Emperor Taizong of Tang China (January 23, 599–July 10, 649), born Li Shimin, was the second emperor of the Tang Dynasty of China from 626 to 649. He encouraged his father, Li Yuan, to start the uprising that established the Tang dynasty, and many now consider Taizong to have been the co-founder of the dynasty. In 630, Taizong's General Li Jing conquered the once mighty Eastern Turkic Khanate and allowed Tang to become the major political and military power of the region. Accordingly, leaders of bordering tribes convened at Changan (Xian) the same year and asked for Taizong to take on the title of Heavenly Khan (天可汗). Under his reign, the famous rule of Zhenguan (貞觀之治) took place (his era name was Zhenguan). At the time, it was said that there was no need for the people to lock doors at night and that items left on the road remain untouched by others. The prosperity of the era and the leadership of Taizong and his renowned officials epitomizes the peak of traditional rulership that future generations would strive to emulate. His posthumous name was Wenhu-dasheng-daguang Xiao Huangdi (文武大聖大廣孝皇帝 "Filial Emperor who is Civil and Martial, Greatly Holy, and Greatly Expansive").
Taizong was born in Wugong (武功, in present-day Shaanxi) as the second son of Li Yuan, and was of one-quarter Xianbei (a people related to modern-day Turks) blood. The most capable and militarily inclined of Li Yuan's many sons, Taizong showed his promise at an early age, helping to rescue Emperor Yang from a Turkic ambush and besiegement at the age of 16. In 616, the 18-year-old Taizong followed his general-father to his garrison-post at Jinyang, Shanxi, where he instigated his father to stage a military coup against the autocratic and fast crumbling Sui regime. Leading the troops with his elder brother Li Jiancheng, the rebel army took the capital Changan in September 617, thereafter putting a puppet emperor on the throne before Li Yuan himself proclaimed the establishment of a new dynasty, the Tang, in 618.
After the establishment of Tang, Taizong was appointed the Prince of Qin (秦王) by his father. In the succeeding compaigns to augment the power of the new dynasty, Taizong made numerous contributions, intensifying the heated sibling rivalry between him and his two brothers—Li Jiacheng, the heir apparent, and Li Yuanji, a younger brother.
Taizong is credited with creating the custom of Door gods, colorful block prints and carvings placed by the doors of temples, homes, businesses, etc. to ward off evil spirits.
The Palace Coup at the Xuanwu Gate
The original crown prince was Taizong's elder brother Li Jiancheng (李建成) although their father had promised the throne to Taizong more than once for his contributions to Tang. The situation was very similar to that of the Sui Dynasty where an ordinary crown prince would feel his future throne threatened by a more capable younger brother. Fearful of losing his throne, Li Jiancheng colluded with his fourth brother, Li Yuanji (李元吉 aka Prince Qi 齊王), to get rid of Taizong. They attempted to poison Taizong during a feast and at another event urged him to ride a wild horse with hopes that he should fall. They also bribed Li Yuan's concubines to defame Taizong and tried unsuccessfully to lure his subordinates away with gold. Coincidentally, there was an Eastern Turk raid into Tang territory. Li Jiancheng recommended Li Yuanji to defend against this attack and used it as an excuse to summon much of Taizong's subordinates and soldiers out of his control. With much of Taizong's forces in Li Yuanji's command, Li Jiancheng plotted to assassinate Taizong in the farewell feast for Li Yuanji. However, Taizong was tipped of this plot and pre-empted it by ambushing and killing both Jiancheng and Yuanji at the Xuanwu Gate (玄武門之變) on July 2, 626 (武德九年六月四日). Jiangcheng and Yuanji on approaching the gate sensed danger and turned their horses to flee. Taizong himself led the pursuit and struck Jiancheng dead with an arrow. Taizong's horse then became frightened and ran towards a patch of forest where Taizong fell. Yuanji suddenly appeared and tried to strangle the unhorsed Taizong with a bow. Taizong's General Weichi Jingde then rode to Taizong's rescue and speared Yuanji. Jiancheng and Yuanji's forces still fighting at the Xuanwu Gate then ceased resistance upon being shown their leaders' heads. All of Jiancheng and Yuanji's sons were subsequently executed but all others involved were pardoned. Two days later, Taizong was made the new crown prince and regent (in that he would make decisions on all affairs and then notify the emperor). Two months later, Taizong's father Emperor Gaozu abdicated and he became emperor.
