Introduction to the Economic History of China

By E. Stuart Kirby | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
THE GREAT T'ANG EMPIRE

In the last chapter, the problems of landownership and agriculture were given special emphasis. It is chiefly the Japanese writers who place well in the foreground this aspect of the 'internal' problems of the period. They render a good service in doing so. The fundamental instability of this otherwise brilliant and flourishing epoch will never be fully understood, until the deep background of its rural crisis has been appreciated. This is another major field of study in this subject, of special importance; though the variety of trends and forms, and the confusion of their effects, is so great that we may perhaps never solve the riddles of the time.

It may be sufficient to say of the internal nature of the T'ang society, on the planes particularly of administration and agriculture, that it represented a confused situation, numerous and conflicting features and tendencies inherited from the preceding epoch of division and strife, which was never resolved into a generalised and co-ordinated society. Social stability and solidity appear distinctly less in rural matters, at least, than they were in--for example--the Han. Yet the T'ang was, much more than the Han--or for that matter almost any other age of China--an era of great intellectual and practical stimulation, of progress and 'dynamism', as Japanese writers have called it. Following the method used in the foregoing chapters, we may now see how the 'external' approach has been able to clarify and rationalise our understanding of this period.

First, it is necessary to consider that there was initially a time of consolidation. The fluid and fragmented state of what we may call, borrowing a convenient phrase from recent United States procedures, 'the general area of China', was firmly and thoroughly consolidated. At least in its overall government: the enclosing framework at least was stoutly constructed, through the period of the Sui and the early T'ang, even though it was apparently not possible to set in order everything that

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