An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Liu-Song Dynasty 劉宋 (420-479)

Oct 30, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

The Liu-Song dynasty 劉宋 (420-479) was the first of the Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420~589). It was founded by Liu Yu 劉裕.

Liu Yu 劉裕 (posthumous title Emperor Wu of the Song 宋武帝, r. 420-422) had achieved greatest merits as a military commander over the elite army of the northern quarter (beifubing 北府兵) during his long-lasting fights against the non-Chinese states in the north, particularly the Later Qin 後秦 (384-417) and the Southern Yan 南燕 (398-410) empires. He also contributed to the defeat of the powerful regent Huan Xuan 桓玄 (369-404) and the rebel leaders Sun En 孫恩 (d. 402) and Lu Xun 盧循 (d. 411). At the court of the Eastern Jin empire 東晉 (317-420) in Jiankang 建康 (modern Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu), Liu Yu was able to overcome the powerful regents finally dethroned Emperor Gong 晉恭帝 (r. 418-420) and founded his own dynasty in 420.

One of the first measures he implemented was to put the most important troops directly under imperial command (taijun 臺軍) in order to deprive the eminent families (menfa shizu 門閥士族, gaomen shizu 高門士族, or guizu haoqiang 貴族豪強) of their base of power. Furthermore, the important posts of the regional inspectors (cishi 刺史) were to be assigned only to members of the imperial family (zongshi 宗室, huangzu 皇族), and the most important offices of the central government were almost not accessible to members of the gentry, but only to people of lower social classes (hanmen 寒門, hanren 寒人), at least in theory.

In order to control and to observe the imperial princes in their princedoms (wangguo 王國) who concurrently served as regional inspectors Liu Yu installed so-called document clerks (dianqian 典簽, 典籤 or zhushuai 主帥) that regularly submitted critical reports on the former's performance and activities. Though these document clarks were only officials of a low rank they had a great influence about the political rise and fall of princes because they had a clear insight into their activities. While on the one hand they were able to report plans of rebellions before these could be carried out, they had on the other hand also the power to slander persons they disliked. This kind of harassment often led to political resistance among the Song princes, or to emigration to the Northern Wei empire 北魏 (386-534) in northern China.

After Liu Yu's untimely death his son Liu Yifu 劉義符 became an Infant Emperor (Shaodi 少帝, r. 422-423) but was soon replaced by his brother Liu Yilong 劉義隆 (posthumous title Emperor Wen 宋文帝, r. 424-453). Emperor Wen was assisted in government by Fu Liang 傅亮 and Xu Xianzhi 徐羡之. Under their administration, a land reform was executed that clearly defined how the gentry was allowed to acquire new land. At the same time, the immigrants from the north that had come to the lower Yangtze region with the foundation of the Eastern Jin dynasty were now fully incorporated into the normal household register system. After the assassination of Xu Xianzhi, Liu Yilong again allowed members of the gentry to occupy government posts. The ensuing court intrigues that involved some of the emperor's brothers and his crown prince, did fortunatley not have a real effect upon the general development of economy. Historians therefore speak of the peaceful and booming years of the Yuanjia reign 元嘉 (424-454).

In 454 Prince Liu Shao 劉劭 murdered his imperial father and ascended to the throne, but in the same year, he was toppled by his brother Liu Jun 劉駿 (posthumous title Emperor Xiaowu 宋孝武帝, r. 453-464) who was able to defeat the rebellion of his uncle Prince Liu Yixuan 劉義宣. Liu Jun again engaged people of a lower social background (suzu 素族) among his advisors, rather than members of the gentry, as his father had done. Emperor Xiaowu's son Liu Ziye 劉子業, the so-called First Deposed Emperor 宋前廢帝 (r. 464-465) tried to extirpate potential rivals within his own family but was soon murdered himself by Liu Yu 劉彧 (posthumous title Emperor Ming 宋明帝, r. 465-472), who, on his own part, used the same bloody method to eliminate other claimants to the throne.

While the Song court was engaged in fratricidal strives the Northern Wei empired managed to conquer vast tracts of land in the River Huai region, but their attempts to to occupy the whole south of China failed.

When Liu Yu died he left the throne to an under-age heir apparent, Liu Yu 劉昱, who was not able to keep the throne for more than four years and was therefore called the Second Deposed Emperor 宋後廢帝 (r. 472-476). The commander of the Right Guard (youwei jiangjun 右衛將軍), Xiao Daocheng 蕭道成, enthroned Liu Zhun 劉準 (posthumous title Emperor Shun 宋順帝, r. 477-479) and acted as the regent of the Song empire. In 479 he dethroned Liu Zhun and ascended the throne himself, thereby founding the Qi Dynasty 齊.

Table 1. Rulers of the Liu-Song Dynasty 劉宋 (420-479)
Capital: Jiankang 建康 (today's Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu.
dynastic title {temple name} personal name reign-periods
(Liu-)Song Wudi (劉)宋武帝 {Gaozu 宋祖} (r. 420-422) Liu Yu 劉裕 Yongchu 永初 (420-422)
The Minor Emperor (Shaodi) of (Liu-)Song (劉)宋少帝 (r. 422-423) Liu Yifu 劉義符 Jingping 景平 (423)
(Liu-)Song Wendi (劉)宋文帝 {Taizu 太祖} (r. 424-453) Liu Yilong 劉義隆 Yuanjia 元嘉 (424-453)
Counter-Emperor Cheng Daoyang 程道養 (r. 432-437)
Taishi 泰始 (432-437)
Counter-Emperor Yang Nandang 楊難當 (r. 436-442)
Jianyi 建義 (436-442)
Counter-Emperor Liu Shao 劉劭 (or Liu Xu 劉劬) (r. 453)
Taichu 太初 (453)
(Liu-)Song Xiaowudi (劉)宋孝武帝 {Shizu 世祖} (r. 453-464) Liu Jun 劉駿 Xiaojian 孝建 (454-456)
Daming 大明 (457-464)
The First Deposed Emperor (Qianfeidi) of (Liu-)Song (劉)宋前廢帝 (r. 464-465) Liu Ziye 劉子業 Yongguang 永光 (465)
Jinghe 景和 (465)
(Liu-)Song Mingdi (劉)宋明帝 {Taizong 太宗} (r. 465-472) Liu Yu 劉彧 Taishi 泰始 (465-471)
Taiyu 泰豫 (472)
The Second Deposed Emperor (Houfeidi) of (Liu-)Song (劉)宋後廢帝 (r. 472-476)
Demoted as Prince of Cangwu 蒼梧王.
Liu Yu 劉昱 Yuanhui 元徽 (473-476)
(Liu-)Song Shundi (劉)宋順帝 (r. 477-479) Liu Zhun 劉準 Shengming 昇明 (477-479)
479 Liu-Song replaced by Southern Qi 南齊.
Yang Debing 楊德炳 (1992), "Song 宋", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, p. 970.
Zhonguo lishi da cidian bianzuan weiyuanhui 中國歷史大辭典編纂委員會 (ed. 2000), Zhongguo lishi da cidian 中國歷史大辭典 (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe), Vol.2, pp. 3322, 3324, 3326, 3328.