A General Synopsis of the Three-hundred Year History of the Two Chin
and the Southern and Northern Dynasties

The three-hundred years of the Two Chin Dynasties, the Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarians and the Southern and Northern Dynasties is the most confused and chaotic period in Chinese history and such a very dismal period politically and socially that there are those who compare it to the Dark Ages of European history.

(The so-called three-hundred years used here is an approximation that refers to the three-hundred and ten year period from the destruction of the Kingdom of Wu in the year T'ai-k'ang 1 of Emperor Chin Wu-ti to the destruction of the Kingdom of Ch'en by Sui Yang-ti in the year K'ai-huang 9 - 280 to 589 A.D. If instead you calculate from Ssu-ma Yen's usurpation of Wei and his proclamation as Emperor Chin Wu-ti in the year T'ai-shih 1 then it is a span of three-hundred and twenty-five years.

If you use the dynasties of the Wei, Chin, Southern and Northern Dynasties to divide it into periods and if you include the period of the Three Kingdoms then you would calculate from 190 A.D. when all of the garrisons of Kuan-tung (關東 East of the Pass) put down Tung Ch'o (董卓) in the year Ch'u-p'ing 1 of the Emperor Hsien-ti of the Eastern Han, then it is altogether four-hundred years of social and political upheaval.)

Although Chin Wu-ti brought a close to the ninety years of wrangling that had marked the Three Kingdoms to restore the unity of China, in the initial years of the reunified Chin Dynasty the state was already faced with two potential dangers and one critical situation. The first of the two imminent dangers was the depressed state of literary fashion and the profligacy of life-styles which as a result produced spiritual disintegration; the second was that the Five Barbarians living along the borders, greatly increased their strength and influence forming a threat to the people. In addition there was one actual threatening situation which was the result of the decision of Chin Wu-ti who upon reflecting that the Royal House of Wei fell because of their isolation, decided to enfeof as Kings all males of the royal surname allowing them to maintain troops and occupy land as he attempted to restore the feudal balance of power. Chin Wu-ti died ten years after he had achieved reunification and his son, Hui-ti, succeeded him but the Empress Chia brought chaos to the government and murdered the Imperial Preceptor (Tai-fu) Yang Chun which triggered the Revolt of the Eight Kings. From Yuan-k'ang 1 to the death of Yüeh, King of Tung-hai, in Yung-chia 5 (291 to 311) from start to finish the Revolt of the Eight Princes was twenty years of complete social and political upheaval. These twenty years brought about the complete destruction of the central government and with it the local administration and social order. At the same time, the father and son, Liu Yuan and Liu Ts'ung of the Hsiung-nü, had already one after the other been proclaimed emperor in P'ing-yang. Then in Yung-chia 5 Liu Ts'ung sent Liu Yao and Shih Le in command of troops to descend upon the south from different directions, taking advantage of the power vacuum there to enter and take Lo-yang by storm and seize Chin Huai-ti as a prisoner. In Ch'ang-an Chin Min-ti succeeded him as emperor but in another five years Liu Yao attacked and seized Ch'ang-an , putting both Min-ti and Huai-ti to death in P'ing-yang. The outcome of all this was that the area of the Central Plain was lost to the enemy becoming a land where the cavalry of the Northern tribes galloped back and forth. Liu Yao followed Liu Ts'ung as emperor to establish a capital at Ch'ang-an in Kuan-chung, a dynasty historically known as the Former Chao. Shih Le of the Chieh tribe was originally one of Liu Ts'ung's subordinate generals but at this time broke with Liu Yao to occupy the north and south banks of the Yellow River, setting up Hsiang-kuo as the capital of dynasty known in history as the Latter Chao. Ssu-ma Jui, the Chin King of Lang-yeh, was proclaimed emperor on the left bank of the Ch'ang-chiang (長江 the Long River, that is the Yangtze River), establishing his capital at Chien-yeh to continue to offer sacrifices to the state of Chin founding a dynasty known as the Eastern Chin. The Western Chin, from the unification by Ssu-ma Yen to the chaotic times of Huai-ti and Min-ti, fell apart after only thirty-seven years. The reasons for the destruction of the Western Chin were just those two imminent dangers and the critical situation that were mentioned previously and the outcome of their bursting out. However, these thirty-seven years surprisingly constituted a temporary transitional situation in the midst of great unrest.

Ssu-ma Jui established a capital on the left bank of the Ch'ang-chiang to become the Emperor Yuan-ti of the Eastern Chin, and after him the Eastern Chin continued on for one-hundred and two years, occupying and guarding the half of the empire south of the Ch'ang-chiang. In the area of the Central Plain to the north there was a situation of great turmoil as the Hsiung-nü, Chieh, Hsien-pei, Ti, Chiang and several men of Han established over twenty separate states both great and small one after the other. To the west the land of Shu and Han (trans: Ssu-ch'uan or Szechuan) was sometimes subject to a northern dynasty, sometimes to a southern dynasty and sometimes formed an independent state. This jumbled and complex situation can be divided into three phases: the stalemate between Eastern Chin and the Two Chao; the stalemate between the Eastern Chin and the Former Ch'in; and the stalemate between the Later Ch'in, Later Yen and Eastern Chin and the aftermath in the north.

The first phase is the confrontation between the Eastern Chin and the Two Chao dynasties. After the occupation of the Western Chin's two capitals by the enemy, Liu Yao of the Former Chao took possession of Ch'ang-an and was proclaimed emperor, occupying the land of Kuang-chung. Shih Le of the Later Chao took control of the east and was called the King of Chao, controlling the land both north and south of the Yellow river in the modern areas of Ho-nan, Ho-pei, Shan-tung and Shan-hsi. In the region of Lo-yang, He-tung and Hung-nung there developed a fierce and bitter see-saw battle between the Two Chao dynasties. The countryside was made into a wasteland and the common people suffered terribly in a period known in history as the Calamity of Liu and Shih. The two sides struggled for over ten years up to Hsien-ho 4 (329 A.D.) when Liu Yao was unexpectedly destroyed by Shih Le with the result that the Latter Chao united the east and west to control completely the lands of the Central Plains.

While Liu and Shih were busy fighting each other, the lands of Shu and Han in the west were taken over by a Ti tribesman (the tribe was also known as the Ti-man) of the Li clan. From Li T'e it was handed down to Li Hsiung who was proclaimed emperor in Ch'eng-tu. While the Central Plain was in turmoil it was only the House of Li that was able to pacify the people and take advantage of the geography of Shu-chung to create an island of stability (a geography that also served to confine his authority to this region). The state founded by the Li clan was named Ta Ch'eng and is know to history as Li-Ch'eng.

In the northwest part of Shu-Han and Kuan-lung is the territory known as Liang-chou (in modern Kansu) where the Chin Liang-chou Prefect, Chang Kuei, was able to maintain control of the Liang-chou region, establishing a capital at Ku-tsang (Wu-wei) that observed the official court calendar of the Chin Dynasty, allowing the Chin to claim a political presence in the northwest but in actuality was an independent regime formed by the Chang clan. After two generations of Chang family rule in the time of Chang Chun, the Former Chao was swallowed up by the Latter Chao and Chun stood in dread of the power of Shih Le, so he submitted to him but also submitted to Li-Ch'eng in the west. In this way he made concessions but Chang Chun was still loyal to the house of Chin and so also quietly sent envoys to the Chin court which appointed Chang Chun as Great General and Army Commander of the Three Chou of Yung, Ch'in and Liang. Chun drilled and trained his army to campaign in the west against Hsi-yu and was unexpectedly able to maintain in the northwest an independent and stable regime that is historically known as the Former Liang.

