Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period was an era of political
upheaval in 10th-century Imperial China. Five states quickly succeeded
one another in the Central Plain, and more than a dozen concurrent
states were established elsewhere, mainly in South China. It was the
last prolonged period of multiple political division in Chinese
Traditionally, the era started with the fall of the
Tang dynasty in
907 AD and ended with the founding of the
Song dynasty in 960. Many
states had been de facto independent kingdoms long before 907. After
the Tang had collapsed, the kings who controlled the Central plain
crowned themselves as emperor. War between kingdoms occurred
frequently to gain control of the central plain for legitimacy and
then over the rest of China. The last of the Five Dynasties and Ten
Kingdoms states, Northern Han, was not vanquished until 979.
3 Northern China
3.1 Later Liang
3.2 Later Tang
3.3 Later Jin
3.4 Later Han
3.5 Later Zhou
3.6 Northern Han
4 Southern China: the Ten Kingdoms
4.4 Southern Han
4.6 Northern Han
Jingnan (also known as Nanping)
4.8 Former Shu
4.9 Later Shu
4.10 Southern Tang
4.11 Transitions between kingdoms
6 See also
8 Further reading
See also: Timeline of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms
The Five Dynasties were:
Later Liang (June 1, 907–23)
Later Tang (923–36)
Later Jin (936–47)
Later Han (947–51 or 979, depending on whether
Northern Han is
considered part of the dynasty)
Later Zhou (951–60).
The Ten Kingdoms were:
Southern Han (917–71)
Former Shu (907–25)
Later Shu (934–65)
Southern Tang (937–75)
Northern Han (951–79).
Only ten are traditionally listed, hence the era's name, "Ten
Kingdoms"; some historians, such as Bo Yang, count eleven, including
Yan and Qi but not the Northern Han, viewing it as simply a
continuation of Later Han. This era also led to the founding of the
Liao dynasty in the north.
Other regimes during this period were Yan, Qi, Zhao, Yiwu Jiedushi,
Dingnan Jiedushi, Wuping Jiedushi, Qingyuan Jiedushi, Yin, Ganzhou,
Shazhou, and Liangzhou.
Later Liang in 907
Later Tang in 926
Later Jin in 939
Later Han in 949
Later Zhou in 951
Towards the end of the Tang, the imperial government granted increased
powers to the jiedushi, the regional military governors. The Huang
Chao Rebellion weakened the imperial government, and by the early 10th
century the jiedushi commanded de facto independence from its
authority. In the last decades of the dynasty, they were not even
appointed by the court any more, but developed hereditary systems,
from father to son or from patron to protégé. They had their own
armies rivalling the "palace armies" and amassed huge wealth, as
testified by their sumptuous tombs. Thus ensued the Five Dynasties
and Ten Kingdoms period.
The following were important jiedushi:
Zhu Wen at Bianzhou (modern Kaifeng, Henan), precursor to Later Liang
Li Keyong and
Li Cunxu at
Taiyuan (modern Taiyuan, Shanxi), precursor
to Later Tang
Liu Rengong and
Liu Shouguang at
Youzhou (modern Beijing), precursor
Li Maozhen at Fengxiang (modern Fengxiang County,
precursor to Qi
Luo Shaowei at Weibo (modern Daming County,
Wang Rong at Zhenzhou (modern Zhengding County,
Wang Chuzhi at
Dingzhou (modern Dingzhou, Hebei)
Yang Xingmi at
Yangzhou (modern Yangzhou, Jiangsu), precursor to Wu
Qian Liu at
Hangzhou (modern Hangzhou, Zhejiang), precursor to Wuyue
Ma Yin at Tanzhou (modern Changsha, Hunan), precursor to Chu
Wang Shenzhi at
Fuzhou (modern Fuzhou, Fujian), precursor to Min
Liu Yin at
Guangzhou (modern Guangzhou, Guangdong), precursor to
Wang Jian at
Chengdu (modern Chengdu, Sichuan), precursor to Former
Main article: Later Liang (Five Dynasties)
Painting by Chinese artist Li Cheng (c. 919–967)
During the Tang Dynasty, the warlord
Zhu Wen held the most power in
Southern China. Although he was originally a member of Huang Chao's
rebel army, he took on a crucial role in suppressing the Huang Chao
Rebellion. For this function, he was awarded the Xuanwu Jiedushi
title. Within a few years, he had consolidated his power by destroying
neighbours and forcing the move of the imperial capital to Luoyang,
which was within his region of influence. In 904, he executed Emperor
Zhaozong of Tang and made his 13-year-old son a subordinate ruler.
