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Tang Dynasty - History, Emperors, Politics, Culture, and Economy

Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) is considered the Golden Age of Chinese history; it was the most prosperous and splendid period. Lasting from 618 to 907AD with 22 Tang Emperors, the Tang Empire became the most powerful and prosperous country worldwide. The economy, politics, culture, and military strength reached an unparalleled advanced level in this glorious period.

Establishment of Tang Dynasty

In 581, Yang Jian (a general of Northern Zhou Dynasty) usurped the throne of the Northern Zhou and established the Sui Dynasty, ending the 400-year-long separating times in Tang Dynasty Map China. The Sui Dynasty, established by Yang Jian, only lasted for 38 years and had two emperors. When Emperor Yang (Yang Jian’s son) of the Sui Dynasty ascended the throne, he was so extravagant, atrocious exploitative, and abusive that many uprisings broke out in the country. In 617, Li Yuan, a powerful Sui official, and his sons seized the opportunity to join the revolt and grew strong. In the next year, he led the army and forced the young son of Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty to abdicate. Therefore, the Tang Dynasty was established in 618, and the capital city was set in Chang’an (today’s Xi’an).

Glorious Period of Tang Dynasty

The reign of Emperor Taizong, Wu Zetian, and the early part of Emperor Xuanzong are called the time of the "Benign Administration of the Zhenguan Reign Period" and the "Flourishing Kaiyuan Reign Period."
Emperor Taizong, Li Shimin, named the period of his reign Zhengguan (627-649). Drawing lessons from the downfall of the Sui Dynasty, Emperor Taizong carried out many enlightened policies and measures beneficial to the country and the people, creating “the Benign A administration of the Zhenguan Reign Period." After Li Shimin died, the throne passed to his ninth son Li Zhi who was later crowned as Emperor Gaozong and married Li Shimin's imperial concubine Wu Meiniang.

Tang Dynasty Music and DanceEmperor Gaozong loved Wu Meiniang very much and he, not being in good health, often let her handle his things for him. Therefore, Wu Meiniang soon became much involved in affairs of state. Later, Wu Meiniang was officially renamed Wu Zetian. At that time, Emperor Gaozong and Wu Zetian were called the “Two Saints” by the people, which meant they had two emperors. After Gaozong died in 690, Wu Zetian proclaimed herself as the emperor and changed the dynasty name to Zhou, which lasted for 15 years. She carried on developing production initiated by Emperor Taizong and promoted many talented people in defiance of the protocol. During her reign, the state economy continued to grow rapidly.
Kaiyuan (713-741) was the earlier reign title of Li Longji, Emperor Xuanzong (685-762). Through over 100 years of development from the beginning of the Zhenguan reign of Taizong to the end of Kaiyuan reign, the Tang Dynasty became unprecedentedly prosperous. Therefore, people refer to the time as the "Prosperous Kaiyuan Period." During the Kiayuan Period, society was stable and peaceful, and commerce and transportation were highly developed, and Chang'an City was the largest and the most prosperous metropolis in the world. The Tang dynasty reached its summit of prosperity during Xuanzong’s reign.

Decline and Ending of Tang Dynasty

In the second half of his reign, during the Tianbao Period(742-756), Emperor Xuanzong was obsessed with his favorite concubine, Lady Yang. He neglected his duties, and the court became corrupt, and the army was weakened. An Lushan (703-757) wormed his way into Emperor Xuanzong's confidence and took command of a significant part of the armed forces. In 756, An Lushan and Shi Siming staged a revolt in Fanyang (current north of Hebei province) with 150,000 men, marching toward the capital city. This was known historically as the Revolt of An Lushan and Shi Siming. It was until the year 762 that the revolt was finally suppressed. This revolt caused severe damage to north China's economy and marked the decline of the Tang Dynasty.
From then on, the national strength was weakened daily by separatist forces in local areas. The emperors' incompetence, the dominance of the eunuchs, and the power struggles between chancellors became increasingly intense. Hence the Tang Dynasty declined from generation to generation. In 859, a large-scale peasant uprising relaunched by Huang Chao severely attacked the Tang regime. In 907, the last Tang emperor, Emperor Aidi, was forced to abdicate by Chancellor Zhu Quanzhong, who afterward changed the state title into Liang, finally putting the ever powerful and mighty dynasty to an end.

