Quick Facts about Emperor Xuanzong
- Emperor Xuanzong was born around 685 CE.
- His name at birth was Li Longli.
- His father was the Tang dynasty Emperor Ruizong.
- His mother was his father’s, Emperor Ruizong’s concubine, Dou.
- After his father, Emperor Ruizong’s death in 712 CE, Li Longli became the ninth emperor of the Tang dynasty.
- Xuanzong means “Profound Ancestor”.
- Xuanzong was also known as Ming Huan (Brilliant Emperor).
How Emperor Xuanzong Rebuilt China
Emperor Xuanzong began his reign with an attempt to reverse the fortunes of his empire. His grandmother, Emperor Wu Zetian, had stripped the treasury. To save money, he banned the wearing of embroidered clothes, and gems such as pearls and jade. Over time, he created the most splendid court and empire in Chinese history.
He removed or killed most of the government officials that his grandmother had placed into office. He rebuilt the government with fewer officials and placed only those who were capable of performing the job rather than using imperial family members or members of the aristocracy who might buy an office. His own children and other family members, including his wife’s family, were allowed to hold provincial posts but were not allowed to be a member of the imperial guard or hold other court positions.
Emperor Xuanzong restored the examination system for government positions and this time even commoners were allowed to study and take the exam thus assuring that less government corruption would occur over time. He modified laws to make them more humane and to assure equal treatment across the empire. He changed the tax code to place the tax on the amount of land owned rather than the number of individuals in a household.
Trade was increased and made more fair as values of certain items were given certain units of value to always be used when buying and selling. More transportation and trade routes were established and the first permanent bridge over the Yellow River was built. Because transportation routes were better, Emperor Xuanzong moved his capital back to Chang’an from Luoyang since more food was easier to obtain.
The rise of religious establishments that had gone unchecked in prior dynasties was stopped. No more temples could be built and landowners could no longer give land to a church to avoid taxes.
Few wars or rebellions occurred during Emperor Xuanzong’s reign. Early in his reign, Tibetans invaded the Chinese empire but were successfully repressed.
China During Emperor Xuanzong’s Reign
Emperor Xuanzong’s capital at Chang’an had about two million inhabitants in and outside of its city walls. It was the hub of the world during Emperor Xuanzong’s reign. All roads and canals led to Chang’an; the Silk Road from the west, the canals from the south Yangzi River valley and the sea to the east brought many goods that other cities did not have. The population continued to have a variety of peoples from different countries and different religions.
An Art Center
Xuanzong was a poet, calligrapher, and musician. In the 1700’s, Europe had its first Academy of Letters. Emperor Xuanzong founded China’s and the world’s first Academy of Letters in the early 700s. Poetry written during Xuanzong’s reign is the model for all Chinese poets to match. Landscape painting became more important and had a number of advances in style during this time.
The Decline of Emperor Xuanzong’s Reign
The Effect of Yang Guifei
Emperor Xuanzong began retiring from court life when he was 50 years of age. He left the running of his government to a minister, Li Linfu. Xuanzong began retreating into Daoist texts and the Buddhist sect of Tantrism. He placed Daoists above Buddhists at court.
Within ten years, Emperor Xuanzong had another passion, a son’s wife, Yang Guifei. The retiring, economizing emperor was no more. Hundreds of weavers were employed to make cloth for Yang Guifei. Her family took over the court. She began a friendship with a military general, An Lushan, and adopted him as her son in 751 CE.
Invasions and Coups
China’s military power and the peacefulness that had descended over the empire at the beginning of Emperor Xuanzong’s reign began to deteriorate in 750 CE. The Turks to the north and the Tibetans to the southwest were pacified. The risk to the empire came from the west where Islamic Arabs were successful in attacks against the Chinese army and effectively cut off China’s trade routes and thus China from the western world.
An Lushan used his power with Yang Guifei and the troops under his control to attack the empire and in turn, created a major turning point in China’s history. Moving south, he massacred the people of Kaifeng, captured the capitals at Luoyang and Chang’an.
Emperor Xuanzong left Chang’an in the night. His escort called for the death of Yang Guifei, which Xuanzong granted. Xuanzong continued on his way to the west and consequently, abdicated the throne in 756 CE to his son, Suzong. Xuanzong returned to Chang’an in 757 CE.
Emperor Xuanzong’s wife was Empress Wang. Although he and Empress Wang had no children, Emperor Xuanzong had over 50 children with his concubines. He died in 762 CE. His son, Emperor Suzong, succeeded him as the tenth emperor of the Tang dynasty. His tomb is in Tailing, Pucheng county, Shaanxi.