Tang Dynasty Timeline

The Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) stands as a monumental era in Chinese history. Marked by its vast territorial expansion, flourishing arts, progressive reforms, and the spread of Buddhism, the dynasty witnessed the zenith of medieval Chinese civilization.

However, like all empires, it faced its share of internal and external challenges, from the machinations of powerful courtiers like Wu Zetian to devastating events like the An Lushan Rebellion.

By the end of the 9th century, weakened central authority paved the way for regional warlords, culminating in the dynasty’s fall in 907 AD. The legacy of the Tang Dynasty, however, endures in China’s cultural and historical consciousness.

618 ADFoundation of the Tang Dynasty by Li Yuan (Emperor Gaozu).
626 ADXuanwu Gate Incident: Li Shimin consolidates power.
630 ADConquest of the Western Turks under Emperor Taizong.
640s-650sSpread of Buddhism in China.
660s-670sAlliance with Korean Silla Kingdom and establishment of Unified Silla.
690-705 ADReign of Wu Zetian, the only female emperor.
751 ADBattle of Talas against the Abbasid Caliphate.
755-763 ADAn Lushan Rebellion weakens the Tang Dynasty.
780sReforms under Emperor Dezong.
841-845 ADGreat Anti-Buddhist Persecution under Emperor Wuzong.
860s-870sRise of Regional Warlords and weakening central authority.
907 ADEnd of the Tang Dynasty; onset of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.

Timeline of the Tang Dynasty

618 AD – Foundation by Li Yuan (Emperor Gaozu)

After the decline and collapse of the Sui Dynasty, Li Yuan, a former Sui general and duke, led a rebellion and eventually proclaimed the establishment of a new dynasty, the Tang.

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He took the throne as Emperor Gaozu, marking the beginning of a dynasty that would last for almost three centuries and become known for its cultural, economic, and military achievements.

626 AD – Xuanwu Gate Incident

This was a pivotal event in the early Tang Dynasty. Prince Li Shimin, one of Emperor Gaozu’s sons, fearing that he would be passed over for the throne, launched a surprise attack against his brothers at the Xuanwu Gate, a gate leading to the imperial palace.

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The incident resulted in Li Shimin eliminating his brothers and their factions. Shortly after, he was named crown prince and subsequently ascended the throne as Emperor Taizong, becoming one of the most celebrated rulers in Chinese history.

630 AD – Conquest of the Western Turks

The Western Turkic Khaganate was a significant power in Central Asia and posed a challenge to Tang China’s dominance and influence in the region. Under the leadership of Emperor Taizong, the Tang Dynasty launched military campaigns that eventually defeated the Western Turks.

This victory expanded China’s territory, increased its influence in Central Asia, and secured the Silk Road, a critical trade route.

640s-650s – Spread of Buddhism

Buddhism, having arrived in China during the Han Dynasty, saw a significant spread during the Tang era. Various forms of Buddhism, including Chan (Zen) and Pure Land, flourished. Monasteries were built, scriptures translated, and Buddhist art thrived.

While the Tang emperors sometimes patronized and supported Buddhism, they also periodically regulated or restricted its practice, especially when it challenged imperial authority or depleted state coffers due to its tax-exempt status.

660s-670s – Alliance with Korean Silla and establishment of Unified Silla

During this period, the Korean peninsula was divided among three kingdoms: Silla, Goguryeo, and Baekje. Silla, seeking to unify the peninsula under its rule, formed an alliance with the Tang Dynasty. Joint Silla-Tang forces successfully defeated Baekje in 660 AD and Goguryeo in 668 AD.

After these conquests, Silla turned against the Tang forces to expel them from the peninsula, resulting in the establishment of Unified Silla.

The Tang Dynasty, however, established the Protectorate General to Pacify the East to control parts of northern Korea for a short time before being completely expelled.

690-705 AD – Reign of Wu Zetian

Wu Zetian remains one of the most enigmatic figures in Chinese history. She started her career in the imperial court as a consort of Emperor Taizong. After his death, she became the consort of his son, Emperor Gaozong.

Over time, she consolidated her power and influence in the court. After Gaozong’s death, she became the de facto ruler during the reigns of her sons and, eventually, proclaimed herself emperor, interrupting the Tang Dynasty with her short-lived Zhou Dynasty.

During her reign, she initiated various reforms, promoted Buddhism, and expanded the imperial examination system, providing opportunities based on merit rather than just noble birth.

751 AD – Battle of Talas

This was a pivotal battle between the Tang Dynasty and the Abbasid Caliphate over influence in Central Asia. Located near the Talas River (in today’s Kazakhstan), the conflict marked the Tang’s furthest westward expansion.

While the Tang forces were initially successful, internal betrayal led to their defeat. As a result, Chinese influence in Central Asia waned, and the spread of paper-making technology to the Arab world is said to have occurred due to Chinese prisoners captured during this battle.

755-763 AD – An Lushan Rebellion

Initiated by An Lushan, a Tang military general of non-Chinese origin, this rebellion was one of the deadliest and most destructive in history. An Lushan declared himself the emperor of a new dynasty and managed to capture the capital cities of Chang’an (modern-day Xi’an) and Luoyang.

The rebellion lasted for almost eight years, leading to a significant loss of life and severely weakening the Tang Dynasty. Eventually, the Tang, with the help of regional warlords and foreign allies, managed to suppress the rebellion but at the cost of reduced central authority.

780s – Reforms by Emperor Dezong

In the wake of the An Lushan Rebellion, the Tang Dynasty faced both internal and external challenges. Emperor Dezong implemented reforms to stabilize the dynasty.

These reforms aimed to restore central authority, regulate taxation, and revitalize the economy. While they had limited success, they played a crucial role in allowing the dynasty to survive for another century.

841-845 AD – Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution

Under Emperor Wuzong, a Taoist adherent, a significant state-sponsored suppression of Buddhism occurred. The emperor perceived Buddhism as a foreign religion draining the state’s resources due to its tax-exempt status.

Thousands of monasteries, temples, and shrines were destroyed or repurposed, monks and nuns were defrocked, and vast amounts of wealth were confiscated.

860s-870s – Rise of Regional Warlords

With the decline in central authority post the An Lushan Rebellion, regional governors (jiedushi) accumulated more power. These military governors established de facto independent regions, acknowledging the Tang emperor in name only. The rise of these warlords further fragmented the empire and weakened the central government.

907 AD – End of the Tang Dynasty

The dynasty’s decline culminated in 907 when Zhu Wen, a former rebel and then military governor, forced the abdication of the last Tang emperor.

The Tang Dynasty officially ended, giving rise to the subsequent period known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, characterized by rapid turnovers of short-lived dynasties and regional kingdoms.