The Sui Dynasty
The Sui Dynasty (589-618) was a dynastic clan that ruled for 39 years over much of the region. Their empire started when they conquered Nanjing in 589. Their dynasty was one of the two dynasties of shortest duration that ruled big empires in the region. The other dynasty of similar duration was the Qin Dynasty that ruled much of the same region 800 years before. The Sui Dynasty was similar to the Qin Dynasty in some ways in that both dynasties carried out huge construction projects at the expense of the people, their rule was harsh, both carried out large military expeditions, and both ended in rebellion. The Sui Empire unified the region after the Eastern Han Dynasty that was the last large empire in the region ended. After building large construction projects, the Sui Empire ended in rebellion, and a general defeated his rivals to conquer the Sui Empire in the year 618.
Pre-Sui Era: AD 25 - 581
The Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 AD) lasted for about 200 years. At its end, the Eastern Han Empire split into three warring states. That was called the Three Kingdoms Period. Then in 376 AD, there were two large empires that divided the region north and south. In 560, there were four kingdoms in the area. This was called the Southern and Northern Dynasties era. One of the four kingdoms of this era was called the Northern Zhou. The Northern Zhou controlled a big inland region that reached from Mongolia and down into the southwest. It was far from the sea.
In 581, the Sui Dynasty began when a member of the ruling clan of Northern Zhou killed about 60 of his brothers and relatives and made himself the emperor of his kingdom. He was called Emperor Wen. He wanted to strengthen his empire, so he gained the support of Confucian bureaucrats. He strengthened his army to expand his empire.
Sui Emperor Wen (589-604)
The Chen Empire was to the southeast. The big Yangtze River was a natural boundary. It is said that Emperor Wen sent about 500,000 troops across the Yangtze River in 588. In 589, he conquered the Chen Empire capital called Jiankang that is now called Nanjing. This is how the Sui Empire began. During his reign, he initiated construction projects involving millions of laborers reminiscent of the Emperor of the Qin. His major policies were spreading Buddhism, reinstituting rule by Confucian bureaucrats, and making the people poorer for his wars and construction projects.
Emperor Wen was a Buddhist and tried to spread Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism had spread and became popular in the region in the various kingdoms during the preceding several hundreds of years. It was spread eastward from Central Asia by monks and by various kings and emperors starting from the Eastern Han era. In the year 601, Emperor Wen expressed an edict that said: “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.”
During the Han era, educated Confucian bureaucrats ruled the Western Han Empire. Their influence waned in the Eastern Han Empire. Previously, Northern Zhou rulers adopted another political philosophy, but Emperor Wen placed Confucian literati into his administration of power.
He also wanted to develop the infrastructure. So he started to build the Grand Canal. It is the longest canal in the world. The first stage of the construction was finished in 605. Millions of laborers worked on it. Another of his goals was to conquer Vietnam. He sent an army south in 602 and captured Hanoi. As the army went further south, though they won battles, their troops died of tropical diseases.
After ruling his large empire for 15 years, he died in 604. It is thought that he may have been killed by his son.
Sui Emperor Yang (604-618)
His son was named Emperor Yang. He ruled for 14 years until 618, and then he was assassinated. He was more like the Qin Emperor than his father. He continued his father's policies of installing a Confucian bureaucracy, wars, and major construction projects, but he poured more of the empire's resources into the wars and construction projects and exhausted his resources and the people. He was known for expending a lot of money on luxuries. Though he built up the empire's infrastructure, northern nomadic people attacked and the people rebelled, and he was assassinated.
Like the Qin Emperor, he too ordered construction of large construction projects. He rebuilt the Great Wall. A major engineering achievement was finishing the construction of much of the Grand Canal. He urged his people to finish it quickly because he wanted to use it to transport resources for his war against Goguryeo. The relative ease of travel on it added to the Tang Empire's prosperity. It extended from the merchant city of Hangzhou in the south, across the Yangtze River, and up to Luoyang that was the capital of the empire.
He sent large armies for his campaigns into the Korean Peninsula to invade Goguryeo. A costly expedition was said to involve about 1.5 million troops and thousands of ships. It is said that mounds of equipment and rations were captured by the Goguryeo troops. Altogether, there were about four campaigns, and the Goguryeo troops defeated them all. Many died in the severely cold winters.
There was a lot of discontent about the loss of life, the forced labor, and the heavy taxes. Various leaders led rebellions. Emperor Yang was assassinated in 618. He was killed by his advisers. In the northern part of the empire, Li Yuan (李淵, 566 to 635) and his clan emerged as powerful rulers. After capturing Changan, Li Yuan declared himself the Tang Dynasty Emperor in the year 618.
- Chinese Dynasties
- The Xia Dynasty
- The Shang Dynasty
- The Zhou Dynasty
- Spring and Autumn Period
- Warring States Period
- The Qin Dynasty
- The Han Dynasty
- Three Kingdoms
- The Jin Dynasty
- The Sui Dynasty
- The Tang Dynasty
- The Western Xia Dynasty
- The Song Dynasty
- The Yuan Dynasty
- The Ming Dynasty
- The Qing Dynasty
- The Kingdom of Dali