Chang An 长安, The City of Eternal Peace Part. 6 Melting Pot, Westerners and Western Chang An

A Sogdian Auxiliary Cavalryman in Tang service

To the many forgners Chang An was also called 胡姆丹(Khumdan.) During the entire Tang period there were altogether 369 prime ministers from 98 surname groups. Those of non-Chinese ethnic origins account for 9 percent of the total but constitute 17.4 percent of the aggregate of surnames- the highest percentage of any Chinese dynasty. The fact that so many non-Chinese foreigners (including many who were not even born within the empire and were in all matters still foreign subjects) had served in the highest ranks of the empire showed a remarkable degree of tolerance for foreigners. The Tang had about one million foreign residents, half of whom lived in Chang An.

No less significant is the fact that various ethnic groups, such as the Turks, the Khitans, Xi, Koreans; and toward late Tang the Shatuo Turks, consistently held great sway over the empire's army. Thousands of Uyghurs served in the Tang army as mercenaries. After having helped the Tang court crush the An Lushan rebellion, many Uyghurs became merchants and usurers. There were Persians in Chang An by the thousands. A very large Arab population also resided in both the imperial capital and Guanzhou during the late empire.

Tang culture was doubly cosmopolitan: first, in the sense that China was open to cultural influences from India and the distant west; second, in the sense that China, itself, was the cultural model for the other settled societies of East Asia. Monks arrived from India and Tibet, Turkic soldiers marched in the Tang armies as warriors, auxiliaries and generalissimos, Sogdian (Persian) merchants rode on great Bactrian camels and thousands more plied exotic wares. There were professional Korean soldiers, thousands of Korean expats from Silla, and Japanese students and pilgrims. Thousands of Uyghurs lived in the city during the middle of the Tang dynasty.

A number of Sogdian merchants and performers gathered atop a Bactrian camel- during the 
Tang they were a common sight in the capital. Most congregated in the western part of the city
and had their own fire temples.


Considerable number of foreigners lived in western Chang An. Some were students. Among these the most numerous were the Koreans, of whom some 8,000 were said to be in Chang An in 640. Other foreigners were engaged in commerce, coming from as far away as India, Iran, Syria, and Arabia. The Tang period was noteworthy for the impact of Western products and fashions on Chinese elite culture, and the teeming markets of the capital played a significant role in the dissemination of such goods. Among the dominant figures in this era were Sogdian merchants from the region of Central Asia which encompasses today's Samarkand, who were vital agents in the transporting and trading of goods to China. There were many Sogdian wineshops and Persian shops in Chang An along with a large slave market. Hundreds of thousands of Chang An's citizendy frequented the great market daily. 

Tang dynasty pottery depicting a "foreigner" merchant with an exaggerated long nose and jutting beard and his son on top of a Batrian camel. By the 750s the Tang would have had nearly 150 years of liberal commerce with the traders from as far as Damascus, Baghdad and Constantinople. Persian traders were frequently depicted in their buckskin riding coats.

A canal passes directly through the northern section of the Western Market, bisecting it from a west to east direction. Traffic was always busy in the district, not only did many merchants from many corners of Asia venture through the great bazaar on camels and donkeys but due to the presence of the canal- there were merchants plying their wares by the canal's side. Barges of raw materials and coal were also shipped from along this route. It was always loud and the smell was a heady mixture of piquant and foreign. 

The West Market (西市); its surface area covered the size of two regular city wards, and was divided into 9 different city blocks. It sported a Persian bazaar that catered to tastes and styles popular then in medieval Iran. It had numerous wineshops, taverns, and vendors of beverages (tea being the most popular), gruel, pastries, and cooked cereals. There was a safety deposit firm located here as well, along with government offices in the central city block that monitored commercial actions. A slave marked is also located here. 

Caravansaries were mostly located on both the outskirts of the western Chang An, and
also in the Western Market. Chang An is the eastern post end point of the Silk Road

The West Market was the center for foreign trade, where customers could enjoy exotic foods and beverages and attend performances of foreign acrobats or magicians or see a foreign play. Stylish Tang ladies sported foreign coiffures, while painters and potters had a good time rendering the outlandish features of "barbarians" from distant lands.

Due to their location in the west, and the directions where western merchants 
first entered the city, many of the Zoroastrian fire temples and Manichean 
shrines were located on the west side of Chang An

Images of 胡人 Huren, or western foreigners from all over Central Asia and beyond to Iran were prominent among the clay figurines manufactured in specialty shops to be used for burial with the dead. Among the tomb figures are camel drivers and grooms for the horses, examples of which can be found in almost all museum collections of Chinese art. Information concerning foreign foods, music, and customs can also be found in Tang writings, particularly poetry.


