too were made. When it comes to people there were sculptured different scenes from daily life but sculptures of monks and deities too.

Music and dance achieved boom during Tang dynasty. Guqin, erhu, pipa and dizi, guzheng and liuqin were most popular instruments.Music was  widely played for entertaining aristocratic and bureaucratic classes in their rich houses. Emperor and rich people had own musicians. Singing was widely important part of music shows that included exotic instruments, colorful costumes and amazing female singing. Very popular were music instruments from Central Asia and India and their songs too.  Also musical instruments and singing were widely popular among lower classes and peasants.. There were thousands of folksongs speaking about village life.  Music made by gongs, bells and drums was integral part of state and military ceremonies. During temple celebrations Taoist and Buddhist music was important part and was created by drums and bells mostly. Religious ceremonies were often combined from chanting, reciting religious verses and hitting drums or gongs or bells. Further from China music styles were imported to other Asian countries.

Special form of art was kite running. People with excellent skills of kite running were considered as respectful artists.

Gardening was very developed in Tang dynasty and widespread as never before that. It was especially popular among aristocrats, bureaucrats, merchants and artisans. Aristocrats, merchants and bureaucrats needed them for having rest and enjoying nature while beside that artisans used their peace for getting inspiration in painting or writing poems. Gardens were closed to public and only available to their owner. They were extremely beautiful and had to contain all aspects of nature in order to assure harmony and peace. Except a lot of greenery such as grass, trees( especially willow or cherry trees) they had to contain smaller or bigger pond or lake, rocks and artificial hill. Aim was to contain all aspects that existed in nature and imitate natural scenery in order to assure better harmony and feeling of peace. Gold or Koi fishes inhabited ponds while on branches were hung wooden cages with beautiful birds.


Religion during Tang dynasty. As we saw already religion had very important impact on perception of life that was visible in music, poetry and painting. Taoism and Buddhism deeply influenced life, customs, tradition and views of people. Now they were not only popular among lower classes and peasants but among higher classes too. Perception among people about lifestyle, kindness, rituals, wedding, funerals, birth of child and meaning of life was mostly influenced by Taoism and Buddhism. Common people both in higher and lower classes were either Taoists, Buddhists or both. Regional division on Taoism and Buddhism wasnt common but usually in some part of the city or in some village there was either Buddhist or Taoist temple and thus teaching of particular temple played significant influence on people. When there was need for consecrating home altar, praying for harvest, praying for health or for wedding ceremony people visited closest temple. But dual practices of Taoism and Buddhism were totally common. Aristocrats and bureaucrats were devotees of one of two or both teachings and went to offer incense and donations to temple. Often both high class and low class families had some family guardian( deity) or more of them that were specially worshipped. Emperor Xuanzong granted high status to newly formed Zhengyi Dao( Way of Orthodox Unity) a new Taoist sect that was founded at that time. Its lineage to Way of Celestial Masters was recognized. At Mount Longhushan Zhengyi sect was headquartered. In following centuries it became one of most powerful Taoist sects which didnt only practice monastic life ( chanting, meditation, alchemy, their monasticism was more moderate as they could marry and eat meat) but intensive communication with people by providing services( giving talismans, providing rituals, fortune telling, healing, consecrations) and giving advices on life, health… Role of Taoism in state increased by Emperor Gaozongs decision to make Tao Te Qing as one of compulsory books for imperial examinations. Sexual practices were widely encouraged by Taoist priests as they considered it as natural thing and good for longevity and health. Taoist priests practiced it with their wives but also published some scripts how to improve sexual techniques. Taoists believe that sexual intercourse is exchange of life energy( qi) and connection of yin yang in form of male and female. Priorly to Tang heaven( tian) was mostly regarded as supreme power in universe among people but because of Taoist influence earth( di) becomes its equivalent and balancing force. Idea of Yin Yang and balance, harmony and contradictory forces became of crucial influence in perception of people and regarding to tian-di interconnection. Second edition of Daozang( Taoist Canon) was conceptualized in mid of 8th century.

Since Zhou dynasty tradition was worshipping Heaven annually on a new year day. Zhou Kings and later Qin, Han and other emperors including those of Tang did it in special altars. It was with aim to ask Heaven for good harvests what would guarantee a mandate to the Emperor. Emperors were considered as Son of Heaven who were sent from Heaven on Earth to govern. Worship of Heaven was only kind of worship where Emperor personally participated.

