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Huang Di, The Yellow Emperor

Qin Shi Huang

Mao ZeDong at ChingKangShan 1965

Deng Xiao Ping

Sun Yat Sen

Typical Mongol Warrior

Kublai Khan

HongWu, Founder of the Ming Dynasty

Qing Dynasty Flag

Chinese Silk Fan

A Chinese Medicine Pot without lid fitted

Zhaoqing at Night - Seen from 7-Stars Lake and Crags

Making a Silk Fan by Hand In Guilin

Lion Dance

Ancient and Modern Mix in Foshan City

Terracotta Warriors, Xi'an

Hand-held, trigger-operated crossbow from the 2nd century BC, Han Dynasty

Local Vendors Stall at a Foshan Wet Market

Owner of a Dumpling Shop - ShenZhen

Local Fisherman of the Li River, Guilin. The Cormorant's are trained birds used for fishing! They can count up to 7 fish, after which time they will not dive again unless fed!

Owner of My Local Corner Shop - Foshan

Typical Foshan Backstreet

Security Saluting With a Cup of Tea

Bea Making Chinese Tea - Shunde Long Jiang

Ogedei Khan

Modern Hun Bow - Typical of Mongol Bows

Uncle Tending His Chinese Aga - Toisan

Uncle Preparing Chicken for the Table - Toisan

Ding Hu San, personal picture - This is a very BIG cooking pot! It is Used For Cooking on Special Days and can Feed over 2, 000 People

Farmer Collecting Firewood - Guilin
Chinese History
Imperial China - Post Han
Post Han
An 'Idiot's Guide' to one of the most complicated period's of Chinese History...

Three Kingdoms 220–280

Wei, Shu & Wu

Jin Dynasty 265–420
    Western Jin
    Eastern Jin

16 Kingdoms 304–439

Southern & Northern Dynasties 420–589

Sui Dynasty 581–618
(They re-unified China)

I have grouped this 300 year period together in order to aid comprehension, and also give insight into the years of instability that lay between the Han Empire, and the Sui Empire

Demise of the Han Empire

During this period China descended into various warring factions and Kingdoms or States = Warlords (Again), so in order to try and present this in a less confusing way, I have combined several traditional stages of Empire into one section ...
... Then driven a Steam-roller through it all repeatedly, or until it makes simple sense!

What is beyond doubt is that throughout this chaos the dominant people were of Han Chinese descent. We will begin from the last section, with the disintegration of the Han Empire, and this next 400 years see various Warlords controlling regions of China.

China is not again reunited as one Country until the short-lived, but strategically important Sui Empire

Three Kingdoms 220–280
Wei, Shu & Wu

Click for large Scale Map
Map courtesy of Yu Ninjie
Reference: Wikipedia

The Three Kingdoms period actually begins in 184 AD with The Yellow Turban Uprising. [This is considered to be a part of The Six Dynasty's period by academics - but you probably don't want to know about that, as things are confusing enough?]

So: The Han Empire gradually loose all but ceremonial status, and are eventually usurped

The earlier, "unofficial" part of this period, from 190 to 220, was marked by infighting between warlords in various parts of China. The middle part of the period, from 220 and 263, was marked by a more militarily stable arrangement between main three rival states, Cao Wei, Shu Han, and Eastern Wu. The latter part of this period was marked by the collapse of the tripartite situation: first the destruction of Shu by Wei (263), then the overthrow of Wei by the Jin Dynasty (265), and the destruction of Wu by Jin (280).
This was the bloodiest period of Chinese history, and population dropped from 50 million at the end of the Han Empire, to a mere 16 million by the Early Jin period (Although the census figures may be incomplete and therefore misleading). What is not beyond question is that during this period millions of Chinese people died.

Perversely, this era has been highly romanticised in the cultures of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Operas, folk stories, novels, films, television serials, and even in video games. The best known of these is undoubtedly the Romance of the Three Kingdoms

This is all relatively Han Chinese history, but what of other regions of modern China during this period? This will follow at a later date, but you can find out where the Shu Kingdom originated here
Meanwhile, The Jin became a virtually autonomous and warring Kingdom that was sort-off part of the Wu Kingdom. The politically sensitive areas were around modern Hangzhou in the Yangtze Basin, but you should consider that in terms of real power: The Wu reigned in the East and South, whilst the Jin controlled the West and Centre.


