Sui Dynasty

Sui Dynasty
Sui Dynasty

This short-lived dynasty (581–618) is enormously important in Chinese history because it restored unity to a country that had been divided since the fall of the Han dynasty in 220.

For 300 years before its creation China had moreover been divided between the Turkic tribal people called the Toba (T’o-pa) and Xianbi (Hsien-pi) who ruled the north and Chinese, many descended from refugees who had fled the nomadic invaders, who ruled the south.

As the short-lived Qin (Chin) dynasty (220–206 b.c.e.) that it has been compared to, the Sui heralded China’s second great imperial age under its successor, the Tang (T’ang) dynasty. The last of a succession of mostly short-lived states of northern China ruled by Turkic tribal people was called the Northern Zhou (Chou).

The second Northern Zhou ruler was married to the daughter of a powerful nobleman named Yang Jian (Yang Chien), the duke of Sui. When he died leaving a six-year-old son as successor, grandfather Yang became regent and soon seized power and founded a new dynasty named the Sui, in 581.

Sui Wendi

Yang Jian (r. 581–603) is known by his reign title Sui Wendi (Wen-ti), meaning “literary emperor of the Sui.” Of mixed Chinese and Turkic descent, he was a prudent, hardworking, and wise ruler and was assisted by his capable Turkic wife, Empress Wenxian (Wen-hsian).

He established his capital in Chang’an (Ch’ang-an), which had been capital city of the Han dynasty, symbolizing his goal of restoring its institutions and glories.

Sui Wendi
Sui Wendi

Between 587 and 589 he subdued southern China, reunifying the country. Though a devout Buddhist, he used Buddhism, Daoism (Taoism), and Confucianism to win support and to establish a common cultural base for the country.

Wendi curtailed the power of the great landed families by vesting in the central government the power to appoint all officials throughout the land and laid the foundations for personnel recruitment through a nationwide examination for which the successor Tang (T’ang) dynasty is usually given credit.

Wendi also began a nationwide land allocation system for farmers and a militia system in which all male farmers who had been given land were obliged to serve. These policies were also fully realized under the succeeding Tang dynasty.

Wendi waged inconclusive campaigns against the northern Turkic tribes and the newly formed state that occupied northern Korea and southern Manchuria called Koguryo. He also rebuilt sections of the Great Wall.

Wendi was frugal in private life and worked to improve the economy by rebuilding old canals to link Chang’an with the Yellow River and expanding the waterways to link up with the waterways of central China and the Yangzi (Yangtze) River.

His son and successor later expanded on the waterways, known as the Grand Canal, in the north to Luoyang (Loyang) with a branch to present day Beijing, and in the south to Hangzhou (Hangchou) on the coast, via Yangzhou (Yangchou) on the Yangzi River. Its total length was 1,250 miles, the longest canal system in the world and a huge engineering feat.

This grand project was completed by corvee labor and at great human cost, which generated popular discontent against the dynasty. Its completion was of immense importance because the system linked the rich and growing economy of the south to the heart of the empire in the north to support the needs of defending the empire. The Grand Canal also aided in the reintegration of the long divided empire.

Wendi and his empress had five sons. The second son, Yang Guang (Kuang), known to history as Yangdi (Yang-Ti), was born in 569. Talented and well educated, Yang Guang was married to a woman from the royal family of the former Liang dynasty of southern China and appointed viceroy of the newly pacified southern provinces in 589, where he remained for 10 years.

He ruled from Yangzhou, which flourished as the junction that connected the Yangzi River with prosperous Hangzhou on the coast. In a series of murky events that might have implicated Yang Guang, his elder brother the crown prince was demoted, he was elevated to that position, followed shortly by Wendi’s death.

Yangdi (Yang-Ti)

Sui Yangdi
Sui Yangdi

Yang Guang reigned as Yangdi (Emperor Yang) from 604 to 617. Historians have accused him of megalomania and extravagance that brought down the Sui dynasty. His grand vision led to the simultaneous launching of huge projects that include the building of a second capital in the east, at the site of the former Han capital of Luoyang that had been sacked by the Xiongnu (Hsiungnu) 300 years before.

