A Tang Newspaper

All Grades, Arts & Literature, History, Curriculum Guide
  • Polo Game - A mural of Tang Dynasty

  • Palace ladies - A mural of Tang Dynasty

With the participation of teachers from all over the U.S., the Teach China program develops multi-disciplinary curriculum units aligned with national standards.

In July 2001, Teach China conducted a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, “China and the World.” The institute offered a comprehensive survey of China ‘s relations with the non-Chinese world from earliest times to the end of the twentieth century. Historian Morris Rossabi was the main instruscience and technology, the visual arts, literature, and music were some of the specialized areas of focus. Participant teachers designed units for the institute.

Teacher Resources
(Source: Curriculum from China and the World).
This assignment encourages students to think critically about the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), one of the most important and culturally brilliant periods in Chinese history. By using various sources to create a newspaper, students will bring to life the people and events of this period.

Historical Background

The Tang dynasty rose to power after China had been divided for almost four centuries, from the fall of the Han dynasty to the reunification of China by the Sui (see Part4: Chronology of the Traditional Chinese Dynasties). This period of disunion was a time when north China was ruled by non-Chinese peoples and the south was governed by refugees who had fled the north in the early fourth century.

In 589 the Sui dynasty again unified China. Their rule, however, was short lived. The heavy demands they made on the people — for example, more than a million men were called to arms in a failed attempt to conquer Korea (612) — caused widespread rebellion. This rebellion, led by aristocrats who had served the Sui and their northern predecessors, resulted in the founding of the Tang. The Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) governed China for almost three hundred years.

The Tang was an extremely cosmopolitan age, one in which China had numerous connections with the rest of the Eurasian world. People from Korea and Japan, from north Asia (modern-day Manchuria and Mongolia), Central Asia, Persia, India, and Arabia all came to the Tang capital at Changan. Even among the Chinese upper classes, there were many families of non-Chinese descent due to the different people ruling China in the Period of Disunion. One of the early Tang emperors is recorded as saying:

Since antiquity everyone has honored the Chinese and looked down upon barbarians; I alone love them as one. Therefore their tribes follow me like a father or mother (Holcombe 2001: 23).

Non-Chinese even served in the Tang government. During the eighth century, both a central Asian merchant and a Japanese served as high officials in what is now Vietnam. When Tang armies were defeated by Muslim forces at the battle of Talas (751), they were led by a Korean general (Holcombe 2001: 24).

The Tang dynasty is considered one of the great eras of Chinese civilization. An important feature of Tang culture was that it “drew together. . .many cultural strands from the tumultuous history of the preceding four hundred years” (Wright 1973: 1). This is true for both religion and the arts.

During the Period of Disunion (220-589 CE), Buddhism was introduced from India and gradually took root in China. The Daoist religion, China’s native faith, also flourished. Since it was a troubled era when many felt the end of the world was at hand, men and women from all levels of society sought peace and security in religion.

The Tang is considered the golden age of Chinese Buddhism. Buddhist monasteries became enormously wealthy. Both the state and wealthy individuals contributed enormous sums to build temples and monasteries. Buddhism was used to bolster the prestige of the Tang state. Some Buddhist clerics likened the emperor to the Buddha himself.

Daoist religion also spread throughout the Tang realm. The founder of the dynasty, for instance, believed himself a descendant of Laozi, the “Highest Lord” of Daoism.

Confucianism was an important part of Tang public and private life as well. It was during the Tang, particularly after the An Lushan rebellion (755-763, see below), that thinkers began to reconsider Confucian thought in ways that foreshadowed important developments in later centuries.

Tang Art and Literature

The Tang is renowned for its poetry: The collected Tang poems amount to some 66,000 surviving works by more than two thousand poets. The period in the eighth century when Du Fu (712-770) and other poets such as Li Bo (701-763?) and Wang Wei (701?-761?) were active is called the “High Tang.” It is regarded as the greatest era in the long history of Chinese verse.

The works of Tang potters and other craftsmen are famous for their vitality and elegance. Museums all over the world possess wonderful ceramic tomb figures that provide a glimpse of Tang life.

