The New Cosmopolitan Empires of the Sui and Tang

The New Cosmopolitan Empires of the Sui and Tang

· In the late 500s CE, China was a set of warring states vying for political control

· Loosely divided into the northern and southern dynasties


(Map based on “The Divisions of China, 535-560 A.D” (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. in Albert Herrmann’s History and Commercial Atlas of China via Wikimedia)

· A commander called Yang Jian unified the north, married his daughter to the heir to the Zhou Dynasty, and had much of the Zhou family murdered –> all of which solidified his power (“Sui Dynasty (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.” from Ancient History Encyclopedia)

· Once Jian was in control of the north, he renamed it Sui and then marched on the south. He conquered its capital by 589 CE and named himself Emperor Wendi

· Fun fact: the story of Mulan from Disney dates to the Sui Dynasty

· Why significant? Because…

· It moved the capital from Nanjing (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. in the south to Chang’an (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. in the north. As a result, people moved across the country

· It resulted in building a canal between the Yangzi and the Yellow Rivers, and thereby provided “a crucial means to transport goods and people between the north and the south, reconnecting territory that had been divided for more than three centuries” (Norton 1284)

· The Sui Dynasty was overthrown by a provincial governor called Li-Yuan, who then established the Tang Dynasty

· The Tang Dynasty (618 CE – 907 CE) is remembered for cultural achievements, expansion, and innovation

· Culture:  the capital city of Chang’an was a cosmopolitan center in which people from many different nationalities and religions mingled. As a result…

·  “The people of Chang’an quickly adopted new hairstyles, new games such as polo, and new musical instruments, importing exotic melodies and dances from China’s Central Asian ‘West” (Norton 1285)

· Expansion.: “Particularly important was the expansion to the northwest and control of the trade routes to the west” (Norton1285)

· Innovation: tea became a commercial crop (traded from China to East Asia), the Zen school of Buddhism, and… The invention of the mechanical printing press

· “A printed copy of the Buddhist Diamond Sutra, dated 868, is considered the world’s oldest printed book” (Norton 1285)

· The Tang period is also remembered for its poetry –> in fact, the civil service examination required that government officials become proficient in composing poetry! (Norton 1285)

· Prose fiction–or writing in a paragraph style about something not true–also became popular. Yuan Zhen’s, “The Story of Yingying” is an example of prose fiction from this time period

Some Considerations Regarding “The Story of Yingying”

· We read The Analects in Module 2 as an example of philosophical writing during the Ming Dynasty. I.e.,The Analects are written in the form of conversations that have been recorded or like anecdotes (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

· What do you get out of reading something told as a “non-fiction” conversation or anecdote? Is it more or less believable?

· As you read in the PPT, “The Story of Yingying” features a very different kind of writing. Not only is it fictional, it also contains multiple forms of writing styles, including prose narration, a letter, and two kinds of poetry

· This style gives the readers (you & me!) a chance to peek into the characters’ psychological motives –> which is a quality that is absent in writing like The Analects

· Think about the following: how much more do you “know” the characters in “The Story of Yingying” as compared to Gilgamesh in The Epic of Gilgamesh or disciples in The Analects?

· More food for thought: is Zhang vile for leaving Miss Cui or was he right to leave her? Why or why not?

· It might help to consider the Confucian value system (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site., as China was they were still influential when Zhen wrote “The Story of Yingying”


(scene from Romance of the Western Chamber (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site., an opera inspired by “The Story of Yingying” via Wikimedia)


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