Li Jiancheng

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Li Jiancheng
Crown Prince of the Tang Dynasty
DiedJuly 2, 626(626-07-02) (aged 37)
Full name
Lǐ jiànchéng 李建成
Posthumous name
Crown Prince Yin 皇太子
HouseHouse of Li
FatherEmperor Gaozu of Tang
MotherEmpress Dou [zh]

Li Jiancheng (Chinese: 李建成; pinyin: Lǐ Jiànchéng; 589 – July 2, 626, formally Crown Prince Yin (Chinese: 隱太子; pinyin: Yǐn Tàizǐ, literally, "the hidden crown prince"), nickname Pishamen (Chinese: 毗沙門; pinyin: Píshāmén; Sanskrit: Vaiśravaṇa)[citation needed], was the first crown prince of the Chinese dynasty Tang Dynasty. He was the oldest son of the founding emperor Emperor Gaozu (Li Yuan) and the crown prince after the founding of the dynasty in 618. Li Jiancheng was murdered by his younger brother, Li Shimin, the Prince of Qin during Xuanwu Gate indident in 626. All of Li Jiancheng's sons were executed and excluded from imperial clan. After Li Shimin took the throne, Li Jiancheng was posthumously stripped of his crown prince status and granted the title "Prince Yin of Xi" (息隐王). Later, he was buried with ceremonies due an imperial prince. In 642, Li Jiancheng's crown prince title was restored as the crown Prince of Yin (隐太子).


Li Jiancheng was born in 589, during the reign of Emperor Wen of Sui. He was the oldest son of Li Yuan the Duke of Tang, a hereditary noble, and Li Yuan's wife Duchess Dou, who was herself the daughter of Dou Yi (竇毅) the Duke of Shenwu and Northern Zhou's Princess Xiangyang. Duchess Dou would subsequently give birth to three of Li Jiancheng's younger brothers -- Li Shimin, Li Xuanba (李玄霸, who died in 614), and Li Yuanji. She also gave birth to a sister of Li Jiancheng's, the eventual Princess Pingyang, although it was not clear whether she was older or younger than Li Jiancheng. At some point, Li Jiancheng received the title of Heir Apparent of Tang.

Participation in Tang's founding[edit]

The rebellion against Sui rule[edit]

In 616, with rebellions beginning to engulf northern China and frequent Eastern Tujue incursions across the border, Emperor Yang of Sui commissioned Li Yuan to be the commander of Taiyuan, guarding it against both rebels and Eastern Tujue. At that time, Li Yuan took Li Shimin with him to the city Jinyang, which was the administrative center of Taiyuan. As the chief commander of Taiyuan, Li Yuan had to leave his family behind according to law. Li Jiancheng was put in charge of the estate and he was the man of the house of Hedong (河東, in modern Yuncheng, Shanxi) while Li Yuan was away.[1] According to the traditional interpretation in the official historical records, in 617, Li Yuan was persuaded by Li Shimin to rebel against Sui rule (See later section "Historical sources"), while Wen Daya (溫大雅)'s Da Tang Chuangye Qijuzhu (大唐創業起居注) recorded that the decision to revolt was attributed to Li Yuan himself.[2] In 613, Li Yuan had already begun to have designs on the Sui throne but the timing was not right. When Emperor Yang of Sui assigned Li Yuan to Jinyang in 616, he was pleased and regarded his assignment as a heavenly granted opportunity.[3] In 617, Li Yuan said to Li Shimin: "The Sui Empire is about to collapse and the next family to rule this country would be us. The only reason I haven't begun rebellion is because your brothers are still in Hedong. " [4] Li Yuan sent secret messengers to Hedong to transfer his family to Jinyang. The family was led by Li Jiancheng. The journey was full of danger and hardships, one of Li Jiancheng's younger brothers, Li Zhiyun died.

Even before Li Jiancheng, Li Yuanji, and Chai Shao (who, at the urging of Li Yuan's daughter, left Chang'an on his own while she went into hiding) arrived at Taiyuan, Li Yuan rebelled, declaring that he wanted to support Emperor Yang's grandson Yang You the Prince of Dai, then nominally in charge at Chang'an, as emperor, while honoring Emperor Yang as Taishang Huang (retired emperor).

