Chu Suiliang

From New World Encyclopedia
Detail of Rubbing from Sheng_Jiao_Xu Stele(ACE653, Sian, China): calligrahy by Chu_Suiliang(ACE 596-658)

Chu Suiliang (褚遂良) (597-658), courtesy name Dengshan (登善), formally Duke of Henan (河南公), was a chancellor of the Chinese Tang Dynasty, during the reigns of Emperor Taizong (唐太宗, the second Emperor of Tang, personal name Lǐ Shìmín; 李世民), and Emperor Taizong's son Emperor Gaozong (唐高宗; personal name Li Zhi,李治). He became increasingly trusted by Emperor Taizong toward the end of his reign and was charged with the responsibilities of serving as the imperial historian and providing honest advice to the emperor.

At Emperor Taizong's death, Chu, along with Emperor Gaozong's uncle Zhangsun Wuji (長孫無忌), was entrusted with the responsibility of assisting Emperor Gaozong. In 655, over his strenuous opposition to Emperor Gaozong's desire to remove his first wife Empress Wang (王皇后) and replace her with Empress Wu (later known as Wu Zetian; 武則天), Chu was progressively demoted, and was eventually sent to be the commandant of the extremely distant Ai Prefecture (愛州, roughly modern Thanh Hoa Province, Vietnam). He died in exile in 658.


Chu Suiliang was born in 597, during the reign of Emperor Wen of Sui (楊堅). His father, Chu Liang (褚亮), had been a mid-level official during both Chen Dynasty (陳朝) and Sui Dynasty (隋朝), and was known for his literary abilities. After Emperor Wen's death in 604, Chu Liang continued to serve Emperor Wen's son Emperor Yang ( (隋煬帝), but Emperor Yang was jealous of his abilities. When the general Yang Xuangan (楊玄感) rebelled in 613 and was quickly defeated, he accused Chu Liang of being friendly with Yang Xuangan and demoted him to the position of census official for the distant Xihai Commandery (西海, in modern Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai). Chu Suiliang followed his father there.

In 617, when the agrarian rebel leader Xue Ju (薛舉) rose against Sui rule and declared himself the Emperor of Qin, Chu Liang, and Chu Suiliang both joined Xue's administration. Chu Liang became a mid-level official, while Chu Suiliang became a low-level official. After Xue Ju's death in 618, his son and successor Xue Rengao (薛仁杲) was defeated by the Tang Dynasty (唐朝) general Li Shimin, the Prince of Qin (the son of Tang's founding emperor Emperor Gaozu 李淵 .高祖). Li Shimin spared Chu Liang and Chu Suiliang, and Chu Liang joined Li Shimin's staff, and Chu Suiliang remained in Qin Prefecture (秦州), roughly modern Tianshui, Gansu) to serve on the staff of the commandant of Qin Prefecture. His activities thereafter, until 636, were not recorded in history, although it was mentioned that he was well-educated in literature and history, and was a talented calligrapher, winning praise from his father's friend Ouyang Xun( 歐陽詢), himself a famous calligrapher.

During Emperor Taizong's Reign

In 636, when Li Shimin had been emperor for ten years (as Emperor Taizong), Chu Suiliang, who had been serving as a low-level official in the imperial archival bureau, was put in charge of recording Emperor Taizong's deeds for historical records. His appointment might have been at least partly due to his skill in calligraphy; it was recorded that Emperor Taizong had, on one occasion, commented to the chancellor Wei Zheng (魏徵) that after Yu Shinan's death, there was no one that he could discuss calligraphy with. When Wei heard this, he recommended Chu's calligraphy, and Emperor Taizong immediately summoned Chu into his presence. Once, Emperor Taizong put out notices offering rewards to people who submitted works of the great Jin Dynasty( 晋朝) calligrapher Wang Xizhi (王羲之), traditionally referred to as the Sage of Calligraphy (書聖) to the imperial court. Many people submitted works purported to be by Wang, and it became difficult to tell which were genuine and which were forged. Chu was put in charge of discerning them, and he was able to clearly distinguish the genuine works of Wang.

In 640, after Emperor Taizong sent the general Hou Junji (侯君集) to conquer Gaochang (高昌), the site of an ancient oasis city built on the northern rim of the inhospitable Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang), both Chu and Wei submitted petitions requesting that, rather than annexing Gaochang, Emperor Taizong should re-establish Gaochang as a vassal kingdom, advice that Emperor Taizong did not accept but would regret later. This appeared to be the beginning of a pattern in which Chu would frequently offer honest advice to Emperor Taizong, which though it was not always accepted, was respected. Chu's advisory role became more important after Wei's death in the spring fo 643; for most of Emperor Taizong's reign, Wei had been instrumental in advising him as to what he was doing properly and what he was doing improperly.

