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The Sui dynasty

The Sui dynasty

Founding of the Sui dynasty

The Sui dynasty arose from the northern Zhou empire, one of the three smaller empires that stemmed from the Toba’s Wei dynasty, one of sixteen dynasties in north China. In 577 C.E., the ruler of the northern Zhou dynasty was able to unite north China when he conquered the state Qi.

A coup d’état led by General Yang Jian, a relative by marriage of the Zhou, occurred in 581. He killed the ruling families, declared the Sui dynasty, and took the emperor name Wen Di. In 589 he ended the Chen empire, the last of the six southern dynasties. With that, the long period of the divided empire was over. Yang Jian reigned until 604 C.E. He was described as a canny and clever ruler, who implemented long overdue land reforms at the expense of the rich landholders, invested in grain supplies, and began to build a canal system that brought about an upswing in the economy and trade of his time.

His successor, Emperor Yang Di, was his complete opposite. He murdered his father as well as the legitimate heir. During his reign came construction on the imperial canal, carried out by indentured peasants. He erected a second capital city with proud palaces and was generally wasteful. He led campaigns against Korea that ended in disaster around 612 – 614. What’s more, he caused an enormous flotilla of warships to be built in order to wage war on Formosa and the Ryukyu Islands, and to support the offensive against Korea.

Fall of the Sui dynasty

Emperor Yang Di’s campaigns guzzled huge sums and exacted the cost of inner stability. Unrest broke out, triggered as so often in Chinese history by peasants who had lost their lands due to flooding in the Yellow River region. In 613 C.E. the first uprisings of noblemen erupted; Yang Di was assassinated in 618.

He had retreated to the south after defeats against Korea and was killed by his advisors there, while in the north an uprising under the aristocrat Li Yuan broke out. Li Yuan was goaded to it by his son Li Shi Min, who was to be heir to the throne of the Tang dynasty. Li Yuan ascended to the throne as Emperor Tang Gao Zu in 618, following the conquering of Chang’an, founding the Tang dynasty, a period of prosperity in Chinese history.

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