So it was that at this time in the northwest there was a man of Han of the Chang clan and his state of Former Liang who had accepted the official calendar of the Chin dynasty. It just so happens that there was a similar situation in the northeast where a Hsien-pei tribesman of the Mu-jung clan and his state of Former Yen which had also accepted the official calendar of the Chin dynasty. The Mu-jung clan was one of the larger tribal units among the Hsien-pei in the Liao-tung region of the Northeast. During the reign of Chin Wu-ti he appointed one of their chieftains, Mu-jung Hui, as the Army Commander of the Hsien-pei, with troops stationed at Chi-ch'eng (now Chin-hsien in Liao-ning). During the reign of Chin Wu-ti, Mu-jung Hui proclaimed himself the Great Army Commander of the Hsien-pei, gradually taking possession of the lands to the east and the west of the Liao River. After the Yung-chia disaster there were many men of rank who fled into exile from the Central Plain and sought refuge in the area of the Liao River with the result that the power and influence of Mu-jung Hui grew with each passing day. When Yuan-ti of the Eastern Chin gave Hui the post of Army Commander of the two Chou of Yu and P'ing he did so to attack Shih Le on two sides from both here and from Chin. Then in year Hsien-ho 8 of Chin Ch'eng-ti (333 AD) Mu-jung Hui died and his son Mu-jung Huang(?) succeeded him and only then did he break away from the Chin Dynasty to proclaim himself King of Yen, moving the capital to Lung-ch'eng (Chao-yang in Ju-he) only one more time submitting to the Latter Chao with his state known in history as the Former Yen.

When Chin Yuan-ti came to the throne there was the Chang clan in the northwest and the Mu-jung clan in the northeast who though they were all far away from one another still acted in coordination while in the region of the Central Plain there was still the residual influence and power of many men of Chin while at the same time thre was the Yu-chou Prefect, Tsu T'i, struggling in Ho-nan, the Minister of Public Works (Ssu-k'ung) Li K'un who fought on in the area of Yu and Yen, and there was also a Hsien-pei tribesman of the Mu-jung clan who controlled Dai-ti and acted in coordiantion with Yuan-ti, doing one's best to recover lost territory also is not difficult. Unfortunately, Yuan-ti lacked the determination to seize the opportunity and the great ministers of the court also did not cooperate, while the Great General, Wang Tun, who supervised troops along the upper course of the Ch'ang-chiang, was planning a revolt. Consequently many were ordered out unaided (and out of favor) and one after the other they were defeated and as a result the men of the Central Plains who had a sense of purpose and principle had to swallow their pride. And so it was with the several powers who had coordinated their efforts, the situation changed and once this opportunity had passed the Eastern Chin had only their own false sense of security on the left bank of the Ch'ang-chiang.

After Shih Le had eliminated Liu Yao in the north, soon after he was proclaimed emperor and with the surrender and sumission of Chang Chun of the Former Liang, he had slmost completely united the north. Shih Le died in 333 and he was succeeded by his nephew, Shih Hu, had his son Shih Hung murdered, proclaiming himself Emperor and moving the capital to Yeh-ch'eng. Shih Hu was a ruthless and dissolute ruler and under him the administration of affairs fell into decline. Shih Hu died in 349 and his sons all fought for the throne, throwing the state into turmoil. There was an adopted son of Shih Hu's by the name of Jan Min, who raised troops in revolt and killed all of the sons of Shih Hu. Min was a son of Han and he slaughtered the Hu and Chieh, in one day killing over two-hundred thousand. This upheaval lasted for two years and the state of Latter Chao disintegrated and disappeared. The men of Yen in the northeast took advantage of thie confusion to fall upon the south, rolling up the lands of Chao like a mat. However, Jan Min took possession of the capital at Yeh-ch'eng and was proclaimed Emperor of a state by the name of Wei (also known in history as the Jan-Wei) to form a brief transitional regime.

From the seizure of Ch'ang-an in 316 by Liu Yao and Chin Yuan-ti's accession to the throne in Chiang-tung in 317 to the fall of the Latter Chao in 351 is a span of thirty-five years. During these thirty-five years there was a succession of five rulers in the kingdom of Eastern Chin in Chiang-nan: Yuan-ti, Ming-ti, Ch'eng-ti, K'ang-ti and Mu-ti; this was the first phase of the chaos of the Two Chin and the Five Barbarian. During the first half of this period the north was witness to the confrontation between the two Chao regimes as the authority of the Eastern Chin was confined to the south, while in the west there was the independent state of Li-Ch'eng, in the northwest the state of Former Liang and in the northeast the state of Former Yen both offering sacrifices to the state of Chin. This was a situation of four states in a mutual standoff. During the latter half of the period the Latter Chao brought the north together under one ruler while both Liang and Yen pledged allegiance to Chao, the Eastern Chin was in the south and the Li-Ch'eng was in the west. This is a situation where the three states were in a triangular balance of power (see maps).

Two The period of confrontation between the Former Chi'in and Eastern Chin

When Mu-jung Kuang(?) came to power the state of former Yen was already quite formidable, having defeated Shih Hu to the south, uniting with Kao-chu-li in the east to expand their territory by three-thousand li. In 348 Mu-jung Kuang(?) died and his son Mu-jung Chun succeeded him and he took advantage of the turmoil of the Former Chao to lead a force of some two-hundred thousand soldiers on a forced march to fall on the south. After taking the land of Chao, he continued on to successfully attack and take Yeh-ch'eng, killing Jan Min. In the year 352 (the year Yung-ho 8 of Chin Mu-ti) Mu-jung Chun then declared himself emperor and formed an adminstration (instituted the Hundred Officials) with a capital at Yeh-ch'eng

Fu Hung, a Ti chieftain, at first subordinate to the Former Chao and then the Latter Chao, at the time of Shih Hu appointed to the post of Army Commander of the Six I (foreign tribes) led his followers to garrison and live in Fang-t'ou (now Jui-hsien in Ho-nan). At the time of Jan Min's rebellion, Fu Hung led his followers west to escape but on the road he was killed by one of his followers. His son, Fu Chien, continued to lead the group through the passes (Kuan-chung) and declared himself the Grand Ch'in Heavenly King (Ta Ch'in T'ien-wang 大秦天王 ). In the same year that Mu-jung Chun proclaimed himself emperor, Fu Chien also was proclaimed emperor in Ch'ang-an of the state of Former Ch'in.