Tang Emperors in Order


Reign Period

Reign Title

Brief Introduction


Tang Dynasty (618 - 690)


Li Yuan

618 - 626


Li Yuan (566 - 635) is the founder of the great Tang Dynasty.

Xian Mausoleum (Sanyuan County, Shaanxi)


Li Shimin

627 - 649


Emperor Taizong of Tang, Li Shimin (599-649), was the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty of China, ruling from 626 to 649. His father, Gaozu, was the founder of the Tang Dynasty. He rose against the Sui Dynasty rule at Taiyuan in 617 and subsequently defeated several of his most important rivals. He was ceremonially regarded as a co-founder of the dynasty along with Emperor Gaozu.

He was very talented as a general, wisely employed capable persons to help him govern the country, and enjoyed high prestige in later history. His reign lasted from 627 to 649. Drawing lessons from the downfall of the Sui Dynasty, Emperor Taizong carried out many enlightened policies and measures beneficial to the country and the people, which consolidated the Tang Dynasty's state power, restored social stability, and boosted the economy. Therefore, the reign was named "the Benign Administration of the Zhenguan Reign Period" by historians.

Emperor Taizong knew that a well-ordered administration needed capable people with a wide range of expert opinions. So he made fair use of talented people no matter what their backgrounds were. He once said that using a bronze mirror, one could tidy one's clothes, using history as a mirror, one could know how to govern a country, using people as a mirror, one could tell right from wrong.

Emperor Taizong implemented many measures that enjoyed the people's support, such as joining counties and prefectures to reduce expenditure, letting peasants have a certain amount of land, and reducing the burden of corvee labor to ensure that peasants had time to work on their land. Citing an ancient saying, Emperor Taizong said that the emperor was like a boat, and the people were like water; water could carry the boat, but it could also capsize it.

Emperor Taizong won the support of all the minority people by adopting relatively enlightened policies toward them. The ethnic groups in the north called him the Great Khan. The emperor sent the princess Wencheng to the king of Tubo in Tibet, which made the Han and Tibetan people closer and contributed to China's stability as a multi-ethnic country.

Zhao Mausoleum (Liquan County, Shaanxi)


Li Zhi

650 - 683

Yonghui (650-655)

Xianqing (656 - 655)

Longshuo (661 - 663)

Linde (664 - 665)

Qianfeng (666 - 668)

Zongzhang (668 - 670)

Xianheng (670 - 674)

Shangyuan (674 - 676)

Yifeng (676 - 679)

Diaolu (679 - 680)

Yonglong (680 - 681)

Kaiyao (681 - 682)

Yongchun (682 - 683)

Hongdao (683)

Li Zhi (628 - 683), ninth son of the Taizong Emperor, created the Reign of Yonghui and connived his empress (Wu Zetian) at ruling the country with him.

Qian Mausoleum (Qianxian County, Shaanxi)


Li Xian



Li Xian (656 - 710), the seventh son of Gaozong Emperor and third son of Wu Zetian, ruled twice.

Ding Mausoleum (Fuping County, Shaanxi)


Li Dan

684 - 690

Wenming (684)

Guangzhai (684)

Shuigong (685 - 688)

Yongchang (689)

Zaichu (690)

Li Dan (662 - 716), the fourth son of Wu Zetian, ruled twice as his brother Li Xian. In his first reign, his mother, Wu Zetian, actually ruled, while in his second reign, his son Li Longji held the real power.

Qiao Mausoleum (Pucheng County, Shaanxi)

Zhou Dynasty (690 - 705)

Wu Zetian

690 - 705

Tianshou (690 - 692)

Ruyi (692)

Changshou (692 - 694)

Yanzai (694)

Zhengsheng (695)

Tiance Wansui (695 - 696)

Wansui Dengfeng (696)

Wansui Tongtian (696 - 697)

Shengong (697)

Shengli (698 - 700)

Jiushi (700)

Dazu (701)

Changan (701 - 705)

Wu Zetian(624-705) was the first and only female emperor in China's history and an outstanding politician.

She was a smart, courageous, and beautiful girl; she knew literary history from her childhood. At the age of 14, she was taken into the imperial palace by Emperor Taizong as a concubine. After Emperor Taizong died, she was sent to a temple and became a nun. Emperor Gaozong, son of Emperor Taizong, was fond of Wu Zetian when he was crown prince. Two years after he succeeded to the throne, he had Wu Zetian back to the imperial palace and made her his empress.