Li Yuan made both Li Jiancheng and Li Shimin key generals, and in nine days, they captured Xihe Commandery (西河, roughly modern Lüliang, Shanxi), impressing their father. Subsequently, Li Yuan divided his forces into six armies, having Li Jiancheng and Li Shimin command three each. He also created Li Jiancheng the Duke of Longxi and Li Shimin the Duke of Dunhuang. Subsequently, Li Yuan advanced toward Chang'an, but when he got near to Hedong, his army could not advance due to torrential rains. With rumors running rampant that Liu Wuzhou and Eastern Tujue were about to attack Taiyuan, Li Yuan began ordering a retreat back to Taiyuan; it was only at Li Jiancheng's and Li Shimin's urging (that retreating back to Taiyuan would mean sure defeat) that Li Yuan changed his mind and stayed, and Li Jiancheng and Li Shimin then captured the fortress of Huoyi (霍邑, in modern Linfen, Shanxi), eventually convincing Li Yuan to bypass Hedong and directly advance toward Chang'an. After he crossed the Yellow River into Guanzhong (i.e., the Chang'an region), he sent Li Jiancheng with Liu Wenjing (劉文靜) east to guard Tong Pass and Yongfeng Storage (永豐倉) and to stop any potential Sui reinforcements from the eastern capital Luoyang. Once Li Yuan himself approached Chang'an, he summoned both Li Jiancheng and Li Shimin (whom he had sent north of the Wei River to seize territory) to Chang'an to join him in sieging Chang'an. In winter 617, Li Yuan captured Chang'an and declared Yang You emperor (as Emperor Gong). He had himself created the Prince of Tang, become the regent over Yang You.

In spring 618, Li Yuan sent Li Jiancheng and Li Shimin toward Luoyang, which was then under attack by the rebel leader Li Mi the Duke of Wei, ostensibly to help Sui forces there. The Sui forces at Luoyang rejected the overture, and Li Jiancheng and Li Shimin subsequently returned to Chang'an.

Tang imperial reunification[edit]

Later in spring 618, Emperor Yang, then at Jiangdu (江都, in modern Yangzhou, Jiangsu), was killed in a coup led by the general Yuwen Huaji. When the news arrived at Chang'an, Li Yuan had Yang You yield the throne to him, establishing Tang Dynasty as its Emperor Gaozu. Li Yuan created Li Jiancheng crown prince.

In 619, Li Yuan sent Li Jiancheng to attack the peasant rebel leader Zhu Shanhai (祝山海), the Duke of Huxiang, and Li Jiancheng defeated Zhu. Later that year, when Li Gui, the Emperor of Liang, was captured in a coup by his official An Xinggui (安興貴), who then surrendered to Tang, Li Yuan sent Li Jiancheng to welcome An and to escort Li Gui to Chang'an, where An was executed by Li Yuan.

Meanwhile, Li Jiancheng was developing a reputation for leniency but favoring drinking and hunting. Li Yuan, worried that he was not paying sufficient attention to the important matters of state, had the key ministers Li Gang (李綱) and Zheng Shanguo (鄭善果) join Li Jiancheng's staff.

Campaigns against Tujue[edit]

On the 1st day of the 7th month of 620, Li Shimin was sent to fight Wang Shichong. In fall 620, believing in reports that Li Zhongwen (李仲文), who was then in charge at Taiyuan, was collaborating with Eastern Tujue, was planning to rebel, Li Yuan sent Li Jiancheng to Pufan (蒲反, i.e., Hedong) to guard against Li Zhongwen, while summoning Li Zhongwen back to the capital. Li Zhongwen complied and was subsequently executed.

In spring 621, when the Xiongnu chieftain Liu Xiancheng (劉仚成) harassed Tang's border territory, Li Yuan sent Li Jiancheng to attack Liu. When Li Jiancheng subsequently captured a number of the Xiongnu, he initially released their leaders, leading them to surrender in large numbers, and he then massacred them. Only Liu escaped and fled to Liang Shidu the Emperor of Liang. In 622, Li Jiancheng was one of the commanders that Li Yuan sent, along with Li Shimin, Li Zihe (李子和), and Duan Decao (段德操), to counter an Eastern Tujue incursion.

