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Chinese History - Tang Period Literature, Thought, and Philosophy

Periods of Chinese History
四唐 初唐(公元618~712年),大体上是指唐代开国至唐玄宗先天元年之间; 盛唐(公元713~755年),大体上是指唐玄宗开元、天宝年间; 中唐(公元756~824年),大体上是指唐肃宗至德元载至唐穆宗长庆四年之间; 晚唐(公元825~907年),大体上是指唐敬宗宝历元年至唐昭宣帝天祐四年之间。 When the Tang empire 唐 (618-907) was founded, there was the need for an effective state bureaucracy that could administer the vast territory of China. Like during the Han Dynasty 漢 (206 BC-220 AD), Confucian scholars promised to contribute the worthiest knowledge for governmental performance. Confucianism again was introduced as state doctrine in 630, and scholars once more started to interprete and comment the Confucian classics. In the state-founded academies, like the Hanlin Academy 翰林院, famous literati wrote the orthodox Tang commentaries (shu 疏, the ancient Han period commentaries are called zhu 注) to the old books. In 837, the classical texts were engraved in stone steles in the capital.
Many writings of the Tang Dynasty stood still in the tradition of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (Nanbeichao 南北朝, 420~589), like the anthology Wenguan cilin 文官辭林 "Forest of officials' poems and prose", modeled after the anthology Wenxuan 文選 for that Li Shan 李善 now collected the "Commentaries of the Five Masters" (Wenxuan wuchen zhu 文選五臣注).
If one thinks of Tang Dynasty literature, the first to talk of is poetry. Tang poems are said to be the finest of Chinese literature, turning back to a simple "regular style" (lüshi 律詩) with five or seven syllables per verse. Writing poems was a must-do for every well-educated person, and there are still poems existant written by emperors, monks, scholars, and even by prostitutes. The most famous writers are Li Bai 李白 (Li Taibai 李太白), Du Fu 杜甫, Du Mu 杜牧, Meng Haoran 孟浩然, Wang Wei 王維, Bai Juyi 白居易 (Bo Juyi), Li Shangyin 李商隱, Yuan Zhen 元稹, and many more. Several thousand Tang poems are collected in the Qing time 清 (1644-1911) compilation Quan Tang shi (Quantangshi) 全唐詩. The second half of Tang Dynasty saw the rise of a new poetry style. A poet should fill a traditional melody pattern with new words (ci 詞). This ci style poem was more complicated like the old shi style poems and reached its maturity during the Song period 宋 (960-1279). The most important representative of Tang ci poetry was Li Yu 李煜, emperor of Southern Tang 南唐 (937-975).
The revival of Confucianism led to a new flood of commentaries to all of the old classical books. The most important commenting scholars were Kong Yingda 孔穎達, a descendant of Confucius, Yan Shigu 顏師古 and Lu Deming 陸德明. The scholar Li Ao 李翱 focused on the relationship between feelings and nature of a person. Man is good by nature (xing 性), but his feelings and impulsiveness (qing 情) disturb that nature. Li Yuxi 李禹錫 taught that man and heaven mutually complete each other (Tianlun 天論 "Discussions about Heaven" ). Another confucian scholar named Liu Zongyuan 劉宗元 saw Heaven, man and all beings as made of only one stuff, but with different abilities (Tianshuo 天說 "Explainings about Heaven").
The prose style during the time of division had been very sophisticated and overloaded with parallelism (pianwen 駢文) and rimes. To go back to a simple and readable prose style, the scholar Han Yu 韓愈 - who was also responsible for the decline of Buddhism at the court - supported the "old prose movement" (guwen 古文). Han Yu saw Buddhism as cradle of an unnatural, wicked style and thinking. The whole prose writings of Tang were compilated in the late Qing work Quan Tang wen (Quantangwen) 全唐文.
In the field of historiography, the histories of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (Fang Xuanling's 房玄齡 Jinshu 晉書 ; Yao Silian's 姚思廉 Liangshu 梁書 and Chenshu 陳書 ; Li Yanshou's 李延壽 Nanshi 南史 and Beishi 北史 "Histories of the North resp. South"; Li Baiyao's 李百葯 Beiqishu 北齊書 ; and Linghu Defen's 令狐德芬 Beizhoushu 北周書 ) and the Sui Dynasty (Wei Zheng's 魏正 Shuishu 隋書) were compiled in the pattern of official dynastic histories (zhengshi 正史) and enriched by history critic works, like Liu Zhiji's 劉知幾 study Shitong 史通. Liu Zhiji renounces irrational accounts and the style by which the government influenced historical writing. He proposes to include monographies into historical books that give a rational account of man and his environment.
A critical work that already incorporated more than only historical writings and especially dealt with institutional history, was the encyclopaedia Tongdian 通典 "Comprehensive Statutes" by Du You 杜佑. Liu Zhi 劉秩 wrote a political encyclopaedia called Zhengdian 政典 "Manual of politics". An almost forgotten encyclopaedia is the work Yiwen leiju 藝文類聚 "Varied collection of Classics and Literature". For institutional history, the encyclopaedia Da-Tang liudian 大唐六典, published by Emperor Tang Xuanzong, and the compilation Tang huiyao 唐會要 by the Qing scholar Wang Pu 王溥, are very helpful. Among the first researches in the Chinese sound system were the dictionaries Qieyun 切韻 "Cut Rimes" by Lu Fayan 陸法言 , and Tangyun 唐韻 "Rimes of the Tang" by Sun Mian 孫愐 (both lost). In the 9th century, we can find the earliest monographies about south China geography, peoples, plants and animals. The encyclopaedical monographies of the official histories are very important for they account the actual situation of state institutions, and are often the only source in this field. For example, the librarian monography Jingjizhi 經籍志 of the Suishu is the only extant bibliography since Later Han.
The official dynastic history of Tang is the (Jiu) Tangshu 舊唐書 by Liu Xu 劉昫 , later recompiled by the Song scholar Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修 as Xin Tangshu 新唐書. Likewise, Ouyang Xiu rewrote Xue Juzheng's 薛居正 History of the Five Dynasties (Jiu) Wudaishi 舊五代史 , creating the parallel Xin Wudaishi 新五代史 . The history of the Ten States of the south is reported in the semi-official "Spring and Autumn of the Ten States" Shiguo chunqiu 十國春秋 by Wu Renchen 吳任臣.

2000 ff. © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

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