Emperor Yang of Sui

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  • Reign: 604-617
  • Other Names: (Yang Guang)
  • Chinese: 隋煬帝 (Suí Yángdì)

Emperor Yang of Sui, also known as Yang Guang, was the second and last emperor of China's Sui Dynasty. Though generally regarded quite negatively in the traditional dynastic histories, as all last emperors are, Yang is credited with, among various other achievements, the completion of the Grand Canal.

When he was young, Yang Guang was betrothed to a princess from one of the kingdoms of Southern China, and was sent there, to the South, for a time, where he organized the copying of numerous Buddhist scriptures and the construction of a number of Buddhist temples. While there, he engaged in correspondence with Zhiyi, founder of Tiantai (J: Tendai) Buddhism. His marriage to this princess was undertaken as a step towards strengthening ties between north and south, so recently reunited by his father after centuries of division.

Yang Guang became emperor in 604, possibly after arranging to remove his brothers from the line of succession. As emperor, he rebuilt the Imperial capital of Luoyang, and completed the Grand Canal linking Beijing, Chang'an, Luoyang, and Kaifeng in the relatively desolate north with Hangzhou and Yangzhou in the lush, agriculturally productive south. The vast amount of conscripted labor involved in these projects is said to have helped consolidate the cultures of north and south, as laborers from different parts of the empire traveled great distances to work on these projects, interacting with people along the way, as well as in the locations where they were put to work.

The Sui began to falter when, beginning in 609, Emperor Yang launched military campaigns in Vietnam, Korea, and against Turkish peoples to the north. His efforts to take Korea were particularly unsuccessful, and led in the end to military uprisings against the Court. Li Yuan, a general of mixed Turkic and Chinese descent, eventually seized control of the capital, declaring a new dynasty, the Tang Dynasty, and naming himself Emperor Gaozu.

Preceded by
Emperor Wen
Emperor of Sui
Succeeded by
Emperor Gaozu of Tang


  • Valerie Hansen, The Open Empire, New York: W.W. Norton & Company (2000), 195.