Emperor Wen of Sui

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  • Born: 541
  • Died: 604
  • Reign: 581-604
  • Other Names: (Yáng Jiān)
  • Chinese: 隋文帝 (Suí Wéndì)

Emperor Wen of Sui, also known as Yang Jian, was the first emperor of China's Sui Dynasty.

He was born into a powerful military family, but was raised in a monastery until age 12. After leaving the monastery, he studied and trained in military matters, and later became a prominent general in the state of Northern Zhou. Yang Jian married a woman of mixed Chinese (Han) and Xiongnu ancestry in 566, and adhered to the Xiongnu custom (rather than the Chinese one), taking no concubines or second wives.

His eldest daughter was married to the heir to the Northern Zhou in 578, but after her husband became king of Northern Zhou, he demanded his wife commit suicide; presumably, his chief intention was to allow himself to remarry. Yang Jian managed to intervene and save the life of his daughter; after that, he worked his way into becoming regent for a child emperor, seizing power and establishing a new dynasty in 581, and then conquering the South, uniting China under his new Sui Dynasty in 589.

Taking the name Emperor Wen, or Wendi, he established a series of policies aimed at restoring a unified Chinese culture & identity, since the north had been subject to strong Turkish-Mongolian cultural influences for many years at this point, while the culture of the more dominantly Chinese south developed in a different direction. A new law code attempted to count all as equal under the law.

In 580, Emperor Wen revoked bans on Buddhism and Taoism put into place by the Northern Zhou six years earlier, and employed the popularity of Buddhism to help strengthen support for the legitimacy of his rule. Promoting himself as a major patron of Buddhism, he ordered the establishment of a national network of Buddhist temples, along with a new central temple in the capital which would oversee all the rest, supervise all the country's monks, translate Buddhist texts, and establish standards for the clergy. His capital featured roughly 120 new temples in total, and in 601, he ordered the construction of stupas all across the country, to house relics of the Buddha.

Preceded by
State of Northern Zhou
Emperor of Sui
Succeeded by
Emperor Yang


  • Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000), 193.