Wu Zetian soon became involved in state affairs, and when Emperor Gaozong died in 683, Wu Zetian administered the country as the Empress Dowager. In 690, Wu Zetian changed the name of the dynasty to Zhou and became the empress herself. She carried on the policy of developing production initiated by Emperor Taizong. She also promoted many talented people in defiance of protocol, especially members of her clan. She was a devout Buddhist and spent money lavishly on the construction of temples. Eventually, Wu Zetian was forced by her senior ministers to hand over the power to her son, Zhongzong.

Qian Mausoleum (Qianxian County, Shaanxi)

Tang Dynasty (705 - 907)


Li Xian

705 - 710

Shenlong (705 - 707)

Jinglong (707 - 710)

This is the second time rule of Li Xian. In 705, with Wuzetian died, Li Xian succeeded the throne and continued his practice until being poisoned by his Queen Wei.

Ding Mausoleum (Fuping County, Shaanxi)


Li Chongmao



Li Chongmao (695 - ?) was the youngest son of Zhongzong; he was enthroned by Queen Wei (his mother) at 16. One month later, Queen Wei was killed, and Emperor Gongzong was exiled.


Li Dan

710 - 712

Jingyun (710-711)

Taiji (712)

Yanhe (712)

This is the second reign of Li Dan. With Zhongzong Emperors death, Li Dan conspired with his son Li Longji and took over power from Gongzong Emperor.

Qiao Mausoleum (Pucheng County, Shaanxi)


Li Longji

712 -756

Xiantian (712-713)

Kaiyuan (713 -741)

Tianbao (742-756)

Li Longji (685 - 762), the third son of Ruizong Emperor. It was during his reign that the once-great Tang Empire began to decline. He had a famous concubine named Yang Yuhuan, whom he loved very much that he neglected the state affairs.

Tai Mausoleum (Pucheng County, Shaanxi)


Li Heng

756 -762

Zhide (756-758)

Qianyuan (758-760)

Shangyuan (760-761)

Li Heng (711 - 762) was the third son of Xuanzong Emperor. He was the first emperor since the critical events of Turmoil of Maweipo and Revolt of An Lushan and Shi Siming.

Jian Mausoleum (Liquan County, Shaanxi)


Li Yu

762 -779

Baoying (762-763)

Guangde (763 -764)

Yongtai (765-766)

Dali (766-779)

Li Yu (726 - 779) was the eldest son of Suzong Emperor. His obsession with Buddhism indulged many temples in appropriating lands and damaged the social economy and politics. Besides, separatist regimes outside imposed a lot of threats against the center court.

Yuan Mausoleum (Fuping County, Shaanxi)


Li Kuo

780 -805

Jianzhong (780 - 783)

Xingyuan (784)

Zhenyuan (785 - 805)

Li Kuo (742 - 805) was the eldest son of Daizong. He tried to whittle the power of regional power but got backfired. Since then, the central government was further weakened.

Chong Mausoleum (Jingyang County, Shaanxi)


Li Song



Li Song (761 - 806), the eldest son of Dezong Emperor, tried to renovate the politics, economy and perform reform. However, his effort was in vain due to his health problems.

Feng Mausoleum (Fuping County, Shaanxi)


Li Chun

806 - 820


Li Chun (778 - 820), the eldest son of Shunzong Emperor, successfully forced the military governors to control outlying prefectures to pledge allegiance to the Tang court. However, the emperor used a lot of eunuchs and got himself killed by one of them.

Jing Mausoleum (Pucheng County, Shaanxi)


Li Heng



Li Heng (795 - 824), son of Xianzong Emperor, was extravagant and indulgent, resulting in the military governors' revolts.

Guang Mausoleum (Pucheng County, Shaanxi)


Li Zhan

824 - 826


Li Zhan (809 - 826), eldest son of Muzong Emperor, was just like his father and murdered by eunuchs.

Zhuang Mausoleum (Sanyuan County, Shaanxi)


Li Ang

826 - 840

Baoli (826)

Dahe (827 - 835)

Kaicheng (836 - 840)

Li Ang (809 - 840), the second son of Muzong Emperor, was made the emperor by eunuchs and his trial on eliminating the eunuchs failed disastrously.

Zhang Mausoleum (Fuping County, Shaanxi)


Li Yan

840 - 846


Li Yan (814 - 846), fifth son of Muzong Emperor, was also a puppet of powerful eunuchs.