Buddhism was also significantly developing during Tang dynasty except in mentioned years of persecution.  In 7th century there was famous Chinese buddhist monk Xuanzang who traveled to more than 100 Indian kingdoms to collect Buddhist sutras.  Xuanzang came back to Changan where he founded Buddhist Translation Bureau in which original Buddhist scripts were translated. He translated more than 1300 Buddhist scripts from Sanskrit to Chinese. In that center Buddhist scholars from other countries were coming too. Hamni school of esoteric Buddhism was founded which was spreading its ideas. People were more deeply introduced to karma, rebirth, tantra and nirvana. Buddhism spread idea that if you are good in this life you will be more happy and healthy in next life and that circle of life and death goes until you reach nirvana. In order to achieve nirvana you had to cultivate compassion , detach from material desires and follow rules in order to avoid misconduct. If you were unlucky or sick in your life it meant that in past life you did some bad thing and in this life you had to be more compassionate and follow Buddhist rules. Only when you had completely peaceful mind and pure heart you could enter nirvana. You had to be moderate in life in desires, in behavior, eating, drinking, sexual life in order to detach and free yourself from suffering as according to Buddhism all desires lead to suffering later.  Buddhist monks were both serving community with rituals and magical solutions and giving sutras but also lived in temples and practiced meditation and tantra. Buddhist mantras and sutras were widely popular among people who were going to temples to take them. Some vendors used a chance and were selling them to people. Emperor Xuanzong banned this practice and allowed only to temples to provide people with sutras and mantras. Buddhism developed mystical perceptions both among monks at higher and among people at lower extent.   5 schools of Chan appeared in Tang dynasty. First one was Guiyang school that was famous for esoterics and founded in 771. Another notable school was Linji school that was formed in 886 and had big impact on creating Japanese Zen Rinzo school and Korean Nine Mountain Sect. Also Caodong school in 9th century appeared. Yunmen and Fayan schools appeared during that period too. Buddhism of Tang dynasty greatly influenced development of Buddhism in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

When it comes to Buddhist arts  decorating of Mogao Caves, Longmen Grottoe and Yungang Grottoes were completed during Tang dynasty. Biggest statue of Buddha in the world was built in 8th century and it is still largest one. It is carved stone statue of Buddha( 71m) located on confluence of 3 rivers near Leshan Town, nearby Mount Emeishan, Sichuan province. It is mostly known as Leshan Buddha and is very popular tourist destination. Both Buddhist and Taoist officials were represented at imperial court since Emperor Xuanzong.


Other great religions appeared in China thanks to Silk Road. One of them is Christianity. Nestorian Christian teachings were brought by Silk Road from Byzantine Empire. Christianity was allowed but didnt get too big popularity. There was formed Nestorian Church of the East in China with main monastery in Changan. There is still a famous pagoda and tablet that belonged to that monastery. It is one of oldest tablets with Christian scripts in Chinese language. Pagoda was essential part of that church since it was built under Chinese architectural style. First Christian Bishop in China was Alopen an Persian Christian.  In order to avoid persecution they claimed that Christianity doesnt contradict Chinese cultural norms. In monastery in Changan they painted Emperor Taizong as saint. When it comes to Islam it came in middle of 7th century to China too. It is said that Saad Ibn Abi Waqqas an Arabic ambassador from Rashidun Caliphate visited Emperor Gaozong. In name of good relations with Arabs and in order to attract Arab traders Emperor Gaozong built mosque devoted to prophet Muhammad in Guangzhou.  From that mosque only minaret that reminds on Chinese pagoda remained. Many Arab and Persian merchants were frequently visiting China and even permanently settling in Changan, Guangzhou and Hainan island. Some of local population accepted Islam on very low level. In Changan in 742 was built Great Mosque of Xian which is still largest mosque in China. According to its architectural style reminds on Chinese temple.

Generally saying there was religious harmony and tolerance in Tang state and society.

