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Emperor Taizong

Emperor Taizong

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Emperor Taizong - History

Emperor Taizong of Tang (599-649) was the second emperor of Tang, and often considered to be one of the most successful emperors in Chinese history. He was born Li Shimin, son of Emperor Gaozu, the founder of the Tang dynasty. He took the name Taizong in 626 when he became emperor.

Early Life

Li Shimin (Emperor Taizong) was born to mother Duchess Dou, and father Li Yuan (later to become Emperor Gaozu. His birth name, Shimin, is said to have been taken from a Chinese phrase meaning to ‘save the earth and pacify the people’. Li Shimin had three brothers: Li Jiancheng (older), Li Yuanji (younger), and Li Xuanba (also younger but died in 614).

At the age of 14 Li Shimin was married to the niece of Gao Shilian, an official in the then-ruling Sui dynasty. Two years later, in 615, Li Shimin joined the army in response to a call from Emperor Wen for men to assist against attacks from the Eastern Tujue. In 616 when Li Yuan was appointed governor of the major city Taiyuan, Li Shimin went with him.

With the Sui dynasty beginning to collapse, Li Yuan and other officials began to fall into disfavor with Emperor Yang. Li Shimin secretly began to plot a rebellion against the Emperor with two of his father’s associates, Liu Wenjing and Pei Ji. The trio revealed their plans to Li Yuan, Pei Ji reminded him that if Emperor Yang discovered Li Yuan had committed adultery with his concubines (which Pei Ji allowed to happen), the Emperor would have him killed. With this, Li Yuan agreed to the plan.

Li Shimin’s siblings were summoned to the city of Tiayuan, and the family began gathering forces. Li Shimin was named Duke of Dunhuang as well as an army general. Under adverse weather conditions and heavy opposition, Li Yuan ordered retreat soon after the campaign had begun. However, Li Shimin as well as his brother Li Jiancheng adamantly objected, convincing their father to continue. Soon forces were consolidated and the capitol city Chang’an was captured.

Initially Li Yuan installed Yang You (grandson of emperor Yang) as Emperor Gong of Sui. In 618 when Emperor Yang was assassinated, Emperor Gong conceded the throne to Li Yuan. At this point Li Yuan created the Tang dynasty and became Emperor Gaozu. He named Li Shimin as the Shangshu (in charge of executive government) as well as Prince of Qin. He also remained an active major general.

During the early years of the Tang dynasty, Li Shimin continued to display impressive military skills. His armies successfully defeated key rivals of the Tang dynasty, sometimes while seriously outnumbered. Although Li Shimin was widely respected within the military, as well as by his father, jealousy rose in his older brother Li Jiancheng for the title of crown prince. Li Jiancheng had the support of their younger brother Li Yuanji and together they successfully convinced Emperor Gaozu to leave Li Jiancheng as crown prince.

Battle for the Crown

The rivalry between Li Shimin and Li Jiancheng began intensifying in 624. Li Jiancheng began adding to his armies against the regulations of Emperor Gaozu. The Emperor summoned Jiancheng to the palace and placed him under arrest, promising to make Li Shimin crown prince. After, Li Shimin was sent to lead the battle against Li Jiancheng’s commander, Yang Wen’gan, who was rebelling. After Li Shimin had left Li Jiancheng, Li Yuanji, as well as staff members and concubines pleaded Li Jiancheng’s case with the Emperor. He was convinced to free Li Jiancheng and leave him in place as crown prince.

When Li Shimin became ill with food poisoning after eating at the palace of Li Jiancheng, he was convinced it was an attempt on his life. There were several incidents between the brothers, including Li Jiancheng having Li Shimin ride a horse who was notorious for throwing off riders.

In 626 Emperor Gaozu choose Li Yuanji over Li Shimin to lead a crucial battle against the Eastern Tujue the trouble came to a head. Li Shimin accused both Li Yuanji and Li Jiancheng of adultery with the Emperor’s concubines. As he expected, Emperor Gaozu immediately summoned both of them to his palace. Li Shimin prepared an ambush outside the main gates. As his two rival brothers approached, they were killed. Li Shimin entered Emperor Gaozu’s palace and insisted he name Li Shimin as crown prince. He did.

Li Shimin had the sons of both his brothers killed as well, fearing rebellion. He took the wife of Li Yuanji as a concubine. After only two months Emperor Gaozu was convinced to leave the throne and Li Shimin became Emperor Taizong of Tang.

Emperor of Tang

Emperor Taizong made many changes in the Tang dynasty. He released hundreds of Ladies in Waiting, although it is said that he later accumulated even more than he released. He stripped the titles and ranking of several members of the royal family, instead assigning their status according to their contribution to the Tang society. He buried his murdered brothers with honors.

Emperor Taizong released most of his father’s advisors and staff. As he restructured the government, he took suggestions and criticism from his officials into consideration. He implemented their ideas where he felt it was appropriate. Although he faced rebellion from several displeased relatives, all were quickly defeated. In 627 Emperor Taizong consolidated many small counties and prefectures. He also created another level of government within the Tang dynasty, circuits.

