Government and Politics

The Tang Dynasty

What was the Tang dynasty?

The Tang (617–907) was the sixth-to-last Chinese dynasty. It’s well known since the period saw great achievements not only in government and business, but in letters and the arts—principally lyrical poetry, formal prose, painting, sculpture, and porcelain pottery. The first published book, the Diamond Sutra, was produced during this time (in 868). Considered a golden age of Chinese civilization, the Tang was also an age of great expansion. At its height, the empire stretched from Turkmenistan in the west to Korea (which was a vassal state) in the east, and from Manchuria to northern India. As a result, trade prospered, with Chinese jade, porcelain, silk, rice, spices, and teas exported to India, the Middle East, and Europe. One historian called the Tang “the consummate Chinese dynasty … formidable, influential, and innovative.”

One of the Tang’s innovations was the balance of administrative power: government was separated into three main branches: the Imperial Secretariat (which organized the emperor’s directives into policies), the Imperial Chancellery (which reviewed the policies and monitored bureaucracy), and the Department of States Affairs (which carried out the policies through the administration of six ministries). Add to this triumvirate a Board of Censors, which ensured that corruption was kept to a minimum. This form of government outlasted the Tang dynasty: Subsequent monarchies perpetuated the system into the twentieth century.

Yet another example of the forward thinking of the Tang dynasty was a civil service. Candidates for public service were trained in the Confucian principles before they took an exam that would qualify them for official duty.


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