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Liza Hazelwood

Period 3 - Mogge
THE MAYA v. THE TANG
The Tang Empire flourished from 618-907 CE in eastern and southern China. The Mayan
Empire originated around 2600 BCE, but only rose to prominence in 250 CE, lasting until 900.
They were mainly situated in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize and
western Honduras. Although both the Maya and the Tang similarly used religion and trade to
politically control their empires, they executed differences as well, including organization.
To gain support of the people, the Tang politically used Buddhism. They believed that
protecting spirits would aid the ruler in governing and would prevent harm to the citizens.
Mahayana Buddhism fostered faith in bodhisattvas, or people who had achieved enlightenment
but chose to postpone nirvana to help others, which led to the absorption of local gods. This also
encouraged the translation of Buddhist scripture into local languages. Monasteries received tax
exemptions, land privileges, and gifts from princes who hoped to become emperor. The Tang
established political control through Buddhism because the endorsement of the religion
legitimized their rule and choices, similar to the Mandate of Heaven. In the Mayan Empire,
everything was infused with religious meaning, including war. Cities engaged in violent warfare
for control of people more than for territory. Some historians have suggested that another reason
was the capture of sacrificial victims. Other critical resources were water, farmable land, and
obsidian, which was used for economic control. Cities built religious temples and created rituals
that linked their kings with the gods. Human sacrifice was prevalent in their culture as an
offering of nourishment for the gods. The sacrifice of a human life was the ultimate offering to
the gods, and the most important rituals culminated with human sacrifice. The most common
methods were decapitation and heart extraction, though many other options were explored.

Liza Hazelwood
Period 3 - Mogge
Rulers and some members of the elite served multiple functions, both priestly and political. They
decorated themselves with paint and tattoos and wore complex and beautiful costumes to show
their divine and secular power. Kings communicated directly with the supernatural through
bloodletting and hallucinogenic trances. This duality between their duties is indicative of the
rulers connecting the will of the gods with their decisions and governmental rule, establishing
political control.
Another similarity between the two empires is their use of trade to control their territory.
The Grand Canal was the pride of the Tang Empire, which devoted many resources to protect
and popularize it, including armies that patrolled the canal, boats that were designed specifically
to travel it, towns that were built beside it, and a budget for its maintenance. Originally built by
their predecessors, the Sui, the Grand Canal stretches 1,100 miles to link the Yellow and the
Yangzi Rivers together. The Grand Canal established the city of Yangzhou as the main trade city.
As the headquarters for the governments salt monopoly, it was also situated at the geographical
middle of the trade axis, which made it the major center for southern goods shipped north and
vice versa. A prime benefit was the fact that the canal reduced the cost of shipping grain that had
been collected from the Yangtze River Delta to northern China. By 735, it was recorded that
around 165,000 tons of grain were shipped annually via the canal. The Grand Canal allowed the
government to control the happenings of trade and the economy. Trade in the Mayan Empire was
less reliant on one mode of transportation, but more on a hierarchy based on ability. A strong
middles class of skilled workers and artisans produced commodities and specialized goods. They
were government by a smaller class of educated merchant governors who could direct regional
economics based on supply and demand. Above them were the highly skilled specialists, who

Liza Hazelwood
Period 3 - Mogge
would sell their services and luxury goods based on their specific skill set. At the top of the
structure was a ruler or a group of advisors who would manage trade to ensure that their territory
remained stable. This structure allowed the elites to exhibit political control over the economy,
like the Tang did.
The organization of the empires was completely different. The predecessors to the Tang,
the Sui, fell because of overextension. The Suis main tasks of intense military expansion and
public works required levels of organization and resources that they could not sustain, which is
when the Li family took over in 618, starting the Tang Dynasty. Cautious of making the same
mistake as the Sui, the Tang avoided overcentralization by allowing local power in the form of
nobles, gentry, and religious establishments to hold significant power. The Maya never unified
politically, even though they shared the same culture. Instead, the most powerful cities controlled
groups of smaller dependent cities and an agricultural zone. These were the Mayan kingdoms,
which struggled with other kingdoms over regional dominance. For example, Naranjo was the
capital of a kingdom that formed a link in the trade routes from Tikal to the Caribbean Sea
around the late 5th century. Later Naranjo became a vassal of Tikals rival Calakmul and was
involved in a series of wars. This stark difference between organizational systems is because of
the hindsight that the Tang had in the creation of their empire, after the downfall of the Sui. They
knew what they had to avoid, while the Maya didnt have the example of the Sui to guide their
choices.
Though they shared similarities and differed on several accounts, both the Tang and the
Maya were generally successful empires. Among many accomplishments, the Tangs
achievements in medicine and medicine influenced the rest of the dynasties to come, as well as

Liza Hazelwood
Period 3 - Mogge
the world. The Maya made contributions to the development of the Mesoamerican calendar and
to mathematics and writing. The Maya were the only Mesoamerican group to maintain a strict
long count calendar that began at a fixed date in the past. Lasting almost three hundred years, the
Tang established a working political control. At around 650 years of prominence, the Maya
finally succumbed to a combination of factors.