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Chinese History - 907-960 AD - Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

China History Map - Five DynastiesOn the fall of the T'ang dynasty the situation in China was not unlike that in Europe about the same time, and in the course of fifty years there were five short-lived dynasties which are known respectively as the Later Liang, the Later T'ang, the Later Tsin, the Later Han, and the Later Chou. They reveal their inferior and dependent character by thus seeking to borrow from the reputation of previous dynasties. None of them had more than a local authority and in some cases their sway was restricted to one or two provinces.

In the meantime the southern provinces for the most part managed their affairs without any Imperial interference whatsoever. The power of the Five Dynasties was largely confined to China north of the Huai (Hwai) River. South of the Hwai, ten states, the so-called Ten Kingdoms, briefly flourished. Of these States (Chien) Shu was situated in Szechwan, Wu in Kiangsu, Min in Fokien, Wu Yiie in Chekiang, Nan Han in Kwangtung (Canton), Chu in Honan, Ching nan in Hupei In addition to these the States of Chi in Shensi and Kansu, and Yen in Pechili (Peking), existed independently. Upon the north and west two Tartar tribes, the Khitan (Liao) and the Hsia, had extended their boundaries and become independent kingdoms, the former dating from 937 and the latter from 1031.

It was essentially a time for desperadoes and soldiers of fortune. "To give peace to the Empire," said the counselor Shih Hung-chao, "and put down rebellion, a good sword and a long spear are wanted: of what use is a hair-awl?" The independence of China was, during this period, maintained with very great difficulty and lavish presents, and even actual tribute, had to be paid to the border tribes by sovereigns of the later Tsin dynasty. It was this ignominy which caused this particular line to be described as "the meanest house which ever swayed the black haired people." So far as the Empire in this sordid period had any center at all the capital was sometimes at Singanfu and sometimes at Kaifengfu on the Huang-ho.

This period may be compared with that in Roman history, during the decline of the Empire, when the Imperial power was in the hands of the successful generals. Owing to the fact that the Chinese had been so long engaged in war for the purpose of suppressing civil revolutions or opposing the raids of the Tartar tribes, the military leaders had become the most influential men in the Empire, and so were tempted to make use of their power to obtain the Imperial throne for themselves. Another significant feature of the period is that just as the destruction of the power of the Hsiung-nus by the House of Han had resulted in paving the way for the attacks of other Tartar tribes, so the overthrow of the Turcomans by the House of T'ang prepared the way for the inroads of the Khitans. Of the five Dynasties that so rapidly succeeded one another, three were of Turcoman extraction.

Later Liang Dynasty (A.D. 907-923)The first of the Five is called the Later Liang Dynasty. This was established by Chu-wen, who when he ascended the throne took the Imperial title of T'ai Tsu. Although he claimed to be Emperor over the whole of China, his sway was far from being universally acknowledged. His principal adversary was a general named Li Ts'un-hsii, the son of Li K'o-ynng. Eventually Li Ts'un-hsii overthrew the House of Liang and established the second of the Five Dynasties.

Later T'ang (A.D. 923-936) Li Ts'un-hsii adopted the dynastic title of Chuang Tsung, and called his Dynasty the Later T'ang. He made his Capital in Weichou in the modern Province of Chihli. He was a great warrior and was able to gain important victories over the Khitans, now rapidly becoming the most formidable enemy of the Empire. His brother who succeeded him was an equally successful general, but the reign of the latter is principally noted for the fact that during it the art of block printing was invented by Feng Tao, and the Nine Classics, by Imperial order, were printed from wooden blocks (A.D. 932).

Later Tsin (A.D. 936-951) Shih Kung-t'ang, one of the generals of the Later T'ang, formed an alliance with the Khitan chief, Te Kuang, for the purpose of destroying the ruling House and elevating himself to the throne. He was successful in his attempt and established the Dynasty known as the Later Tsin. Owing to the fact that help had been received from the Khitans, the Emperors of this short-lived Dynasty were completely subservient to those who had enabled them to obtain the throne, and were forced to address the Khitan Chief as "Father."

Later Han (A.D. 947-951) The Second Emperor of the Later Tsin, Ch'i Wang, made a desperate attempt to throw off the yoke of bondage imposed by the Khitans, and in consequence was carried off into captivity. Liu Chih-yuan, taking advantage of the throne being vacant, seized the opportunity of making himself Emperor, aud established the Later Han Dynasty. His Dynasty was in turn destined to last only a few years, and then the Empire fell into the hands of a general named Kuo Wei, who by his success in an expedition against the Khitans had become very popular among the people.

Later Chou Dynasty (A.D. 951-960) The Dynasty established by Kuo Wei is known as the Later Chou. During its brief duration confusion prevailed in the Empire. As no one seemed to have any very strong claims to the throne, the powerful generals of the army struggled for the mastery, and looked upon the throne as the prize of victory. One solitary figure awakens respect and sympathy at the close in Kuo Jung, who came to the throne as the second of the Later Chou Emperors in AD 954. To ensure humility in his high station, the young king, whose throne name was Shih Tsung, preserved in his palace the plow and other implements of labor such as should serve to remind him of his former low estate. In the time of famine he opened the public granaries to supply the needs of the starving populace and sold to the poor on credit. When reminded by his ministers that the payments might never be made, Shih Tsung replied that he was the father of the people and could not see his children suffer. He melted the idols of the temple in order to coin money, which had become very scarce. Buddha himself, he said, who did so much for men, would certainly raise no objections. He encouraged learning, and waged successful wars against the Khitans and Northern Hans, but his death at the early age of thirty-nine put an end to the hopes of the people. The child heir, a boy of only six years old, was adjudged unequal to the difficulties of a time so "out of joint".

By popular acclamation the crown was conferred upon the head of the army, the general Chao Kuang-yin [Chao K'uang-yin], who overcame all his rivals, and raising himself to the throne established the Sung Dynasty. Thus the period of disunion was temporarily brought to a close, and a large part of the Empire came again under the rule of one Emperor.

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Page last modified: 20-06-2012 20:35:56 ZULU