In the February 16 issue of Immigration Daily, I wrote a post about an ancient Roman ideal of welcoming immigrants, at least as imagined by the greatest of all Roman epic poets, Virgil, in his Aeneid. In this post, I will look at another ancient society, Tang Dynasty China (618 - 907) which was not only open to a great variety of immigrants in fact, not just in poetry, but which owed much of its splendor and achievement to its welcoming attitude toward people of many different ethnic groups, cultures and religions.

First, a disclaimer: While I have had at least some brief exposure to ancient Roman literature and the Latin language, I have no expertise whatsoever in Chinese history, culture or languages, ancient or modern. Therefore almost everything in this post dealing with Tang Dynasty China is taken from a fascinating, but anonymous, article on a website called entitled (somewhat misleadingly, in my view) The Exoticism in Tang (618-907). See:

The article begins with a quotation from a poem that sets the stage for the theme of foreign influence in Chinese society during the Tang Dynasty, which has long been regarded as a golden age by China scholars. The poem, by Tang Poet Yuan Chen, includes the following lines:

"Ever since the Western horsemen began raising smut and dust / Fur and fleece, rank and rancid, have filled Hsien and Lo. / Women make themselves Western matrons by the study of Western makeup; / Entertainers present Western tunes, in their devotion to Western music."

There can be no doubt that China in the Tang Dynasty was a great civilization - the greatest of its time and one of the greatest that the world has ever known: The above article states:

"Peace and prosperity prevailed during Tang. Population tripled from the 630's to 755, when nearly 9 million families and 53 million people were recorded. It was a century of low prices and economic stabilization and an age of movement, when settlers migrated in great number. Around the 8th century, the capital of the Tang Dynasty was the biggest, wealthiest and most advanced city in the world...and was the center of the largest empire on earth. While London was just a market town of a few thousand people, Ch'ang-an and its suburbs [contained] around two million people."

Who were these inhabitants? They included very diverse groups of people.

"Tang welcomed other cultures and other people. Chinese life and Chinese art had been touched by strong foreign influences during the Tang Dynasty. One would pass people from almost everywhere in the streets. Merchants from Central Asia, with think beards, sold wine in goatskin bags. Blond women shopped in the market. Religious pilgrims from Central Asia or India wandered the streets in sandals. Settling into the life of Chang'an, the visitor would discover a culture as sophisticated as that in a modern global center like New York or Paris."

The article provides further details:

"Most of the foreigners who came to China during [the] Tang Dynasty were Turks, Uighurs, Tocharians, Sogdians, and the Jews in the north [compared] to the Chams, Khmers, Javanese and Sinhalese who crowded the south. In both places, there were many Arabs, Persians and Indians."

Tang Dynasty China was open to foreign influence in many different fields of life, including music, literature, sports, fashion and cuisine:

"Music, arts and sports were part of both life and death in this affluent Tang society. They were enriched by importation. During the 8th Century, Central Asiatic harpers and dancers were enormously popular in Chinese cities. Turkish folk songs were introduced and had influence on some Chinese poems...Today Chinese names for many instruments betray their foreign origin...

The artists of [the] Tang loved to show the gods and saints of alien places and the sculptors loved horses and alien faces...

"Fashions in the two capitals, Chang'an and Loyang, tended to follow Turkish and east Iranian styles...The most extreme enthusiasm for foreign customs was reported when the prince Li Cheng-Chien, [Emperor] Tai -Tsung's son, preferred to speak Turkish [rather] than Chinese and erected a complete Turkish camp on the palace ground, where he lived and dressed like a Turk."

In no area was Tang Dynasty China more open to foreign influence than in matters of religion. Paul S. Ropp, Professor of History at Clark University writes in his book China in World History (Oxford University Press, 2010):

"The Tang capital, Chang'an, was one of the world's great global crossroads. All types of religious groups were to be found there, including Indian, Japanese, Korean and Tibetan Buddhists, Persian priests, Nestorian Christians, Zoroastrians, and merchants from many parts of the globe..."

If the Tang Dynasty had had an F-1 student visa, the educational institutions of that time would no doubt have been busy issuing I-20 forms. The article states:

"To the great learning center called the National Academy, students came from Koguryo, Paekche, Silla [all three located in present day Korea] Japan and Tibet to study Confucianism, Buddhism, literature, art and architecture. Some competed with the Chinese in civil service examinations. Some adopted Chinese names and served the Tang court."

What, if any, were the legal restrictions on this great influx of people from so many different parts of the world? One thing we can be sure of is that there were no reports of quota backlogs, RFE's, visa petition or labor certification denials, removal proceedings or e-verify, at least so far as I have been able to discover.

To be continued in Part 2
Roger Algase is a New York lawyer and graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He has been practicing employment-based and family-based immigration law for more than 30 years.

His practice includes H-1B, O-1, and L-1 work visas and J-1 training visas, as well as green cards through labor certification, extraordinary ability and opposite sex or same sex marriage, among other immigration and citizenship cases. Roger's email address is

Questions and comments are welcome.