The Southern and Northern Dynasties

Authored by: Andrew Chittick

Routledge Handbook of Imperial Chinese History

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138847286
eBook ISBN: 9781315726878
Adobe ISBN:


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During the Southern and Northern Period (420–589), the East Asian mainland was dominated by two powerful empires. The Jiankang 建康 Empire, with its capital at the city of Jiankang (Nanjing, Jiangsu) in the Yangzi delta area, ruled over the regions south of the Huai River and the Qinling Mountains, extending all the way to what is now central Vietnam. The Sino-Xianbei Empire under the Tuoba Wei 拓跋魏 regime (386–534) ruled the area north of the Huai-Qinling frontier as far north as Inner Mongolia, with its first major capital on the northern steppe frontier, at Pingcheng 平城 (at Datong, Shanxi), and then at the traditional Han imperial capital of Luoyang 洛陽 (494–534). The Tuoba Wei regime fell into an east-west civil war in the mid-sixth century between Eastern and Western Wei regimes, which were succeeded by the Northern Qi (550–577) and Northern Zhou (557–581) regimes, respectively. The South meanwhile suffered a more catastrophic collapse during and after the Hou Jing 侯景 crisis (548–552), losing all of its territory north of the Yangzi River and west of the Three Gorges. The political and territorial instability created the opportunity for new leadership to reunite the Sino-Xianbei Empire, found the Sui dynasty (581–618), conquer the South, and create the largest East Asian empire since the Jin (Map 6.1).

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