another warlike pastoral nomadic people who had defeated the Turks
in Mongolia a decade or two earlier and were now the masters of the
steppe. Tang China entered a long and gradual period of decline. Late
Tang China was a melancholy time, and this general national mood is
superbly reflected in some of the lyrical poetry of the time.
The Tang dynasty slipped into precipitous decline during the late
ninth century when a huge domestic rebellion led by Huang Chao
broke out in the drought-stricken North China Plain and quickly
spread to other areas. In 879 Huang Chao captured the southern
Chinese city of Canton (Guangzhou) and slaughtered thousands of
Jewish, Muslim, and Christian merchants there, perhaps because he
blamed them in part for China's difficulties. Huang Chao's rebellion
was overthrown with the help of the Kirgiz, yet another warlike pas-
toral nomadic people, but this was a hollow victory. The Tang contin-
ued as a shadow of its former greatness until 907, when regional
military commanders formerly loyal to Tang decided to end the fiction
of the dynasty's power and authority over them. These commanders
next great unifying dynasty. The period of the Five Dynasties lasted
from 907 to 960, when a warlord regime called Song finally managed
to impose some measure of enduring unity to the majority, but not
all, of historically Chinese territory. The Song lasted from 960 to 1279,
when all of China was conquered by the Mongol descendants of
Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan).
Tang government was efficient and effectively organized. The first
beginnings of the well-known Chinese civil service examination system
date back to Han times, but during the Tang the system was further
institutionalized as one way for the government to recruit bureaucratic
personnel. Tang testing evaluated a candidate's cultural knowledge, lit-
eracy, handwriting, and even physical appearance, and background
investigations of promising candidates helped the government learn
more about their general characters and reputations. Candidates who
passed these multiple levels of assessment were then put on a waiting
list for government jobs. Perhaps only one in every five hundred candi-
dates who began the entire process ever attained a government job.
The majority of people who got such jobs came from old aristocratic
families. Occasionally a hometown boy with no prominent family
background succeeded at the examinations, but this was the exception.
The Tang was a predominantly aristocratic society.
New officials started with lowly positions in areas distant from the
Tang capital, but as their careers progressed they gradually climbed
the ladder of government promotions. The Tang government had a