5 Dynasties & 10 Kingdoms

The Tang Dynasty?s end was the beginning of the establishment of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. It was so called, to indicate the period of five continuous but short lived dynasties, with ten prevailing kingdoms, ruling Ancient China from 907 AD to 960 AD.

Politics was in the center of the heat, with Tang Dynasty and Song Dynasty as its main players. Their disunity lasted for nearly half a century, with the five short-lived institutions or regimes swiftly taking over the heart of Northern China, hence it was aptly named Five Dynasties (or Wu-tai). In this period, ten regimes occupied the western and southern parts of the country (Shih-kuo, for Ten Kingdoms). They were relatively stable and organized than the factions in the North.

This period was characterized by disunity and was considered the most trying times in ancient Chinese History. Anarchy was on the rise and corruption was widespread. The disintegration resulted in changes, bringing many economic slip ups.

Instead of the monetary system, barter was adapted in many parts of China. A social service was the least of the priority. Food was scarce and famine was an epidemic. The drainage, water and canal system was left in disrepair and caused flooding.

However, the period saw the development of printing, which to this era?s credit, became its major accomplishment. Buddhist scripts and Confucian writings were printed during these times and this continues to influence China in the present times.

China's Five Dynasties:

  • 951-960 Zhou Dynasty
  • 947-951 Han Dynasty
  • 936-947 Jin Dynasty
  • 923-936 Tang Dynasty
  • 907-923 Liang Dynasty

China's Ten Kingdoms:

  • Chu
  • Former Shu
  • Jingnan
  • Later Shu
  • Min
  • Northern Han
  • Southern Han
  • Southern Tang
  • Wu
  • Wuyue

Inspite the political disintegration, each of these regimes sought to actually unify the empire. They each carry the same ideals of strengthening the power of China in the world. Beneath the surface of chaos, there were efforts to shape China into what is now the present political system.

Yet, these dynasties were ruled by strategists and militarists who had stood to personally gain from all of their efforts. They sought to replace the aristocrats, who were more powerful in the beginning, by recruiting people from humble status. These recruits and their family swore loyalty to their masters, which made their masters assume a powerful position in society. The system was a precursor to absolutism.

Military administration during the Tang Dynasty brought all provinces under their direct control. A new tax implement was sustained and because of this, expansion was swiftly attained. Everything was set in militaristic order, from transport, to economic monopoly, to the handling of fiscal resources. This they had to undergo, inspite their totalitarian means, in the hope of unifying China.

Of course, all these had set backs and many factions sought to rebel against the regimes. However, their main targets, the aristocrats, lost their prestige, power and status, along with their resources, finances and estates. The power now shifted from the imperial government to the military.

The North and South

The most powerful warlord in North China, Zhu Wen, was originally a rebel army whose surrender to the Tang Dynasty became the crucial factor in restraining the rebels. He was given authority and power and within a few years, occupied neighboring lands. He invaded Luoyang (Henan Province) and through barbaric means removed the emperor and successors out of the picture.

At the time he was invading neighboring provinces his rivals were also declaring and claiming their own regimes and was slowly building their force. With their opposition for the new dynasty under Zhu Wen, some of them fought for control over North China and were even successful; hence, the swift succession of the five dynasties.

In contrast, the South of China was relatively more peaceful. Each of the leaders of the provinces held on to their specified geographical area and only controlled this. Inevitably, Wu, who held three provinces in the south, began to quarrel with neighboring provinces. This started a trend that extended throughout the south.

Eventually the last dynasty, Zhou, established to reunite China. The kingdoms at that time were removed from power and the wilfully gave control of the South to the central government in the North. This was the end of the five dynasties and ten kingdoms and the beginning of another era in Chinese History.