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Chinese History - Sixteen Barbarian States Event History

Periods of Chinese History
During the Wei 曹魏 (220-265) and Western Jin 西晉 (265-316) dynasties the imperial court had moved a lot of Non-Chinese peoples into the reach of the metropolitan region in order to better control the nomad tribes, as well as to recruit soldiers for their constant campaigns. The result of this politics was that at the end of the 3rd century, virtually all provinces in northern China were characterised by a mixed population of Chinese and Non-Chinese. Except the Xianbei population in the northwest and the Di and Qiang in the west, all other natives had been settled down on Chinese territory by force. There was therefore a large potential for rebellion and social conflicts in the regions where foreign tribes lived together with Chinese. The traditional tribal structures had been destroyed, and the original life of pastoral nomadism had to be given up. Even those of the "barbarians" that had already settled down before their forced migration to inner China had lost their homelands and were made slaves of Chinese large landowners.
Under the reign of Emperor Hui 晉惠帝 (r. 290-306), the central government of the Jin empire suffered from power struggles among the imperial family that culminated in the rebellion of the Eight Princes (bawang zhi luan 八王之亂). The shaken foundations of the Jin empire incited two tribesleaders to declare their independency in 304: Li Xiong 李雄, chieftain of the Cong 賨 in the region of modern Sichuan, and Liu Yuan 劉淵, a Xiongnu chieftain. This was the beginning of 136 years of turbulence in northern China, where one state after the other rose and declined. The north was only reunited in 439 when the Northern Wei dynasty 北魏 (386-534) annihilated the empire of Northern Liang 北涼 (398-439) in the far west. Except four states (Western Liang 西涼, Northern Yan 北燕, Former Liang 前涼 and the Wei-Ran state 魏冉), all other empires, kingdoms and polities in the north were founded by Non-Chinese persons. They came from the "five barbarian" peoples (wuhu 五胡) of the Xianbei 鮮卑, Jie 羯, Qiang 羌, Di 氐 and Xiongnu 匈奴 (including the Lushui 盧水 and Tiefu 鐵弗 tribes).
Most historians divide the this period of time into two parts, the battle of Feishui 肥水 taking as a division line. In the first half of this period, the Cheng-Han dynasty 成漢 (304-347) ruled over modern Sichuan, the Former Zhao 前趙 or Northern Han 北漢 (304-329) and the Later Zhao 後趙 (319-350) over Shaanxi, the Former Yan 前燕 (337-370) over Hebei, the Former Liang 前涼 (314-376) over Gansu, and the Former Qin 前秦 (351-395) over Shaanxi. The Former Qin was able to almost reunite northern China but was defeated by imperial Eastern Jin 東晉 (317-420) troops in the battle of Feishui in 383. The Former Qin destroyed also the kingdom of Dai 代 (315-376) and the state of Ran-Wei 冉魏 (350-352). After the downfall of the Former Qin, ever more states mushroomed in the north. Later Qin 後秦 (384-417) and Western Qin 西秦 (385-431) controlled Shaanxi, Later Yan 後燕 (384-409), Southern Yan 南燕 (398-410) and Northern Yan 北燕 (409-436) ruled over Shanxi, Hebei and Shandong, Later Liang 後涼 (386-403), Northern Liang 北涼 (398-439), Southern Liang 南涼 (397-414) and Western Liang 西涼 (400-421) dominated Gansu and the far west, and Xia 夏 (407-432) controlled northern Shaanxi. The state of Western Yan 西燕 (384-394) is not counted among the Sixteen States, likewise not the five states of Qiuchi 仇池 (296~473) and the polities of the Qiang tribes in Dangchang 宕昌 (approx. modern Lintan 臨潭, Minxian 岷縣, Tianshui 天水 and Wudu 武都, Gansu) and Dengzhi 鄧至 (in the upper course of River Min 岷江, Qinghai) that survived into the 6th century.

Recruitment of Officials, Education and Learning

Not all governments treated Chinese and Non-Chinese equally. This was especially true for the recruitment of state officials. Shi Le, ruler of the Later Zhao, reintroduced the system of categorizing members of the eminent families into one of nine ranks that allowed them to occupy corresponding ranks in the central government and the local administration. In the process of this categorization not all grand Chinese families were given an appropriate rank but were often degraded in favour to Xiongnu families. The states of Former Yan, Later Yan and Southern Yan also made use by the Chinese nine-rank system (jiupin zhongzheng zhi 九品中正制) for the recruitment of civilian and military officials. The problem with this system was that Chinese were often not considered as belonging to the nobility (shizu 士族), or "eminent families", but as part of the common people (shuzu 庶族). Yet members of the nobility did not have to pay taxes nor to deliver labour or military service to the government.
A lot of governments of the Sixteen States established schools in their capital in which those eligible for government posts were educated. Former Zhao even had a National University (taixue 太學) for this purpose. The Later Zhao governent set up a National University, a capital School of the Four Gates (simenxue 四門學), and schools in the commanderies and princedoms (junguoxue 郡國學), in which sons of the eminent families and "future aides" (jiangzuo 將佐) were educated. In the Official School (gaoxue 高學) of the Former Yan empire more than 1,000 pupils, sons of "high families" (gaomensheng 高門生), were enrolled. Emperor Murong Huang 慕容皝 (r. 334-348) himself had compiled the statutes of this school. Yao Xing of the Later Qin invited Confucian professors (boshi 博士 "erudites") to teach more than 10,000 students in Chang'an. He also founded a School of Law (lüxue 律學) for the education of the petty officials of the local governments. This was the first school of law in China. Former Liang, Western Liang, Northern Liang and Southern Liang also cared for the education of their future state officials.
Some of the rulers of the Sixteen States were interested in literature. Fu Jian's brother Fu Rong 苻融 and his nephew Fu Lang 苻朗 could read Buddhist writings and were able to correspond in the "pure conversation style" popular during the Jin period. Fragments of Fu Lang's book Fuzi 苻子 are preserved. Yao Xing was also able to discuss Buddhist writings. In 437 Juqu Mujian 沮渠牧犍 (r. 432-439) from the Northern Liang sent tributes to the court of the newly founded Liu-Song dynasty 劉宋 (420-479), among them a lot of books written by persons from Northern Liang.


Source: Tang Changru 唐長儒 (1992), "Shiliuguo 十六國", 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, pp. 922-928.

October 30, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

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