CHAPTER 4
Reunified Empires:
Sui (581–618) and
Tang (618–907)

During the long three and a half centuries of disunion after the fall of the Han dynasty, the weak southern regimes were dominated by powerful aristocratic families who saw themselves as the true guardians and protectors of Chinese civilization. They looked down on the more powerful northern governments of the Wei and its successors as only half-civilized barbarians, unlearned in the ways of Confucianism and ignorant of proper etiquette, rituals, and social hierarchies. It particularly disturbed the southerners that women were far more outspoken and independent in the nomadic cultures of the north than in the aristocratic Confucian families of the south. The northern rulers, in turn, looked upon the southern political regimes as effete, snobbish, and pretentious. These differences and prejudices meant that any serious effort to reunify China into one integrated empire faced a cultural challenge as great as the military challenge.

The man who succeeded in reunifying the north and south was Yang Jian, born in 541 to a mixed nomadic-Chinese family with a Chinese surname. A powerful military official under the Northern Zhou, Yang inherited his father’s title as the Duke of Sui in 568. He was a courageous and competent military leader who saw no contradiction between his devout faith in Buddhism and his military way of life. Yang Jian’s wife was from a very prominent, partly Chinese and partly Xiongnu family. She was eventually to function nearly as a co-emperor with her husband. Upon their marriage, when he was sixteen and she was thirteen, Yang Jian promised never to take a concubine, and his wife soon became his constant companion and closest advisor.

In his rise to power, Yang Jian was both capable and lucky. He was capable enough to recruit the most able military generals and civilian officials to his cause, and lucky enough to have as his first enemies the incompetent relatives and retainers of the corrupt court of the Northern

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