Tang Dynasty Analysis Research Paper

The Tang dynasty is one of the most spectacular dynasties of Imperial China. It saw its founding in 618 by the Li family and knew, thereafter a majestic expansion and an extremely diverse growth and development for almost the rest 200 years. From these developments, the abundance of poetry is particularly distinguishable, as it was an era of intellectual, artistic and literal productivity. Since poetry occupied a paramount position, it was also a reflection of the singular conditions of the Dynasty, the way people lived during that period of time, and most of all the way of thinking and their ideologies philosophies and doctrines.

Therefore, those poems highlights the essence of Confucianism and Daoism, two major schools of thought in that epoch that are still highly impacting in Chinese’s nowadays lifestyle. Among the famous poets are Du Fu and Li Bo, pioneers in their field. This paper discusses their works, respectively “A Drawing of a Horse by General Cao at Secretazy Wei Feng’s House” and “Bright Moon, White Clouds”, in their reflection of Confucianism and Daoism, their inspirations from paintings and their complex usage of metaphors to depict both the negative and positive principles of that time and of Confucianism and Daoism.

As said in Patterns of World History poetry in the Tang Dynasty communicated strongly powerful emotions in a remarkable simplicity and had integrated the Confucianism, Daoist and even Buddhist doctrine. (ref) Although Confucianism and Daoism are conflicting in many ways when it comes to their interpretation of the universe, they are surprisingly harmonious in others and the Tang dynasty era manifests how both can be compatible in achieving a balanced philosophy of life, and it is beautifully 1 OF 5 shown in the masterpieces of poets such as Du Fu, Li Bo and Wang Wei.

Despite his hierarchical principles, Confucianism is based on ethics and on the necessity of doing good, as human beings behaviors is its core notion. (ref) Daoism sees the confucianist view as limited, considering that it encompasses all opposites, including the «good » and the « evil » in order to make a better sense of the world, as explained in the textbook. (ref). The poems emphasize beauty and nature, which is part of both Confucianism and Daoism. The two have peaceful, nonviolent aims, clearly shown by how violence in wars are depicted with pejorative connotations in the poems.

An example would be how Daoism expects war to be only a last resort, a statement that is also made in a verse in Li Bo’s poem: “You know that soldiers are the direst instruments. The wise make use of them only when there is no other way. “(ref) Confucianism and Daoism have distinct governmental views. While Daoist politics stated that the least a government intervened, the more it was effective, Confucianist’s were based on the ethical and moral governor “junzi” and on the obedience to the law and service of those in higher social and political positions.

In the movie Conficius, when Conficius itself was asked by the emperor about conquering the Qi, he highlights the Confucianist principles by saying that respect of the law shouldn’t be because of fear but because of virtues such as righteousness, dignity and honesty instead. This way, men would serve the country and corruption would be defeated and the universal order would be peaceful and harmonious. (ref) In the poem of Du Fu, the “General Cao”, groups of “courtladies” (ref), “officiers” (ref) and “servants” (ref) illustrates these Confucianist ideas.

Although different, the principles of Daoism and Confucianism are believed to be complementary in the Chinese culture and politics. The ethics of Confucianism would be the grounds of Chinese bureaucracy, which will allow to maintain a moral order, whereas Daoism would provide the cultural essence of love and nature. (ref) The poems of Du Fu and Li Bo are phenomenally abounding with metaphors. This prominent usage of metaphors is not always marking positive aspects of the era, as it would be expected, but they also deal with the negativity in the Daoist and Confucianist analysis.

The negative metaphors are notably around topics like wars, violence and unnaturalness. In this verse from Li Bo’s poem: “The horses of the conquered neighing skyward, mourning vultures feed on man guts. “(ref)And in this Fu’s: “you may hear among the pines, A bird grieving in the wind that the Emperor’s horses are gone”(ref) the common feature is the grieving of the animals for their owners. The sadness and sorrow of nature itself, in a time when nature represented a very big part of the ideology is a way poets found to express how war and killing is against nature.

