Book 4 - Sui, T'ang and Five Dynasties

A General Synopsis of the 370-year History of the Sui, T'ang and Five Dynasties Period

The Sui, T'ang and Five Dynasties period is the very important end section of medieval history, and is also, after the epoch of the Two Han, the most brilliant era in the history of China. These two periods have many strong parallels as the Ch'in Dynasty arose from the chaos of the Warring States, followed by the prosperity of the transitional period of the Two Han, and the Three Kingdoms as the aftermath of the Han; the Sui Dynasty arose from the chaos of the Two Chin, South and North Dynasties that was followed by the prosperity of the transitional period of the T'ang Dynasty with the Five Dynasties as its aftermath. In other words, The Han Dynasty had the Ch'in Dynasty as its prelude and the Three Kingdoms as its finale while the T'ang Dynasty had the Sui Dynasty as its prelude and the Five Dynasties as its finale. Both the Han and the T'ang served as the foundation of these two epic periods.

In the 581 A.D., the year K'ai-huang 1, Yang Chien, the Sui ruler Wen-ti, seized power from the Chou but it was not until the year K'ai-huang 9 (589 A.D.) when he eliminated Ch'en that China was unified so with the fall of the Latter Chou of the Five Dynasties (959 A.D.) it is 370 years, from the late 6th Century to the mid 10th Century which is approximately three and a half centuries. Within these three and a half centuries the T'ang Dynasty occupies two-hundred and eighty-nine years (618 to 907) or close to three centuries. The Sui Dynasty only had two rulers and lasted 37 years before it fell while the Five Dynasties saw 13 rulers and lasted some 53 years or only about half a century so that the initial and final segments were very short indeed.

Sui Wen-ti, Yang Chien, was the son of Yang Chung, a famous general, Pillar of the State and Minister (T'ai Ssu-k'ung) of the Northern Chou, whose ancestors had served as officials of the Northern Dynasties, in addition whose daughter was the empress of Chou Hsüan-ti, who, relying on this family background at the time the young ruler Ching-ti assumed the throne was ennobled as a Pillar of the State, enfeoffed as King of Sui and in complete control of the government, effortlessly replaced the political authority of the Yü-wen Chou. At the time he overthrew the Chou he was almost forty, almost fifty when Ch'en was eliminated, and so he was a man with calm and experience, who knew the ways of the world. As we have written previously, the social customs of the Northern Dynasties were simple and sincere compared to that of the Southern Dynasties, and also the government of the Northern Dynasties was more stern than that of the Southern Dynasties. Sui Wen-ti, Yang Chien, used the Northern Dynasties to unite with the Southern Dynasties, thus making strenuous efforts to stem the degeneracy and strengthen the system of laws. He ruled for twenty-four years and during these twenty-four years he engaged in internal construction projects, engaged the Turks, and expanded the borders of the state to increase its power with each passing day, a period known in history as the K'ai-huang Administration (開皇之治 Ka'i-huang chih chih). China passed through the three hundred years of chaos and division that marked the Two Chin, Southern and Northern Dynasties period to restore unity, bringing unity from division, order from chaos to arrive at the K'ai-huang administration of the Sui which seemed like the light of a new day to the Chinese people.

During the last years of Sui Wen-ti's life, all of his sons engaged in a behind the scene struggle for power until finally the eldest son, Yang Yung was deposed and the second son, Yang Kuang, became the Imperial heir. When Yang Chien died, he was succeeded by Yang Kuang who became the ruler Sui Yang-ti. Yang-ti loved to brag and show off, accustomed to a life of arrogance, luxury, pleasures of the flesh, and idleness, as well as all sorts of grandiose acts in complete opposition to his father's simple and austere style. Sui Yang-ti