At this time Huan Wen was in power in the Eastern Chin and the Army Commander of Ching and Liang who was responsible for the military affairs of four chou, garrisoning the city of Chiang-ling. In Shu the state of Li-Ch'eng passed down from Li Hsiung to Li Shou, who changed the name of the state to Han so that another name for it is Ch'eng Han. Li Shou then passed control to his son, Li Shih, who misused the laws to oppress the people making a local famine even worse so that the power of the state thus fell into decline. Huan Wen took advantage of the resulting vacuum to invade and led his troops to attack and enter Ch'eng-tu, capturing Li Shih and destroying Ch'eng Han in 347 the year Yung-ho 3 of the Chin dynasty. In the seventh year after he had destroyed Shu, Huan Wen gathered together a force of forty thousand cavalry and infantry to campaign in Kuan-chung to the north. From Hsiang-yang and Che-ch'uan through the Wu-kuan, he fought his way up to the Pa River (in Shen-hsi). Fu Chien fortified his defenses and refused to give battle so the army of Chin exahusted their provisions. Huan Wen had no other choice but to withdraw his troops but the troops of Ch'in pursued them from behind and attacked. Huan Wen returned in defeat and as a result the power of Ch'in prospered.

In 360, Mu-jung Chun of the Former Yen died passing rule on to his son, Mu-jung Wei. In 365 Wei sent Mu-jung K'o south to take hold of Lo-yang. It was at this time that the men of Yen expanded their lands all the way to Ching-chou, taking the lands of Yu, Chi, Ping, Szu and Yu-chou. Along with the Former Ch'in of Kuan-chung and the Eastern Chin of Chiang-nan, the Former Yen constituted a situation of a three-nation balance of power.

The Prince of Former Ch'in, Fu Chien, died in 355 (the year Yung-ho 11 of Chin Mu-ti) and his son Fu Sheng succeeded him to the throne. Fu Sheng was so licentious and cruel he was killed by his younger cousin (the younger son of his father's brother) Fu Chien. In 357 (the year Cheng-p'ing 1 of Chin Mu-ti) Fu Chien set himself up as the Heavenly King of Great Ch'in (Ta Ch'in T'ien-wang). Employing Wang Meng, he pursued the task of building up the nation with determination and dedication so that the state of Ch'in became great and strong. In 369 (T'ai-ho 4 of Chin Fei-ti) Huan Wen of the Eastern Chin again mounted a major effort against Yen and was defeated by the Yen Great Army Commander of He-nan, Mu-jung Ch'ui. Since Mu-jung Ch'ui defeated the army of Chin his prestige increased immensely. The Imperial Preceptor, Mu-jung P'ing, was bitterly jealous of Mu-jung Ch'ui and hoped to bring about his downfall with trumped up charges, but when Ch'ui found that he was ruined he surrendered to Fu Chien. Fu Chien saw fit to use Mu-jung Ch'ui as a guide in the capacity of "Champion General" (Kuan-chun Chiang-chun) with Wang Meng as the Commander-in-chief and dispatched a large force of troops to campaign in the west against the Former Yen, attacking and taking Lo-yang in one move. In the next year (370, T'ai-ho 5) Fu Chien personally led a large army to carry on the advance, with the same ease as splitting a bamboo pole he successfully took Chin-ch'eng, Yeh-ch'eng and Lung-ch'eng taking Mu-jung Wei prisoner thus bringing the Former Yen to an end. In the next year (371, Chin Hsien-an 1) the Ch'in also destroyed the Yang-shih and occupied and helf the area of Chiu-chih (the Ch'eng-hsien region of Kan-su). With control of Chiu-chih the men of Ch'in naturally threatened Han-chung. The Chin Liang-chou Prefect, Yang Liang, tried in 373 to mount a surprise attack on Chiu-chih but was defeated by the army of Ch'in. Taking advantage of the situation, Fu Chien sent out a large force to advance and attack thereby gaining complete control of the lands of the two Chin chou of Liang and I. By 376 (Chin Hsiao-wu-ti T'ai-yuan 1) Fu Chien had also destroyed the Former Liang, Chang T'ien-hsi surrendering, the state having passed through nine rulers and seventy-three years ceased to exist. Of all the states of the north at the time, the state of Former Liang enjoyed the distinction of being the longest lasting of them all. Three years later the army of Ch'in took possession of the Chin city of Hsiang-yang to the west and the city of P'eng-ch'eng in the east. In another three years (in 382), he sent Lu Kuang on an expedition to the Western Regions (Hsi-yu) and he captured or forced the surrender of over thirty of the small kindgoms of the area. At this time the state of Former Ch'in had already occupied two-thirds of the lands of the entire nations, having twenty-six chou and one hundred and eighty chun. From the Western Regions in the west to Kao-chu-li and Silla (Korea) in the east, all of the kingdoms and states entered the Ch'in court in fear and trembling. At the peak of its prestige and the greatest extent of its territories, it was the foremost of all the states of the Five Barbarians. Moreover, with regard to the Eastern Chin it had already created a situation where it surrounded them on three sides. Fu Chien, the King of Ch'in, was extremely arrogant and haughty, considered the unification of China to be only a question of time. It was these years, the beginning years of the Chin T'ai-yuan period that were the zenith of the state of Former Ch'in.

The Ch'in minister Wang Meng died in Ning-k'ang 3 (375). The achievements of Fu Chien were actually obtained through the efforts of Wang Meng so that as soon as Wang Meng died he not only lost a good minister but there were many more mistaken policies both militarily and politically. At the same time in the Chin court Huan Wen had died two years prior to the death of Wang Meng so Hsieh An carried on with rule of the country as the army Commander of the military affairs of the five chou of Yang, Yu, Hsu, Yen and Ch'ing. Hsieh An had a cautious but resourceful personality and using his nephew (brother's son), Hsien Hsuan, as the Yen-chou Prefect to train a fresh military force that was given the name "Army of the North District" (Pei-fu Chun). In 383 (Chin T'ai-yuan 8) Fu Chien raised an army that exhausted the manpower of the state and claimed to be over eight hundred thousand strong, using his younger brother Fu Jung as Commander-in-chief for a large-scale campaign against the south. Hsieh An appointed his younger borhter, Hsieh Shih, as the Cheng-t'ao (Quell the Uprising) Army Commander, and Hsieh Hsuan as the Vanguard Army Commander in command of eighty thousand troops to meet them in battle. Although the Ch'in army was immense, the soldiers' hearts were not yet one and they were rather unexpectedly routed by the Chin troops at Fei-shui, the entire army falling to pieces. Fu Chien fled back to Ch'ang-an while his state went into internal convulsions. Two years later he was killed by Yao Ch'ang, and the state of Former Ch'in immediately fell. The north thus sank into a state of total disintegration and chaos.

Calculating from the fall of the Latter Chao and Fu Chien's occupation of Kuan-chung in 351 (Yung-ho 7) up to the death of Fu Chien in 385, this thirty-four year period is the second phase of the disruptions in China of the Two Chin and the Five Barbarians. These thrity-four years in the Eastern Chin in the south which saw the reigns of five rulers, Mu-ti, Ai-ti, Fei-ti, Chien-wu-ti and Hsiao-wu-ti, can itself be ivided into two parts. The first from the fall of the Latter Chao to the fall of the Former Yen (351 to 370) is the age of the triangluar balance of power between the states of Former Ch'in, Former Yen and Eastern Chin. The second (370 to 385) is the north-south confrontation between Former Ch'in and Eastern Chin, the age of the complete ascendancy of the Former Ch'in. (See maps 3 and 4.)

