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Tang China and the Aztec Empire

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            Historians regarded the Tang Dynasty (618 AD – 907 AD) as “the strongest empire on the earth in the eighth century” (http://www.geocities.com, 1997, n. pag.). It was also during the Tang Dynasty that its capital, Chang’an (now Xian), was considered as the world’s center of trade and culture (http://www.geocities.com, 1997, n. pag.). Through the Silk Road, Chang’an provided the West with an influx of goods and crafts, such as paper-making, silk and spices  (http://www.geocities.com, 1997, n. pag.). The Tang Dynasty likewise saw the rise of Buddhism in China and its permanent integration into Chinese traditional culture (http://www.geocities.com, 1997, n. pag.).

            Correspondingly, the Tang Dynasty was known as the “golden age of literature and art” (http://www.geocities.com, 1997, n. pag.). It was in this point in Chinese history that literature, particularly poetry, was at its peak (http://www.geocities.com, 1997, n. pag.). The Tang Dynasty produced several great poets, including Li Bai, Du Fu and Bai Juyi (http://www.geocities.com, 1997, n. pag.). In the realm of politics, the Tang Dynasty improved the Chinese Imperial Examination System, a Confucianism-based method of tests that selected scholars who were eligible for civil service (http://www.geocities.com, 1997, n. pag.).

            The Tang Dynasty eventually collapsed in 907 AD, after a series of rebellions that broke out in the late 8th century (http://www.geocities.com, 1997, n. pag.).

Government and Degree of Centralization

            The prosperity that the Tang Dynasty enjoyed was a result of its “enlightened political system,” composed of a “comprehensive administration and official system, strict legal system and equitable imperial examination system” (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). For a more efficient bureaucracy, the Tang Dynasty divided its national teritory into   ten political districts or Dao, which later increased to 15 in the Kaiyuan era (712 AD – 756 AD) (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). The political districts under the Dao were called Fu or Zhou (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). Administrative structures smaller than the Zhou were the Xian (town), Xiang (five Lis), Li (“a hundred families”), Cun (village), Bao (five families) and Lin (“four families”) (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.).     

            Among all the other Chinese dynasties, the Tang Dynasty had “the most comprehensive and the most detailed legal system” (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). The Tang legal system was made up of Lu (criminal law), Ling (institutional regulations), Ge (administrative rules) and Shi (formulas of official documents) (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). During the reign of Emperor Gaozong (649 AD – 683 AD), the Tang Lushu Yi was created – a compilation of feudal laws that included criminal law, laws of safeguard and defense, law for imperial officers and laws of marriage and census registers (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.).  

            The Chinese Imperial Examination System was intended to “allowed intellectuals born in poor families to have the opportunity to become an officer in the court”  (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). Some of the subjects that were included in the exam were Jinshi, Mingjing, Mingfa and Mingyu (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). The Sheng Shi (national exam), held annually in Chang’an, was the “examination of the highest grade” in China (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). The Chinese Imperial Examination System allowed the “centralization of imperial power and to promote the unification of thought” (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.).

Basis of the Economy

            The thriving economy of the Tang Dynasty was based on three industries – agriculture, handicrafts and commerce (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). The Tang economy was said to be at the height of its boom during the Kaiyuan and the Zhen Guan (627 AD – 649 AD) eras (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.).


            The fall of the Sui Dynasty (581 AD – 618 AD) led to a collapse in productivity and the paralysis of the national economy (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). After the entire nation was reunified under the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Kao Tsu (618 AD – 626 AD) successfully revived agriculture through reforms like Juntian Zhi (Land Equalization System), and Zuyongdiao System (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). These reforms led to an improvement in farm tools, agricultural techniques and irrigation, improving production efficiency in the process (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.).


            Innovations in agriculture during the Tang Dynasty resulted in surplus labor that started the handicrafts industry (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). The handicrafts industry of the Tang Dynasty “surpassed that of the previous dynasties in all areas of technique, category or industrial scale” (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). The art of silk-making developed advanced techniques, while new industries such as the production of celadon porcelain, white porcelain and Tri-colored Glazed Pottery were created as well (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). Other forms of manufacturing that were established in the Tang Dynasty were papermaking, tea-leaf processing, metallurgical industry and shipbuilding (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.).


            The rapid growth of agriculture and the handicraft industry paved the way for domestic business and foreign trade (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). The Tang Dynasty saw the opening of commercial cities such as Lanzhou, Chengdu, Guilin and Hangzhou, selling items that included foodstuffs, salt, spirits, tea, medicine, textiles, gold or silver ware and everyday commodities (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). These products were accessible not only to the domestic market – large numbers of foreign traders and envoys used the Silk Road to avail of the aformentioned goods (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). Shipbuilding allowed Tang merchants to go to other Asian countries and even as far as Africa just to sell their wares (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.).

