An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Sui Dynasty 隋 (581-618)

The Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) was a relatively short-lived house that reunited China after long centuries of division known in history as the period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties 南北朝 (300~600). Yang Jian 楊堅 (known as Emperor Wen 隋文帝, r. 581-604), a relative of Emperor Jing 北周靜帝 (r. 579-581) of the Northern Zhou empire 北周 (557-581), controlled the imperial army and forced the weak Northern Zhou ruler to abdicate. After his foundation of the Sui dynasty, Yang Jian first reunited northern China and then conquered the territory of the Chen dynasty 陳 (557-589) in the south.

While the dynastic founder, Emperor Wen, was praised by historians as the great unifier of China, his son and successor, Emperor Yang 隋煬帝 (r. 604-617), was criticized for his extravagant spending for a third capital (Jiangdu 江都, i.e. Yangzhou 揚州) and the Grand Canal. Yet both, with their administrative reforms and large-scale construction work, prepared the ground for the glory of the Tang 唐 (618-907).

The Sui had to balance conflicts between the elites of the north and the south, and to bring both under their domination. They gave the local administration the structure of prefectures (zhou 州) and abolished the princedoms (wangguo 王國). The examination system was renovated, as well as the military system. The law code of the Sui was the basis for the famous Tang Code.

Emperor Yang also conducted military campaigns against the Türks (Chinese rendering Tujue 突厥) and the Tuyuhun 吐谷渾, a Tangutan people, and so opened the way to Inner Asia, and tried to conquer the Korean Peninsula. Rebellions of peasants and revolts by the nobility brought an end to the Sui. Some historians compare the Sui dynasty with the short-lived Qin dynasty 秦 (220-206 BCE) that was able to unify China in one empire, but failed to create a stable government. While the Qin was succeeded by the glorious Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE), the Sui paved the way for the "golden age" of the Tang dynasty.

This chapter of the encyclopaedia gives an overview of the political history of the Sui period, the geography of the empire and its surroundings, provides a list of its rulers, and describes the administration and political structure of the empire.