Tang Dynasty

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  • Dates: 618-907
  • Chinese/Japanese: 唐 (Tang / Tou)

The Tang Dynasty is generally held to be one of the chief Golden Ages of Chinese history. It was the high point of Buddhism in China, and was the period, coinciding with the late Asuka, Nara, and early Heian periods of Japanese history, when Buddhism was introduced to Japan. Numerous elements of Japanese Imperial government, including architectural styles, the layout of Imperial capitals, and governmental structures and legal codes (e.g. the Taika Reform of 645), were based upon Tang Dynasty models.

While the Han Dynasty is referenced in Japanese terms such as kanji ("Chinese characters," literally "Han characters"), it is the Tang Dynasty which represents China or Chinese culture in many other terms, including Tôjinmachi ("Chinatown"), Tôsen ("Chinese ships" or "Asian ships"), and karamono ("imported goods" or "fancy foreign products")[1].

The Tang Empire covered a larger expanse of territory than any previous dynasty, extending into modern-day Vietnam in the south, and as far as the oasis towns of Turfan and Dunhuang in the northwest. Some of these areas would not again be controlled by China until the Qing Dynasty. The Tang ruled this vast territory populated by perhaps as many as 60 million people from its capital at Chang'an, employing a government administration of only 17,000 officials and 50,000 clerks. Many counties, inhabited by as many as 25-30,000 people, were administered by only a single magistrate and a staff of roughly 5-15 assistants and clerks.[2] Prior to the An Lushan Rebellion (755-763), the Court maintained extensive registries of families throughout the provinces, performing frequent demographic and land surveys, information which was used for taxation purposes, and to redistribute land in the so-called equal-field system. The Court never managed, however, after the Rebellion, to regain the same level of power or control over the provinces, and many of its administrative programs fell apart.


  • Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000),
  1. Using the alternate kara reading for the character otherwise read as (Tang).
  2. Hansen, 214.