Aug 14, 2020 in Research

HS150D World Civilizations

The post-classical era (500 CE -1450 CE) was characterized by development, continuity, and change, especially in the East Asian region, which witnessed considerable religious, economic, social, and political changes. Moreover, this region interacted with other regions in the form of trade and cultural exchange. According to Duiker & Spielvogel, East Asia emerged as the most prosperous and advanced region during the post-classical age because of the reappearance of the imperial system of governance. In the East Asia region, considerable change was witnessed in China, which was under the rule of three distinct dynasties during separate historical periods. These dynasties included the Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties. Moreover, these dynasties displayed different characteristics and made significant contributions in terms of social, political, and economic aspects. Following the downfall of the Han Dynasty, East Asia witnessed about three and a half centuries of destruction and turmoil. However, this ended after the Sui Dynasty gained power and was able to reinstate the centralized imperial system of government. The Sui Dynasty was in existence for less than three decades and had considerable political, social, and economic impacts. Its demise paved way for the establishment of the Tang and Song Dynasties, which have been largely described as prosperous and stable. This paper discusses the significant political, economic, and social changes that occurred as a result of the rule of the Diu, Tang, and Song dynasties.


The Sui Dynasty

The Sui Dynasty was established in 581 and collapsed during 618, lasting for just 38 years. This dynasty had three emperors. The second emperor, Emperor Young, was a tyrannical ruler, and his rule is often equated to that of the Qin Dynasty (221-206). Nevertheless, under the Sui Dynasty, there was a reunification of the whole nation. Additionally, political and economic progress was documented during this period.

Because of the reunification, there was an increase in stability and peace in East Asia, which played a key role in encouraging political and economic development. During the early years of the Sui Dynasty, there was an increase in agricultural acreage, which translated to higher crop yields. Moreover, the skills sector witnessed novel advancements, especially with respect to ship building technology. At the same time, commercial activities in Luoyang increased, which helped in growing the economy of the region. The dynasty adopted some policies such as dividing fields equally (juntian) and the moderation of taxes. The result of these policies was that farmland was equally distributed among the citizens. The tax rates were also moderated, which helped to increase the revenue for the dynasty.

Emperor Young commissioned the construction of the Grand Canal linking the northern and southern areas. The aim of this project was to improve communication between these two areas. The Grand Canal stretched for at least 2.5 miles and was crucial in enhancing transportation in China. Moreover, the Grand Canal was instrumental in fostering a spirit of cultural and economic exchange between the northern and southern regions of China.

The Sui Dynasty also contriuted to some considerable changes in political aspects. For instance, a novel political system was established, which comprised of six ministries and three departments for the first time in the history of China. Based on this political system, imperial power was enhanced. Moreover, it helped to structure the imperial rule. Since the Sui Dynasty, the approach used in the selection of talent was overhauled thoroughly. For example, the conventional nine ranks of officials were implemented (Jiupin Zhongzheng). It was a hierarchical system was substituted with the Imperial Examination System that entailed studying, being examined, and then being granted an official role. This system has profoundly influenced how officials were selected in China historically. The Sui Dynasty fell as a result of corruption and riots, paving way for establishing the Tang Dynasty.

The Tang Dynasty

After the fall of the Sui Dynasty, China plunged into chaos, because the tyrannical rule of Emperor Yang had led to peasant rebellions throughout China. One of those who resented Emperor Yang’s rule was Li Yuan who was Taiyuan’s chief officer. As a result, he embarked on a task of raising an army in May, 617. By November, 617, an army being led by Li Yuan was able to capture Chang’an (presently Xian), the capital city of the dynasty and then established a new monarch by the name of Yang You, who was also known as Emperor Gong. Li Yuan took the position of the prime minister. Emperor Yang was killed in 618, after which Li Yuan took over as the emperor and then changed the title of the state to Tang while retaining Chang’an as its capital.

During 627-349, which were the early years of the Tang Dynasty, there was an immense success accompanied by recovery from the prior turmoil witnessed during the transition. Under the rule of Emperor Taizong Li who ruled wisely, the dynasty witnessed considerable improvements in social development and national strength, resulting in unmatched prosperity typified by the flourishing of commerce and economy, stability in the social order, lack of corruption in the court, and opening of the national boundaries to other countries. The Tang Dynasty also documented significant improvements in terms of bureaucracy, especially due to the advent of civil service examinations. This resulted in a dynasty that was ruled by an emperor surrounded by scholars and bureaucrats. Thus, bureaucratic system depended on merit, which means that top ranking positions in the government were granted in accordance to how one performs in the civil service examination, which was instrumental in ensuring that the empire was being managed by intellectuals

Another period during the Tang Dynasty that witnessed immense changes was during the rule of Emperor Xuanzong. Rapid development in politics, culture, and the economy of that period are evident. Moreover, social development was also witnessed. During his reign, the largest and the most prosperous city globally was Chang’an. The fall of the Tang Dynasty resulted in a turmoil prior to the beginning of the Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty

The Song Dynasty commenced in 690 and ended in 1279. It comprised of the Northern Song Dynasty that ruled during 960-1127 and the Southern Song dynasty that ruled during 1127-1279. This dynasty was characterized by a prosperous economy as well as radiant culture. Therefore, it is often viewed as the “golden age” period following the celebrated Tang Dynasty that lasted during 618-907. The Song Dynasty witnessed considerable development in diverse aspects. For instance, the agricultural sector saw improvements in productive technology that increased agricultural output. Other developments in agriculture included using soil manure for enriching the soil, the development of the iron plow, and the fast-ripening rice. Similarly, the handicrafts sector witnessed a detailed division of labor that helped advance the production of handicrafts. Moreover, the commodity economy developed as evidenced by the emergence of currency during this period. Another notable development witnessed in the course of the Song Dynasty was the invention of compass and topography – two of the four great inventions of China. In literature, prominent writers and intellectuals such as Sheng Kuo and Zhuxi emerged, helping in the creation of a vibrant culture throughout the Song Dynasty. The increased agricultural production witnessed during this period resulted in urbanization and population growth.

The Song Dynasty also documented significant developments in regard to politics. In particular, the emperors of this dynasty emphasized the importance of submitting to the emperor, as well as one’s superiors. This government structure played an integral role in ensuring unity in the imperial court. It also guaranteed a smooth running of the empire. Additionally, just like the previous Tang Dynasty, the empire was run by scholar bureaucrats. Interestingly, emperors of this dynasty resisted political criticism, which hampered innovative reforms in terms of political governance.


The three dynasties discussed in this paper produced significant political, social, and economic developments. The Sui Dynasty reunified the northern and southern China, resulting in peace and stability. This dynasty also focused on adopting equality policies. The Grand Canal commissioned during the Sui Dynasty helped foster cultural and economic exchange.

The Tang Dynasty created a bureaucratic system for selecting government officials based on merit, which ensured that the empire was managed by intellectuals. The Song Dynasty documented significant developments, especially in the economic sphere including the agricultural sector, industry, and the advent of the market economy. From these discussion, it is evident that the Sui Dynasty focused on social developments, the Tang Dynasty focused on political developments (governance), whereas the Song Dynasty focused on economic developments.

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