Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms — Decades of War and Division

Night Revels of Han Xizai (Part One), by Artist Gu Hongzhong of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms
Night Revels of Han Xizai (Part Two), by Artist Gu Hongzhong of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

Night Revels of Han Xizai, by Gu Hongzhong (910 — 980) of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms.

The Copied Version in the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279) is Preserved in the Palace Museum.

 

What are the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms?

 

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907 — 979) was a chaotic and divisive era in the ancient history of China when dozens of separatist regimes had risen, reigned, and perished in the territory of the former unified Tang Dynasty (618 — 907). 

 

Five Dynasties were five empires that successively reigned the Middle Kingdom area in the north: Later Liang, Later Tang, Later Jin, Later Han, and Later Zhou.

 

Ten Kingdoms were ten separatist regimes that had ruled mostly in the south. 

Unearthed Porcelain Lotus Bowl of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

Porcelain Lotus Bowl of the Five Dynasties — Suzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

 

Facts about the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

  • Within these 72 years, there had been five dynasties in northern China and over ten kingdoms in the south. 

 

  • Most of the regimes followed the system of the Tang Dynasty, included administrative, tax, and land policies; but they all made changes to some extent.

 

  • This was one of the darkest eras in the history of China. Whoever was strong and powerful could occupy some cities and claim themselves the kings. 

Painted Stone Sculpture of Warriors of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

Painted Stone Relief of Warriors of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms — National Museum of China

  • Because of endless wars, science and literature were poorly developed during this era. 

 

  • There were many kings with ridiculous behaviors in this era:

 

A king of one of these regimes was quite brave and talented; after he gained lots of territory through his military achievements, he started to act like a professional actor. Soon, he got assassinated and was burnt down together with his beloved musical instruments.

 

A king required all of his governors to become eunuchs; he believed that one without any family could be devoted to their jobs.

A king respected another king as father and ceded large land, in exchange for not being invaded.

Gong Chen Pagota in Lin'an City, Zhejiang Province, Built in the Year 915.

Gong Chen Pagota, Built in the Year 915 —  Lin'an City, Zhejiang Province 

 

Brief History of Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

 

 

Enmity Between Later Liang and Later Tang

After warlord Zhu Wen destroyed the capital city and assassinated the entire royal family of the Tang Dynasty, he established his empire in the middle kingdom.  

This was the Later Liang Dynasty (907 — 923), which was soon perished by their long-term enemy Li Cunxu. 

Li Cunxu, a great general, then largely extended his territory and named his new empire the Later Tang Dynasty (923 — 936).

 

He ambitiously planned to recover the prosperous and unified Tang Dynasty. As an incapable politician who spent much time in professional acting, however, he was assassinated soon.  

Copper Flying Deity Figurine of Later Tang Dynasty, the Empire that was Built by Li Cunxu

Copper Flying Deity Figurine of Later Tang Dynasty — Capital Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Replacements of Regimes in Chaotic Eras

The usurper of the throne kept going. People who obtained a certain amount of power and the army could snatch the throne and establish a new empire. 

In the middle kingdom area of China, Later Jin (936 — 947), Later Han (947 — 950), and Later Zhou (951 — 960) were successively established and perished.

 

Until Zhao Kuangyin took the throne from his young king and established the Empire Song in the year 960. 

From 960 to 979, Zhao Kuangyin and his brother led Song’s army defeated those kingdoms in the south, and put an end to this era of huge separation and disorder. 

As both an excellent general and a wonderful monarch, Emperor Zhao Kuangyin built a long, wealthy empire, the Song Dynasty (960 — 1279).

Unearthed Gold Dragon of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

Gold Dragon of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms — Zhejiang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

 

Political Structure and Social Systems of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

 

Population:

Around 25 million — 32 million

 

Official Selection System:

 

Imperial Examination. 

Military Service: 

 

Recruitment of Professional Soldiers

Unearthed Stone Statues of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Playing Musical Instruments and Dancing

Unearthed Stone Statues of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Playing Musical Instruments and Dancing — Shanghai Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)