Rivalry with Li Shimin[edit]

Meanwhile, an intense rivalry had developed between Li Jiancheng and Li Shimin, who carried the title Prince of Qin, as while Li Jiancheng had made some contribution toward Tang's reunification of China, a number of the more major contenders, including Xue Rengao, the Emperor of Qin, Wang Shichong, the Emperor of Zheng, and Dou Jiande, the Prince of Xia, were all defeated and/or captured by Li Shimin, causing him to possess the greater reputation among the army. Li Yuanji, who was also often relied on by Li Yuan as a general and had been created the Prince of Qi, supported Li Jiancheng in this rivalry, and often pushed Li Jiancheng toward a more hardline position against Li Shimin, wanting to be crown prince when Li Jiancheng would become emperor. Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji had better relations with Li Yuan's favored young concubines than Li Shimin did (as their mother Duchess Dou had died before Tang's establishment), and those concubines helped rehabilitate Li Jiancheng's standing before Li Yuan, causing him to no longer consider making Li Shimin crown prince instead, as he considered at one point.

By winter 622, Liu Heita the Prince of Handong, previously a Xia general who rose against Tang after Li Yuan had executed Dou Jiande, posed the only remaining major threat against Tang rule even though he had been defeated by Li Shimin earlier in the year. At the suggestion of his staff members Wang Gui and Wei Zheng, who argued that Li Jiancheng needed some victories himself to establish his reputation, Li Jiancheng volunteered to command the army against Liu Heita. Li Yuan thus sent Li Jiancheng, assisted by Li Yuanji. Around the new year 623, with Liu's forced bogged down while attacking Tang's Wei Prefecture (魏州, in modern Handan, Hebei), Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji engaged him at Guantao (館陶, in modern Handan as well), crushing him. Liu fled north toward Eastern Tujue, but was ambushed and captured by his own official Zhuge Dewei (諸葛德威), who delivered him to Li Jiancheng. Li Jiancheng executed Liu. China was by this point almost completely unified by Tang.

In 623, when Eastern Tujue made another incursion into Tang territory,Li Yuan again sent Li Jiancheng and Li Shimin to guard against the attack. Meanwhile, at one point, Li Yuanji tried to persuade Li Jiancheng to have Li Shimin assassinated when Li Shimin was visiting Li Yuanji's mansion, but Li Jiancheng, not having the heart to kill a brother, stopped Li Yuanji from doing so.

In 624, Li Jiancheng requisitioned a number of soldiers from the general Li Yi the Prince of Yan, to supplement his guard corps, against Li Yuan's regulations. When this was revealed to Li Yuan, Li Yuan rebuked Li Jiancheng and exiled his guard commander Keda Zhi (可達志). When, subsequently, Li Jiancheng nevertheless requested the commandant at Qing Prefecture (慶州, in modern Qingyang, Gansu), Yang Wen'gan (楊文幹), to conscript troops, presumably to guard against Li Shimin, the officers Erzhu Huan (爾朱煥) and Qiao Gongshan (橋公山) informed Li Yuan that Li Jiancheng was encouraging Yang to start a rebellion so that they could seize power together. Li Yuan, then at Renzhi Palace (仁智宮, in modern Tongchuan, Shaanxi), was incensed, and summoned Li Jiancheng, then at Chang'an, to Renzhi Palace. Li Jiancheng briefly flirted the idea of occupying Chang'an and not accepting the order, but eventually reported to Renzhi Palace to request forgiveness. Li Yuan put him under arrest. When Yang heard this, Yang rebelled, and Li Yuan, after promising Li Shimin that he would be made crown prince, sent Li Shimin to attack Yang. (Under Li Yuan's promise, Li Jiancheng would be removed as crown prince and created the Prince of Shu instead. He would then send Li Jiancheng to the modern Sichuan region.) Once Li Shimin left, however, Li Yuanji, Li Yuan's concubines, and the chancellor Feng Deyi, all spoke on Li Jiancheng's behalf, and Li Yuan changed his mind, released Li Jiancheng, and allowed him to return to Chang'an and remain as crown prince. Instead, Li Yuan only blamed the discord between his sons on Li Jiancheng's staff members Wang Gui and Wei Ting (韋挺), and Li Shimin's staff member Du Yan, exiling them. Yang was subsequently assassinated by his own subordinates.

