Unit 4 Chapter 7 Lesson 2 - Advances Under the Tang and Song

Lesson 2 focuses on economic and cultural developments during the Tang and Song dynasties.

Advances Under the Tang and Song

Lesson 2

Main Ideas

Terms and Names

Build on What you Know

Build on What You Know As Lesson 1 explained, the Sui Dynasty reunited China. In 618, the Tang Dynasty succeeded the Sui. The Tang rulers faced the task of keeping the recently reunified China together. They also wanted to hold onto their newly gained power. 

Essential Question 1

ESSENTIAL QUESTION How was the Chinese government organized under the Tang and Song dynasties?

The Tang

Ruling a vast country like China was a difficult task. To rule more efficiently, the Tang rulers developed an imperial state. Imperial Imperial means related to an empire.

The Tang used several ideas they had learned from the Sui Dynasty to set up this organized, well-run government. For the most part, Tang central and local government and military organization followed Sui models. In addition, the Tang used the Sui tax system. They even made the Sui capital—the city of Ch’ang-an on the Wei River—their capital. Ch’ang-an was important because it was located on major trade routes.


Chinese Government

Chinese Government  The Tang government was like a pyramid. An emperor ruled at the top, and many people served in various levels below him. The emperor’s chief advisers served him directly. They were the second-highest level of the pyramid. Below those advisers was the bureaucracy. A bureaucracy is a government that is divided into departments. Each department in China was in charge of a certain area, such as taxes, agriculture, or the army. This political system ruled all of China. Local governments throughout China had to report to the central bureaucracy.

A Law Code Tang rulers created a new code of law. It listed all of the laws of China so that the same laws would be used everywhere. This new code proved highly effective. China used it from about 624 until the late 1200s. 

A bureaucracy is a government that is divided into .


Scholar-Officials The Tang needed to educate people to work in the bureaucracy. For many jobs in the bureaucracy, people had to take an exam given by the government. The Han and Sui dynasties had also given exams to job seekers, but the Tang rulers greatly expanded the system. The state exam tested knowledge of Confucian ideas, poetry, and other subjects. The test was long and difficult. Most people who took it failed.

A person who passed the state exam could become a scholar-official, an educated person with a government position. Almost all scholar-officials came from the upper class. Most wealthy people had relatives who worked in government. In China, relatives often helped each other get jobs. Also, only rich people could afford the education needed to pass the test.

The Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty 

After the Tang, the Song Dynasty ruled from 960 to 1279. The Song Dynasty expanded and improved the exam system. It set up more schools and changed the exam to cover more practical subjects. More people took the exams, passed them, and got government jobs. Even so, most officials continued to come from rich families with political influence.


Check for Understanding 1

How was the Chinese government organized under the Tang and Song dynasties? In a with many different departments and agencies.

Review Question

What were the features of the Chinese government during the Tang and Song dynasties?

Bureaucracy run by and made up of many departments, each one in charge of a particular area

More About . . . Scholar-Officials

More About . . . Scholar-Officials From a population of about 50 million in Tang times, between 20 and 30 men passed the state exam each year. Chinese writing has approximately 40,000 symbols, and a literate person was expected to know about 3,000 of them. Well-educated people such as scholar-officials were expected to know about 4,000. Years of study were required for future scholar-officials to master the many signs as well as all of the other knowledge they had to acquire.

More About . . . Confucius

More About . . . Confucius For Confucius, education was more than gaining knowledge; it was also a means of building character. Confucius believed that self-improvement naturally led a person to want to help others, so government service was the logical career for a Confucian scholar. Although he was unsuccessful in influencing Chinese politicians of his time, Confucius gathered thousands of followers. At the end of his life, he dedicated himself to teaching and writing. His birthday is an official holiday in Taiwan, called “Teachers’ Day.”

State Exams

Essential Question 2

On what was China’s economy based during the Tang and Song periods?

Changes in Travel and Trade

Under Tang and Song rule, China’s economy grew. In fact, China became the wealthiest and most developed nation in the world. One factor in this growth was an improved transport system.

Changes in Travel and Trade The Tang and Song governments built many roads and waterways. This transportation system helped tie the Chinese empire together.

Better transportation improved trade. Traders used the new roads to move grain, tea, and other goods. Along the roads were inns in which travelers could stay. Mounted messengers and runners carried government mail on the roads. This improved communication. 

Improved Transportation

Waterways were just as important. The government repaired old canals and built new ones to link major rivers. The resulting network of waterways provided an efficient way to move goods and people.

Trade was also improved by several technological developments. These developments included gigantic ships powered by both oars and sails. Such ships made sea voyages faster and safer. The development of the magnetic compass, too, improved travel on the open seas. 

Better improved trade.

More About . . . The Chinese Postal System

More About . . . The Chinese Postal System China had a postal system as early as the sixth century B.C. Mail was carried on horseback, and riders changed horses every nine miles. The Tang extended the system considerably and sent mail by boat as well as on horseback. The mail service was exclusively for the use of the government. In the 1400s, private postal services were created. Merchants used them to move correspondence and money. The Imperial Post was organized in 1896 for public use, but private postal services lasted until 1935.

More About . . . Song Trade

More About . . . Song Trade Internal trade was extensive under the Song Dynasty, fueling the growth of cities and market towns. The government opened tax collection offices in towns where business flourished. The Song also taxed the lucrative overseas trade. Under the Song, new industries grew. Paper mills supplied the makers of wrapping paper, books, and money. The increased need for iron for construction, shipbuilding, tools, and other industries led to the growth of the iron industry and mining.

