Southern & Northern Dynasties

How did Chinese dynasties start? Most of the dynasties in China were established even before an existing one is overthrown. However, there were some which lost their empire simply because they were defeated by their rivals.

After the fall of Western and Eastern Jin Dynasties, China was again faced with rival regimes fighting for power. Since Southern and Northern followed these dynasties, they too were riddled with internal problems. Some historians even suggested that it was a time of the highest frequency of the ups and downs of the different dynasties. Others even went as far as saying that this period became ?an age of civil wars and disunity.? But of course, there are other arguments that credit both dynasties for leaving China with a richer culture.

Let us start discussing about the Northern Dynasties. This was composed of Northern Wei (386-533 A.D.), the Eastern Wei (534-540 A.D.), the Western Wei (535-557 A.D.), the Northern Qi (550-557A.D.), and the Northern Zhou (557-588).

When the chaotic period of the Sixteen States ended, the nomadic tribe known as Xianbei came into power. Being nomadic, they were thought to be less civilized. This didn?t stop their chief from founding what became acknowledge as Beiwei or the Northern Wei.

When Emperor Xiaowen of the Wei came into power, he proposed to move the capital of his regime from Luoyang to Datong. He decreed that Han culture would be practiced by everyone. This meant learning their language, adopting their surnames, and even dressing up like them. He implemented the land equalization system, which generated objection from Xianbei aristocrats.

The Eastern Wei Dynasty came into power after the Northern Wei disintegrated. They ruled China from 534 to 540. This dynasty was popularly known for promoting Buddhism. The north used to be dominated by Confucianism however, nobles who were the main followers of this religion moved to the south. Buddhism was believed to have appealed to country people because of the concept of reincarnation where there is a promise of a better life after death.

Western Wei was also a result of the disintegration of the Northern Wei dynasty. It ruled its territory from 535-556, a few years longer than Eastern Wei. When the last emperor of Northern Wei was killed, Yuan Baoju became the first emperor of Western Wei. Their empire also suffered attacks from their rival Eastern Wei.

Eastern and Western Wei were both usurped by Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577) and Northern Zhou Dynasty (557-581). It was the Gao family who established Northern Qi. On the other hand, Yumen family was the power behind the establishment Northern Zhou. The Turks were a big influence to both dynasties, especially to Northern Zhou, which launched many battles against Northern Qi and eventually annihilated the latter.

Meanwhile, the lower Yangtze region was inhabited by a couple of Chinese dynasties. Lower Yangtze used to be a territory of Wu. This place was where the birth of Southern Dynasties took place.

The southern dynasties were composed of Song (420-478), the Qi (479-501), the Liang (502-556), and the Chen (557-588). However, these dynasties were believed to be politically and military weak. They were also plagued with feuds and internal struggles. If not for the protection afforded by Yangtze and division of north, Southern Dynasties would have been annihilated by their rivals in 589.

The Song or Sung Dynasty was founded by the Liu family. It was the first of the four dynasties that comprise the Southern Dynasties. Some books also refer to this dynasty as Liu Song Dynasty to distinguish it from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The destruction of Liu Song Dynasty was greatly blamed on the many revolts and the numerous tyrants, which ruled the said dynasty.

The second dynasty of Southern Dynasties was known as Qi Dynasty. From 479 A.D.-502 A.D., this dynasty had 7 rulers. They were Emperor Gao (479-482), Emperor Wu (483-493), Prince of Yulin (494), Prince of Hailing (494), Emperor Ming (494-498), and Marquess of Donghun (499-501).

Liang Dynasty had its capital in Nanjing. It?s first emperor was Emperor Wu Di. This was said to be a period of great cultural advancement. Literature, art, philosophy, and Buddhism thrived during Liang Dynasty.

Chen Dynasty was the fourth and the last dynasty of Southern Dynasties. The devastations caused by Liang Dynasty made the life of this dynasty even shorter. Its emperors were said to be ?neglectful of their duties,? thus making them all unfit for the throne. Their behaviors were exposed to the people by their rivals who later established Sui Dynasty. This became the end of the Southern Dynasties.