Later that year, Li Yuan, troubled by repeated Eastern Tujue incursions, seriously considered burning Chang'an to the ground and moving the capital to Fancheng, a suggestion that Li Jiancheng, Li Yuanji, and the chancellor Pei Ji agreed with. Li Shimin opposed, however, and the plan was not carried out. Meanwhile, Li Shimin himself was sending his confidants to Luoyang to build up personal control of the army there.

The Poisoned Wine at Eastern Palace[edit]

According to Zizhi Tongjian,[5] on the 1st day of the 6th lunar month of 626, 3 days before Xuanwu Gate Incident, Li Jiancheng hosted a banquet for Li Shimin and Li Yuanji at his residence, Eastern Palace. Li Shimin was drunk and was carried back home after a night of drinking. Li Shimin reported through officials at his residence that he started vomiting a lot of a blood after his returning home. Li Yuan sent a royal decree to Li Jiancheng: "The prince of Qin (Li Shimin) has a low alcohol tolerance, therefore, he was forbidden to go out drinking at night." Poison was not mentioned by Li Yuan. Li Shimin apparently interpreted the wine as an assassination attempt. Li Yuan considered sending Li Shimin to guard Luoyang to prevent further conflict, however, Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji opposed the plan because they believed that this would only give Li Shimin an opportunity to build up his personal power. They expressed their concerns to Li Yuan's ministers who explained to him that this plan could escalate a brother rivalry into a civil conflict. Li Yuan, therefore, did not carry out the plan.

The date and the actual historicity of this event were disputed. According to Zizhi Tongjian, it happened 3 days before Xuanwu Gate Incident. In Li Jiancheng's biography from "the Old book of Tang" and "the New book of Tang", it took place after Yang Wengan incident but several months before Xuanwu Gate Incident. However, in Fang Xuanling's biography from "the Old book of Tang", it happened before the founding of Tang, and wine was not mentioned.[6] It still remains a mystery whether someone poisoned Li Shimin or not at the Eastern Palace.d


By 626, Li Shimin was fearful that he would be killed by Li Jiancheng, and his staff members Fang Xuanling, Du Ruhui, and Zhangsun Wuji were repeatedly encouraging Li Shimin to attack Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji first—while Wei Zheng was encouraging Li Jiancheng to attack Li Shimin first. Li Jiancheng persuaded Li Yuan to remove Fang and Du, as well as Li Shimin's trusted guard officers Yuchi Gong and Cheng Zhijie (程知節), from Li Shimin's staff. Zhangsun, who remained on Li Shimin's staff, continued to try to persuade Li Shimin to attack first.

In summer 626, Eastern Tujue was making another attack, and under Li Jiancheng's suggestion, Li Yuan, instead of sending Li Shimin to resist Eastern Tujue as he first was inclined, decided to send Li Yuanji instead. Li Yuanji was given command of much of the army previously under Li Shimin's control, further troubling Li Shimin, who believed that with the army in Li Yuanji's hands, he would be unable to resist an attack. Li Shimin had Yuchi summon Fang and Du back to his mansion secretly, and then on one night submitted an accusation to Li Yuan that Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji were committing adultery with Li Yuan's concubines. Li Yuan, in response, issued summonses to Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji for the next morning, convening the senior officials Pei Ji, Xiao Yu, and Chen Shuda to examine Li Shimin's accusations. As Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji approached the central gate leading to Li Yuan's palace, Xuanwu Gate (玄武門), Li Shimin carried out the ambush he had planned. He personally fired the arrow that killed Li Jiancheng. Subsequently, Yuchi killed Li Yuanji. Li Shimin's forces entered the palace and, under the intimidation of Li Shimin's forces, Li Yuan agreed to make Li Shimin crown prince. Two months later, Li Shimin succeeded to the throne. Li Jiancheng's five sons were all executed as well.