Three). The mutual stalemate between the Latter Ch'in, the Latter Yen and the Eastern Chin and the aftermath of the upheaval in the north.

Because the state of Former Ch'in fell to pieces in the one battle of Fei-shui, afterwards the tribal chieftains and leaders that had been conquered or surrendered all one by one became independent resulting in a situation of great division with the situation as follows:

1). The general who came over from the Former yen, Mu-jung Ch'ui, took possession of Chung-shan (Ting-hsian in He-pei) was proclaimed emperor to form the Latter Yen.

2). Mu-jung Yung of the Imperial family of the Former Yen took control of Chang-tsu and was proclaimed emperor to form the Western Yen state.

3). The Chiang tribesman, Yao Ch'ang, who when Fu Chien was campaigning in the south had been made the Lung-hsiang (Prancing Dragon) General and Viceroy. When Fu Chien returned in defeat Ch'ang then staged a mutiny and compelled the murder of Fu Chien, occupying Ch'ang-an and becoming emperor of a state by the name of Great Ch'in but known as the Latter Ch'in.

4). The Former Ch'in General, Lu Kuang (a Ti tribesman) quelled the Western Regions but when he returned in triumph Fu Chien had already fallen. Kuang immediately occupied Ku-tsang and proclaimed himself the Liang-chou Magistrate (Liang-chou Mu) and then Heavenly King to form the state of Latter Liang.

5). Later on there were internal disturbances in the lands of the Latter Liang and it went on to be divided into three kingdoms of Liang:

a). The Hsi-ho, Hsien-pei tribesman T'u-fa Wu-ku took control of Lien-ch'uan Bao (Yeh-t'u in Ch'ing-hai) proclaiming himself the King Who Pacifies the West of the Southern Liang.

b). The Lu-shui barbarian, Ju-k'u Meng-hsun of Lin-sung took control of Chang-yeh and proclaimed himself the Duke of Chang-yeh and continued to be called King of Liang in the kingdom of Northern Liang.

c). The Han Chinese Li Kao, one of Li Kuang's descendants from Ch'eng'chi in Lung-hsi took control of Chiu-ch'uan and was procalimed Duke of Liang in the kingdom of Western Liang.

6). Ch'i-fu Kuo-jen, a Hsien-pei chieftain from Lung-hsi occupied Yung-shih Ch'eng (north of Yu-chung Hsien in Kan-su) and proclaimed himself Great Army Commander, Great Ch'an-yu and Magistrate of Ch'in and Ho Chou to constitute the kingdom of Western Ch'in.

7). Before all of this in the time of the Western Ch'in, there was a Hsien-pei tribesman by the name of T'o-pa that lived in the region of Sheng-yüeh (in the vicinity of Kuei-hua Ch'eng in Sui-yuan). Chin Min-ti had enfeoffed their chieftain T'o-pa O-lu as the Prince of Tai with a capital at Sheng-yüeh. Afterwards O-lu was murdered by his son and all of Tai was in confusion. After O-lu the rule was passed on seven times to finally come to She-i-chien and the tribe was once again prosperous so the T'o-pa clan regained its strength. It was not long before they were destroyed by the King of Ch'in, Fu Chien. With the defeat and fall of Fu Chien the many tribes of the T'o-pa clan chose the grandson of Shen-i-chien, T'o-pa Kuei as their king with the capital still at Sheng-y&uu,l;eh, but changed the name of the state to Wei. In history in order to distinguish this with the Ts'ao-Wei it is called either the Latter Wei, the Northern Wei or the T'o-pa Wei.

insert maps

Of all these states the Latter Yen founded by Mu-jung Ch'ui in the east and the Latter Ch'in founded by Yao Ch'ang in the west were the most powerful. In 394 (Chin T'ai-yuan 19) Mu-jung Ch'ui of the Latter Yen destroyed Ch'ang-tsu and killed Mu-jung Yung to bring to a finish the state of Western Yen, and as a result occupied and took possession of Yu-chou, Chi-chou and Ping-chou while the the south he invaded Ch'ing, Hsu and Yen to cover completely the lands of the modern provinces of Liao-ning, Je-ho, He-pei, Shan-hsi, Shan-tung and the eastern part of Ho-nan. In 393 (Chin T'ai-yuan 18) Yao Ch'ang of the Latter Ch'in died and his son Yao Hsing succeeded to the throne to occupy the lands of Kuan-chung and Lung-yu with an east-west confrontation with the Latter Yen while in the south there was a three-way balance of power with the flourishing Eastern Chin. In 399 (Chin An-ti Lung-an 3) Yao hsing sent an army to attack and sieze Lo-yang. In 400 (Lung-an 4) he sent a general to defeat the Western Ch'in and forced the surrender of the King of Western Ch'in, Ch'i-fu Kan-kuei (the younger brother of Ch'i-fu Kuo-jen). Up until 402 (Chin An-ti Yuan-hsing 1) a famine occurred in Ku-tsang and over one hundred thousand commoners died of starvation. Urged on by the distress the King of Latter Liang, Lu Lung, surrenderedto the Latter Ch'in in 403 (Yuan-hsing 2). Yao Hsing, King of Latter Ch'in, sent a general in command of troops to meet with Lu Lung and bring him to Ch'ang-an thus bringing to a close the state of Latter Liang. In additon, the other three Liang states, The Northern, Southern and Western, all submitted to the Latter Ch'in. At this time the Latter Ch'in controlled the lands of Yung, Liang and the original Han land of Ssu-li, encompassing the area of modern Kan-su, Shen-hsi and the western part of Ho-nan to make this the heyday of the Latter Ch'in. In 395 (T'ai-yuan 20) at the same time that the Latter Ch'in was expanding in the west, the state of Yen in the east was still experiencing great changes and as a result of these changes the triangular balance of power was irretrivably lost.

Let us first talk about the situation in the north. At this time the Hsien-pei T'o-pa clan that occupied and held the region of Sheng-yüeh, an area that was first called Tai and later called Wei, were a strong and fierce people. Ever since T'o-pa Kuei's return to power, the attack on Ho-lan and the defeat of the Jou-jan the power of the state was great and strong. Kuei had initially subordinated himself to the Latter Yen but because Mu-jung Ch'ui considered him disrespectful, in 395 he sent the Imperial Heir, Pao, to proceed with a great army to subjugate T'o-pa Kuei which was quite unexpectedly defeated by Wei forces at Tsan-he-p'i, the Yen army suffering serious casualties the shame and indignity of which made Mu-jung Ch'ui become ill. The next year he personally commanded an attack on Wei but he died of an illnes while on the road. His son, Mu-jung Pao, succeeded him to the throne. T'o-pa Kuei of the Northern Wei took advantage of the situation to mount a large-scale attack to storm Chin-yang, occupy Ping-chou and capture Chung-shan causing the Latter Yen to disintegrate into chaos. Mu-jung Pao fled in defeat to Lung-ch'eng where he was murdered by his subordinate Ho Han. Pao's son, Sheng, in turn killed Ho Han and was himself killed later. The confusion continued until 407 (Chin I-hsi 3) when the Yen general Feng Pa (a Han Chinese from Ch'ang-yüeh, Hsin-tu) eliminated the Latter Yen and established himself in Lung-ch'eng still calling the state Yen and this became known as the Northern Yen. At the time that Yu-chou fell into disorder there was a younger brother of Mu-jung Ch'ui's, Mu-jung Te, who originally garrisoned Yeh-ch'eng but in 399 he was compelled to flee south to Ch'ing-chou by Wei forces, and there he established a capital at Kuang-ku and controlled the entire region of Ch'ing-chou along with parts of Yen-chou, Hsü-chou and Chi-chou to form the Southern Yen. As a result of this the land of Chi-chou that lay between the two remnant states of Northern and Southern Yen that the Latter Yen had divided into, was entirely in the possession of the T'o-pa Wei.

