Who Founded The Tang Dynasty?

Even before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, there have been several paramount leaders that have significantly shaped the history, fates, and fortunes of the nation. Each one of these leaders played a key role in transforming China into the world power that it is today. In this write-up, we will explore the life and accomplishments of one popular Chinese leader- Li Yuan, who was the founder of the Tang Dynasty. Read on to learn more about him.

Who was Li Yuan?

Emperor Gaozu of the Tang Dynasy, born and raised Li Yuan, was the founder of the Tang Dynasty of China, and he was the first emperor of the dynasty from 618 C.E. to 626 C.E. Besides that, he was the governor of the Sui Dynasty, which is the modern-day Shanxi province.  Also, under the Sui dynasty, he was a military commander who led an aggressive revolt among his foregoing masters and formed the Tang dynasty once he was able to fully seize control of the state. The Tang dynasty, which Li Yuan established ruled China for about three decades (from 618 to 906 A.D) and it, was considered the golden age of Chinese arts, culture and innovation. Along with that, the Tang dynasty was one of the richest, most educated, and cosmopolitan realm in the people’s republic of China. It influenced social, religious, and cultural patterns across Asia and was internationally recognized.  Li Yuan contributed to the success of the Tang Dynasty by introducing the imperial examination system that ensured the talented people administered China.

Li Yuan – Birth, Early Years, and Death

Li Yuan was born on the 7th April 566 C.E. He was the duke of Tang, had some Turkic roots and had powerful family connections in the imperial household. When he was a young boy, he started his political career as one of Emperor Wendi’s (founder and first emperor of the Chinese Sui dynasty) and with time, he became the emperor’s favorite and was loved by the emperor’s Empress. Eventually, he took up important roles as prefect and governor in several cities and regions in China. Also, he seamlessly acquired ceremonial posts at court and became powerful by the day.

Later on, when Wendi’s successor- Emperor Yangdi, took up the throne, Li Yuan was made the vice-president of the Imperial Household Department where he took up more diplomatic and political roles. In 613 C.E, he became the vice president of the Court of Imperial Insignia, meaning that he was in-charge of the capitals arsenal and expeditions. While in this position, he sent arms to the army that invaded Korea and was responsible for military success.

After ruling the Tang Dynasty for a while and made all the necessary reforms, he abdicated in 626 C.E in favor of his son (Li Shimin), after the rough Xuan Wu Gate incident when Taizong (Li Shimin) killed his two brothers who were trying to take up the throne in an immoral manner. He lived on as the ‘Grand Emperor of the Tang Dynasty’ until his death in 635 C.E. Unfortunately, there isn’t much information about his death.

Li Yuan Son

Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, born Li Shimin, was Li Yuan’s son and he was considered one of the greatest emperors in China’s history. He helped his father overthrow the shortlived Sui Dynasty and establish the successful Tang Dynasty. Once he became the emperor of the Tang Dynasty, he successfully expanded China’s rule and actively inaugurated the golden age of the Tang Dynasty. He was born in 598 in Wugong China and he had two younger brothers, a small sister, and an older brother.

At a very young age, he started making a name for himself and by the time he was 17 years old, he learned that the current emperor of the Tang dynasty was captured by enemy soldiers. Following this, he immediately joined a group of men who then tried to rescue the emperor. Luckily, the emperor of the weak Sui Dynasty was a poor leader and when Li Shimin and Li Yuan (his father) realized that the Sui Dynasty was about to collapse, the put together the most successful plot that made Li Yuan the emperor. Along with this, they established the new and powerful Tang Dynasty.

Immediately after, Li Shimin became his father’s main general and he successfully led the Tang army in several battles against Li Yuan’s rivals. His older brother became crown prince but as Li Shimin became more powerful over the years; his brothers were worried that he may become emperor eventually. They plotted against him and tried to kill him. Instead, Li Shimin learned about his brother’s plans and killed them. Soon after, Li Yuan stepped down as emperor and Li Shimin became the new emperor.

While in power, he made several governmental changes and he ensured equal distribution of resources.  He started a new tax system and expanded the territory. Under his rule, China became the most dominant power in Asia and his reign was the most peaceful and prosperous in the land.

What did Li Yuan do?

The great Emperor Gaozu, formerly Li Yuan, who ruled between 618 and 626 CE, was a powerful Sui military commanding officer who led an uprising against his former masters, conquered the state, and successfully founded the Tang Dynasty, which has been the most important part of China’s history. Along with that, Li Yuan developed the most successful form of government and administration on the Sui model, and sparked a cultural and artistic flowering within China that amounted to a marvelous golden age.

Li Yuan Accomplishments

Once Li Yuan became the emperor of Tang, his reign was entirely concentrated on uniting the empire under the Tang. He was greatly assisted by his son, Li Shimin, who served as the main general and his right hand man. Together, they defeated all their enemies, including Liu Wuzhou, Dou Jiande, Li Gui, Xue Ju, and Wang Shichong, among others.

By 628 B.C, Li Yuan successfully united the whole of China. He recognized the early successes that were part of the Sui Dynasty and tried as much as possible to emulate most of the policies that existed. Some of these policies involved creating a more inclusive tax system and ensuring equal distribution of land. In addition to that, he abandoned the harsh and unrealistic system of law that existed during the Sui Dynasty as he felt that it worked against his people. Further, the reformed the judicial system and invested in multiple administrative reforms.

Final Thoughts

Li Yuan’s legacy was a functional government, a unified China with secure borders, and a flourishing nation. His heirs continued to expand China’s territory, centralize authority, and establish a better communication system that contributed to governance. Despite his effort, the dynasty became corrupt 300 years later and eventually collapsed, but he is remembered as a great emperor.


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