The Sui Dynasty, founded by Emperor Wen, or Yang Jian, held its capital at Chang'an (present-day Xi'an), also known during Sui as Daxing (大興). It was marked by the reunification of Southern and Northern China and the construction of the Grand Canal, though it was a relatively short Chinese dynasty. It saw various reforms by Emperors Wen and Yang: the land equalization system, initiated to reduce the rich-poor social gap, resulted in enhanced agricultural productivity; governmental power was centralized and the Three Departments and Six Ministries system officially instituted; coinage was standardized and re-unified; defense was improved, and the Great Wall was expanded. Buddhism was also spread and encouraged throughout the empire, uniting the varied people and cultures of China.
This dynasty has often been compared to the earlier Qin Dynasty in tenure and the ruthlessness of its accomplishments. The Sui dynasty's early demise was attributed to the government's tyrannical demands on the people, who bore the crushing burden of taxes and compulsory labor. These resources were overstrained in the completion of the Grand Canal--a monumental engineering feat-- and in the undertaking of other construction projects, including the reconstruction of the Great Wall. Weakened by costly and disastrous military campaigns against Goguryeo which ended with defeat of Sui in the early seventh century, the dynasty disintegrated through a combination of popular revolts, disloyalty, and assassination.
When the Northern Zhou Dynasty defeated the Northern Qi Dynasty in 577 AD, this was the culminating moment and ultimate advantage for the northern Chinese to face south. The southern dynasties had lost hope in conquering the north, and the situation of conquest from north-to-south was only delayed in 523 with civil war.
The Sui Dynasty began when Wendi's daughter became the Empress Dowager of Northern Zhou, with her stepson as the new emperor. After crushing an army mutiny in the eastern provinces as the prime minister of Zhou, Wendi took the throne by force and claimed himself to be emperor. In a bloody purge, Wendi had fifty-nine princes of the Zhou royal family eliminated, yet nonetheless was known as the 'Cultured Emperor' (581 - 604 AD). He abolished the anti-Han policies of Zhou and reclaimed his Han surname of Yang. Having won the support of the Confucian scholars that had powered previous Han dynasties (abandoning the nepotism and corruption of the Nine-rank system), Wendi initiated a series of reforms aimed at strengthening his empire for the war that would reunify China.
In his campaign for southern conquest, Wendi assembled thousands of boats to confront the naval forces of the Chen Dynasty on the Yangtze River. The largest of these ships were very tall, having five layered decks, the capacity of holding 800 passengers, and were outfitted with six 50-foot-long booms that were used to swing and damage enemy ships, or to pin them down so that Sui marine troops could use grapple-and-board techniques. Besides employing Xianbei and Chinese ethnicities for the fight against Chen, Wendi also employed the service of aborigines from southeastern Sichuan, peoples that Sui had recently conquered.
In 588 AD, the Sui had amassed 518,000 troops along the northern bank of the Yangtze River, stretching from Sichuan to the Pacific Ocean. The Chen Dynasty was meanwhile collapsing, and could not withstand such an assault. By 589 AD, Sui troops entered Jiankang (Nanjing) and the last emperor of the southern Chen dynasty surrendered. The city was razed to the ground, while Sui troops escorted Chen nobles back north, where the northern aristocrats became fascinated with everything the south had to provide culturally and intellectually.
Although Wendi was famous for bankrupting the state treasury with warfare and construction projects, he made many improvements to infrastructure during his early reign. He established granaries as sources of food and as a means to regulate market prices from the taxation of crops, much like the earlier Han Dynasty.
Buddhism was popular during the Six Dynasties period that preceded the Sui dynasty, spreading from India through Kushan Afghanistan into China during the Late Han period. Buddhism gained prominence during the period, when central political control was limited. Buddhism created a unifying cultural force that uplifted the people out of war and into the Sui Dynasty. In many ways, Buddhism was responsible for the rebirth of culture in China under the Sui Dynasty.