... Let's make a list:
1. The Han are eventually overthrown: as an almost inevitable ricochet of The Yellow Turban Uprising
2. A faction led by Warlord Cao Cao seize Northern power by harbouring the exiled Emperor and using his official mandate by proxy, to control other vassal Warlords
3. In the first month of 220, Cao Cao dies, and his son Cao Pi forces Emperor Xian to abdicate, thus ending the Han Dynasty. He named his new state Wei and made himself emperor at Luoyang
4. The fate of Shu in the 'South' (This actually means Sichuan Province - I do wish Chinese would use geographical and not conceptual maps!) is that of their young General Sun Ce. After many victories for his Shu Lord, Sun Ce is offered control of the Shu Kingdom by the Wei
5. The Wu continued doing their own thing in the East and 'real' South; hence:
6. Dominion of the north completely belonged to Wei, whilst Shu occupied the southwest, and Wu the south and east. The external borders of the states were generally limited to the extent of Chinese civilization. For example, the political control of Shu on its southern frontier was limited by the Tai tribes of modern Yunnan and Burma, known collectively as the Southern Barbarians, and you can consider the Pearl River to be the border during this period

So that's all sorted then?

Fall of Shu
Conquest of Shu by Wei

As the Cao clan declined in influence, so did the Shu. This vacuum was filled by the eunuch faction and corruption rose. In 263, Wei launched a three-pronged attack and the Shu army was forced into general retreat. By the winter of the year, the capital Chengdu fell due to the strategic invasion of Wei by Deng Ai - who invaded Chengdu personally. The emperor Liu Shan thus surrendered. The state of Shu had come to an end after forty-three years.

Fall of Wei

Cao Huan succeeded to the throne in 260 after Cao Mao was killed by Sima Zhao. Soon after, Sima Zhao died and his title as Lord of Jin was inherited by his son Sima Yan. Sima Yan immediately began plotting to become Emperor but faced stiff opposition. However, due to advice from his advisors, Cao Huan decided the best course of action would be to abdicate, unlike his predecessor Cao Mao. Sima Yan seized the throne in 264 after forcing Cao Huan's abdication, effectively overthrowing the Wei Dynasty and establishing the successor Jin Dynasty. This situation was similar to the deposal of Emperor Xian of the Han Dynasty by Cao Pi, the founder of the Wei Dynasty.

Fall of Wu
Conquest of Wu by Jin

During 252, the kingdom of Wu went into a period of steady decline. Successful Wei suppression of rebellions reduced any opportunity of Wu influence. The fall of Shu signaled a change in Wei politics. After Jin's rise, Emperor Sun Xiu of Wu died, leaving the throne to Sun Hao - became a tyrant, killing or exiling all who dared oppose him in the court.

In 269 Yang Hu, Jin commander in the south, started preparing for the invasion of Wu by ordering the construction of a fleet and training of marines in Sichuan under Wang Jun. Four years later, Lu Kang, the last great general of Wu, died, leaving no competent successor. The planned Jin offensive finally came in the winter of 279. Under the strain of such an enormous attack, the Wu forces collapsed and Jianye fell in the third month of 280. Emperor Sun Hao surrendered and was given a fiefdom to live out his days on. This marked the end of the Three Kingdoms era and heralded a slightly more stable era

Jin Dynasty 265–420

In many ways the Jin Empire is an enigma - they fought for many years and defeated powerful foes. Then almost as soon as they build their version of The Han Empire - it all starts to fall apart again!

Western Jin (265 - 319)

Continuing from above, The Jin Empire swept to power and established it's Capital at Luoyang in Henan Province. With strong leadership from Emperor Wu (Sima Yan), they brought a brief period of respite and unity to China. However, they were greatly weakened by the later War of the Eight Princes, and by 311 were driven out by 'Han Zhao' forces (See 16 Kingdoms below). Their next Capital of Chang'an (Another name for Xi'an) lasted a mere 4 years, and again the Han Zhao defeated them. This time they fled to Jiankang (near modern day Nanjing)

Eastern Jin (319 - 420)

In 317 what was left of the Jin Empire re-established itself, and this period is known as the Eastern Jin. Basically they lost control of the Northern part of the realm. Nanjing remained the Capital for over 100 years. However, this period was also marked by political intrigue, wars and uprisings - so much the same as before really, except they didn't loose any important battles

16 Kingdoms 304–439

The Sixteen Kingdoms (there are actually more of them, and this excludes the Wei Kingdom), were a collection of numerous sovereign states in China proper and its neighbouring areas. They existed at the times of the Jin and other Kingdoms, but were independent. From 304 initially, and after the retreat of the Jin Dynasty to 'South China', and before the establishment of the Northern Dynasties. They included Kingdoms in Northern Korea and China. Please see Wikipedia if you want the unexpurgated version:

