The Reunification

The Sui Dynasty

After 300 years of chaos and confusion, the Sui Dynasty reunified northern and southern China. Traditions and culture that had honed their own appearance and shape all came together.

The northern and southern styles and traditions of literature, philosophy, language, music, etc. were merged. This brought a new and fresh collection of traditions for all.

Beginning from 581 and ended in 618, the Sui lasted for only 38 years. It only had a total of two emperors who ruled. Emperor Yang was a tyrannical leader and was the second leader of this period. There, the Sui Dynasty was usually compared to the Qin Dynasty.

Changes aided in restoring imperial authority. These included the government, laws, the civil service administration, and land distribution. The period also became infamous for its extravagant public spending projects, immorality, and military follies. This brought rebellion which eventually caused its downfall.

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Emperor Wen of Sui

The first Sui emperor was Yang Jian. He was known by his posthumous alias, Wen. He was a high official of the Northern Zhou dynasty.

When this rule dissolved in murders and plots, Wen managed to capture the throne. He took firm control of the north, and by the end of the 580s, he won the south and west. He then ruled over a united country.

Yang Jian built consistent government institutions throughout the country. He raised a unit of pragmatic and skilled administrators.

The emperor also renewed Confucian rituals used by the government during the Han. He won the support of men of letters, and supported Buddhism.

A penal code and administrative laws were also declared. These were fairer, simpler, and more compliant compared to those of Bei Zhou. He conducted an accurate census. This was a long lost practice in chaos that simplified taxation. His army was turned into a collection of militias and was independent when the country was at peace.

Expansion of Control

Wen Di also took steps to safeguard the frontiers of his empire. The north had the domain of Yuezhi, an alliance of nomadic fighters of Turkic heritage. They controlled the Mongolian steppes from Manchuria to the edges of the Byzantine Empire.

Internally, the Yuezhi experienced a split of two rivalling units. One controlled the western half of the Yuezhi territory, the other controlling the east.

Wen Di offered his support to the Western Yuezhi. He worked to cripple the authority and strength of the Eastern Yuezhi Khan.

These political plots reinforced Great Wall. The boost in the number of troops reduced the threats and attacks of the Eastern Yuezhi. With that, the policy allowed to reopen the western trade routes, developing a prosperous trade relationship with Western and Central Asia.

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Ancient China

Emperor Yang

The second ruler was Yang or Emperor Yang Di. He completed the integration of southern China into the empire. He emphasized the Confucian Classics, and established a second capital at Luoyang in the east. He also engaged in construction projects such as vast canal systems.

Soon, the relationship between the Sui and the Turks deteriorated. When battles in Korea to exact tribute declined, the short regime crumbled. In 618, Yang was murdered by one of his entourages. Soon, his successor, Gongdi, ruled in less than a year.

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The Vietnam Conquest

Both Emperors Yang & Wen sent expeditions to Vietnam. This was because Annam in North Vietnam had been fused into the empire during the Han dynasty. However, the Kingdom of Champa in central Vietnam became a primary match to the Chinese invasions in the north.

According to experts, these invasions were known as the Linyi-Champa Movement.

The Hanoi area was previously held by the Jin and Han dynasties. It was easily reclaimed from the local ruler in the year 602.

A few years later, the Sui army moved further to the south. They were attacked by units on war elephants from Chapman, southern Vietnam.

The Sui army faked their retreat and instead, dug pit holes to trap the elephants. They also lured the Chapman units to attack then countered with crossbows against them. This caused the elephants to turn around and crush their own men.

Although they were victorious, many collapsed to disease. This was because northern soldiers were not immune to malaria and other tropical diseases.

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War with Korea

Goguryeo-Sui Wars

The Sui led a sequence of expeditions to invade Goguryeo, one of Korea’s Three Kingdoms. Emperor Yang introduced tons of soldiers for the campaign. The army was colossal that it was recorded in historical texts.

It took 30 days for all the units to leave their last rallying point before attacking Goguryeo.

In one instance, both paid and conscripted soldiers listed more than 3,000 warships. There were around 1.15 million infantry, 5,000 artillery, 50,000 cavalry and more. This army reached to 410 kilometers across valleys, rivers, and over hills & mountains.

Yet, many of the military expeditions failed. This incurred a substantial manpower and financial deficit. This was something that Sui was not able to recover.

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Achievements of the Sui Dynasty

The Sui Dynasty only consisted of two emperors. They were Wen – Wen Di or Wen-Ti, and his son Yang. They were aided by figures like the great military leader Yang Su.

With that, the emperors fortified their control over a united country. The emperors were able to expand their territory. The administration system was also centralized and enhanced during their reign.

The Sui also enhanced one unified and less complex law code. Plus, they introduced land reforms to society. The period abolished old Nine Rank System of officials. Instead, local prefects were chosen on merit. They demonstrated their skills in civil service examinations held in the capital.

Officials have gone off to different provinces. This was to lessen corruption and abuse of connections. For the same reason, their term of office had limits to only three or four years.

