Birthday: January 28, 598
Emperors & Kings
Died At Age: 51
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: Prince of Qin, Li, Shimin
Born Country: China
Born in: Wugong County, Xianyang, China
Famous as: Emperor
Spouse/Ex-: Wu Zetian (m. 637 AD), Empress Zhangsun (m. 613 AD – 636 AD)
father: Emperor Gaozu of Tang
mother: Duchess Dou
Died on: July 10, 649
place of death: Cuiwei Palace in Chang'an, Tang China
Cause of Death: Dysentery
Emperor Taizong of Tang, formerly Prince of Qin, personal name Li Shimin, was a Chinese monarch belonging to the Tang dynasty who reigned from 626 to 649. The second emperor of the Tang dynasty, he is typically considered the co-founder of it, as he had advised his father to rise in rebellion against the Sui dynasty at Jinyang in 617. He then won several wars against some of the most dangerous enemies of the dynasty, consolidating its control over China. He is traditionally regarded as one of the greatest emperors in China's history. In the ensuing centuries, his tenure as the emperor came to be viewed as an ideal model against which all future emperors were judged. His era, the "Reign of Zhenguan”, came to be known as the golden age in the history of ancient china, and became a required subject of study for future crown princes. With Taizong at the helm, China witnessed exceptional military, administrative, and economic growth. Unlike many of contemporary monarchs around the world, he garnered a reputation for being a frank rationalist as well as a scholar of logic and scientific reason, freely demonstrating his disdain for superstitions and claims of signs from the heavens. According to scholars, Taizong was so successful as a monarch because of being open to criticism from his highly competent subordinates and not misusing his absolute power.
Childhood & Early Life
Born in 598 in Wugong (modern Xianyang, Shaanxi), Li Shimin was the son of Li Yuan and Duchess Dou (later Empress Taimu). Yuan, the Duke of Tang, was a general of the imperial Sui dynasty. His parents had at least four more children together, three sons, Li Jiancheng, Li Yuanba, and Li Yuanji, and a daughter, the future Princess Pingyang.
After Emperor Yang of Sui was trapped by the Eastern Turkish forces, an empire-wide call to arms went out to support the emperor’s rescue efforts. Shimin subsequently joined the military and became part of a regiment commanded by General Yun Dingxing, ostensibly earning distinction during his service.
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The Rebellion Against the Sui Dynasty
Traditional Chinese historians depict him as the driving force behind his father’s insurgency against Sui monarchs. However, the convincing evidences demonstrate that he played a minor part in the rebellion that brought the Tang dynasty into power.
Both Shimin and his older brother Jiancheng served as Tang commanders in the early stages of the campaign to take control of the Sui capital.
Prince of Qin
Li Yuan, or Emperor Gaozu, established the Tang dynasty in 618. Shimin gained recognition as a general and strategist and led the successful attack against the eastern capital of Luoyang and the eastern plain. He spent the next few years gathering strength in Luoyang.
During this period, Jiancheng tried to lead a coup against their father, but it failed. However, he was exonerated. Following this, he bribed officials in Shimin’s administration and tried to assassinate him at least once.
In 626, the dynamics between them came to a tipping point. Shimin had come to the capital to say farewell to Li Yuanji, who had been appointed as the commander of an expedition against the Turks. Shimin’s brothers apparently concocted a plan to kill him.
Shimin, aided by a few of his followers, took control of the Xuanwu gate (the northern entrance to the emperor’s palace) and led a surprise attack against his brothers, killing them. He then informed the emperor of what had transpired. Two months after this, Emperor Gaozu stepped down in Shimin’s favor.
Accession & Reign
Shimin ascended the throne as Emperor Taizong of Tang in September 626. This coup had made Taizong the sovereign of a vast region. For the next millennium, he was admired not only in China but also in Korea and Japan as well as by the monarchs of China’s neighbouring peoples to the north.
It is not a simple task to distinguish the real Taizong from the mythical one. Most of his court historians, endorsed by the emperor himself, created this idealized version of him and his court. In ‘Zhenguanzhengyao’ (composed in 708–710), for instance, Taizong’s court has been depicted as a utopian model of government.
In the beginning, Emperor Taizong of Tang’s administration closely resembled his vision of an ideal government. Under him, some extremely competent men served for the betterment of the empire, including Wei Zheng and Xiao Yu, his Confucian moral mentors; Du Ruhui and Fang Xuanling, the real implementers of his policies; and Zhangsun Wuji, his wife’s brother.
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Most of the groundwork of the dynasty’s policies and institutions had been done by his father. The layout of the government and the comprehensive law code, which would serve as the blueprint for all of East Asia, were already composed. Taizong’s main duty was to help this infrastructure run smoothly.
The main issue, as it emerged, was rebuilding the local government after years of rebellion and civil war. It took almost the entirety of his reign to usher back normalcy in civil administration and set up a unified civil service. He ran a frugal administration and the military was largely self-sufficient.
Emperor Taizong of Tang’s most prominent opponents included the great clans of Shandong, who believed themselves to be of higher social standings than of the royal House of Li. He dealt with them by publishing a national compendium of genealogies, in which the royal house was listed at the top.
He improved the state schools set up by his father and founded a national academy directorate to run them. He also established prefectural schools, like medical schools, all over the empire.
Emperor Taizong of Tang initiated an attempt to categorize the texts of the Confucian canon and to give standard commentaries to the candidates who were appearing in examinations. Official histories were also collected.
Taizong continued China’s military campaigns against both the Eastern and the Western Turks. He also extended his control over the wealthy and highly civilized oasis kingdoms in present-day Xinjiang. However, in 645, an attack on the northern Korean state of Koguryŏ proved to be disastrous. Despite this, Taizong garnered incredible prestige on the international level for the Tang dynasty.
Marriage & Issue
When Shimin was 14 years old, he exchanged wedding vows with the daughter of the Sui dynasty general, Zhangsun Sheng. She was 12 years old at the time. After her husband’s ascension to the imperial throne, she became known as Empress Zhangsun, previously Empress Wendeshunsheng, or in short, Empress Wende. She was one of Taizong’s most trusted and capable advisors.
They had several children together, including Li Chengqian, Prince Min of Hengshan; Li Tai, Prince Gong of Pu; Li Zhi, the future Emperor Gaozong of Tang; and Princess Jinyang.
He also had several concubines and a number of children through them. One of his most prominent minor consorts was poetess Xu Hui. Taizong’s favourite daughter, Princess Gaoyang, was born to one of his unknown consorts.
Death & Succession
Emperor Taizong of Tang had developed an illness by the summer of 649. This illness was likely the result of the intake of pills made by alchemists. He passed away on July 10, 649, in Cuiwei Palace in Chang'an, Tang China. He was 51 years old at the time.
Taizong had originally chosen his oldest son, Li Chengqian, as the crown prince. However, fearing that his father would replace him as the crown prince with his younger brother Li Tai, he led an unsuccessful coup against his father.
Subsequently, Taizong took away the title and made him a commoner. He did not bestow the title upon Li Tai, believing him to be the reason for Li Chengqian’s undoing, and appointed another son Li Zhi as his successor.