Three years later, he induced the boy emperor to abdicate in his
favour. He then proclaimed himself emperor, thus beginning the Later
Main article: Later Tang
During the final years of the Tang Dynasty, rival warlords declared
independence in their governing provinces — not all of whom
recognized the emperor's authority.
Li Cunxu and Liu Shouguang
(劉守光) fiercely fought the regime forces to conquer northern
Li Cunxu succeeded. He defeated
Liu Shouguang (who had
proclaimed a Yan Empire in 911) in 915, and declared himself emperor
in 923; within a few months, he brought down the Later Liang regime.
Thus began the
Later Tang — the first in a long line of
conquest dynasties. After reuniting much of northern China, Cunxu
Former Shu in 925, a regime that had been set up in Sichuan.
Main article: Later Jin (Five Dynasties)
Later Tang had a few years of relative calm, followed by unrest.
Sichuan again asserted independence. In 936, Shi Jingtang, a
Shatuo jiedushi from Taiyuan, was aided by the
Liao dynasty in a
rebellion against the Later Tang. In return for their aid, Shi
Jingtang promised annual tribute and the
Sixteen Prefectures (modern
Hebei and Beijing) to the Khitans. The rebellion succeeded;
Shi Jingtang became emperor in this same year.
Not long after the founding of the Later Jin, the Khitans regarded the
emperor as a proxy ruler for China proper. In 943, the Khitans
declared war and within three years seized the capital, Kaifeng,
marking the end of Later Jin. But while they had conquered vast
regions of China, the Khitans were unable or unwilling to control
those regions and retreated from them early in the next year.
Main article: Later Han (Five Dynasties)
Wisteria Flowers, by Xu Xi (886–974)
To fill the power vacuum, the jiedushi
Liu Zhiyuan entered the
imperial capital in 947 and proclaimed the advent of the Later Han,
establishing a third successive
Shatuo reign. This was the shortest of
the five dynasties. Following coup in 951, General Guo Wei, a Han
Chinese, was enthroned, thus beginning the Later Zhou. However, Liu
Chong, a member of the Later Han imperial family, established a rival
Northern Han regime in
Taiyuan and requested Khitan aid to defeat the
Main article: Later Zhou
After the death of
Guo Wei in 951, his adopted son
Chai Rong succeeded
the throne and began a policy of expansion and reunification. In 954,
his army defeated combined Khitan and
Northern Han forces, ending
their ambition of toppling the Later Zhou. Between 956 and 958, forces
Later Zhou conquered much of Southern Tang, the most powerful
regime in southern China, which ceded all the territory north of the
Yangtze in defeat. In 959,
Chai Rong attacked the Liao in an attempt
to recover territories ceded during the Later Jin. After many
victories, he succumbed to illness.
In 960, the general
Zhao Kuangyin staged a coup and took the throne
for himself, founding the Northern Song Dynasty. This is the official
end of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. During the next two
Zhao Kuangyin and his successor
Zhao Kuangyi defeated the
other remaining regimes in China proper, conquering
Northern Han in
979, and reunifying China completely in 982.
Main article: Northern Han
Though considered one of the ten kingdoms, the
Northern Han was based
in the traditional
Shatuo stronghold of Shanxi. It was created after
the last of three dynasties created by
Shatuo Turks fell to the
Later Zhou in 951. With the protection of the powerful
Northern Han maintained nominal independence until the Song
Dynasty wrested it from the Khitan in 979.
Southern China: the Ten Kingdoms
Buddhist donatresses, Cave 98, Mo-kao Caves, Tunhwang, Five Dyasties
Vaishravana riding across the waters, Dunhuang, Mogao Caves, Cave 17,
10th century, Five Dyasties era, British Museum
Unlike the dynasties of northern China, which succeeded one other in
rapid succession, the regimes of
South China were generally
concurrent, each controlling a specific geographical area. These were
known as "The Ten Kingdoms".
