History of the Southern and Northern Dynasties of China

Oct 2018
137
China
The Northern Dynasties (386-581)
Confronting the Southern Dynasties (420-589) in the history of China, the Northern Dynasties (386-581) lasted for 150 years (from 439 to 589), and consisted of the North Wei (386-557), the East Wei (534-550), the West Wei (535-556), the North Qi (550-577) and the North Zhou (557-581) dynasties.
All the Northern Dynasties (386-581) were established by the Xianbei people except for the North Qi Dynasty (this was established by the Sinicized barbarians).
North Wei
With the state of Dai as its predecessor during the Sixteen Kingdom Period, the North Wei Dynasty (386-557) was established by Tuoba Gui in 386, who became Emperor Daowu later. Emperor Daowu was very cruel and was murdered by his own son, Tuoba Shao.
Tuoba Si (Tuoba Gui's eldest son) ascended the throne as Emperor Mingyuan of the North Wei Dynasty (386-557) in 387. He conquered Henan of the Liu Song Dynasty (420-479) and died soon afterwards, and he was succeeded by his son, Tuoba Tao (later Emperor Taiwu).
Tuoba Tao made every effort to improve his kingdom, greatly increasing the strength of the North Wei Dynasty (386-557). He ordered attacks on the Liu Song Dynasty repeatedly and also launched a series of wars against the North Liang Dynasty (401-439), Rouran and Shanshan (a state in the West Region), and he even proscribed Buddhism after suppressing the Gai Wu (Buddhist follower) Rebellion. He carried out cruel punishments in his later life, leading to his assassination by the eunuch, Zong Ai, in 452.
After Emperor Taiwu's death, the Empress Dou held court from behind a screen, and she set up Tuoba Yuanhong as Emperor Xiaowen of the North Wei Dynasty (386-557). Greatly influenced by his mother (Empress Dou, a Han woman), the Emperor Xiaowen thought that the Xianbei people should be Sinicized owing to the advanced Han civilization. He moved the capital from Pingcheng to Luoyang to learn the Han culture, and even ordered Xianbei nobles to move into Luoyang, leaving some (who didn't want to move) in Pingcheng.
 
Oct 2018
137
China
Emperor Xiaowen carried out a series of social reforms aimed at enabling the Xiaobei nobles to conform to the Han cultural standards, including adopting the Han bureaucratic establishments, banning Xianbei costumes and advocating donning the Han costume at court, learning the Han language, encouraging the inter-marriage between Xianbei people and the Han people, and adopting a one-character Chinese surname among the Xianbei people, which greatly improved national reunification in his kingdom.
After the Sinicization movement, the economic and military strength was greatly improved in the North Wei Dynasty (386-557). Emperor Xiaowen also launched a series of wars against the Southern Qi Dynasty (479-502), but ended up with failure each time. The nobles who didn't want to move into Luoyang gradually lost favor in the sight of Emperor Xiaowen, resulting in a split in the North Wei Dynasty (386-557).
Tuoba Yuanxiu succeeded to the throne as Emperor Xiaowu of the North Wei Dynasty in 532, and the North Wei Dynasty was split into the East Wei (534-550) and the West Wei (535-556) dynasties in 534 owing to internal strife among nobles.
Confrontation between the East Wei and the West Wei
The East Wei Dynasty (534-550) was established by Tuoba Shanjian (later Emperor Xiaojing) in 534 with Yecheng (presently Anyang of Henan and Linzhang Counties of Hebei Province) as the capital, and the East Wei Dynasty (534-550) was set up by Tuoba Baoju (later Emperor Wen) in 535 with Chang'an (presently Xi'an of Shaanxi Province) as the capital. As a matter of fact, the power of the East Wei (534-550) and the West Wei (535-556) dynasties were wielded by Gao Huan and Yu Wentai respectively, and a series of wars resulted in a stalemate between the two states.
The East Wei Dynasty (534-550) was dominated by the Sinicized Xianbei people, who highly relied on Xianbei nobility politically. Gao Huan advocated the personnel policy of "only using the talented", so many famous court officials became his friends. Gao Huan ordered General Dou Tai to crusade against the West Wei Dynasty (535-556) in 536, but ended up with being defeated by the East Wei Dynasty's (534-550) troops, and Dou Tai killed himself out of shame.
As the West Wei Dynasty (535-556) was visited by a great drought in 538, Gao Han seized the chance to attack the West Wei Dynasty (535-556), and ended up with failure in the battle of Shayuan. He led 100,000 troops to attack the West Wei Dynasty (535-556) in 546, but he lost the war for the third time, leaving over 70,000 soldiers dead and wounded.
 
Oct 2018
137
China
Gao Huan was consumed with great grief in 548, and his son, Gao Cheng, inherited his title. Gao Cheng was assassinated soon afterwards; his brother, Gao Yang, inherited his title and killed Emperor Xiaojing and the royal members in 550. Gao Yang established the North Qi Dynasty (550-577) in 550, claiming himself to be Emperor Wenxuan of the North Qi Dynasty.
Under the assistance of eight generals (Yu Wentai, Yuan Xin, Li Hu, Li Bi, Zhao Gui, Yu Jin, Du Guxin and Houmo Chenchong), the West Wei Dynasty (535-556) effectively resisted a series of attacks from the East Wei Dynasty (534-550). At that time, the economy and culture of the West Wei Dynasty (535-556) was not as prosperous as that of the East Wei Dynasty (534-550), and Yu Wentai ordered Su Chuo to make reforms in order to strengthen the nation.
The reforms, such as setting up the Fubing System (a local militia system existing in China between 6th century and 8th century) and advocating militarism, greatly enhanced the military strength of the West Wei Dynasty (535-556), which also had a great influence on the political and military systems of the Sui (581-618) and the Tang dynasties (618-907).
During the Hou Jing Rebellion, Yu Wentai seized the opportunity to attack the Liang Dynasty (502-557) and captured Shu (presently Sichuan Province) and Jiangling (presently Jiangling of Hubei Province). After the death of Yu Wentai, Yu Wenhu (Yu Wentai's nephew) arrogated all powers of the West Wei Dynasty (535-556) to himself in 556, and deposed Emperor Gong and set up Yu Wenjue (son of Yu Wentai) as Emperor Xiaomin of the North Zhou Dynasty (557-581) in 558, symbolizing the demise of the West Wei Dynasty (535-556).
 