Taizong died in Hangfeng Hall of Cuiwei Palace in the year 649 (翠微宮含風殿) and was buried in August in Zhao Mausoleum (in Shaanxi today). He was 50 years old.
He was married to:
- Wende-shunsheng Empress (文德順聖皇后), Zhangsun-shi (長孫氏)
- Xian Consort (賢妃), Xu Hui (徐惠)
- Consort Yang I (楊妃)
- Consort Yang II (楊妃)
- Yang-shi (楊氏)
- Consort Yin (陰妃)
- Consort Yan (燕妃)
- Secondary Consort Wei (韋貴妃)
- Wang-shi (王氏)
He had fourteen sons (in order):
- Crown Prince Li Chengqian: son of Wende Empress
- Prince Chu, Li Kuan (楚王寬): son of one from the harem
- Prince Wu, Li Ke (吳王恪): son of Consort Yang I
- Prince Bu, Li Tai: son of Wende Empress
- Commonor, Li Yu (庶人祐): son of Consort Ying
- Prince Shu, Li Yin (蜀王愔): son of Consort Yang I
- Prince Jiǎng, Li Yun (蔣王惲): son of Wang-shi
- Prince Yue, Li Zhen (越王貞): son of Consort Yan
- Emperor Gaozong of Tang China: son of Wende Empress
- Prince Ji, Li Shen (紀王慎): son of Secondary Consort Wei
- Prince Jiāng, Li Xiao (江王囂): son of Consort Yan
- Prince Dai, Li Jian (代王簡): son of one from the harem
- Prince Zhao, Li Fu (趙王福): son of Consort Yang II
- Prince Cao, Li Ming (曹王明): son of Consort Yang-shi
He had twenty-one daughters (not in order):
- Princess Annan (洝南公主)
- Princess Nanping (南平公主)
- Princess Suian (遂安公主)
- Princess Pu'an (普安公主)
- Princess Jin'an (晉安公主)
- Princess Changle (長樂公主), daughter of Wende Empress
- Princess Yuzhang (豫章公主)
- Princess Baling (巴陵公主)
- Princess Nanling (蘭陵公主), Li Shu (淑), courtesy name Lizhen (麗真)
- Princess Dongyang (東陽公主)
- Princess Jinyang (晉陽公主), Li Mingda (明達), daughter of Wende Empress
- Princess Gaoyang (高陽公主)
- Princess Chengyang (城陽公主)
- Princess Xincheng (新城公主), daughter of Wende Empress
- Princess Xiangcheng (襄城公主)
- Princess Ankang (安康公主)
- Princess Xinxing (新興公主)
- Princess Jinshan (金山公主)
- Princess Changshan (常山公主)
- Princess Linchuan (臨川公主), daughter of Secondary Consort Wei
- Princess Qinghe (清河公主), Li Jin (敬), courtesy name Dexian (德賢)
He was the subject of 64-chapter (in eight volumes) The Novel of the Prince of Qin of the Great Tang (大唐秦王詞話 Datang Qin Wang Cihua) by Zhu Shenglin (諸聖鄰) of the Ming Dynasty. The novel is also known as The Biography of the Prince of Qin of the Tang Dynasty (唐秦王本傳 Tang Qin Wang Benzhuan), Romance of Tang (唐傳演義 Tang Chuan Yiyan), and Romance of the Prince of Qin (秦王演義 Qin Wang Yanyi).