Quick Facts about Emperor Taizong
- Emperor Taizong was born in 599 CE.
- His name at birth was Li Shimin.
- He was the second son of the Tang dynasty emperor, Gaozu.
- His mother was Emperor Gaozu’s wife, Empress Dou.
- After his father abdicated the throne in 626 CE, Li Shimin became the second emperor of the Tang dynasty.
- Taizong means “Supreme Ancestor”.
Taizong’s Military Achievements before becoming Emperor
Li Shimin spent much of his years prior to becoming emperor of the Tang dynasty helping his father Emperor Gaozu put down rebellions that threatened the Chinese empire and the Tang dynasty. His military exploits established him as an important figure in the military and government of his father. After one successful battle, he returned to the capital at Chang’an wearing gold armor and riding at the head of a long line of people, which included two rebel leaders, their courts and Li Shimin’s own soldiers – 10,000 heavily armed cavalry.
China Under Emperor Taizong: Government, Religion and Other Achievements
Like the Sui dynasty emperor, Wendi, Emperor Taizong was a type-A workaholic. He had his court officials paste documents on his bedroom walls so that he could read them during the night.
Emperor Taizong was an excellent scholar and calligrapher.
Unlike many of his predecessors, he accepted criticism from his officials and used their comments to make change.
He lived frugally, using Confucian methods of ideal rule.
Emperor Taizong encouraged the state examination system to continue and reestablished ancestor worship to show the divine rule of the emperor.
Daoism was also an important part of his life and court with many artists and scholars bringing the natural world and history into the capital. Emperor Taizong also used Buddhist ideals when it was useful to show he believed in other religious views.
Additionally, Christian, Islamic and Jewish scholars brought new beliefs to China. Churches, mosques and synagogues were built and religious practices of these new beliefs were allowed.
Unlike many of the emperors before him, Emperor Taizong limited public works. This brought him much favor from the people as tax burdens were less and there was less use of forced labor.
Emperor Taizong created a Bureau of Historiography to record China’s history. Previously, independent scholars maintained historical records.
More trade routes opened and Chang’an became the largest and most modern city in the world. People from many countries came to Chang’an and brought their customs, which were then adopted by the Chinese. Polo from Persia and western-style clothing were just some of the new customs.
Emperor Taizong’s Horse and Military Achievements
Emperor Taizong did not forget his military role in subduing rebels. His armies continued to seek out and attack northern tribes.
To assure his armies ability to gain control of the north, Taizong increased the size of horse herds. When his father, Emperor Gaozu became emperor there were only 5,000 horses available to the military. During the Tang dynasty, the herds were increased to over 700,000 horses. Northern and western tribes paid tribute by horses; sometimes as many as 50,000 horses were required as payment.
Emperor Taizong used one tribe against another until several tribes were wiped out. One such tribe, the Eastern Turks, was destroyed and China gained control of Inner Mongolia.
Taizong’s armies also fought Central Asian Turkish tribes to the west of Chinese territory but these people were not subdued until 657 CE.
Tibet, to the southwest, was not destroyed but rather peace was gained by marrying a Tang princess to the Tibetan king.
To the northeast, Taizong’s armies failed in attempts to subdue north Korea.
Emperor Taizong’s Abuse of Power
Towards the end of his reign, Emperor Taizong began using his power to exploit his office as emperor. He neglected his government duties and began using laborers for elaborate public works, which did not always become as he wanted them to be. One such disaster was the building of a palace that took 2,000,000 man-days of labor, which Taizong had destroyed because he decided the environment of the area where the palace was built was too hot and the palace itself was too grand.
Emperor Taizong’s Family and Death
His sons fought against each other to become the heir apparent. His two eldest even plotted to kill each other and their father, the emperor. Taizong settled the succession on his ninth son, Li Zhi.
Emperor Taizong’s wife was Empress Wende. He had at least fourteen children. Emperor Taizong died in 649 CE and his ninth son, Emperor Gaozong, became the third emperor of the Tang dynasty.
Taizong’s tomb is in Zhaoling, Li Quan county, Shaanxi.