Oct 2018
137
China
Confrontation between the North Qi and the North Zhou (557-581)
As the successor of the East Wei Dynasty (534-550), the North Qi Dynasty (550-577) was established by Gao Yang (Emperor Wenxuan) in 550. Emperor Wenxuan defeated the Kumoxi people, the Qidan people, the Rouran people and the Shanhu people (a branch of the Huns) one after another; he even conquered the territorial area to the south of the Hurai River, and great progress was made in agriculture, salt and iron trade, and porcelain trade during his early reign.
Emperor Wenxuan became licentious and cruel during his late reign, even ordering the slaughter of the Han nobilities in favor of the Xianbei nobilities, and the common people rebelled against him owing to his oppression, greatly reducing the strength of the North Qi Dynasty (550-577). Gao Yin ascended the throne as Emperor Fei of the North Qi Dynasty (550-577) after the death of Emperor Wenxuan, and he was assisted by his uncle, Gao Yan.
Gao Yan soon usurped the throne and became Emperor Xiaozhao of the North Qi Dynasty (550-577), during whose reign the national strength was restored gradually, and he died during the 2nd year of his reign and was succeeded by his brother, Gao Zhan (later Emperor Wucheng).
Emperor Wucheng was very unprincipled and licentious; he died of excessive indulgence in sex and he was soon succeeded by his son, Gao Wei. As the old saying goes, "like father, like son”. Gao Wei was also unprincipled and licentious; he even had General Hulu Guang killed out of jealousy, resulting in great chaos in his kingdom, and the North Qi Dynasty (550-577) was conquered by the North Zhou Dynasty (557-581) in 577.
As the successor of the West Wei Dynasty (535-556), the North Zhou Dynasty (557-581) was established by Yu Wenjue (Emperor Xiaomin) in 550, but the political power was wielded by his cousin, Yu Wenhu. Emperor Xiaomin intended to ally with Zhao Gui and Gu Duji to kill Yu Wenhu, but their scheme was soon discovered.
Yu Wenhu had Emperor Xiaomin deposed and had Zhao Gui and Gu Duji beheaded after a fierce battle, and he set up Yu Wenyu as Emperor Ming of the North Zhou Dynasty (557-581) and poisoned him in 560. Later, Yu Wenhu set up Yu Wenyong as Emperor Wu of the North Zhou Dynasty (557-581). By adopting a stratagem of concealing his true intentions, Emperor Wu successfully had Yu Wenhu killed after being used as a puppet for 12 years, and he came into real power of the North Zhou Dynasty (557-581).
Emperor Wu had great talent and bold vision, carrying out a series of reforms during his reign, which greatly reinforced the strength of the North Zhou Dynasty (557-581). Emperor Wu even conquered the North Qi Dynasty (550-577) in 577, and he was succeeded by his eldest son, Yu Wenyun (later Emperor Xuan of the North Zhou Dynasty), in 578. Emperor Xuan was very tyrannical and licentious, and even killed Yu Wenxuan (an official with meritorious records) and took away his wife. Emperor Xuan was succeeded by his son, Yu Wenchan (later Emperor Jing of the North Zhou Dynasty (557-581). Emperor Jing was deposed by Yang Jian in 581, thus ending the North Zhou Dynasty (557-581).
 
Oct 2018
137
China
A number of outstanding Taoist reformers emerged during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589), represented by Kou Qianzhi, Lu Jingxiu and Tao Hongjing, under whose efforts Taoism took a new look.
Kou Qianzhi made the highest achievement among the three reformers, and he simplified some Taoist fast rites and recruited royal members and nobilities to take part in Taoism, which greatly alleviated class contradictions in the society and had landmark significance in the development of Taoism.
Buddhism was very popular in the North Wei Dynasty (386-557) during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589), which greatly boosted the development of Buddhist statues, murals and grottoes, highlighted by the Thousand Buddha Caves (in Dunhuang of Gansu Province), the Yungang Grottoes (in Datong of Shanxi Province), the Maijishan Grottoes (in Tianshui of Gansu Province) and the Longmen Grottoes (in Luoyang of Henan Province).
Art
Great progress was made in art during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589), which was represented by paintings in the Southern Dynasties (420-589) and stone carvings in the Northern Dynasties (386-581).
The theory of painting was established in the Southern Dynasties (420-589). Xie He proposed six methods to appreciating paintings in his works, Hua Pin, of which the rhythmic vitality was considered the highest standard of painting appreciation.
The stone carvings of the Northern Dynasties (386-581) were represented by grottoes, painted sculptures and mausoleum sculptures. The Yungang Grottoes feature Buddhist statues with calm and solemn looks, the painted sculptures of the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang are characterized by significant smiles, and the clay sculptures of Yongning Temple (in Luoyang of Henan Province) feature vividness and delicateness.
The imperial mausoleums of the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589) were decorated with stone pillars, steles and stone beasts, which created a solemn atmosphere on the whole, highlighted by the mausoleums of Emperor Wu and Emperor Jing of the Southern Qi Dynasty (479-502).