The Sui-Tang period was another milestone in the development of the Chinese culture after the Qin-Han period. In terms of the flourishing age in ancient China, no one can write off the Han Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty. In 589, the unification of China by the founder of the Sui Dynasty put an end to the period of division and turmoil, which lasted more than three centuries. The foundation of the Tang Dynasty ushered in a mighty Tang empire. The Tang Dynasty was at that time the largest and, economically and culturally speaking, the most developed empire in the world. Supported by the full-fledged national strength, the culture in the golden age of the Sui and Tang dynasties saw its achievements surpassing those in the previous dynasties. The cultural progress resulted from the following factors. The economic development in the south in Wei, Jin and Southern dynasties acted as a catalyst in the leap of economic strength of ancient China. The decline of the influential and privileged families of scholar-officials and of hereditary power and the landlords made it possible for the clan commoners to enter the historical arena and for the newly-emerging forces to rise rapidly to dominance, which unleashed the social productive forces and transformed the social system. The integration of the cultures of different nationalities infused the social development with vitality.
The Sui and the Tang dynasties were magnanimous and tolerant in their academic and cultural policy. Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism were competing against each other in a bizarre and beautiful way. Integration was the result of mutual absorption and infiltration. Emperor Wen Di of the Sui Dynasty esteemed both Buddhism and Confucianism. Taoism won special royal favor in the Tang period, because Li Er (Laozi), who was supposed to be the founder of that school, had the same family name as the imperial family. In one of his edits, Emperor Gao Zu Li Yuan explicitly said that Taoism should be given priority over all other religious faiths. Emperor Gao Zong conferred on Li Er the posthumous title of the Supreme Emperor of the Profound Heavens and on Zhuangzi the title of the True Man of Nanhua. Empress Wu Zetian promoted and popularized Buddhist doctrines. Encouraged by the monarch, Buddhism as a religious faith had a mass adherence. Buddhism started to split up into different Buddhist sects, such as the Tiantai sect, the Huayan sect and the Chan sect. In the Sui-Tang period, the process of the integration of Buddhism into the traditional Chinese culture was by and large accomplished. Confucianism remained in the dominant position in the Tang Dynasty. Together with the political unity, the northern and southern branches of the study of Confucian classics collaborated. Emperor Tai Zong of the Tang Dynasty entrusted Kong Yingda and others with a task of annotating The Five Classics. They completed the 180-volume Annotations to The Five Classics. Tai Zong also authorized Yan Shigu to collate and edit the texts of The Five Classics, creating Definitive Edition of the Five Classics. The sovereigns’ tolerance of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism was helpful for the three branches to assimilate and merge with each other, resulting in the integration of the three, on the basis of which the Confucian school of idealistic philosophy of the Song and Ming dynasties took shape.
The magnificent culture in the Sui-Tang dynasties demonstrated to the world her self-confidence, her vigor and her openness. The Tang empire developed extensive ties with many countries and regions. The golden age of Sui-Tang witnessed closer relations between China and foreign countries. Chang’an was the cosmopolitan cultural center. People of the minority nationalities in China as well as foreign emissaries, ecclesiastics and merchants came to Chang’an en masse, bringing with them exotic products, music, dance, customs and religions, such as Buddhism, calendric system, medical science, art of South Asia, music and dance from Central Asia, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Manicheism(摩尼教) and Islamism from West Asia. The cultural exchange between China and foreign countries reached an unprecedented climax. The open policy of Sui-Tang indicated the self-confidence and great momentum derived from the overall national strength and the advanced spiritual civilization.
A gem of the Chinese culture, Tang poetry attained its peak in the celebrated poets Li Bai, Du Fu, Wang Wei and Bai Juyi, who left behind tens of thousands of poems, giving the world an inexhaustible treasure and incomparable heritage. In the meantime, a galaxy of calligraphers appeared, of whom the most influential were Yan Zhenqing and Huai Su. Included in the names of great Tang painters were Yan Liben and Wu Daozi. As a noted Tang astronomer, Monk Yi Xing was remembered for his unparalleled achievements in this field. The engravings were exquisite. The art of papermaking and block printing was passed on to other nations and continents and as a result the Chinese made a tremendous contribution to the world culture.