Duan Mausoleum (Sanyuan County, Shaanxi)


Li Chen

846 - 859


Li Chen (810 - 859), the thirteenth son of Xianzong Emperor, desperately tried to weaken military governors' power, suppress the uprisings, defend against the foreign forces, and ruled wisely. During his reign, there was a brief recovery.

Zhen Mausoleum (Jingyang County, Shaanxi)


Li Cui

859 - 873

Dazhong (859)

Xiantong (860 - 873)

Li Cui (833 - 873), eldest son of Xuanzong Emperor, was very incompetent, corrupt, indulgent, and fatuous. During his reign, many peasant uprisings broke out.

Jian Mausoleum (Fuping County, Shaanxi)


Li Xuan

873 -888

Xiantong (873 - 874)

Qianfu (874 - 879)

Guangming (880 - 881)

Zhonghe (881 - 885)

Guangqi (885 - 888)

Wende 888

Li Xuan (862 - 888), the fifth son of Yizong Emperor, was enthroned by eunuchs and let the eunuchs rule on his behalf. It was during his reign the large-scale revolt of Huang Chao broke out.

Jing Mausoleum (Qianxian County, Shaanxi)


Li Ye

888 -904

Longji 889

Dashun (890 - 891)

Jingfu (892 - 893)

Qianning (894 - 898)

Guanghua (898 - 901)

Tianfu (901 - 904)

Tianyou 904

Li Ye (867 - 904), the seventh son of Yizong Emperor, didnt have any power and was killed by a military governor named Zhu Wen.

He Mausoleum (Yanshi City, Henan)


Li Zhu

904 - 907


Li Zhu (892 - 908), ninth son of Zhaozong Emperor, was manipulated and later murdered by Zhu Wen, who built the Later Liang Dynasty.

Wen Mausoleum (Heze City, Shandong)

Political System

Administration System

In the early Tang Dynasty, the national territory was divided into two organizational structures to Zhou (provinces) and Xian (counties). The head chief of these places was all assigned from the central government. In the later Tang Dynasty, a higher level called Dao was put in before Zhou; thus, three organizational structures were developed.

Official System

The central official system followed the Sui Dynasty's (581 - 618) Three Departments and Six Ministries system. Zhongshu Ministry, Menxia Ministry, and Shangshu Ministry were the country's leading administrative organizations, in charge of decision-making and drafting orders, and reviewing and executing state affairs. Under the Shangshu Ministry, six departments were set up. The Li (吏) Department was in charge of the appointment and assessment of officials. The Hu Department was in charge of land resources, household registry, taxation, and financial affairs. The Li (礼) Department was in charge of ritual affairs, celebrations, sacrifices, schools, and imperial examinations. The Bing Department was in charge of officer selections, serviceman registry, military orders, and weapons. The Xing Department was in charge of laws, orders, the judiciary, criminal punishment, and prisons. The Gong Department was in charge of civil engineering, irrigation and flood control, arable land, traffic, etc. The heads of these three ministries were prime ministers. Their jobs were to discuss state affairs with the emperor and assisted him in ruling the country. Meanwhile, the different departments can supplement each other and check and balance each other. Besides, nine 'Si's and five 'Jian's were set up to work with the six ministries.

Legal System

Tang's laws simplified the system of the Sui and had lighter penalties. The execution was very prudently applied, and five times reviews were required before any implementation. Comment on the Law of the Tang Dynasty is the earliest extant code in China, having significant influences on Asian countries throughout history.

Imperial Examination System

The official selection system with imperial examination broke the rich and powerful families' monopoly, expanded the social foundation for the central regime, and injected a new force into social development. It created a relatively objective, equitable, and fair official selection mechanism to ensure the continuous introduction of talented people and providing the state organization with a systematic guarantee for robust, stable, and efficient performance.

Social Economy

The prosperity of the early Tang came from contemporary economic and social development. The reclamation of land and irrigation marked with bending shaft plows and scoop waterwheels gave higher freedom to individual peasants, leading to the rapid growth of intensively cultivated small land blocks and producing many middle and small landlords. Meanwhile, the decadent gentry or landlords crushed by the widespread peasant wars at the end of the Sui Dynasty gradually died. The individual cultivation-based landlord broke the fetters of those gentry families. They started to get full play in state politics, initiating a range of far-reaching innovations in the prevailing systems.

Tang Dynasty Coin

Emperor Taizong implemented many measures that enjoyed the people's support, such as joining counties and prefectures to reduce expenditure, letting peasants have a certain amount of land, and reducing the burden of corvee labor to ensure that peasants had time to work on their land.

