China in the late 6 th century CE The Toba (Wei Dynasty) was a sinicized Turkic or Mongolic court. The southern kingdoms of China looked down on the Wei court as semi-civilized barbarians. Cooperation between both regions was practically non-existent as the Wei looked down on the southerners as effeminate and prone to intrigue.
Buddhism vs. Confucianism The Toba (Wei) were predominantly Buddhist while the southerners looked at Buddhism as a new religion/philosophy competing against traditional Chinese systems of beliefs particularly Confucianism. Throughout most of the 6 th century CE then China’s hope for reunification were minimal.
Threat from the steppes Although threatened by Avar confederation the Wei and southern China did not ally themselves to meet the threat. Pacification of the northern border was left as a concern of the Toba (Wei) court.
New Blood As it had occurred in Rome, with the migration of nomadic elements into Chinese civilization often the welfare of the kingdom(s) rested in the hands of highly capable, competent, generals of mixed barbarian and Chinese origins who attempted to transcend petty differences as well as intrigues in the court(s).
Yang Jian 541-604 CE Yang Jian was of mixed ancestry (nomadic and Chinese) and became a powerful military official under the Northern Zhou. He inherited his father’s title as Duke of Sui in 568 CE. He married at 16 a lady from a prominent family of mixed Chinese and Xioung Nu origins (she was 13 at the time of their wedding).
568-589 CE In his rise to power, Yang Jian was able to effectively gain the loyalty and following of the most capable military generals of China at the time. He also surrounded his court with the most able civilian officials which helped him to administrate effectively. By 589 CE Yang Jian had effectively rested power away from the ineffectual northern Zhou, conquered the kingdom of Chen in the south, and conquered the Yangzi River valley, effectively unifying for the first time since the Han the north and south.
Yang Jian-Emperor Wendi 589-604 CE Yang Jian took the title of Emperor Wendi ‘cultured emperor’ He not only had the best trained military machine in the east at this time but also the best trained civil officials. He inherited a China composed of disparate cultures and ideas and he synthesized them into a unified socio- political entity.
Effective rule His ministers helped synthesized the competing philosophies of the time particularly Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism and integrate them into the state and legitimize Emperor Wendi’s reign. He was extremely close to his wife who practically co-ruled Sui China with her husband and she functioned as his closest advisor.
Administration Emperor Wendi implemented the equal-field system of the Wei Dynasty. Equal Field system-every able bodied male owed the state one month of labor per year. They used this man power to refurbish the Great Wall-reconstructing the limes. Also build the Grand Canal (1,200 miles long) which enabled China’s fertile southern region to supply the less fertile north with food stuff.
Attempt to conquer Koguryo 598 CE In 598 CE fearing Chinese activity concerning the building of the Grand Canal, Koguryo decided to attempt a preemptive strike against the Sui and moved into the western banks of the Liao River, in response to this ‘attack’ Wendi sent a force of 300,000 soldiers but the campaign was a disaster for the Chinese due to inclement weather and disease practically obliterating the Chinese forces.
Koguryo and the Sui This failed campaign would be a constant soar reminder of the growing power of Koguryo and the uneasy frontier limes shared between this powerful kingdom and Sui China. Sui Yangdi would attempt no less than three invasions of Koguryo during his short reign.
Administration cont’d Wendi also ordered the building of a new capital at Chang’an on the site of the former Western Han capital. In the next century Chang’an became the largest and greatest city in the world at the time.
Death of Wendi In 602 CE the empress died and Wendi followed two years later in 604 CE. His successor was his second son, favored by the empress for being a more pious Buddhist, Yang Guang. Yang Guang assumed the ruling title of Sui Yangdi.
Intrigue in the court Sui Yangdi was not well liked by the Confucians at court and he was portrayed by later historians as emblematic of a bad emperor. Sui Yangdi did not possess his father’s ability to rule nor the loyalty of the administrators to effectively advise him well. He engaged in a war for territorial contest against the Korean kingdom of Koguryo which drained China of much of its wealth and manpower.
Battle of Salsu River 612 CE Sui Yangdi sent a force of 1,133,800 soldiers to attempt the subjugation of Koguryo. The historical record recount that the six divisions of soldiers stretched for 30 miles. The Sui forces eventually managed to overcome the Koguryo forces in crossing the Liao River and penetrating the Koguryo foothold in the Liaodong region of Manchuria. But the crossing took a heavy toll on the Chinese army due to sickness and desertions, weaknesses that Koguryo exploited and inflicted heavy losses during the following engagements.
Battle of Salsu River cont’d The Sui forces, although suffering heavy casualties and low morale, eventually succeeded in laying siege to Pyongyang. The defenders of Pyongyang fought hard and eventually a peace accord was negotiated. However this was a ploy on the part of Koguryo to attempt a counter offensive against the retreating Chinese forces.
Destruction of Sui forces As the Sui forces began their slow march back through the northwestern coast of the peninsula and found its way to the Salsu River, the Koguryo commander Ulchi Mundok, readied his troops. As the Sui forces crossed the river, the Koguryo forces unleashed their attack that practically obliterated the Sui forces. The Koguryo forces released dammed water up river that drowned much of the Sui army. The Korean historical records note that the Sui army at the start of the engagement numbered 300,000 when laying siege to Pyongyang but numbered a mere 2,700 when it reached Liaodong several weeks later.
The Sui counter-attack This huge military upset only angered the Sui emperor and he attempted two more invasions of Koguryo in 613 CE and 614 CE. Both attempts were failures. Both hard fought campaigns had the effect of weakening the participants. The Sui Dynasty lost much man power, wealth, and prestige and would collapse in 618 CE. Koguryo lasted a bit longer but would eventually fall to a coalition of Korean Silla and Tang China in 668 CE.