China’s Sui Dynasty takes pride in being the most famous dynasties that played a critical role in unifying China to be one rule, especially at a time when the country was in disarray after what is known as the Period of Disunion. And though the Sui Dynasty ruled for a rather short period, between 581 and 618AD, before its replacement by the infamous Tang Dynasty, the Sui Dynasty still played a huge historical role.
There is a lot that the Sui Dynasty is known for, and this article shares insights into everything you should know about the Sui Dynasty.
Sui Dynasty Timeline
As mentioned above, the Sui Dynasty was not in leadership for a very long time, but during their time, they did some incredible things. Their short timeline is as follows:
581-618 – Sui Dynasty rules China.
- 581 – 601 – The first emperor of the Sui Empire, Wen (Wendi), ruled China
- c.607 – Japan’s prince, Prince Shutoku, sends a number of Japanese officials to Sui China’s embassies
- 612 – General Eulji Mundeok of Goguryeo wins a huge victory against the Sui empire at the Salsu River battle.
- 604 – 618 – The second and last Sui Emperor, Yang, ruled China.
Although Sui Dynasty’s reign was rather brief and only had one successful emperor that led for a significantly long time, this dynasty was able to successfully unify China after the split of the Northern and Southern dynasty periods. Though short-lived, the Sui dynasty made impactful structural changes that have since paved the way to even more long-lasting successors and national success. The Sui dynasty set a good system that would ensure flourishing arts and culture scenes.
There also were reforms in the government, and these reforms would also affect the civil administration, as well as the laws on land distribution, consequently helping to ensure the restoration and the centralization of the imperial authority. On the flip side, this regime was infamous for its high immorality levels, the very expensive public spending projects, as well as well as military follies. And combined, these brought in a strong rebellion that would ultimately result in the Sui dynasty being overthrown. The Sui dynasty had its capital in Daxing, whose name was changed to Chang’an during the reign of the Tang Dynasty. Today this city is known as Xi’an.
When Did The Sui Dynasty Start And End?
Sui dynasty took the leadership reins in 581, but their leadership ended in 618CE.
Why Did Sui Dynasty End?
The fall of the Sui dynasty was a result of the big losses suffered. These losses were caused by the military’s failure in their campaigns against the Goguryeo, and after too many defeats and losses, the country was left in ruins, with the rebel forces taking over control of the government. Sui dynasty’s last emperor, Emperor Yang, was assassinated in the same year that the dynasty ended in 618.
Sui Dynasty Emperors List
Sui Dynasty only had two Emperors, Emperor Wen, who ruled between 518 and 605, and Emperor Yang, who ruled between 604 and 618.
These emperors also contributed a great deal to the unification of China. It’s worth noting that towards the end of the 6th Century CE, China was faced with warring states that were often vying for greater power and wealth, which means that they were always at loggerheads with each other. These conflicts led to 3 centuries of endless conflict and disunity that would only come to an end in 581CE after the commander known as Yang Jian/ Yang Chien who was able to seize the government off from the hands of the military base that was at Guangzhou at the time, unifying the North as a result.
Notably, Jian was not just one of the most talented generals, but he was also quite connected, especially after his daughter got married to the Northern Zhou dynasty’s heir, a move that earned him a huge imperial connection. After the demise of this heir in 580CE, Jian took this opportunity to declare himself as a regent and to make sure that there would be no rebellion or rivals to knock him off his course and the newly acquired throne; Jian had up to 59 of the members of the royal Zhou family murdered. He then set his sights on the south by 588CE.
One of the first things he did was name his newly acquired state, the state of Sui – this is a name that he took after his father’s fiefdom. In recent days/ months, Jian was able to amass more than 500,000 people to his army, and he also had a huge fleet, including a 5-decked ship with the capacity to carry at least 800 men. Thanks to these resources, Jian sailed down the famous Yangtze River, sweeping all men that stood in his way, and in 3 months, he’d captured Nanjing. And by 589CE, he’d won over the South. And just like that, China was, once again, a single state, with Chang’an as its capital, and Jian would consequently be the emperor of Sui, taking on the name Emperor Wendi. He then established his dynasty that was run as one China.
