The Exoticism in Tang (618-907)

Ever since the Western horsemen began raising smut and dust,
Fur and fleece, rank and rancid, have filled Hsien and Lo.
Women make themselves Western matrons by the study of Western makeup;
Entertainers present Western tunes, in their devotion to Western music. -- Yuan Chen, Tang Poet

Emperor Tai-tsung - Star of the Golden Age and Tang's Mighty Empire
A unified country, a strong central government, efficient communications and wide economic and cultural contats made the Tang dynasty one of the most brilliant epochs in Chinese history. Li Shih-min or emperor Tai-tsung played a major role in the success. Tang emperor Tai-tsung (597-649)(Fig. right), enthroned in 626, proved to be one of the greatest emperors of China.

The new emperor was just the man for the times. He was open-minded, brave and extremely intelligent. Under his powerful leadership, Tai-tsung brought the Turks and the oases of the Gobi within his sphere. With his advent China was revealed to the astonished peoples of Asia, who tremble at the sound of his name.

The emperor's home land lay along the Turkish frontier, so he was familiar with the problem of raids. In 630 Tai-tsung crushed the nomadic Eastern Turks who had been pressing southward from their base in Mongolia. Many northwest tribes in Central Asia sent envoys to seek Tang protection and presented the emperor with the title of Heavenly Khan, or the Khan of Khans, thus marking the beginning of a remarkable political-military alliance with territory extended to East, Central and South Asia. He was well respected not only in China but also in the Turkic regions.

As the trade became vitally important to Tang, Tai-tsung was anxious to clear the trade routes to India and Persia. He moved westward to conquer the Western Turks and other smaller states in Central Asia. The Chinese court now had diplomatic relations to the west of Pamirs. He directly ruled an area larger than that of the Han dynasty.

The death of Tai-tsung did not diminish Chinese pressure against the Western Turks, whose influence extended from Chinese Turkestan to the Caspian. In 657 the Turks were defeated and fled west. Between 660 and 668, Tai-tsung's successor not only brought Manchuria and most of Korea under the Tang's control, but also conquered the Chinese Turkestan (Today's Xinjiang). His satellites comprised 9 kingdoms situated in and around Samarkand, Tashkent and Merv and 16 others in Kashmir, Afghanistan and Iran. The Tang court sent military governors as far west as Teheran. Important garrison posts included one in Kucha and another at Tokmak. These guarded the Silk Roads and facilitated the flow of goods and people, religion and culture. Despite minor setbacks, Tang power dominated Central Asia until 751 when the battle of Talas signaled the beginning of its end. In that battle the Islamic Arabs decisively defeated the Chinese. With the death of the great general, Kuo Tzu-i, feared and respected by foreign troops, the 150 year old alliance under Tang domination collapsed. It had been the largest empire on earth in the 7-8th century.

Metropolitan Culture
Peace and prosperity prevailed during Tang. Population tripled from the 630s to 755, the year when nearly 9 million families and 53 million people were recorded. It was a century of low prices and of economic stabilization and an age of movement, when settlers migrated in great number. Around the 8th century, the capital of the Tang dynasty was the biggest, wealthiest, and most advanced city the world. It is called Ch'ang-an, meaning "long-lasting peace" and was the center of the largest empire on earth. While London was just a market town of a few thousand people, Ch'ang-an and its suburbs lived around two million people.

Tang welcomed other cultures and other people. Chinese life and Chinese art had been touched by strong foreign influences during the Tang dynasty. One would pass people from almost everywhere in the streets. Merchants from Central Asia, with thick beards, sold wine from goatskin bags. Blond women shopped in the market. Religious pilgrims from Central Asia or India wandered the streets in sandals. Settling into the life of Ch'ang-an, the visitor would discover a culture as sophisticated as that in a modern global center like New York or Paris.

Foreign Entertainment and Sports
Music, arts, and sports were part of both life and death in this affluent Tang society. They were enriched by importation. During the 8th century, Central Asiatic harpers and dancers were enormously popular in Chinese cities. Turkish folksongs were introduced and had influence on some Chinese poems. Musicians from Kucha in Central Asia probably exerted the most influence. To this day Chinese names for many instruments betray their foreign origin.

In the 9th century, exotic literature with tales from the far West were being read and told everywhere. Storytelling and plays were popular in Tang. Many artists made living by telling fairy tales in the streets and storytellers became the most popular entertainers at court. Many years later these stories would evolve into plays.

The superb power of horses from the west remains high value placed on the cavalry by the military of the Tang, which strained China's silk industry by an annual requirement of fifty million feet of silk for the purchase of horses from Turkic tribes. The six steeds of Emperor Tai-tsung are the most renowned horse in China's history, for they bore him through his military triumphs. Horses are symbols of prestigious status and a measure of wealth and power in Tang. In Tang's tombs horses figurines are of unusual quality and quantity.