He further expanded the Grand Canal begun by his father, building an eastern branch to modern Beijing. Yangdi also lived extravagantly and traveled extensively along the canals and rivers in a grand flotilla of pleasure boats and held elaborate entertainments in his lavish palaces. His downfall was however triggered by his ambitious foreign policy and disastrous wars.

In the south Wendi had restored Chinese power in present-day northern Vietnam, which had been annexed under the Han dynasty but had broken away from the control of the weak southern dynasties in the era of division.

dragon boat of sui dynasty
dragon boat of sui dynasty

Yangdi invaded the Champa kingdom in presentday central and southern Vietnam, which won acknowledgment of Sui overlordship by the local ruler after a costly campaign.

A naval expedition was sent in 610 to pacify islands in the East China Sea, generally assumed to be Taiwan, but formed no permanent settlements there. Chinese ships had sailed to Japan since the Han dynasty, where Chinese cultural influence, brought via Korea, had been growing.

The first Japanese embassy arrived in Yangdi’s court in 607 and addressed him as “the Bodhisattva Son of Heaven who gives the full weight of his support of Buddhist teachings.” It included Japanese Buddhist monks, who sought permission to study Buddhism in China.

Yangdi sent an emissary to Japan in 608 that brought back more information about that country. Thus opened a two-century-long era when 17 Japanese embassies, each with hundreds of students, arrived to study in China, with great significance for Japan’s development.

In the north Yangdi, too, had to deal with the Turks. To keep them in check he rebuilt and extended sections of the Great Wall. He also resorted to traditional stratagems such as keeping sons of the Turkish khans in the Sui capitals to ensure their fathers’ good behavior, conferring Sui princesses in marriages with the khans, trade and gifts (Chinese silks for Turkish horses), and Chinese titles for Turkish rulers.

His diplomats also fomented dissension among the Turkish tribes to prevent them from coalescing or forming coalitions against China. When necessary Chinese armies overawed and defeated hostile tribes. The Sui maintained dominance over the Turkic tribes and kept open trade routes between China and the west.

In the northeast in lands where the Han had established several commanderies, a state called Koguryo had formed early in the seventh century, with its capital at modern Pyongyang and that incorporated lands of modern northern Korea and Manchuria east of the Liao River.

sui soldiers
sui soldiers
Koguryo was militarily strong and could menace China, especially if it acted in concert with Tungustic tribal people farther north and Turkic people to the west. Wendi had attempted to subdue Koguryo, without success. In 612, 613, and 614 Yangdi launched three major campaigns against Koguryo with crippling losses of life and at huge economic costs.

The Korean campaigns and natural disasters added to the economic distress and widespread revolts broke out. Ultimately the Sui were defeated by the difficult terrain and the climate, which favored the defenders; the great distance of the campaign from the heartland of China (about a thousand miles); and the weak coordination between the Sui army and navy.

With the empire collapsing Yangdi left his capital for the south via the Grand Canal. Two years later he was murdered in his bath and the Sui dynasty ended.

Influence of the Sui Dynasty

Historians have judged Yangdi harshly for his personal debauchery and as a tyrant who brought down the dynasty his father founded.

However the debacle his policies brought and the civil war that ensued did not last long and China would enter its second imperial age under the successor Tang dynasty. The glories of the Tang dynasty have overshadowed the contributions of the Sui. They include:
  1. The sweeping away of the regional regimes and their institutions that had divided China in the preceding three centuries. It built new institutions that would ensure future political and cultural unity in a subcontinental sized nation that stretched from Beijing to Hanoi and from the East China Sea to the gates of Central Asia. At the height of Yangdi’s reign the Chinese empire governed about 50 million people.
  2. The modeling of a reunified China on the Han by reviving and expanding institutions such as the examination system based on the Confucian classics and the Han tradition of codified laws (the Sui code became the bases of the Tang and later codes).
  3. A land tenure and militia system that would be maintained by the Tang for a century and half, which was key to its success and was copied by Japan and has inspired later Chinese governments because they were just and equitable.