In 628 the long standing opposition of the Tang dynasty, Eastern Tujue, began to weaken. Some previous allies and officials defected to Tang. Without support from this region, Liang was no longer able to fight off Emperor Taizong’s forces. That year, Liang fell to the Tang Dynasty, finally realizing the goal of uniting China.

In 629 as the Eastern Tujue continued weakening, Emperor Taizong saw the opportunity to at last conquer his long standing enemies. With Li Jing leading the army, and Li Shiji, Chai, and Xue Wanche as generals, the Emperor prepared for battle. They successfully launched an attack against multiple points. In 630, Emperor Taizong declared victory over the Eastern Tujue.

By 634, Emperor Taizong had well established his government, and had officials investigating the circuits to ensure the people were cared for and leaders were capable. By this time he was also facing a new rival Murong Fuyun of Tyuhun who had been attacking borders after failed negotiations for the Prince of Zun to marry a Tang princess. By 635 Yuyuhun forces were defeated. That same year Emperor Taizong’s father, the former Emperor Gaozu, died.

In 636, Emperor Taizong began assigning important posts to his sons and brothers, with appropriate titles. He did not change the title of Li Tai, Prince of Wei, who was becoming his favored son. That year his wife, Emperess Zhangsun died. Taizong mourned her loss deeply.

In the following years Emperor Taizong made several more changes to the structure of Tang, including the Record of Clans. This was an attempt to rank clans based on their contributions and deeds, as he believed they were abusing the power of their noble names. While he commissioned officials to compile the work, he later revised it as he disagreed with some of their conclusions.

Challenges from several enemy peoples were successfully warded off in the coming years. In 640 peaceful relations with Tufan were established through the marriage of a Tang Princess. The following year one of the most significant attacks came in the region of Eastern Tujue From Yi’nan. Tang forces led by Li Shiji prevailed.

By 643 Emperor Taizong was beginning to encounter upheaval within his own family. Li You, one of the Emperor’s sons, staged a rebellion. However, Li You was captured by his own officials and delivered to Emperor Taizong who forced him to commit suicide. This incident sparked another rebellion plot by Li Chengqian, who feared he would be replaced by Li Tai as the next emperor. When one of Li Chengqian’s own officials revealed the plot to the Emperor, he chose to depose Li Chengqian, letting him live.

Initially Emperor Taizong intended to make Li Tai the crown prince. However, after investigation he decided to depose Li Tai as well, due to his manipulation in the matter of Li Chengqian’s downfall. Li Zhi, a younger son, was appointed crown prince.

In 645 Emperor Taizong’s forces began to fight a bitter and unsuccessful battle against the Goguryeo. He also fell ill this same year, and by all accounts never completely recovered. In the next few years, Tang forces led a successful battle against Xueyantuo and began planning a renewed attack against the Goguryeo. In 649 forces were set to begin this new battle, however Emperor Taizong died before he could initialize the attack. Three days after his death, it was officially announced and Li Zhi became Emperor Gaozong of Tang.

Taizong the emperor

With this coup began the reign of the Taizong emperor. His image would be revered for more than a millennium, not only by Chinese monarchs but by Japanese and Korean statesmen and by the rulers of China’s neighbouring peoples to the north. It is not easy to separate the real Taizong from the myths that he himself encouraged and that his own historians incorporated into the dynastic record. They were presented in a vivid and idealized account of his court, the Zhenguan zhengyao, written in 708–710, as a utopian model of ideal government. It gives a picture of a powerful and decisive emperor governing with the aid of a group of talented and well-chosen chief ministers. It shows him as responsive to their outspoken exhortations and remonstrance and as empathetic toward the feelings of his people.

At first, the Taizong emperor’s style of government closely approached his ideal picture. He was still a very young man, a usurper who needed to heal the rifts between his own supporters at court and those who had supported his brothers. His Confucian moralist mentors were Wei Zheng, who had served a rival rebel regime and had later been an adviser to Li Jiancheng, and who took on the role as Taizong’s public conscience, and Xiao Yu, a descendant of an ancient Southern ruling family. The practical architects of his policies were Du Ruhui and Fang Xuanling, who had served him since 618, and his much younger brother-in-law, Changsun Wuji, whose sister was Taizong’s empress and who was Taizong’s closest friend and adviser. All these men enjoyed very long tenure and gave much of the special character to Taizong’s reign.

Whatever Taizong’s style, most of the dynasty’s basic policies and institutions had been put in place by his father, the Gaozu emperor. The structure of government and the detailed law code, which were to provide models for all of East Asia, were already completed. Taizong’s task was to get these institutions working effectively.

The main problem was reestablishing local government after years of rebellion and civil war. It took most of Taizong’s reign to restore normal civil administration and to create a unified civil service. Even so, by the end of his reign, his local administrations had succeeded in registering only about a third of those who had registered under the Sui. Although he was renowned for his comparatively frugal government, Taizong had little choice: his tax base was reduced by almost two thirds. The reduced tax base was further cut by a militia system that aimed to provide a large permanent pool of self-supporting military manpower the soldiers were granted exemption from taxes and labour service.

The Taizong emperor also had to deal with the great clans of Shandong, who considered themselves the superiors of the royal house. This he did by producing a national compendium of genealogies, ranking the royal house highest. Taizong further developed the state schools established by Gaozu and set up a national academy directorate to oversee them. Prefectural schools, including medical schools, were established throughout the country, and a systematic effort was launched to edit the texts of the Confucian canon and to provide standard commentaries for examination candidates. Official histories were also compiled.

