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Sui Dynasty — Transient Empire with Inaugurator of Prosperity

Restored Main Building Complex of the Ziwei Palace

Restored Main Building Complex of the Ziwei Palace Constructed in the Sui, Photo from Official site of Luoyang.

Sui Dynasty

What Is Sui Dynasty?


Sui Dynasty (581 — 618) was a short-lived but important dynasty, which ended the chaotic and separate Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 — 589) and set an advanced political structure that influenced the next millennium of the ancient history of China.


Two emperors ruled the empire in the 37 years of Sui's reign.

Unearthed Blue Glass Bottle of the Sui Dynasty

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


Facts About the Sui Dynasty


  • Two emperors ruled the Sui Empire.


  • The first emperor Yang Jian was one of the most extraordinary sovereigns, and the second, Yang Guang, was one of the most controversial ones in the history of China.  


  • The second emperor Yang Guang established many massive projects, such as building the big city Luoyang and the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, while initiating many large-scale wars. 


Emperor Yang Guang was an excellent poet too. 

13-Block Golden Jade Belt (Die Xie Jin Yu Dai) Unearthed From Mausoleum of Yang Guang, the Highest Format of Jade Belt for Emperor

13-Block Golden Jade Belt (Die Xie Jin Yu Dai) Unearthed From Mausoleum of Yang Guang, the Highest Format of Jade Belt for Emperor — Yangzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • The Imperial Examination System was invented to select some civil services in the Sui Empire, which allowed talented people to get involved in politics. Ability triumphed over family origin again.  


But this system also weakened strong clans that had obtained power in the Three Kingdoms, Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties (220 — 589).


  • Many big granaries were established in major cities to adjust food prices 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 Empire


Brief History of the Rise and Fall of the Sui Dynasty


Establishment of Sui by Emperor Yang Jian and Queen Dugu

An eight-year-old king ascended to the throne of an extensive kingdom named the Northern Zhou Dynasty. One year later, his powerful regent Yang Jian forced this young king to abdicate the throne and renamed the new kingdom, Sui. 


In the next eight years, the Sui Empire defeated the Turkic Khaganate in the north and the Kingdom Chen in southern China.


Finally, in the year 589, with Sui's unifying China, the chaotic, separate Three Kingdoms, Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties (220 — 589), came to an end.


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

Unearthed Artifacts from Mausoleum of Great Granddaughter of Emperor Yang Jian — National Museum of China (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Innovations and Large-Scale Constructions of Emperor Yang of Sui


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 intelligent parents.

Through years of conspiracies, Yang Guang was nominated as the legit heir, 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 destruction.

He migrated Sui's capital city from Daxing to Luoyang. He implemented many other grand construction projects, including the 2700 km long Great Canal, large-scale royal roads, and the lengthening of the Great Wall.

In the meantime, many big wars and some aggressive reforms were initiated.

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)

Ending of the Short-Lived Empire


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 618, this controversial emperor was assassinated in chaos and poorly buried, and his empire was officially ended. 


One of the many uprising armies was led by Emperor Yang Guang’s cousin Li Yuan from northern China. 


This army defeated other forces and established a new, unified empire, the Tang Dynasty.

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

Ink Stone Unearthed from Mausoleum of Emperor Yang of Sui — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Three Provinces and Six Ministries

Political Structure and Social Systems of the Sui Dynasty




There was over 50 million population during the prime times of the Sui Empire.


Political System: Three Departments and Six Ministries 


Three Departments were independent of each other, and all would report to the Sui emperors: 


  • 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 are 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

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

 Official Selection System


Imperial Examination allows talented men to be selected as civil services and enter the ruling class based on their talents instead of class origin. 

Unearthed Gilding Handle of the Sui Dynasty — Shaanxi Archeology Institute

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



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


Military Service

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


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


Land System


People were given specific amounts of farmland based on their social status when they turned 18.


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

Unearthed Glasswares of Sui (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Unearthed Silver Lotus Glass Bottle of the Sui Dynasty

Silver Lotus Glass Bottle  — Dingzhou Museum 

Unearthed Green Glass Bottle of the Sui Dynasty

Green Glass Bottle — Shaanxi History Museum


Scientific Achievements and Artifacts of the Sui Dynasty

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

  • Inventing 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 Constructed in Sui

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