Sui Dynasty (581 — 618) — Transient Age and the Inaugurator of Prosperity

2 Emperors —  37 Years

Restoration Map of Palace of the Sui Dynasty

Restoration Map of Palace of the Sui Dynasty

Facts about the Sui Dynasty


1 Sui Dynasty is extremely short and prosperous, which set advanced political and economic foundations for dynasties in the next millennium in Chinese history.


2 There were only two emperors in the Sui Dynasty. The first emperor Yang Jian was one of the most extraordinary sovereigns, the second was one of the most controversial ones in the history of China.  


3 The second emperor Yang Guang established many huge projects, such as the building of the big city Luo Yang and the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, while having initiated many large-scale wars. 


4 Emperor Yang Guang was an excellent poet too. 

Unearthed Blue Glass Bottle of the Sui Dynasty — Dingzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

5 The Imperial Examination System was invented in the Sui Dynasty, which allowed talented people to get involved in politics. Ability triumphed family origin again.  


  But this system also damaged those strong clans who had obtained power for the past hundreds of years (the Three Kingdoms, Jin, North & South Dynasties).


6 Many big granaries were established in big cities, to adjust the prices of food and deal with famine. This then became an important system that all dynasties implemented. 

Unearthed Granaries of the Sui Dynasty

Unearthed Granaries of the Sui Dynasty

Brief History of the Sui Dynasty


Establishment of Sui Dynasty by Emperor Yang Jian and Queen Dugu

An eight-year-old king ascended to the throne of a big kingdom in the north. His powerful regent named Yang Jian, one year later, forced this young king to abdicate the throne and renamed the kingdom as Sui. 


In the next 8 years, the new Sui Empire defeated the Turkic Khaganate in the north, and the Kingdom Chen in the south.


Finally, in the year 589, the whole of the nation was unified; nearly 300 years of separations and wars in the history of China were officially ended. 


Yang Jian, also honored as Emperor Wen of Sui, together with his beloved Queen Dugu, implemented a series of innovative, advanced political and economic systems that brought their people wealth and peace. 

Unearthed Gilding Handle of the Sui Dynasty — Shaanxi Archeology Institute

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

Emperor Yang of Sui, His Innovations and Large Scale Constructions


Yang Guang was the second son of Emperor Yang Jian and Queen Dugu. He drew the most powerful officials to his side and deceived his smart parents.


Through years of conspiracies, Yang Guang was nominated as the legit heir of the Sui Dynasty, while his big brother, the former crown prince, was dethroned and then forced to suicide. 


After Yang Guang, one of the most controversial monarchs in the history of China ascended to the throne, he started his radical governance and became the sovereign with outstanding achievements and destructions


Many big construction projects were implemented, including the 2700 km long Grand Canal, big city Luoyang, large scale royal road, and lengthening of the Great Wall. In the meantime, many big wars were initiated, as well as some reforms. 

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 the Sui Dynasty — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Falling of the Sui Dynasty


Consequently, Emperor Yang Guang’s excessive consumption of resources and radical reforms resulted in many uprisings and rebellions nationwide, though some of his ideologies were quite advanced. 


In the year 618, this controversial emperor was assassinated in chaos and poorly buried, and the Sui Dynasty was officially ended. 


Among the large numbers of uprising armies, one of them was led by Emperor Yang Guang’s cousin Li Yuan. 


This army then defeated others and established a new empire, the Tang Dynasty.

Canal and Fabulous City of the Sui Dynasty

Prosperous City Alongside the Grand Canal of the Sui Dynasty

Systems of the Sui Dynasty




Over 50 million 


Political System:


Three Departments & Six Ministries 


Three Departments were independent of each other and all report to the emperor: 


  • Department of Imperial Secretariats: Draft and Publish Decrees


  • Department of Chancellors: Review of Decrees by Imperial Censors


  • Department of Imperial Affairs: Supreme State Administration that Executive Decrees

Subordinate to the Department of Imperial Affairs is the Six Ministries:


  • Ministry of Personnel: Appointment, Assessment, and Removal of Officers 

  • Ministry of Revenue: Household Registration, Finance, and Tax

  • Ministry of Rites: Ceremony and Education

  • Ministry of National Defense: Military Affairs 

  • Ministry of Justice: Law, Judiciary and Punishment

  • Ministry of Constructions: Design and Implementation of National Constructions

Unearthed Copper Mirror of the Sui Dynasty

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

 Official Selection System: 


Imperial Examination, which allows talented men to enter the ruling class based on their talents, instead of class origin. 

Imperial Examination of the Sui Dynasty

Imperial Examination of the Sui Dynasty



Peasants who got farmlands from the nation should pay certain amounts of products as taxes; men from 21 to 50 should do labor service 20 days each year. 


Military Service: 

Soldiers and their families were given farmland too. They didn't need to pay any type of taxes, but they should provide weapons and food for themselves. 


They cultivated their land when they were free, and fought on the battlefield when there’s war. During peace periods, they still needed to perform a month's military service each year. 


Land System:


People were given certain amounts of farmlands, based on their social status when they turned 18 years old.


They could cultivate the land while paying a certain amount of taxes and labor services. Then they should give the lands back after they were 58 years old. 

Unearthed Glasswares of the Sui Dynasty (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Silver Lotus Glass Bottle  — Dingzhou Museum 

Green Glass Bottle — Shaanxi History Museum

Scientific Development


  • Construction of the Grand Canal, the most ancient and longest artificial canal in the world. It improved the capacity of transportation and better connected the north and south of China.

  • Appearing of integral block printing.


  • The earliest case of diabetes and related symptoms was described and documented.

  • Construction of the earliest stone arch bridge in the world, the Zhao Zhou Qiao.

Zhao Zhou Qiao of the Sui Dynasty, the Earliest Stone Arch Bridge in the World

Zhao Zhou Qiao of the Sui Dynasty