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Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty

His Life, Times, and Legacy

Victor Cunrui Xiong

Publication Year: 2006

Looking at the life and legacy of Emperor Yang (569–618) of the brief Sui dynasty in a new light, this book presents a compelling case for his importance to Chinese history. Author Victor Cunrui Xiong utilizes traditional scholarship and secondary literature from China, Japan, and the West to go beyond the common perception of Emperor Yang as merely a profligate tyrant. Xiong accepts neither the traditional verdict against Emperor Yang nor the apologist effort to revise it, and instead offers a reassessment of Emperor Yang by exploring the larger political, economic, military, religious, and diplomatic contexts of Sui society. This reconstruction of the life of Emperor Yang reveals an astute visionary with literary, administrative, and reformist accomplishments. While a series of strategic blunders resulting from the darker side of his personality led to the collapse of the socioeconomic order and to his own death, the Sui legacy that Emperor Yang left behind lived on to provide the foundation for the rise of the Tang dynasty, the pinnacle of medieval Chinese civilization.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

Weights and Measures

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pp. ix-xii

Dynastic Powers in the Han-Tang Period

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

First and foremost, I owe an intellectual debt to scholars of Sui studies. Especially worth mention are Yamazaki Hiroshi and Arthur Wright. Yamazaki’s work on Sui Buddhism and bureaucracy has laid a solid groundwork for the study of Sui religion and officialdom. Wright’s seminal article on Yangdi’s personality inspired me to explore the story of Yangdi and his reign....

Part 1. From Prince to Sovereign

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pp. 3-8

When Emperor Yang, commonly known in the sources as Yangdi, ascended the throne of the Sui in 604, he held dominion over a vast, populous, and prosperous Chinese empire. The Sui dynasty (581–618), in which Yangdi grew up and spent his entire adult life, was a dynamic, transitional period, and one of pivotal importance. Since scholars past and present have often treated it as a prelude to its successor dynasty, the...

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1. The Making of a Crown Prince

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pp. 9-28

Yangdi, né Yang Guang, was born in 569 into a powerful aristocratic clanof North China.1 The sources trace its origin to Yang Zhen , a most illus-Shaanxi). But information on the ancestors after Zhen is murky until the times of Yangdi’s grandfather, Yang Zhong , who, according to some accounts in the standard histories, once made his home in Wuchuan Garrison...

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2. Yangdi and His Reign

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pp. 29-50

As the Renshou period approached its end, Yangdi came closer to making his dream of ascending the throne a reality. However, being the officially appointed successor was no guarantee of succession. Wendi could revoke his heir apparent status at a moment’s notice. Fortunately for Yangdi, as Wendigrew older his trust in the crown prince deepened. Increasingly intolerant of...

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3. The Collapse of the Sui

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pp. 51-72

The Sui empire reached the pinnacle of its power in 609 when its population peaked. Thereafter as signs of social and economic stress became increasingly manifest, the empire began to unravel. The agents of change that eventually brought it down were the multitude of rebellions that sprang up towards the end of the dynasty against a background of economic decline and population...

Part 2. Yangdi and His Empire

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4. Luoyang and the Grand Canal

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pp. 75-94

This chapter marks a shift in approach and focus from chronological narration to thematic examination of the socioeconomic, political, religious, and international dimensions of Sui China as shaped by Yangdi. We begin with astudy of two monumental construction projects—the Eastern Capital Luoyangand the Grand Canal. As the most costly projects Yangdi had ever undertaken,...

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5. The Palace Network

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pp. 95-106

Despite the judgmental, moralistic undertone of these words from the comment section of Yangdi’s basic annals in the Sui shu, they highlight one important characteristic of Yangdi—his penchant for glory and extravagance. While it is true that Luoyang, the Grand Canal, and, to a lesser extent, palaces at Jinyang, Yulin and Linshuo stood as testimony to his strategic vision, the same could not be said about most of his numerous smaller projects...

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6. The Bureaucracy

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pp. 107-122

The Sui administrative system created by Wendi was a milestone in the political history of premodern China. In contrast to the cumbersome bureaucratic models of the Southern and Northern Dynasties, Wendi’s was a more efficient, better delineated, synthetic system that survived the Sui itself to become the foundation of the Tang bureaucratic structure. Clearly, it is within the...

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7. The Educational, Ritual, andLegal Institutions

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pp. 123-143

As discussed in chapter 6, both Wendi and Yangdi were instrumental in continuously revamping the Sui bureaucratic system. Outside the realm of bureaucracy, they also made significant contributions to the transformation of other institutions. Scholars have long recognized the importance of Wendi inpushing institutional reforms,1 but they have paid scant attention to the role...

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8. Religions

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pp. 144-172

In Sui times, Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, collectively known as theThree Teachings (sanjiao ), were regarded as three competitive yet complementary systems of thought. The Sui scholar Li Shiqian expressed the prevailing sentiment about them when he declared, “Buddhism is the sun, Daoism the moon, and Confucianism the five planets.”1 By comparing the...

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9. Economic Order

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pp. 1173-196

A complex economic system was developed under Wendi to store and transport grain reserves, distribute land resources, collect taxes, levy corvée duty, and monitor the population. It worked relatively well throughout the first reign. The treasury coffer was full when Yangdi took over. Although Yangdi essentially did not overhaul his father’s economic system, the economy dete-...

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10.Foreign Policy

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pp. 197-220

By the time Wendi usurped power and founded his Sui dynasty, his Northern Zhou predecessor Wudi (Yuwen Yong , r. 560–578) had set in motion the trend of unification. It was Wudi who conquered the Northern Qiin 577, thus bringing North China once again under the control of one government for the first time since 534. Wendi determined to follow that trend by striking beyond the North. Not long after accession in 581, he embarked...

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pp. 221-234

The reign of Yangdi was epitomized by the pursuit of grandeur as is evidencedby a series of overambitious enterprises, from the building of the most luxurious city to the undertaking of the greatest inland waterway project, to the launching of the largest military operation in known history. It is precisely this quest for grandeur and its apparent corollary, the loss of empire, that have...

Appendix 1. Central Government Appointments

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pp. 235-248

Appendix 2. Maoyue (Visual Inspection)

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pp. 249-252

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Chronology of Sui Yangdi (569–618)

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pp. 253-262

569 Born as Yang Guang. 580 11 Enfeoffed as commandery duke of Yanmen. 580 11 Posted to Bingzhou near Taiyuan, Shanxi. 581 12 Second month: Sui founded. Yang Yong appointed crown prince. Yangdi enfeoffed as prince of Jin; appointed commander of Bingzhou Area Command...


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pp. 263-306


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pp. 307-326


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pp. 327-358

E-ISBN-13: 9780791482681
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791465875
Print-ISBN-10: 079146587X

Page Count: 372
Illustrations: 16 maps, 16 tables, 1 figure
Publication Year: 2006