The best nonfiction and fiction books on China in the Tang period

Victor Cunrui Xiong Author Of Heavenly Khan: A Biography of Emperor Tang Taizong
By Victor Cunrui Xiong

The Books I Picked & Why

China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty

By Mark Edward Lewis

Book cover of China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty

Why this book?

The Tang dynasty is often called China’s “golden age,” a period of commercial, religious, and cultural connections from Korea and Japan to the Persian Gulf. It was a time of unsurpassed literary creativity. Lewis captures a dynamic era in which the empire reached its greatest geographical extent. And, he shows that under Chinese rule, painting, and ceramic arts flourished, women played a major role both as rulers and in the economy, and China produced its finest lyric poets (Wang Wei, Li Bo (Li Bai), and Du Fu). 

This book is a useful companion volume to my book, which is about the founding and the rise of the Tang dynasty.


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The Sui Dynasty

By Arthur F. Wright

Book cover of The Sui Dynasty

Why this book?

This book by the famous Yale sinologist Arthur Wright is written with the general readership in mind. It covers the rise and fall of the Sui empire with great clarity. The Sui empire reunited China for the first time since the fall of the Western Jin in the early 4th century. The Tang dynasty rose on the ashes of the Sui. Many important characters in my book were key actors in the Sui-Tang transition, including Tang Taizong Li Shimin and his father Tang Gaozu Li Yuan. 


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The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of t'Ang Exotics

By Edward H. Schafer

Book cover of The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of t'Ang Exotics

Why this book?

This book examines the exotics imported into China during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) and depicts their influence on Chinese life. During the three centuries of Tang came into the land the natives of almost every nation of Asia, all bringing exotic wares either as gifts or as goods to be sold. Ivory, rare woods, drugs, diamonds, magicians, dancing girls—the author covers all classes of unusual imports, their places of origin, their lore, their effect on fashion, dwellings, diet, painting, sculpture, music, and poetry.

This book is for students of Tang culture and laymen interested in the same topic. Its author Edward Schafer was an eminent American sinologist.


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The Court of the Lion: A Novel of the T'Ang Dynasty

By Eleanor Cooney, Daniel Altieri

Book cover of The Court of the Lion: A Novel of the T'Ang Dynasty

Why this book?

Based on a true story from the eighth century, it is a fictionalized telling of one of the most powerful, tragic chronicles in Chinese history: the events leading up to the Rebellion of An Lushan and the fall of the Emperor Minghuang (Xuanzong) and his Precious Consort Yang Guifei and the dazzling Yang family. All of the major characters are real people, immortalized in the works of renowned Tang poets Li Po (Li Bai) and Du Fu.

This novel deals with the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, grandson of the Empress Wu and Tang Gaozong, and great-grandson of Tang Taizong (Li Shimin). Thanks to their meticulous research into the customs, language, and records of the period in question, the authors of The Court of the Lion give us a convincing, fascinating tale of eighth-century China grounded in historical facts.


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Journey to the West

By Cheng-En Wu, William John Francis Jenner

Book cover of Journey to the West

Why this book?

One of the most popular books in the history of East Asia, this classic sixteenth century novel is a combination of adventure fiction and folk epic that mixes satire, allegory, and history into a rollicking tale. The epic journey is the one undertaken by the monk Xuanzang under the escort of the roguish Monkey, who has many encounters along the way with major and minor spirits, gods, demigods, demons, ogres, monsters, and fairies.

The monk Xuanzang was active during the reign of Tang Taizong, the protagonist of my book. Monk and emperor have many interactions in that novel.


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