Li Shi Min, the model emperor

Li Shi Min was the second emperor of the Tang dynasty Photo: Li Shi Min/Public Domain

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2013 — Li Shi Min (599–649 AD), also known as Emperor Tai Zong, the second emperor of the Imperial Tang Dynasty was regarded by historians as the best emperor China ever produced. His name Li Shih Min meant – “Li who helps the world and saves the people.”

Throughout the rest of Chinese history, his reign was the benchmark against which all other emperors were measured, and his “Reign of Zhen Guan” was considered as the golden age of China, and a required study curriculum for all future crown princes. Under Li Shi Min, China flourished economically and militarily.


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For more than a century after his death, China continued to enjoy peace and prosperity. At the time, the Tang Empire was the largest and the strongest nation in the world. It covered most of the territory of present day China, Vietnam, Mongolia and much of Central Asia as far as eastern Kazakhstan.

The political stability, military power and economic wealth encouraged the development of Chinese art and poetry. Many neighboring kingdoms sent envoys, students and priests to learn Chinese philosophy and culture at the Imperial College. The legacies of those students are reflected in those countries today. It is also interesting to note that Chinese Cantonese people still address themselves as “Tang Ren” or the Tang people.

Li Shi Min was the most capable and respected leader of the Tang empire. His army defeated all oppositions to create the Imperial Tang Empire. However, he was the second son, thus his elder brother, Li Jian Cheng became the crown prince, while Li Shi Min was named the King of Ch’in.

Li Jian Cheng considered Li Shi Min as a political rival and plotted with their younger brother, Li Yuan Ji to murder Li Shi Min. The King of Ch’in learned of the assassination plan and launched a successful pre-emptive ambush against his brothers at the Xuan Wu Gate. Afterwards, Li Shi Min accused his brothers as conspirators of a rebellion against the realm and presented their heads to the emperor, Li Yuan. Two months after the Xuan Wu Gate incident, the emperor abdicated his throne in favor of his son, Li Shi Min.


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As an emperor, Li Shi Min was all powerful, but he feared one man, his Prime Minister Wei Tseng. Wei Tseng considered it as his responsibility to berate the emperor for his misdeeds. One example of Li Shi Min’s regard for Wei Tseng took place in the imperial garden.

Li Shi Min was playing with a small bird when he spied the approaching prime minister. To forestall another round of rebuke for non-emperor like behavior, the sovereign hid the bird under his imperial robe. By the time the prime minister completed his business with the emperor and departed, the bird had suffocated to death.

It should be noted that Li Shi Min had to blackmail his father into launching the rebellion against the reining Imperial Sui Empire. Li Yuan had been a provincial governor and was a cousin by marriage to the tyrannical Sui Emperor Yang Di. Li Yuan had no wish to risk his life and that of his family to conspire against his cousin the emperor. Li Shi Min arranged for two of the emperor’s concubines to seduce Li Yuan. Bedding the Emperor’s concubines was a capital offense and the rest as they said was history. 

 


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Tang Long

William Tang is a research analyst. Born in Taiwan, he is fluent in three dialects of Chinese and Spanish, plus survival level German and Japanese. He is a graduate of the Officers Advance Course at the General Political Warfare College, Taipei, Taiwan.

He lectures on Chinese history and culture and has two books in publication: “Tales of the Dragon – The Book of Lore,” an anthology of Chinese legends, fables, and historical anecdotes; and “Pets Only,” which recounts a pets operated eating establishment in northern Virginia. He lives with Shadow (Lab), Taz (Boxer) and Foxy Lady (Japanese Shiba Inu) in Fredericksburg, VA. He writes under the penname of TANG Long.

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