Remnants of the Han and Zhou (Alt. Zhao) Empires were active in the North, and represent the Xiongnu tribes of Shanxi, Shaanxi, and part of Inner Mongolia. However, these are not herdsmen or nomads, these are highly educated aristocrats, who always held the title Emperor or Wang

These two Kingdoms formed a stout alliance, and are known as the Han Zhou or Han Zhao (Means the same). They form two of the disparate 16 Kingdoms, and are responsible for driving back the Jin Empire

In Summary
This period of general unrest maps geographically, either:
1. Continuation of Chinese Empire under the Jin
2. Fights for independence by Kingdoms and people who never considered themselves to be Han Chinese
3. Royal Houses seeking to recreate Han and former Empires = before the Jin

Map: Click to Enlatgs
Map courtesy of Wikipedia:–420)

Wu Hu

Wu Hu is a collective name for Northern nomadic tribesmen. One of the premier is called the Xiongnu, and they are regarded as the origins of the Huns. However, there were many of them, all pushing Southwards from the steppes of Mongolia and Russia

Regarding Chinese history, our interest lies in that their aim was to establish a good life for their tribe on the lush central plains of China. Throughout the millennia of Chinese history, they have always feared invasion from the North - hence The Great Wall!

During this period of history, the Xiongnu were well settled in Shanxi, Shaanxi, and part of Inner Mongolia Provinces. Other Wu Hu tribes were pressing them from the North, or active along other Northern frontiers of China, and this means wars, many of them!

The Wu Hu were academically and tactically brilliant enough to reunify China. However, having won the battles, they stopped just short of complete control - but this would change...

Southern & Northern Dynasties 420–589

Abdication of Jin Emperor Gong in 420 in favour of Liu Yu, then Emperor Wu, ushered in the Liu Song Dynasty and the Southern Dynasties.
Meanwhile North China was ruled by the Sixteen Kingdoms, many of which were founded by the Wu Hu, the non-Han Chinese ethnicities. The conquest of the Northern Liang by the Northern Wei Dynasty in 439 ushered in the Northern Dynasties.

The Southern and Northern Dynasties was an age of civil war and political disunity. However it was also a time of flourishing in the arts and culture, advancement in technology, and the spread of foreign Mahayana Buddhism. It was also a time of migration, and many people moved from North China to the South (South of the Yangtze River that is). In the real South, 'Barbarians' were also assimilated into everyday Chinese culture


This is basically as before, except the names have been changed by historians. There is also a tendency for weaker Kingdoms in the North to be assimilated into larger ones. In particular, the Wei Kingdom becomes very powerful. Now if only somebody could bring it all together?

Sui Dynasty 581–618

Basically a period of two Monarchs: Emperor Wen and his cohort and successor, Emperor Yang.

A short-lived and overly maligned Dynasty, mainly because of their overzealous use of force. However, they achieved one great thing, and that was to reunite China. Without them it is likely that China would nowadays be many separate Countries!

Not only did they Sui re-unify China, but they also made many reforms and developments. Here's a list:

1. Created The Grand Canal
2. Extended The Great Wall
3. Instigated a fair system of land use called The Equal-field System - which substantially reduced the rich/poor divide
4. As a result, agricultural productivity increased
5. Centralised Government power (3 Departments and 6 Ministries)
6. Re-unified and standardised coinage

So how did this great Empire suddenly disappear?

The Sui Rulers were driven to complete The Grand Canal. This required heavy taxes and great manpower, however...

... after re-unifying most of China, Emperor Yang also determined to bring the Korean Kingdom of Goguryeo under direct control. This proved to be a mammoth undertaking, and far too heavy a burden for the fledgling Empire to withstand. Higher taxes and widespread conscription caused much animosity

Soon the Empire ended with defeat of Yang, and the dynasty disintegrated through a combination of popular revolts, disloyalty, and assassination.

Sui Dynasty Circa 610 AD

Now I never claim to be a historian, nor politician - but what I do find very interesting is the fact that if I take the names and dates out of the above - you would think it is all the same thing, over, and over again.

This information is as supplied by Wikipedia, as dated March 2009 or later, and/or other reliable sources.

Maps (Unless stated otherwise) are provided in association with Thomas Lessman

Please check this information yourself as it may alter without notice, and whilst we try our best to ensure it is correct, please do not hold us responsible for any errors - this is intended as a simple guide only
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