The war between Yen and Wei was a turning point in the transformation of the situation in the north. Because of this one war Yen fell and Wei prospered, and the Northern Wei was able to expand after this important event threatening the Latter Ch'in in the west. At the same time in the northwest Ho-lian Po-po rose up. Po-po was a descendant of the Liu clan of the Hsiung-nü and had been attacked by the Northern Wei, fled to Latter Ch'in where the King of Latter Ch'in, Yao Hsing, gave him twenty thousand troops of various kinds and ordered him to garrison Shuo-fang. Po-po gradually expanded his influence and power until in 407 he took control of Shuo-fang to rebel against the Latter Ch'in and establish a state by the name of Hsia, proclaiming himself the Great Ch'an-yu of Great Hsia and changed the Liu surname to Ho-lian, also building a city as a capital called T'ung-wan (north of Hen-shan hsien in Shen-hsi). At this time in the northeast Yao Hsing of the Latter Ch'in encountered pressure from the Latter Wei and in the north also encountered pressure from Great Hsia, in battle he was frequently defeated so that the state thus went from prosperity to decline. The Western Ch'in also broke away from the Latter Ch'in to establish an independent position and also the Southern Liang to contend with the Latter Ch'in along the western borders. During the middle part of the I-hsi period (405-418) as a result of Yen's revolt in the east, Ch'in's weakness in the west, in the north the situation had become one of complete destruction with the exception of the newly risen T'o-pa Wei.

Now for the situation in the south. After the battle of Fei-shui, the Eastern Chin had recovered P'eng-ch'eng and Hsiang-yang in the east and I-chou in the west. At the time this was an excellent situation but unfortunately Hsia An died and the King of Lang-yeh, Ssu-ma Tao-tsu, controlled the government and the affairs of government once again took a turn for the worse. After Chin An-ti had just come to the throne during the first year of the Yuan-hsing period (402) the revolt of the Ching-chou army commander Huan Hsuan took place. Hsuan led his troops to attack and enter the capital of Chien-k'ang. At the same time in Shu to the west there was also a revolt as mutinous troops jointly set up the I-chou Military Staff Officer (Ts'an-chun) Ch'iao Tsung as their leader (he was a native of Hsi-pa, Nan-ch'ung) and occupied Ch'eng-tu and proclaimed him the King of Ch'eng-tu, breaking away from the Eastern Chin to become independent, a state known in history as the Latter Shu. Afterwards the famous Northern District General, Liu Yu, raised an army at Ching-k'ou to punish and destroy Huan Hsuan and An-ti returned to the capital. As a result Liu Yu became famous and held the government in his hands, becoming the Grand Protector Army Commander (T'ai-pao Chiang-chün) in control of all military affairs, receiving the post of Prefect of Yu-chou, Ch'ing-chou and Yen-chou while at the same time his younger brother Tao-kuei became the Ching-chou Prefect so that all power in and out of court was concentrated in the hands of Liu Yu. In 410 (I-hsi 6) Liu Yu mobilized troops for a northern campaign against the Southern Yen, storming Kuang-ku and killing Mu-jung Chao (the nephew of Mu-jung Te) bringing to an end to the state of Southern Yen. In another two years in 412 Liu Yu sent the Hsi-ling Viceroy (T'ai-shou) Chu Ling-shih in command of troops to enter Shu where they conquered Ch'eng-tu, beheaded Ch'iao Tsung and subdued the Latter Shu. In another four years in 416, the King of Latter Ch'in, Yao Hsing, died and his son, Yao Hung, succeeded him but his brothers fought and killed one another and Kuan-chung was set astir. Liu Yu took advantage of the situation to launch a large-scale northern campaign first storming Lo-yang and then with an irresistable force entered into Kuan-chung. In the eighth month of the year I-hsi 13 (417) he attacked and took Ch'ang-an capturing Yao Hung and then sending his head to Chien-k'ang to bring the Latter Ch'in to a close. At this point the one-hundred years of north-south confrontation underwent a momentous change and if Liu Yu had taken advantage of his victory to make a clean sweep of it who could say for certain that he would not have been able to unite the empire.

Unexpectedly, after Liu Yu had conquered Kuan-chung he left his son, I-chen, behind to garrison Ch'ang-an and personally led the army back to Chien-k'ang to initiate a coup first poisoning An-ti's wine to kill him and set up Te-wen as Kung-ti then deposing Kung-ti to set himself up as the ruler Sung Wu-ti. The year was 420 and with this the Eastern Chin kingdom that had passed through eleven rulers and one hundred and four years abruptly came to an end.

Just when Liu Yu was usurping the Chin, in the north the situation was undergoing a complete transformation. In 418 (I-hsi 14) the King of Hsia, Ho-lian Po-po attacked and seized Ch'ang-an, expelling the Chin army from the city. In 421 (Sung Yung-ch'u 2) Chu-ch'u Meng-sun of the Northern Liang eliminated the Western Liang and the four Liang states of the west were once again brought together. Following this the Northern Wei and Hsia went through a period of protracted military operations with the Wei forces finally storming T'ung-wan in 430 (Yuan-chia 7) but the King of Hsia, Ho-lian, decided to lead his troops west to capture and destroy the Western Ch'in, but in a short while he was again defeated by the T'u-yu-hun tribesman Wang Mu-kuei, brining about the fall of the Hsia in the year 431 (Yuan-chia 8). At this time of all the kingdoms of the Five Barbarians in the north there only remained the state of Northern Liang in the northwest corner. In another five years the men of Wei attacked and took Ho-lung bringing an end to the Northern Yen. In another seven years they took Ku-tsang and the Northern Liang was finished and the north was now unified under the T'o-pa Wei. The year was Yuan-chia 16 of Liu-Sung Wen-ti, T'ai-yuan 5 of the Northern Wei T'ai-wu-ti (439) and only nineteen years away from the fall of the Eastern Chin. The great confrontation between the Liu-Sung and the Northern Wei that followed leads into the period known as the Southern and Northern Dynasties.

The fifty-three years from the fall of the Former Ch'in in 385 to the reunification of the north by the T'o-pa Wei in 439 can be divided into four phases. The first phase is the period of division that followed immediately after the fall of the Former Ch'in; the second phase is the three-way confrontation between the Latter Ch'in, the Latter Yen and the Eastern Chin; the third phase is the sudden rise of the T'o-pa Wei and the fragmentation of the Latter Yen; and the fourth phase is that following Liu Yu's northern campaign and the usurpation of the Chin and the states that were left in the aftermath of the upheaval in the north (see figs 5,6,7,8).