Role of Religion in Government and Society         

            Confucianism and Taoism were the major religions during the Tang Dynasty (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). The Chinese are not very religious, preferring instead to focus on the relationship between the individual and society (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.). Since China is an agricultural country, the above-mentioned union is translated to families and how they develop the soil (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.). Hence, religious practice in China is “closely linked with the question of the ownership of the land” (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.).


            Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC) focused on the renewal of the Way (Dao) of the venerable savants (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.). Therefore, his teachings were based mainly on the connection between society and government (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.). Confucius believed that rigid obedience and proper conduct (within the filial context) will produce an orderly society (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.). In 59 AD, Confucianism became the basis for the Chinese political order (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.).


            The earliest teachings of Taoism (dated as early as the 5th century BC) were credited to Lao Zi (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.). He was the author of the Dao De Jing (The Way and its Power), regarded as the most important Taoist text (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.). While Confucianism emphasized ethical action, Taoism followed the concept of Wu Wei or non-action (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.).

            The Taoists believed that a benevolent leader “guided his people with humility, not seeking to interfere with the rhythms of social life conducted within the larger patterns of the natural world and the whole cosmos” (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.). The Taoists also  sought immortality through alchemy and meditation methods geared towards reaching a transmuted earthly existence (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.). Aside from being a religion, Taoism also served as a major influence to Chinese painters, poets and scholar-officials (http://www.sacu.org, 2001, n. pag.).

Social Hierarchy

            The Tang Dynasty adopted the Confucian social hierarchy (http://everything2.com, n.d., n. pag.). Unlike India’s caste system, where a person’s occupation is based on karma, the Confucian social hierarchy provides an idea of what are the crucial jobs and roles in Tang society (http://everything2.com, n.d., n. pag.).

  1. Shi (Scholars) – They were at the top of society in every Chinese dynasty (http://everything2.com, n.d., n. pag.). Scholars were tasked to “coordinate projects, lead people, keep records and transmit knowledge” (http://everything2.com, n.d., n. pag.).
  2. Nong (Peasants) – Confucianism had a high regard for food production, due to the saying “Mei you nongren, mei you chi de dongxi” (“If you don’t have farmers, you don’t have anything to eat”) (http://everything2.com, n.d., n. pag.).
  3. Gong (Workers) – The gong were responsible for making all the utensils that people needed to subsist. According to Mencius (a disciple of Confucius), “if everyone had to make their own tools, no one would have time to grow food”

(http://everything2.com, n.d., n. pag.). The gong were placed below the nong because “a plate of rice was more important than a hammer” (http://everything2.com, n.d., n. pag.).

  1. Shang (Merchants) – They were considered “only one step above parasites on society,” because they profitted immensely just by selling products that were created by others (http://everything2.com, n.d., n. pag.). Despite being at the bottom of Tang society, it was the Shang who had the money to send their children to school to become scholars (http://everything2.com, n.d., n. pag.).

            Condition of Women

            Chinese society is very patriarchal. The Tang Dynasty, however, was perceived as “a brief and sunny respite for ancient downtrodden Chinese women” (Huo, 2001, n. pag.). Shortly after the Tang Dynasty was established, the imperial court devised a land distribution scheme that granted land to both male householders and widows (Huo, 2001, n. pag.). The widows received larger shares of land if they happened to have dependents (Huo, 2001, n. pag.). With their own land for a source of livelihood, Tang women became independent and self-sufficient (Huo, 2001, n. pag.).

            Women in the Tang Dynasty can divorce their husbands, as long as the divorce was mutually consented upon and peacefully carried out  (Huo, 2001, n. pag.). Intermarriages, as well as the remarriage of widows and divorced women, were socially and legally acceptable (Huo, 2001, n. pag.). They had equal access to education as men, studying disciplines such as history, politics and military skills (Huo, 2001, n. pag.). As a result, the Tang Dynasty produced women leaders like Princesses Pingyang and Taiping and Empress Zhangsun (Huo, 2001, n. pag.).

Foreign Policy

            The Tang Dynasty was a “golden age of relations with foreign powers”

(http://www.history-of-china.com, 2007, n. pag.). It traded with more than 70 countries from Asia, Europe and even Africa (http://www.history-of-china.com, 2007, n. pag.). To enhance foreign trade, the Tang government granted foreigners tax concessions and allowed them to live in China and marry Chinese citizens (http://www.history-of-china.com, 2007, n. pag.). These foreigners eventually went on to become government officials in China (http://www.history-of-china.com, 2007, n. pag.).

