Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907)
On June 18, 618, Gaozu took the throne, and the Tang Dynasty was established, opening a new age of prosperity and innovations in arts and technology. Buddhism, which had gradually been established in China from the 1st century AD, became the predominant religion and was adopted by the imperial family and many of the common people.
Chang'an (modern Xi'an), the national capital, is thought to have been the world's largest city at the time. The Tang and the Han dynasties are often referred to as the most prosperous periods of Chinese history.
Starting from the second emperor Taizong, military campaigns were launched to dissolve threats from nomadic tribes, extend the boarder, and bring neighboring states into tributary system. Military victories in the Tarim Basin kept the Silk Road open, connecting Chang'an to Central Asia and areas far west of it. To the south, maritime trade routes would start from port cities like Guangzhou. There was extensive trade with distant foreign countries, and many foreign merchants settled in China, boosting a vibrant cosmopolitan culture. The Tang culture and social systems were admired and adapted by neighboring countries like Japan. Internally, the Grand Canal linked the political heartland in Chang'an to the economic and agricultural centers in the eastern and southern parts of the empire.
Underlying the prosperity of early Tang Dynasty was a strong centralized government with efficient policies. The government was organized as "Three Departments and Six Ministries" to separately draft, review and implement policies. These departments were run by royal family members, as well as scholar officials who were selected from imperial examinations. These practices, which matured in the Tang Dynasty, were to be inherited by the later imperial dynasties with modifications.
The land policy, "Equal-field system", claimed all lands be imperially owned, and were granted equally to households based on number of members. The associated military policy, "Fubing System", conscripted all men in the nation for a fixed period of duties each year in exchange for the land rights. These policies stimulated rapid growth of productivity, while boosted an army without burdening much on the state treasury. However, lands would gradually fall into hands of private land owners and standing armies were to replace conscription towards the middle period of the dynasty.
Happened at the zenith of Tang's power, the An Lushan Rebellion caused massive loss of lives and the drastic weakening of the central imperial government. Regional military governors, Jiedushi, gained more autonomous status which would eventually lead to brief disintegration of China in the 10th century. Nevertheless, after the rebellion, the Tang society would recover and thrive despite the weakened imperial authority.
From about 860, the Tang Dynasty began to decline due to a series of rebellions within China itself and in the previously subject Kingdom of Nanzhao to the south. One of the warlords, Huang Chao, captured Guangzhou in 879, killing most of the 200,000 inhabitants, including most of the large colony of foreign merchant families there. In late 880, Luoyang surrendered to him, and on 5 January 881 he conquered Chang'an. The emperor Xizong fled to Chengdu, and Huang established a new temporary regime, which was eventually destroyed by Tang forces, but another time of political chaos followed.