The Uyghurs, Turkic ally of the Tang. Though initially the Uyghurs greatly favored
Buddhism, by the 9th century many had turned to favor Manicheanism as the official religion
Because they were critical in rendering aid to the Tang during the An Lushan Rebellion, many thousands of Uyghurs congregated in the imperial capital.


Music: The East

After the ambitious Emperor Taizong defeated Tang's nomadic neighbors from the north and northwest, the empire secured peace and safety on overland trade routes reaching as far as Syria and Rome. The seventh century was a time of momentous social change and exchange; the official examination system enabled educated men without family connections to serve as government officials.

A Tang dynasty gold dish- the curvilinear design of Tang was heavily
influenced by the culture of Central Asia 

This new social elite gradually replaced the old aristocracy, and the recruitment of useful learned men from the south contributed to a robust bureaucracy. This meritocratic standard also applied to foreign soldiers and nobles who showed usefulness to the state, and it was for this reason that many Tang generals hailed from former Gokturk and Goguryeo Korean nobility.

All of this was also a savvy move to keep the native aristocracy in check- in this system of plurality all who would make a name for themselves have to serve and obey the command of the Emperor. In this manner- their ambitions was aligned with the wishes of the Tang. For the first century of the empire it worked well for the early Tang rulers. One of the clear reflections of Tang tolerance and its multi-ethnic composition is exemplified by the mausoleum of the 3rd ruler Emperor Gaozong (650-83) and his wife Empress Wu (684-704): halfway down the pyramid tomb hill there stood two symmetrically arranged groups of stone statues at attention, each represented the head or envoy of one of the sixty-four vassal states that stretch 3,000 miles from Korea across the Eurasian steppe to the Tarim Basin and the Ferghana Valley, extending westward all the way until the margins of the Aral Sea.

The Tang Empire at its greatest extent from 648-672. Orange represented provinces directly ruled by the centralized imperial court where as yellow represented the various protectorates and frontier military prefectures on the empire's frontiers. It is in these areas where many vassals of the displaced Gokturk Khaganate remained. The Tang delegated them enough autonomy to both preserve their traditional titles as Kings and magnates while they also served as Tang governors. 

The Tang Dynasty elites of northern China had an interest in Turkic culture and intermingled with the people of the steppes. The setting of one Tang poem describes a yurt, and the performance of a Turkic actress was hosted in the emperor's palace Following the Tang Dynasty's defeat of the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, the government authorized the settlement of Turks along the borders of the Tang empire. Turkic officers of the former khaganate were recruited as generals in the Tang military, and their experience with steppe warfare contributed to the Tang's military successes as it expanded westward.

The authority as well as the influence Tang was able to gather can be detected from the ground plan of the two ruler's mausoleums, which was made in 636, thirteen years before Gaozong's death: the northern flank of the tomb would be guarded by statues representing fourteen of his loyal Turkic and other steppe vassals while in the south it was garrisoned with statues that denoted members of his imperial lineage, both native Chinese, and other non-Chinese officials and generals. Throughout the Tang, Turkic people would remain an important fixture in the military apparatus of the regime.


In broad-strokes the Persian and Chinese empires had always had a symbiotic relationship that was characterized by acknowledging each other as masters of their respective domains and a close mercantile bond that was strengthened by trade which passed through both other along the Silk Road. Like their predecessors the Parthians, the Sassanid Empire of Persia carried out active foreign relations with China, and ambassadors from Persia frequently traveled to China. 

Chinese documents report on 13 Sassanid embassies to China. Commercially, land and sea trade with China was important to both the Sassanid and Chinese Empires. Large numbers of Sassanid coins have been found in southern China, confirming maritime trade. On different occasions, Sassanid kings sent their most talented Persian musicians and dancers to the Chinese imperial court at Luoyang during the Jin and Northern Wei dynasties, and to Chang An during the Sui and Tang dynasties.

Sogdian dancers. Sogdians had direct contact with China while Rome did not. There was much cultural diffusion between the Persians and the Chinese, the Persian nobility prized Chinese silk where as the Chinese prized Persian wares. 

Northern China was very familiar with Central Asians and referred to these westerners by the archiac 胡人 Huren, or Xiyu huren.

Scantily clad Sassanian dancers 

Both empires benefited from trade along the Silk Road, and shared a common interest in preserving and protecting that trade. They cooperated in guarding the trade routes through central Asia, and both built outposts in border areas to keep caravans safe from nomadic tribes and bandits.

Sassanian textiles that featured an important dignitary, likely a King on horseback flanked 
by standard bearers adjusting the royal standard and other mounted archers.

Politically, the Sassanid and Chinese cooperated in forging alliances against the common enemies such as the Hephthalites (or the White Huns) sandwitched between the two polities. With the rise of the nomadic Gokturks in Inner Asia, the Chinese and the Sassanids both attempted to blunt Turkic advances. 


