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 wife

Li Yuan, the founder of the Tang Dynasty, had several wives throughout his life, but his primary and most well-known wife was Empress Dou. Empress Dou, was a member of the powerful Dou family, which had supported Li Yuan in his rise to power.

Empress Dou played an important role in Li Yuan’s life and reign. She bore him several children, including Li Jiancheng and Li Shimin, who would become major figures in the Tang Dynasty. Empress Dou also provided counsel to Li Yuan and helped him navigate the complex political landscape of the time.

After Li Yuan became emperor, he honored Empress Dou by giving her the title of Empress Dowager, which made her one of the most powerful and influential women in the Tang court. Empress Dou continued to play an active role in politics and remained a trusted advisor to her husband and her sons.

In addition to Empress Dou, Li Yuan had several other wives and concubines, but their names and contributions are not as well-known as those of Empress Dou.

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.

Li Jiancheng

Li Yuan, the founder of the Tang Dynasty in China, had the eldest son named Li Jiancheng.

To help his father establish the Tang Dynasty, Li Jiancheng was instrumental. He led soldiers into battle and earned a reputation for valor. In addition to his leadership roles during the establishment of the Tang Dynasty, he also helped to consolidate power within the new government.

Li Jiancheng and his younger brother Li Shimin had a tense and competitive relationship. Both Li Jiancheng and his younger brother, Li Shimin, wanted to be named crown prince after their father’s death in 626 AD so that they could succeed to the throne.

The Xuanwu Gate Incident marked the climax of the conflict, as Li Shimin and his supporters marched to the Xuanwu Gate to face off against Li Jiancheng and his supporters. Li Shimin prevailed in the ensuing battle, which resulted in the deaths of Li Jiancheng and several of his followers.

Li Jiancheng is generally regarded as a failed ruler who was unable to consolidate power within the Tang Dynasty, despite his early achievements and military prowess. His assassination by his younger brother was a watershed moment in Chinese history, ushering in the reign of Emperor Taizong and laying the groundwork for one of the greatest dynasties ever to rule the country.

Li Shimin

The Tang Dynasty’s second emperor, Li Shimin, was also known by his imperial title, Taizong of Tang. Having been born to Tang Dynasty founder Li Yuan, he helped pave the way for his family’s rule over China and make the Tang Dynasty one of the longest lasting and most powerful in Chinese history.

General Li Shimin was a mastermind behind the scenes. He played a crucial role in toppling the Sui Dynasty, which allowed the Tang Dynasty to rise to power. After the Tang Dynasty was established, Li Shimin led a number of successful military campaigns to expand its territory. These included attacks on the Goguryeo Kingdom in Korea and the Western Turkic Khaganate in Central Asia.

Li Shimin was revered as an enlightened and fair ruler during his reign. Land reforms, which redistributed land to the peasants and diminished the power of the aristocracy, were among the many reforms he enacted to better the lives of the people. He also instituted a meritocratic system in which officials were selected for their skills rather than their family connections.

With Li Shimin at the helm, the Tang Dynasty flourished economically and culturally. Chinese culture flourished under his rule because of his support for the arts and literature. In addition, he set up a network of trade routes, most notably the Silk Road, which boosted commerce between China and other regions, making it one of the world’s wealthiest countries at the time.

Li Shimin is widely regarded as one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history. His rule brought China lasting peace, economic growth, and cultural advancements that are still celebrated today. He is remembered as one of China’s most prosperous leaders and serves as an example of wise and just rule.

li yuan ji

Li Yuanji was the son of Li Yuan, the founder of the Tang Dynasty in China. He was also the younger brother of Li Shimin, who would later become Emperor Taizong and one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history.

Li Yuanji played a role in helping his father establish the Tang Dynasty. He served as a military commander and was known for his bravery and skill in battle. He also played a key role in the suppression of the Sui Dynasty loyalists who opposed his father’s rule.

However, Li Yuanji’s relationship with his older brother Li Shimin was often strained. Li Yuanji was known for his love of pleasure and his tendency to indulge in excess, which put him at odds with Li Shimin’s more serious and disciplined approach to governance.

Li Yuanji initially sided with Li Shimin and supported his plans to overthrow Emperor Yang of Sui. However, after Li Shimin emerged victorious, Li Yuanji began to fear that his older brother would become too powerful and eliminate him as a rival for the throne.

