In the three and a half centuries between the end of the Han dynasty and the beginning of the Sui dynasty, China once again found itself in a period of disunity. This period of martial wu was characterized by chaos, division, and warfare between the north and the south. This era, like that of the Eastern Zhao, cherished unity because of its constant state of chaos. Disunity among the Chinese people fostered a diversity of voices and opinions. In 618, the Tang Dynasty came to power and the fusion of Han and Hu ensued.
For the purposes of this essay, 'Han' refers to the Chinese of the Han dynasty. 'Hu' is a term that refers to non-Chinese peoples; particularly those barbarian groups west and north of central China. Hu presence in China between the 4th and the 14th centuries improved Chinese civilization. “Without question, the art, music, ideas, and commerce that spread from the non-Han people of the steppe lands into China, greatly enriched Chinese civilization.”1 Although non-Han groups had a formative impact on the Han, the cultural gap between the groups is never fully breached. In, “The Civil and the Savage”, Mya Opeia states:
The vast cultural gap between the civil Chinese and the Savage barbarians was too great to ever truly breach. Simply put, these are two irreconcilably different cultures with few shared orientations. Never were these social, cultural and intellectual disparities more apparent than during the Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasties. Indeed, when the Chinese realized the breadth of this gap in the early Ming dynasty, they severed maritime expeditions and turned inward.2
This quote accurately describes the relationship between the Han and Hu from the 4th to 14th centuries as well as the effects of their fusion. Han and Hu relations from the Tang to the Ming dynasties unveils huge internal cultural gaps beneath the infused exterior. There is never a full integration of these cultures and the widening of the cultural gap between them continues until the Ming dynasty. Nevertheless, the early Tang dynasty, established in 618, is said to be the epitome of China's cultural openness.
“The empire flourished during this time when its populace was more open to and more enthusiastic about foreign influence than it would ever be again. Many Chinese of high and low social status intermarried with non-Chinese, often Turkic, people...”3 After re-conquering the northern and western lands lost after the fall of the Han in the beginning of the Tang dynasty, rulers sought to further unify China. China had a reputation for absorbing the acculturation of its conquerors and Buddhism was the means by which the Tang unified China.
The attraction of Buddhism was that it was not Chinese in origin. “Buddhism offered non-Chinese rulers an alternative to Confucianism, which empowered literate Chinese officials... In short, non-Chinese like Shi Le were drawn to Buddhism simply because the religion did not originate in China.”4 Buddhism shared...