One of the wise emperors in Chinese Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), Li Longji, Emperor Xuanzong also named Tang Minghuang, and, who made every effort to make the country prosperous in his early years, inaugurating the 'Heyday of Kaiyuan'.
Ascending the throne
Li Longji was born at the time when Wu Zetian was on the throne, so he had always experienced a great deal of complicated palace coups, which helped to develop his decisive and brave character as well as his inflexible will. At the age of seven, he gained a hearing from Wu Zetian, and was conferred as junwang (prince of a commandery or prince of the second rank) of Linzhi (Zibo City of Shandong Province) the next year.
After Wu Zetian's death, Emperor Zhongzong was weak and incompetent. As a result, the state power fell into the hands of Empress Wei and Princess Anle. The meritorious ministers and the Prime Minister - Zhang Jianzhi were all demoted and expelled, and Prince Li Chongjun was killed. In 710, Emperor Zhongzong was also poisoned to death by Empress Wei and Princess Anle.
Later, Empress Wei planned to be the second woman emperor following her mother-in-law, Wu Zetian. However, Li Longji and his aunt Princess Taiping staged a mutiny before Empress Wei. Empress Wei and the followers of Li Longji were all annihilated. Then, Li Dan, Emperor Ruizong and father of Li Longji came to the throne, and Li Longji was made a prince.
Like Zhongzong, Emperor Ruizong was another weak emperor, who didn't dare to clash with Princess Taiping face to face, but always tolerated her. While, Princess Taiping thought that it was she who gave Ruizong the chance of being the emperor, so, she grasped state power. The stronger she grew, the more ambitious she became. Thus, she also began to develop the ways of an emperor's life. However, she neglected Li Longji.
In 712, Emperor Ruizong was tired of being an emperor, so he passed his throne over to Li Longji. At that time, Princess Taiping was still at the helm of the state power. She had the patronage of the court officials over three levels and the decisive power of the state and military affairs. In 713, Emperor Xuanzong led his army to have Princess Taiping and her company deposed, and dismissed those officials who were inclined towards Princess Taiping. Thereafter, Emperor Xuanzong restored himself to that of an emperor's power, and changed the reign title to 'Kaiyuan' (inaugurating a new era) which indicated his decision, which was that of reconstructing the Tang Dynasty's prosperity.
Heyday of Kaiyuan
After restoring state power, Emperor Xuanzong made many initiatives in politics, economy, military and religion, and recaptured the Tang's territory in the north and west. Due to his effort, the Tang Dynasty again entered another prosperous period known as the Heyday of Kaiyuan.
In politics, he was good at selection, at picking the right man for the right position, and judging everybody strictly on his merits and demerits. The noted prime ministers Yao Chong, Song Jing and Zhang Jiuling were all discovered by and, given important assignments by Emperor Xuanzong. All three of them made great contributions to the prosperity of the Kaiyuan period in return for Emperor Xuanzong's favouring them.. Take Yao Chong for example, he ascended to the position of prime minister because he had always put forward ten pieces of good advice to Emperor Xuanzong, including encouraging the free airing of views, rewarding those ministers who were honest, avoiding royal manipulation of state affairs by royal members, preventing the eunuchs' manipulation of state affairs. Emperor Xuanzong accepted most of this advice and so, practiced it. Meanwhile, Yao Chong also succeeded in bringing the 'locusts' along the Yellow River watershed under control.
Emperor Xuanzong didn't only have a mind which perceived wise assistants, but he also adopted many effective measures to shake up the Bureaucracy and act against corrupt officials. Firstly, he simplified the government institutions and reduced the extra officials, which improved the efficiency of the government and saved governmental expenditures. Secondly, he established strict an examination system and strengthened control over local places. Every October, he sent Ancha Shi (surveillance commissioner) to these local places to observe the people's conditions. Thirdly, he resumed the system that remonstrated with officials and in order to be accountable and more open, the historical recorder took part in the meetings of senior ministers. Fourthly, he paid close attention to appointing and removal of county magistrates. He often set examination papers in order to check if the county magistrates were competent in their duties.
Economically, he reduced the common people's burden, and launched a 'checking land and increasing households' movement. He assigned special officials to the local places to check the land and households disguised by the local despots, and then divided the land amongst the peasants. Through this movement, the state economy moved along the right path, and so, the state's financial income also increased.
In addition, Wu Zetian believed in Buddhism, so Buddhist temples covered the whole country. The monks and nuns from the temples annexed farmland and evaded the taxes under the protection of the state. As a result, their number increased quickly, which influenced the loss of state revenue a very much. Because of this situation, Emperor Xuanzong forbade the construction of new temples, the casting of Buddhist statues and the copying of sutras. Meanwhile, he also prohibited government officials from having any contact with the monks and nuns. What he did in effect, was to heavily crack down on Buddhism.
In the military, he took Prime Minister Zhang Shuo's advice and established a lansquenet (or group of mercenary soldiers). He conscripted 120,000 soldiers from central China to guard the borders, which provided a guarantee for centralizing training and enhancing their battle effectiveness. In order to supply enough grain for the army, he extended the sphere of the state farms in the northwest and the northern area of the Yellow River to increase grain output. When he was finally ready, he turned to reoccupy the lost territory, and succeeded in bringing the northern area to the Great wall under the control of Tang Dynasty.
Changing of tide
After the Heyday of Kaiyuan, Emperor Xuanzong gradually became self-satisfied and was addicted to entertainment. His diligent attitude with state affairs, and the economy both disappeared. The honest ministers and Prime Minister Zhang Jiuling were deposed one after the other. Lin Linfu, a traitor minister, gradually grabbed the state powers, and this brought dark days to state politics.
In 736, Florence Kwok as Concubine Mo Wai, a favorite of Emperor Xuanzong, died. Missing her, Emperor Xuanzong couldn't eat or sleep well. Later, he heard that Yang Yuhuan, wife of his son Li Mao, was very beautiful, so he reunited with her in spite of the ethics. Yang Yuhuan was knowledgable regarding music and melody and was good at singing and dancing, so she won Emperor Xuanzong's favor very much. A short time later, Yang Yuhuan was conferred as concubine who was just second to the empress. When, the position of empress became vacant, Concubine Yang was actually made empress. To please her, Emperor Xuanzong assigned over 700 people to make clothes for her. Furthermore, Emperor Xuanzong opened a tribute route between Chang'an (currently Xian) and the southern part of the Qinling Mountains so that Concubine Yang could eat fresh lichi which was her favorite fruit.
'Love her, love her dog.' The Yang family began to rise in the country. Yang Guozhong, brother of Concubine Yang was made prime minister, and the sisters of Concubine Yang all benefited from rich rewards. However, because of the extravagance of Emperor Xuanzong and Concubine Yang, the treasury of the Tang Dynasty gradually became empty. Ignoring the threatening danger, and against good advice, Emperor Xuanzong still launched several wars over the borders. The stability and peace were broken, and relations were worsened with the Tubo in the west and the Nanzhao State in southwest. In the end, An Lushan-Shi Siming Rebellion broke out. Thereafter, the Tang Dynasty gradually declined.