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Emperor Wen of Sui — Inaugurator of A Unified and Prosperous Dynasty 

Yang Jian (541 — 604), also respected as Emperor Wen of Sui, was the founder of the Sui Dynasty.

He ended the centuries of separation and chaos, established a unified empire that brought people stable and wealthy lives, innovated advanced systems that set the political foundation for the next millennium of Chinese history and promoted national amalgamation.

Hence, despite the intense way he snatched the throne, and a love affair in his late years, Yang Jian always was considered one of the most extraordinary emperors in the history of China. 

Portrait of Emperor Wen of Sui, by Artist Yan Liben (601 — 673)

Portrait of Emperor Wen of Sui, by Artist Yan Liben (601 — 673) — Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Dormancy Era and Severe Political Struggles of Yang Jian 

Yang Jian married Dugu Jialuo (or Qieluo), the love of his life when he was a teenager.


At that time, his wife's father failed in a political struggle and was forced to commit suicide, leading Yang Jian and Dugu to face numerous life-and-death crises together.

Luckily, Yang Jian’s father kept winning in wars, and his brothers married other noble girls from strong clans.


Their increasing power protected Yang Jian and his love Dugu in the next few years and facilitated the marriage of Yang’s first daughter Lihua to the current crown prince.

26 Facets Official Seal of Dugu Jialuo’s Father

26 Facets Official Seal of Dugu Jialuo’s Father — Shaanxi History Museum 

Later, the crown prince ascended to the throne, and Yang’s daughter became the queen.


Gradually, Yang Jian obtained more power and support because of his exceptional talent in both military and governance.

However, the new king, Yang Jian’s son-in-law, never trusted him and felt threatened by his intelligence and reputation.


So this king demoted Yang Jian to a remote city after having tried but failed to assassinate him. 

Soon, this king passed away very young, and his 6-year-old son ascended to the throne.

Yang Jian’s daughter Lihua was honored as the empress dowager; hence, Yang Jian was nominated as the regent to rule the kingdom.

Unearthed Artifacts from Mausoleum of Granddaughter of Lihua — National Museum of China

An Exceptional General and A Cruel Usurper 

However, in the next few months, many powerful lords attacked Yang Jian for disagreeing with him as the regent with paramount power. 

Encouraged by his wife, Dugu Jialuo, Yang Jian and his followers decisively defeated all of these opponents on the battlefield.


Then he tricked and assassinated six princes who were the legal heirs of the kingdom and again vanquished another talented marshal who wanted revenge for those princes.

Yang Jian's political enemies were eliminated less than a year later. 

Then, he forced the 8-year-old king to abdicate the throne and changed his empire's name to the Sui.

This former king and his two younger brothers were assassinated in the same year. 

Stone Lion Unearthed from the Ruins of Palace in City Luoyang of the Sui Dynasty

Stone Lion Unearthed from the Ruins of Palace in City Luoyang of Sui — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Establishment of the Sui Dynasty and the Wars of Unification 

Outside the Great Wall, however, the Turkic Khaganate sent over 500,000 soldiers to invade Yang Jian in the second year the Sui Dynasty was established, only because he refused to offer tributes. 

Then, Yang Jian sent his best generals to bravely fight against the Tujue while simultaneously attempting to sow discord among them.

Around a decade later, the Turkic Khaganate divided into two regimes; the western ones moved further away, and the other on the east complied with the Sui Empire and respected Yang Jian as their honorable monarch.

Unearthed Granaries of the Sui Dynasty

Unearthed Granaries of the Sui Empire

At the same time, Yang Jian commanded his second son Yang Guang to defeat the kingdoms in the south and unify the nation. 

Since then, the Sui Dynasty brought prosperity and unification to the nation after nearly 300 years of separation. 

Indeed, Yang Jian was a cruel usurper; however, he was widely considered a great emperor worth countless praises. 

Besides the contribution of having put hundreds of years of separation to an end, one of the most important reasons was the innovative policies and systems that he established.

Unearthed Gilding Handle of the Sui Dynasty — Shaanxi Archeology Institute

Gilding Handle of the Sui Dynasty — Shaanxi Archeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Exceptional Accomplishments of Emperor Wen of Sui 

The political system of Three Provinces and Six Ministries, which was applied for the next 1,500 years in the history of China, was established to consolidate the centralized power. 

Yang Jian also published a new law that included the abrogation of cruel corporal punishment and three independent trials regarding the death penalty. 

He changed the population registration system, which released tens of thousands of slaves. 