Relationship with Japan

            Wanting to achieve the same economic prosperity that the Tang Dynasty has, Japan sent many to its students to China to study (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). As a result, Japanese leaders implemented land laws and a tax modification system based on those of the Tang Dynasty’s (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). They also established universities whose curricula was similar to that of Tang universities (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). Prior to the 8th century, the Japanese adopted Chinese characters in their language as tools for expression (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.). This resulted in the Chinese language being a major influence in Japanese vocabulary and grammar (http://www.travelchinaguide.com, n.d., n. pag.).

Relationship with Persia and Dashi

            China also had strong economic ties with Persia (now Iran) and Dashi (now the Arab nations) (http://www.history-of-china.com, 2007, n. pag.). Two Persian princes moved to Chang’an, while Persian merchants were scattered throughout China, selling gems, coral, carnelian, spices, medicines, dates and spinach (http://www.history-of-china.com, 2007, n. pag.). In return, Persian merchants bought Chinese goods such as silk, porcelain and paper, which they sold to the West through the Silk Road (http://www.history-of-china.com, 2007, n. pag.).

            The Dashi have been engaging in trade with China as early as 651 AD  (http://www.history-of-china.com, 2007, n. pag.). Arab merchants opened their establishments in cities such as Guangzhou, Yangzhou, Chang’an, Luoyang and Quanzhou (http://www.history-of-china.com, 2007, n. pag.). They easily adjusted to Chinese culture, some of them even becoming government officials (http://www.history-of-china.com, 2007, n. pag.). The presence of Arab merchants in China was responsible for the spread of Islam in the country (http://www.history-of-china.com, 2007, n. pag.).

The Aztec Empire

            The Aztecs pertained to “a wandering Native American tribe who came to Mexico during the 13th century” (http://www.42explore2.com, 1999, n. pag.). Despite initially starting out as a “poor (and) ragged people who ate rats, snakes and stole food”

(http://home.freeuk.com, n.d., n. pag.), they created one of the most developed cultures in the Americas in the 1400s and the 1500s (http://www.42explore2.com, 1999, n. pag.). The Spaniards conquered the Aztec empire in 1521 (http://www.42explore2.com, 1999, n. pag.).

Government and Degree of Centralization

            The government and the degree of centralization of the Aztec empire was simpler compared to the Tang Dynasty’s. The Aztec empire was divided into small city-states, which was ruled by the tlatoani (“leader”) (http://www.sanbenito.k12.tx.us, 1998, n. pag.). Since Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, was the center of the Aztec empire, its tlatoani became the Aztec king (http://encarta.msn.com, n.d., n. pag.). The Aztec king was known as huey tlatoani (“great lord” or “great speaker”), who functioned as a military leader, head of the law court and a high priest (http://encarta.msn.com, n.d., n. pag.). Instead of by hereditary succession, the huey tlatoani was selected by a tribal council composed of the best tlatoanis (http://encarta.msn.com, n.d., n. pag.).

            The Aztecs expanded their empire by conquering other lands and slavery (http://www.sanbenito.k12.tx.us, 1998, n. pag.). They also forced the inhabitants of the lands they have conquered to pay tributes (taxes) in exchange for sparing their lives (http://www.sanbenito.k12.tx.us, 1998, n. pag.). The taxes were paid to tax collectors known as calpixque (http://www.sanbenito.k12.tx.us, 1998, n. pag.).

Basis of the Economy

            Akin to the Tang Dynasty, the Aztec empire was also heavily reliant on agriculture and trade (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). However, Aztec farming methods were cruder compared to those of the Tang Dynasty’s (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.).  Aztec traders also never got to trade with other countries, as most of their travelling was done on foot (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.).


            The Aztecs considered corn to be their most valuable crop (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). Aztec farmers also planted avocados, beans, squashes, sweet potatoes and tomatoes (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). Aztec farms in the lowlands yielded cotton, papayas, rubber and cacao beans (the main ingredient of chocolate) (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.).

            The most basic tool in Aztec agriculture was a pointed stick that was used for digging (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). Aztec farmers practiced slash-and-burn agriculture, where they cut down and burn forrests for planting (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). However, they invented the chinampas, small islands made from fertile mud that was scooped from the bottom of lakes and was used as farmland (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.).


            The marketplace was the “major center of Aztec life” (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). Small marketplaces were scattered throughout the empire, where trade was supervised by government officials (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). Trade in the Aztec empire also took place through travelling merchants called pochteca, who used carriers to carry wares on their backs (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). A pochteca traded products such as cacao beans, cotton, jaguar pelts, rubber and the feathers of tropical birds in exchange for goods from the highlands like obsidian (used for making knives) (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.).

