Political History of China (3):Three Kingdoms,Period of Disunity,Sui Dynasty,Tang Dynasty

Updated:Sun, Dec 16, 2012 03:36 AM    Related:China political history

China political history

Map of Sui Dynasty. The relationship of the Sui Dynasty to the succeeding Tang Dynasty was much like that of the Qin to the Han. It served as the unifying foundation on which its successor could build.

In this section the period of Three Kingdoms, Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties, Sui Dynasty, Tang Dynasty are narrated.



After the fall of the Later Han, the Chinese Empire remained divided for three and a half centuries. The first half-century began with the domination of the Three Kingdoms: Wei under the Cao family in the north, Shu Han under Liu Bei in the southwest, and Wu under Sun Quan in the southeast. Invaders from the north soon overran the kingdoms and set up their own states, but the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), established by one of the barbarian tribes, the Toba, was the only one to last. Four dynasties established by the Chinese ruled in the south during the 4th and 5th centuries. The Three Kingdoms period was made famous by the novel `Romance of the Three Kingdoms', which glamorized the period as an age of chivalry.

Wei and Jin Period (AD 265–420)

After Cao Cao reunified the north in 208, his son proclaimed the Wei dynasty in 220. Soon, Wei's rivals Shu and Wu proclaimed their independence, leading China into the Three Kingdoms Period. Capitals: of Cao Wei and Western Jin, Luoyang; of Shu Han, Chengdu; of Eastern Wu and Eastern Jin, Jiankang; of Western Jin, Chang'an. This period was characterized by a gradual decentralization of the state that had existed during the Qin and Han dynasties, and an increase in the power of great families.

Although the Three Kingdoms were reunified by the Jin Dynasty in 280, this structure was essentially the same until the Wu Hu uprising.

Wu Hu Period (AD 304–439)

Taking advantage of civil war in the Jin Dynasty, the contemporary non-Han Chinese (Wu Hu) ethnic groups controlled much of the country in the early 4th century and provoked large-scale Han Chinese migrations to south of the Yangtze River. In 303 the Di people rebelled and later captured Chengdu, establishing the state of Cheng Han. Under Liu Yuan, the Xiongnu rebelled near today's Linfen County and established the state of Han Zhao. Liu Yuan's successor Liu Cong captured and executed the last two Western Jin emperors. Sixteen kingdoms were a plethora of short-lived non-Chinese dynasties that came to rule the whole or parts of northern China in the 4th and 5th centuries. Many ethnic groups were involved, including ancestors of the Turks, Mongols, and Tibetans. Most of these nomadic peoples had, to some extent, been "sinicized" long before their ascent to power. In fact, some of them, notably the Qiang and the Xiongnu, had already been allowed to live in the frontier regions within the Great Wall since late Han times.

Southern and Northern Dynasties (AD 420–589)

Signaled by the collapse of East Jin Dynasty in 420, China entered the era of the Southern and Northern Dynasties. The Han people managed to survive the military attacks from the nomadic tribes of the north, such as the Xianbei, and their civilization continued to thrive.

In southern China, fierce debates about whether Buddhism should be allowed to exist were held frequently by the royal court and nobles. Finally, near the end of the Southern and Northern Dynasties era, both Buddhist and Taoist followers compromised and became more tolerant of each other.

In 589, Sui annexed the last Southern Dynasty, Chen, through military force, and put an end to the era of Southern and Northern Dynasties.

8. THE SUI DYNASTY (581-618)

The prolonged period of disunity finally ended when a general from the northwest united China by establishing the new dynasty of Sui. A second great period of imperial unity was begun. The relationship of the Sui to the succeeding Tang Dynasty was much like that of the Qin to the Han. It served as the unifying foundation on which its successor could build. The first Sui emperor, Emperor Wen, introduced a series of economic reforms, such as reduction of the peasants' taxes, a careful census for equitable tax collection, and restoration of the equal allocation system used in the Northern Wei. Every taxable male received a grant of land, part of which was returnable when he ceased to be a taxpayer at age 60 and part of which he could pass on to his heirs. He also revived the Han system of examinations based on Confucian classics.

Emperor Wen’s premature death might have been caused by his ambitious son Emperor Yang, whose grandiose projects and military campaigns ultimately led to the Sui's downfall. Some of his projects were productive, especially the construction of the Grand Canal, which linked up the Huang, Huai, and Yangtze rivers and connected north and south China.