In 641, Emperor Taizong was preparing to carry out grand ceremonies at Mount Tai (泰山) in 642, to sacrifice to the gods of heaven and earth. At the suggestions of Xue Yi (薛頤) and Chu, however, he canceled those plans. He also bestowed on Chu the title of Imperial Advisor, but continued to have Chu serve as his historian. Once, when Emperor Taizong wanted to review the imperial historical records that Chu was responsible for keeping, Chu rebuffed him, stating that it would be irregular for an emperor to look at how an imperial historian was writing about him. Emperor Taizong then asked, "Do you record the bad things I do as well?" Chu responded, "It is my responsibility, and I would not dare not to record them." The chancellor Liu Ji] ( 劉洎) added, "Even if Chu Suiliang does not record them, everyone else will." Emperor Taizong agreed with both of them. In 642, Chu was troubled because Emperor Taizong was overly favoring his son Li Tai (李泰) the Prince of Wei, over Li Tai's older brother Li Chengqian (李承乾), the Crown Prince. Chu pointed out that if an emperor openly favored sons other than his heir, it would have the undesirable effect of causing people to speculate as to who should succeed the emperor. Emperor Taizong gave oral acceptance of his advice, but did not follow it. In the subsequent months, Chu repeatedly reminded Emperor Taizong of this issue. Emperor Taizong, though he regularly informed his officials that he had no intention of replacing Li Chengqian with Li Tai, was unable to prevent the government from factionalizing into Li Chengqian's supporters and Li Tai's supporters.

In 643, Li Chengqian, apprehensive that he might be replaced by Li Tai, conspired with Hou, his brothers-in-law Zhao Jie (趙節) and Du He (杜荷), and his uncle Li Yuanchang (李元昌), the Prince of Han, to overthrow Emperor Taizong. The plot was discovered, and Emperor Taizong deposed Li Chengqian and executed the other conspirators. He then promised Li Tai he would be created Crown Prince. Li Tai, wanting to appear appreciative, told Emperor Taizong that, if he were allowed to inherit the throne, he would kill his own son, and make his younger brother Li Zhi, the Prince of Jin, Crown Prince. Emperor Taizong was touched by this promise, but Chu immediately pointed out the disingenuity in Li Tai's remarks, and advocated that Li Zhi be made Crown Prince instead, an opinion supported by Emperor Taizong's brother-in-law Zhangsun Wuji, who was uncle to both Li Tai and Li Zhi. Emperor Taizong had also come to the conclusion that Li Tai's machinations were responsible for Li Chengqian's downfall. Soon, after first revealing his decision only to Zhangsun, Chu, Fang Xuanling (房玄齡), and Li Shiji ( 李世勣), the Emperor created Li Zhi Crown Prince and exiled Li Tai. Chu was made a junior advisor to the new Crown Prince, and Emperor Taizong arranged for him, Liu Ji, Cen Wenben, and Ma Zhou to visit Li Zhi often and advise him on his studies.

Later in 643, Emperor Taizong was poised to honor promises he made earlier, and marry his daughter Princess Xinxing to Yi'nan, the Zhenzhu Khan (真珠可汗) of Xueyantuo (薛延陀). On the advice of general Qibi Heli (契苾何力), he instead made excuses and broke off the marriage treaty. Chu advised against breaking the treaty, but Emperor Taizong did not listen. In 644, Chu also advised against a campaign against Goguryeo, although Emperor Taizong launched the campaign anyway after Li Shiji advocated for it. (The campaign eventually ended in failure in 645.) Later in 644, when Emperor Taizong, at an imperial gathering, was describing to his key officials their strengths and weaknesses, he said about Chu: "Chu Suiliang is knowledgeable and firm. He often submitted faithful advice and is close to my heart, just like a delicate bird that deserves tender treatment."

He soon made Chu Huangmen Shilang (黃門侍郎), the deputy head of the examination bureau of government (門下省, Menxia Sheng), and gave Chu the further designation of Canyu Chaozheng (參預朝政), as a de facto chancellor.

