Political System of Tang Dynasty

The prosperity during the Tang Dynasty profited from its enlightened political system: comprehensive administration and official system, strict legal system, and equitable imperial examination system.

Administration System

The Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) initiated the organizational structure 'Dao' and 'Fu' to divide the political districts. During Zhen Guan's Reign, the national territory was divided into ten political districts called 'Dao', which increased to 15 in the Heyday of Kaiyuan. The subordinate political districts were called 'Zhou' or 'Fu'. The more subordinate administrative structure was in turn 'Xi'an' (town), 'Xiang' (five 'Li's), 'Li' (a hundred families), 'Cun' (village), 'Bao' (five families) and 'Lin' (four families). At the end of Kaiyuan reign, there were 328 'Zhou's and 1,573 'Xi'an's.

Official System

The official system involved the central official system and local official system. The central official system followed the Sui Dynasty's (581 - 618) Three Departments and Six Ministries system. In addition, nine 'Si's and five 'Jian's were set up to work with the six ministries. The local official system was in line with the political administrative structures, of which the chief official title were called 'Guancha Shi' (observer of Dao), 'Ci Shi' or 'Tai Shou' (chief officer of Zhou), 'Xi'an Ling', 'Qi Lao', 'Li Zheng', 'Cun Zheng', 'Bao Zhang' and 'Lin Zhang'.

Pottery Figure of a Civil Official, Tang Dynasty
Pottery Figure of 
Civil Official, Tang Dynasty
Pottery Figure of a Military Official, Tang Dynasty
Pottery Figure of 
Military Official, Tang Dynasty

Legal System

Compared with any other dynasties in Chinese history, the Tang Dynasty had the most comprehensive and the most detailed legal system. Generally, the legal system included four basic forms, namely, 'Lu' (criminal law), 'Ling' (institutional regulations), 'Ge' (administrative rules) and 'Shi' (formulas of official documents). The Tang Lushu Yi, compiled in the reign of Emperor Gaozong was a representative code of feudal laws, which contained criminal law, law of safeguard and defense, law for imperial officers, law of marriage and census registers. The regulations were fairly complete and the legal provisions were rather concise. Especially, in the early period of Zhen Guan's Reign, Emperor Taizong focused much attention on listening to wise advice while enforcing the law. In this way, a peaceful social order was established, setting up a good example for later dynasties and even for some other imperial states in Asia.

Imperial Examination System

Displacing the old method of selecting talented people, the imperial examination system was a fairly equitable testing system to select officers for the feudal court.

Stone Statues of 61 Foreign Officials, Qianling Mausoleum, Tang Dynasty
Stone Statues of 61 Foreign Officials, 
Qianling Mausoleum, Tang Dynasty

There were usually four subjects existing in different times, including 'Jinshi', 'Mingjing', 'Mingfa' and 'Mingyu'. The examination of the highest-grade was called 'Sheng Shi' (the national exam) which was held annually by the Shangshu Sheng in the capital city Chang'an (currently Xi'an). Those who were selected to attend Sheng Shi were called 'Ju Ren'. Examinees that passed the 'Sheng Shi' were called 'Ji Di'. Especially, the one who got the first place in the exam was entitled as 'Zhuang Yuan'. All the 'Ji Di's were qualified enough to be further judged by Li Bu who decided if they could be given an official title.

Generally, the Imperial Examination System was a progressive examination which allowed intellectuals born in poor families to have the opportunity to become an officer in the court. Speaking from the imperial part, this examination system helped to enhance the centralization of imperial power and to promote the unification of thought.

- Last updated on Apr. 21, 2021 -
Questions & Answers on Political System of Tang Dynasty
Asked by Yesenia from OXNARD | May. 18, 2016 12:49Reply
The Tang government was like a pyramid. What made up the top-three leveles of this pyramid?
Answers (1)
Answered by Freeman from SINGAPORE | May. 18, 2016 20:45

The emperor was in the leading position, holding supreme power.
The second level was the three departments: Chancellery, Department of State Affairs, and Central Secretariat.
They control six ministries which dealt with the whole state’s affairs of Personnel, Revenue, Rites, Defense, Justice, and Works.
Asked by Gina from USA | Mar. 07, 2016 09:19Reply
Tang Dynasty's Old and New Practices
How does Tang inherit or return to practices conducted by previous dynasties? And what are new social, political, economic, and cultural pattern emerged during that period?
Answers (1)
Answered by Zhao from CHINA | Mar. 07, 2016 21:15

It inherited the official system of the previous state. The court was divided into three councils taking charge of different aspects. Each council has two branches directing specific work. The imperial examination of former dynasty was also kept.
The newly emerged equal-field system standardized the distribution of farmland. Peasants can get enough soil to grow crops. The government also valued agriculture most by implementing many irrigation projects. The handcraft industry also developed rapidly, which also promoted the economy of the state, making Tang in the leading position of the world. Literature also reached a prosperity at that time, especially poetry. Many famous lines were created during that period.
Asked by guest101 from AMERICA | Apr. 14, 2015 22:39Reply
So basically how did the Tang Dynasty choose their officials?
Answers (2)
Answered by Hank from ICELAND | Apr. 15, 2015 02:50

They selected the officials in three ways. First, those descendants of high-ranked officials or royal families could inherit their ancestors' official titles. Second, those who served the emperors and their sons had opportunities to be recommended to be officials. Third, those who passed the immperial examinations could become officials.
Answered by Isabel from USA | Mar. 14, 2016 20:43

Before taking the test, you would need to have memorized Confucian teachings. The test consisted of writing word for word Confucian texts, writing poems, essays (etc).
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