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The Sui and T’ang Restore the Empire A.D. 589-979


IN 589, a warlord named Sui Wen Ti conquered the last dynasty in the south and so became emperor of all China. He put his subjects to work repairing the Great Wall, building palaces and digging long canals to carry water out to the fields and grain back to the cities. He sent his armies south into Vietnam and west into central Asia. In 604, he died. No one knew how he died, but many people suspected that he had been murdered by his son Yang Ti. As emperor, Yang Ti drove the people even harder than his father had. He did not care how many died of cold, hunger, or exhaustion, or in fighting his enemies. There were always plenty of other peasants who could be drafted as labourers and soldiers. At last the people grew tired of being treated like animals and rose against Yang Ti. In 618 he was assassinated and the Sui dynasty came to an end. That same year, an energetic official named Li Yuan was enthroned at the capital, Ch’ang-an, as the first emperor of the T’ang dynasty. The T’ang family was to reign until 907. Just as the brief Ch’in and Sui dynasties stood for cruelty in the minds of the Chinese, so the long-lasting Han and T’ang dynasties came to be thought of as the “golden ages” of their history. T’ANG DYNASTY’S “MYSTERIOUS ANCESTOR” The first T’ang emperors carried on the public works program of the Sui, but with less haste. Their armies triumphed everywhere. Within three quarters of a century, they had added Tibet, the Tarim Basin, Mongolia, southern Manchuria, and Korea to the empire. The greatest of the T’ang emperors was Hsüan Tsung, or “Mysterious Ancestor.” His long reign from 712 to 756, was one of the most glorious in …

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The Six Dynasties: Turmoil and Change A.D. 220-589


THE three states into which China had split were soon split up themselves into even smaller divisions. For three and a half centuries, war raged almost continuously among rival kings. Doubt and confusion were everywhere. The period between 220 and 589 is called the Six Dynasties era, after six ruling families in a row which used Nanking as their capital. In all those years‚ the memory of the Han Empire never died. Looking back longingly at the peace and order of that time, the people came to think of the Han government as the great model which all rulers should try to copy. With the country divided, it was easy for the barbarians to invade. During the fourth century, wave after wave of nomads rolled south across the North China Plain, as the Huns were joined by their relatives, the Mongols and the Turks. Riding swift ponies, the invaders mowed down the Chinese foot soldiers with deadly arrows from their crossbows. Huge numbers of Chinese fled-some to Kansu in the northwest and Szechwan in the west, but many more to the lands south of the Yangtze River. The Chinese population of south China doubled, tripled and quadrupled, until it overwhelmed the non-Chinese population. Even in north China the Chinese greatly outnumbered their barbarian conquerors. Due to this and because the Chinese system of government was much better suited than theirs to a country of farmers, the newcomers gradually adopted Chinese ways. THE SEVEN SAGES Chinese ways were themselves changing. Just as the rebellions, wars and invasions uprooted millions of people from their settled lives on the land, so they uprooted the beliefs by which these people lived. These beliefs, Confucianism and Taoism, were mainly rules for everyday living. They had worked well enough in orderly Han times, but they no …

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China under the Han 206 B. C. – A. D. 221


THE vast East Asian land of China is named after its first family of emperors, the Ch’in. The Ch’in brought the country together under one government and built the Great Wall to keep out northern barbarians. They were in such a hurry to get things done, however, that they drove their subjects too hard and lost their support. In 206 B.C., after only a few years in power, they were overthrown. The Ch’in were replaced by an imperial family named Han. The Han dynasty ruled for two centuries before the time of Christ and then, after a break, for another two centuries. These two periods are called the Former Han and the Later Han. By the time the Han finally fell from power, the Chinese people all spoke the same language and used the same “idea-pictures,” made with brush-strokes, in writing. They had truly become a nation. To this day their descendants call themselves “men of Han.” The Former Han emperors took power away from rich landowners and gave it to officials who had passed difficult examinations in the teachings of Confucius, the great Chinese thinker and religious teacher. Their armies checked many attacks by wild herdsmen-warriors known as the Hsiung Nu, or Huns. As trade flourished, so did the painting of pictures, the composing of poems and the study of the classic Chinese writings of the past. Toward the end of their reign, however, the Former Han emperors had to surrender more and more power to the wealthy noblemen who owned the country’s richest farmlands. In A.D.8, a man named Wang Mang seized control of the empire. Although he was a nobleman himself, he set out to reform the unfair tax system which allowed aristocratic landowners to grow rich at the expense of the peasants and the government. He …

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