A Prince of Persia: read here for the full article about the subject.
Though the Arab invasions would end the Sassanian Empire in 651. A Sassanian Prince by the name of Peroz (sometimes rendered as Firuz) escaped across the Pamir Mountains to Tang territory. With him came some of the last remaining Sassanian royal family and what was left of the imperial court. His brother Bahram, also one of the last sons of the last Sassanian Shah followed him with the courtiers. They would serve as Tang generals and governors. Their children would marry directly into the Tang imperial clan and would be conferred the royal surname of Li. The rest of the Sassanian nobility also married with the Tang aristocracy. 

The imperial clan's last name of Li


The disintegration of the Tang Empire is closely associated with the loss of good will between Chinese and non-native populations. The beginnings of this decline are commonly dated to in 755, when a rebellious army of 150,000 frontier troops led by the half-Sogdian, half-Turkic General An Lushan would take the city of Jojun (near modern Beijing) in the northeastern region of the empire. An Lushan was supposed to be fighting nomads but turned his armies on Emperor Xuanzong instead. What was more troubling was that a great swath of Turkic peoples, Sogdians, and Arab merchants also joined the rebels against the sitting government.

The Tang Empire was at its height of power but the great rebellion brought it to its knees. Even by conservative estimates, tens of millions of Tang's citizens would perish due to famine and wars caused by the destructive war. It took the Tang military eight years to crush the rebellion, and the empire never fully recovered.

The Uyghurs helped recapture the Tang capital from the rebels, but refused to leave until the Tang paid them an enormous sum of tribute in silk. Abbasid Arabs also assisted the Tang in putting down the An Lushan's rebellion. Tibetans took advantage of the upheaval to grab Chinese territory, and held on to some of it even after the Tibetan Empire feel apart in 842. The Uyghurs empire fell soon after that but the Tang was so weakened by the An Lush rebellion it was unable to reconquer much of the territory it lost and make inroads into Central Asia. As Tang slowly lost its authority and its outlying territories,- a slow creeping suspicion began to set it in regards to the foreigners within the empire.


By the 9th century blames were castigated on the foreign elements that filled the Tang army and ministries, especially by the suffering peasantry- and instead of seeing the foreigners as well integrated but different citizens they were seen by many as fifth column collaborators who were not fully assimilated. In 842, the staunchly Daoist and nativist Emperor Wuzong turned on the many foriegn religions in the empire and sought to suppress foreigners' influence across the realm. Though he at first targeted Buddhism, other Central Asian religions like Manicheanism and Nestorian Christianity were not spared either and many were closed down and its priesthood expelled. All of those religions would never recover the previous heights it once held within the empire. But that would not be the end of the prejudice against foreigners.

Although Wuzong's persecutions only lasted four years- Wuzong's resentment and prejudice was by no means his alone. Many of the suffering peasantry also began to view the many foreigners within the empire with suspicion and resentment for the various imperial privileges they enjoyed. By the late 9th century a massive rebellion broke out after a severe drought and millions of desperate and impoverished farmers took arms against the Tang government. Huang Chao- the rebel leader  attracted the support of millions of desperate farmers, impoverished merchants and oppurtunists that joined his army burned and looted several cities.

In 879, the rebels moved as far south as Guangzhou (Canton) in southern China where they massacred the community of Arabs, Persian and Uyghur merchants in the foreign quarter. In 881, Huang Chao moved north and, with his forces now numbering 600,000, raped, looted, and sacked Chang An, slaughtering its residents and left the city in ruins. The city would eventually recover, but by then the golden age of the Tang dynasty had passed.

Chang An would be sacked again in the next century- this time went the giant ephemeral city as well. The Chang An of the Tang era would be abandoned in the ensuing centuries, although many of the residents would move to the nearby Xian- which acted as an important and cosmopolitan regional center.



Thank you to my Patrons who has contributed $10 and above: 
You helped make this happen!
➢ ☯ José Luis Fernández-Blanco
➢ ☯ Vincent Ho (FerrumFlos1st)
➢ ☯ BurenErdene Altankhuyag
➢ ☯ Stephen D Rynerson
➢ ☯ Michael Lam


The GhostHero said…
Hello, I have a small request if you have the time. I'm part of a video community of a game called for honor, featuring warriors from different place, and they resently teased what appears appears to be a new warrior, but we were only allowed to see that he as a single edge sword that looks very much like a dadao or a nandao. And so I came here to see if you could confirm this hypothesis.
Dragon's Armory said…
Thanks for letting me know, although it does look Chinese, I am not 100% sure it will be Chinese though, I say this because they might not stick to culture specificity and have it carried by a Persian or Arabian warrior. But I'd say it's a safe bet, the Z shaped handles are pretty distinctive.

Popular Posts