Sui – China’s Fifth Dynasty


The Sui Dynasty reunified China and helped to rebuild the country, paving the way for the glory of the Tang Dynasty.

The short-lived Sui Dynasty (589-618 CE) represented an important period in Chinese history because it helped to reunify the Chinese empire and, in effect, prepare the way for the glorious Tang Dynasty, which succeeded it. Sui was founded by General Yang Chien, through a military coup which initially was aimed at the northern capital of Chang-an but which then took him to conquest of Nanking. It was the capture of Nanking which represented the end of the southern dynasties which had divided China. It meant that Yang Chien could crown himself as an emperor and is known by his posthumous name of Sui Wen-ti.

Emperor Wen-ti based himself in Chang-an and supervised the extension of the Great Wall. He also realised the importance of the southern half of the state, since so much of the north had become exhausted after decades of fighting and devastation. It was the south, especially around and along the Yangtze River, that offered most hope for economic strength because of the rice fields there and because so much of the population had moved there from the north, seeking a better life. However, the infrastructure was inadequate to support the now dense population and Wen-ti put resources into developing the irrigation system of the region and supporting trade and commerce. The Grand Canal, linking the Yangtze with Hanzhou, dates from this period. Canals represented a safe and efficient way of moving goods, officials and communications and, binding together the nation, they represented an important advance. Another important advance was the redistribution of the land, in a scheme which was to flourish fully under the Tang emperors. Arts and literature were encouraged and the civil service was reorganized on a more rational, hierarchical basis. Buddhism was encouraged and the lessons of Confucian thought re-applied to society and the relations between people.

However, not all was well in the field of international relations. The relationship with the Turks of Central Asia had deteriorated and raiding was putting pressure on the western settlements. Attempts to exact tributes from Korea, meanwhile, caused the country, under the successor emperor Yang Ti, to become embroiled in a war in the Korean peninsula which turned out to be a series of disasters of quite stunning proportions. Thousands upon thousands of Chinese were killed, drowned or succumbed to disease. When Yang Ti was murdered in 617, the dynasty was in serious trouble as it appeared that Heaven’s Mandate had been withdrawn. The next emperor, Kung Ti, only lasted for a year.