Chinese History - 581-618 AD - Sui Chang'an Dynasty
The reigns of three sovereigns make up the story of the Sui dynasty. Yang Chien became emperor in 581 and took the imperial title Wen-ti, or Lettered Emperor (a designation only less common than that of Wu Ti, or conqueror). A brilliant yet volatile leader, he was devoted to the Buddhist religion and to his wife, who made up for the Emperor's shortcomings. Wen-ti centralized his government by controlling the appointments of local officials and sending inspectors abroad to ensure the Emperor's wishes were being followed. Representatives from each province traveled three times each year to the capital to give an accounting. Afterwards awards and punishments were dispensed. He banned all weapons throughout the kingdom except those within the army, and using forced labor, he repaired the Great Wall, badly damaged by the warring of the previous period.
Though the Emperor's rule could be harsh, it was also tempered. He built many Buddhist temples and provided training for its clergy, but allowed Taoism to flourish. Concerning matters of state Wen-ti enforced the teachings of Confucius and its tenets of obedience. Moral character mattered more to Wen-ti than did one's genealogy, so he opened opportunity for public service to the masses regardless of ethnicity or class. He then published a new legal code containing 1,735 articles, the essence of which was used for centuries.Wen-ti died in 604, and the throne passed to his second son, who took the imperial name Yang-ti.
Wen Ti's son, Yang Kuang, was evidently a ruler of more than the ordinary vigor, though of execrable private character. Where his father had spent wisely, the son spent recklessly. He is said to have adorned the trees in his park in winter time with silken leaves and flowers, and to have well-nigh exterminated the birds to provide down for his cushions.
To greater purpose he labored at the construction of canals connecting China's great river systems, the present Grand Canal. Emperor Yang-ti took a small canal project begun by his father and turned it monumental - it was completed six years later and stretched from present-day Hangchow to present-day Beijing. Over five million workers invested their labor in the project. The cruelty with which he pressed even women into his service as laborers in this undertaking goes far towards canceling any credit he may thereby have won as a public benefactor.
Yang-ti reigned sixteen years and succeeded in bringing some degree of order out of chaos. He promulgated a new law code and attempted to stratify society in four castes, somewhat after the Indian manner. If not personally worthy of the literary title, Wen Ti, he evidently appreciated literature and encouraged learning and the formation of libraries, though he sought to diminish the number of small and inefficient colleges in favor of the large and more important establishments of the capital cities. He set a hundred scholars to work upon an edition of the classics, and was the first to appoint the examination for the degree known as chin shik. His military exploits include expeditions against the Turks and invasions of Korea and Tongking which are regarded as successful or unsuccessful according to the point of view.
Yang-ti undoubtedly brought back much treasure, but the struggle with Korea, whatever Chinese accounts may say on the subject, ended in the triumph of the weaker combatant. In AD 598 China had sent, it is said, 300,000 men to conquer Korea, but failed. Yang renewed the attempt in compaigns which lasted from AD 611 to 614. The accounts state that an army of over a million men, in twenty-four divisions, was employed, as well as a considerable naval force. The invasion was once again unsuccessful, partly because of the breaking out of rebellions in China itself. Expensive pomp, construction projects, and military expeditions exacted a heavy toll, and rebellion broke out in 617.
In AD 617 there were as many as seven usurpers at various points and in the following year Yang was assassinated. He was succeeded by his grandson, the young prince T'ung, who soon afterward fell a victim to the ambition of his chief minister, Wang Shih-ch'ung, by whom he was poisoned. The pathetic story is told that, when the boy was about to drink the fatal potion, he prayed to the Buddha that he might never be reborn an Emperor. After this tragedy the troubled period comes to an end, giving place to the glorious dynasty of Tang.
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