Liu-Song - Southern Qi - Liang - Chen
History of Liu-Song
Liu Yu 劉裕 (posthumous Song Wudi 宋武帝 - see titles of emperors), the founder of the Song Dynasty 宋 (also called Liu-Song 劉宋 to distiguish it from the great Song Dynasty), had achieved great merit as commander of the northern imperial troops (beifubing 北府兵) during his long-lasting fights against rebels and the northern “barbarian” kingdoms Later Qin 後秦 and Southern Yan 南燕, before he overcame the powerful regents Huan Xuan 桓玄 and Lu Xun 盧循 at the Eastern Jin 東晉 court at Jiankang 建康 (modern Nanjing), dethroned the emperor of Jin and founded his own dynasty in 420.
One of his first implemented measures was, to put the most important troops directly under imperial command (taijun 臺軍) in order to deprive the mighty clans of the local gentry (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; a kind of proconsul) were to be assigned only to members of the imperial clan (zongshi 宗室, huangzu 皇族), and the most crucial offices of the central government were almost not accessible to members of the gentry, but only to people of lower social status (hanmen 寒門, hanren 寒人), at least in theory. To control and to observe the princes in their princedoms (wangguo 王國) – who served as regional inspectors at the same time – Liu Yu installed document clerks (dianqian 典簽, 典籤 or zhushuai 主帥). Though these document clarks were only officials of low rank, they disposed of great influence and power concerning the question of activities and plans of the princes and the local governors. They were able to report rebellious intentions to the imperial court, but had also the power to slander people they disliked. This kind of harassment often led to real rebellions of Song princes – if they did not escape to the Northern Wei 北魏.
After Liu Yu’s early passing away, Liu Yifu 劉義符 became emperor for a short time, but was then replaced by Liu Yilong 劉義隆 (posthumous Song Wendi 宋文帝 - see titles of emperors) who stood under the influece of 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 northern immigrants 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 court intrigues that involved some of the emperor’s brothers and his crown prince, did not have a real effect upon the general development of economy. The historians speak of the peaceful and booming years of the yuanjia 元嘉 era (424-454).
In 454, Liu Shao 劉劭 murdered his imperial father and ascended the throne, but in the same year, he was toppled by his brother Liu Jun 劉駿 (posthumous Song Xiaowudi 宋孝武帝 - see titles of emperors) who was able to defeat the rebellion of his uncle Liu Yixuan 劉義宣. Liu Jun again engaged people of lower social background in his entourage, rather than members of the gentry (changwang linpan 長王臨藩, suzu 素族). His son Liu Ziye 劉子業 (posthumous Song Qianfeidi 宋前廢帝 „1st Deposed Emperor“ - see titles of emperors) tried to extirpate potential rivals within his own family but was soon murdered himself by Liu Yu 劉彧 (posthumous Song Mingdi 宋明帝 - see titles of emperors), who, on his own part, used the same bloody method to eliminate other claimants to the throne.
During these internal familiary massacres, the Northern Wei managed to conquer a vast territory around the River Huai. But their plans to occupy the whole south failed.
When Liu Yu died he left a minor heir apparent, Liu Yu 劉昱 who was not able to keep the throne (posthumous Song Houfeidi 宋後廢帝 „2nd Deposed Emperor“ - see titles of emperors). The commander of the right guard (youwei jiangjun 右衛將軍), Xiao Daocheng 蕭道成, installed Liu Zhun 劉準 as emperor (posthumous Song Shundi 宋順帝 - see titles of emperors) and assumed the government business. In 479 he ascended the throne himself and founded the Qi Dynasty 齊.
History of Southern Qi
Xiao Daocheng 蕭道成 (posthumous Qi Gaodi 齊高帝 - see titles of emperors),, being the „saviour of the house of Liu-Song” from its self-lacerating actions, was bestowed with offices, honors and titles (King of Qi 齊王) before he founded his own dynasty as emperor of Qi in 479. Historians call this his realm also Southern Qi 南齊 or Xiao-Qi 蕭齊 to distinguish it from the somewhat later Northern Qi 北齊, a successor of Northern Wei 北魏. He died already in 482 and was followed by his son Xiao Ze 蕭賾 (posthumous Qi Wudi 齊武帝 - see titles of emperors). Xiao Ze made intensive use of document clerks as a central government instance that should control the actions and plans of the princes and the local administration (see Song Dynasty). Equally following the Song Dynasty politics, the murder of relatives was a usual method to get rid of potential rivals to the throne.
A great problem of every government in the history of China was the fact that free peasants hired out themselves to landowners as tenant farmes. Not possessing their own land, they were not obliged to pay tax, duties and corvée labor. A special problem of the Southern Dynasties was that a great part of the original southern gentry was tax exempted, a present by which a government of northern immigrants could be politically tolerated by the southern gentry. To escape tax liability, many northern immigrants had falsely registerd as being of southern origin during the first years of Eastern Jin 東晉. Now, Xiao Ze carried out a broad review of the household registers that should result in a larger number of tax liable households. During his campaign, when northerners were unmasked, forced back to their homelands or downgraded as tax liable household (queji 卻籍), some northern landowners rebelled, the most important being the rebellion of Tang Yuzhi 唐寓之 in the region of modern Suzhou who even made himself emperor of Wu 吳.