The Kingdom of Wu (902–937) was established in modern-day Jiangsu,
Anhui, and Jiangxi. It was founded by Yang Xingmi, who became a Tang
Dynasty military governor in 892. The capital was initially at
Guangling (present-day Yangzhou) and later moved to Jinling
(present-day Nanjing). The kingdom fell in 937 when it was taken from
within by the founder of the Southern Tang.
The Kingdom of
Wuyue was the longest-lived (907–978) and among the
most powerful of the southern states.
Wuyue was known for its learning
and culture. It was founded by Qian Liu, who set up his capital at
Xifu (modern-day Hangzhou). It was based mostly in modern Zhejiang
province but also held parts of southern Jiangsu.
Qian Liu was named
the Prince of Yue by the Tang emperor in 902; the Prince of Wu was
added in 904. After the fall of the
Tang Dynasty in 907, he declared
himself king of Wuyue.
Wuyue survived until the eighteenth year of the
Song dynasty, when Qian Shu surrendered to the expanding dynasty.
The Kingdom of Min (909–945) was founded by Wang Shenzhi, who named
himself the Prince of Min with its capital at Changle (present-day
Fuzhou). One of Shenzhi’s sons proclaimed the independent state of
Yin in the northeast of Min territory. The
Southern Tang took that
territory after the Min asked for help. Despite declaring loyalty to
the neighboring Wuyue, the
Southern Tang finished its conquest of Min
Southern Han (917–971) was founded in
Guangzhou (also known as
Canton) by Liu Yan. His brother, Liu Yin, was named regional governor
by the Tang court. The kingdom included Guangdong, Guangxi, and
The Chu (927–951) was founded by
Ma Yin with the capital at
Changsha. The kingdom held
Hunan and northeastern Guangxi. Ma was
named regional military governor by the Tang court in 896, and named
himself the Prince of Chu with the fall of the Tang in 907. This
status as the Prince of Chu was confirmed by the
Later Tang in 927.
Southern Tang absorbed the state in 951 and moved the royal family
to its capital in Nanjing, although
Southern Tang rule of the region
was temporary, as the next year former Chu military officers under the
leadership of Liu Yan seized the territory. In the waning years of the
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, the region was ruled by Zhou
Northern Han was founded by Liu Min (劉旻), formerly known as
Liu Chong (劉崇), and lasted from 951 to 979. It has the capital at
Jingnan (also known as Nanping)
The smallest of the southern states,
Jingnan (924–963), was founded
by Gao Jichang. It was based in Jiangling and held two other districts
southwest of present-day
Wuhan in Hubei. Gao was in the service of the
Later Liang (the successor of the Tang in North China). Gao’s
successors claimed the title of King of Nanping after the fall of the
Later Liang in 924. It was a small and weak kingdom, and thus tried to
maintain good relations with each of the Five Dynasties. The kingdom
fell to advancing armies of the Song in 963.
Former Shu (907–25) was founded after the fall of the Tang Dynasty
by Wang Jian, who held his court in Chengdu. The kingdom held most of
present-day Sichuan, western Hubei, and parts of southern
Shaanxi. Wang was named military governor of western
Sichuan by the
Tang court in 891. The kingdom fell when his son surrendered in the
face of an advance by the
Later Tang in 925.
Later Shu (935–965) is essentially a resurrection of the
previous Shu state that had fallen a decade earlier to the Later Tang.
Later Tang was in decline, Meng Zhixiang found the
opportunity to reassert Shu’s independence. Like the Former Shu, the
capital was at
Chengdu and it basically controlled the same territory
as its predecessor. The kingdom was ruled well until forced to succumb
to Song armies in 965.
Main article: Southern Tang
A Literary Garden, by Zhou Wenju, Southern Tang.
Southern Tang (937–975) was the successor state of Wu as Li Bian
(Emperor Liezu) took the state over from within in 937. Expanding from
the original domains of Wu, it eventually took over Yin, Min, and Chu,
holding present-day southern Anhui, southern Jiangsu, much of Jiangxi,
Hunan, and eastern
Hubei at its height. The kingdom became nominally
subordinate to the expanding Song in 961 and was invaded outright in
975, when it was formally absorbed into Song China.