Rice Fields

Changes in Agriculture

Changes in Agriculture Around A.D. A.D. 1000, Chinese farmers began planting a new type of rice from Southeast Asia. This rice ripened faster than the type they had used before. With the new rice, farmers could raise two or even three crops a year instead of one. The food supply expanded rapidly, allowing the population to grow to about 100 million.

Terraced Farming

During Tang and Song times, the Chinese turned areas of the Chang Jiang valley into productive rice paddies, or fields. Farmers used pumps and canals to drain water from marshes. They built terraces on hillsides and used elaborate irrigation systems to water them. By changing their environment, the Chinese farmers gained cropland. Additional land enabled them to grow more rice.

These changes and a mild climate allowed southern China to grow more rice than the people in that region needed. Farmers sold the extra rice to merchants, who shipped it by canal to imperial centers in northern China. Having extra food meant that fewer people needed to work as farmers. As a result, more people could work in trade.

Farmers built on hillsides and used elaborate irrigation systems to water them. 

More About . . . Rice

More About . . . Rice Scientists believe that rice was domesticated in India by 3000 B.C. Besides terraced areas, it was grown in river valleys, deltas, and coastal areas. Some fields had to be irrigated, but others were flooded by rivers or rains. Both the growing and milling of rice required a great deal of work by hand.

Changes in Commerce

Changes in Commerce By the Song period, trade was thriving in China. Barges and cargo ships carried goods on canals and rivers and along the coastline of China. They also brought Chinese foods and other products to foreign lands, such as Korea and Japan.

The growth of trade led to a rapid expansion in the use of money, in the form of coins, to pay for goods. However, large numbers of coins were heavy and difficult to carry. To solve this problem, Tang and Song governments began to print paper money. They were the first governments in history to do so.

As trade increased, more people became merchants. China’s merchant class lived mainly in cities and towns, where most private trade took place. The cities grew and prospered. By the Song period, China had a few cities with populations of about 1,000,000 people. In contrast, Paris, one of Europe’s largest cities, had only 150,000 people at the time.

The growth of trade led to a rapid expansion in the use of , in the form of coins, to pay for goods. 

Check for Understanding

 On what was China’s economy based during the Tang and Song periods?   and trade

Review; What brought about the change to a money economy during China’s Tang and Song dynasties?  The growth of led to the expansion of the use of money to pay for goods.


Essential Question 3

 What technological advances were made under the Tang and Song dynasties?

A Golden Age for Poetry and Art

The Tang and Song dynasties were among the most creative periods in China’s long history. Poetry and art, in particular, flourished during this time.

A Golden Age for Poetry and Art Three Tang writers—Li Bai, Du Fu, and Wang Wei—are considered among the greatest Chinese poets of all time. Li Bai wrote about life’s pleasures. In his poetry, Du Fu praised orderliness and Confucian values. And Wang Wei wrote of the beauty of nature and the briefness of life. 

Tang artists produced beautiful pottery figurines. During Song times, landscape painting became an important art form. Song painters used only black ink—in every shade from pale grey to the darkest black. As one Song artist noted, “Black is ten colors.” Today, Tang pottery figurines and Song landscape paintings can be found in museums around the world. 

Primary Source

Technological Progress

Technological Progress  In addition, the Tang and Song periods were a time of exciting advances in technology. Because the Chinese loved learning, they looked for better ways to support scholarly study and spread traditional ideas. They developed methods to manufacture paper in large quantities. Paper was easier to write on than other materials, such as silk cloth.

The Chinese also invented wood-block printing . Printers carved wooden blocks with enough characters to print entire pages. Later, printers created  movable type. The Chinese used paper and printing to make the first printed books. This allowed them to record their knowledge in a permanent form. 

The Chinese developed methods to manufacture in large quantities.


Chinese Technology

Historic Influence Chinese technology shaped history in China and the West in many different ways.

• The technology of paper-making spread to the Arab world in the 700s and later to Europe.

• The Chinese invented gunpowder, which they used for fireworks. Later, gunpowder changed warfare by making deadly new weapons possible.

• The Chinese made the first magnetic compass, which made sailing safer for sailors. Compasses helped make the European Age of Exploration possible.


The Chinese influenced daily life by exporting porcelain and tea to the world. Porcelain Porcelain is a hard white ceramic often called china.

People desired porcelain for its beauty. It became one of China’s most valuable exports. For centuries, the Chinese used tea as a medicine. During the Tang Dynasty, it became a popular drink. Later, traders brought tea from East Asia to Europe.

​More About . . . Porcelain

More About . . . Porcelain True porcelain is made from petuntze, a stone containing feldspar that is ground very fine, and kaolin, a white clay. Porcelain is fired at a higher temperature than other types of pottery and is extremely hard. It is not porous and, therefore, does not have to be glazed. Porcelain was first produced under the Tang Dynasty, but it was the Yuan who perfected the manufacture of porcelain. The style of porcelain featuring painted designs under a clear glaze became popular during the Ming period.

The Chinese invented , which they used for fireworks.

The Chinese made the first magnetic , which made sailing safer for sailors.

The technology of making spread to the Arab world in the 700s and later to Europe.

Check for Understanding

 What technological advances were made under the Tang and Song dynasties? woodblock , paper, gunpowder, movable , magnetic , tea



Lesson Summary

Lesson Summary

• Imperial China was run by a bureaucracy filled with scholar-officials.

• Improvements in agriculture and transportation helped make China one of the most powerful countries in the world.

• Chinese inventions such as the compass, gunpowder, and paper shaped the history of other world regions.

Why It Matters Now . . . Chinese inventions, such as porcelain and paper money, are a part of everyday life in the 21st century.