The Later Liang dynasty was founded by Zhu Wen 朱溫 (also called Zhu Huang 朱晃 or Zhu Quanzhong 朱全忠) who originally took part in the rebellion of Huang Chao 黃巢 at the end of the 9th century, but later surrendered to the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) and became a military commander under Li Keyong 李克用, a prince of the Turkish Shatuo people 沙陀, who was entrusted with the suppression of Huang Chao's uprising. In 904 Zhu Wen kidnapped Emperor Zhaozong 唐昭宗 (r. 888-904), abducted him to the secondary capital Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan) and killed him. Three years later he dethroned the puppet Emperor Ai 唐哀帝 (r. 904-907) and mounted the throne himeslf, founded a new dynasty called Liang 梁 (by historians called Later Liang 後梁, 907-923). Although Zhu Wen (posthumous title Emperor Taizu 後梁太祖, r. 907-912) tried to win support for his regime by lowering taxes, he is known as a brutal and ruthless warrior. All his military campaigns undertaken to expand his empire were not successful. The Later Liang empire therefore only covered parts of northern China. In the south, China was divided into six smaller states, in the north of Liang reigned Li Keyong in a state called Jin 晉 (modern Shanxi; further: Zhao 趙 and Beiping 北平), the west was ruled by the state of Qi 岐 of Li Maozhen 李茂貞 (modern Shaanxi), and in the northeast Liu Shouguang 劉守光 ruled over an empire called Yan 燕. In 912 Zhu Wen was killed by his own son Zhu Yougui 朱友珪 who was defeated by his brother one year later. This last ruler Zhu Youzhen 朱友貞 ruled for ten years. In 923, Li Keyong's son Li Cunxu 李存勖 conquered the Liang capital Kaifeng 開封 (modern Kaifeng, Henan) and "refounded" the Tang Dynasty.
Li Keyong, a member of the Turkish Shatuo tribe, was installed by the Tang rulers as a military commissioner (jiedushi 節度使) in the area of modern Shanxi and proclaimed himself king of Jin 晉. His son Li Cunxu 李存勖 continued the permanent power struggle with the empire of Later Liang. In 911 he was able to control a great part of the north and proclaimed himself emperor of the Tang 唐 (by historians called Later Tang 後唐, 923-936) in 923 (posthumous title Emperor Zhuangzong 後唐莊宗, r. 923-925). All other realms in the north and south accepted the authority of the new Tang dynasty. Yet Li Cunxu's easy-going and arrogant regime provoked a military rebellion that ended with his dead. Internal struggles characterized the rest of the Later Tang period. A brother-in-law of emperor Li Siyuan 李嗣源 (posthumous title Emperor Mingzong 後唐明宗, r. 933-934) named Shi Jingtang 石敬瑭 occupied the capital and founded the Jin Dynasty 晉.
Shi Jingtang 石敬瑭, a member of the Turkish Shatuo tribe, was a military commissioner (jiedushi) in the area of modern Shanxi before he overthrew the Later Tang dynasty and founded his own Jin dynasty 晉 (by historians called Later Jin 後晉, 936-946) in 936 with the support of the Khitan federation. Some Khitan leaders like Sang Weihan 桑維翰 took over important posts in his government. After Shi Jingtang's dead (posthumous title Emperor Gaozu 後晉高祖, r. 936-942), Jing Yanguang 景延廣 took over the government affairs for the young emperor Shi Zhonggui 石重貴. He offended the Khitans and provoked their military intervention. Shi Zhonggui's uncle Du Wei 杜威 who was assigned general-in-chief, submitted to the Khitans and was rewarded with the title of emperor. The Khitan troops advanced to the south, occupied the capital Kaifeng, and in 947 the Khitan chieftain Yelü Deguang 耶律德光 proclaimed himself emperor of the Liao 遼 (907-1125). His troops devastated the Yellow River plain before they withdrew to the north, taking with them the young emperor Shi Zhonggui as a host. In the same year, Liu Zhiyuan 劉知遠 proclaimed himself emperor of the Han 漢 empire.
Liu Zhiyuan 劉知遠 (also called Liu Gao 劉暠, posthumous title Emperor Gaozu 後漢高祖, r. 947-949), a member of the Turkish Shatuo tribe, was a military commissioner (jiedushi) in the area of modern Shanxi before he proclaimed himself emperor of the Han dynasty 漢 (by historians called Later Han 後漢, 947-950 - not to be mixed up with the great Eastern 東漢 or Later Han 後漢, 25-220 CE). The conquest of the Yellow River plain by the Khitans left a power vacuum that was filled with the extremely short-lived Later Han empire. After Liu Zhiyuan's death his empire was shaken by power struggles among the mightiest persons around the emperor. The strongest among them was Guo Wei 郭威 who founded the Later Zhou dynasty.
Guo Wei 郭威, a military affairs commissioner (shumishi 樞密使), proclaimed himself emperor of Zhou 周 (by historians called Later Zhou 後周, 951-960, not to be mixed up with the great Zhou dynasty 周, 11th cent.-221 BCE) in 951 when the power struggles at the court of the Later Han ended with the dead of the powerless emperor. Guo Wei tried to initiate some reforms that attempted to lighten the burden of the peasentry. After his death in 953 (posthumous title Emperor Taizu 後周太祖, r. 951-954) his adoptive son Chai Rong 郭柴榮 (posthumous title Emperor Shizong 後周世宗, r. 954-959) was able to perform some sussessful military campaigns against the Khitan empire of Liao, and the small empire of Northern Han 北漢 (948/51-979), as wel as the empire of Later Shu 後蜀 (934-965) in Sichuan (the last two belong to the Ten States 十國, 902-979). He thereby prepared the later reunification of China by the Song Dynasty 宋 (960-1279) that was founded in 960 by general Zhao Kuangyin 趙匡胤.
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