Li Yuanji’s fears were not unfounded. After the Tang Dynasty was established, Li Shimin became emperor and began to consolidate power within the dynasty. Li Yuanji and several other princes who posed a potential threat to his rule were eventually executed or forced into exile.

Li Yuanji is often remembered as a tragic figure in Chinese history. He was a talented military commander and could have played a larger role in the establishment of the Tang Dynasty, but his weaknesses and his fraught relationship with his older brother ultimately led to his downfall. His story serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of indulgence and the importance of discipline and self-control in leadership.

Xuan Wu Gate incident

It was on July 2, 626 AD, that Li Shimin personally led an ambush near Xuanwu Gate, in which Chang Sun Wuji played a role. The general guarding Xuanwu Gate was named Chang He, who was originally a trusted confidant of Li Jiancheng but had been bought off by Li Shimin. When Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji showed up to Linhu Hall, they noticed something was off. A voice cried out, “Why aren’t the Crown Prince and Prince Qi going to court?” as they swung their horses around and raced toward the East Palace. When Li Yuanji turned around, he faced off against Li Shimin. He quickly took his bow and arrow, but he shot three arrows at Li Shimin, all of which missed. When Li Shimin shot an arrow at Li Jiancheng, the latter was knocked from his horse and ultimately killed. Li Yuanji hurriedly fled to the west but was shot dead by Yu Chigong.

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, also known as Emperor Gaozu, was a prominent Chinese general and politician who lived during the 6th and 7th centuries. He is most well-known for founding the Tang Dynasty in 618 AD, which would go on to become one of the most prosperous and culturally rich periods in Chinese history. Here are some of the key accomplishments and actions taken by Li Yuan during his lifetime:

  • Military victories: Li Yuan was a skilled military commander who rose through the ranks of the Northern Zhou Dynasty in the early 7th century. In 617 AD, he led a rebellion against the Sui Dynasty, which had been weakened by a series of military campaigns and rebellions. Li Yuan’s army was able to capture key cities and defeat Sui forces in battles throughout northern China. He was eventually able to claim the throne for himself and establish the Tang Dynasty in 618 AD.
  • Unifying China: After his successful rebellion against the Sui Dynasty, Li Yuan worked to unify China, which had been divided and fragmented for many years. He launched campaigns to defeat rival warlords and establish his control over various regions of the country. He also worked to establish a strong central government, which helped to maintain order and stability throughout the Tang Dynasty’s long reign.
  • Land reforms: Li Yuan recognized that the unequal distribution of land was a major source of social and economic inequality in China. He implemented land reforms that redistributed land more equitably, reducing the power of wealthy landowners and improving the livelihoods of common people. These reforms helped to establish a more just and fair society in China.
  • Religious tolerance: Li Yuan was known for his tolerance of different religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. He actively supported the construction of temples and monasteries, and encouraged his subjects to practice their chosen faith. This policy of religious tolerance helped to create a more diverse and vibrant culture in China, and fostered a sense of unity and understanding among people of different backgrounds.
  • Support for the arts and culture: Li Yuan was a patron of the arts and culture, and his reign saw a flowering of literature, poetry, and music. He encouraged the development of new forms of art and literature, and supported the work of artists and writers throughout the empire. This helped to create a rich and vibrant cultural legacy that lasted long after the end of the Tang Dynasty.
  • Governance reforms: Li Yuan recognized the importance of strong governance in maintaining order and stability throughout the empire. He implemented a new legal code that established clear rules and regulations for behavior, and worked to create a system of civil service examinations to recruit government officials based on merit rather than wealth or family connections. These reforms helped to create a more efficient and effective government that was able to serve the needs of the people.
  • Diplomacy and trade: Li Yuan recognized the importance of international diplomacy and trade in promoting economic growth and cultural exchange. He sent ambassadors to neighboring countries to establish diplomatic relations, and encouraged the expansion of trade routes throughout Asia. This helped to create a more interconnected world, and fostered a sense of globalism that was ahead of its time.
  • The currency reform: introduced the Kaiyuan Tongbao copper coins, which helped to maintain the long-term unity and stability of Tang Dynasty’s currency. It became a model for Tang Dynasty and subsequent dynasties’ copper coinage in terms of shape and weight. It continued for several thousand years until it was abolished in the Qing Dynasty.”

kai yuan tong bao coin

In July of the fourth year of the Wude reign (621 AD), Tang Emperor Gaozu Li Yuan ordered the abolition of the Sui Dynasty’s five-zhu coins and officially issued the “Kaiyuan Tongbao” coins (although he continued to use the Sui’s five-zhu coins after he ascended the throne). The Kaiyuan Tongbao coin had a diameter of eight fen, weighed two zhu and four fen, and one thousand of them were worth six jin and four liang. This coinage reform was a milestone in the history of Chinese currency development.

