Tang, Song, Yuan, &
Ming Dynasties (7th - 17th c.)
Asian Timelines Table of Contents Literary & Cultural History
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TANG DYNASTY 618 - 907
saw monumental shifts from north China plain to Yangtze
River Basin (which becomes major food-producing
region) and southern coastal areas, creating new centers
of population, production, and trade. The Tang era
produced renewed urban expansion; renaissance in the
arts, scholarship, and invention; institutionalized
education and civil service exams for the (shi)
scholar-bureaucrat testing knowledge of imperial
dynasties, painting, calligraphy, poetry, law,
mathematics, and astronomy. The Tang were also receptive
to foreign contacts. (See Paul Brians' Lecture 21: Sui, T'ang, & Song
Reviving Confucianism, Tang Emperor Tai-zong (626-649) played the role of the perfect Confucian ruler: responsible, self-critical, and attentive to the counsel of his Confucian advisors.
668: Conquest of Korea (...and later Tibet & part of Sinkiang). The Tang expanded the boundaries of China through Siberia in the north, Korea in the east, and what is now Vietnam in the south. They also extended their control into modern-day Afghanistan of the Silk Road (Oliver Wild, 1992: the most significant trade commodity of which was not silk, but religion. Buddhism came to China from India along the northern branch of the Silk Road. See pictures of the region).
|Empress Wu: The Tang period produced the only woman ever to bear the title "Emperor," the ruthless and brilliant Empress Wu (627? - 705), who is credited with first including the composition of classical poetry as part of the civil service examination. Empress Wu, or Wu Zhao (Chao), assumed the imperial throne in CE 690, after a complex career that included a stint as a member of Tang Taizong's harem, then as a Buddhist nun, later consort of Tang Gaozong, managing by intrigue to oust his legitimate empress, and from about 660 to dominate the Tang court, ruling through puppet emperors following the death of Gaozong, until she took the throne herself. Her vigorous and able reign is treated badly by traditional Chinese historians. Her rise to power sheds light on the role of women in the Tang period at a time when they enjoyed relatively great personal freedom and influence. (See also image of a Tang era lady.)|
|840s: Buddhist persecutions: T'ang emperors sought to break the power and disperse the wealth of Buddhism, but Buddhism remained influential in China. The Tang royal house bore the surname Li and traced their lineage back to Laozi, the founder of Daoism. Some emperors also professed a personal devotion to Buddhism, but neither Daoism or Buddhism was ever elevated to a state religion. See photo of Mount Wudang (Wu-tang) in northwestern Hubei province, the site of a complex of Daoist temples and monasteries dating back to the Tang. Daoism was to some extent eclipsed but never eliminated during the height of Chinese Buddhism in the Tang. The worship of Laozi, for example, had become firmly established, and, indeed, received extensive state support since the imperial family claimed descent from him. In some important ways, moreover, Daoism and Buddhism were mutually reinforcing and borrowed or took on interchangeable doctrinal approaches, techniques of meditation, and deities.|
prose, as well as poetry, flourished during the Tang
dynasty. Poetic skill was required for success on the
civil examinations for young men aspiring to become
scholar-bureaucrats in the imperial system. Literary
skill was also a means of social advancement.
LI PO (701-762)
In reaction against the highly artificial "literary" prose of the era, and in the midst of mid-Tang era political and cultural turmoil, one prose master Han YŁ (768-824) advocated a "neo-classical" stylethat is, a return to simple and straightforward writing in the classical style, and the return to Confucian values, rather than simply memorizing their content and forms. Han Yu championed "old style prose" free of stylized formality. As a result of Han YŁ's influence, political and philosophical treatises, informal essays, and tales of the marvelous (ch'uan-ch'i) were all written in the "neoclassical" style, and encouraged the development of longer and more complex prose narratives. In this style, tales of supernatural encounters with ghosts and amorous fox-women, as well as human romances of daring in love and boldness of action set in the world of courtesans, represent some of the early specimens of Chinese literary fiction.
Some Tang era court women, at times of a freer climate, gained reputations as poets and as a culture of romance developed at the end of the 8th century, female characters appeared as heroines in stories, not just as exemplars of virtue. The imaginative possibility of romantic love and free choice took hold, though the social realities of arranged marriage and sexuality as a means to power remained the social and political reality.
See the Earliest Printed Book (CE 868)
|The first group of
tales written in the vernacular tradition in the Tang era
were stories of common people written by Buddhist
preachers in an attempt to spread their religion. They
developed a narrative form called pien-wen,
sometimes translated as "popularization," the
beginning of popular fiction in China.