Along with horses, a western sport was introduced to China during Tang. Polo came to China in the early 7th century and became very popular sport (Fig. left). A combination of soccer and croquet played on horseback, the game was introduced from Persia. The emperors kept 40,000 horses in his stables, both for games and for war. Its demand for superb horsemanship made it a natural game for military men. The playground must be large, level and smooth; sticks must be fashioned by expert craftsmen. Only the rich could afford this fancy Persian sport.

To the great learning center called the National Academy, students cam from Koguryo, Paekche, Silla, Japan, Turfan and Tibet to study Confucianism, Buddhism, literature, art and architecture. Some competed with the Chinese in civil service examinations. Some adopted Chinese names and served Tang court. In 848, for instance, an Arab named Li Yen-sheng passed the examination and became a holder of the highest academic degree. The emperor Tai-tsung employed many foreigners and many of them were trained in Chinese schools.

Exotic Styles and Imported Luxuries
Thriving commerce attracted merchants from everywhere during Tang. They came by caravans from Persian and the Central Asian kingdoms through the Silk Roads, by ships from Korea, Japan, India and Indonesia. The taste for all sorts of foreign luxuries and wonders permeated every social class and every part of daily life.

Horses were imported from Karashar and Kucha, glass goblet from Byzantium, jade from Khotan, medicine from Kashimir and India, crystals and agate from Samarkand and cotton from Turfan. In exchange, silk textiles, tea, paper, ceramics and above all, ideas and technology moved into these regions.

"Barbaric food" became widely admired. In everyday things, the Chinese had learned from India ways of making sugar from cane, wince from grapes, and of making optical lenses. Spinach, garlic, mustard and peas introduced from the Silk Road, were now grown in China. Of these the most popular were little "foreign" cakes of various kinds, especially a steamed variety sprinkled with sesame seeds, and cakes fried in oil. The art of making these had been introduced from the West but they were ordinarily prepared and sold by Westerners. Of course some of the foreign recipes required expensive imported ingredients was costly. Especially popular were aromatic and spicy dishes.

In the 8th century, the fashionable circles loved foreign clothing and hairstyles. Fashions in the two capitals, Ch'ang-an and Loyang tended to follow Turkish and East Iranian styles and most men and women liked to wear "barbarian" hats when they went abroad or on horseback. Court ladies wore "Uighur chignons." or dressed like men and men wore leopard skin hats with tight sleeves and fitted bodices in the Iranian styles. The most extreme enthusiasm for foreign customs was reported when the prince Li, Cheng-chien, Tai-tsung's son, preferred to speak Turkish than Chinese, and erected a complete Turkish camp on the palace ground, where he lived and dressed like a Turk.

Foreign trade kept up a heavy demand on China's production of art goods. Metalwork of bronze, gold and silver flourished with Persian designs. Pottery and porcelain became more and more beautiful. One aspect of the figurines which has attracted much interest is the frequency of foreign faces among them. The artists of Tang loved to show the gods and saints of foreign lands and the sculptors loved horses and alien faces. The exoticism in the arts showed the foreigners were widely active in Chinese life. Foreign activities in fields such as the Palace Guard, entertainment and commerce are frequently reflected in the figurines. The strange features of these foreigners which most struck the Chinese, then as now, were their great noses and hairy faces, features which were a gift to the craftsmen in clay. One of the most eminent of foreign painters was Visa Irasanga or Yu-Chih I-seng in Chinese. He was a Khotanese and came to the Chinese court in the mid 7th century. He brought a new painting style of Iranian origin and had profound influence in Chinese Buddhist art. He was credited with having helped bring the Western technique of using a line of unvarying thickness to outline figures -- the "iron-wire" line -- to the Buddhist temples in many Chinese cities.

Tolerance in Foreign Faiths
Tang emperors often prided themselves as patrons of all religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Nestorianism, and Islam. China was opened to many pilgrims came here to preach. Song could be heard filtering out of a Nestorian Christian church from Syria. Five times a day the call to prayer rang out from the Muslim mosques serving Persian and Arab traders. At Daoist temples Chinese wives burned incense and in the Buddhist temples, the monks chanted sacred texts. There were abundant religious activities recorded during this time. The Mazdean temple in Ch'ang-an was rebuilt in 631; the Nestorians were honored by the erection of a church in 638; the Manichaeans proposed their doctrines to the court in 694.

Buddhism reached its apogee during Tang. With Buddhism popular as ever, many Indian and Central Asian monks and pilgrims came to teach in China. Chinese pilgrims was sent to India to study Buddhism. The Indian culture made great inroads, when Buddhist philosophy accompanied by the Indian arts of astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and philology.

Foreigners and Foreign Settlements
Tang dynasty China was like a magnet of culture to all the peoples around her, who came to her to learn all that a great civilization could offer. The most important foreign visitors to Tang were the envoys, the clerics, and the merchants, representing the great interests of politics, religion, and commerce. Among them the most famous was probably the envoy Peroz, son of King Yazdgard III and scion of the Sasanids, a client of the Chinese sovereign in the 7th century.