The An Lushan Rebellion(755-763)

Tang culture probably reached its height with the reign of emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-756). A great patron of religion and the arts, Xuanzong also effected fiscal and military reforms directed at strengthening the state. He is best known, however, for his love of the concubine Yang Guifei. Their love affair is the most famous romance in Chinese history.

Yang Guifei’s influence over the emperor enabled her to appoint relatives to important positions at court. One of them, a non-Chinese general named An Lushan, became extremely powerful and amassed a large army. In 755 he used it to rebel against the court. The ability of a border general to threaten central rule was a result of the government’s policy of strengthening frontier defenses and allowing men such as An Lushan increasing independence. The An Lushan rebellion marked the beginning of the dynasty’s decline. An Lushan’s soldiers marched on the capital and caused Xuanzong and his court to flee. During the journey, his disgruntled soldiers forced him to execute Yang Guifei.

An Lushan was killed a few years after the rebellion began, but the warfare that he initiated continued until 763.

The Decline and Fall of the Tang

After the An Lushan rebellion, the power of the emperor and the central government became weakened, their authority continually challenged by military governors in the provinces. This eventually caused the collapse of the dynasty.

The Tang was highly regarded for its cultural, political, and military achievements. Its decline, however, also contained an important lesson about the danger of giving too much power to the military.

After the fall of the Tang, China was politically divided for about fifty years. Although the man who founded the Song dynasty (960-1279) and reunited the country was a general, his deep dislike for the militarism that had splintered the Tang led to his establishing a government based on civil rather than military virtues.

Important Vocabulary and Concepts

Civil: Belonging to citizens, having to do with the general public. The opposite of “military” or “martial,” as in the word “civilian.”

Confucius: This is the name given by Western missionaries to a man named Kong Qiu, who lived from 551-479 BCE. Kong Qiu was also called “Kong Fuzi” (“Master Kong”). His students (and many of the people who later followed his ideas) made up the social class that governed China right up to the beginning of the twentieth century and the fall of the last imperial dynasty in 1911.

Cosmopolitan: Being of, or from, many parts of the world.

Daoist religion: China’s native religion arose at the end of the Han dynasty in the late second century CE. Since earliest times, the Chinese have believed that no separation exists between everyday life and the supernatural realm of gods, ghosts, and ancestors. They think that illness and other misfortunes can be caused by spirits or ghosts. The rituals practiced by Daoist priests are the front line of protection against the supernatural realm:

The two main functions of the Daoist are exorcism and protection of the well-being and security of the mortal world against the attacks of gui [ghosts]. . . . (Thompson 1989: 99).

Daoist religion is alive and well in Taiwan and, since the 1980s, has begun to flourish openly again in parts of the People’s Republic of China.

Refugees: When north China fell to non-Chinese invaders in the fourth century CE, sixty to seventy percent of the upper classes fled south.

Reunification: The Sui dynasty reunified China. North and South Vietnam and East and West Germany are examples of political reunification in the twentieth century.

Sources Cited in the Previous Section

Holcombe, Charles. 2001. The Genesis of East Asia, 221 B.C.-A.D. 907.

Honolulu: Association for Asian Studies and University of Hawai’i Press.

Thompson, Laurence G. 1989. Chinese Religion. Fourth Edition.

Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

Wright, Arthur E., and Denis Twitchett. 1973. Perspectives on the Tang.

New Haven: Yale University Press.

All materials © 2001 China Institute in America. All rights reserved.

Resource Type: Curriculum Guide
Caterogy: All Grades, Arts & Literature, History, Curriculum Guide


Teach China Team

Teach China is a comprehensive professional development program offered by China Institute to provide a wealth of opportunities for K-12 educators to enhance their knowledge of China, past and present. We take an interdisciplinary approach consistent with national and state-mandated standards in order to help educators incorporate the teaching of China into all subjects and grade levels, including Mandarin language learning, the humanities, social studies, and the arts. Teach China promotes cross-cultural understanding through the use and creation of authentic materials, the presentation of balanced perspectives, and the fostering of enduring connections between educators around the world.