An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

The Southern and Northern Dynasties 南北朝 (300~600)

Oct 31, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

The Southern and Northern Dynasties Nanbeichao 南北朝 (300~600) is a group of about 30 dynasties that ruled over China between ca. 300 and 600 CE. There are several categories in which these dynasties are divided, the most important of which are the Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420~589), the Northern Dynasties 北朝 (386-581), the Sixteen Barbarian States 十六國 (300~430), and the Six Dynasties 六朝 (222-589). The last term included the Wu empire 吳 (222-280), one of the Three Kingdoms 三國 (220-280) and the first empire whose capital was Jiankang 建康 or Jianye 建業 (modern Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu). The two others of the Three Kingdoms are not counted among the Southern and Northern Dynasties. The next "southern dynasty" was the Eastern Jin 東晉 (317-420), ruling from Jiankang over southern China, while the north was occupied by the Sixteen States that were mostly founded by non-Chinese chieftains. These are normally not acknowledged as "righteous" dynasties. After the demise of the Jin, southern China was ruled by four successive houses, the Southern Dynasties. The Northern Wei 北魏 (386-534), founded by the people of the Xianbei 鮮卑, unified northern China. Along with the four successor states, they are called the Northern Dynasties. After almost four hundred centuries of division China was reunited by the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) that is normally seen as a direct successor of the Northern Dynasties.

The long centuries of division under different political and social conditions created a clear distinction of northern China as a poor country with a crude culture of a warrior elite, and southern China as a rich and culturally advanced country under the leadership of an educated elite.

Table 1. The Southern and Northern Dynasties
southSichuanShanxi, HebeiShaanxiGansu
後漢 Later Han
吳 Wu 蜀漢 Shu-Han 曹魏 Cao-Wei
西晉 Western Jin
東晉 Eastern Jin 成漢 Cheng-Han 前趙 Former Zhao 前涼 Former Liang
後趙 Later Zhao
前燕 Former Yan 前秦 Former Qin
後燕 Later Yan 後秦 Later Qin 後涼 Later Liang
南燕 Southern Yan 北燕 Northern Yan 西秦 Western Qin 夏 Xia 南涼 Southern Liang 西涼 Western Liang 北涼 Northern Liang
劉宋 Liu-Song 北魏 Northern Wei
Southern Qi
梁 Liang 東魏 Eastern Wei 西魏 Western Wei
陳 Chen (北周) 北齊 Northern Qi 北周 Northern Zhou
隋 Sui
Colours indicate groups of states: Three Empires 三國 220-280
Jin Dynasty 晉 265-420
Sixteen Barbarian States 五胡十六國 300~439
Southern Dynasties 南朝: Liu-Song 劉宋, (Nan-)Qi (南)齊, Liang 梁, Chen 陳 420-589
Six Dynasties 六朝: Wu 吳, Dongjin 東晉, Liu-Song 劉宋, (Nan-)Qi (南)齊, Liang 梁, Chen 陳 222-589
Northern Dynasties 北朝: Beiwei 北魏, Dongwei 東魏, Xiwei 西魏, Beiqi 北齊, Beizhou 北周 386-581
Sui Dynasty 隋 581-618