Emperor Yang's overly ambitious scheme of expanding his empire led to disastrous wars against Korea. After a series of futile expeditions, the Chinese army of over a million was defeated and forced to flee. In 618, Emperor Yang was assassinated in an army coup; one of the coup leaders, Li Shi Min (李世民), installed his father Li Yuan (李渊) as emperor, founding the Tang Dynasty. After about a decade, during which he was able to secure his father's abdication, he took the throne himself in 626 as the emperor Tai Zu.

9. THE T'ANG DYNASTY (618-907)

The Tang emperors set up a political system in which the emperor was supreme and government officials were selected on the bases of merit and education. The early Tang rulers applied the equal allocation system rigorously to bring about a greater equity in taxation and to insure the flow of taxes to the government. A census was taken every three years to enforce the system, which also involved drafting people to do labor. These measures led to an agricultural surplus and the development of units of uniform value for the principal commodities, two of the most important prerequisites for the growth of commerce and cities.

The Tang capital of Chang'an was one of the greatest commercial and cosmopolitan cities in the world at that time. Like most capitals of China, Chang'an was composed of three parts: the palace, the imperial city, and the outer city, separated from each other by mighty walls.

The Tang was a period of great imperial expansion, which reached its greatest height in the first half of the 8th century. At that time, Chinese control was recognized by people from Tibet and Central Asia in the west to Mongolia, Manchuria (now the Northeast region of China), and Korea in the north and Annam in the south.

The An Lushan rebellion

Most of the Tang accomplishments were attained during the first century of the dynasty's rule, through the early part of Emperor Xuan Zong’s long reign from 712 to 756. However, late in his reign he neglected government affairs to indulge in his love of art and study. This led to the rise of viceroys, commanders responsible for military and civil affairs in the regions. An Lushan was a powerful viceroy commanding the northwest border area. He had both connections at the imperial court and hidden imperial ambitions. In 755 he rose in rebellion.

The emperor fled the capital with an ill-equipped army. These troops soon rebelled and forced the emperor to abdicate in favor of his son.

The new emperor raised a new army to fight the rebels. An Lu-shan was assassinated in 757, but the war dragged on until 763. Afterward, the Chinese Empire virtually disintegrated once again. The provinces remained under the control of various regional commanders. The dynasty continued to linger on for another century, but the Tang empire never fully recovered the central authority, prosperity, and peace of its first century.

The most serious problem of the last century of Tang was the rise of great landlords who were exempt from taxation. Unable to pay the exorbitant taxes collected twice a year after the An Lu-shan rebellion, peasants would place themselves under the protection of a landlord or become bandits. Peasant uprisings, beginning with the revolt under the leadership of Huang Chao in the 870s, left much of central China in ruins.

In 881 Huang Chao's rebels, now numbering over 600,000 people, destroyed the capital, forcing the imperial court to move east to Luoyang. Another rebel leader founded a new dynasty, called Later Liang, at Kaifeng in Henan Province in 907, but he was unable to unify all China under his rule. This second period of disunity lasted only half a century. Once again, however, China was divided between north and south, with five dynasties in the north and ten kingdoms in the south.

Tang culture

Buddhist influence in art, especially in sculpture, was strong during the Tang period. Fine examples of Buddhist sculpture are preserved in rock temples, such as those at Yongang and Longmen in northwest China. The invention of printing and improvements in papermaking led to the printing of a whole set of Buddhist sutras (discourses of the Buddha) by 868. By the beginning of the 11th century all of the Confucian classics and the Taoist canon had been printed. In secular literature, the Tang is especially well known for poetry. The great Tang poets such as Li Bai and Du Fu were nearly all disillusioned officials.

The Tang period marked the beginnings of China's early technological advancement over other civilizations in the fields of shipbuilding and firearms development. Both reached new heights in the succeeding dynasty of Song.

Papermaking; Firearms By the 13th century papermaking spread throughout Europe. Paper was a Chinese invention. It had been adopted by the Persians and then by the Arabs, who brought the art to Europe. (See Paper)

Powder (not gunpowder, because guns were not yet known) and fireworks rockets were introduced into Europe in the 1200s. They had been invented in China some years earlier.

The earliest mention of firearms is in a Dutch chronicle dated 1313. It states that firearms were invented in Germany. The first picture of a primitive cannon can be found in an English manuscript dated 1326.


Source:Paul Halsall/Brooklyn College/1996-99


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