His biggest contributions include the building of the Great Wall of China; he encouraged the launching of the War on Vietnam, the Construction of the Grand Canal, the Unification of China, the Spread of Confucianism, and the adoption and spread of Buddhism, among others.
The second and last emperor of the Sui dynasty, Emperor Yangdi, came into power in 604, and during his reign, he ensured that the integration of Southern China into the empire was complete. He further encouraged and emphasized the Confucian classics, especially for the examination system for people looking for public employment. He also built the second China capital in the East in Luoyang while remaining engaged in the large construction projects that had been started, which included the vast canal system.
Sui Dynasty Achievements And Inventions
The biggest achievements and contributions made by the Sui dynasty to China include the unification of China into one nation, once again ending the Northern and Southern China empires. This dynasty was also behind the constructions of the Great Wall and the Grand Canal and a host of other achievements that have really reformed China.
- Consolidated Control and Great Administrative Reforms
The Sui dynasty unified China and also expanded the nation’s territory. But perhaps one of their biggest achievements is their creation and policing of a more improved and largely centralized system of administration featuring unified, single, and less complex laws and codes. They also introduced lasting land reforms.
The system of administration for the empire had the old Nine-Rank System abolished, and this system was replaced by local prefects that were selected on the basis of merit, as demonstrated by their performance in the Confucian-based civil service examinations that were only done at the capital. The selected officials would then be sent out to different provinces other than the provinces that they were born into – a move that reduced corruption and nepotism.
The empire also came up with the Equal Field System (previously introduced by the 5th Century CE emperor Xiaowen). This system was applied by the Sui dynasty, and the small farmers were protected from being swallowed by the large estates.
- Construction of the Grand Canal
After making Luoyang the dynasty’s capital, Emperor Wen would kick off the construction of the Grand Canal to ensure the development of the new capital. Though he didn’t finish it, his son, Yang Guang, continued works on the canal, seeing it to completion. Millions worked on the projects, and many of these hard-working laborers died from the bad conditions (malaria ravaged the laborers) and the hard labor, unfortunately.
The construction of the Canal is considered one of the biggest engineering achievements. The canal runs from Hangzhou all the way to Beijing, and it turned into the best and the quickest means of transport that would transport resources needed for the war launched against Goguryeo. The subsequent ease of transportation/ travel further encouraged the prosperity of the Sui and Tang Empires. Note that the Grand Canal of China is the longest canal an artificial river in the world.
- Rebuilding the Great Wall of China
Even before becoming the Emperor, Jian had started work on the reconstruction of the Great Wall located north of the kingdom. After he was the emperor, he ensured that the sections of the wall were rebuilt. The construction of the Great Wall stretched into the inner parts of Mongolia. But just like the work on the canal, many laborers died in this project. This wall was the most notable point of defense for Sui China against the Tujue (Eastern Turks).
- Encouraged/ Supported the spread of Buddhism.
The Sui empire/ dynasty is also known for the support they showed religion and the fact that they supported the growth and the spread of Buddhism. This is believed to be the case because Emperor Wen was Buddhist, and during his time, Mahayana Buddhism became more popular. He even passed an Edict in 601 that said that all the people of the 4 seas would, without any exceptions, develop enlightenment while also cultivating fortunate karma and bringing to pass-happy existences and future lives. And that creating good things would carry the believers towards a higher level of enlightenment.
- Encouragement of Confucianism
This is the other belief system that was encouraged by the Sui dynasty, especially because of the increasing number of educated bureaucrats that ruled the Western Han empire, all of who believed in the philosophical teachings associated with Confucianism. The Confucian education system was also adopted, and individuals interested in working in public offices were required to learn and undertake the Confucian examinations for any administrative roles.
The spending by the dynasty was quite high, though. And along with the immoral levels associated with the dynasty, it makes sense (in hindsight) that the Sui dynasty didn’t last too long.