Quick Facts about Emperor Wendi
- Emperor Wendi was born in 541 CE.
- His name at birth was Yang Jian.
- His father was Yang Zhong.
- Yang Jian became the first emperor of the Sui dynasty in 581 CE.
- Wendi means “Literary Emperor”.
How Yang Jian became Emperor Wendi
Yang Jian was the regent for the child-emperor of the northern Zhou dynasty. During confusion at the Zhou court after the child-emperor’s father died in 578 CE, Yang Jian took control of the throne. He was successful in gaining support from government officials and citizens, who helped him keep the throne.
How Emperor Wendi United China
Emperor Wendi was a Buddhist who had a wealthy scholar’s education and a military training. He was employed by the age of 14.
After ruling the Sui dynasty for 8 years, Wendi amassed over 500,000 troops along the Yangzi River in 589 CE. His plans were to take over southern China and the Chen dynasty government. Emperor Wendi was successful and by 590 CE he was the first emperor in 300 hundred years to govern a united China.
China Under Emperor Wendi – Accomplishments
The Sui dynasty capital and palace were in Chang’an.
Inventions such as outdoor rooms that could hold several hundred guests and which were rotated by mechanisms located underneath the rooms enhanced life at the palace.
Although the palace and its grounds were beautiful, Emperor Wendi did have some restraint when he spent his money – he rationed the cosmetics of the ladies at court.
Although he had concubines, his wife believed in monogamy and had one concubine murdered when Emperor Wendi apparently fell in love with the woman. His wife shared the role of empress by his side and shared in matters of state.
To further unify north and south, to cement his control of the armies, and to stop rebellions from occurring, he required that all private armies be disbanded and that the government’s army come under a central authority. Soldiers from private armies were given land and the rights as peasant farmers.
Emperor Wendi had the Great Wall repaired and extended towns to the borders of his empire.
He extended the canal system between north and south China, which provided easier and quicker trading between the two areas. A canal system, known as the Grand Canal, was started with waterways that allowed for the transport of rice and other foodstuffs to the north, which assured that less famine resulted when natural causes interrupted northern agricultural areas.
Emperor Wendi, by today’s standards, would be considered a workaholic or a Type-A personality. He met with government officials at dawn, reviewed paperwork rather than having a secretary, reviewed laws and other judicial decisions, and so on.
He worked on land reform, redistributing land and doubling the taxable income for the government treasuries. His changes resulted in 9 million households being taxed by 606 CE.
Emperor Wendi also followed the laws that had been enacted in his country. He could be brutal when faced with those who broke the laws including requiring execution, ritual suicide, and caning.
He was successful in invading northern Vietnam and reestablishing Chinese authority.
He sent his armies east to Korea to bring that territory under Chinese control, but was unsuccessful.
Emperor Wendi and Buddhism – More Accomplishments
Confucianism had been strongly accepted in the northern dynasties. However, Emperor Wendi recognized that Buddhism appealed to more people due to its acceptance of all no matter their wealth, their nationality, their sex, or their rank. He used Buddhism’s universal appeal to reunify China. During his reign over 4000 Buddhist temples were built. Over 100,000 new images of Buddha were erected around China and over 1,500,000 images were restored.
Emperor Wendi’s Family and Death
Emperor Wendi’s wife was Empress Wenxian. He had at least six children. Upon his death in 604 CE, his son, Yangdi, succeeded him as the second emperor of the Sui dynasty. His tomb is at Tailing, Fufeng county, Shaanzi.