THE SUI DYNASTY by Arthur F. Wright


Email this review


Students of Chinese history will welcome the posthumous publication of this work on the Sui Dynasty by the distinguished Yale Orientalist. There has been a tendency to neglect the Sui period: it was quite short, lasting from 581 to 617, and it was eclipsed by the great age of the T'ang, which followed. Dr. Wright, however, maintains that to understand the accomplishment of the T'ang one must recognize the importance of the Sui, which put an end to several centuries of strife and civil chaos and reunified the Chinese world. It's a fascinating story as told here, and one need not be a Sinologist to appreciate it. The author has succeeded in giving life to the major figures, not only far removed from us in time and culture, but only imperfectly known through the comparatively small number of surviving contemporary documents. Indeed, the quotations from those sources, which pepper the text, have been selected with canny good sense. Yang Chien, founder of the dynasty and a proponent of equal justice, reluctantly pardoned a favored official with these words: "". . . now that it has come to this, I cannot bear to have you put to death. And what I am doing is simply twisting the law in deference to my private feelings."" At the same time, the book's tendency to become anecdotal is offset by scrupulous attention to the context provided by Chinese civilization as a whole. A well-written and well-balanced history, then, which merits more than scholarly attention.

Pub Date: Dec. 11th, 1978
Publisher: Knopf