The vultures that feed on man guts is the consequence of men going against nature; it is that mother earth gets back what is due. Furthermore, some metaphorical structures depicts the commonness and constancy of wars in the dynasty. Figure 2 illustrates fighters in the Tang dynasty going to war. When Li Bo says “Last year, war: at the Sang-gan’s source. This year, war: along the Tsung-ho Road”, it implies that war became a constant basis of the empire after two years in a row, which is opposite to the ideas of both Confucianism and Daoism and which made “armies exhausted”.

The metaphor he uses “Han fed the beacon fires to burn unceasing”, means that the signal lasts endlessly because war is a constant phenomenon that does not stop anymore. Violence is also a common negative theme in these poems and those from the Tang dynasty. “Soldiers die, blood splashes brush and grass” is one of the many verses that are extremely violent in contrast to the nonviolent Confucianism and Daoism. The description of the blood splashing on the ground, makes a connection again to the grass, thus, to nature.

It shows how men that go against nature go back to nature and that this negativity and brutality should not be part of the empire and of the humankind’s life. On the other hand, positive metaphors include naturalism, beauty and wonders. They are about acceptance, intellectualism and culture. “For ten days the thunder flew over Dragon lake” is a metaphor highlighting the supernatural and the response of nature to art and cultivation. As opposed to the backfire of nature when men commit violent acts, it is in favor of the virtuest undertakings.

In Du Fu’s poem “the talk of the court-ladies, the marvel of all eyes” not only shows gender based acceptance and tolerance, but the evocation of the world talk in itself shows how a conversation can be marvelous and thus indicates how education and intellectualism are important. The positive side is about virtue, living in peace and harmony with each other and it encompasses gifting those who serve and deserve: “And a pinkagate plate was sent him from the palace” is about gifting the General Cao for his wonderful paintings.

Recognizing his merits, those who were from higher social classes wanted the painter to have his work in their houses, as they valued art and education, part of the ethical ideals of that time, along with honor and integrity. Art, beauty and nature are all part of the positive topics treated in the metaphorical structures of the poems, and therefore, of the principles of Confucianism and Daoism. In “A Drawing of a Horse by General Cao at Secretary Wei Feng’s House”, the poet is basing his work upon paintings by the General.

They are horse paintings he is describing, “a curlymaned horse”, “a lion-spotted horse” a “luminous white horse” and “war-horses” similar to those in Figure 1. Their beauty is highly emphasized. They seem to be wonderful and he insists on their uniqueness, as the skills of Cao have never been defeated by any of the other artists of the time. As a lot of poems were inspired by paintings at the time, it was said about one of the poets, Wang Wei that “in every one of his poems is a painting, and in every painting is a poem” (ref).

The drawings of General Cao trace a temporal separation about how things used to be before and after. They create a clear cut between past and present and thus construct an alternative historical memory of the Empire and how violent it seemed to have become. The paintings represent a beauty and a majesty, in the horses and the empires that appears to be lost. They symbolize an epoch when art was praised and valued by the people, when people gathered and danced in honor of a painter that got all the nobles willing to buy his pieces and enjoying the gaze of the beauty in their homes.

The horses used to be as powerful as in the paintings, “either could face ten thousand”(ref). But the people are not interested in the art anymore, they do not dance they do not live in serenity and acceptance, they do not praise those who work their empire. The horses are not powerful anymore, they are in fact constantly fighting for the sake of the empire with the warriors. The dynasty is falling, and along with it, its power its harmony and its values.

The emperor is dead, as it is said in the poem: “For the Emperor hunts crocodiles no longer by the sreams, Where you see his Great Gold Tomb.. “(ref). This historical memory make plain demonstration of the difference between the paintings and when the paintings were done and between the current events. We can feel melancholia in the poet’s words, which makes his position on the matter understandable, not only as an artist, but also as a person, a witness.