A Tang NewspaperAll 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.
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.
Assignment: A Tang Newspaper
You will be creating a small newspaper. The events you will be discussing take place in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), so the paper’s news items should reflect things happening during this period. However, because this is meant to be a creative assignment, you can discuss events that you imagine might have occured during the Tang dynasty. The stories you will be asked to write are explained further below.
Materials: You may use your textbooks, class notes, suggested readings, primary sources, and the Internet to find, not copy, information.
The Tang newspaper should include:
1. A brief obituary (not less than 100 words). The person you choose can be someone influential (such as an emperor or a poet) or a character you invent (such as a government official, a soldier, a farmer, a Buddhist monk or nun, a Daoist priest or nun).
The obituary should discuss: cause of death, the person’s accomplishments and contributions to Chinese society, personal life, surviving family members.
2. Three news items (50-75 words each). Each news item needs a creative headline and should include the five W’s (who, what, where, when, and why). These may be either eyewitness accounts and/or human interest stories. Topics could include:
- The overthrow of the Sui dynasty and the founding of the Tang
- Empress Wu (the first — and only — woman to rule China) takes the throne
- The monk Xuanzang returns from India and visits the emperor
- A foreign merchant in Changan seeks to advertise in your paper
- The romance of Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Guifei
- The An Lushan rebellion
- Han Yu condemns Buddhism
- Local military leaders threaten the dynasty
3. Two op-ed pieces (up to 150 words each) praising or criticizing the value of
- Expanding the empire
- Poets and wine: Should they drink it to write?
- Allowing non-Chinese religions into China
- How much power should the military have?
Although your op-ed piece should express a clear pro or con opinion, you should also try to present a balanced account of the facts.
4. Make a food, fashion, or sports page.
- Food page. If you give a recipe, include ingredients, cooking methods, and times.
- Fashion page. Tang fashion based on paintings, ceramics, or poetry. What would a fashion show with Tang supermodels be like?
- Sports page. Report on a Tang dynasty polo match.
5. Draw a cartoon depicting a newsworthy event. Stick figures are acceptable — it’s the message that counts!
Grading: Each assignment is worth 10 points for a total of 80. The other 20 points are based on creativity. A 10 point story would have a very catchy headline and the story would accurately address all 5 W’s in an innovative way. A 5 point story would not have a catchy headline and would address the facts only superficially.
A CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE OF THE TANG DYNASTY
Sui Dynasty (581-618)
Sixth century The rise of the Turkic empire. The name “Turk” refers to a number of tribal societies connected by closely related (“Turkic”) languages. The modern Turkish people are the descendents of this steppe empire.
For about two centuries, a Turkic people called “Tu jue” by the Chinese were an important force in Central Asia. Originating in what is now Mongolia, their empire eventually divided into an eastern and western branch. At its height, their territory extended west as far as the Byzantine Empire. At times they controlled the Silk Road connecting China to the west.
Yang Jian unifies China and establishes the Sui dynasty. The Sui engages in enormous public works projects (canals, defensive walls, two new capitals) as well as a failed attempt to conquer what is now Korea (612). The expense and loss of life involved contribute to the dynasty’s short existence.
First Tibetan embassy goes to the Chinese court.
Between the seventh and ninth centuries, China’s rivals for power and territory in Central Asia were the Turks and Tibetans.
The building of the Grand Canal. The 1,200 mile Grand Canal links north and south China. It allowed grain to be transported north to supply cities and frontier garrisons.
Tang Dynasty (618-907)
The armies of Li Yuan, a cousin of the second Sui emperor, gain control of the all important North China Plain. Li Yuan reigns as Gaozong, first Tang emperor.
Li Yuan controls both north and south China.
Li Yuan’s son, Li Shimin, assumes the throne. Li Shimin murders his two brothers and forces his father to abdicate. He reigns as Emperor Taizong from 626-649. Taizong is considered one of China’s greatest rulers.
Pilgrimage of the monk Xuanzang to India begins. Xuanzang’s trip is inspiration for one of China’s most beloved works of fiction, Journey to the West.
Tang armies attack Mongolia, and the eastern Turks become vassals of the Chinese court for a half century.
Xuanzang returns from India.
Earliest surviving Tang law code written. The Tang Code not only greatly influences later Chinese law but also is an important element in the export of Chinese ideas and institutions to Korea and Japan.
Tang armies establish military protectorates in Central Asia by victories over the western Turks.
The Umayyad caliphate. The Ummayyad caliphate was the first Islamic dynasty. Under its rule, Islam spread east as far as Central Asia.
Laozi canonized as “Most High Emperor of Mystic Origin.”
Tibetan attacks cause the Tang to withdraw from the Tarim basin. The Tarim basin is located in China’s modern-day Xinjiang province. The northern and southern branches of the Silk Road go through this region.
Wu Zhao, Emperor Gaozong’s (r. 649-683) dowager empress, becomes ruler of China.
Wu Zhao becomes emperor and, calling her dynasty the Zhou, reigns until 705. During the seventh century, the civil service examinations develop further. The Tang also adopt a system of land nationalization and apportionment adjusted according to family size. Military-agricultural colonies are established to guard the northwest frontier.
Combined Chinese and Turkic armies retake the Tarim basin from Tibetan forces.
Reign of Xuanzong.