Emperor Taizong of Tang

Taizong (birth name, Li-Shimin, 598-649 CE, r. 626-649 CE) was the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty and is considered one of the greatest rulers in Chinese history for his reforms of the government and the laws, his religious tolerance, and the prosperity China enjoyed under his reign. Taizong set the standard for rulers of the Tang Dynasty, regarded as the Golden Age of Chinese history, which his successors were measured by. Taizong's reign became legendary to the extent that the last good emperor of the Tang Dynasty, Xuanzong II (846-859 CE) modeled his own reign after that of Taizong's and was remembered after his death as "Little Taizong".

Taizong was the son of the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty, Gaozu (618-626 CE) and had served under him as a general in overthrowing the rule of the corrupt Sui Dynasty (589-618 CE). Taizong was passed over for succession in favor of his older brother but staged a coup in which he murdered his brother, other siblings, and finally his father to seize the throne and imperial power. He proved himself such an effective ruler that these crimes were forgiven and he reigned successfully until his death when he was succeeded by his son, Gaozong (649-683 CE) and then his former concubine Wu Zetian (683-704 CE), the only female monarch in China's history, who learned her skills as empress from Taizong.

Taizong's birth name was Li-Shimin and he was born in 598 CE in modern-day Shaanxi Province, the second son of Li-Yuan. Li-Yuan was the Duke of Tang and a general in the army of the Sui Dynasty which had become more and more corrupt. In the final years, the last emperors of the Sui drained the imperial treasury on military campaigns while ignoring the needs of the people. Li-Yuan joined with other rebels to lead a revolt which overthrew the Sui Dynasty and established himself as Gaozu, first emperor of the Tang Dynasty.


According to Taizong's later personal history, he was instrumental in the most important aspects of the Tang victory by providing the tactics for his father. Taizong was a brilliant strategist and charismatic leader whose contributions to the overthrow of the Sui were rewarded when his father named him Qinguogong, a vassal of the state, and later Qin Wang, Duke of the state of Qin. As Qin Wang, he crushed the resistance to Gaozu's rule and stabilized the country.

Gaozu was a good emperor who continued the best policies of the Sui Dynasty while reducing the abuses and reforming those policies which had allowed them. It was Gaozu who implemented the bureaucratic practices which Taizong later modified and which are still used in China today. Although he ruled well, Qin Wang was becoming more popular among the people for his military actions against Sui loyalists and this concerned his brothers. Qin Wang was only the duke, not the crown prince, and his older brother Li-Jiancheng worried that he might try to replace him as heir so Li-Jiancheng conspired with the other brothers to eliminate Qin Wang.

Gaozu seemed oblivious to these problems and continued to rule well, creating the Tang Legal Code in 624 CE which would be used by future dynasties and was even copied by other nations like Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. He also reformed the aristocracy to prevent over-taxation of the peasant farmers and re-distributed land parcels. While he was busy governing the country, his sons were working on various plots to get rid of Qin Wang and secure the rightful succession. Qin Wang was told of his brothers' plans and let his father know about them. Just before this, Gaozu had named Li-Jiancheng his heir and this decree was more than Qin Wang could bear. He believed he deserved better than the position of Duke of Qin because of his efforts in putting down the Sui rebellions and due to his popularity among the people.

Qin Wang heard his brothers were going to stage a coup to remove Gaozu and take the throne. They would then be able to easily murder him and Li-Jiancheng would become emperor with the brothers elevated to high court positions. Qin Wang placed soldiers loyal to him near the Xuanwu Gate of the palace, the route he knew his brothers would take, who then attacked as they were passing by and killed them all. Qin Wang was made crown prince, forced his father to abdicate to him, and was made emperor of China. Once he was emperor, he took the name Taizong, had his opponents executed (including his father, finally) and then used the concept of ancestor worship to his advantage and declared that all those who had been killed were now his celestial advisors. Taizong had shown himself to be such an effective general and statesman under his father's administration that no one challenged him once he took control.

One of the first things Taizong did was to create the History Commission to chronicle the Sui Dynasty's rise and fall and how he, Taizong, had founded the Tang Dynasty. In Taizong's version of history, he had been the power behind his father all along. He then dedicated himself to proving his account by becoming a greater emperor than his father. By 630 CE he had defeated the Goturks and taken back control of territories they had seized. As a security measure, he banned all unauthorized foreign travel to limit the possibility of spies in the country. How effective this ban was is not known but the famous Buddhist monk and travel writer Xuanzang (602-664 CE) writes about how many checkpoints there were along the borders and how he had to talk his way past the guards at the Yumen Pass on his way to India.


In 634 CE Taizong signed a peace treaty with Tibet and gave the Tibetan king his adopted daughter as a bride. Religious tolerance and diversity in China flourished under Taizong's reign. Buddhism became widely practiced, surpassing Confucianism and curbing the popularity of Taoism. Taizong allowed the Christian missionary Alopen to preach his religion in China in 635 CE, introducing Christian concepts to the country and in 638 CE a Persian mission was allowed to establish Zoroastrian groups. Between 638-645 CE delegates from a number of governments, including the Byzantine, came to Taizong requesting aid in stopping the militant spread of Islam but Taizong refused because he did not want to get involved in religious wars. Taizong was a devout Buddhist and believed all faiths should be able to live together peacefully.