During the Kaiyuan period, society was stable and peaceful, and commerce and transportation were highly developed. Yangzhou, located where the Grand Canal meets the Yangtze River, was a bustling city where merchants from all over China and abroad converged. Chang'an, the capital city, was then one of the world's great metropolises. Envoys, merchants, scholars, and artisans of many countries flocked to Chang'an to trade and study the Tang Dynasty's advanced culture and technology.

Culture of Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty was prosperous in the economy and liberal in politics. It promoted the rapid development of culture and education, setting up a complete school education system from the central to the local, involving laws, mathematics, and other majors. Tri-colored Glazed Horse

This period was the golden age of ancient Chinese poetry, with more than 5,000 poems passed down to the present generations. Prosperity, openness, and cultural diversity and the enterprising spirit encouraged by the fresh official selection system jointly created Tang poetry's brilliance. There were many famous poets in this period, such as Li Bai, Du Fu, Meng Haoran, Wang Wei, etc.

Paintings of the Tang Dynasty covered more and more fields, with figures, landscapes, flowers, and birds separated. There is a combination of calligraphic styles of both South and North, which featured gracefulness and vigorousness. Many famous calligraphers such as Ouyang Xun, Yan Zhenqing, and Liu Gongquan emerged.

Affected by alien cultures, the music and dance in the Tang dynasty were colorful in styles. Emperor Xuanzong, mastered in music rhythms, once granted a pear park for 300 musicians to practice dance and singing techniques, and personally created The Ancient Dance Music of Imperial Palace with Lady Yang by taking the styles of Western Regions for reference.

Openness and Communication

The Tang dynasty boasted developed outbound traffic. The land route ran from present-day India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran to the Persian Gulf. It further extended to many European and African countries through Central Asia and the Mediterranean Sea. The sea route started from today's South Korea and Japan in the east and ended in the Persian Gulf in the west. The Tang Dynasty's policies that encouraged openness and communication and the smooth land and sea routes gave rise to widespread Sino-foreign exchanges.

Japan had sent its emissaries to the Tang Dynasty 13 consecutive times, with Japanese students going with each emissary numbering into the hundreds. In 645, Japan launched Taika Reform, taking the Tang Dynasty as a model in many aspects, including political, legal, land, and tax systems, and even constructing the capital city. Ku Kai, a Japanese scholar-monk who once went to the Tang Dynasty to study Buddhism, adopted Chinese characters' components to create Japanese letters called Katakana. Jianzhen, a monk of the Tang Dynasty who crossed the ocean eastward to Japan, carried out monkhood initiation for the Japanese emperor, empress, prince, and ordinary people, which significantly influenced Japanese culture. Big Wild Goose Pagoda

In the late seventh century, Silla on the Korean Peninsula also sent students to the Tang Dynasty and imitated such Tang systems as the six departments and official selection through imperial examinations.

Tang court also sent a lot of missionaries to foreign lands. During the early Zhenguan Period, the senior monk Xuanzang traveled west to India, where he earnestly studied Buddhism for five years. Seventeen years later, he returned to Chang'an and devoted himself to translating Buddhism records and had The Buddhist Records of The Western World compiled. He described what he saw and heard along his westward journey. He introduced Buddhism, history, geography, and customs of India. Xuanzang's efforts with Buddhist Scriptures promoted Sino-Indian cultural exchanges and imposed a significant influence on history.

The Tang Dynasty opened itself to the outside world in an all-around way. It carried out extensive communication with foreign countries, keeping commercial ties with more than 70 countries, including countries in West Asia, Europe, and Africa. The government permitted foreigners to the liver in China, marry Chinese people, and participate in Chinese examinations for official selection. The Tang Dynasty imposed a far-reaching influence on neighboring countries and regions, extensively absorbed foreign culture to enrich and develop the Chinese culture, and further created enterprising spirits with openness and compatibility.

Tang Dynasty Silk Road

Travel With Lilysun China Tours, You Will:

Watch the World Famous Tang Dynasty Show and See How Prosperous Tang Dynasty Used to Be

Meet the Only Empress in Chinese History Wu Zetian in Theater and Listen to Her Stories

Pay A Visit to the Joint Mausoluem of Gaozong Emperor and Wu Zetian

Try Some Tang Dynasty Clothings and Shoot Pictures