General Introduction to Sui Dynasty

Sui Dynasty Started from 581 and ended in 618, the Sui Dynasty lasted for only 38 years and had only three emperors. With a tyrannical second emperor - Emperor Yang, the Sui Dynasty was often compared to the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 206 BC). However, the whole nation was reunified and certain economic and political advances were achieved in the period.

 

The Sui Dynasty, founded by Sui Wendi, or Yang Jian, held its capital at Luoyang, Henan Province. It was marked by the reunification of Southern and Northern China and the construction of the Grand Canal, though it was a relatively short Chinese dynasty. It saw various reforms by Emperors Wen and Yang: the Equal-field system, initiated to reduce the rich-poor social gap, resulted in enhanced agricultural productivity; governmental power was centralized and the Three Departments and Six Ministries system officially instituted; coinage was standardized and re-unified; defense was improved, and The Great Wall was expanded. Buddhism was also spread and encouraged throughout the empire, uniting the varied people and cultures of China.

 

Sui Yangdi

Yangdi gained the throne after his father's death (possibly by murder). He further extended the empire, but, unlike his father, he did not seek to gain support from the nomads. Instead, he restored Confucian education and the Confucian examination system for bureaucrats. By supporting educational reforms, he lost the support of nomads. He also started many expensive construction projects such as the Grand Canal of China. This combined with casualties exceeding well over 2 million in all the wars combined), invasions into China from Turkic nomads, and his growing life of decadent luxury at the expense of the peasantry, he lost public support and was assassinated by his own ministers.

 

Goguryeo-Sui wars

Arguably, the biggest factor that led to the downfall of Sui Dynasty was the series of massive expeditions into the Korean Peninsula to invade Goguryeo, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. The war that conscripted the most soldiers was caused by Sui Yangdi. The army was so enormous it was actually recorded in historical texts that it took 30 days for all the armies to exit their last rallying point near Shanhaiguan before invading Korea; in one instance, the soldiers—both conscripted and paid—listed over 3000 warships, 1.15 million infantry, 50,000 cavalry, 5000 artillery, and more. There were just as many supporting laborers, and an exorbitant military budget that included mounds of equipment and rations (most of which never reached the Chinese vanguard, as they were captured by Goguryeo armies already).

 

The army stretched to "1000 li (a Chinese unit of length, in modern translation one half-kilometer, though its precision in antiquity may be questioned), or about 410 kilometers, across rivers and valleys, over mountains and hills!" In all four main campaigns, the military conquest ended in failure. Nearly all the Chinese soldiers were defeated by the prominent army leader Eulji Mundeok of Goguryeo. For example, of the 305,000 Chinese troops, only 2,700 returned to China, according to the Book of Tang records, soldiers in summer conquests would return several years later, barely living through the cold and famishing winter. Many died of frostbite and hunger.

 

Buddhism Development

Buddhism was popular during the Six Dynasties period that preceded the Sui dynasty, spreading from India through Kushan Afghanistan into China during the Late Han period. Buddhism gained prominence during the period, when central political control was limited. Buddhism created a unifying cultural force that uplifted the people out of war and into the Sui Dynasty. In many ways, Buddhism was responsible for the rebirth of culture in China under the Sui Dynasty. The Emperor Wen and his empress had converted to Buddhism to legitimate imperial authority over China and the conquest of Chen.

 

Wendi presented himself as a Cakravartin king, a Buddhist monarch that would use military force to defend the Buddhist faith. In the year 601 CE, Emperor Wen had relics of the Buddha distributed to temples throughout China, with edicts that expressed his goals, "all the people within the four seas may, without exception, develop enlightenment and together cultivate fortunate karma, bringing it to pass that present existences will lead to happy future lives, that the sustained creation of good causation will carry us one and all up to wondrous enlightenment".Ultimately, this act was an imitation of the ancient Mauryan Emperor Ashoka of India.

 

Fall of the Sui Dynasty

The decline of the Sui Dynasty started from the second monarch, Emperor Yang, who was a typical tyrant. His reputation was that of a son who lacked respect for his parents, committed patricide and usurped the throne. Emperor Yang led a luxurious and corrupt life. Upon gaining the throne, he employed two million laborers to build the second capital city of Luoyang and was even reputed to have cruised along the river in a large dragon ship, with thousands of ships following in attendance.