In 645, Chu was involved in an incident that resulted in Liu Ji's death. After the end of the Goguryeo campaign, Emperor Taizong returned to Ding Prefecture (定州, roughly modern Baoding, Hebei), where he became ill. After Liu and Ma visited Emperor Taizong at his secondary palace, Chu asked them what the emperor's condition was, and Liu, weeping, stated, "The emperor is extremely ill, and it makes me worried!" Chu then made a false report to Emperor Taizong that Liu had said, "There is nothing to worry about as far as the matters of state are concerned. We only need to assist the young emperor. According to the precedents of Yi Yin ( 伊挚) and Huo Guang (霍光), we execute the high level officials who were double-minded, and the state will be secure." Because Liu had previously commented to Emperor Taizong that if any officials were unfaithful, he would execute them immediately, Emperor Taizong believed the accusation. Liu asked Ma to corroborate his innocence, and Ma did so, but Chu insisted that Liu had made the inappropriate remark. Emperor Taizong, believing Chu, ordered Liu to commit suicide, but pardoned his family. This version of what happened was found in both the Book of Tang and the New Book of Tang.

In 646, Emperor Taizong sent twenty-two imperial officials to visit the prefectures throughout the empire, and see how the prefectures were governed. These officials submitted many accusations of misrule against prefects and county magistrates, and proposed that those prefects and magistrates be punished. Many of the accused officials submitted appeals to Emperor Taizong, and Emperor Taizong put Chu in charge of reviewing the appeals. Eventually, Emperor Taizong made the final decision to find twenty of the officials innocent and promote them, to find seven seriously guilty and execute them, and to give lesser punishments to almost one thousand others. Later that year, Fang was dismissed from his post as Chancellor for a minor infraction. Chu advised Emperor Taizong that Fang had made great contributions to his rule, and should not be easily dismissed. Emperor Taizong agreed and summoned Fang back to serve as Chancellor again.

In 648, Chu was made Zhongshu Ling (中書令), the head of the legislative bureau of government and a post considered one for a Chancellor.

In the summer of 649, Emperor Taizong, while at his summer palace Cuiwei Palace (翠微宮), became seriously ill. He summoned Zhangsun and Chu into his presence and entrusted Li Zhi to them. He soon died, and Li Zhi succeeded him (as Emperor Gaozong). Zhangsun and Chu, trusted by the new emperor, became effectively in charge of the government.

During Emperor Gaozong's reign

It was said that Zhangsun Wuji and Chu Suiliang worked well together and were effective in assisting Emperor Gaozong in governance, and that therefore, early in Emperor Gaozong's reign, the government was as effective as during the reign of Emperor Taizong. Emperor Gaozong created Chu the Duke of Henan.

In the winter of 650, Chu was charged by the imperial censor, Wei Siqian (韋思謙), with forcing a government interpreter to sell his land to Chu. Initially, the Deputy Chief Judge of the Supreme Court, Zhang Ruice (張叡冊), ruled that Chu had broken no laws because he had paid compensation to the interpreter. Wei pointed out to Emperor Gaozong that Chu had paid only the amount of compensation equal to government condemnation of the property, not fair market value, and Emperor Gaozong demoted Chu to the post of prefect of Tong Prefecture (同州, roughly modern Weinan, Shaanxi). In the spring of 652, Emperor Gaozong recalled Chu from Tong Prefecture to serve as the Minister of Civil Service Affairs and gave him the de facto Chancellor designation of Tong Zhongshu Menxia Sanpin (同中書門下三品).

In the winter of 652, a plot was discovered by Emperor Gaozong's sister Princess Gaoyang and her husband Fang Yi'ai (房遺愛, Fang Xuanling's son) to support her uncle Li Yuanjing (李元景), the Prince of Jing, as emperor. Zhangsun expanded the investigation and falsely executed a number of other people as alleged conspirators in the spring of 653, including Emperor Gaozong's older brother Li Ke (李恪), the Prince of Wu, who had once been considered as a possible heir by Emperor Taizong, and was thus viewed by Zhangsun as a threat to Emperor Gaozong. Historical accounts implied, but did not state, that Chu was also involved in these false accusations, as Li Daozong (李道宗) the Prince of Jiangxia, a renowned general, was said to be implicated and exiled because he was a rival of both Zhangsun and Chu.

Chu Suiliang (褚遂良; 595-658) Sheng Jiao Xu.

In Fall 653, Chu was made Pushe (僕射), the head of the Executive Bureau of government, but also continued to be in charge of Civil Service Affairs.