Drama (tsa-chu or variety plays; and nan-hsi or southern drama) proper developed from an ancient tradition of miming, singing, and dancing. Actors, prominent among the popular entertainers, were organized into professional companies that performed in theaters built to accommodate as many as several thousand people
SONG DYNASTY 947 - 1127
(or Sung) Dynasty was marked by Neo Confucian revival (which remained the core
of traditional study until the 20th century), peace,
prosperity, strengthened tradition of scholarly rule. The
Song was renowned as a glorious period of artistic and
literary production and technological inventions. One of the most
important was advancement of agricultural
technology, aided by the import of a
fast-growing Vietnamese strain of rice, which achieved a
self-sufficient and efficient food supply for everyone
that remained in place into the 20th century.
(Note that while the Chinese had a surplus of human
labor, one incentive for the development of the Industrial
Revolution in the West was the shortage of
people to work the fields.) See images of Silk making, Chinese Use of Paper, Earliest Printed Book (868 CE), and Chinese Use of Tea. See also Bound Feet: "In the tenth century in
China, a prince began the practice of foot binding
because he loved the small 'lily feet' of his concubine.
Thus traditional Chinese values for over 1000 years
dictated that the feet of young girls should be bound to
keep them small."
The new capital Kai-feng (Bianjing) was economically strategic, located at the head of the Grand Canal, epitimizing the wealthy, cosmopolitan, market-oriented cities of the Song period.
|1050||Block printing invented.|
|ca. 1100||Gunpowder invented.|
|1119||First reference to compass used for sea navigation|
|1127-1279||South Song Dynasty|
first Song emperor decided to be guided by the principle
of wenemphasizing civil, rather than
military, government, cultural values and
"literature." He was a strong supporter of
scholarly projects, commissioning large compilations and
preservations of Tang classical literature and tales that
would otherwise have been lost. Song
"Neo-Confucianism" (Dao-xue, or
"the study of the [Confucian] way") stressed
taking the creed to "heart," calling for a more
personal commitment to Confucian values, measuring
ones attitudes and behaviors against the values in
the Confucian Classics, and developed into an elaborated
philosophy and personal religion. These
"neo-Confucianist" attitudes encouraged
multiple and divergent interpretations of the Classics,
rather than single authoritative interpretation of
consensus. Buddhism and Daoism waned but their influence
can be seen in the ways the Song reshaped Han- and
Printing, which existed but was not widely used during the Tang era, was institutionalized in commercial and imperial printing shops, providing uniform if not always carefully edited, editions of the Confucian Classics and the collected Daoist scriptures to be used throughout the empire. Printing of books made of light paper revolutionized access to and storage of old and new literary works. (See Chinese Use of Paper.) The Song government was less aristocratic than the Tang, opening the way wider to less aristocratic aspirants on the basis of loyalty to the state rather than of family connections and patronage.
The "old prose style" of Tang-era Han Yu was enthusiastically taken up by the Song. New styles of informal prose were explored in effort to convey more of the naturalness and ease of speech. Ou-yang Xiu (1007-1072) represented the new kind of writer and intellectual of the Song period: more learned, possessed of broader interests, and an excellent judge of talent who promoted new political and literary figures of merit, rather than family connection. His poetry and prose established the lucid, balanced, genial Northern Song style. Ou-yang Xius informal writing of random notes on thoughts, experiences, and current events, and fragmentary reminiscences delivered with casual grace, such as Remarks on Poetry (Shi-hua) created a new genre of literary criticism.
(or Kuan-yin, the Buddhist
god/goddess of mercy) of the Water Moon,
Northern Song/Tangut, ink and color on silk
scroll, dated to CE 968, from the Dunhuang
Buddhist complex controlled by the Tangut people, for
whom Buddhism is still the dominant religion. After
approximately the mid-Tang, institutional Buddhism held
much less appeal for the Chinese intelligentsia and upper
classes. In Song society and afterwards, Buddhism was
increasingly appropriated by native traditions, most
obviously Neo-Confucianism, and was progressively
weakened. Men of quality now rejected the
Buddhist priesthood for themselves or their sons, and
once-great temples fell into disrepair. Buddhism
among the peasant masses tended to fuse
with Daoist and folk-religious elements into an almost
undifferentiated popular religion.
While Buddhism ceased to be a major movement, it continued to influence Chinese arts, language, thought. Ch'an Buddhism had always stressed the immediacy of the spoken word and vernacular speech over the "dead letter" of Buddhist scripture. The most important uses of the written vernacular came in producing written versions of oral arts traditions in the Song era urban culture. There in the entertainment quarters existed a rich world of performance literature enjoyed by commoner and elite alike.