The Kaiyuan Tongbao had two main advances. First, due to Emperor Yang of Sui’s excessive exploitation of the people and large-scale warfare, the Sui Dynasty’s five-zhu coins became lighter and thinner at the end of the dynasty, leading to serious inflation, skyrocketing prices, and the near-collapse of the currency system. In contrast, the quality of the Kaiyuan Tongbao was excellent, with even the characters on the coins written by the famous calligrapher Ouyang Xun.

With the help of its high-quality craftsmanship and other related measures implemented by Li Yuan, the Kaiyuan Tongbao quickly replaced the Sui Dynasty’s five-zhu coins. This allowed the Tang Dynasty to rebuild its currency system in the shortest possible time and restore normalcy to the commercial market. The success of the Kaiyuan Tongbao was beneficial to the livelihoods of the people and also accumulated wealth for the central government, laying the foundation for the prosperity of the Tang Dynasty.

Second, all the currencies prior to the Tang Dynasty were named based on weight units, using the weight of the currency as its value basis, such as the Qin half-ounce. The Kaiyuan Tongbao was the first coin in Chinese history named using characters, signifying that its value was based on the credit of the government. The Kaiyuan Tongbao also changed the twenty-four division system of previous currencies to the decimal system, which remains in use today.

Due to the high quality of the Kaiyuan Tongbao issued by Li Yuan, subsequent dynasties imitated the coinage, and the people widely recognized it, to the extent that the Kaiyuan Tongbao still circulated in some regions during the Qing Dynasty. Therefore, the Kaiyuan Tongbao is a milestone in the development of Chinese currency.

kai yuan tong bao

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.

Li Yuan VS Yang Guang

Li Yuan and Emperor Yang Guang of the Sui Dynasty were first cousins. The mother of Li Yuan, Duchess Dugu, and the mother of Emperor Yang Guang, Duchess Dugu, were sisters. However, they were half-sisters as they had different mothers. Li Yuan’s mother was born to Lady Guo, the second wife of Dugu Xin, while Emperor Yang Guang’s mother was born to the third wife of Dugu Xin. Therefore, Li Yuan and Emperor Yang Guang were first cousins through their shared aunt.

Li Yuan and Yang Guang were two influential figures in Chinese history, but they had very different roles and legacies.

Li Yuan, also known as Emperor Gaozu, was the founder of the Tang Dynasty and the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty. He was a skilled military commander and a shrewd politician who played a key role in overthrowing the Sui Dynasty and unifying China. Under his reign, the Tang Dynasty became a powerful and prosperous empire, known for its cultural achievements, international trade, and military prowess. Li Yuan is widely regarded as one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history, and his dynasty is often considered a golden age of Chinese civilization.

Yang Guang, on the other hand, was the second-to-last emperor of the Sui Dynasty, which preceded the Tang Dynasty. He is also known as Emperor Yang, and he is remembered for his ambitious building projects, including the construction of the Grand Canal, which connected the Yellow River and the Yangtze River and facilitated trade and transportation throughout China. However, Yang Guang’s reign was also marked by military failures, political corruption, and economic hardship, and he was eventually overthrown by a rebellion led by Li Yuan and his sons.

li yuan legend story

“雀屏中选” (què píng zhòng xuǎn)select by shooting the birds on the screen

During the Northern Zhou Dynasty, the elder sister of Emperor Wu of Zhou gave birth to a daughter (later known as Empress Dou). The father of Empress Dou, Dou Yi, often said, “My daughter is beautiful and intelligent. How can she marry just anyone?” He then painted two peacocks on a screen and allowed suitors to shoot two arrows each. He secretly determined that whoever could shoot the peacock’s eyes would be matched with his daughter. Dozens of people shot arrows, but none of them met the requirements. Finally, Emperor Gaozu of Tang shot two arrows that hit the peacock’s eyes, and so Empress Dou was betrothed to him. Later, Emperor Gaozu became the emperor, and Empress Dou became his empress.

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.

1 thought on “Who Founded The Tang Dynasty?”

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