Three Kingdoms, Jin Dynasty, North and South Dynasties

(220 — 589) — Wars and Conspiracy in Turbulent Times

Over 30 Kingdoms — 369 Years

Exquisite Boat on Part of The Picture of the Ode of the River Goddess, by Great Poet and Artist Gu Kaizhi (348 — 409) of the Jin Dynasty

Facts about Three Kingdoms, Jin Dynasty, North & South Dynasties


1 This was a period of separation, which included the Three Kingdoms (220 — 280),  the Jin Dynasty (265 — 420), the North and South Dynasties (420 — 589).


2 Powerful clans and their large-scale, independent manorial economy were dominant during this period.


3 The ruling class was mainly chosen from powerful clans and aristocrats; commoners barely had the chance to get involved in politics. Family origins, again, triumphed ability.


4 Important essences of traditional Chinese culture, such as Confucianism and Divine of King, were severely challenged and overthrown. Conspiracy, chaos, and war became the main themes of this era. 

Unearthed Golden Stirrup of Era of Three Kingdoms, Jin, North and South Dynasties — National Museum of China

5 Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism started to merge in this era. 


6 Spectacular grottoes were all built in this era: the Mogao Grottoes, Yungang Grottoes, Maiji Mountain Grottoes, and Longmen Grottoes.


7 The long poem about the famous heroine Mulan was written in this era.

8  Hermit was the most popular trend for well-educated people, who didn't want to be involved in orderless politics. They and their arts were deviant, rakish, religious, and disengaged. 


  They pursued peace in nature or Taoism or metaphysics and buried themselves in art and literature and alcohol. 

Blood Amber Figurine Unearthed From Tomb of Queen of Kingdom Wei of the Three Kingdoms Era — Luoyang Cultural Relic and Archeology Institute (Photo by Dongmaiying)

History of Three Kingdoms, Jin Dynasty, North & South Dynasties


Rise and Fall of the Three Kingdoms 

In the late Han Dynasty, there were many powerful warlords. One of them controlled Emperor Liu Xie and then forced him to abdicate the throne. 


After this abdication, the Han Dynasty was officially ended. The lord who got the throne named his kingdom Wei, while there were two other big kingdoms named Shu and Wu. 


This was the Three Kingdoms era when they kept fighting against each other and trying to unify the whole of the nation. 

Unearthed Jade Cup of the Three Kingdoms — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Western and Eastern Jin Dynasty of the Sima Clan


However, regent Sima usurped the throne of the Kingdom Wei, perished the other two kingdoms, and then unified the whole of the nation in the year 280. 


This big Empire was named Jin, which only lasted for over a decade. 


In this chaotic era, intelligent people couldn't realize their decent political ambitions, so they became rakish hermits. Great artist Ji Kang and extraordinary writer Ruan Ji were famous examples. 


The Jin Empire soon rebelled by its people. It lost the northern part of many minority regimes and stayed in southern China.  

Unearthed Epitaph of Wang Xingzhi of the Eastern Jin Dynasty — Oriental Metropolitan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Changing Empires of the Southern Dynasties 

A century later, the smaller Jin Empire in the south was replaced by Kingdom Song (420 — 479), then followed the Kingdom Qi (479 — 502), Kingdom Liang (502 — 557), and Kingdom Chen (557 — 589). 


They were named as the Southern Dynasties when each kingdom didn’t last very long.


Therefore, many of their kings ended up tragically. Such as the excellent King Xiao Yan of the Kingdom Liang, who was starved to death in his 80s. 

Unearthed Portrait Brick of Noble Women of the North and South Dynasties — National Museum of China

Development and Cultural Integration of the Northern Dynasties


The Northern Dynasties, however, included even more regimes. 


After decades of chaos and wars, a talented king Fu Jian almost unified the whole of northern China. But after he failed the biggest war with the south, his kingdom started to decline; he was betrayed by his former beloved lover (a handsome prince), and assassinated by his trusted general. 


Then, the Northern Wei was established and kept growing; soon, it became the strongest one in the north. It's Empress Dowager Feng, though born as a royal maid, proved herself a successful politician who further flourished the country. 

She also raised and trained one of the most extraordinary sovereigns in this era, King Yuan Hong, who had implemented reforms that had promoted national amalgamation, as well as economy and politics. 

Unearthed Exquisite Artifacts from King Yuan Hong's Empire the Northern Wei (Photo by Dongmaiying) 

Ending of the Separation Era and Unifying of the Nation


Since then, the north kept progressing in the next few decades, until Yang Jian took the throne from his 8-year-old king, and established a new empire. 

Eight years later, this new empire defeated the other regimes and unified the whole of the nation. 

Yang Jian, also honored as the Emperor Wen of Sui, put an end to this chaotic, separated era, and replaced it with his new prosperous empire, the Sui Dynasty

Unearthed Gold Decoration of the North Qi Dynasty — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Systems of Three Kingdoms, Jin Dynasty, North & South Dynasties



about 16 million — 50 million (beginning — ending of the era)


Political System:


Powerful Clans were the ruling class; they occupied all land and power, exclusively. 


Official Selection System:


Hereditary Aristocrats.




Taxes varied in different kingdoms but mostly included farmland products, capitation taxes, and labor services.

Pottery Model of Fortress (Wu Bao) in the Three Kingdoms Era — Wuhan Museum

Military Service: 


  • Hereditary, professional soldiers appeared; they were inferior to civilians and had to fight in the army as a career unless they were promoted as a civilian. 


  • Then, in some northern kingdoms that were built by nomadic minorities, those professional soldiers were more respected; they cultivated their land when they were free, and fought on the battlefield when there are wars.


Besides, they were separated from other civilians and didn’t need to pay any type of taxes. 


Land System: 


To avoid further annexation of lands, the free sales of farmland were abolished.


Civilians only could cultivate the land, while paying a certain amount of taxes and labor services. 

Painted Stone Buddha Statue of Northern Qi Dynasty — Qingzhou Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

Scientific Development


  • The River Classic (by Li Daoyuan): a geological masterpiece, which documented thousands of rivers, lakes, mountains, species, architectures, agricultural and industrial achievements. 


  • Application of Decimal Representation. 


  • Specified the Ratio of the Circumference of a Circle to its Diameter (π) between 3.1415926 to 3.1415927, by Zu Chongzhi.

Copper Lock of the Three Kingdoms Era — Xiangyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

  • Qi Min Yao Shu (by Jia Sixie): one of the most important agricultural encyclopedias in ancient Chinese history.


  • Invention and utilization of the Kong Ming Lantern. 


  • Application of Ancient Chinese Rocket in Wars and recreational activities.

Unearthed Jade Sheep of the North and South Dynasties — Tianjin Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

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