Li Jiancheng was initially reduced to commoner rank. After Emperor Taizong took the throne, he posthumously granted Li Jiancheng the Prince of Xi and assigned his own son Li Fu (李福) into Li Jiancheng's lineage as Li Jiancheng's heir. He also buried Li Jiancheng with ceremonies due an imperial prince. In 642, he restored Li Jiancheng's crown prince title. However, Li Jiancheng was never fully rehabilitated, whose daughters still had the status of daughters of a common prince, rather than a crown prince.

Historical sources[edit]

Da Tang Chuangye Qijuzhu[edit]

"Qijuzhu" is a type of imperial diary which records the emperor's daily activities. The purpose of Qijuzhu is to help govern the emperor's behavior by faithfully recording the actions and words of the Emperor in court. The emperor must not read or ask about "Qijuzhu". It appeared as early as Han dynasty. In Tang dynasty, imperial diarists were in charge of "Qijuzhu". According to convention, "Qijuzhu" should be edited and the original diary destroyed after the death of the emperor.[7]

The author of Da Tang Chuangye Qijuzhu (大唐创业起居注, "Imperial diary of the foundation of the Great Tang") was Wen Daya (c. 572 - 629 A.D.). He served as Li Yuan's staff of records and witnessed the establishment of Tang dynasty in 618. Da Tang Chuangye Qijuzhu was a three—chapter book with detailed narrative and a firsthand account of the 357 days of insurrection. His work was finished before Li Shimin began censoring the official imperial records. As Wen Daya was a supporter of Li Shimin.[8], there was no need to exaggerate Li Jiancheng's contribution to Tang's founding. As the only complete original court diary left from pre-Qing times, Da Tang Chuangye Qijuzhu is now generally considered a more reliable source on early Tang Dynasty[clarification needed].[9]

Da Tang Chuangye Qijuzhu emphasizes that Li Yuan was the mastermind of the revolt against the Sui. Li Shimin, who was a teen at the time, only served as a secondary role in these events. Li Shimin made no greater contribution than Li Jiancheng to the founding of Tang empire. In the official histories, Li Jiancheng was described as an incompetent crown prince, alcoholic spendthrift and playboy spending most of his time hunting for fun.[10] Li Yuan was also described as incompetent, a mediocre coward lack of ambition in the official histories. However, Wen Daya portrayed a different Li Jiancheng as a capable leader, generous, open-minded. He knew how to recruit talented people and did well in his early political career as a crown prince. Li Yuan, in Wen Daya's narrative, was a fearless leader with vision, courage and strategic planning.

In recent years historians have re-examined the evidence for events contained in the official histories (the Old Book of Tang, the New Book of Tang and Zizhi Tongjian) and have concluded that important elements were probably fabricated during the reign of Li Shimin under his own orders. On the basis of other material, most importantly a previously neglected early Tang dynasty source, Da-Tang Chuangye Qijuzhu, historians have been able to correct some of the bias and distortions of the official histories about the founding of Tang dynasty.[9][11][12][13][14] Da Tang chuangye qijuzhu provides a clear example of how Li Shimin had history rewritten in favor of himself, who actually murdered his own brothers and deposed of his father. It also explained many self-contradictions found in the official histories. The truth that had intentionally been distorted and ignored by later official historians can be found in the Da Tang chuangye qijuzhu.[15][need quotation to verify]



  • Princess Zheng Guanyin (599-676), married 614


  1. Li Chengzong, Prince of Taiyuan (title granted in 620, died prematurely)
  2. Li Chengdao, Prince of Anlu (title granted in 620, executed and excluded from imperial clan 626)
  3. Li Chengde, Prince of Hedong (presumably born after 620, executed and excluded from imperial clan 626)
  4. Li Chengxun, Prince of Wu'an (presumably born after 620, executed and excluded from imperial clan 626)
  5. Li Chengming, Prince of Runan (presumably born after 620, executed and excluded from imperial clan 626)
  6. Li Chengyi, Prince of Julu (presumably born after 620, executed and excluded from imperial clan 626)