A revival of interest in the few extant examples of the ancient tradition of storytelling stimulated skillful storytelling during this period of spectacular literary achievement, and storytelling became a popular form of entertainment. The stories told by the professional entertainers, each of whom specialized in a certain type, including Buddhist sutras, chivalric romances, popular history. Another category of storyteller specialized in xiao-shuo (now translated as "fiction"): love stories, stories of heroic bandits, crime stories with a Confucian magistrate as detective. These popular storytelling genres were written down and printed in storybooks, called hua-pen, which later inspired longer Chinese novels. Out of another performance genre of musical narratives mixing verse and prose emerged theater.
While not intended to be written down, Southern Song commercial publishers, always on the look out for new material, discovered the appeals of such performance literature, and in the Song Dynasty era began a continuous tradition of written vernacular literature in print for later generations to enjoy, emulate, and develop.
|Ca 1155 - 1227||Genghis (Chinggis) Khan emerges from Asian steppes as great Mongol leader, dreams of establishing a pan-Asia empire ("The sky has ordered me to rule all nations!"); Mongol Empire eventually stretches from Hungary to Korea.|
invade China; Kaifeng (Jin
capital) falls in 1233/1234.
Daidu (or Doudian, at site of modern Beijing) founded as Mongol capital in northern China in 1267.
Hangzhou (Song capital) falls, and Southern Song Empire conquered by Mongols in 1279.
|A recurring historical theme has been the unceasing struggle of the sedentary Chinese against the threat posed to their safety and way of life by non-Chinese peoples on the margins of their territory in the north, northeast, and northwest. In the thirteenth century, the Mongols from the northern steppes became the first alien people to conquer all China. Although not as culturally developed as the Chinese, they left some imprint on Chinese civilization while heightening Chinese perceptions of threat from the north.|
|"Though sometimes unnoticed by historians, the putting together of Chinas Neo-Confucian order was hailed as a triumph of ritual and moral leadership over disorder. The Confucian stress on proper behavior of rulers and subjects showed what indoctrination and ceremonious conduct could do to maintain forms of civilization. The reality of autocratic rule was buried within the Confucian rationale, or myth, of the statethat the rulers superior conduct inspired emulation and harmonious subserviance from all beholders." Later, under the Ming, Chinas Neo Confucian order not only reached its height, but "defined its limitations. It aimed at security for farmers, tax-gatherers, and the ruling elite, with little concern for the outside world" (Fairbank 427-428)|
YUAN DYNASTY 1279 1368
|1279 1368||Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty was a government of occupation established by Kublai Khan ruling from his new capital now called Khanbaliz (site of Beijing). Mongol invaders willingly adopted key elements of T'ang and Song cultures and Chinese lifestyles, but the language of the Yuan court was Mongol and many Yuan officials were non-Chinese.|
|13th century||Christianity in China: Since the 13th century, Roman Catholic missionaries had been attempting to establish their church in China. By 1800, however, only a few hundred thousand Chinese had been converted, although the mostly Jesuit missionaries did contribute to Chinese knowledge in such fields as cannon casting, calendar making, geography, mathematics, cartography, music, art, and architecture. The Jesuits were especially adept at fitting Christianity into a Chinese framework, and were later condemned, by a papal decision in 1704, as heterodox and disloyal for having tolerated the continuance of Confucian ancestor rites among Christian converts. See 14th century Jesuit missionary Matthew Ricci.|
|A vigorous vernacular literature emerged in Yuan China. The growth of Chinese fiction and drama may have resulted from the Mongol reluctance to hire educated Chinese for governmental posts, and/or the refusal of many scholars to serve the Mongol regime. Thus many "poet-scholars" turned their talents instead to these new arts. The roots of the Beijing Opera, in the Four Great Anhui Troupes, were established during the Yuan era: see statue of a Yuan era actor.|
MING DYNASTY 1368 1644/1662
|1368||Ming Dynasty expels hated foreign Mongol (Yuan) regime, and general contempt for foreign "barbarians" hardens. Ethnic Chinese rule, institutions, and practices are restored.|
Ming Dynasty, inaugurated by first Ming emperor Zhu
Yuan zhang of uneducated peasant origins, revives
scholar-gentry, Confucian classics,
colleges/universities, civil service exam system;
and reforms court abuses, factionalism, makes laws
favorable to peasantry; continues public works projects.