The Sui succeeded in reunifying China because of the wise policies of its founder but also because despite partition, the Chinese shared a common written language, common ideology and moral values in Confucianism, and by now a religion that was deeply embedded throughout the land: Buddhism.



The Sukhothai was an early kingdom in the area around the city of Sukhothai, in north central Thailand. It existed from 1238 to 1438.

Thailand was under the Funan and Srivijaya Kingdoms before the migration of Thai people because of pressure from the Mongols. They were compelled to leave Nan Chao in Yunan. The formative stage of Thailand’s history began with powerful monarchs operating from Sukhothai on the banks of the Mae Nam Yom River.

The kingdom of Sukhothai’s predominance was due to the fact that it had tremendous potential for agricultural production. It controlled water resources for the entire Menam Basin as it was situated at top of the main flood basin. A surplus of food made it possible to have a large army.

Sukhothai was one of the early kingdoms that emerged in Thailand and Laos integrating the traditional muang administration with the Indian mandala concept of a centralized state. It borrowed art forms and administrative structure from the Khmers. Mongol influence was evident in military units. Legal traditions came from the Mons.

In spite of influences from India, Sri Lanka, and neighboring regions, Sukhothai evolved its own cultural pattern, maintaining its identity. The legacy of Sukhothai was their language, script, and religion, which became an essential part of Thai culture.

The local Thai princes Pho Khun Bang Klang and Pho Khun Pha Muang revolted against Khmer rule, establishing independent regimes. Klang became the king of Sukhothai with title of Sri Indraditya (r. 1238– 70) and was succeeded by his son Pho Khun Ban Muang (r. 1270–77).

The regime expanded under the younger brother of Rama Khamheng (1239–1298), who ruled from 1277 until 1298. Rama Khamheng or Rama the Great was one of the greatest monarchs of Thailand and at the time of his death left a vast kingdom.

Sukhothai historical park

He adopted both diplomacy and warfare to expand Sukhothai’s domain. Their stability was assured by a friendship with China. Many important facets of Thai culture developed under his reign. The Mons, Khmers, Indians, and Sri Lankans had close cultural contact with Sukhothai.

The Sri Lankan variety of Buddhism (Theravada Buddhism, also known as Lankavong) became predominant in Thailand. In continuity with the indigenous tradition of worshipping spirits, Rama Khamheng continued to make offerings to Phra Khaphung, the spirit deity located on a hill south of Sukhothai, even after adopting Theravada Buddhism. Thus two religious traditions were merged.

Rama Khamheng was the originator of Thai script. The Thai alphabets invented by him are basically still in use, with modifications. The reign of Rama Khamheng, the warrior and benevolent monarch, is rightly called the golden period in Thai history.

After the death of Rama Khamheng, his son Lao Thai (r. 1298–1346) ascended the throne. The kingdom of Sukhothai faced challenges from rising Thai states and Lao Thai was not very successful.

Decline of the kingdom began and later rulers could not check the process of disintegration. There was a struggle for power after the death of Lao Thai and Nguanamthom ruled for some months.

Lao Thai’s son Luthai ultimately became the ruler with title of Mahathammaracha I (r. 1346–68). A great scholar and patron of Theravada Buddhism, he was more involved in religious affairs. He did not pay much attention to the affairs of the state.

The emergence of the powerful Lan Xang kingdom in Laos and Ayutthaya in southern Thailand resulted in loss of sizable territory of Sukhothai. Fa Nagum established the first unified state of Lan Xang in 1353.

The kingdom of Ayutthaya, founded by Rama Tibodi in 1350, dominated Thai power and culture for four centuries. Neither Mahathammaracha I nor his successor Mahathammaracha II (r. 1368–98) could check acquisition of Sukhothai territory by Lan Xang and Ayutthaya.

