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Three Kingdoms
chinese word three chinese word country

The end of the Han dynasty was marked by the separation of the large families of that dynasty. The families took advantage of the weakened state of the government and started to establish their own private armies. Many dynasties were established during this time.

  • Wei Dynasty (220 AD - 265 AD)
  • Shu Dynasty (221 AD - 263 AD)
  • Wu Dynasty (222 AD - 280 AD)

These three kingdoms constantly fought one another during this time. But, in 265 Yen Ssu-ma, a general in the Wei dynasty overthrew the throne and created the Western Tsin or Chin dynasty (265 AD - 317 AD) in Northern China. Yen had reunited North and South China, but it fell apart when he died.


The Han Dyansty had fought non-Chinese tribes to the north to standstill. This warring brought the invasion of these northern tribes when the Later Han Dynasty collapsed. The non-Chinese invasions began in 304, and, by 317, the tribes had taken the control of the Tsin Dynasty. But, even though the Northern Tribes had wrested control of one dynasty, they could never take all of China. The non-Chinese rule lasted for about three centuries. This was the first time the non-Chinese controlled China. Their rule lasted until the Northern Wei Dynasty (386 AD - 534 AD) reclaimed China in 420 AD.


During the second half of the 5th century, the Northern Wei adopted a policy of Sinification. The agricultural part of Northern China was administered bureaucratically as it was in earlier chinese dynasties. Even though the Chinese were conquered by foreign tribes, they still had influence on their new rulers. Chinese clothing, customs, and language were adopted by the foreign invaders. After tribal cheiftains had been overexerted by the official policies of SInification, they rebelled and in 534 the dynasty fell. For the next 50 years, Northern China was ruled by non-Chinese.


Southern and Northern Dynasties


The Southern and Northern Dynasties followed the three Kingdoms and preceded Sui Dynasty in China and was an age of civil wars and disunity.


Southern Dynasties

Northern Dynasties

  • Eastern Jin (317 AD - 420 AD)
  • Liu Song (420 AD - 479 AD)
  • Southern Qi (479 AD - 502 AD)
  • Liang (502 AD - 557 AD)
  • Chen (557 AD - 587 AD)
  • Sixteen Kingdoms (304 AD - 439 AD)
  • Northern Wei (386 AD - 535 AD)
  • Eastern Wei (535 AD - 550 AD)
  • Western Wei (550 AD - 557 AD)
  • Northern Qi (550 AD - 557 AD)
  • Northern Zhou (557 AD - 581 AD)

During this period the process of sinicization accelerated among the non-Chinese arrivals in the north and among the aboriginal tribesmen in the south. Many northern Chinese also immigranted to the south. This process was also accompanied by the increasing popularity of Buddhism (introduced into China in the first century A.D.) in both north and south China.


The south and north developed into a relatively stable equilibrium, due to geographical differences. The flat steppes of the north gave a significant edge to cavalry, while the riverlands of the south gave a significant edge to naval warfare. A strong navy on the Yangtze River could protect the south from the north, since cavalry was useless in the riverlands. Likewise, logistics difficulties for the horse-poor south made it difficult to maintain a successful northern campaign. Depending on the relative strengths of the states, the Huai River area and the Sichuan basin were the primary areas of significant territorial changes. This barrier was only overcome by the first emperor of the Sui Dynasty, who built a large invading navy in the Sichuan basin.


Despite (or perhaps because of) the political disunity of the times, there were notable technological advances. The invention of gunpowder (at that time for use only in fireworks) and the wheelbarrow is believed to date from the sixth or seventh century. Advances in medicine, astronomy, and cartography are also noted by historians.