#98 – Tang 16: All Along the Watchtowers

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We leave the capital behind to take a tour of the Tang Empire’s neighbors, both old and new. A tenuous peace with Tibet leads to a westward push putting the Chinese into contact – and eventual conflict – with the Islamic Abbasid Caliphate. Meanwhile, to the north and east rebellious Khitan tribesmen will spark a huge military buildup in the region under the control of one man, while the former Goguryeo reorganizes itself into the powerful state of Balhae, forcing the Tang Court to re-assess its diplomatic options.

Time Period Covered:
730-750 CE

Major Historical Figures:

Tang Dynasty:
Li Longji (Emperor Xuanzong of Tang) [r. 712-756]
Gen. Zhang Shougui, Military Governor of Fanyang
Gen. An Lushan, Military Governor of Pinglu, Prince of Dongping

Tibetan Kingdom

Turgesh Kaghanate:
Sulu Kaghan [d. 738]

Abbasid Islamic Caliphate

Second Turkic Kaghanate:
Bilgé Kaghan [r. 716-734]
Kul Tigin [d. 731]

Khitan and Xi Tribes:
Ketuyu [d. 733]

Balhae Kingdom:
King Go [r. 698-719]
King Mu [r. 719-737]
King Mun [r. 737-793]

Major Sources Cited:

Liu, Xu (ed.). Jiu Tangshu.
Twitchett, Denis. “Hsuang-Tsüng: The Middle Reign” in The Cambridge History of China, vol. 3.
Sima, Guang. Zizhi Tongjian.
Xu, Elena-Qian. 2005. “Historical Development of the Pre-Dynastic Khitan” in Publications of the Institute for Asian and African Studies 7.  The University of Helsinki.

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One thought on “#98 – Tang 16: All Along the Watchtowers

  1. Every time China-Korean conflict comes into this podcast, I cannot help smiling thinking about the phrase “a battlefield friendship condensed from blood”. How true, if the word “friendship” is taken out. When I grew up, 鲜血凝成的战斗友谊 was a standard phrase in state propaganda whenever Sino-North Korean relationship is described. (Well, as much as state propaganda goes, it still is.) So much so that I had been totally oblivious of any cracks between Chairman Mao and Kim Il Song, not to say how the tiny peninsula had not been annexed by its mighty neighbour. In pop culture and literature, I had never come across references to “battlefield hostility condensed from blood” such as this podcast has casted, even as historic Sino-Korean wars were so nation-shaping. In contrast, outside of state propaganda, there are plenty of reading materials as well as literary references to multiple harassments and invasions by “short raiders” (倭寇, historic derogative name for Japanese) from the sea. Yet at least toward Tang, I can’t see Sino-Japan wars as important to China as Sino-Korean wars. (China never being a true navy power.)

    Speaking of oblivion by ignorance, I also had not known that An Lu-shan was not ethnic Chinese. An Lu-shan was such an important figure in pop culture that no one in China could not hear about him and read about him. But the nuance of “yi yi zhi yi” does not seem to enter popular history literature much. Also surprisingly, the gravely racist culture of mainstream Chinese thinking seemed to little enlighten An Lu-shan’s ethnic origin outside of those who study history. In fact, my pre-HoC brain gave me the impression that “yi yi zhi yi” was that of a policy formed much later than Tang. Thanks for clearing this up!

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