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China History Sui Dynasty
581 - 618
By the end of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589), China had witnessed disunity and chaos for about 270 years.

In 577, the Northern Zhou conquered the Northern Qi and reunified the North China. The Northern Zhou, known as the reign of Yuwen family of the Xianbei ethnic group, continued for 24 years with five emperors over three generations. In 581, Yangjian, a relative of the royal family, usurped the throne and renamed the empire the Sui Dynasty with Chang'an (present Xian City in Shaanxi Province) as his capital city. Yangjian was historically called Emperor Wen.

After the founding of the empire, Emperor Wen quickly carried out a series of military plans to unify the country. Finally in 589, Emperor Wen wiped out the Chen Dynasty and reunified the south and the north.

Sui Dynasty lasted for only 38 years with two generations. History shows it was one of the short-lived Chinese dynasties.


Political History

In the early years of the Sui, Emperor Wen adopted many policies to bolster his regime.

For central government, the Sui Dynasty re-established the centralized administrative system created by the Han (206 BC - 220 AD). They set up "Three Departments and Six Ministries", placing under its supervision all state affairs. In local areas, the existing three tier form of government was reorganized, reducing it to a two tier system. This greatly simplified the administrative structure and enhancing the efficiency.

In addition, Emperor Wen abolished the privilege of the noble families which prevailed throughout the Jin (265 - 420) and the Northern and Southern Dynasties. Preferring to choose his officials on merits rather than by birth, Emperor Wen held regular examinations to select able people. By this means he was able to dismiss corrupt officials. This engendered support for the Sui court from scholars and contributed much to the consolidation of its rule. The imperial examination system for the selection and appointment of civil servants initialed by the Sui later was to be used by successive Chinese dynasties for over 1300 years.

A comprehensive law reform removed many of the harsh restrictions and punishments imposed on the people thus lightening the burden which had been imposed on them by earlier rulers.

Social Economy

A series of economical reforms were necessary in order to overcome the financial crisis with which Emperor Wen was faced. A crisis due to the long period of wars and conflict prior to his succession.

In order to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, the Sui reverted to the "land equalization system". While controlling the possession of the land by the rich, this law provided for land distribution to all families on the basis of the number of the people in each household. The people were able to farm the land they owned but were precluded from selling it. By permitting people to retain their land holdings much remained in the hands of landlords. Nevertheless, in spite of this, the farmer's enthusiasm enhanced and great progress in agricultural productivity was achieved during this period.

At the same time, the government unified the coinage, nationalized the mints and standardized weights and measures. Furthermore, Emperor Wen levied lower taxes on the farmers and merchants, greatly promoting the development of social economy.

To improve means of transport between the south and north the construction of the Grand Canal was commenced and completed during the reigns of Emperor Wen and his son, Emperor Yang. This great project connected the Yellow River with the Yangtze River and had the effect of greatly increasing cultural and economic exchange between the two areas.

Moreover, defense works such as the Great Wall, mainly the sections in Ninxia and Inner Mongolia areas, were built in this period to withstand the attack of Tujue (Turks) tribe.

Culture and Foreign Policy

The Sui Dynasty was founded on the centuries of division. People from different tribes and areas were varied in their habits, cultures and customs. By the time the Sui had the territorial unification of China, to unify the people from different backgrounds, the spread of Buddhism was highly encouraged.

Under the patronage of the Sui, Chinese Buddhism blossomed. The number of temples and monks increased greatly. Buddhism in China had its own teachers, whose knowledge was as deep and broad as that of any from India. With the prosperity of Chinese Buddhism, people in other countries came to China in succession to study the religion, turning China into a major center of Buddhist learning.

Due to the long-term disunity, relationships with other countries had declined. The Sui Dynasty re-established these and with the Silk Road, promoted the exchange between China and the Western Asia, laying a solid foundation for a flourishing Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). Emperor Yang sent Peiju to the Western Regions to invite merchants there to trade with the Empire. This enhanced China's status and influence in the Asian area during the Sui Dynasty.


The Sui Dynasty's early demise was attributed to the government's tyranny and ceaseless wars.

Emperor Wen died unexpectedly in 604 and his second son Yangguang, historically known as Emperor Yang, succeeded to the throne. In the early part of his reign Emperor Yang benefited from the reforms introduced by his father and the Sui Dynasty achieved full economic prosperity.

However, lulled by his easy success, Emperor Yang soon began to abuse his power. On the one hand, he continued to carry out lavish construction projects, such as the Great Wall, the Great Canal and the relocation of his capital in Luoyang. On the other, he repeatedly went on pleasure trips and all too frequently launched wars on his neighbors. Some of Emperor Yang's policy did contributed a lot to the social development and the stability of the country, however, they made the ordinary people 'all out at the elbows'.

Emperor Yang's extravagance and putridness finally led to the exhaustion of the country's resources. Beginning in 613, rebellions broke out one by one. In 616, forced by the chaotic situation, Emperor Yang, retreated to Jiangdu (present Yangzhou City in Jiangsu Province). With the emperor absent, Liyuan, a general stationed in Taiyuan, conquered Chang'an and put a new emperor on the throne.

In 618, Emperor Yang was murdered in Jiangdu by one of his aides. Quickly, Liyuan deposed the new emperor and established his own dynasty in Chang'an - the Tang Dynasty, declaring himself Emperor.

Three Departments and Six Ministries
Travel in China
Beijing's Hutong and Courtyard
Temple of Confucius (Kong Miao)
Mogao Caves -- Art of Dunhuang Caves
Jiayuguan Pass
Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum
Jinshitan Scenic Area
Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces
Taihu Lake
Southern Pastures (West White Poplar Gully)
Jiaxiu Tower (First Scholar's Tower)
China City Guide
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