An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420-589)

Liu-Song 劉宋 (420-479)

Southern Qi 南齊 (479-502)

Liang 梁 (502-557)

Chen 陳 (557-589)

The Southern Dynasties Nanchao 南朝 (420~589) is a series of dynasties that ruled over southern China, while the north was ruled by the so-called Northern Dynasties 北朝 (386-581). Both groups of dynasties are called the Southern and Northern Dynasties Nanbeichao 南北朝 (300~600). The period of the Southern Dynasties begins with the foundation of the Liu-Song dynasty 劉宋 (420-479) in 420, continues with the Southern Qi 南齊 (479-502) and Liang 梁 (502-557) dynasties and ends with the conquest by the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) of southern China, where the Chen dynasty 陳 (557-589) rules.

The so-called Six Dynasties Liuchao 六朝 (222~589) are the four Southern Dynasties plus the dynasty of Wu 吳 (222-280), one of the Three Empires 三國 (222-280), and the Eastern Jin 東晉 (317-420) dynasty. All six dynasties had their seats in Jiankang 建康 or Jianye 建業 (modern Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu), yet with an interruption between 280 and 316, when the Western Jin dynasty 西晉 (265-316) ruled over the whole of China from Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan).

The empires of the Southern Dynasties reached their largest expansion under the rule of the Song dynasty, when all territory south of the Yellow River was occupied. The provinces between the Yellow River and the River Huai 淮河 went lost under Emperor Ming 宋明帝 (r. 465-472) and were occupied by the Northern Wei 北魏 (386-534). The 17 "provinces" (zhou 州) of the Song empire were during the Liang period divided into 107 smaller divisions (still called zhou) that are commonly translated as "prefectures". During the Chen period the provinces of Yongzhou 雍州 and Yizhou 益州 (modern Shaanxi and Sichuan) were lost to the Northern Zhou empire 北周 (557-581), and in Jingzhou 荊州 (modern Hubei), the Later Liang empire 後梁 (555-587) was established. The southern realm had thus considerable decreased in size before it was conquered by the Sui from the north.

Liu Yu and Xiao Daocheng 蕭道成, the founders of the Song and the (Southern) Qi dynasties, were descendants of immigrant families from the north (qiaoren 僑人) that had escaped the disturbances in northern China during the periods of the Western Jin and the Sixteen Barbarian States 十六國 (300~430). Both dynastic founders had been military leaders seizing the throne by force. Their followers were mostly men of humble origin (hanren 寒人) also coming from the north.

This chapter of the encyclopaedia gives an overview of the political, social and economic history of the Southern Dynasties, their geography, and provides a list of all rulers. It also includes information on the history of literature and the development of religions.

N.B. The Song dynasty 宋 is generally called Liu-Song 劉宋, Liu 劉 being the surname of its founder Liu Yu 劉裕, to avoid confusion with the great Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279) that ruled much later. The Qi dynasty 齊 is called the Southern Qi (Nanqi 南齊) in order to avoid confusion with the Northern Qi dynasty 北齊 (550-577), one of the Northern Dynasties.

Zhou Yiliang 周一良 (1992). "Nanchao 南朝", 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, 712-717.