The period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties, if it is calculated from Liu Yu's usurpation of the Chin down to the elimination of Ch'en by Sui Wen-ti, Yang Chien (420 to 589) it is a span of one-hundred and seventy years. If it is calculated from the Northern Wei T'ai-wu-ti's, T'o-pa T'ao, elimination of the Northern Liang and the unification of the north down to the Sui unification (439 to 589) then it is a span of one-hundred and fifty-one years. If it is calculated from the proclamation of T'o-pa Kuei as the Northern Wei emperor Tao-wu-ti and the establishment of the capital at P'ing-ch'eng to the usurpation of the Northern Chou by Yang Chien (398 to 581) then it is a span of one-hundred and eighty-four years. There are those who would include the Sui Dynasty as one of the Northern Dynasties, usually listing them as Wei, Ch'i, Chou and Sui so that it is then necessary to add on the thirty-eight years of the Sui Dynasty to increase the total span of the Northern Dynasties to two-hundred and twenty years. The contrasts between the duration of the Northern and Southern administrations are shown below:




However, the general custom is to use the one-hundred and seventy years of the Southern Dynasties as the temporal coordinates of the Southern and Northern Dynasties period. (Returning the thirty-eight years of the Sui Dynasty to the dynastic division of the Sui-T'ang.) The one-hundred and seventy years or approximately two centuries (The Fifth and Sixth) of the Southern and Northern Dynasties period can actually be said to be a continuation of the tumult of the Two Chin and the Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarians period. Of their dissimilarities the first was that the north and south became two united political regimes opposed to one another, unlike the confusion of the north during the period of the Eastern Chin. A second is that in the north the Five Barbarians changed to become the one barbarian becoming the empire of the Hsien-pei (the only exception being the Hsien-pei-icized Han-Chinese of the Kao clan of the Northern Ch'i), while the south still remained under the traditional rule of Han-Chinese.

The situation between the Southern and Northern Dynasties was also not one of a symmetrical relationship of rough equilibrium, it was one which saw the unrivalled prosperity of the Northern Wei. The single dynasty of the Northern Wei taken by itself endured for a century and a helf, corresponding to the time of the three dynasties in the south of the Sung, Ch'i and Liang. It can be said that the Northern Wei state founded by the T'o-pa clan was a great dynasty administered by Hsien-pei tribesmen, and during the period of its ascendancy it controlled the greater part of China. During the initial founding of the state it was suffused with an air of barbaric heroism and martial grandeur. T'o-pa Kuei as Emperor Tao-wu-ti founded the state and T'o-pa T'ao as the Emperor T'ai-wu-ti (Imperial Martial Emperor) who swept away the rival warlords to unite the Central Plain both cannot be overlooked as outstanding leaders of the period. T'ai-wu-ti also campaigned in the north against the Jou-jan to expand his lands by a thousand li, and in the south he campaigned against the Liu-Sung, his troops approaching Kua-pu and his horses watering from the Yangtze making Chiang-nan tremble. It is only regrettable that in his late years he took up the belief of Taoist superstition and his conduct began to fall beneath what he was capable of which touched off an inner court revolt with T'ai-wu-ti unexpectedly dying at the hands of a family slave. His death was followed by the Wen-ch'eng and Hsien-wen emperors who both came to the throne as children so the Queen Mother Feng sevrved as regent. After the regency of the Queen Mother there were many confused plans and mistaken policies with the exception of the keen and capable Empress Dowager Feng whose twenty-five year regency was marked by many achievements in the areas of culture, civilization and the political system. In particular there was the realization of the Equal Fields System and also the completion of "Registration of Neighborhoods and Friends" (Lin-li Hsiang-tang) organization that aided social order and stabilized the rule of the state making it a major historical achievement. It can be said that this period was a period that saw the construction of the internal administrative structure of the Northern Wei state. After the death of the Empress Dowager Feng, T'o-pa Hung, the emperor Hsiao-wu-ti, assumed personal control of the government and consequently moved the capital from P'ing-ch'eng to Lo-yang while at the same time putting into effect large-scale reforms, the sinicization of all aspects of the state and this also stands as a great historical achievement. This undertaking, although it was sufficient to bring about the assimilation of the Hsien-pei into Chinese society, also resulted in the Hsien-pei losing the martial spirit of a nomadic border people. The most important outcome was that after the removal of the capital to Lo-yang the aristocracy of the Hsien-pei that had remained in their ancestral homes to the north came south in aimless swarms. In general the prince, nobles and court ministers gradually acquired the traits of pride, luxury, debauchery and idleness, their lifestyle becoming more corrupted day by day so that because of this the north was deserted and desolate and the border defenses empty and neglected. During the reign of Hsiao-wen-ti the power of the Northern Wei reached its peak and with his death the Northern Wei first went from prosperity to decline and then from decline to dissolution. It was at just this time that in the south the two Southern Dynasties of Ch'i and Liang entered the scene.

In the south the four states of Sung, Ch'i, Liang and Ch'en were all of relatively short duration and ephemeral. The Liu-Sung lasted fifty-nine years, the Hsiao-Ch'i lasted only twenty-four years, the Hsiao-Liang last fifty-seven years while the Southern Ch'en went on for thirty-three years, the longest being about half a century while the shortest lasted for only twenty or thirty years. These four states inherited the Eastern Chin's confined situation and they were from beginning to end not prosperous, lacked vitality and had no real chances of survival. They all had several problem areas in common, the first beingn that the Imperial Household for the most part lacked any family rules, while the Imperial Court lacked discipline. It would often happen that an ignorant child-king would appear and the affairs of state would become a child's plaything. Or else his personality was submissive and even more undependable so that regicide became a common occurance making it really an age where "the ruler is not a ruler and the subject is not a subject." The second was that while the Southern Dynasties faced the threat of invasion by the Northern Dynasties, they also faced at the saem time the threat of internal insurrection. There often were incessant outbreaks of revolt led by the numerous kings and the military officers of the chou and chün which resulted in the indiscriminate killing typical of internecine struggles being extremely cruel and sadistic. The reason for this was that in the Two Chin many members of the Imperial Family were enfeoffed as Kings with concurrent control of a chou and the garrison giving each the power to maintain troops creating numerous feudal powers that gave rise to the complications, contradictions and struggles of the period. Therefore, it can be said that although the Southern Dynasties from the Eastern Chin on had a "secluded peace" (P'ien-an) in reality they were secluded but they were not by any means peaceful. The third is that in the midst of this kind of revolution and chaos there would finally emerge a powerful courtier who could intimidate the court and use the pretext of an abdication to carry out a regime change which resulted in the almost continuous change of dynasties. Apparently this way of changing ruling houses and dynasties began with the Ts'ao-Wei ruler Ssu-ma Chin. From the Wei and Chin on, this became a sort of official sequence of events, a pattern that was repeated by a series of men who followed this path without question it was in this way that Liu Yu usurped the Chin, that Hsiao Tao-ch'eng usurped the Sung and that Hsiao Yen used to usurp the Ch'i.