The Uighur empire. The Uighurs are a Turkic people. They displace the eastern empire of the Tu jue in Mongolia. For the most part, the Uighurs maintain cordial relations with China. They provide troops to help fight the Tibetans and also help defeat the An Lushan rebellion (below). More than 7 million Uighurs live in western China today. They trace their ethnic roots back to the Uighurs of Tang times.
Battle of the Talas River. Tang troops are defeated by an Arab force. This stops the westward expansion of Chinese influence in Central Asia. Some sources say that Chinese taken captive at this battle brought knowledge of paper manufacturing to the Islamic world.
The An Lushan rebellion almost topples the dynasty. By the middle of the eighth century, almost half the population lives in the Yangzi valley and areas to the south. Grain from the south (wheat, barley, and rice) is transported by water to supply the capital at Changan – by this time one could go from Canton in the southeast all the way to the capital by boat, via rivers and canals. Communities of Arab, Persian, and Japanese traders help make the southeast coast important in trade.
China’s population may now be as high as 75 million. Changan, with as many as 2 million people living within its walls, is host to Arabs, Persians, Indians, Turks, Syrians, and Tibetans, as well as Koreans and Japanese.
Emperor Wuzong’s persecution of Buddhism. At the end of the nineteenth century, a copy of a Buddhist work called the Diamond Sutra is found in Dunhuang in northwest China. Dated 868, it is the world’s oldest surviving printed text.
Tang capital falls to bandit-rebel Huang Zhao.
Five Dynasties Period (907-960)
End of the Tang and beginning of the Five Dynasties period. A rebel leader named Zhu Wen deposes the last Tang emperor and establishes Later Liang, first of the Five Dynasties. During this time, five regimes succeed each other in the north, and ten states coexist in the south.
SUGGESTED SOURCES FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
(Source: Curriculum from China and the World).
To help you and your students understand this material better, you may refer to the following related source materials.
- Art Institute of Chicago. “Deified Laozi” (Tang sculpture). From Taoism and the Arts of China.
This page shows a Tang statue of Laozi. The whole site documents an exhibit held at the Art Institute of Chicago. It contains an introduction to Daoism, lesson plans, and a glossary.
- Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. A Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization.
This site covers Buulhism and Tang calligraphy in a section entitled “The Early Imperial Period.” It also provides a timeline, maps, and a teacher’s guide.
- McClung Museum. Reflections of a Golden Age — Chinese Tang Pottery.
A pictorial tour of Tang tomb figures that reflects the prosperous culture of the period.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art. Timeline of Art History.
The timeline includes artwork from the museum’s collection.
- Cobblestone Publishing. 1995. “Buulhism.” Calliope 5, No. 4 (March/April).
Calliope is “the world history magazine for readers aged 9-14.” This is a general treatment of Buulhist religion that provides an introduction to its basic ideas and institutions.
- Cobblestone Publishing. 1996. “Cities of the Past.” Calliope 6, No. 5 (May/June).
This issue of Calliope includes a section on Xian. In Tang times Xian was the capital city of Changan.
- Reese, Lyn. 1996. The Eyes of the Empress. Women in World History Curriculum.
This curriculum unit focuses on the career of Empress Wu, the only woman to rule China as “emperor.” Eyes of the Empress is “an original story based on true accounts of a female poet and her maid. . . . Enriched with follow-up questions, activity suggestions, vocabulary.”
- S.P.I.C.E. 1993. Along the Silk Road. Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education.
Tang is one part of this unit on the Silk Road.
- Shih, Chung-wen (producer). 1993. China’s Cosmopolitan Age: The Tang. Annenberg/Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
This video is accompanied by a guide that provides background material on the Tang.
- Benn, Charles. 2001. Daily Life in Traditional China — The Tang Dynasty. Westport, CT: The Greenwood Press.
Based on primary sources, this volume has sections on cities and urban life, food and clothing, law, entertainment, and conceptions of death and the afterlife.
- Birch, Cyril. 1989. Anthology of Chinese Literature from early times to the fourteenth century. New York: Grove Press.
This anthology includes a translation of “A Song of Unending Sorrow,” a famous poem about the love affair between Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Guifei.
- Cahill, Suzanne E. 1999. “Our Women are Acting Like Foreigner’s Wives!” Western Influences on Tang Dynasty Women’s Fashion. In Valerie Steele and John S. Major, China Chic — East Meets West. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Cahill uses “both excavated and written materials to examine Tang women’s adoption of western dress in cultural context.”
- ___2001. “Biography of the Daoist Saint Wang Fengxian.” In Susan Mann and Yu-yin Cheng (eds.), Under Confucian Eyes – Writings on Gender in Chinese History. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 17-28.
This text tells the life story of a “renowned [Tang] Daoist nun and revered teacher.”
- Liu, Wu-chi, and Irving Yucheng Lo (eds.). 1990. Sunflower Splendor — Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry. Bloomington, IND: Indiana University Press.
Sunflower Splendor contains a rich selection of Tang poetry.
Chronology of the Traditional Chinese Dynasties
|Shang or Yin||c1766-1040/1045? BCE|
|Spring and Autumn period||722-479|
|Warring States period||479-221|
|Former Han||202 BCE-9 CE|
|Xin (usurpation of the throne by Wang Mang||9-23 CE|
|Period of Disunion: Three Kingdoms & Six Dynasties||220-589|
|Song||Northern Song 960-1126; Southern Song 1126-1279|
(Source: Curriculum from China and the World).
Caterogy: All Grades, Arts & Literature, History, Curriculum Guide
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