  • Li Wanshun (李婉順) (622-661), courtesy name Wāngniáng (尪娘), the second daughter, granted the title of Princess of Wénxǐ in 638, married Liú Yīngdào (劉應道)
  • Princess of Guide, the fifth daughter

Tombstone inscription[edit]

Li Jiancheng's tombstone has been stolen for many years. In 2013, his tombstone was recovered, and the tombstone inscription was released in public on June 8, 2013.

There are 55 words in total, as follows: “大唐故息隐王墓志。王讳建成。武德九年六月四日薨于京师。粤于贞观二年岁次戊子正月已酉朔十三日辛酉。葬于雍州长安县之高阳原。”


  1. ^ The New Book of Tang, Scroll 79.《新唐書》卷七十九:“...留建成護家...”
  2. ^ Wen Daya 溫大雅, Da Tang chuangye qiju zhu 大唐創業起居注 (ca. 626; Shanghai: Shanghai guji publishing house, 1983), 1.2.
  3. ^ Wen Daya 溫大雅, Da Tang chuangye qiju zhu 大唐創業起居注:"私喜此行,以為天授。"
  4. ^ Wen Daya 溫大雅, Da Tang chuangye qiju zhu 大唐創業起居注:”隋历将尽,吾家继膺符命,不早起兵者,顾尔兄弟未集耳。今遭羑里之厄(意指遭受囚禁),尔昆季须会盟津之师,不得同受孥戮,家破身亡,为英雄所笑。“
  5. ^ Zizhi Tongjian, Scroll 191.《资治通鉴·卷第一百九十一·唐纪七》
  6. ^ Fang Xuanling biography in "the Old Book of Tang"《旧唐书·房玄龄传》
  7. ^ Li Bingzhong, Wei Canjin, Lin Conglong, ed. (1990). 簡明文史知識詞典 (Xi'an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe), 694.
  8. ^ Wen Dayai's biography is in the old book of Tang 《旧唐书·温大雅传》
  9. ^ a b Bingham, Woodbridge. "Wen Ta-ya: The First Recorder of T'ang History." Journal of the American Oriental Society 57 (1937): 368-74.
  10. ^ Li Jian cheng biography in "the Old Book of Tang"《旧唐书·隐太子建成传》: “资简弛...”
  11. ^ Lo Hsiang-lin, T'ang-tai wen-huashih (Taipei, 1955), pp. 1-29
  12. ^ Li Shu-t'ung 李樹桐, Tangsbih k'ao-pien 唐史考辨 (Taipei 台北, 1965), pp. 1-98, 276-30
  13. ^ Fukui Shigemasa, 'Dai To sogyo kikyo-chu ko', Shikan, 63.4 (1961) 83-8
  14. ^ The Cambridge History of China, Volume 3, "Sui and T'ang. China, 589-906, Part I," edited by Denis Twitchett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979
  15. ^ Zhang Zexian (1992). "Da-Tang chuangye qijuzhu 大唐創業起居注", in Encyclopedia of China 中国大百科全书, Chinese history 中国历史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Encyclopedia of China Publishing House), Vol. 1, 146.


a.^ The direct translation is "several (Chinese) Liters". 4 Chinese Liters during Sui-Tang era = 1 Liter today, or 2.1 pints today. So Li Shimin vomited no less than 1 liter of blood based on today's unit system after drinking. A human body has 5 liters of blood in total.
d.^ Historian Meng Xianshi 孟憲實's comments on "the Poisoned Wine" in CCTV's documentary "The Xuanwu Gate Incident": "If Li Jiancheng attempted to murder Li Shimin at his own residence by poisoning, it must be badly done since the target was still alive. This obvious move could only make Li Yuan angry. It would also be difficult for Li Yuanji to carry out the plan since he was only a guest at a banquet in East Palace. Moreover, if it were found out, especially in this case the target did not die, it would break his political line with Li Jiancheng."