My dear Kacvey,

Let take a pause from Khmer politics, and amuse the brain with a look at a portion of the Chinese history on how the Sui dynasty, according to “The Tales from Five Thousand Years of Chinese History” 上下五千年, came to an end.

Since your eternal education has always dipped you into the Western world civilization and history, you might say you have learned enough of world history to a point that the Chinese history might not have any bearing at all on your comprehension of past world affairs. Your reasoning is well valid as far as you are concerned, but as far as many Cambodians in Cambodia are concerned, it is not a wrong belief that they know more of Chinese history and tradition than you do; therefore, in the back of their mind/habit/customs there always is a hint of Chinese “culture” that is not negligent in the way thinking is developed and formulated. So, please try to engage a conversation on or about the Sui Dynasty, the next time you see some of them on the golf course that is on the highway after the fork to Kg Speu.

And please do not advocate that why wasting time and effort discussing Chinese history instead of Khmer. The fundamental premise is that you are supposed to already know Khmer history; if you don’t, tough luck, it’s your own problem and issue that you have to solve it by yourself. Please, do not put the blame on other people because of your own ignorance. The blame is on YOU!

Enough digression! Now, back to the subject!

The Sui dynasty 随朝 (581-618 AD) had 3 emperors: Emperor Wen 文帝 (581-604 AD), and Emperor Yang 杨蒂(604-617 AD) and Emperor Gong 恭帝 (617-618 AD); the first 2 emperors were the most famous, the third one was just a figure-head while the dynasty was already on the verge of collapsing.

Emperor Wen came to the throne after his troops defeated the Chen 陈 armies and unified the whole country for the 1st time since 316 AD and after 270 years of division. During his reign he consolidated his rule by instituting civil service and military reforms, establishing national civil service examinations, promoting capable officials and harshly penalizing corrupt ones. The country bathed in political stability and economic and social prosperity.

After the death of Emperor Wen in 604 AD, Yang Guang, Emperor Wen’s 2nd son, occupied the Sui throne, and took the name as Emperor Yang. Shortly after his accession, Emperor Yang undertook 2 ambitious projects: building a new capital in Luoyang 洛阳 and commissioning the construction of the Grand Canal 大运河. While Luoyang was being built, he commissioned the building of the Tongji Canal 通济渠. 5 years later he conscripted laborers for the construction of 2 more canals: the Yongji Canal 永济渠 and the Jiang’nan River 将南河. After their completion, these 4 canals constituted the Grand Canal which connected South and North China. Boasting a total length of some 4,000 li (li = about 500 meters or 1,640 feet), it is one of the great public works in Chinese history, and has played a positive role in China’s economic and cultural development until the present day. Needless to say, it came about at great cost of civilian labor and millions of life.

To satisfy his love for travel throughout the country, Emperor Yang ordered the constructions of 10,000 large ships, and every time he undertook a trip, he had an entourage of 200,000 to 500,000 troops with him for his protection. A mobile palace was also commissioned not only to accommodate the Emperor but also hundreds of palace staff. For one such tour, he conscripted civilian workers to carve out a road through the rocky Taihang Mountain 太行山 and to ensure his safety, a 1,000,000 workers  were conscripted for rush works on the Great Wall 长城 with a 20-day deadline.

As Emperor Yang’s hubris increased over the years, those years of construction were becoming unbearable on the populace.

Then in 611 AD, he launched a campaign against Korea to prove his military mettle. He personally directed the campaign by ordering the conscription of millions of civilians for the construction of 300 battle ships and 50,000 large transportation vehicles. The conscripted civilian laborers worked without respite day and night and under strict surveillance. Many laborers succumbed to the harsh conditions and died at the work site.

Huge convoys of vehicles and large fleets of boats streamed day and night toward the north. Many of the hundreds of thousands of conscripted laborers transporting the supplies died of exhaustion or hunger along the way, their corpses strewing the field. To make up for the excessive number of deaths among the laborers, oxen were press-ganged into pulling the carriages. As a result there was a shortage of oxen to work the fields. The subsequent poor harvests caused a steady deterioration of the life of common folks. Peasant uprisings became endemic.

