By 610, the Sui dynasty had united southern and northern China under a single administration, including a northwestern finger of territory through the Gobi Desert, along which ran the vital ‘Silk Road’ and other lucrative trade routes to Eurasia and Europe. In 618, a new ‘Tang’ dynasty, founded by provincial military commander Li Yuan, supplanted the Sui and from their capital at Chang’an (modern-day Xi’an) ruled the empire almost continuously for about 300 years. Now commanding a huge population estimated at over 80 million, and running a highly organized bureaucracy, the successive Tang emperors were able to recruit large armies with which to subdue many of the neighbouring lands, which became ‘Protectorates’. In 630 Li Yuan’s son Taizong, leading a largely Turkic army, seized regions of Mongolia, earning himself the title ‘Great Khan’. The Tang presided over a generally peaceful era of great prosperity that saw a liberal flowering of Chinese scholarship, art and literature, including the world’s first development of (woodblock) printing. The Tang were also notable for allowing women to hold positions of high office. The Empire reached its height during the 44-year reign of Li Longji (Emperor Xuanzong 713–756), but their policy of delegating military control to ethnically diverse commanders was to prove their undoing when the Lushan Rebellion (755–763) brought an end to the dynasty.
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