Education About Asia: Online Archives

Tang Dynasty Revolution and Poetry: Bai Juyi’s “Construction” of Yang Guifei

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There are pivotal moments in world history when violence results in sweeping political and cultural change. For the West, two such moments are the fall of the Bastille and the fall of Troy. For East Asia, the destruction of the Chinese capital city, Chang’an, in 755 during the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE), marked the end of a golden age. The causes of the French Revolution or the attack on Troy or this Chinese catastrophe are complex, and it may be human nature to understand the causes by creating stories with human scapegoats such as Marie Antoinette in Paris or Helen of Troy. The Tang Dynasty disaster was blamed on General An Lushan, even though military chaos lasted between 755 and 764, and An Lushan died in 757. Even more capriciously, the “An Lushan Rebellion” was also blamed on a woman, Emperor Xuanzong’s Prized Consort, Yang Guifei. While the early Tang Dynasty saw a rise in status for women, foreigners, and Buddhists, after 755 attitudes hardened against these groups; it is an open question of the twenty-first century whether attitudes will change again toward gender, nationality, and religion.