In the same way that he welcomed all different faiths, he embraced diverse ethnicities and elevated people of different ethnic groups to positions at the imperial court. He was open to advice and listened carefully to the wisdom of his counselors. When his chancellor, Wei Zheng, pointed out over 200 mistakes the emperor had made thus far in his reign, Taizong accepted the criticism and corrected them. When he was told a military expedition would be too costly for the people, he abandoned it. He enjoyed his own company and was an accomplished poet and writer who wrote two books, Di Fan and Zhen Guan Zheng Yao (Model of an Emperor and The Emperor's Government Strategy), which would become important resources for later rulers.

In c. 638 CE Taizong selected a beautiful fourteen-year old girl, Wu Zhao, as one of his concubines. The term 'concubine' is often associated with sex but actually concubines at the imperial court performed many services for the emperor such as singing, dancing, cleaning, and doing laundry. Wu Zhao was assigned laundry duty and performed her tasks well.

She knew, though, that she was meant for better things than washing other people's dirty clothes and linens and, one day, when she found herself alone with Taizong, she began talking to him as though he were anyone else in the laundry, not the most powerful man in China. Taizong was surprised that his laundress was so well informed on Chinese history and so skilled in conversation. He soon found out she could also sing, dance, play music, write poetry, and had interesting insights on government and history. He took Wu Zhao out of the laundry and made her his personal secretary.

Wu Zhao became Taizong's constant companion at court and was involved in all of the meetings and conferences the emperor held with his counselors and foreign dignitaries. Taizong called her Mei-Niang, "beautiful girl" and kept her in attendance during all his business transactions as well as his leisure time. Wu Zhao was a keen observer who absorbed everything she experienced during these meetings and learned the skills Taizong used to govern so effectively. She was clever and intelligent but also beautiful and she attracted the attention of many men at court. One of these men was Li Zhi, Taizong's son, who was already married at the time but fell deeply in love with Wu Zhao. She began an affair with him while still holding her position as Taizong's favorite concubine.

Taizong's military campaigns were carried out primarily between 640-649 CE against the so-called Oasis States of the Goturks. Taizong understood that a professional military force was necessary for defense and also for expansion of his realm. Historian Justin Wintle writes:

Under Taizong, a total of 600 militia units were formed consisting of between 800 and 1200 men. Militamen, exempted from taxes, might serve either on short-term secondments to the capital or at border garrisons or in their own provinces. They were overseen by a professional corps of officers, rotated around the empire to preclude the possibility of their forming personal power bases. The Tang also maintained a standing force, the elite "Northern Army", barracked outside the capital. These and related measures were costly, but for 150 years they paid for themselves by enabling the empire to expand commercially as well as territorially without the distractions of internal revolt (143).

Taizong sent his army against the Eastern Turkic Khaganate in the Tarim Basin after diplomatic measures failed. Originally, relations between the Tang Dynasty and the city of Gaochang had been warm. The king of Gaochang, Qu Wentai, visited Taizong at Chang'an in 630 CE but a dispute arose between Gaochang and a neighboring town of Yanqi which erupted into hostilities and caused Taizong to declare war.

The town of Yanqi was on a trade road which wound through the desert to important centers in China. The road was closed by Taizong to prevent its use by spies or rebels and the merchants from Yanqi had to travel through Gaochang to reach China. These merchants began trading in Gaochang instead of making the longer journey into China. The king of Yanqi, Long Tuqizhi, sent an emissary to Taizong requesting the road be re-opened because his merchants were not getting the kinds of prices for their goods in Gaochang that they used to in Chang'an. Taizong agreed to the request and the road was re-opened but this angered Gaochang who attacked Yanqi. King Qu Wentai of Gaochang then allied himself with tribes hostile to the Tang Dynasty and raided further Yanqi settlements, destroying towns, and capturing citizens for ransom or sale as slaves.

Taizong sent an emissary to Gaochang asking Qu Wentai to send an emissary in return to discuss the situation. Instead of honoring Taizong by sending the emissary specifically requested, Qu sent a lower official and entered into further treaties with cities hostile to Tang rule. In 640 CE, Taizong sent his general Hou Junji to break the power of Gaochang and force Qu Wentai to obey Tang edicts. When Qu Wentai heard that the great Tang army was marching on his city he died, most likely from a heart attack. His son Qu Zhisheng succeeded him and quickly wrote to General Hou apologizing for Gaochang's past behavior and promising better relations in the future. Hou Junji rejected this appeal and demanded that Qu Zhisheng surrender unconditionally. Qu Zhisheng refused and General Hou attacked Gaochang.

The army of Qu Zhisheng was no match for the highly trained Tang army and the city fell quickly. Taizong then annexed the territories and garrisoned them with troops. The problems with Gaochang were solved but now the Yanqi allied themselves with the Western Turkic Khaganate and declared themselves hostile to Tang interests in c. 644 CE. Taizong defeated them and claimed their land and then sent the army further to subdue the Eastern Turks, finally claiming the whole of the Tarim Basin as part of his realm by 648 CE.

