Culture and Spirit during the Apex of the Tang Dynasty (Part 2)
Culture and Spirit during the Apex of the Tang Dynasty (Part 2)
III. Music and Dance
Tang era music and dance used the best movements of previous generations, and adopted the best from the many minorities as well as foreign nationalities in the west. The music and dance are a true reflection of a peaceful and prosperous society with hundreds of nations and a variety of nationalities in perfect harmony.
Tang music and dance are grand and magnificent. Poetry and prose are compiled into songs and odes; the instruments were very diverse including the gong, zither, Chinese harp, and drums; the dances were graceful and smooth; the songs were resounding and melodious; the costumes were colorful and diverse. Among the Tang music and dance there was "Qingshang Music," which included and refined traditional music starting from as far back as the Han Dynasty; there was also "Northwest Land Music" and "Goryeo Music," which were named after the nations, places or people they originated. The original pieces compiled during the Tang Dynasty were a combination of music, dance, and poetry, often in the form of large-scale, multi-section presentations.
During Emperor Taizong’s reign, he established ten types of music, of which two were native Chinese, four belonged to minorities within the borders of Tang, and four from other nations, as far south as India and as far north as Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Music from the western regions also became mainstream with many musicians from western regions living in Chang’an at the time.
One of the most famous productions created during the Tang Dynasty was "Li Shimin Defeating Liu Wuzhou," a grand and majestic showcase of music and dance that described and praised Emperor Taizong's virtuous feat of eliminating a vicious enemy, unifying the nation, and bringing peace to the people. The music became very popular, and was even widely spread in countries outside of China.
IV. Ideology and Beliefs
The Tang Dynasty was a period when Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism continued to develop to their peak in popularity. The teachings of these three schools helped to regulate people's ideology and conduct, and permeated all aspects of society. As a result, the entire society was able to maintain a high moral standard. The Tang Dynasty thus reached a glorious level.
Emperor Taizong not only respected Confucianism, but also supported Taoism and Buddhism. During the Tang Dynasty, there was a complete system of worshipping heaven and earth, as well as worshiping deities. People respected heaven and believed in gods. Scholars respected Taoism and promoted virtuous conduct, taking the well-being of the people and prosperity of society as their responsibility. Confucianism teaches peoples: "A Benevolent Person Loves Others;" the Taoist school teaches "Enlighten to Tao and Validate the Truth;" the Buddhist school teaches "Offering salvation with Compassion." These orthodox beliefs helped people understand the doctrines of life, so as to maintain their pure and benevolent nature. People of that time strived to seek truth and firmly maintain a virtuous heart.
Emperor Taizong issued an order to have scholars compile the book "Five Classics of Confucianism," which became the standard textbook for students to study in preparation for the imperial examination. It remained a standard textbook for later generations as well. Confucianism then became the basic principles to discipline people's minds and conduct.
Taoist teaching was also widely promoted during the Tang Dynasty. Many scholars, such as He Zhizhang and Li Bai, sought the Tao. In fine arts, there was a special study dedicated to Taoist and Buddhist figures. Fine arts were viewed by the people as an art form that is assisted by the gods. Musicians compiled grand Taoist music pieces. Calligraphers pursued a beauty harmonious with nature. The renowned Chinese Medicine doctor Sun Simiao was a Taoist cultivator whose lifetime endeavor was the cultivation of Tao and providing medical treatment for people. He saved the lives of countless people. Later generations worshipped him as "Taoist Sun" and "the King of Medicine."
The spread of Buddhist doctrine also reached an unprecedented scale. Large numbers of Buddhist scriptures were translated and spread during this time. People believed in Buddha Dharma, and believed in karmic relationships. They cultivated the heart and strived to be compassionate. Society was in great peace and people's minds were pure and kind. The situation during these times was just as described in Buddhist scriptures: “Where Buddha Dharma is taught, nations, cities and villages all benefit. The heavens, earth and people are in harmony, rain and wind are stable and disasters are absent. The people are prosperous. Armies and weapons serve no purpose. Virtue, benevolence and etiquette are important in everyone’s minds. The nation has no theft and no injustice. The strong do not bully the weak and everyone is satisfied within their means.”
Accomplished monk Xuanzang (602 – 664 AD), with his compassionate heart for all, was determined to go to India to obtain Buddhist scriptures. He spent 17 years making a long and arduous journey to India and back, and returned with 657 scriptures. Upon his return, he translated all of the scriptures into Chinese at Ci'en Temple in Chang'an. Emperor Taizong greatly acclaimed the monk's feat and gave him tremendous support in translation and circulation. Moreover, the emperor personally wrote the foreword for Xuanzang's translation collections. It began with an exposition on heaven and earth, yin and yang, transformation of the four seasons, the visible and the intangible, macroscopic and microscopic, then transitioned to the power of Buddhist teachings, and praised the incredible feat of Xuanzang seeking the Buddhist scriptures. The foreword was majestic in its momentum, yet elegant in its literary style.
唐乐舞荟萃历代歌舞所长，兼收西域众多少数民族及国外之精粹，日臻极境，充份体现了盛唐时百国朝贺、民族交融的景象，是国泰民安的完美写照。唐乐舞气势磅礡，场面壮观，集诗、词、歌、赋于吹奏弹唱；融钟、鼓、琴、瑟于轻歌曼舞；乐曲高亢悠扬，动作舒展流畅，服饰华丽多紫，堪称历代歌舞之最，成为吸收异域优秀文化和传播中华文明的载体。唐乐舞中 ：继承前代的传统乐舞并加以发展的，如《九部乐》、《十部乐》中的《清商乐》；以国名、地名、族名为乐部或舞名的，如《十部乐》中的《西凉乐》、《高丽乐》、《龟兹乐》等；唐代新创的乐舞，是音乐、舞蹈 、诗歌三者结合的大型多段体乐舞套曲，如吸收传统武舞的《破阵乐》、《大定乐》等。据《新唐书﹒礼乐志》记载，唐太宗时设立了十部乐，除了燕乐、清商为中原乐舞，其余四部来自唐朝境内少数民族、四部来自国外，南至印度支那，北到撒马尔罕。当时著名的歌舞大曲有《秦王破阵乐》，以唐太宗统一中国、功定天下为题材，表现了除奸佞、气吞万里的气势和拯民于水火的仁德，此曲当时在国外亦广为流传。西域音乐在唐也非常盛行，长安城内住有大批西域音乐家，著名的乐曲有《龟兹佛曲》等。有关民间乐舞盛况，在唐诗中也多有反映，出现了“《六么》《水调》家家唱，《白雪》《梅花》处处吹”的局面。