Most of the foreigners who came to China during Tang dynasty were Turks, Uighurs, Tocharians, Sogdians, and the Jews in the north comparing to the Chams, Khmers, Javanese, and Singhalese who crowded the south. In both places, however, there were many Arabs, Persian, and Indians. The Iranian population must have been most important that the Tang government even had an office "of the Sarthavak" (literally, "of the Caravan Leader") to watch over their interests.

With the establishment of the Islamic empire in the 7th century, the inflow increased, and the newcomers were mostly Arabs. Some of the foreigners came to trade, made a profit, and returned home; others settled permanently in the cities in China. Within each of these cities, foreigners lived in segregated quarters, and from them the city government selected a respected or influential man as their chief. The Arabs constituted the largest number of foreigners in residence, and very often the chief was an Arab. Most foreigners adopted Chinese manners and habits. If a foreign committed a crime against his own countrymen, the customary law of his native land would apply; if the crime were committed against a man of a different nationality or a Chinese, the Chinese law would prevail. Intermarriage with Chinese was allowed and many foreigners did marry Chinese women; they were not allowed, however, to take their Chinese wives back to their home countries.

In general, Chinese and foreigners interacted peacefully until the 9th century when Uighur traders started conflicts with Chinese. The public resentment against foreigners became clear when a law was passed in 779 to compelled 1000 Uighurs resident in Ch'ang-an to wear their own native custom and forbade them to marry Chinese or to pass themselves off as Chinese in any way at all. Popular feeling against them mounted until finally in 836, all private intercourse with foreigners was prohibited. In 845 all foreign religions were persecuted.

Major Events of Tang in Central Asia

597Li, Shi-min, Tai-tsung born.
624Tai-tsung ascended the throne on September 4.
626Eastern Turks from Outer Mongolia crossed the Gobi and advanced on Ch'ang-an led by Turkish leader, Hsieh-li Kaghan. They failed to take the capital and asked for peace with Tang.
629-644Xuan Zang, a Buddhist pilgrim, traveled the Silk Road to India.
630-682Khanate of the Eastern Turks remained subject to China
632Khotan surrended to Tang in 632 and the king sent his son to serve the Tang's imperial guard in 635.
640Turfan revolted and defeated by Tai-tsung's army.
641Tai-tsung planned an interrmarriage between Tang's princess wen-chen and Tibetan king. Chinese culture began to infiltrate among the Tibetans.
643Tai-tsung sent an ambassador to India to the emperor Harcha.
644The general Kuo Ksiao-ke led Tang army and conquered Karashar.
646-648Kucha allied with Karashar against Tang, but failed.
649Tai-tsung's death
665the Western Turks came out in open rebellion.
670The Tibetans took over the kingdoms in the Tarim basin including Kucha, Karashar, Kashgar and Khotan - the "Four Garrisons" of the Chinese.
692Wu Tse-tien, Tang's female emperor recovered the Tarim basin and won back the "Four Garrisons".
706The Turks of Mongolia led by Kultegin continued their ravages and won a great victory against the Chinese at Ning-hsia.
709The Arabs imposed their suzerainty ont he kings of Bukhara and Samarkand.
712-714The Arabs reached Tashkent and penetrated into Ferghana.
714Tang won a victory near Tokmak over the Western Turks.
715Tang army entered Ferghana and drove away the Arabs.
716Bekchor (Mo-chueh), ruler of the Mongolian Turks, was killed and his head sent to the Chinese court.
721-722Bekchor's nephew, Bilga Kaghan made brief peace with Tang.
736-744Tang won further victories against various rebellious Turkish khans in the Ili Valley, south of Lake Balkhash.
743-744Mongolian Turks was overthrown by Uigurs Turks, who established their headquarters on the upper Orkhon, where their capital occupied the present site of Karabalghasun -- "the black city" -- near the present day Karakorum. The Uigurs were later to prove faithful allies of the Tang.
747Kuo Tzu-i, a Korean in the service of Tang's court, established a Chinese protectorate over Gilgit.
748A Chinese temple was built at Tokmak. Karashar, Kucha, Khoan and Kashgar once more became faithful vassals to Tang.
750Kuo Tzu-i's army helped Tokharestan (Balkh) against Tibetans.
751Kuo Tzu-i army was annihilated on the banks of the Talas, near present day Aulie Ata, by the united Turkish and Arab forces. The battle decided the fate of Central Asia; instead of becoming Chinese, it was to become Muslem.
756An Lu-shan revolted and occupied Ch'ang-an on July 18.
757With the help of Uigurs, emperor Su-tsung restored Ch'ang-an and Loyang.
762Second rebel captured Loyang a second time. The ruler of the Uigurs himself came down from Mongolia with his cavalry and saved Tang.
762-840Several Tang princesses were sent to the Uigur court in marrage.
840The Uigurs were overthrown by the Kirghiz Turks.

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