The Reunified China & The Tang Dynasty

Essential Question

How was China unified under the Tang Dynasty?


The Period of Disunion

When the Han dynasty collapsed, China split into several rival kingdoms, each ruled by military leaders. Warring clans, political murders, and foreign invaders characterized the next four centuries from 220 to 589. Historians sometimes call the time of disorder that followed the collapse of the Han the Period of Disunion. Although wars were common during the Period of Disunion, peaceful developments also took place at the same time.

Finally, after centuries of political confusion and cultural change, China was reunified. For about 700 years, it remained unified under a series of powerful dynasties.

The Sui Dynasty

The warring clans of China were finally united once again in 589 by the Sui family, which conquered the south, unified China, and created the Sui (SWAY) dynasty. The Sui dynasty didn't last long, only from 589 to 618. During that time, though, its leaders restored order to China. The Sui accomplished great feats, including the restoration of the Great Wall of China. They also constructed the Grand Canal, linking the eastern plains to the northern rivers. However, they taxed peasants heavily and forced them into hard labor. Lasting only 36 years, the rule of the Sui weakened after suffering heavy losses in fighting against Korea and fell apart when the general population revolted.

Tang Dynasty — The Golden Age of China

After the Sui, the next ruling family was the Tang, whose rise mirrored that of the Han over 800 years earlier. Like the Han before them, the Tang ruled after the fall of ruthless leadership. This dynasty, the Tang, would rule for nearly 300 years.

The first emperor of the Tang, Kao-Tsu, ruled between 618 and 626. He granted equal amounts of land to each adult male in return for taxes and created a money system of copper coins and silk ribbons. Kao-Tsu wrote a set of laws, revised every 20 years, that lasted into the Ming rule of the 14th century.

One of Kao-Tsu's sons, General Li Shih-min, succeeded in eliminating all political rivals of the Tang. The general established firm control of the Tang over the newly reunified China and then proceeded to murder his brothers. He forced his father to hand over the throne to him in A.D. 626 and became known as Emperor Tai-Tsung. The Golden Age of China had begun.

Tai-Tsung maintained many of the political policies already in place. He shrank the government at both the central and state levels. The money saved by using a smaller government enabled Tai-Tsung to save food as a surplus in case of famine and to provide economic support for farmers in case of flooding or other disasters. To become court judges, people had to score highly on civil exams, which resulted in wise officials.

Another brilliant Tang ruler was Xuanzong (SHOO-AN-tzoong)'. During his reign, culture flourished. Many of China's finest poets wrote while Xuanzong ruled.

The Tang dynasty also included the only woman to rule China-Empress Wu. Her methods were sometimes vicious, but she was intelligent and talented.

As you can see on the map, China grew under the Tang dynasty to include much of eastern Asia, as well as large parts of Central Asia. Historians view the Tang dynasty as a golden age of Chinese civilization. The only major military pressure came from the Turkish frontier, but the Turks were defeated by A.D. 657, beginning 150 years of Tang control over the region. Meanwhile, the borders of the Tang empire expanded far into Korea and Central Asia. China became even larger under Tang rule than it had been under the Han. The Chinese regularly communicated with lands as far west as Persia, present-day Afghanistan, and the Byzantine Empire. Goods and, more importantly, ideas continued to be exchanged on the Silk Road.

Tang rule was at its political and economic height. The Tang era was a golden age of art and literature for the Chinese. LiPo, Tu Fu, and Wang Wei were poets famed for the simplicity and naturalism of their writings.

In A.D. 756 a rebellion caused the deaths of countless people, including members of the royal family. This marked the beginning of the end for the Tang. After the Tang dynasty fell, China entered another brief period of chaos and disorder, with separate kingdoms competing for power. In fact, China was so divided during this period that it is known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. The disorder only lasted 53 years, though, from 907 to 960.

The Song Dynasty

In 960, China was again reunified, this time by the Song dynasty. Like the Tang, the Song ruled for about 300 years, until 1279. Also like the Tang, the Song dynasty was a time of great accomplishments.

Discussion Questions

  • How did the Tang dynasty unify China?

  • What is a Golden Age? Explain how the Tang dynasty was a Golden Age.

Activity 2: What were the causes of the unification of China under the Tang Dynasty and the effects of the Tang Dynasty on Chinese History?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities