In this essay, I will look at the outpouring of thought, art and literature during the early empire. More so though, I will focus on what factors led to this renewed focus on culture in the early empire. It would seem that there were several factor which would lead to this renewed interest in culture in early China, but the most significant of these factors would be the re-establishment of a strong central government. This re-establishment of a strong central government laid the foundation for cultural growth. It brought with it prosperity to China, through improved infrastructure, such as the canals and graineries.
As a result of these improvements, China flourished both economically, militarily and of course culturally. We first must look at some of the history of the centralization of China, which occurred, then was destroyed and then once more established. First by the Han Dynasty, then latter by the Sui and the T’ang In 202 B. C the Han dynasty began and brought with it more contemporary thought and inovations in culture and helped china progress as a nation. This was the beginning of a glorious time and the Chinese people still refer to them selves as Han.
The Han dynasty rivaled even Rome. They were however conqured by nomadic barbarians around 220AD and this threw China into its dark ages where nomadic uncetralized rule and Buddism ruled. In 589 AD China was reunited by the Sui and began to bring back the culture that was china. By 618 though the Sui resources were exahusted from reuniting china and they were replaced by the T’ang dynastry which brought china to new peaks of organizational stability , ecomonic and milllitary strenght, and cultural spendor. The first of the three great dynasty’s of the Early Empire were the Han.
The Han were some what ruthless in their assention to the throne, but believed in ruling to serve the people. The Han lessened the severity of punishments established by the Ch’in, but they did grant heridity to certain powerful allies in the east to help centralize china as the Ch’in had. The country flourished, and taxes were cut and graniers were once again overflowing so as to hedge against famines which can frequent China. There was an out pouring of culture and the country did well and the government had massive cash reserves.
One of the greatest emperors in chinese history was a Han named Wu-ti, he was young assertive and made China proper greatly. Wu-ti cut back on the lords and merchants powers, and made reforms. He was aggressive in his foreign policy and this was to build power for the eminant show down with the Hsiung-nu nomads of the north and west boarders. He conqured vast areas of Asia and set up a tributary system where the local rules remained in power under him, while providing gifts to the emperor.
Under Wu-ti China saw a great cultural flowering and produced China’s greatest historian Ssu-man Ch’ien the most estemmed Han poet Ssu-ma Hsiang-ju and the most infulential Han philosopher Tung Chung-shu. Confucian ideals were re-adopted , schools were formed for teaching of Confucian ways, and it was the beginning of the civil service exams. With the end of Wu-ti, the dynasty began to decline and he was succeded by a number of inferior Han rulers, who were often seen as crule.
It would seem that the Han’s heavenly madate expired and the death of Wu-ti was the beginning of the end of the Han, as china was plagued by natural disaster, landlord and aristocratic rule. The Han dynasty offically ended in 220 ad and the country was once again divided throwing china into their dark ages. China was separated into north and south and the county as a whole weakend. Barbarian invasion was rampant, and the Han capitols were destroyed by the Hsiung-nu The Sui were to finnally reunite China led by Yang Chien in 589 AD.
The Sui reunited north and south China, rebuilt infrastructure. The Sui were very ambitous in the rebulding of the infrastructer of China such as the great wall, cannals and graineries. They were also very millitarily active and made many conquests. This disrupted domestic economics and they were seen as oppressive and resented by the people. This gave way to the T’ang Dynasty in 618 AD. Under the T’ang, China combined properity cultural grandeur, aristocatic sophistocation military power and supremacy in foreign relations to achieve an age of greatness unapproached since the Han.
They owed much of their prosperity to the maturing institutions that had been developed by the Sui. They began the civil service exams again and peoples merit was based on knowledge and education. They helped to minimize ecomonic inequalities by using the equal fields system of land tenture. All arable land was owned by the state and allocated equally on a per capita basis for lifetime tenture and collected taxes, as well as requisitioned labour servives in accordance with head counts. They combined new and old elements of China.
T’ang T’ai-tsung was considered the real founder of the T’ang dynasty and is revered as on of the most heroic emperors in Chinese history. He managed to consolidate all of China by 624, and all opposition was disposed of. While T’ai-tsung was revered for his millitary exploits, he is estemmed for his consientious capable and benevolent role as civil administrator. He promoted eductation, welcomed advice, chose able ministers and delegated authority wisely (hucker 141) he was tolerant to philosophical matters and religon.
