“The season of the falling blossom” was a metaphor used by Du Fu to describe the collapse of the great Tang Dynasty, the high water mark of Chinese Imperial Civilization. The Tang was a time of great prosperity in China. A healthy population growth gave the Chinese huge military resources. These in turn allowed the Chinese to dominate surrounding nations and receive tribute from Japan, Korea, Vietnam and from Central Asian rulers as well as the Arabs and the Indians.
They were able to carve out a huge western empire along the silk road, and trade flourished. In this golden age art prospered. It was an age of literature, painting, sculpture, ceramics, theater and poetry. Silks, tea, block printing all flourished. It was a time of sophistication, summed up by the poem “Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup” which described eight leading lights of the arts who imbibed freely of the grape.
Ultimately it was the strong military that doomed the Tang. Frontier generals commanding seasoned veterans carved out their own kingdoms. The painted soldiers on comfortable palace duty were unable to match the tough border troops. The central government became weak or disinterested and was dominated by the Eunuchs. When a series of natural disasters struck, leading to flooding and widespread famine, the huge population faced starvation. Bandit armies sprung up in every province. They took over trade that previously delivered wealth to the Government, such as the salt trade.
The dissolution took many decades and follows themes that are familiar to students of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. A peaceful central civilization surrounded by barbarian populations who covet the luxury and lifestyle of the empire. Bloated bureaucracy, effete emperors, corrupt officials and ambitious frontier generals.
Meeting Li Guinian South of the River ; by Du Fu
In Prince Qi’s mansion house, I met you often,
By Cui Jiu’s hall, I heard you several times.
Truly the landscape south of the river is good,
I meet you again in the season of falling blossom.