Inner and Eastern Asia, 400–1200
The Sui and Tang Empires, 581–755
Reunification Under the Sui and Tang
The Sui Empire reunified China and established a government based on
Confucianism but heavily influenced by Buddhism. The Sui’s rapid decline and
fall may have been due to its having spent large amounts of resources on a
number of ambitious construction, canal, irrigation, and military projects.
The Tang Empire was established in 618. The Tang state carried out a program
of territorial expansion, avoided over-centralization, and combined Turkic
influence with Chinese Confucian traditions.
Buddhism and the Tang Empire
The Tang emperors legitimized their control by using the Buddhist idea that
kings are spiritual agents who bring their subjects into a Buddhist realm.
Buddhist monasteries were important allies of the early Tang emperors; in return
for their assistance, they received tax exemptions, land, and gifts.
Mahayana Buddhism was the most important school of Buddhism in Central
Asia and East Asia. Mahayana beliefs were flexible, encouraged the adaptation
of local deities into a Mahayana pantheon, and encouraged the translation of
Buddhist texts into local languages.
Buddhism spread through Central and East Asia, following the trade routes that
converged on the Tang capital, Chang’an. These trade routes also brought other
peoples and cultural influences to Chang’an, making it a cosmopolitan city.
To Chang’an by Land and Sea
Chang’an was the destination of ambassadors from other states sent to China
under the tributary system. The city of Chang’an itself had over a million
residents, most of them living outside the city walls.
Foreigners in Chang’an lived in special compounds, urban residents in walled,
gated residential quarters. Roads and canals, including the Grand Canal, brought
people and goods to the city. With Chinese control over South China firmly
established, Islamic and Jewish merchants from Western Asia came to China via
the Indian Ocean trade routes.
Large Chinese commercial ships plied the sea routes to Southeast Asia, carrying
large amounts of goods. Bubonic plague was also brought from West Asia to
China along the sea routes.
Trade and Cultural Exchange
Tang China combined Central Asian influences with Chinese culture, bringing
polo, grape wine, tea, and spices. In trade, China lost its monopoly on silk, but
began to produce its own cotton, tea, and sugar.
Tang roads, river transport, and canals facilitated a tremendous growth in trade.
Tang China exported far more than it imported, with high quality silks and
porcelain being among its most desired products.