The Sui dynasty (581-618 AD) is one of the shortest Chinese dynasty in history which is historically significant because it unified China after the collapse of the Eastern Han dynasty(Dien,2007). This dynasty was founded by Yang Jian, a powerful military aristocrat at the Northern Zhou Court. Politically, the Sui period came with changes that unified China. The Sui rulers removed the three-tier system of local government they found in favor of a two-tier system which shifted the balance of power from the local administration to the Empire capital.
The Sui era is also historically important because it is the period that Buddhism became a central feature of Chinese culture(Dien,2007). Sui rulers saw Buddhism as a tool to unify the Chinese people. Consequently, Sui rulers removed the prohibition they found on Buddhism. What was the establishment of a network of temples in the capital and the rest of the empire. The economic changes which came with the Sui Dynasty were positive. The Sui government established a coin standard to control the economy.
The Sui used economic prosperity to fund large massive-scale public construction projects(Dien,2007). For example, Sui emperors commanded that canals which linked the capital in the northwest with the grain-producing areas of the south. The intention was for grain to be stored in massive granaries in the capital. Through these canals, food and commodities from the lower Yangzi region were transported up to north China. Sui rulers also initiated the construction of great walls to protect the northern frontier region. The collapse of the Sui Dynasty was the consequence of these large scale public infrastructure projects as well as military conquests in south Manchuria(Dien, 2007). Both endeavors were unpopular because they relied on forced conscription and labor. They led to civilian uprisings which created political instability that allowed the military general to end the Sui Dynasty.
The Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty replaced the rule of the Sui Emperor (Dien, 2007). Historians view this period in Chinese history as the most important in the growth of Chinese culture(Olaniyi,2014; Dien 2007). The Tang capital of Chang-an became a hub for transnational trade, there were cultural exchanges between the Chinese with Christians, Jews, and Muslim traders. For example, in 636 AD, Christians were granted permission to build a church and openly practice their faith in Chang-an. The wealth acquired from transnational trade increased the Tang Dynasty's military power which gave them expansionist visions about China's place in Asia (Olaniyi, 2014; Dien 2007; Twitchett 1979). The Tang era was socio-politically important because women rose to spotlight through political power. For example, Empress Wu (625-705 AD) was first a consort before she became a top political operative and finally a Tang ruler.
The decline of the Tang Dynasty (618-755 AD) resulted from the problems in tax collection, strict criminal laws that were unpopular because of the severity of punishment, and inter -state conflicts. The Tang Empire emergence as an expansionist military power brought it in conflict with its neighbors. The dynasty battled with the Mongols in Manchuria, Turks, and the Tibetans to the south(Olaniyi, 2014; Dien 2007; Twitchett 1979). These military campaigns failed and the Empire's borders were pushed back to their original positions. A civil war in south China broke out leading to the breakdown of law and order. The political instability, wars with neighbors, and frequent popular uprisings because of the law reforms the Tang Dynasty introduced led to the cessation of some parts of Tang China that were under the control of warlords.
During the reign of the Song Dynasty(907-1279, AD), China underwent a "commercial revolution"(Dien 2007). Previous empires had policies which created the problem of millions of poor farmers. This is because the land was distributed in an unfair way and for those who got access to arable land for farming purposes, they were unfairly taxed(Dien 2007). These policies created a class of serfs who were tied to the land but could not lift themselves out of poverty. This is why popular rebellions under the Sui and Tang Dynasties were spearheaded by these peasant farmers. The founders of the Song Dynasty wisely allowed these peasant farmers to have the right to buy and sell land in order to pacify them. Under Song rulers, therefore, farmers had the freedom to sell their land and use the money as capital to open up a business or move to the city. Furthermore, the more successful farmers could expand the size of their farms through purchase.
Song rulers also abandoned the collection of grain from farmers as the way to tax them in favor of money taxes(Dien,2007; Dreschler 2013). This had a positive impact on social mobility in ancient Chinese society because, unlike in the past where a child born into a farming family had to become a farmer to pay taxes, under Song rulers, the money tax released people from these backgrounds to pursue other professions. Finally, the Song eliminated forced labor for farmers who now had more time to spend working on their fields, rather than for the Emperor. These Song reforms generated massive increases in agricultural production; which increased the wealth of the individual farmers and the Song Empire.
Chinese city populations dramatically increased under the Song Emperors (Dien,2007). This is because, in Song China, the agricultural reforms ended serfdom allowing more Chinese to have the choice of moving to cities. The huge population of Chinese in urban centers created a big demand for goods and services which in turn pushed Song rulers to look for new foreign trade routes. For example, the Song ruler sent a trade expedition that reached as far the East African Coast. The fall of the Song Dynasty was because of successful invasion by the Mongols who replaced it with the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 AD).
Sui Emperors built the foundations for Chinese identity and unity. The Sui rulers opened up China to cultural exchanges through transnational trade. The Sui also created the two-tier government structure that the Tong and Song Emperors followed. The Tang Emperors made significant contributions to the cultural growth of China and the expanded role of women in public life. The Song Dynasty abolished serfdom and grew Ancient China's trade links.
Dien, A(2007). Six Dynasties Civilization. New Haven (CT): Yale University Press.
Drechsler, W. (2013). Wang Anshi and the origins of modern public management in Song Dynasty China. Public Money & Management.Vol 33(5), pp 353-360.
Olaniyi, BA (2014). Decline and Overview of the Tang Dynasty. IJSR Vol 3(3),pp 477-478.
Twitchett, D(1979). The Cambridge History of China, Volume 3, Sui and Tang China: 589-906 A.D., Part I. New York (NY): Cambridge University Press.
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