Taizong contracted dysentery and died in 649 CE. He was buried with great ceremony in his home province in a tomb known as the Zhao Mausoleum. Li Zhi succeeded him as emperor and took the name Gaozong. Gaozong would have to continue his father's wars in the Tarim Basin as the turks revolted and the Tang army was sent to put the rebellions down. Following Taizong's death, all of his concubines had their heads shaved and were sent to live out the rest of their lives in a monastery. Gaozong was so in love with Wu Zhao, though, that he had her brought back to the palace and made her his first concubine. She became the power behind the throne from as early as 660 CE and when Gaozong died in 683 CE Wu Zhao seized power and became the empress Wu Zetian.

Even though many aspects of her reign were harshly criticized by later Chinese historians, Wu Zetian followed Taizong's example in many ways and improved on his policies. Wu Zetian laid the foundation for the next great emperor of China, Xuanzong (712-756 CE), under whose reign the Tang Dynasty would reach its greatest height. Although her accomplishments were all her own, she had learned her skills from Taizong.

Taizong became the model emperor who set the standard for every other successful ruler who followed him. His name was always invoked in praise for his policies and he is still considered one of the greatest rulers in Chinese history. The other emperors of the Tang Dynasty were measured by how closely they met the standards of Taizong and very few, possibly none, ever exceeded them.

Almost every other Tang ruler, including the successful Wu Zetian and Xuanzong who followed directly after him, lost sight of their responsibility to the people and the land and indulged in their own private pleasures. Taizong remained faithful to his responsibilities from the time he assumed control of the government until his death and so continues to be regarded with honor as the model of a great emperor.


The Silla Kingdom had made numerous requests to the Tang court for military assistance against Goguryeo, which the Tang court began to consider not long after they had decisively defeated the Göktürks in 628. [5] At the same time, however, Silla was also engaged in open hostilities with Baekje in 642. [5] A year before in 641, King Uija had assumed the throne of Baekje. [6] In 642, King Uija attacked Silla and captured around 40 strongpoints. [7] Meanwhile, in 642, the military dictator Yeon Gaesomun murdered over 180 Goguryeo aristocrats and seized the Goguryeo throne. [6] He placed a puppet king onto the throne after killing the king in 642. [8] These newly formed governments in Baekje and Goguryeo were preparing for war and had established a mutual alliance against Tang and Silla. [6]

Conflict in 645 Edit

Emperor Taizong of Tang used Yeon Gaesomun's murder of the Goguryeo king as the pretext for his campaign and started preparations for an invasion force in 644. [8] General Li Shiji commanded an army of 60,000 Tang soldiers and an undisclosed number of tribal forces [8] which gathered at Youzhou. [8] Emperor Taizong commanded an armored cavalry of 10,000 strong. [8] His cavalry eventually met up and joined General Li Shiji's army during the expedition. [8] A fleet of 500 ships also transported an additional 40,000 conscripted soldiers and 3,000 military gentlemen (volunteers from the elite of Chang'an and Luoyang). [8] This fleet sailed from the Liaodong Peninsula to the Korean Peninsula. [8]

In April 645, General Li Shiji's army departed from Yincheng (present-day Chaoyang). [9] On 1 May, they crossed the Liao River into Goguryeo territory. [9] On 16 May, they laid siege to Gaimou (Kaemo), which fell after only 11 days, capturing 20,000 people and confiscating 100,000 shi (6 million liter) of grain. [9]

Afterwards, General Li Shiji's army advanced to Liaodong (Ryotong). [9] On 7 June, they crushed a Goguryeo army of 40,000 troops strong, which had been sent to the city to relieve the city from the Tang siege. [9] A few days later, Emperor Taizong's cavalry arrived at Liaodong. [9] On 16 June, the Tang army successfully set Liaodong ablaze with incendiary projectiles and breached its defensive walls, [9] resulting in the fall of Liaodong to the Tang forces. [9] [10]

The Tang army marched further to Baiyan (Paekam) and arrived there on 27 June. [9] However, the Goguryeo commanders surrendered the city to the Tang army. [9] Afterwards, Emperor Taizong ordered that the city must not be looted and its citizens must not be enslaved. [9]

On 18 July, the Tang army arrived at Ansi Fortress. [9] A Goguryeo army, including Mohe troops, were sent to relieve the city. [9] The reinforcing Goguryeo army totaled 150,000 troops. [11] However, Emperor Taizong sent General Li Shiji with 15,000 troops to lure the Goguryeo forces. [9] Meanwhile, another Tang force would secretly flank the enemy troops from behind. [9] On 20 July, the two sides met at the Battle of Jupilsan and the Tang army came out victorious. [9] Most of the Goguryeo troops dispersed after their defeat. [11] The remaining Goguryeo troops fled to a nearby hill, but they surrendered the next day after a Tang encirclement. [9] The Tang forces took 36,800 troops captive. [9] Of these prisoners, the Tang forces sent 3500 officers and chieftains to China, executed 3300 Mohe troops, and eventually released the rest of the ordinary Goguryeo soldiers. [9] However, the Tang army could not breach into the city of Ansi, [5] [10] [12] which was defended by the forces of Yang Manchun. [5] [10] Tang troops attacked the fortress as many as six or seven times per day, but the defenders repulsed them each time. [13] As days and weeks passed, Emperor Taizong considered abandoning the siege of Ansi to advance deeper into Goguryeo, but Ansi was deemed to pose too great of a threat to abandon during the expedition. [12] Eventually, Tang staked everything on the construction of a huge mound, but it was captured and successfully held by the defenders despite three days of frantic assaults by Tang troops. [14] Furthermore, exacerbated by worsened conditions for the Tang army due to cold weather (winter was approaching) and diminishing provisions, Emperor Taizong was compelled to order a withdrawal from Goguryeo on October 13, [14] but left behind an extravagant gift for the commander of Ansi Fortress. [10] Tang Taizong's retreat was difficult and many of his soldiers died. [14]