His policies and government were based on confucian principals, but he enjoyed the concept of Taoism and buddhism, and even alowed for a christian missonary to build a church. Other T’ang emperors that followed, were very contientious in administration. Capitol punishment was abolished, the beauracracy was tailored, court extravaganves were cut back and foreign policy was pursed with vigor. Cultural gorwth was encouraged in all forms and the Hanlin Academy at court was set up to encourage and teach talented scholars and litterateurs.
Music and dance institute were set up to teach theatrical performers for palace entertainment. Under T’ang rule the court was splendid and some of the greatest cultural geniuses of the chinese tradition came about, such as the poets Li Po and Tu Fu as well as some of the most notable paiters Wu Tao-tzu and Wang Wei. (hucker 143) Hoever the T’ang would not rule for ever and their dynasty soon came to decline. Presure from invading arabs and turks . The T’ang stability began to fade around 760 and from there it was more in decline. Once again the Landlords began to regain control and social mobility declined.
As central government weakend, early T’ang restraints on explotive landlordism, private commerce, and social mobility withered away; and gradually the social and political eminence of the old aristocratic class, the mainstay of early T’ang stability, was underminded by irreversible waves of social change. By the end of the eighth century, trends were developing that would bring about a vastly altered way of life in post T’ang age. (hucker 146) The T’ang Dynasty would eventually fall in 914 giving way to a period of instability know as the five dynasties era.
With the unification of the Chinese state, first under the Han, and then next primarily under the T’ang, political and social concerns that preoccuoied early Confucian and Legalist thinkers gave way to new forms of thinking and new areas of concentration. With political stability now achieved, intellectuals could focus their energy on administrative routines, politics and institution building. Metaphysical and cosmological thinking, which had seemed rather capricious aberration in pre-Ch’in times now surged into the mainstream of China’s intellectual history.
Thinkers began to contemplate larger questions of the universe and mans place in it. Taoism was given new birth, and Buddhism began to capture the Chinese imagination. In the arts and litterature, the most renowned achievements of China’s early imperial age were in historiography, poetry and Buddhist inspired statuary and paintings (Hucker 221). China developed well orgainzed and detailed accounts in history to which no other society can match over such a long period of time. Poetry became the persuit and passion of most educated Chinese.
Much of the poetry of the time was a reflection of inovations in music and the performing arts, as well as other changes that were ongoing in China’s cultural development. Cultural changes were reflected in paintings and other forms of art such as pottery. Chinese culture was to be of the envy of much of the surrounding areas, and was emulated by Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. Of all of these cultural inovations poetry was the most prevalent, as it was persude by most educated Chinese, and it reflected the feelings of the day, that of simplicity, often influenced by renewed study of Taoism.
One particual poem that I came across in my reading was titled “Resolutions on Walking with a Hangover on a Spring Morning” The world is like a great empty dream Why should one toil away all one’s life? That is why I spend my days drinking, Sprawled in a doze beside the front door. Awaking, I blink at the courtyard before me. A bird is singing among the flowers. “May I inquire, what season is this? ” It’s an oriole warbling in the springtime breeze! I am almost moved to sighs and sobs, But I pour for myself another drink. Lustily singing, I await the bright moon, And by the end of the song I’ve forgotten my cares.
This poem seems to indicate the carefree nature that many Chinese poets and thinker were able to take during these times. It also seems to reflect a renewed interest in Taoism and nature. The Early Empire, was indeed a time of great cultural growth in China. Philosophers were able to contimplate much more than just how the society should be run, but they were able to explore deeper areas of the human race and what their purpose was in the cosmos. This ability to be able to sit back and reflect upon nature the cosmos, and society, was a result of the stability of China.
The Han and T’ang Dynasties brought with them strong central government that focused on carring for the people and restructuring of the beauraeaucatic system through advancement by achievement, not heiridity. This upward mobility gave anyone from any class the chance to progress in Chinese society, and thus the great thinkers, poets and artisans came not only from the small aristocratic population, but rather from the entire vast population of China. This allowed the Chinese culture to grow in all areas, so that they even rivaled great civilizations such as Rome.