Hsiao Yen became the Emperor Liang Wu-ti and his reign lasted for forty-eight years, with the reign title changing seven times. The Liang Dynasty lasted for fifty-seven years altogether so this one ruler was in control for four fifths of the entire span of the dynasty. Of particular note is the seventeen years of the T'ien-lan reign period at the beginning of the dynasty that saw a series of achievements in the civil administration and the military that was recognized in history as the period of the "T'ien-lan Administration." Amid all the disorder and tumult of the Southern Dynasties this is the only instance of peace and order that resulted from enlightened government. Regrettably this good fortune could not last forever and as has been said before in the general account of the preceeding five thousand years, Liang Wu-ti wearied of the affairs of government and took up the study of Buddhism to the exclusion of all else, neglecting the Imperial Court and the adminstration of justice. It was at just this moment that the earth shaking (heaven stirring) revolt of Hou Ching suddenly broke out, destroying the balance that had supported the north-south confrontation and bringing about the disintegration and end of the Liang state.

The confrontation of the Southern and Northern Dynasties period was from beginning to end a time of mutual hostility with the two sides constantly fighting. Even with all of the various comings and goings, the two sides were nevertheless always able to maintain their power to stalemate the other. The southern armies were unable to go much beyond the Yellow River (Huang-ho) while the northern armies were not able to pass beyond the Yangtze (Ch'ang-chiang) with the result that the region of the Huai River became a frequent battleground between the north and south. Although both sides had their vistories and defeats it can be said that for the most part the north was stronger the the south, so the Southern Dynasties usually chose a defensive posture and often occupied an essentially passive position. In the midst of this long-term struggle there were also intermittent periods of peace so that the period is one of over one-hundred years of just this kind of stopping and then fighting, stopping and then fighting. The period also has one unique characteristic and that is that every time there was a change of dynasty following a coup there was a group of either exiled members of the Imperial household or military men who chose to flee to another country. They requested either refuge and sanctuary or aid in recovering the throne allowing the opposing side to use the opportunity to provoke a new round of north-south conflict. Because of the frequent coups within the Southern court this political instability produced a relatively large number of this sort of situation. Therefore, while in principle the north and south were always pitted against each other on the field of battle it alternated between peace and war, the two sides suddenly enemies and then suddenly friends, changing constatnly. This was the situation before the revolt of Hou Ching as the Northern Wei was still in the process of splitting up.

In the Northern Wei following the death of Wei Hsiao-wen-ti, his son Yuan K'o (after the reforms of Hsiao-wen-ti the T'o-pa surname was changed to Yuan) succeeded him as Hsuan-wu-ti who himself died after ruling for seventeen years to in turn be followed by Crown Prince Yuan Hsu, who became Wei Hsiao-ming-ti. Hsiao-ming-ti assumed the throne at the age of eleven so the state was managed by the Empress Dowager Hu who governed as regent. During this period the various kings competed for power while in the court there were continuous coup attempts as the Empress Dowager Hu grew profligate and mismanaged the state with the result that government affairs declined and the civil administration became a shambles with popular revolts breaking out in every corner of the empire. In history this period is called "The Governmental Disorder of the Empress Dowager Hu." It is also as a result of this governmental disorder of the Empress Dowager Hu that the Northern Wei began to experience a series of successive revolts, and was not able to recover from this one stumble. So it is that we find the contrast between this Empress Dowager Hu and the previously mentioned Empress Dowager Feng to be one between confusion and order, a very striking contrast indeed.

It was at this time that the commoners of the six northern border garrisons, as a result of a famine, started a popular rebellion in history known as the "Revolt of the Six Garrisons." The impact of the revolt of the Six Garrisons had the power of a wild prairie fire as numerous soldiers and bandits in the north rose up in droves. Although they were put down one after the other by government troops their remnants left behind problems that continued for a long time without stopping just like the Yellow Turban rebels of the Eastern Han. From the midst of this great turmoil a warlord rose to power. He was the chieftain of the Hsiu-jung branch in the north whose name was Er-chu-jung. Because he had achieved distinction in stamping out the rebels, he was officially appointed as the T'ao-lu (Suppress and Capture) Great Army Commander of the Six Chou and maintained a large force that was stationed in Ping-chou. He was very ambitious politcally and claimed that the disorder was the result of the use of villians and menials as ministers by the Empress Dowager. Using the expedient of "purifying the ruler's flanks" (ch'ing chun-tzu) he led his troops down south, crossed the Yellow River to attack and seize Lo-yang, killing the Empress Dowager and also setting up Yuan Tsu-yo of the Imperial clan as the emperor Hsiao-chuang-ti as Er-chu Chung's puppet. Hsiao-chuang-ti could not endure Er-chu-jung's control and oppression so along with those around him he settled on a plan and murdered Er-chu-jung. The soldiers of Erh-chu Chung were strong and his generals were brave and they were also a large clan. As soon as he had been killed, his younger brother Erh-chu Shih-lung, his nephew Erh-chu Chao and others rose up en masse to avenge Erh-ch Chung. They once again attacked and took Lo-yang and killed Hsiao-chuang-ti and separately set up Yuan Kung, the King of Kuang-ling, as the emperor Chia-wen-ti while the enitre Erh-chu clan split up to occupy strategic routes. In history this period is known as the "Revolt of the Erh-chu Clan." There were many local chou and chun high-ranking military officers that were dissatisfied and their scattered uprisings were eventaully enough to subdue the revolt of the Erh-shu Clan in just the same way that the garrisons had put down Tung Ch'uo during the last years of the Han.

Among the various high-ranking officers that put down the Erh-chu Clan there was an outstanding personality by the name of Kao Huan. He was a Han-Chinese that had been "Hsien-pei-icized" and was possessed of many plans with which to meet the various exigencies of the moment and very much after the pattern of Ts'ao Ts'ao he was good at controlling men of talent and ability and he also had the ability to carry out military operations. After finally eliminating all of the Erh-chu Clan, he also set up Yuan Hsiu, the King of P'ing-yang, as Wei Hsiao-wu-ti while Kao Huan set himself up as Prime Minister using the Emperor's name to control power in exactly the same way that Ts'ao Ts'ao had made use of the emperor Han Hsien-ti. Hsiao-wu-ti lived at the capital of Lo-yang while Kao Huan was still with the troops stationed at Yeh-ch'eng, exercising control from a distance and this is also patterned after the former technique of Ts'ao Ts'ao. However, Hsiao-wu-ti could not endure Kao Huan's control for very long so he then allied himself with the Kuan-hsi Great Army Commander, Yu-wen T'ai (a Hsien-pei), in order to resist Kao Huan. Kao Huan flew into a rage and led his troops down south so Yu-wen T'ai took advantage of the circumstances to seize Hsiao-wu-ti and enter the Pass (into Kuan-chung). It was not long before he also killed Hsiao-wu-ti, separately establishing Yuan Pao-chu, the King of Nan-yang, as the emperor with the capital at Ch'ang-an, Pao-chu becoming the emperor Wen-ti of the Western Wei. Kao Huan also separately set up Yuan Shan, the Cown Prince of the Principality of Ch'ing-ho, as emperor extablishing his capital in the east at Yeh-ch'eng, becoming the Emperor Hsiao-ching-ti of the Eastern Wei. From this time onward the Northern Wei was divided into an eastern and a western kingdom: the year was 534. In reality the Western Wei was Kao Huan's regime while the Western Wei was Yu-wen T'ai's regime, each using the pretense of Prime Minister to rule the state by holding the reins of the administration, the Northern Wei becoming an empty name that lacked any substance.