Taizong himself tended to the injuries of the Tujue Generals Qibi Heli and Ashina Simo, who were both wounded during the campaign against Goguryeo. [15]

Conflicts in 654–668 and fall of Goguryeo Edit

Under Emperor Gaozong's reign, the Tang Empire formed a military alliance with the Silla Kingdom. [16] When Goguryeo and Baekje attacked Silla from the north and west respectively, Queen Seondeok of Silla sent an emissary to the Tang empire to desperately request military assistance. [16] In 650, Emperor Gaozong received a poem, written by Queen Jindeok of Silla, from the princely emissary Kim Chunchu, who would later accede the Silla throne as King Muyeol. [5] In 653, Baekje allied with Yamato Wa. [17] Even though Baekje was allied with Goguryeo, the Han River valley separated the two states and was a hindrance in coming to each other's aid in time of war. [17] King Muyeol assumed the Silla throne in 654. [18] Between 655 and 659, the border of Silla was harassed by Baekje and Goguryeo Silla therefore requested assistance from Tang. [19] In 658, Emperor Gaozong sent an army to attack Goguryeo [20] but was unable to overcome Goguryeo's stalwart defenses. [21] King Muyeol suggested to Tang that the Tang–Silla alliance first conquer Baekje, breaking up the Goguryeo–Baekje alliance, and then attack Goguryeo. [21]

In 660, the Tang empire and the Silla kingdom sent their allied armies to conquer Baekje. [20] The Baekje capital Sabi fell to the forces of Tang and Silla. [22] [23] Baekje was conquered on 18 July 660, [16] when King Uija of Baekje surrendered at Ungjin. [5] The Tang army took the king, the crown prince, 93 officials, and 20,000 troops as prisoners. [23] The king and the crown prince were sent as hostages to the Tang empire. [16] The Tang empire annexed the territory and established five military administrations to control the region instead of Silla, which they painfully accepted. [24] In a final effort, General Gwisil Boksin led the resistance against Tang occupation of Baekje. [25] He requested military assistance from their Yamato allies. [25] The Tang fleet, comprising 170 ships, advanced towards Chuyu and encircled the city at the Baekgang River. [26] As the Yamato fleet engaged the Tang fleet, they were attacked by the Tang fleet and were destroyed. [26] In 663, the Baekje resistance and Yamato forces were annihilated by the Tang and Silla forces at the Battle of Baekgang. [27] Subsequently, Prince Buyeo Pung of Baekje and his remaining men fled to Goguryeo. [26]

After the conquest of Baekje in 660, the Tang and Silla forces planned to invade Goguryeo. [22] In 661, the Tang forces set off to Goguryeo. [28] As the Tang army advanced with 350,000 troops, [29] Silla was only requested to provide supplies during this expedition. [29] In 662, Yeon Gaesomun defeated General Pang Xiaotai at the Battle of Sasu. [30] [31] The Tang army besieged Pyongyang, Goguryeo's capital, for several months until February 662, when it had to withdraw from the campaign due to the harsh winter conditions [28] and the defeat of its subsidiary force. [32]

In 666, the Goguryeo dictator Yeon Gaesomun died and an internal struggle between his sons for power broke out. [29] Goguryeo was thrown into chaos and weakened by the succession struggle among his sons and younger brother, with his eldest son (and successor) defecting to Tang and his younger brother defecting to Silla. [4] [33] Yeon Gaesomun's death paved the way for a fresh invasion by Tang and Silla in 667, this time aided by Yeon Gaesomun's oldest son. [4] The violent dissension resulting from Yeon Gaesomun's death proved to be the primary reason for the Tang–Silla triumph, thanks to the division, defections, and widespread demoralization it caused. [3] The alliance with Silla also proved to be invaluable, thanks to the ability to attack Goguryeo from opposite directions, and both military and logistical aid from Silla. [3] In 668, the Tang and Silla forces besieged and conquered Pyongyang, which led to the conquest of Goguryeo. [5] [22] [29] Over 200,000 prisoners were taken by the Tang forces and sent to Chang'an. [34]

In 669, the Tang government established the Protectorate General to Pacify the East to control the former territories of Goguryeo. [29] A subordinate office was placed in Baekje. [29] By the end of the war, the Tang empire had taken control over the former territories of Baekje and Goguryeo and tried to assert dominion over Silla. [35] Large parts of the Korean Peninsula were occupied by the Tang forces for about a decade. [28]

