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The History of Government from the Earliest TimesVolume II: The Intermediate Ages$
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S. E. Finer

Print publication date: 1999

Print ISBN-13: 9780198207900

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198207900.001.0001

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The T'ang Empire

The T'ang Empire

3. The T'ang Empire
The History of Government from the Earliest Times

S. E. Finer

Oxford University Press

This chapter details the rise and fall of the T'ang empire. During the period, three major problems emerged and it can be said that none were satisfactorily solved. The first was the problem of absolutism: in principle, the governmental structure had an apex and that apex was the emperor. The second intractable problem was civil-military relations. Here, the dynasty seems trapped in a no-win situation because by the mid-8th century it concentrated military power on the frontiers, leaving itself no troops. The third unsolved problem was the condition of the peasantry. Defence of frontiers by regular troops required heavy taxation, which led the peasants into either dependency or into flight from the land and still heavier burdens on those who remained; hence banditry, hence the need for more defence and more taxes. On the credit side, the T'ang presents itself as one of the more remarkable of the world's exercises in large-scale government. In its scale — a country the size of the USA; in its duration — 300 years; and in the regularity of its laws and administration until the final convulsion it is an outstanding achievement. For much of the period it was both peaceful, and by contemporary valuation, prosperous.

Keywords:   T'ang dynasty, absolutism, civil-military relations, taxation, peasantry

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