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What is Sui Dynasty?

Licia Morrow
Licia Morrow

The Sui Dynasty in China only lasted for 38 years, from 581 CE to 618 CE. Only three emperors reigned during this time, with great tyranny practiced by the second ruler, Emperor Yang Guang. Many achievements were made during this time including unification, economic prosperity, and the stabilization of society.

The country of China was divided at the end of the Northern and Southern dynasties, and in 581 Yang Jian overtook the government and established himself as Emperor Wen. He established the Sui Dynasty with Chang’an, present-day Xi’an, as the capital city. By 589, all remaining entities of the Southern Dynasties had been destroyed, thus unifying the entire nation.

A map of China.
A map of China.

Because the entire nation was unified, political and economic advancements flourished. Vast agricultural land was obtained, which promoted a greater production of crops, and shipbuilding technology was vastly improved. In addition, taxes and farmland were reorganized in order to increase economic prosperity.

Politics during the Sui Dynasty also saw severe changes. The Three Departments and Six Ministries system was established, which increased the power of the ruling class and organized the division of labor. Before the Sui, China chose talented members of the bureaucracy through hierarchy. During the Sui period, this structure was set aside in favor of studying and test taking requirements for official positions.

Though its reign was short-lived, the Sui Dynasty encouraged waterborne trade within China.
Though its reign was short-lived, the Sui Dynasty encouraged waterborne trade within China.

One of the major achievements of the Sui Dynasty was the building of the Grand Canal, which is still the longest canal in the world. Emperor Yang ordered that this canal be created running from north to south, centered at Luoyang, a very prosperous city at the time. This canal became the new method for transport in China and increased trade, which thereby helped the economy to expand.

The decline of the Sui Dynasty began upon the usurping of the throne by the second ruler, Emperor Yang Guang. He ran a court of forced labor and heavy military service. He sent his troops to war with Gaoli, present-day Korea, which weakened the country by removing farmers from their farms. With no farmers to produce crops, famine was widespread during this period.

Because of the widespread misery caused by this situation, rebels began forming into powerful units. One of the main forces was the Wagang Army, led by Zhai Rang and Li Mi. This army took over the court’s granary and provided food to peasants.

As a result of rebelling factions, the court of the Sui became weak. When the final emperor was strangled by a member of his own court, the dynasty fell apart. The Sui Dynasty was followed by the Tang Dynasty, which went on to be one of the most glorious periods in Chinese history.

Discussion Comments



Nevertheless, the Chinese came to have a strong influence in the peninsula, siding with and helping warring Korean dynasties in a large power play. Through inciting Koreans against Koreans, China has had a puppet-like control over Korea for many periods of history. Today, it is their ally North Korea which is stirring up global trouble and repeatedly threatening the American-backed South.


The mistake of the Sui dynasty was overextending itself into the peninsula of Korea. Unlike other areas, Korea was protected by a solid mountain range and there was the difficulty of Manchu barbarians in the north. This would have made an expedition into Korea difficult if not done by sea. The Goryo dynasty had a strong navy, and the attempt to move into Korea was a destructive risk.


The capital of the Sui Dynasty, Xian, was the eastern end of the Silk Road. Many artifacts were traded from the West via this trade network, and geneticists are even finding cultural and ancestral links between nations along the silk road, including Italians and Japanese. The Sui Dynasty served as a strong "central" controller of trade in Asia. Subsequent empires would face an increasingly hostile threats from barbarian hordes.


Gaoli was the Chinese name for Goryo, which is the Korean word for the dynasty of that time. It is also the source of our word "Korea." The Koreans themselves call their nation "Hanguk," which is a derivative of a separate empire in southern Korea.

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    • A map of China.
      By: pavalena
      A map of China.
    • Though its reign was short-lived, the Sui Dynasty encouraged waterborne trade within China.
      By: chungking
      Though its reign was short-lived, the Sui Dynasty encouraged waterborne trade within China.