Of the many insurgent forces against the cruel, dissolute despot Emperor Yang, the strongest was the Wagang Army 瓦岗军 led by Zhai Rang 翟让 and Li Mi 李密. But in a serious rift, Li Mi killed Zhai Rang, and from then on the Wagang Army went downhill. As the internecine drama played out, an anti-Sui insurgency led by Li Yuan 李渊 gained strength in the north.

Li Yuan was born into the Sui aristocracy and inherited the title of the Duke of Tang 唐国公. In 617 AD, Emperor Yang appointed him the regent of Taiyuan 太原留守 with the charge of suppressing the peasant uprisings there. After a number of initial victories, Li Yuan became alarmed by the increasing number and strength of the rebellions.

Convinced that the end of Sui rule was near, Li Yuan with the help of his 3 sons, Li Jiancheng 李建成, Li Shimin 李世民 and Li Yuanji 李元吉, and a friend named Liu Wenjing 刘文静 created their own army called “yishi 义士” (those who rebel against evil rule) and marched towards the imperial capital Chang’an 长安.

Sensing the approaching doom, Emperor Yang fled to the safety of Jiangdu 江都 and wallowed in a life of drinking and merrymaking with his consorts. Despite his studious effort to insulate himself against bad news, he could not help saying with alarm to Empress Xiao 萧皇后: “I’ve heard about plots against my life.  What the heck! Let’s revel and drink to our heart’s content.” He once held a mirror and looked at his own image for a while before declaring: “What a handsome head! I wonder who is going to cut it off.”

The fateful day finally came. A Sui general of the palace named Yuwen Huaji 宇文化及 mutinied, entered the palace with a detachment of troops, and placed the Emperor under house of arrest.

Emperor Yang asked the military officials who kept him under surveillance: “What crime have I ever committed?” They replied: “You started wars and indulged in profligate living. You trusted evil-minded officials and turned a deaf ear to wise counsel. Because of you, men died in battle, women and children have lost their livelihood, and people became displaced. Do you still insist you are innocent?” Emperor Yang answered:”It’s true that I have let the people down. But I’ve done right by people like you. You’ve shared the good life. Who’s behind this?” The officials said: “There is not one person behind this. The entire nation hates you because you’re a despot.” At this Emperor Yang fell silent and untied the sash around his waist. He gave this to the officials who used it to strangle him. Thus, the Sui dynasty, which had ruled China for 38 years, came to an end.

Meanwhile, after the capture of Huoyi 霍邑, Li Yuan unleashed 200,000 troops on Chang’an. After overwhelming the Sui defenders, Li Yuan’s army captured Chang’an. In the summer of 618 AD, when the news arrived from Jiangdu that the Emperor Yang had been killed, Li Yuan deposed Emperor Gong 恭帝 (original name: Yang You 杨侑, Emperor Yang’s grandson and regent). He changed the dynasty name to Tang , and ascended the throne as Emperor Gaozu of Tang 唐高祖. Thus began the Tang dynasty 唐朝, one of the most-noted dynasties in Chinese history, especially under the reign of Li Shimin (Li Yuan’s 2nd son) who occupied the throne after the Xuanwu Gate Incident 玄武门之变 and the subsequent abdication of Emperor Gaozu. Li Shimin was known in the Chinese history by his temple name as Emperor Taizong  唐太宗.

Kacvey, hope you followed the flow of events that occurred 1,500 years ago, and fathom on the social meaning that history can tell and teach us. By the way, if you opened your eyes more attentively, you might notice that there is a constant movement of Cambodians of Chinese heritage who carry a broom to the tomb of their ancestors. 5 April, is the Qing Ming 清明节  or “Tomb Sweeping Day” – the Cambodians pronounce: “Chéng Méng”; it is also known as “Chinese Memorial Day” or “All Souls Day.”