The End of Tang China and the Rise of Xenophobia

Tang China was a powerful and culturally rich multicultural Empire with satellite states in Afghanistan and strong centralized control and friendly relations with neighbours (tributaries).

During this time period, countries like Japan and Korea developed their classical culture by almost completely copying Tang Chinese Culture. Multiple Zen masters and prominent Foreign Buddhists of this era were all trained/or successors to schools in China. Kyoto for example, is a smaller replica of Chang’an, Matcha was actually the method of green tea preparation enjoyed by the Tang Chinese (China later developed loose tea leaf instead of powdered tea). Sino-Japanese and Sino-Korean were actual languages influenced by Middle Chinese.

The Capital of Chang’an had a population of almost a million people. Half of those people were foreigners. Many of them multi-generational, growing up in China, taking the Civil Service Exams, becoming Officials and Aristocrats, marrying the locals, etc. Many were slaves as well.

Something like 14% of Tang China’s Prime Ministers were foreigners (yes, actual foreigners).

The surviving Persian Royal Familiy (escaping the Rashidun Caliphate’s Conquest of Iran) married into the Tang Royal Family and were given the royal surname of “Li”. The Last Prince of Persia, Peroz III, was actually the Commander of “Area Command of Persia” in Tang Afghanistan.

However, a series of disasters happened during the height of the Empire and caused a dramatic downfall.

The Sequence of Decline 

1) The half-Sogdian (Persian) General An Lushan lead a rebellion against the Empire and occupied the secondary Capital of Luoyang.

2) Military betrayal by the Uighurs (another Turkic Persian group, at this time mostly Zoroastrians, not Muslims), who helped retook Luoyang from the rebels, but refused to leave until they were paid huge monetary rewards. AND the Tibetan Empire took this opportunity to invade and steal Chinese Territory.

3) The perceived betrayal by foreigners lead to a rise of xenophobic sentiments in the normally very multicultural Tang Culture.

4) The xenophobia culminated in the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution of 845 AD, where Emperor Wuzhong, acting under both financial interest and religious favouritism towards Taoism, destroyed 4,600 Buddhist temples, 40,000 shrines, and removed 260,500 monks and nuns from the monasteries. He forced monks and nuns to return to lay life, and expelled foreign monks and nuns back to their home countries. Because he classified Nestorian Christianity, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism as “Foreign forms of Buddhism” (despite the fact Buddhism was already foreign), those religions were persecuted as well, and eventually became extinct in China. Because they were also the last bastions of those religion in the world, Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism was practically finished globally. Surviving Manichaeans did manage to hide themselves as Buddhists and Taoist until well into the present day.

5) Emperor Wuzhong’s successor immediately repealed the persecution and tried to rebuild the religious institutions, but the damage was already done. Most of the persecuted religions would never recover. Islam survived, mostly because it was new, and because the Arab traders of the time were focused on trade, not religious propagation.

6) Xenophobia remained rampant, and several Peasant Rebellions were launched on a partially racist platform (mostly anti-government, tbh, I am not sure where I heard the xenophobic platform of the rebel armies from, but it was probably widespread at this time). These peasant armies eventually sacked both Chang’an and Luoyang. The Arab historian Abu Zayd Hasan of Siraf wrote that when Huang Chao (the rebel leader) captured Guang Prefecture, his army killed 120,000 to 200,000 foreigners.

7) Surviving ancient Chinese noble families (some who can trace their lineage to the ancient Zhou, Shang, and Xia Dynasties) were almost rendered extinct, forcing survivors to flee southwards.

8) The Succeeding Song Dynasty, after they reunited all of China from the pretender dynasties, was SINOCENTRIC. Confucianism (a native Chinese religion) became the state religion; women, who enjoyed liberties close to or greater than our modern world today during the Tang Dynasties were shackled under tighter conservative expectations, and foreigners were never again as welcome in China.

