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T'ang Code 653 AD

The T'ang Code 653 AD was a series of 501 articles which redefined and codified existing Chinese laws while homogenizing the procedures in legal proceedings. Historically, the country of China was occupied by numerous feuding kingdoms during its early history. In 221 BC, it was the king of Ch’in that was able to defeat these warring tribes and begin the process of pulling the country together under one banner. However, there were no general rules for governance until the T’ang Code came into being with its 501 different articles. The code attempted to codified almost all facets of daily life and set methodology for discovery, courts and punishment, which were to this time, mostly a local option.

The Tang’s had come into power in 618 and their dynasty flourished for nearly three more decades. Many historians have concluded this was the most vibrant period of Chinese life. During this period, the Chinese conquered what is now Afghanistan and Turkistan, Korea and Tibet. Never in history had the geographical boundaries of this country been this extensive. The empire reached its height under Kao-tsung (649-83AD).

“As the T’ang grew stronger, they sought to extend their borders and push back the groups who made incursions into their territories. The T’ang eventually expanded their empire to include a large area of central Asia all the way into Iran, Manchuria and almost the whole Korean peninsula, and into the Ili valley. The T’ang became the greatest power in Asia.”[20]

The backbone of the T’ang Code was the very tolerant Confucian thought process, which allowed for a live and let live atmosphere. In this liberal environment, trade expanded, the arts flourished, technology proliferated and new religions sprung up like flowers.

Under the influence of emperor T’ai Tsung, freedom of belief and thought was respected through much of the T’ang dynasty, Newtonian Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeanism, and Islam were introduced into china from the West as a result of increased contacts with peoples of Central Asia. These various religions—together with Buddhism, which had already come from India, and the indigenous philosophies of Taoism and Confucianism - freely spread to every corner of the country. “[21]

However, the more laissez-faire changed the people from sideline observers to active participants. Puffed up with newfound friend, a form of anarchy soon permeated the country and much of the previous discipline collapsed in a heap on the dinning room floor. Military commanders in the field made their own determinations as to what was best for the country and how particular battle should be fought. This cause an enormous contraction in China’s geographical reach and the T’ang dynasty came to an inauspicious conclusion. The country literally returned from whence it had come by the 9th century AD.

As we have done before we are listing below various elements of the Code that we believe are representative. Listing all of them would not serve the purpose of this discourse. The following are prohibitions.

73 Shooting arrows in the direction of the Imperial Palace or an Imperial Imperial Audience Hall.

92 Recommending unworthy persons to the Examination for the Doctorate.

109 Divulging important matters

113 Forgetting or misunderstanding in connection with Imperial decrees.

115 Violating name taboos in documents or memorials on affairs submitted to the Emperor.

128 Taking the wrong route while riding post horses

145 Officials who exact goods and articles from persons within their area of jurisdiction.

As we can see, the regulations had no punishments in effect represented a philosophy rather than a law. Anarchies cannot long exist in a global vacuum because there are too many other nations that are willing to fill the void at a moments notice. What happened to China during that period had a bounce back effect. In the first instance, everyone became so excited with their newfound freedom that they were willing to go the last mile for the leaders that had created the free environment. However, as regulations became increasing lax, all forms of authority started breaking down and soon the police, the military and courts had lost control. China had been left without either a strong religious conviction or a demanding central government. While for a time, this had become Nirvana on earth, without discipline all societies have a tendency to collapse upon themselves. The laws that were created by the T’ang Code seem more fitting for flower children then in ruling what was then the largest country on earth.

 

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