Leisure. Enjoying life and free time was completely common among Tang people. State gave 30 days of vacation for officials every 3 years to visit their parents if they lived further and 15 days if they lived closer. Also free days for weddings, pilgrimages, funerals and family celebrations were allowed.  Among upper and lower classes various religious holidays were celebrated.  Spring Festival, Lantern Festival and Cold Food Festival were most popular holidays in China. For this occassions open door celebrations and temple ferries were organized. Also for occasions such as celebrating good harvest or celebrating victory in war open door events were organized. To spend free time in teahouses and winehouses in cities was common.  Extensive drinking of alcohol was common. Such places were often nicely decorated where people came to socialize drink tea or wine and enjoy watching music performance and dance. Brothels were very frequently visited since prostitution was legal and except Chinese there were many Turkic and Tocharian prostitutes too. Brothels used to buy young girls from poor families and provided them house and codex taught them to dance, serve tea and how to behave. Grand ceremonies were organized when she received first customer who had honor to take her virginity( considered as big honor) and had to organize large banquet for whole brothel. If someone wanted to marry prostitute he had to pay exchange to brothel. Emperor and other highest officials had own  kind of harems with large number of concubines.  There were also cheaper brothels for people with lower income. There were many activities typical for higher classes such as archery, tug of war,  hunting and polo. Especially hunting in mountains was popular. For lower classes a bit more modest life was common and it was usually gathering in more modest tea or wine houses or drinking wine or tea in own courtyards. Also cock fights were common way of spending free time for village people.

International Relations during Tang dynasty are special category too. As we mentioned trade already and cultural influence it is time to political role of China. During Tang dynasty and after that China got extremely high position in international relations. It was viewed with admiration and awe too. Tang China was strongest in terms of military, economy, culture, state system and science. It exercised hegemony over trade routes and on the market of that time. It was center that attracted people but also spreaded influence. In that time China had more than 60 diplomatic missions and had strong bilateral ties with Japan, Silla Kingdom, Somalian city states, Nanzhao, Indian states, several Turkic states, Vietnamese states( Champa), Korean kingdoms, Arab caliphates, Persian Empire, Byzantine and others. These ties were mostly based on coordinating trade and exchanging culture. Neighboring states that were defeated by China such as Turkic states( Uyghur state, Tujue, Xueyantuo, Karasakr, Kucha), Vietnamese state, Korean kingdoms( Baekje, Gogureyo) and parts of Tibetan Empire were under tributary system of China. It meant that they acknowledged supreme authority of Chinese Emperor and being vassals of China. They were obliged to send envoys to China and gifts for Chinese emperor in order to express loyalty. Chinese political elite believed that China is the center of the world and those who do not accept Chinese culture were „barbarians“ and must be in vassal relations. It was system of international relations in whcih China was dominant power. China didnt interfere in internal affairs or in wars between its vassals but if some state wanted to break ties with China it meant war. If China was defeated it meant end of tributary ties until China defeats that kingdom again. Because of so strong position of China its neighbors created alliances against it few times and initiated wars. China had great cultural, political impact on systems of its neighbors. Some northern Turkic tribes and Mongol tribes accepted more or less Chinese culture, writing system and political system and were considered as less „ barbaric“ by Tang dynasty. Western Turks were considered more „barbaric“ since they didnt want to Sinicize. Korean and Vietnamese kingdoms  and kingdom of Nanzhao accepted Chinese culture, arts, literature, clothing, religion, educational, political and social system on high level. Both sides sent representatives to each other in order to strengthen political and cultural exchange. Therefore they were considered as less „barbaric“ vassals. Empire of Japan can be considered as special case since it wasnt state subordinated to China in tributary terms. In 7th century Japanese prince Shotoku sent a letter to Tang emperor speaking about two powerful and equal states. Japan didnt want to acknowledge supremacy of China in tributary terms but on extremely large scale accepted Chinese cultural and political model. Japan sent so many students to study in China and gain knowledge there and sent envoyees to adopt Chinese political and cultural and social model. Political system was reorganized according to Chinese model. Social feudal system was reformed under Chinese model and division of land among feudals and peasants was also performed using guidance of Chinese model. Chinese literature, poetry, writing, clothing, customs  and educational system were imported by Japanese scholars too. Chan( Zen) Buddhism was widely imported by Japanese monks who were visiting China and installed this version of Buddhism in Japan. Taoism also had great influence on Japanese culture and religion.

Basically this shows us how Tang China was great source of ideas and played role of real guide for neighboring countries in many spheres of society and life.



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