The last decade of the Southern Qi is characterized by succession struggles. Xiao Ze’s sons Xiao Zhaoye 蕭昭業 and Xiao Zhaowen 蕭昭文 were deposed by their uncle Xiao Luan 蕭鸞
(posthumous Qi Mingdi 齊明帝 - see titles of emperors). Xiao Luan’s own sons Xiao Baojuan 蕭寶卷 (Duke of Donghun 東昏侯) and Xiao Baorong 蕭寶融 on their parts fell victim to their distant relative Xiao Yan 蕭衍, Prince of Liang 梁王, in 502. He founded a new dynasty.
History of Liang
As a regional inspector (cishi 刺史) of Yongzhou 雍州 at the border to Northern Wei 北魏, Xiao Yan 蕭衍 (posthumous Liang Wudi 梁武帝 - see titles of emperors) was an experienced military leader. Nonetheless, after founding his own dynasty, he exerted a mild civil government and spared the old Princes of Song and Qi. He neither provoked his own princes and local governors by deploying the infamous spies of the central government, the document clarks (see above), nor tried he to suppress the ambitions of the mighty gentry to obtain high governmental posts. He replaced the old nine-stage rank system (jiupin 九品) of the Cao-Wei 曹魏 Dynasty by sixteen classes (shiliuban 十六班) that could only be entered after graduating from the Confucian state academy (taixue 太學). Xiao Yan himself was an erudit scholar, he composed poems, wrote essays and patronized writers, poets, and artists. During his long rule, important anthologies (Wenxuan 文選, Yutai xinyong 玉臺新詠) and critics (Shipin 詩品, Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍) were composed. Furthermore, he promoted the spread of Buddhism among the southern Chinese aristocracy.
Meanwhile, the Northern Wei 北魏 empire had disintegrated, and refugees from the Tuoba court came to the south to look for political support, like Yuan Hao 元顥. A refugee from Eastern Wei 東魏, Hou Jing 侯景, supported Xiao Yan in his ambitions to reconquer northern China. But instead, Hou Jing conspired with Xiao Zhengde 蕭正德 to overthrow Xiao Yan. The rebels captured the capital Jiankang 建康 (modern Nanjing). During the leaguer of the imperial palace, Xiao Yan starved to death. Hou Jing installed Xiao Zhengde as the new emperor, then Xiao Wang 蕭網 (posthumous Liang Jianwendi 梁簡文帝 - see titles of emperors), Xiao Dong 蕭棟, and finally himself as emperor of Han 漢. Since the begin of Eastern Jin 東晉, it was the first time that the lower Yangtse area was seriously devastated by belligerent actions.
The power struggles after Hou Jing’s death in 552, carried out by Xiao Lun 蕭綸, Xiao Yi 蕭繹 (posthumous Liang Yuandi 梁元帝 - see titles of emperors), Xiao Ji 蕭紀, Xiao Yuanming 蕭淵明, and Xiao Cha 蕭詧, were finally ended by Chen Baxian 陳霸先 who installed Xiao Fangzhi 蕭方智 (posthumous Liang Jingdi 梁敬帝 - see titles of emperors) as emperor. In 557, he deposed Xiao Fangzhi and founded his own dynasty named Chen 陳.
History of Chen
Chen Baxian 陳霸先 (posthumous Chen Wudi 陳武帝 - see titles of emperors) inherited the imperial throne as Prince of Chen 陳 because he forced the last Liang emperor to hand over (chanrang 禪讓) to him the heavenly mandate (tianming 天命). After the collapse of the Northern Wei 北魏 empire, there was a new time of political unrest and military activity in the north and along the borders with southern China. During the disturbances of the last decade of Liang, the northern empire Northern Zhou 北周 could conquer the whole western part of southern China, that is modern Sichuan and Yunnan. Chen Baxian’s empire was only half the size of the Liang dynasty’s. Furthermore, Chen Baxian was never able to fully control all territories of his empire as well as the political and military activities of the local gentry. It took him a long time to subdue all claimants to the throne from the Xiao family that had survived the coming into power of the Chen clan.
The most powerful people of the Chen empire after Chen Baxian’s death was Hou Andu 侯安都 who replaced the new emperor Chen Chang 陳昌 immediately with Chen Qian 陳蒨 (posthumous Chen Wendi 陳文帝 - see titles of emperors). Chen Qian’s son Chen Bozong 陳伯宗 (posthumous Chen Feidi 陳廢帝 „The Deposed Emperor“ - see titles of emperors) was toppled by his own uncle Chen Xu 陳頊 (posthumous Chen Xuandi 陳宣帝 - see titles of emperors). Chen Xu’s reign was a relatively calm and peaceful period, except the few successless military campaigns of Wu Mingche 吳明徹 against the north.
Meanwhile, at the northern frontier serious change had taken place. The Northern Zhou empire 北周 had conquered his neighboring state, Northern Qi 北齊 and controlled now northern and western China. Thereupon Northern Zhou was destroyed by general Yang Jian 楊堅 who founded the Sui Dynasty 隋. For Yang Jian, it was an easy game to conquer the small state of Chen in the south and to reunite China under his rule.
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