Role of Religion in Government and Society

            Religion was very important for the Aztecs. Because the Aztec empire was agrarian, most of the Aztec gods and godesses were agricultural divinities (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). These dieties included Centeotl (corn god), Tlaloc (rain and fertility god) and Xipe Totec (god of springtime and regrowth) (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). The Aztecs also held various religious ceremonies, most of which were related to planting and harvesting (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). They believed that winning the favor of the gods  will result in a good harvest (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.).

            Major religious cermonies of the Aztecs entailed human sacrifices (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). Most of those who were sacrified were either slaves or prisoners of war (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). But children were sacrificed to Tlaloc (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). The Aztecs believed that their gods and goddesses fed on human hearts and blood for strength (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.). The Aztecs also ate part of the victim’s remains, thinking that by doing so, the deceased’s strength will be passed on to them. (http://houck.salkeiz.k12.or.us, n.d., n. pag.).

Social Hierarchy

            Aztec society was classified into the nobility, the commoners and the slaves (http://www.crystalinks.com, n.d., n. pag.). Just like in the Confucian social hierarchy, it also provides an idea of what are the crucial jobs and roles in Aztec society (http://www.crystalinks.com, n.d., n. pag.).

  1. Nobility – Composed of nobles by birth, priests and warriors (http://www.crystalinks.com, n.d., n. pag.).
  2. Commoners – Those who were involved in agriculture and ordinary work (http://www.crystalinks.com, n.d., n. pag.).
  3. Slaves – Slaves were either prisoners of war or children of poor families who were sold into slavery (http://www.crystalinks.com, n.d., n. pag.). Slaves can buy back their freedom (http://www.crystalinks.com, n.d., n. pag.).

            Condition of Women

            Like their Tang counterparts, Aztec women were also very much involved in their community. Women in the Aztec empire paid their taxes through homespun cloth, a product that was manufactured exclusively by women (http://www.ivcc.edu, n.d., n. pag.). They were also traders, organizing, administering and profitting from trade expeditions (http://www.ivcc.edu, n.d., n. pag.). Aztec women likewise became market vendors and even “official referees” that put an end to trade squabbles that sprung from the marketplace (http://www.ivcc.edu, n.d., n. pag.).

            Aztec women were also known to be excellent healers and midwives (http://www.ivcc.edu, n.d., n. pag.). Although the Spanish colonizers dismissed their medical expertise as witchcraft, numerous Spanish accounts claimed that they treated illnesses better than European doctors (http://www.ivcc.edu, n.d., n. pag.). There were several records claiming that Aztec midwives used native plants to come up with medicines that “bring on menstruation or hasten labor” (http://www.ivcc.edu, n.d., n. pag.). Furthermore, they were also pioneers in the field of prenatal care, having administered women who were said to be seven months pregnant (http://www.ivcc.edu, n.d., n. pag.).

Foreign Policy

            The Aztecs engaged in war with other tribes in order to acquire their natural resources and to obtain slaves that will be used either for expanding the empire or as sacrifices for religious ceremonies. This was a sharp contrast to the Tang Dynasty, who emphasized order and civility and had peaceful relationships with outsiders. It has often been theorized that the hardships that the Aztecs endured before finally being able to establish an empire of their own made them adopt cruelty as a way of life. The paragraph below elaborated this idea:

            The native Mayan population of Central America had been dominated by the Aztec        kingdom for about 80 years. The Maya built the large Pyramids, created writing,        mathematics and were regarded by modern historians as the “Greeks” of America.          That is about the highest compliment a western historian can make. In contrast to the            Maya, the Aztecs were a violent society from child raising to their foreign relations.        The Aztec Empire was a regime of terror. Fear was the main Aztec way to control the            subdued.

            For example, after one war campaign against other natives the Aztecs took 80,000          prisoners of war. They brought them to their capital and murdered all of them in only         4 days. During a large public ceremony they sliced the heart out of the living body of          each fully conscious POW. The Aztecs called it a religious demand. It was nothing but   the attempt to control an empire with fear and extraordinary violence             (http://www.violence.de, n.d., n. pag.).


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__________. (1998). Aztec Government. Retrieved February 27, 2008, from

            http://www.sanbenito.k12.tx.us/schools/Miller%20Jordan/social%20studies/Social          %20Studies%20Aztecs%20/Aztec%20Government

History of China. (2007). Diplomatic Relationship of Tang. Retrieved February 27, 2008,

            from http://www.history-of-china.com/sui-tang-dynasty/diplomatic-relationship-of          -tang.html

Sacu. (2001). Religion in China. Retrieved February 27, 2008, from


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