In 1371 Borommaracha I (r. 1370–88) of Ayutthaya, bent upon a policy of doing away with his Thai rivals, invaded Sukhothai and captured several towns. Four years afterward, the important town of Phitsanulok fell to the Ayutthaya king’s army.

Sukhothai became a vassal state of Audhya in 1378 after 140 years of independent existence. In 1400 there was a flicker of hope for Sukhothai, when Mahathammaracha III (r. 1398–1419) declared independence from Ayutthaya’s subjugation.

It was suppressed and Ayutthaya installed a new king, Mahathammaracha IV (r. 1419–38). Phitsanulok was the new capital of a much smaller Sukhothai. It became a province of Ayutthaya after the king’s death. The princes of royal families generally became the administrators of the Sukhothai region.

Sundiata - King of Mali

Sundiata - King of Mali
Sundiata - King of Mali

Sundiata is remembered as the first of the kings of Mali. A mythic figure in West African history, he is known as the Lion King. He was born to a Mandingo chief, Nara Fe Maghan, and his second wife, Sogolon.

After the death of his father, he and his mother had to flee because his 11 other brothers were jealous of the love his father had shown him and were a threat to his life.

The death of Nara Fe Maghan came at a bad time for the Malinke people, for at this time Sumanguru was trying to revive the kingdom of Ghana. Sumanguru killed Sundiata’s 11 brothers but either did not find Sundiata or dismissed him as a threat because the boy was lame.

Sundiata gradually built up his own state of Kangaba, without attracting much notice from his father’s killer. In 1235 Sundiata challenged Sumanguru at Kirina, in a largely cavalry battle, with both armies mounted on horses and camels.

The warriors would have worn heavily padded cloth coats of armor, although perhaps the more wealthy ones like Sundiata would have had chain mail and helmets imported from North Africa by the Arabs.

Sundiata won by a decisive cavalry charge, which left Sumanguru dead, either killed in the fighting or executed after. With the death of Sumanguru, Sundiata became the mansa, or chief, of a federation in western Niger, with his new capital at Niani. Sundiata carefully organized his new realm.

According to Ancient African Civilizations, Sundiata’s “division of the world assigned specific occupations—warrior, ironsmith, djeli (storyteller), and so on—to designated kin groups, reserving the office of mansa for Sundiata’s own dynasty, that of the Keita.

Mali empire map
Mali empire map

Sundiata also set up an administrative system based on provinces, which accommodated regional desires for a degree of self-government while allowing the mansa to retain ultimate control over what was fast becoming the empire of Mali.”

Sundiata himself converted to Islam but did not compel his people to become Muslims. His conversion was a pragmatic act of statecraft, in order to gain a better position with the Arabs, who held much of the trade of western Africa, as they would until the coming of the Europeans in the 15th century with the advent of the Portuguese.

Following the death of Sundiata, the kingdom that would be known as Mali continued to expand during the reign of his son Uli (1250–70). There was a period of strife when a general named Sakura seized power. Sakura decided to fulfill the Islamic vow of the hajj and make a pilgrimage from Mali to Mecca.

On the return journey he died, and power reverted to the family of Sundiata, and “the title of mansa returned to the Keita family, passing in 1307 to Kankan Musa, a son of Sundiata’s brother Manding Bory.”

Under Kankan Musa, also known as Mansa Musa, Mali reached its apex. Kankan Musa (reigned 1307–37) also made the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, in 1324 and returned safely. But with him on his return, Kankan also brought Islamic scholars from Mecca.

With them he established centers of learning in Timbuktu, Jenne (or Djenne), and Gao. A huge mud brick mosque in Jenne would later be restored in 1907, when Moulay Hafid ruled as sultan of Morocco.

Ibn Batuta, the great Arab traveler, came to Mansa Musa’s kingdom on his tour of Islamic Africa. Mansa Musa also introduced Islamic architecture to West Africa with the arrival of Ishak as-Sahili, who built a series of mosques.