The power of Kao Huan and Yu-wen T'ai was like that of fire and water, the east and west fighting continuously, the region at the confluence of the Fen and the Yellow Rivers becoming a battlefield where the two sides fought back and forth so that the area had its full measure of misery and suffering. Kao Huan had a brave general by the name of Hou Ching, who had been enfeoffed as the Nan-tao Ta-hsing-t'ai (High Border Official of the South), maintaining one-hundred thousand troops garrisoned in the Hu-lao region, resisting Yu-wen in the west and guarding against the Hsiao-Liang in the south. However, Hou Ching and Huan's eldest son, Kao Ch'eng, were not on good terms. Kao Huan died in 547 and Kao Ch'eng succeeded him as Prime Minister to control the government. Serious jealousies, suspicions and contradictions soon broke out between him and Hou Ching, driving the latter to take over a territory and revolt, sending emissaries to ask if he could surrender to the Souther Court of Liang Wu-ti. Liang Wu-ti was overjoyed at this unexpected good fortune and immediately appointed Hou Ching as Great General and enfeoffed him as the King of Ho-nan. At the same time he sent officers to dispatch troops assigning his nephew (brother's son) Hsiao Yuan-ming the command of an army to campaign in the north in order to support Hou Ching. Quite unexpectedly they were defeated by Kao Ch'eng and Yuan-ming was taken prisoner, while at the same time Hou Ching's troops were scattered and fled south to Shou-yang. Since Kao Ch'eng had just assumed control and did not want to make enemies of the Southern Court so soon, the two sides ceased fighting and made peace but with the provision that Hsiao Yuan-ming be exchanged for Hou Ching. When Hou Ching learned of this he flew into a dreadful rage and immediately mobilized his forces in revolt, from Shou-yang force marching to cross the Yangtze River (Ch'ang-chiang) to attack and take Chien-k'ang (another name for Chien-yeh). Liang Wu-ti was driven to suicide and the Heir Apparent was crowned as Chien-wen-ti. It was not long before he set himself up the ruler, killing Chien-wen-ti. This is the "Revolt of Hou Ching."

From start to finish the Revolt of Hou Ching lasted for four years and was like a cyclone only it whirled up a pervasive gloom that darkened both heaven and earth. Although it was finally put down by the subordinate generals of the King of Hsiang-tung and the Ching-chou Prefect, Hsiao I, with Wang Seng-pien and Ch'en Pa-hsien, however, the Liang Dynasty was already in complete disintegration. Hsiao I, the King of Hsiang-tung, was proclaimed emperor in Chiang-ling to become Liang Yuan-ti; Hsiao Chi, the King of Wu-ling was proclaimed emperor in Ch'eng-tu; Hsiao Ch'a, the Yung-chou Prefect, was proclaimed King in Hsiang-yang; and Wang Seng-pien used the pretext of being the Minister of Eduation and Culture (Ssu-t'u) to put a garrison in Chien-k'ang: each of them maintained troops to divide and occupy the kingdom to make this a situation of total collapse. This also led to the reappearance in the Liang Dynasty of the often seen calamity of the Southern Court, internecine slaughter. In the west Hsiao Chi and Hsiao Ch'a (uncle and nephew) both borrowed troops from the Western Wei in order to attack Liang Yuan-ti in Ching-chou. The result of all this was that Hsiao Chi died in combat, Yuan-ti was killed while the lands of I-chou and Ching-chou were all lost to the Western Wei. The Yu-wen Clan set up Hsiao Ch'a as the King of Liang, ruling one corner of Ching-chou as a protectorate of the Yu-wen clan known in history as the Latter Liang. In the east in the region of the lower reaches of the Yangtze Ch'en Pa-hsien and Wang Seng-pien were engaged in an intramural struggle with Pa-hsien destroying Seng-pien and setting himself up as the Emperor to become Ch'en Wu-ti.

In the north at the same time as the great confusion in the south there was a change of dynasty. Kao Ch'eng's younger brother, Kao Yang, usurped the Eastern Wei throne to become the Emperor Wen-hsuan-ti of the Northern Ch'i. Yu-wen T'ai's son, Yu-wen Chueh, usurped the Western Wei throne to become the Emperor Hsiao-min-ti of the Northern Chou. The temporary situation of the three-way balance of power between the three states of Northern Chou, Northern Ch'i and Southern Ch'en is usually known by the name "The Latter Three Kingdoms". These Latter Three Kingdoms can be said to be the aftermath of the Southern and Northern Dynasties period and similar in this respect to the other Three Kingdoms that were the aftermath of the Eastern Han.

Of the three kingdoms, the territories of the Northern Chou were the largest, governing the lands of Kuan-chung, Shu-han and Ching-chou to occupy almost half of China while it was also militarily the strongest. The Northern Chou rulers from Yu-wen T'ai who founded the state to the Ta Ssu-ma Yu-wen Huo who continued his control of the government down to Yu-wen Hung who was the Chou Emperor Wu-ti, were all intelligent and capable with many military and political achievements. Opposed to this were the Northern Ch'i to the east and the Southern Ch'en were both politcally dim and faded. In particular there are the two similar cases of Ch'i Hou-chu, Kao Wei, the final ruler in the north and Ch'en Hou-chu, Shu Pao, the last to come out of the south, two especially libidinous and licentous rulers who were unable to manage the affairs of their states.

The Northern Ch'i and the Northern Chou inherited the hostility between the Eastern and Western Wei and waged war against each other continuously. Finally in 577 Chou Wu-ti, Yu-wen Yung, attacked and took Yeh-ch'eng, destroying the Northern Ch'i and uniting the Central Plain. But two years after eliminating the Ch'i, Wu-ti suddenly died in the prime of his life passing the throne on to the Heir Apparent, Yun, who became Chou Hsuan-ti. Hsuan-ti was on the throne for two years and then he too died. The throne now passed on to the child-king Yu-wen Ch'an, leading to a situation where the ruler was like a widow or an orphan a person who is weak and alone. The state's military and political power lay completely in the hands of the child-king's maternal grandfather, Yang Chien. Yang used the post of Prime Minister to control the government and was enfeoffed as the King of Sui. The child-king was only on the throne for one year when Yang Chien used a political sleight of hand to bring about an abdication and effortlessly replaced the Northern Chou regime to become the Emperor Wen-ti of the Sui Dynasty. In the year K'ai-huang 5 (585) Sui Wen-ti summoned the Latter Liang ruler, Hsiao Ts'ung, to the court to bring an end to the Latter Liang. The kingdom of Southern Ch'en because it was confined in one corner of the empire was given a temporary reprieve on its life. Then in the year K'ai-huang (589) Sui Wen-ti's great army descended upon the south from eight directions, eliminating the state of Southern Ch'en in a single move. With China united the period of the Southern and Northern Dyansties was brought to a close. It was thirty-three years after the Northern Chou usurpation of the Wei and fifty-four years after the division of the Wei into east and west.