The newly liberated people, along with other civilians, were soon allocated farmland.

Emperor Wen of Sui, Yang Jian, then commanded the construction of Da Xing city, covering an area of 83 square kilometers, making it the largest city of its time.


Additionally, numerous granaries were built across the entire country.

​Reproduced Picture of Da Xing City of Sui Dynasty in History of China

​Reproduced Picture of Da Xing City of Sui Dynasty

Afterward, Emperor Wen of Sui tried to collect, preserve books, and promote Han culture nationwide. 

When he passed away, the population of the Sui Empire reached nearly 50 million, and food in all the granaries could support the whole nation for another 60 years.

In just 23 years of rule, Emperor Wen of Sui, Yang Jian, not only unified the nation and defeated the powerful Turkic Khaganate, but also laid a practical and solid administrative foundation for the subsequent millennium of Chinese history, bringing prosperity and stability to his people's lives.

Calligraphy Work of Yang Jian the Emperor Wen of Sui

Calligraphy Work of Yang Jian the Emperor Wen of Sui

Great Love with Queen Dugu and His Affair

Yang Jian's love story with his queen Dugu was famous and beautiful.


Besides being a remarkable emperor, Yang Jian was famous for being "hen-pecked".

They got married when they were teenagers and lived happily ever after.


From his early dormancy and unstable era to being a great emperor, Dugu accompanied him and played significant roles in his big decisions. 

In Yang Jian's later years, he one day encountered a beautiful girl serving in the royal palace, who happened to be the granddaughter of his former greatest adversary.


Later, he slept with this beautiful young woman once, only to be discovered by Queen Dugu shortly after.

Unearthed Copper Mirror of the Sui Dynasty

Copper Mirror of the Sui Dynasty — Shaoxing Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

After learning that Dugu had killed the girl because of the affair, Yang Jian felt a mix of anger and sadness.


He abruptly left the royal palace, questioning why, as a powerful emperor in a polygamous society, he couldn't be with a beautiful maid.

Later, he calmed down, returned, and made peace with his queen again. 

Not long after this affair, his queen Dugu passed away. 

As a very frugal emperor, Yang Jian commanded his talented prime minister to build a giant mausoleum, construct large memorial palaces, and hold a series of worship ceremonies for his beloved woman. 

Around one year after Queen Dugu’s departure, Emperor Wen of Sui got sick and passed away.


Before his death, he commanded his crown prince to bury him and Dugu together, hoping they could meet again in another world.

Unearthed Silver Lotus Glass Bottle of the Sui Dynasty

Silver Lotus Glass Bottle of the Sui Dynasty  — Dingzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Alteration of the Crown Prince and Its Profound Influences


Emperor Wen of Sui and Queen Dugu raised five boys and five girls together.


Their first son Yong was nominated as the crown prince, a talented young man who lived a luxurious life with many imperial concubines.  

However, their second son Guang only had one wife he loved, lived an unadorned life, and played an essential role in subduing the southern kingdom. 

Under the strong suggestion of Queen Dugu, the challenger of polygamy, Emperor Wen of Sui finally decided to abolish his first son and nominated the second as the new crown prince. 

This decision ultimately led to the downfall of the mighty Sui Empire. However, viewed from another perspective, it also set a particular course in Chinese history.

Unearthed Clay Warrior of Sui — Shaanxi History Museum

Unearthed Clay Warrior of Sui — Shaanxi History Museum

Their first son, Yong, represented the old powerful clans in the north, many of which originated from the former kingdom that Yang Jian once served.


Their second son, Guang, on the contrary, was the delegate of the new landlord class, especially those from the southern kingdom he conquered and managed for a long time. 

For various reasons, Emperor Wen of Sui and Queen Dugu chose their second son, favoring the expansion of the country and the emerging landlord class.

Coloured Glaze Chess Piece of Sui — Shaanxi History Museum

Coloured Glaze Chess Piece of Sui — Shaanxi History Museum 

Hence, the era of separation when powerful clans manipulated politics was about to end.

A new era where talent triumphs over family name would soon emerge, albeit at a considerable cost.

Even though Emperor Wen of Sui gained the throne illegally and deviously killed some decent ministers, he was still highly respected as one of the greatest emperors in China, not only because he used a prosperous empire to put centuries of separation and chaos to an end, but also started a trend, and set a political foundation for the next millennium of Chinese history. 

Ink Stone Unearthed from Mausoleum of Emperor Yang of Sui   — Capital Museum

Ink Stone Unearthed from Mausoleum of Yang Jian's Second Son Yang Guang — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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