However, the Tang occupation of the Korean Peninsula proved to be logistically difficult due to shortage of supplies which Silla had provided previously. [36] Furthermore, Emperor Gaozong was ailing, so Empress Wu took a pacifist policy, and the Tang empire was diverting resources towards other priorities. [37] This situation favored Silla, because soon Silla would have to forcibly resist the imposition of Chinese rule over the entire peninsula. [37] War was imminent between Silla and Tang. [35] [37]

The Tang dynasty general Gao Juren of Goguryeo descent ordered a mass slaughter of Sogdians, identified by their big noses, and had their children impaled in Jicheng (Beijing) when he defeated An Lushan's rebels. [38] [39]

Taizong of the Tang Dynasty (reign: 626 AD – 649 AD)

Emperor Taizong of Tang improved the imperial examination systems for applicants into the civil service

The son of Emperor Gaozu (born Li Yuan), the founder of the Tang dynasty of China, Emperor Tang played a significant role in consolidating the gains his father made. Together with his father, Taizong fought bravely to oust the Sui Dynasty. He then worked very hard to lay the pillars for a successful Tang Dynasty, making many to claim that he was the co-founder of the Tang dynasty.

However, standing in between him and the throne was his older brother the Crown Prince. In what would later be called the Xuanwu Gate ambush, Taizong killed the Crown Prince and his younger brother.

Taizong reign saw the introduction of many reforms in the economy and the government, thereby ushering in a golden age of prosperity and stability for China. His reign was so critically acclaimed that many historians consider him one of the best emperors in Chinese history.

With the support of influential statesmen and generals, including Li Jing, Emperor Taizong’s reign saw massive military and economic gains, which in turn made the Tang dynasty one of the most successful dynasties of imperial China.

The Emperor introduced better imperial examination systems for applicants into the civil service. He was known for allowing some amount of criticisms against him. A truly rational ruler and considered by many as one of the most enlightened rulers of China, Taizong halted the spread of superstitious beliefs that he reasoned caused the empire to retrogress.

Did you know: Because many emperors took a page from Emperor Tang’s policies, it was not uncommon for sinologists and historians to tag the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty as the greatest Chinese emperor of all time?

From Li Shimin to Taizong

Li Shimin , as Taizong was named at birth, was born in A.D. 598. He was the second son of the Tang Dynasty’s first emperor, Gaozu. Born into an influential family during the Sui Dynasty, Li Shimin was privileged to receive a high Confucian education. And even at an early age, Li Shimin exhibited valor. At 17 years old, he led a rescue operation when emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty was ambushed by the Turk army of the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, and was successful.

When the Sui Dynasty was on the brink of collapse, he encouraged his father to build a new and better dynasty. Li Shimin served under his father as a general during the successful overthrow of the tyrannical dynasty. After his father ascended the throne as emperor Gaozu, Li Shimin was given the title of the Duke of Qin.

As the Duke of Qin , he waged battles and fought rivals, including the local military in Gansu, the forces of Song Jingang, and many more. He was victorious in many of his military conquests, so much so that his brothers were overshadowed by his milestones and soon cultivated hatred toward Li Shimin.

Li Shimin overshadowed his brothers due to his many military conquests. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

But the man was not oblivious to his two brothers’ plot to eliminate him and usurp his military influence. He informed his father about the scheme and deployed his troops at Xuanwu Gate, the northern entrance leading into the palace where his brothers would meet their father the following day.

On the day of his brothers’ coup attempt, Li Shimin successfully prevented their evil plan, killing them in the process. Days later, he was given the title of prince, and after a few months, his father abdicated and passed the throne to him, making him the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty. Li Shimin, from then on, was renowned as Emperor Taizong.

7. Genghis Khan (1162 AD–1227 AD)

Often referred to as “the conqueror of the world,” Genghis Khan was the founder of the Mongolian Empire. The first great khan of the empire, he reigned from 1206 AD to 1227 AD and the empire flourished for years after his death.

Genghis Khan is also known as “the genocidal ruler” due to his brutality towards civilians. He expanded his empire, making the Mongolian Empire the largest empire in the history of China. He invaded many Eurasian and prominent Asian regions during his rule and almost every invasion led to the deaths of thousands of civilians which is how he gained such a fearsome reputation.

Despite being known for his brutality, Genghis Khan made many positive developments during his reign. He encouraged religious freedom, established the first international postal system and as a result of conquering various states of different ethnicities, his rule saw much trading and exchange of cultures.

Genghis Khan might have had a ferocious reputation but he played a major role in bringing Eastern and Western cultures into contact. Mongolians remember him as the founding father of Mongolia.


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Wuhou, Wade-Giles romanization Wu-hou, original name Wu Zhao, also called Wu Zetian, (born 624 ce , Wenshui [now in Shanxi province], China—died December 16, 705, Luoyang), posthumous name (shi) of the woman who rose from concubinage to become empress of China during the Tang dynasty (618–907). She ruled effectively for many years, the last 15 (690–705) in her own name. During her reign, Tang rule was consolidated, and the empire was unified.

Why was Wuhou important?

