Three Kingdoms, Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties — Wars and Fusions in Turbulent Times
Dragon Kuilong Shaped Agate Decoration (Bi) of the Jin Dynasty — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
What Are the Three Kingdoms, Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties?
This was a period of separation in the ancient history of China, which included the Three Kingdoms (220 — 280), the Jin Dynasty (265 — 420), and the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 — 589).
During the 369 years of this period, over 30 separatist regimes had risen, reigned, and perished in the territory of the former unified Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD).
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, Northern and Southern Dynasties
Powerful clans and their large-scale, independent manorial economy were dominant during this period.
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 over ability.
Essential essences of traditional Chinese culture, such as Confucianism and the Divine of King, were severely challenged and overthrown. Conspiracy, chaos, and war became the main themes of this era.
Golden Stirrup of Era of Three Kingdoms, Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties — National Museum of China
The long poem about the famous heroine Mulan was written in this era.
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, Taoism, or metaphysics and buried themselves in art, 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, Northern and Southern Dynasties
Rise and Fall of the Three Kingdoms
After this abdication, the Han Dynasty 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 nation.
However, regent Sima usurped the throne of the Kingdom Wei, perished the other two kingdoms, and then unified the nation in the year 280.
Jade Cup of the Kingdom Wei of the Three Kingdoms Era — Luoyang Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Western and Eastern Jin Dynasty Reigned by the House of Sima
This new unified Empire was the Western Jin Dynasty (265 — 316), which lasted only a few decades.
In this chaotic era, intelligent people couldn't realize their decent political ambitions, so they became rakish hermits.
Later, the Jin Empire got rebelled and perished. A royal from the House of Sima reestablished a smaller empire in another east city called the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 — 420).
Unearthed Epitaph of Wang Xingzhi of the Eastern Jin Dynasty — Oriental Metropolitan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Changing Empires of the Southern Dynasties
Later, the Eastern Jin Dynasty in the south of China was replaced by Kingdom Song (420 — 479), then followed by the Kingdom Qi (479 — 502), Kingdom Liang (502 — 557), and Kingdom Chen (557 — 589).
Together they were named Southern Dynasties.
Since each kingdom didn’t last very long, many of their kings ended up tragically. Such as the excellent King Xiao Yan of the Kingdom Liang, who starved to death in his 80s.
Portrait Brick of Noble Women of the Northern and Southern Dynasties — National Museum of China
Development and Cultural Integration of the Northern Dynasties
The Northern Dynasties, however, experienced even more regimes.
After decades of chaos and wars, a talented king Fu Jian almost unified northern China. But after he failed in a big war against the southern empire, his kingdom started to decline; he was betrayed by his beloved former lover (a handsome prince) and assassinated by his trusted general.
Then, the Northern Wei (386 — 534) was established and growing; soon, it became the strongest one in the north. Empress Dowager Feng, though born as a royal maid, proved herself a successful politician who flourished the country further.
She also raised and trained one of the greatest sovereigns in this era, King Yuan Hong, who implemented reforms that promoted national amalgamation, economy, and politics.
Exquisite Artifacts of the Northern Wei Dynasty (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Ending of the Northern and Southern Dynasties
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 nation.
Yang Jian, also honored as the Emperor Wen of Sui, ended this chaotic, separated era and replaced it with his new prosperous empire, the Sui Dynasty.
Gold Decoration of the Northern Qi Dynasty (550 — 577) — Shanxi Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Political Structure and Social Systems
About 16 million — 50 million (beginning — ending of the era).
Powerful Clans were the ruling class; they exclusively occupied all land and power.
Official Selection System:
Taxes varied in different kingdoms but mainly included farmland products, capitation taxes, and labor services.
Pottery Model of Fortress (Wu Bao) in the Three Kingdoms Era — Wuhan Museum
Hereditary, professional soldiers appeared; they were inferior to civilians and had to fight in the army as a career unless they were promoted to civilian.
Then, in some northern kingdoms 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 were wars.
Besides, they were separated from other civilians and didn’t need to pay taxes.
To avoid further annexation of lands, free farmland sales 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 Achievements and Artifacts
The River Classic (by Li Daoyuan): a geological masterpiece that documented thousands of rivers, lakes, mountains, species, architectures, and 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.
Jade Sheep of the North and South Dynasties — Tianjin Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)