His development of Mali was made possible by the great wealth in gold at his disposal. According to Joseph E. Harris in Africans and Their History, a European atlas would chronicle that “this Negro Lord is called Mansa Musa, Lord of the Negros of Guinea.

So abundant is the gold which is found in his country that he is the richest and most noble king in all the land.” Under Mansa Musa, the kingdom of Mali, the creation of Sundiata, enjoyed—in all senses of the word—a true golden age.

Sviatoslav - King of Russia

Sviatoslav - King of Russia

Sviatoslav ruled over the Rus with the capital in Kiev c. 969–972. He was the son of Kiev’s Prince Igor (r. 912–945) and Princess Olga (who ruled as Sviatoslav’s regent in 945–969 after Igor’s death), known in history as the fi rst Christian princess of Rus.

In historical literature Sviatoslav is often called the last Viking, the main goal of whose rule was the permanent and sometimes senseless war campaigns against the neighbors of Rus.

Olga’s 25-year rule resulted in Sviatoslav’s disinterest in internal state affairs, so he found a new field of activity—war campaigns in remote territories. The formal beginning of Sviatoslav’s rule is dated at 964 (his first war campaign), but in fact he only minimally influenced Kievan life until Olga’s death in 969.

In spite of the influence of his tutor Asmoud and the military governor (voyevoda) Sveneld, he neglected Kiev and felt himself free from any obligations toward its population. He even announced his desire to live in another city, founded by him in Pereyaslav-on-Danube.

As prominent Ukrainian historians Olexiy and Petro Tolochko state, Sviatoslav’s mode of life was motivated exclusively by searches for battle and by mercantile gains from the campaigns often financed by Byzantine diplomacy. Sviatoslav’s campaigns reached into the east. In 964–966 Sviatoslav was at war with the Khazars for power of the Vyatichi Slavonic tribe.

Sviatoslav campaign
Sviatoslav campaign

This campaign resulted in the crushing defeat of the Khazar kaganat (princedom) and destruction of its capital Itil and the fortresses of Sarkel and Semender. At the same time he defeated the Volga Bolgars and took their capital Bolgar.

In the northern Caucasus he displayed himself in his victory over tribes of Yasy and Kasogi. Soon Volyn and the Carpathian regions had entered into the sphere of Sviatoslav’s attention, and his first squads were sent there, marking the beginnings of this region’s exploration, finished by his sons.

The most striking trend of Sviatoslav’s wars is connected with the Danubian or Balkan region. In 967 Byzantine emperor Nikephoros II promised Sviatoslav 455 kilos of gold for his campaign.

Most researchers believe that Sviatoslav also had his own interests there, so in August 968, his fleet with 60,000 troops gained victory over Bulgarian king Peter and gained control over 80 settlements on the Danube.

This campaign was interrupted by the Pecheneg siege of Kiev (968). Destruction of the Khazar princedom by Sviatoslav eliminated obstacles for their penetration into the inner Rus lands. The consequences of his war campaign caused the deep dissatisfaction of the local population.

This did not worry the prince, since he was planning to transfer his capital to Bulgarian lands, and soon after Olga’s death Sviatoslav started the second Balkan campaign (autumn 969), having sectioned control over major Rus lands among his three sons.

His successes in 970 and tendency to conduct independent policy in the Danubian region forced the Byzantine emperor to start his expulsion, and the spring of 971 was marked by the taking of the Bulgarian capital of Preslav (the contemporary location is unknown).

Sviatoslav statue
Sviatoslav statue

Sviatoslav was in a two-month siege in Dorostol (modern Silistra), which resulted in a bloody battle and subsequent treaty with Byzantium (972), which Sviatoslav refused because of his claims on Crimea.

He went home with his army. On his way near the Dnipro Rapids he was met by Pechenegs, informed by the Byzantines about his trip, which weakened his forces in numerous battles. Trying to break through the nomads, Sviatoslav died in the early spring of 972.