Tolerance and support of all regions were necessary to lessen potential source division. As the Qin prepared China for the successful Han, the Sui paved the way for another golden age of history. This was in the form of the Tang Dynasty.

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“Never do an evil act just because it is trivial; never leave a good act undone just because it’s small..”

~ Liu Bei

Equal Field System

A sample of a vital Sui land reform was the extension of the Equal Field System. This had been first introduced in the late 5th century CE by Emperor Xiao Wen of Wei. The Emperor applied the system to the whole country in 582 CE.

This was for protecting small farmers from being overpowered by large estate owners. The government allocated land that farmers could work on during their working lifetime. When he died or retired, the majority of it returned to the state. A small part of it would be for the inheritance of his offspring.

To aid poorer farmers, building and filling extra granaries was Sui’s target. It was for poor farmers during times of poor harvests or natural disasters.

In practice, the state’s good intention towards poor farmers went to waste. This was due to corrupt officials bribed by bigger landowners. Their main intention was to falsify claims and records.

Great Wall of China

Emperor Yang directed to have the Great Wall rebuilt. During his rule, millions of labourers had to engage in this project. They were to extend a part of the wall that spread into Inner Mongolia.

Grand Canal

A costly project was the construction of a canal joining the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. This canal was the so-called Grand Canal. Built by approved labor, it was a grand creation at 130 feet wide plus a road running along its length.

The project had three canals built. Despite the hardships, laborers helped to better link the north and southern areas. The canals proved to be a vital mode for transporting troops.

Although beneficial, some say that Yang only built the canals to travel around China. Yet this creation left the Tang emperors very much grateful.

Road networks were also extended and improved by Yang. This was another step to creating a unified country.

Other Public Building Projects

By The Sui Dynasty

One project that is useless to commoners is Sui’s big spending on their palaces. These included other public establishments in major cities. The cities were Luoyang, Chang’an, and Yangzhou. This did not help at all since Wen maintained three capital cities of Luoyang, Jiangdu, and Daxing.

Aside from these, he also had a thousand of harems in his pleasure palace which is the Maze Pavilion. This place had walls covered with pornography which somehow irked a lot of people.

Abolishment of Princedom

The Sui had to balance and equal conflicts between the north and southern elites. This was to bring both of them under their domination. The local administration received the structure of prefectures and eradicated the princedoms.

The examination system received an update, and this included the military system. The law code of the dynasty was the basis of the popular Tang Code.


Dominated by the Great Yuwen Kai is the architecture of the Sui. In only nine months, Yuwen Kai was able to design a capital city at Daxing. It was six times the size of today’s Xi’an at the exact same location. The palace featured a rotating pavilion that accommodated a total of 200 guests.

Painters from all over the country sought patronage at the Sui court. The dynasty created an arrangement of patronizing the arts. This was later embraced and accepted by the Tang rulers. Due to the briefness of its rule and consistency of its arts with the Tang, both dynasties arts are often treated as one.

Literature and Writing

In the Sui dynasty, they had poetry, prose writing, theater & plays, novels and encyclopedias. The most popular types of poetry are shi and ci. The common type of poetry was the ‘lushi’ which had long verses with 5, 6 or sometimes 7 syllables. Shi poems were usually short with only 4 or 8 lines.

Chinese Artists in the Sui Dynasty

Building projects emerged in the Sui. Yet Chinese artists experienced a prime due to a high demand for their skills.

Emperor Yang Di and Weng Di were both known for their generous employment of Chinese artists. They provided important places with jade ornaments and porcelain pottery.

Wen Di was cautious to remain loyal to Taoism and Confucianism. However, he soon converted to Buddhism while he was still an emperor. This meant that Buddhist art also had high demand since temples appeared across the country.

Buddhism shares itself to sculptures adorning Buddhist temples. With the demand for sculptures under the Sui, it related to the support of Buddhism by Wen Di and his son.

Fall of the Sui Dynasty

A major project done by the Sui was the construction of the Great Wall of China. Yet this, together with other projects, strained their economy. This angered the employed workforce who resented what was happening.

During the Sui’s first few years, the rebellion that occurred took a lot of able-bodied men from farms. This, in turn, impaired the country’s economy and agricultural base further.

Men would break their own limbs to avoid military induction. They referred this practice as propitious paws or fortunate feet.

After the fall of Sui, Emperor Taizong of the Tang made an effort to remove the practice of the commoners. He did this by declaring a decree of heavier punishment. It was for those who were found deliberately injuring then healing themselves.

Rise of the Tang Dynasty

For the construction of canals, there was huge labor conscription and allocation of resources too. It was somewhat the same with the labor in constructing the Great Wall. The eventual fall of the dynasty was also because of the many losses. The cause was due to failed military movements against Goguryeo.

After these losses and defeats, the country was left in ruins. Soon, rebels took over the government then Emperor Yang was killed in 618. Yang headed south after the capital received threats from rebel groups. He died in the hands of his advisers.

Up in the north, the aristocrat Li Yuan held a rebellion after ascending the throne. He became Emperor Gaozu of the Tang and it marked the beginning of the Tang Dynasty.

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