There is a total of 83 dynasties and kingdoms and 559 emperors and kings in the history of China. The first imperial emperor took control of China in 221 BC (prior to this emperor, there were only confederation emperors). His name was Qín Shǐ Huángdì (秦始皇帝). He established the first unified “Chinese” dynasty, named after himself, the Qin Dynasty. This dynasty saw many the creation of imperial traditions and was the result of a hard-earned victory in a major, long-lasting war (over 200 years) by the Qin family. On the contrary, the Qin clan only saw 15 years of leadership due to their inability to seize the moment.
Liú Bāng (刘邦), a former peasant, started an uprising, conquered the Qin clan, and defeated the other rebel groups fighting for the emperorship. He declared the Han Dynasty as the new rule of the land (named after the the territory he originally was recognized as king over). His lineage would continue on for over 400 years, encompassing 26 emperors and recognized as one of the greatest in all of Chinese history. China amazingly advanced in culture, literature, economics, etc. during this time period. This dynasty became so revered that ever since the Han Dynasty, “Hàn” (汉) has become the name of the ethnic group that overwhelmingly make up the majority of Chinese people.
Hàn Wǔdì (汉武帝) was the the seventh emperor of the Han Dynasty, one of the greatest emperors of China, and held the role for 54 years, the longest anybody would hold the throne until 1800 years later. His rule was from 141 BC – 87 BC. Among his greatest accomplishments was the promotion of Confucianism and his military campaigning which expanded the Han Dynasty to its farthest borders.
Emperor Suí Wéndì
The Sui Dynasty (581-618) followed a dark age in China’s history, three centuries of north-south divide. Suí Wéndì was responsible for a hugely influential change in the order of the system, one that was riddled with inefficiency, weak leadership, and division. As the first emperor of the Sui Dynasty, Wén of the Suí family created a foundation worthy of a long-enduring regime. He would rule until his death in 604, and the fate of the Sui Dynasty would be shouldered by his two predecessors, Emperor Yang and Emperor Gong.
His greatest projects include UNESCO World Heritage Site-the Grand Canal, an extension of the Great Wall, granaries that helped regulate the taxation system and improve food supplies, and one of China’s best military organizations in its history, combining innovative tactics and land/sea unit warfare to overwhelm neighboring kingdoms. His military campaigns include purging the remainder of the previous Zhou Dynasty, taking parts of Sichuan province, and eliminating the Chen Dynasty to the south. His emphasis on the “Hàn” (汉) ethnicity reignited the superiority of these people over the other ethnicity groups within the area, the effects of his efforts of which are still evident today.
A Textbook Machiavellian Disaster
Unfortunately, his immediate successor was overly ambitious. If Machiavelli were familiar with Emperor Yang, he would likely have blamed him for the worst crimes any “prince” could commit, as everything needed to create a formidable empire was handed down to him by his father, Suí Wéndì. The Sui Dynasty was poised to conquer Korea, expand the western frontier into the plateaus of Tibet and past the deserts throughout Xinjiang (as the successor dynasty, Tang Dynasty, would do just years later). Historians record that rice storage buildings were overflowing, providing enough portions for 50 years, meaning that the peasants would have been content at the time. Everything indicated that if the successor of Suí Wéndì was at least half as decent, he would also share in similar success.
Machiavelli may have suggested that the leader following Suí Wéndì to have led simply, riding on the success of the dynasty’s founder; however, his son, Emperor Yang, was full of greed and vanity, trying to outdo his father’s greatness. His precarious military campaigns to Korea and to Vietnam both ended in embarrassing defeat—both forces which were smaller and weaker than China at the time–a reason why China would never venture out beyond their traditional borders again. Eventually, his own generals would strangle Emperor Yang to death, leaving the throne to Suí Wéndì’s grandson, Emperor Gong. At only 12 years old, Emperor Gong was too young to rule, forcing the throne over to the stronger and favorable Tang family, creating a new and great emperorship, the Tang Dynasty.
万岁,万岁,万万岁！（wàn suì, wàn suì, wàn wàn suì! Long live the king!)
What makes the story of Suí Wéndì so fascinating is the epic-drama-tragedy nature of his life. He stitched the Chinese nation back together after hundreds of years of division, led with great fairness and strength, provided many effective public works innovations, cared for his subjects by providing a bountiful amount of food, and ensured his children’s children would live harmoniously and proud. However, his own blood ruined all of his hard-earned achievements. In the end, his worst enemy and his greatest downfall was his own son. Let’s see if HBO would ever make a special about such a great emperor, Suí Wéndì! 万岁,万岁,万万岁！(literally: live to be ten thousand years old!)
万 wàn (10,000) 岁 suì (_#_ years old)