Ming emperors also encouraged the growth of agriculture,
population, handicraft industries--silk textiles, tea,
fine ceramics (see Ming Dynasty vase) and lacquerware--commerce,
arts, and innovations in literature (e.g. Chinese novel)
See 14th century Chinese cannon, Jesuit missionary Matthew Ricci, and Peking Dragon Throne.
|1405-1433||Ming Expeditions to Sri Lanka, India, African coast, Arabian Peninsula, but continued Mongol invasions force Ming to turn energies back home; excluding China from era's global commercial, technical revolutions (guns, ships), and opening the way for Western international expansion. Ming build new city (called "northern capital") near ruins of Khanbaliz (in 1421), to distinguish from Nanking, the southern capital). In the 15th century, Peking (modern Beijing) becomes capital: at center of Imperial Palace is the Forbidden City, considered literal center of Chinese universe and cosmos|
reached a new height with two early novels that could be
considered Chinese prose epics:
These composite works of folk art were created by a number of authors from oral traditions, and fiction began to be accepted as an established literary form. The Yangtze cities of Hangchow, Soochow, and Nanking become literary centers of book trade
Besides the historical romance and the novel of adventure, the love romance (or novel of "beauty and genius" becomes a popular form. These and later Chinese novels tend to be immensely long, vast in scope and vivid in characterization and description.
|1592: Hsi-yu Chi (Journey to the West, or Monkey), by several authors the most important of whom is Wu cheng-en (1500?-1582), a scholar-official. It is a fantastic novel derived from folk tradition featuring a variety of gods and demons, Buddhist saints and arhats headed by Sakyamuni (Buddha)|
|1617: Chin Ping Mei (Gold Vase Plum, or The Adventurous History of Hsi-men and His Six Wives), anonymous, the first realistic, social novel of family and society, depicting the dark aspects of decadent Chinese society riddled with filth, corruption, iniquity, and rascality, with heavy leavening of sex.|
important collections of short stories also appeared in
the 17th century, consisting of compilations handed down
from an earlier period or of works by contemporary
writers. Like the novels, the stories are colloquial in
style and realistic in presentation, giving an intimate
picture of Chinese society.
The most popular anthology is Chin-ku Ch'i-kuan (Marvelous Tales of the Past and Present, or Marvelous Tales Old and New), which consists of 40 stories.
As the modern age progressed, the vernacular tradition became ever larger and richer. Conventional literature, on the other hand, was less fruitful, although it continued to be cultivated by members of the scholarly gentry, some of whom were fine writers.
from Muniutu, 1609,
woodblock edition, British Library, Oriental
and India Office Collections, 1997: "The two
illustrations show the herdboy and the ox, a much-loved
traditional theme in Chinese painting, illustration and
decorative arts. They are reproduced from an edition of
the Muniutu in the Library's Chinese collection. This
Chan (Zen) Buddhist text relates in text and ten pictures
the taming of an ox as an allegory of subduing the
"Traditionally, the Chinese calendar was based on a cycle of sixty years, calculated by combining the Ten Heavenly Stems with the Twelve Earthly Branches in sequence. Thus, from Chinese New Year's day, which this year  falls on 7 February, the year will be designated dingchou, and also referred to as the year of the ox. According to one story (there are several versions), the ox owes its place as the second of the Twelve Animals to its nature. When leading the Twelve to the Buddha's deathbed it allowed the rat to ride on its back. However, it was beaten to the Buddha's bedside by the wily rodent, which jumped down and scampered ahead as they drew close. The person born in an ox year is characterised as one who tends to grumble but who, nevertheless, is big-hearted and long-suffering.
"The twelve animals are those which, according to legend, were the first to arrive at the Buddha's deathbed. In order they are the rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cockerel, dog and pig. Accordingly, the Buddha linked each of these with a year. The twelve year cycle was also integrated with the five elements - wood, metal, earth, fire and water - and other symbols, such as the five colours. The animals were only linked in this way with the five elements to form the sixty year cycle during the period of the Tang dynasty (618-907). "
|1644||Manchu (Jurgen) nomads conquer China with gun-supported land armies.|
China Timelines Introduction
China Timeline 1: Early China (to 3rd c. BCE)
China Timeline 2: Qin & Han Dynasties & "Time of Troubles" (3rd c. BCE - CE 7th c.)
China Timeline 3: Tang, Song, Yuan & Ming Dynasties (7th - 17th c.)
URL of this webpage: http://www.cocc.edu/cagatucci/classes/hum210/tml/ChinaTML/chinatml3.htm
China Timeline 4: Qing Dynasty & Clashes with the West (1644-1911)
China Timeline 5: Republican & Communist China (20th c.) & China Timelines Sources
Asian Timelines: India China Japan
were first prepared by Cora Agatucci, in 1998.
They are slowly being updated in Winter 2001. Please bear with me.
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