China attacks Korea - Sui Dynasty China
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Sui Dynasty China

canal with barges and old houses on the shore
Grand Canal in China

December 2016 - In 581 AD, a general named Wendi from northwest China succeeded in conquering the other two kingdoms and establishing a new dynasty in China, with emperors who ruled all of China like the Ch'in and the Han. This was the Sui Dynasty. Wendi made himself popular by trying to make the government better than it was during the Three Kingdoms. Wendi ordered that poor people in the countryside should pay less taxes than they had before.

Wendi sent men around to all the provinces to count how many people there were and how much land and money each of them had (this is called a census) so that the government would know how much taxes that province should pay. Like other reformers, Wendi also wanted to redistribute the land. He ordered that every man should get a certain amount of land to farm. When the man turned 60 and was too old to farm, he would stop paying taxes and give back some of the land, and pass on the rest to his sons.

Wendi also decided to go back to the Han Dynasty way of picking his government officials through the university and the great examinations, to find out who were the smartest and best educated men (Women were not allowed to be government officials at this time).

canal with barges and distant old bridge
Another view of the Grand Canal

Wendi died while he was still not old. Maybe his son Yangdi killed him - Yangdi wanted to be the emperor himself. In any case Yangdi did become the next Sui emperor. Yangdi wanted to be a great emperor, so he began a lot of important projects. Yangdi's best project was one where people dug a Grand Canal which connected the Yellow River with the Huai and Yangtze Rivers and made it much easier to get from northern to southern China and back again.

But Yangdi's worst project was that he attacked Korea to try to take it over. He got together a great army of over a million men to invade Korea, but his great army was defeated and had to run away. The army generals were angry about this and killed Yangdi. That was the end of the Sui Dynasty.

Go on to the T'ang Dynasty (618-907 AD)
More about Sui Dynasty art
More about Sui Dynasty architecture

Bibliography and further reading about the Sui dynasty in China:

T'ang Dynasty (618-907 AD)
Sui Dynasty architecture
Ancient China
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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