World Centre: China in Late Antiquity, 400 to 1000



This chapter concerns China’s relationship to the outside world in the period of the T’ang dynasty 618 to 907, more particularly the period of the ‘Golden’ T’ang down to the great rebellion of An Lu-shan in 755, though sidelong glances will be taken at the periods of the Northern Wei and Sui which preceded and of the ‘Silver’ T’ang, Five Dynasties and early Sung which followed. Its argument is that in this period, which we will call late antiquity, the separate worlds of classical antiquity were drawn into a new unity, thanks to the magnetic pre-eminence of T’ang China — political, social, economic, and intellectual — and to the acquisitive cosmopolitanism of the T’ang court. For a brief moment under emperor Hsüantsung, 712–756, China was genuinely the centre of the world, the heir and supplanter of the Buddhist world institution. The new secular synthesis, however, was precocious, rarefied and fragile, and collapsed when the rebellion of An Lu-shan destroyed the extravagent imperial court which supported it.1


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    For T’ang China, see particularly Edward H. Schafer, The Golden Peaches of Samarkand (University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1963)Google Scholar
  2. Edwin G. Pulleyblank, The Background of the Rebellion of An Lu–shan (Oxford University Press, Oxford 1955)Google Scholar
  3. D.C. Twitchett, Financial Administration under the T’ang Dynasty (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1963)Google Scholar
  4. Arthur F. Wright and Denis Twitchett (eds) Perspectives on the T’ang (Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1973).Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    For the empire of Justinian see P. Brown, The World of Late Antiquity from Marcus Aurelius to Muhammed (Thames and Hudson, London 1971)Google Scholar
  6. W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of the Monophysite Movement (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1972)Google Scholar
  7. Evelyne Patlagean, Pauvreté Economique et Pauvreté Social à Byzance, 4e–7e Siecles (Mouton, Paris, La Haye 1977).Google Scholar
  8. 3.
    C.P. Fitzgerald, China. A Short Cultural History (The Cresset Press, London 1954) p. 884.Google Scholar
  9. 4.
    For monastic capitalism in China, see Jacques Gernet, Les Aspects Économiques du Bouddhisme dans La Société Chinoise due Ve au Xe Siècle, (École Française D’Extrême–Orient, Saigon 1956).Google Scholar
  10. 5.
    Quoted in Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modem World–System (Academic Press, New York 1974).Google Scholar
  11. 6.
    For plague in late antiquity, see Jean–Noel Biraben, Les Hommes et la Peste en France et dans les pays européens et mediterranéens. Tome I. La Peste dans L’Histoire (Mouton, Paris, La Haye 1975).Google Scholar
  12. 7.
    For the Romanitas of the early Byzantine empire, see Gilbert Dagron, Naissance d’une Capitale, Constantinople et ses Institutions de 330 à 451 (Presses Universitaires de France, Paris 1974).Google Scholar
  13. 9.
    For the Chinese horse administration in Central Asia, see Henri Maspero (ed.) Les Documents Chinois de la Troisième Expedition de Sir Aurel Stein en Asie Centrale (The Trustees of the British Museum, London 1953) pp. 87–92Google Scholar
  14. 10.
    D. Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London 1971) p. 48.Google Scholar
  15. 11.
    For changes in Chinese agriculture in late antiquity, see Michel Cartier, ‘L’ Exploitation Agricole Chinois de L’Antiquité au XIVe siècle: Evolution d’un Modele’, ales, Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations vol. 33 no. 2, (March–April 1978) pp. 365–8.Google Scholar
  16. 12.
    For capitalism in Western antiquity, see Paul Veyne, Le Pain et Le Cirque, Sociologie Historique d’un Pluralisme Politique (Editions du Seuil, Paris 1976) especially pp. 118–40.Google Scholar
  17. 14.
    I. Umnyakov and Y. Aleskerov, Samarkand, A Guide Book (Progress Publishers, Moscow 1972) pp. 15–16.Google Scholar
  18. 16.
    For the spread of Nestorianism to China, see P.Y. Saeki, The Nestorian Documents and Relics in China (SPCK, Tokyo 1951).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    J.W. McCrindle (ed.) The Christian Topography of Cosmas, An Egyptian Monk (Hakluyt Society, London 1897) pp. 365–6Google Scholar
  20. 21.
    Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China Vol. I (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1954) p. 216.Google Scholar
  21. 22.
    Paul Wheatley, The Golden Khersonese (University of Malaya Press, Kuala Lumpur 1961) pp. 218Google Scholar
  22. 23.
    Raymond K. Kent, Early Kingdoms in Madagascar, 1500–1700 (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York 1970).Google Scholar
  23. 24.
    A.L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India (Grove Press, New York 1959) pp. 189Google Scholar
  24. 25.
    Fernand Braudel, La Mediterranée et le Monde mediterranéen à lo’époque de Philippe II (Librairie Armand Colin, Paris 1949) p. 336.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© S. A. M. Adshead 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations