(Clearwisdom.net) Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, named Li Shimin at birth, was born into a noble family. The name "Shimin" [in Chinese, "Shi" means "the world," "min" means "the people"] means "save the world and let people be safe and secure." He envisioned great goals before he became the Chinese emperor. He was intelligent and courageous. Because he was brave throughout his life and never lost his enthusiastic vigor he became the father of the glorious Great Tang Dynasty and established a great empire, which was at the time and still today is remembered by all races and nations. He was the type of hero that history has rarely seen.
1. Raising an Army, Fighting the Enemy and Conquering the Nation
As a youth, Li Shimin practiced martial arts and studied everything worth knowing. When he was 18, he served under his father Li Yuan during the uprising against Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty. They published an official condemnation of Emperor Yang that exposed his character. They let it be known that he listened to slander and took advice without knowing the truth, including when it came to killing loyal and good officials. Li Shimin required strict discipline from his army. His troops captured the Duke of Xihe and the corrupt sheriff Gao Deru. Li Shimin told them, "My purpose for going to war was to save people from this life of misery and to get rid of corrupt officials!" Then he ordered the execution of Gao Deru. His first Xihe War thus ended with a glorious victory.
On the warpath to conquer Houyi, Li Shimin ran out of supplies. Also, he was told that Eastern Tujue was planning an attack on Taiyuan, because the defense force was weak. Li Yuan wanted to retreat to Taiyuan to plan his next move. However, after carefully evaluating the situation, Li Shimin believed the Huoyi defense forces were not strong enough to attack. Therefore, he decided to attack Houyi first and then attempt to conquer Xianyang. He believed this plan to be the strategy that would bring success. Alas, Li Yuan didn't agree to this plan.
When he realized that the troops had begun to retreat, Li Shimin was deeply worried. He cried loudly and Li Yuan heard this cry. He asked Li Shimin for an explanation. Li Shimin said, "We are now launching a righteous war. If we charge forwards, we will win every battle. But, if we retreat, the troops will be at a disadvantage. If the enemy attacks from behind, we will be defeated and our troops killed. Therefore, I felt much grief and couldn't help crying." Upon hearing this, Li Yuan understood the wisdom of the strategy and ordered the retreating troops to come back.
The supplies arrived shortly after. Li Yuan and Li Shimin attacked Huoyi and conquered it without any great losses. Then they went on to Chang 'an. The city commander surrendered the city. In the year 618, Li Yuan declared himself emperor of Chang'an and established the Tang Dynasty. Li Shimin was made Prince of Qin.
When the Tang Dynasty was first established, many different military forces occupied different regions and fought each other. Li Shimin successfully unified the empire by making peace with these forces.
During a battle, Li Shimin was always in the front position. He took food and lived with the generals and soldiers, sharing their happiness and despair. Once, when he was on patrol with 500 soldiers, they were surrounded by the enemy's army. General Shan Qiong charged towards Li Shimin with a long lance. Wei Chide accepted the challenge, dishorsed Shan Qiong, and helped Li Shimin to break out of the enemy attack.
Li Shimin set a good example. At one time he had not eaten for two days, nor did he take off his armor. The officers and soldiers were also very tired and hungry. Although there was only one lamb, Li Shimin shared it with all the officers and soldiers, endearing him to everyone. For that they all fought the enemy with all their abilities. Morale was very high among Li Shimin's troop and they won every battle. It took only ten years to unify the nation.
Li Shimin established an institute of learning in the west part of the Qin Palace. He invited scholars to this institute. The most well known among those who accepted the invitation were eighteen scholars, including Fang Xuanling and Du Ruhui. Whenever possible, Li Shimin held discussions with the scholars about history. The institute was highly respected. Anyone invited to serve in this institute was said to "have mounted Ying Zhou." [According to Chinese legend, Ying Zhou is a mountain in the heavens.)
2. Openly Inviting Criticisms and Appointing Officials Based on Their Talents
In 627, Li Yuan abdicated and Shimin became emperor and was called Emperor Taizong.
Emperor Taizong treated all his enemies with compassion. This was the reason why many of his former enemies became loyal and capable officials of the empire, among them Wei Zheng. He submitted more than 200 suggestions to Emperor Taizong, of which most were adopted. Wei Zheng's death was very upsetting to Emperor Taizong. He said, "With a bronze mirror, one can see whether one is properly attired. With history as a mirror, one can understand the rise and fall of a nation. With men as a mirror, one can see whether one is right or wrong. Now I've lost my faithful mirror with the death of Wei Zheng."
Emperor Taizong was wise and very resourceful. However, he was not an opportunist, nor did he play games. He always listened to criticisms and suggestions. He said, "Straightforward criticisms may sound harsh, but they are helpful in governing the nation." Once, he asked his officials to criticize him. Zhangsun Wuji and others only complemented him. Emperor Taizong did not buy this and said, "I asked you as to what mistakes I made! But, you just flatter me. I'd like to discuss openly the strong points and shortcomings of everyone, so you can let go of your willingness to only flatter." Then Emperor Taizong told all officials their strengths and weaknesses.
Someone worried that criticizing the emperor would make him lose face. Emperor Taizong said, "If people dare not speak out, their anger will be held inside and I will never know the true situation. This is what really worries me. If I am at fault, you can openly point it out. I will not chastise you. It is tragic if one doesn't know ones faults!" The officials then no longer held any doubt about the Emperor's true intention and submitted in writing the successes and failures of the polices.
General Chang was not good at writing. So he asked one of his poor guests, Mr. Ma Zhou, who stayed at his home, to write for him. Ma made more than twenty suggestions, all of which were meant to eliminate injustices. Emperor Taizong did not believe that this was truly written by Chang He, who was a military officer. So he asked him in person. After Chang He explained, Emperor Taizong said, "This was not written by you. You should have put Ma Zhou's name on it. That was a reasonable approach. I am sincerely calling for suggestions and criticisms, and you should also treat this the same way." He urged Ma Zhou to come and see him more often. After a short conversation with Ma, he appointed the latter as an official in the emperor's consultant ministry. Ma later became a very famous official.
Although Emperor Taizong opened the door widely in his search for good officials, he didn't lower his standards. Instead, he looked closely at people's moral values and talents.
He also appointed the right people to the right position so that everyone's strong points could be fully utilized. Let's take Fang Xueling and Du Ruhui, who were both very famous, as examples. They were not good at dealing with individual cases and trivial matters, but were very good at making national strategy and policies. Therefore, they were appointed as prime ministers. Then, Dai Zhou wasn't the academic type, but he was very upright, so he was appointed judge. He turned out to be very efficient and capable. Emperor Taizong thought very highly of him.
To appoint local officials, the Emperor expended a lot of effort. The names and other basic information of all state governors were written on a big screen in his bedroom. This record was updated whenever new information was received. This allowed the Emperor to always know what was accomplished and by whom. He also offered very good opportunities for scholars through the Imperial Examination System. Whenever he saw the newly selected scholars who had just passed the examination, he said gladly, "All the capable people are now serving the country."
3. Benefiting the People and Living a Simple and Disciplined Life
Emperor Taizong announced the theory, "The people are the root of the state." He introduced many initiatives to develop the economy, such as promoting the "Equal Land Scheme" (people were given an equal amount of land to farm), encouraging people to cultivate marginal lands, adopting new tax codes to ease the people's burden, encouraging people to have more children, improve productivity, develop irrigation systems and dredge rivers and trenches.
A certain official worried that easing people's burdens would reduce the nation's revenue. Therefore he suggested "The nation needs revenue now. If we only think about benefiting the people, the nation will not be able to launch big projects."
Upon hearing this, Emperor Taizong told the officials, "To establish a nation, we must first gain the trust of the people. If we want the nation to be strong, we must allow people to become prosperous first. If people are unsatisfied, the nation will have problems. Anything else is not as important."
He also ensured that a new legal system was enacted to strengthen the rule of law.