The Emperor Wen and his empress had converted to Buddhism to legitimate imperial authority over China and the conquest of Chen. Wendi presented himself as a Cakravartin king, a Buddhist monarch that would use military force to defend the Buddhist faith, much like the notion of Jihad in Islam. In the year 601 AD, Emperor Wen had relics of the Buddha distributed to temples throughout China, with edicts that expressed his goals, "all the people within the four seas may, without exception, develop enlightenment and together cultivate fortunate karma, bringing it to pass that present existences will lead to happy future lives, that the sustained creation of good causation will carry us one and all up to wondrous enlightenment". Ultimately, this act was an imitation of the ancient Mauryan Emperor Ashoka of India.
Yangdi gained the throne after his father's death (possibly by murder). He further extended the empire, but, unlike his father, he did not seek to gain support from the nomads. Instead, he restored Confucian education and the Confucian examination system for bureaucrats. By supporting educational reforms, he lost the support of nomads. He also started many expensive construction projects such as the Grand Canal of China. This combined with his failed invasions into Korea (with Chinese casualties exceeding well over 2 million in all the wars combined), invasions into China from Turkic nomads, and his growing life of decadent luxury at the expense of the peasantry, he lost public support and was assassinated by his own ministers.
Both Wendi and Yangdi sent military expeditions into Vietnam as well, as northern Vietnam had been incorporated into the Chinese empire over 600 years earlier during the Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD). However, the ancient Kingdom of Champa in southern Vietnam became a major contestant to Chinese invasions to its north. These invasions became known as the Linyi-Champa Campaign (602-605 AD). According to Ebrey, Walthall, and Palais:
The Hanoi area [that the Han and Jin dynasties had held] was easily recovered from the local ruler in 602, and a few years later the Sui army pushed farther south. When the army was attacked by troops on war elephants from Champa (in southern Vietnam), Sui feigned retreat and dug pits to trap the elephants. The Sui army lured the Champan troops to attack, then used crossbows against the elephants, causing them to turn around and trample their own army. Although Sui troops were victorious, many succumbed to disease, as northern soldiers did not have immunity to tropical diseases such as malaria.
In all 4 main campaigns, the military conquest ended in failure. Nearly all the Chinese soldiers were defeated by the prominent army leader Eulji Mundeok of Goguryeo. For example, of the 305,000 Chinese troops, only 2,700 returned to China, according to the Book of Tang records, soldiers in summer conquests would return several years later, barely living through the cold and famishing winter. Many died of frostbite and hunger.
Eventually the resentment for the emperor increased and the wars, coupled with revolts and assassinations, led to the fall of the Sui Dynasty. One great accomplishment was rebuilding the Great Wall of China, but along with other large projects, strained the economy and angered the resentful workforce employed. During the last few years of the Sui Dynasty, the rebellion that rose against it took many of China's able-bodied men from rural farms and other occupations, which damaged the agricultural base and the economy further. Men would deliberately break their limbs in order to avoid military conscription, calling the practice "propitious paws" and "fortunate feet." In the year 642, Emperor Taizong of Tang made an effort to eradicate this practice by issuing a decree of a stiffer punishment for those who were found to deliberately injure themselves.
| Posthumous Name (Shi Hao 諡號)|
Convention: "Sui" + name
|Birth Name||Period of Reign||Era Names (Nian Hao 年號) and their according range of years|
|Wendi (文帝 wén dì)||Yang Jian (楊堅 yáng jiān)||581-604|| Kaihuang (開皇 kāi huáng) 581-600|
Renshou (仁壽 rén shòu) 601-604
| Yangdi (煬帝 yáng dì) or|
Mingdi (明帝 míng dì)
|Yang Guang (楊廣 yáng guǎng)||605-618||Daye (大業 dà yè) 605-618|
|Gongdi (恭帝 gōng dì)||Yang You (楊侑 yáng yòu)||617-618||Yining (義寧 yì níng) 617-618|
|Gongdi (恭帝 gōng dì)||Yang Tong (楊侗 yáng tóng)||618-619||Huangtai (皇泰 huáng tài) 618-619|