Sui Dynasty

The Sui Dynasty was the sixth major dynasty of Ancient China and came to power following the Period of Disunion, which saw China controlled by dozens of different families and warlords for centuries.

The Sui Dynasty was a brief dynasty (37 years long) with only two reigning emperors but is considered a major dynasty despite that because it managed to unify China following the end of the Northern and Southern Dynasties period.

Sui Dynasty Divisions

During the Sui Dynasty, changes to the law, civil service, and the way land was distributed helped to restore the power of the emperor’s throne.

However, the regime was also famous for its cruelty, wasting money, and military failures, all of which combined to bring an end to the dynasty after just a few years in power.

The Period of Disunion came to an official end in 581 AD when a commander named Yang Jian seized control of the government with his soldiers and unified the north.

Yang spent a few years strengthening his base of power in the north, ensuring that there was nobody left to challenge him as king, and then targeted the south in 588 AD.

By 589 AD, the south had fallen, and Yang united China as a single state once more for the first time since the beginning of the Period of Disunion.

The Sui Dynasty had only two emperors – Yang Jian, who became known as Emperor Wendi, was the first.

He reigned from 581-601 AD. The second emperor was his son Yangdi, who reigned from 604-618 AD.

Sui Dynasty Pilgrim Flask

Over their 34 years in power, the two emperors greatly strengthened their hold on China and consolidated their control over both the north and south.

Together, they improved the administration system of Ancient China – meaning that they fixed all the problems in the way the government was run.

They established a single and less complex law code, the first major change to the legal system since the establishment of legalism under the Qin Dynasty.

The Sui Dynasty was known for wasting a huge amount of money, however, particularly that which was collected for tax purposes.

The Sui Dynasty spent a lot of money on the construction of their own palaces, and in public building projects in the major cities of China, particularly the capital, Chang’an. One of the most expensive projects was the construction of the Grand Canal across China.

Though the groundwork for the Grand Canal was laid by a previous dynasty, it was only completed under the Sui Dynasty.

The canals would prove to be vitally important for trade and military purposes under future dynasties but did not serve the Sui much during their time in power.

As such, it can be said that the spending of this money was a mistake by those in power during the Sui Dynasty, though it had positive effects in the future.

The Sui Dynasty was also known for making poor military decisions. Their main errors came from being overly ambitious – the Sui did not want to just defend China’s borders, they wanted to expand it by conquering neighboring territories.

Sui expeditions did well in terms of fighting, but great numbers of Chinese soldiers succumbed to tropical diseases like malaria, which they’d never encountered before.

Another disastrous invasion attempt was made on the “Goguryeo” kingdom of Korea. The Sui attempted to invade Goguryeo three times.

Their first attempted invasion was in 598 AD, which failed because the soldiers ran out of supplies and had to return home.

The second was in 611 AD, this time an invasion by sea, but the boats were destroyed in a storm.

The third and final attempt was in 612 AD, this time with Emperor Yangdi leading the forces in person.

This invasion culminated in the Battle of Salsu River, which ended in a victory for Goguryeo. Of 300,000 Sui soldiers, only 2,700 returned to China.

This defeat, and the struggles endured by the peasantry in this time of war led to widespread rebellion in 613 AD.

The rebellions lasted until 617 AD when Emperor Yangdi was assassinated, and the government was taken over by one Li Yuan, later founder of the Tang Dynasty.


Facts about the Sui Dynasty:

  • The Sui Dynasty was the sixth major dynasty of Ancient China.
  • The Sui Dynasty only lasted 37 years, from 581-618 AD.
  • There were only two emperors in the Sui Dynasty; Emperor Wendi and his son, Emperor Yangdi.
  • The Sui had a widespread impact on Chinese society. They reformed the government, updated land laws, and unified the country for the first time in centuries.
  • The Sui Dynasty was known for wasting a huge amount of money – for example, on the construction of their own palaces, and on public works projects which were not useful enough to be worth it.
  • The Sui Dynasty also suffered from poor military leadership. For example, the Sui armies suffered three catastrophic losses in the kingdom of Goguryeo (Korea) at the beginning of the seventh century AD.
  • The third loss to Goguryeo contributed greatly to the collapse of the Sui Dynasty.
  • The Sui Dynasty officially came to an end in 618 AD, when the founder of the Tang Dynasty (Li Yuan) overthrew Emperor Yangdi.
  • Though the Sui Dynasty was very short-lived, it paved the way for the following dynasty’s success and was very important to the structure of Chinese society as a whole.


  • How long did the Sui Dynasty last?
    – 37 years.
  • How many emperors reigned during the Sui Dynasty?
    – Two. Emperor Wendi and his son, Emperor Yangdi.
  • Why were the government known for wasting money in the time of the Sui Dynasty?
    – Built expensive palaces and paid for public works that did not prove useful enough to be worth the cost.
  • What was the name of the kingdom that the Sui armies lost against three times?
    – Goguryeo, later called Korea.
  • What was the name of the man who overthrew Emperor Yangi, and who later founded the Tang Dynasty?
    – Li Yuan.