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Acts Upon a Stage (Part 4)
A Look at Chinese Divine Culture through the History of Chang'an City
Li Xin, PureInsight Net
Drama on Stage: Culture and Life in Chang'an
The Tang Dynasty held an open attitude to different faiths. The local religions such as Taoism and Confucianism, and Buddhism from India, as well as several other religions from Persia existed simultaneously. Living in a very open spiritual world and enlightened by the moral theories in religions, people in the Tang Dynasty were tolerant. They enjoyed and absorbed foreign cultures. Chang'an City was the terminal of the Silk Road. The western market in Chang'an was the international trade center of the world. According to the record in Tang Six Authority, more than 300 nations and regions had business relationships with Chang'an. Nearly 10,000 families from western foreign countries lived in the city, especially the area around the western market. There were many foreign inns staffed by foreign serving women chosbb en for their beauty. The most celebrated poet in Chinese history, Li Bai, often wandered among them. Foreign food, dresses, music were the fashion in Chang'an City.
People in the Tang Dynasty absorbed many different countries' cultures and many countries also dispatched legates to learn Chinese culture. Even now, in Japan, people still have the strong feeling of being taken back to the Tang Dynasty after seeing traditional, ancient Japanese architecture.
In traditional Chinese culture, according to the theory of Yin-Yang, "the male takes charge of exterior issues while the female takes charge of interior issues." This would create a harmonious relationship of yin (female) and yang (male) in families. People in the Tang Dynasty also followed this rule but were not doctrinaire or extremist. Females also could attend social activities such as banquets and even went on excursions riding on horses.
According to Confusionism, female virtue should consist of softness, goodness, courtliness, prudence, and courtesy. Empress Zhangsun, Li Shimin's wife, was a female with a great reputation for virtue. Although she did not directly influence political decision-making, she often wisely advised Li Shimin to accept criticism from his ministers.
Furthermore, females even had the chance to be involved in political activities in the Tang Dynasty. Wu Zetian, Li Shimin's imperial concubine, became the only female emperor in Chinese history and was renowned for great achievements. In turn, she appointed some talented females as ministers. Although this seems to reverse the natural order of yin and yang by having the woman rule, Wu Zetian's story demonstrates a larger truth of Chinese mythology, that the greatly virtuous return to their home in heaven. Wu Zetian commanded that a great statue of the Buddha be built in the nearby Luoyang City. It is said that the countenance of the statue resembled that of the female emperor, that she was, in fact, godlike.
In short, the Chinese culture during the Tang Dynasty was intricately related to its flourishing and achievements. It was a society in which morality was high, people held great virtue and respected all races, nationalities, groups, and genders, It flourished economically, politically and also spiritually. This was also undoubtedly an embodiment of the universal characteristics of truthfulness, compassion and tolerance that was the guiding principle of Chinese people in this period.
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