Tang Dynasty | Chinese Antiques

Founding of the Tang Dynasty

The Sui Dynasty began to collapse in AD 618 and a Northern China aristocrat named Li Yuan marched with an army on the capital city of Chang'an. He helped to put a new child emperor on the throne and ruled the country as Prime Minister.

When the old Emperor Yang was assassinated, Li Yuan then declared himself as emperor and established the Tang Dynasty.

Quick Facts about the Tang Dynasty

During the Tang rule, China experienced a time of peace and prosperity that made it one of the most powerful nations in the world. This time period is sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of Ancient China.

Taizong, the co-founder and second emperor of the Great Tang Empire was one of the most enlightened emperors in Chinese history. He was considered the real founder of the Tang Empire.

Under Emperor Taizong Li Shimin's wise governing, the national strength and social development reached an unparalleled prosperity - economy and commerce flourished, the social order was stable, corruption never existed in the court and the national boundaries were even open to foreign countries.

Taizong had sophisticated taste in art and profound knowledge on Chinese history and classics. His great love for art and culture was demonstrated in his diligent effort in procuring great works of art.

Taizong was especially fond of Wang Xizi’s calligraphy. He commissioned professional copyists to do careful reproductions of the works in the imperial collection and patronized Wang-style calligraphers at his court, many of whom held high-ranking posts.

The eighth century heralded the second important epoch in Tang history, achieved largely during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong. The national economy, politics and culture all developed rapidly and the social development entered a new heyday. Chang'an City was the largest and the most prosperous metropolis in the world. This is rightfully ranked as the classical period of Chinese art and literature, as it set the high standard to which later poets, painters, and sculptors aspired.

The reign of Xuanzong was one of China's most brilliant eras. He was a scholar and a great patron of the arts. He fell in love with a courtesan known as Yang Guifei, who brought about his downfall.

The Tang Dynasty benefited from the hard work of the earlier Sui Dynasty which finished the Grand Canal and rebuilt much of the Great Wall.

It was during the Tang Dynasty that drinking tea became a leisure activity and the author Lu Yu wrote a description on the art of drinking tea called the Classic of Tea.

Toilet paper was invented during this time.

The capital city of Chang'an was the largest city in the world at the time. It is estimated that the total population of the city and the countryside around it totalled nearly 2 million people.

During the Tang dynasty, the monk Zhiyong, a seventh-generation descendant of Wang Xizhi, produced many copies of traditional Wang style writings for distribution among various temples throughout (modern day) Zhejiang province. Zhiyong was also the teacher of Yu Shinan, an assistant in the Palace Library at the Sui court who went on to hold more senior academic positions at the early Tang court under Taizong. The Tang emperor appreciated Yu's steadfast personality and extensive learning as well as his excellence as a calligrapher.

Many advancements in the areas of engineering and technology were made during the Tang Dynasty; the invention of woodblock printing. Woodblock printing allowed books to be printed in mass production. This helped to increase literacy and to pass on knowledge throughout the empire.

Another major invention of the time was gunpowder which was mostly used for fireworks during the Tang Dynasty. The people believed that fireworks could help to scare off evil spirits. Also advancements in porcelain, mapmaking, gas cylinders for natural gas, medicine, and in clock making.

The arts flourished during the Tang Dynasty and it is most famous for its poetry which became an integral part of the Chinese culture. Poetry was a required study for those who wished to pass the civil service exams. Talented poets were well-respected and often recited their poetry as entertainment at parties. Some of the great poets in Chinese history lived during this time such as Li Bai, Du Fu, Li Po, and Wang Wei.

Painting was very popular and the era produced famous painters such as Wu Daozi, Wang Wei (also a famous poet), and Zhou Fang.

The Tang Dynasty ruled over a vast area that stretched from Korea to Northern Vietnam. It even reached west as far as Afghanistan.

The Tang established a detailed code of laws and administrative functions. They taxed the people based on their land and also required that farmers served in the army for a period of time.

Tang government officials were assigned based on their scores on the civil service examinations. In an effort to get the best talent into the government, examinations were more open to men of the non-noble classes than with previous dynasties. There were even government run schools to help educate more people.

At the start of the Tang Dynasty the emperors were tolerant of many religions. Buddhism became a very popular religion throughout China. However, near the end of the dynasty, the rulers made Confucianism the national religion and banned all other religions. Many Buddhist monasteries and temples were shut down.

A great part of the Tang aristocracy was of non-Chinese; especially Turkish origin, and merchants from Inner Asia, like Sogdhians and Persians.




Calligraphy is an art form that has been closely associated with political power throughout China's history. Tang Taizong (r. 626-649 AD) himself was an avid collector of Wang Xizhi calligraphy during his day, and went to extreme lengths to gather up all the known extant Wang Xizhi works. He commissioned professional copyists to do careful reproductions of the works in the imperial collection and patronized Wang-style calligraphers at his court, many of whom held high-ranking posts.

Li Shimin (Tang Taizong, r. 626-649 AD), Encomium on the Warm Springs (628 AD)

Key Events During The Tang Dynasty

AD 618: Tang Dynasty begins. The Mongols defeat the Song loyalists.

AD 626-649: Taizong, the second emperor of Tang Dynasty reigns.

AD 699-759: The naturalist idiom of the poet and painter Wang Wei becomes artistic paradigm for later generations.

AD 700: The expressions and images contained in the poems of Li Bo reflect the flamboyant lives of the court and the conflicting sentiments generated by military campaigns.

AD710-760: The vigorous brushwork of the court painter Wu Daozi becomes artistic paradigm for later generations.

AD 712-756: Emperor Xuanzong rules. He is called the Brilliant Monarch. Since the title of Xuanzong's reign is Kaiyuan, that period is called the Heyday of Kaiyuan, in which the dynasty reaches its summit of prosperity.

AD755-763: Rebellion led by General An Lushan results in Xuanzong’s downfall.AD 874: A rebellion by the over-taxed people occurs with much of the city of Chang'an being destroyed. The Tang manages to halt the rebellion.

AD 868: The first full-length book the Diamond Sutra is published.

AD 907 The last Tang emperor, Emperor Ai is forced to abdicate by Chancellor Zhu Quanzhong, who afterwards changes the state title into Liang, finally putting the ever powerful and mighty dynasty to an end.