Transitions between kingdoms
Although more stable than northern China as a whole, southern China
was also torn apart by warfare. Wu quarrelled with its neighbours, a
trend that continued as Wu was replaced with Southern Tang. In the
940s Min and Chu underwent internal crises which
Southern Tang handily
took advantage of, destroying Min in 945 and Chu in 951. Remnants of
Min and Chu, however, survived in the form of
Qingyuan Jiedushi and
Jiedushi for many years after. With this,
Southern Tang became
the undisputedly most powerful regime in southern China. However, it
was unable to defeat incursions by the
Later Zhou between 956 and 958,
and ceded all of its land north of the
The Song dynasty, established in 960, was determined to reunify China.
Jingnan and Wuping
Jiedushi were swept away in 963,
Later Shu in 965,
Southern Han in 971, and
Southern Tang in 975. Finally,
Qingyuan Jiedushi gave up their land to Northern Song in 978, bringing
all of southern China under the control of the central government.
In common with other periods of fragmentation, the Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms period resulted in a division between northern and
southern China. The greater stability of the Ten Kingdoms, especially
the longevity of Wu Yue and Southern Han, would contribute to the
development of distinct regional identities within China. The
distinction was reinforced by the Old History and the New History.
Written from the northern viewpoint, these chronicles organized the
history around the Five Dynasties (the north), presenting the Ten
Kingdoms (the south) as illegitimate, self-absorbed and indulgent.
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period turned away from the
international cultural mood of the
Tang dynasty and appears as a
transition towards the solidified national culture of the Song
dynasty. Throughout the period, there was marked cultural and
economic growth, rather than decline.
Although short, the period saw cultural innovations in different
areas. Pottery saw the appearance of "white ceramics." In painting,
the "varied landscape" of China was inspired by Taoism. It emphasized
the sacredness of mountains as places between heaven and earth and
depicted the natural world as a source of harmony.
Early snow on the river (五代南唐 趙幹 江行初雪圖) Shan
shui painting by Chao Khan.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms
Old History of the Five Dynasties
Annam (Chinese province)
Family trees of the emperors of the Five Dynasties
Southern Tang by Song
^ a b Glen Dudbridge (2013). A Portrait of Five Dynasties China: From
the Memoirs of Wang Renyu (880-956). Oxford University Press.
p. 8. ISBN 9780191749537. Dudbridge actually quotes
Reischauer's Ennin's Travels.
^ a b Xiu Ouyang (2004). Historical Records of the Five Dynasties.
Translated by Richard L. Davis. Columbia University Press.
pp. LV–LXV. ISBN 9780231128278. The information was
taken from Richard L. Davis's introduction.
^ The Culture of China. Britannica Educational Publishing. 2011.
p. 245. ISBN 9781615301836.
^ "Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms". Museum of Chinese Art and
Davis, Richard L. (2015). From Warhorses to Ploughshares: The Later
Tang Reign of Emperor Mingzong. Hong Kong University Press.
Dudbridge, Glen (2013). A Portrait of Five Dynasties China: From the
Memoirs of Wang Renyu (880-956). Oxford University Press.
Hung, Hing Ming (2014). Ten States, Five Dynasties, One Great Emperor:
How Emperor Taizu Unified China in the Song Dynasty. Algora
Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62894-072-5.
Kurz, Johannes L. (2011). China's
Southern Tang Dynasty (937-976).
Routledge. ISBN -9780415454964.
Lorge, Peter, ed. (2011). Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms. The Chinese
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Ouyang Xiu (2004) . Historical Records of the Five Dynasties.
(transl. Richard L. Davis). New York: Columbia University Press.
Schafer, Edward H. (1954). Empire of Min: A
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Wang Hongjie (2011). Power and Politics in Tenth-Century China: The
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Dynasties in Chinese history
Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period
(Jin) / Later Tang
Ten Kingdoms (States)
Min / (Yin)
De facto independent entities
Gansu Uyghur Kingdom
Old History of the Five Dynasties
Historical Records of the Five Dynasties
Spring and Autumn Annals of the Ten Kingdoms
History of Imperial