By 655, Emperor Gaozong's wife, Empress Wang, had lost his favor, and Emperor Gaozong's concubine, Consort Wu, wanted to displace her. Consort Wu falsely accused her of using witchcraft, and also of causing the death of Emperor Gaozong's infant daughter by Consort Wu. (Traditional historians generally believed that Consort Wu may have killed her daughter herself in order to falsely implicate Empress Wang.) After an imperial gathering, Emperor Gaozong summoned the chancellors Chu, Zhangsun, Li Shiji (by now known as Li Ji due to a naming taboo with Emperor Taizong's name), and Yu Zhining (于志寧) to the palace. Chu correctly guessed that Emperor Gaozong wanted to discuss with them deposing Empress Wang and replacing her with Consort Wu. Li Ji declined to enter the palace. When Chu, Zhangsun, and Yu met Emperor Gaozong, Emperor Gaozong tried to get their approval to depose Empress Wang and replace her with Consort Wu. Zhangsun and Yu were silent to implicitly show their disapproval, while Chu was adamantly against it. He reminded Emperor Gaozong that Emperor Taizong had entrusted not only Emperor Gaozong, but also Empress Wang, to his care; and that Consort Wu had previously been Emperor Taizong's concubine, and therefore taking her as empress would be considered incest under Confucian principles. During the meeting, he became so emotional that he hit his head repeatedly on the ground while bowing, until that he bled, and he also offered to resign, arousing Emperor Gaozong's anger.

Consort Wu, who was listening from behind a screen, could not hold herself back and yelled, "Why not kill him?" Zhangsun responded, "Chu Suiliang is a high level official that the deceased emperor entrusted with the care of Emperor Gaozong. Even if he has committed a crime, he should not be physically harmed." Two other chancellors, Han Yuan (韓瑗) and Lai Ji (來濟), also opposed Consort Wu's ascension, to no avail. Eventually, when Li Ji made the comment that this was simply the emperor's own family matter, Emperor Gaozong became resolved to carry out the change. He demoted Chu out of the capital, to serve as the commandant of Tan Prefecture (潭州, roughly modern Changsha, Hunan), and a month later, in winter 655, he deposed Empress Wang and her ally Consort Xiao (蕭淑妃), whom Consort Wu had also accused of witchcraft, and created Consort Wu empress to replace Empress Wang.

In 656, Han tried to intercede on Chu's behalf to have him recalled to the capital, but Emperor Gaozong, while acknowledging Chu's faithfulness, stated that he was being uncontrollable, and refused Han's request. Meanwhile, Liu Ji's son, Liu Hongye (劉弘業), in a move engineered by the chancellor Li Yifu (李義府), who despised Chu, submitted a petition asking that his father be posthumously cleared of wrongdoing, accusing Chu of falsely incriminating his father. Many officials, wanting to ingratiate themselves with Li Yifu, all agreed with the petition, but Le Yanwei (樂彥瑋) pointed out that clearing Liu would effectively make a statement that Emperor Taizong's punishment had been inappropriate. Emperor Gaozong agreed, and took no action on Liu Hongye's petition.

Soon the new Empress Wu became exceedingly powerful, and several of her allies were made chancellors. In 657, Chu, while remaining a commandant, had his command moved from Tan Prefecture to the more distant Gui Prefecture (桂州, roughly modern Guilin, Guangxi). Empress Wu's allies, Li Yifu and Xu Jingzong (許敬宗) then falsely accused Han and Lai of conspiring in treason with Chu, stating that Gui Prefecture was a key military location and that Han and Lai had moved Chu there in preparation for a revolt. Emperor Gaozong demoted Han and Lai to distant prefectural posts, while further demoting Chu to the post of prefect of Ai Prefecture, at the extreme southern border of the empire. Chu, after arriving at Ai Prefecture, submitted a petition pleading his own case, pointing how he had supported Emperor Gaozong as Crown Prince and later assisted him in governance, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. He died in 658, while still serving as the prefect of Ai Prefecture.

In 659, when Zhangsun was falsely accused of treason and exiled (and later forced to commit suicide), Xu and Li Yifu falsely accused Chu of having encouraged Zhangsun in his plot. In response, Emperor Gaozong posthumously stripped Chu of all of his posts and exiled his descendants to Ai Prefecture as well; Chu's sons Chu Yanfu (楮彥甫) and Chu Yanchong (楮彥沖) were killed on their way to exile. When Emperor Gaozong died in 683, by his will, Chu's family was allowed to return to his home prefecture. In 705, after Empress Wu's own death, Chu's titles were restored by her will (although whether she wrote the will was questionable).

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