Brainstorming: The extinction of China’s Ancient Noble Houses, and the rise of the Bureaucracy.

Investigating a new line of inquiry for a blog post, this time about the near extinction of the major Noble Families of Antiquity after the Tang Dynasty.
What I have managed to establish so far as facts, these are preliminary research, with no particular conclusion or direction. I am just brainstorming. 
1) The Tang Noble families were the last great aristocracy that could trace their supposed aristocratic lineages back to the Pre-Qin Dynasties (Zhou, Shang, and Xia Dynasties).
2) The Tang Dynasty was also when the Imperial Examination became entrenched as a institution, allowing the rise of Scholar-Officials, gentry raised from the ranks of commoners on the basis of merit and education. The following dynasties was almost always ruled by Scholar-Officials, permanently moving China towards Bureaucratic Rule.
3) Southward Migration of Noble Families over successive dynasties. After the collapse of the Tang Dynasty, the survivors moved into Southern China.
4) According to wikipedia: Historically there are close to 12,000 surnames recorded (including those from non-Han Chinese ethnic groups), of which only about 3,100 are in current use, a factor of almost 4:1 (about 75%) reduction.
5) Surnames, in the original Zhou culture, were only held by nobility, but after the Qin Dynasty, commoners begin to have surnames. Chinese Surnames arise from many sources, including nobility, occupation, position in government, or are ethnic or religious (ie, “Barbarians”, specific religious groups, etc).
6) Confucius’ established his House in 551 BC in the Zhou Dynasty, but he traces his lineage from the Royal Family of Shang Dynasty, through the Dukes of Song. Confucius’ direct descendant, Kung Te-cheng is the current head of House and still holds a hereditary governmental position (Sacrificial Official to Confucius) directly derived from a hereditary peerage (Duke of Yansheng). This proves at least, that it was possible for a Noble House that was 2500 years old to survive intact to the present day. The Yamato Dynasty (The Japanese Imperial Family) could only claim 2000 years of patrilineal descent, though they are the world’s oldest monarchy.

7) Succeeding dynasties did ennoble new peerages. The last Han-Ethnic regime to do so was the short-lived “Dynasty” under the self-proclaimed Emperor Yuan Shikai when he subverted revolutionary efforts to restore Imperial Rule. His rule lasted for under a year, from 1915 to 1916.

8) The Yuan Dynasty (Mongol Empire) and the Qing Dynasty (Manchurian-Chinese State) brought with them their own systems of nobility and peerages, but they made extensive use of the Imperial Examination system. The Mongols initially did not do so, refusing to adopt such extensive use of Chinese language, ideology, and educational history. But they eventually did.

9) There is an undeniable Colonial Aspect to Chinese Surname Culture. It seems to me that the Han Chinese culture was the only one that seemed extensively concerned with surname culture and keeping records of their lineages (or at least they were the ones whose practice survives to the modern day). They brought these practices everywhere they went. There was certainly ancient, equally sophisticated cultures of non-Han origination in China (such as that of ancient Fuzhou), but everyone was encouraged to adopt a Han culture and a Chinese surname over time. With regards to good records, even someone like me, who was literally from a village in Taiwan, have genealogical records that goes back to at least the 17th century (when my Ancestor first established himself in Taiwan, as a Scholar-Official serving under Kongxinga’s command during his invasion of Taiwan, with even older records traceable to specific towns in China). We kept good records in Taiwan, although in China, during the Cultural Revolution, a lot of genealogical records, family temples, etc were destroyed.

Tentative Conclusion: Again, these preliminary research have no true conclusion, but I am leaning towards a combination of 1) Imperial Examination becoming a permanent institution in the culture along with 2) the unfortunate decline of most of the truly ancient houses, and 3) the normal phenomenon of surname extinction, and 4) The Chinese Cultural Revolution as the key causes.

My Family Genealogical Records.
My Family Genealogical Records. Page 1 of 50.