Emperor Xuanzong of Tang – the turning point of Tang dynasty

xuanzong of tang

Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (唐玄宗) (r. 712-756) was a pivotal figure in Chinese history and the turning point of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Born as Li Longji (李隆基), he was the ninth son of Emperor Ruizong and ascended to the throne in 712 at the age of 27. He was a remarkable ruler who ushered in a period of cultural and economic prosperity known as the High Tang.

Xuanzong’s reign is often regarded as a golden age of Chinese civilization, marked by significant achievements in literature, art, architecture, and science. He was a patron of the arts and is credited with revitalizing traditional Chinese culture and promoting the development of new forms of artistic expression. His court attracted many poets and artists, including Li Bai, Du Fu, Wang Wei, and Bai Juyi, who produced some of the greatest works of Chinese literature during his reign.

Xuanzong’s reign was also marked by significant political and military challenges, which ultimately led to the decline of the Tang Dynasty. The An Lushan Rebellion (755-763) was the most significant of these challenges. An Lushan, a military general of mixed Sogdian and Chinese descent, rebelled against the Tang Dynasty in 755, seizing control of the capital city of Chang’an and proclaiming himself emperor.

Xuanzong was forced to flee from Chang’an and establish his court in Chengdu. However, he remained active in the affairs of state and continued to direct military operations against the rebels. In 757, he was able to retake Chang’an with the help of the Uyghur Khaganate, but his victory was short-lived. In 763, his son Li Yuanchang (Emperor Suzong) finally defeated the rebels and restored order to the empire.

Despite his significant contributions to Chinese culture and society, Xuanzong’s legacy is often overshadowed by the events of the An Lushan Rebellion. His decision to appoint An Lushan as military governor of three provinces in the northeast is often cited as a major error in judgment that led to the rebellion. Some historians have also criticized his decision to maintain a lavish court and neglect the needs of his people, arguing that this contributed to the decline of the Tang Dynasty.

However, Xuanzong remains a revered figure in Chinese history, remembered for his many accomplishments and the cultural and artistic achievements of his reign. He is often seen as a symbol of the cultural and economic prosperity that characterized the High Tang, and his reign is studied by scholars and historians as a period of significant transformation and innovation in Chinese history.

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