Back To CourseWorld History: Middle School
20 chapters | 223 lessons
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Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
The history of China is characterized by periods when certain families ruled the empire, called dynasties. Two of these, the Tang Dynasty and Sung Dynasty, were major periods in the development of China. The Tang Dynasty, which lasted from 618 to 907, rose after a short period of competition between several warlords for control of China. The Sung Dynasty, 960-1279, came to power after a much longer period of war where ten different rulers controlled parts of China. Despite their histories of war, both dynasties were prosperous. This was largely because both dynasties had policies that encourage international trade, and the ideas, people, and goods that flowed in to China during these years had dramatic impact on Chinese civilization.
During the Tang Dynasty, Chinese farmers began the widespread cultivation of garlic, soybeans, and peaches, which had arrived through international trade, but other than that, most of China's agricultural practices remained the same. The greatest change, however, came in the form of tea. Tea was popular in southern China since at least the 5th century, but during the Tang Dynasty, it became the essence of sophisticated society. Everybody drank tea, and Chinese culture officially became tea-obsessed. In the 8th century, the famous Chinese author and philosopher, Lu Yu, wrote 'The Classic of Tea.' This book discussed the proper cultivation, making, and drinking of tea including how to appreciate the flavor, the proper way to socialize with tea, and the ways that tea represented the harmony of the universe.
Tang technology was focused around the idea of mechanization, creating things that worked on their own and featured many moving, intricate parts, like clocks. Most notable of these was woodblock printing, a style of printing where blocks of wood were carved so that the characters were raised above the surface, and then covered in ink and applied to paper. This technology made it possible to create copies of important texts without re-writing them again and again. Wood-block printing was very closely tied to the important role of Chinese Buddhism during the Tang Dynasty. Almost all wood-block printing was dedicated to copying Buddhist texts that were widely circulated. Around 868, the first full-length book to be printed became available. It was a book on Buddhist philosophy called the 'Diamond Sutra.'
A lot of development during the Tang Dynasty was due to a government that was very kind to international trade. People, ideas, and goods moved freely in and out of China. During the Tang Dynasty, the series of overland trade routes, called the Silk Roads, were at one of their most prosperous levels. These roads had been closed for almost 800 years, but the Tang managed to conquer the main points on the road and opened it for trade once again. The Silk Roads connected China to merchants as far away as Persia in the Middle East. Commerce thrived in the Tang Dynasty thanks to massive amount of trade that flowed across the Silk Roads.
After a 50-year period of war in between the Tang and Sung Dynasties, Chinese culture kept developing. The warring period had mixed people and set strong regional identities, and for the first time, Chinese restaurants began specializing in regional cuisine. People from the south could find southern-food restaurants in the north, and vice versa. Part of this was also because of new and improved technology for preserving and transporting food.
Lots of Sung technology was based on continuing the developments of the Tang Dynasty. In the early 11th century, a man named Bi Sheng went beyond woodblock printing to invent movable type printing, where pieces were made for individual characters that could be easily rearranged to make an infinite number of sentences. Books could be mass-produced quickly and efficiently, leading to a culture that craved information and read frequently.
Other Sung technologies were entirely new, such as weaponized gunpowder. Although the Chinese had been aware that this concoction was flammable since the 5th century, the constant wars of the Sung lead them to turn to gunpowder as a weapon. They developed early versions of firearms, canons, grenades, land mines, and even flamethrowers and created a standardized recipe for gunpowder. One of the first major gunpowder inventions of the Sung Dynasty, however, were fireworks, which were originally used to scare away evil spirits.
Sung commerce continued to be very dependent on foreign markets, just as the Tang had been. Sung ships sailed around Asia and India, trading spices, information, technologies, and people. China developed a strong Islamic community during the Sung Dynasty due to the large number of people from west Asia who operated import and export businesses through Chinese ports. One of the innovations brought about by this period of international trade was joint-stock companies, where individuals buy stocks, or shares, in large companies. International shipping companies were large enough to allow for the development of this very complex economy and business in Sung China thrived.
Throughout the development of China, two eras of ruling families called dynasties made dramatic impacts. The Tang Dynasty oversaw the spread of tea culture, the invention of woodblock printing, and the reopening of the major series of trade routes between China and the Middle East called the Silk Roads. Later, in the Sung Dynasty, movable type printing and gunpowder weapons were developed.
What these eras have in common is the immense influence of foreigners through trade, travel, and war. Both of these dynasties welcomed foreign trade, which moved new ideas, technologies, goods, and people across Asia and forever changed the development of China.
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Back To CourseWorld History: Middle School
20 chapters | 223 lessons