Wuhou brought stability to the Tang dynasty and needed reforms to the reunified Chinese empire. Under her policy, China changed its social structure from a military and political aristocracy to a bureaucracy with officials selected by examination.

Who ruled after Wuhou?

In 705 Wuhou’s ministers and generals formed a conspiracy, seized the palace, and forced her to abdicate in favour of Zhongzong, her son whom she had deposed in 683 only one month after he assumed the throne. Zhongzong reigned until 710.

Wu Zhao entered the palace of the Tang emperor Taizong (ruled 626–649) in 638, at the age of 14, as a junior concubine. By that time, the Tang dynasty had recently reunited China, largely through the efforts of Taizong. Little is known of Wu’s life as a concubine of Taizong, but, on his death in 649, she is traditionally said to have already entered into intimate relations with his heir, the Gaozong emperor. Relegated to a Buddhist convent on the death of Taizong, as custom required, the future empress Wuhou was visited there by the new emperor, who had her brought back to the palace to be his own favourite concubine. She first eliminated her female rivals within the palace—the existing empress and leading concubines—and in 655 gained the position of empress for herself, eventually bearing Gaozong four sons and one daughter.

Wuhou used her authority to bring about the fall of the elder statesmen, all of whom had served Taizong and still exercised great influence over the government. These men opposed her elevation to the position of empress, mainly because, although she was the daughter of a relatively senior officer, her family was not one of the great aristocratic clans. They also objected to the nature of her relationship with Gaozong, on the grounds that, as she had been a concubine of Taizong, it was incestuous. By 660 the empress had triumphed over all opponents, who had been dismissed, exiled, and, in many instances, finally executed. Even the emperor’s uncle, the head of the great family of the Changsun, of imperial descent, was hounded to death, and his relatives were exiled or ruined.

Virtually supreme power was now exercised by the Wuhou empress in the name of the sickly Gaozong, who was often too ill to attend to state affairs for long periods. The emperor, who was weak in character, relied on her entirely, and, for the last 23 years of his life, the empress was the real ruler of China. She continued to eliminate potential rivals, even when these were her own relatives, but she governed the empire with great efficiency, employing able men who clearly felt loyalty to her and stood by her when she was challenged. Her great ability as an administrator, her courage, decisive character, and readiness to use ruthless means against any opponent, however highly placed, won her the respect, if not the love, of the court. In the years between 655 and 675, the Tang empire conquered Korea under military leaders who were picked and promoted by the empress.

When Gaozong died in 683, he was succeeded by his son Li Xian (by Wuhou), known as the Zhongzong emperor. The new emperor had been married to a woman of the Wei family, who now sought to put herself in the same position of authority as that of Wuhou, for Zhongzong was as weak and incompetent as his father. After one month Wuhou deposed her son, exiled him, and installed as emperor her second son, Li Dan (the Ruizong emperor), whose authority was purely nominal. A revolt was raised by Tang loyalists and ambitious young officials in the south. It was crushed within weeks with the loyal cooperation of the main armies of the throne. This demonstration of the support she commanded in the public service made the position of the empress unshakable.

Six years later, in 690, at age 65, the empress usurped the throne itself. Accepted without revolt, she ruled for 15 years. During that period the question of the succession began to assume great urgency. Her own nephews of the Wu family had hoped that, as she had already changed the name of the dynasty to Zhou, she would also displace the Tang heirs of the Li family and leave the throne to one of the Wu nephews. Neither of them nor their sons was popular or unusually capable on the other hand, Wuhou’s own sons, the two former emperors Zhongzong and Ruizong, had little support and less ability. But, even among her loyal supporters, there was a growing hope that the Tang family of Li would not be discarded. In 698 the empress decided to accede to these views the exiled Zhongzong was recalled to court and made crown prince. The empress showed her remarkable quality in this decision she did not place her own family in the line of succession or designate one of her nephews as her heir. She seems to have had no ambition on behalf of her own family, only a determination to retain power for herself to the end.

In the last years of her life, from 699, the empress gave her favour to the Zhang brothers, artistic but depraved courtiers who engaged her affection by elaborate entertainments and skillful flattery. They were intensely resented by the court and senior officials, many of whom had the temerity—and courage—to warn the empress of their pernicious activity. She did not heed these warnings and, as she gradually fell into ill health, depended increasingly on the care of the Zhang brothers. In February 705 a conspiracy formed among the leading ministers and generals, who seized the palace, executed the Zhang brothers, and compelled the empress, old and ill, to yield power to Zhongzong, who reigned until 710. She retired to another palace and died there in December of that year.

The Wuhou empress was a highly competent ruler, using men of her own choice, regardless of their social standing. Although her motives were to secure her own authority, the consequences of her policies were to be of great historical importance. The transformation of Chinese society in the Tang period from one dominated by a military and political aristocracy to one governed by a scholarly bureaucracy drawn from the gentry was promoted by her policy. The significance of this aspect of her rule was long obscured by the prejudice of Chinese historians against an usurping empress and her many acts of cruelty toward opponents. She established the new unified empire on a lasting basis and brought about needed social changes that stabilized the dynasty and ushered in one of the most fruitful ages of Chinese civilization.

Watch the video: Emperor Taizong and the Rise of the Tang Dynasty DOCUMENTARY (July 2022).


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