Compiled from Secrets of the
The Tang Dynasty Emperor Taizong was one of the most outstanding rulers of ancient
His leadership ushered in an era of great wealth, culture and international
prestige, known as the ‘reign of Zhenguan’. However, this great leader had a
less than salubrious past while he was still known as Li Shimin. It turned out
his rise to the throne was the result of an uprising in the palace engineered
by his supporters. This uprising has become known in history as The Xuanwumen Incident. China
Li Shimin was the second son of Emperor Gaozu, who in total had four sons. The eldest, Li Jiancheng, was made Crown Prince while Li Shimin was made the Prince of Qin. The fourth son, Li Yuanji was made the Prince of Qi. The third son died while still a child. Li Shimin had an outstanding military career. He had a number of exceptionally talented officials and generals under his leadership, which presented a threat to the Crown Prince. Li Jiancheng and the younger brother, Li Yuanji, often denigrated Li Shimin in front of Emperor Gaozu, who gradually became more distant from Li Shimin.
One day, Li Jiancheng invited Li Shimin to a banquet. Li Shimin vomited blood for several days subsequently after the banquet. Li Jiancheng saw that his plot had failed and took the opportunity for a Turkic incursion into the north of the country to suggest to Emperor Gaozu that Li Yuanji lead an expedition to repulse them instead of Li Shimin, and also to have Li Shimin’s most abled generals put under Li Yuanji’s command. His aim was to weaken Li Shimin’s force. When Li Shimin heard about this, he decided to strike first.
Li Shimin set up an ambush of foot and mounted soldiers at the northern gate of the imperial city, called Xuanwumen. When Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji past Xuanwumen to attend court, they noticed something was amiss and attempted to flee. However, Li Shimin followed on horseback and killed Li Jiancheng with an arrow. Li Yuanji was killed by an arrow from Li Shimin’s follower, Weichi Jingde.
Following the death of Li Jiancheng, Li Shimin was made Crown Prince. Shortly afterwards, Emperor Gaozu abdicated, allowing Li Shimin to rise to become emperor, ruling as Emperor Taizong. It seemed as though Li Shimin had no alternative but to instigate The Xuanwumen Incident to kill his brothers because Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji repeatedly sought to harm him, forcing him to retaliate. However, others felt that Li Shimin long had ambitions for the throne and after killing his younger brother, he also took his wife, concubine Yang Mei, generating reproaches for himself.