The nation became very prosperous. Farmers reaped successive bumper harvests and the price of food decreased. People began to live and work in peace and prosperity and the nation became very strong.
Emperor Taizong also set a good example for his officials in terms of austerity. The palace was built in the beginning of the Sui Dynasty and was beginning to deteriorate. He had enacted a rule that officials could not live in an overly luxurious and extravagant manner. Therefore, all officials lived a modest lifestyle. The land was governed by honest officials who were not corrupt. One such official was Dai Zhou in the Ministry of Revenue. Because of his simple life style, there was no place in his home to pay tribute to him after his death. Wei Zeng lived similarly. He had not owned a regular house during his life.
Emperor Taizong also paid much attention to self-cultivation. His literary talents were outstanding. However, as he didn't want to pursue fame and was very modest, he forbade people from publishing collections of his poems and essays. He said, "If my works are good enough, history will tell. They will be passed on for a hundred generations. If they are not good, what's the point of collecting and publishing them? Emperor Liang Wu, Emperor Later Chen and Emperor Yang had all published their literary works, but none of them was able to save their dynasties. So what is the use of publishing them? What's most dangerous for an emperor is the lack of good policy and morality. What good do these collections do the nation!"
People in the Qing Dynasty collected his poems and essays and published them in the "Complete Poetry of the Tang" and the "Complete Prose Works of the Tang." Seven volumes of his prose works, five odes, and one volume with 69 poems was collected.
4. Nationalities Live in Harmony, Great Tang Dynasty Reaches Great Height
Due to Emperor Taizong's efforts, the Han nationality and minorities lived together harmoniously. He appointed officials from minority groups. He also allowed minorities to live in Chang'an permanently. More than 10,000 Tu Xue families moved to Chang'an at the time. In 630 AD, the chieftains of all the minorities in Northwest China jointly requested that Emperor Taizong adopt the title "Heavenly Khan." Emperor Taizong accepted this suggestion and used a stamp reading ""Heavenly Khan" to sign all documents that pertained to the minorities in the Northwest.
Once, Taishang Huang (also translated as "retired emperor") Li Yuan and Emperor Taizong invited the officials to a banquet. Li Yuang asked Khan Jieli to dance to add to the fun, and then asked Feng Zhidai, the chieftain of the Man nationality in the south, to compose and recite poems. Everyone was in a very good mood. Li Yuan said with much pleasure, "All the nationalities have become one family. We have never seen this in history!"
Later, Emperor Taizong asked his officials, "How can we solve the conflicts between different nationalities?" No answers were satisfactory, so he came up with five suggestions. The last suggestion was, "To love and protect minorities just like you do those with Han nationality."
During Taizong's time, the Tang Dynasty became the most politically, economically and culturally advanced country in the world, owning vast territories. A most magnificent and colorful "Prosperity of Zhenguan" unfolded and was recorded in China's history.
Emperor Taizong adopted flexible political policies, cared for people, appointed talented scholars and assured that no injustice was carried out. When dealing with external affairs, he mainly used good moral concepts and good diplomatic policies. But when necessary he used military force. This made China into the strongest country worldwide and enabled China to establish the first civilization. Many countries adopted the majority of Tang policies, among them ancient Japan. Many diplomats, students, artists and monks from Asia and Africa came to Chang'an. The capital of Tang became the capital of the world. The cultural and religious development was at its greatest height and splendor. Because of Tang's leading position in the world, and as Chinese diplomats and businessmen traveled to other Asian countries, foreigners began to refer to the Chinese people as "sons of Tang." Even in current times, some Westerners still call Chinese people as "the people of Tang."
During war-time, Li Shimin recruited the most courageous heroes and capable generals for his army, while in peaceful times he managed to recruit the most outstanding scholars and experts to the palace. During his reign he was a role model for all of his officials. He established a thriving and prosperous society and culture. People are forever missing and longing for that heavenly dynasty, still vivid in their memory. Emperor Taizong's sense of justice, compassion, modest personality and broad mind were respected and admired by all.