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The Liu Song dynasty (420–479 CE; Chinese: 劉宋), also known as Former Song (前宋) or Southern Song (南朝宋), was the first of the four Southern Dynasties in China, succeeding the Eastern Jin and followed by the Southern Qi.[3]

The dynasty was founded by Liu Yu (劉裕) (363–422 CE), whose surname together with "Song" forms the common name for the dynasty, the Liu Song. This appellation is used to distinguish it from a later dynasty of the same name, the Song dynasty (960–1279 CE, ruled by the House of Zhao). Although the Liu Song has also at times been referred to as the "Southern Song", the name is now mainly used to refer to the Song dynasty after 1127 CE.[4]

The Liu Song was a time when there was much internal turmoil. A number of emperors were incompetent and/or tyrannical, which at least partially led to many military revolts. These rulers include Liu Shao, Emperor Xiaowu, Emperor Qianfei, Emperor Ming, and Emperor Houfei. Emperor Ming was especially vicious, murdering many of his brothers, nephews, and other male relatives — many of them children. Such internal instability eventually led to the dynasty's destruction. However, its founder Emperor Wu was considered one of the greatest generals during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period, and the reign of its third emperor, Emperor Wen, is known for its political stability and capable administration, not only of its emperor but its strong and honest officials. This is known as the Reign of Yuanjia (425–453) and one of the relative golden ages for the Southern Dynasties.[5]

Another historian, Shen Yue, pointed out Emperor Wen was said to model his command on the great general Emperor Guangwu of Han, but he lacked the latter's command abilities.[8]

Emperor Wen

Emperor Wen made another attempt to destroy Northern Wei in 452, but failed again. On returning to the capital, he was assassinated by the heir apparent, Liu Shao.[7]

Liu Shao's assassination of his father in 453 CE raised indignation across the empire, as it disobeyed one of Confucianism's fundamental principles, that of filial piety. Quickly, his brother Liu Jun rose against him, defeated him, and beheaded him. Once Liu Shao was killed. Liu Jun ascended to the throne and became Emperor Xiaowu. However, he was regarded as immoral and committed incest with his cousins and sisters, and reputed to have even done so with his mother. Nevertheless, his reign was a relatively peaceful one.

Following his death in 464 CE, Liu Jun passed his throne to his son, Liu Ziye, who was generally regarded as a tyrant. He disrespected his father and was suspicious of his uncles, putting several of them to death. He continued the incestuous streak of his father, adopting several of his aunts and cousins as concubines. He was reputed to

Following his death in 464 CE, Liu Jun passed his throne to his son, Liu Ziye, who was generally regarded as a tyrant. He disrespected his father and was suspicious of his uncles, putting several of them to death. He continued the incestuous streak of his father, adopting several of his aunts and cousins as concubines. He was reputed to have ordered all of the princesses to come to his palace and have sexual intercourse with him. When one of his aunts refused, he executed her three sons. He also put to death a lady-in-waiting who bore a resemblance to a woman who cursed him in a dream. Eventually, one of his uncles could not bear it, rose up, and assassinated him.[7]

The man who assassinated Qianfei quickly became emperor himself and declared himself emperor Ming. He ordered Liu Ziye's brother Liu Zishang and sister Liu Chuyu, who were reputed to have participated in the late emperor's sexual immorality and tyrannical governance, to commit suicide. However, his claim to the throne was not accepted by Liu Zixun, one of his nephews, who then rose against him.

The civil war at first was a great success for Liu Zixun, who quickly overran nearly the entire empire. However, he moved too slowly. Emperor Ming quickly sent an army westward, captured Kuaiji, a vital food supply. Another of his generals captured Qianxi and cut off Liu Zixun's supplies. Starving, his troops collapsed and Liu Zixun was killed, aged just 10.

However, Emperor Ming grew arrogant and refused to grant a pardon to those who had supported Liu Ziye. This action was extremely detrimental to Liu Song and its successors, as the governors of the northern commandries, fearing their lives, surrendered to Wei rather than face execution at Jiankang. This resulted in the loss of the Chinese heartland and the most fertile and cultivated lands at that time. This loss would eventually lead to the destruction of the southern regime, and resulted in North China languishing under a barbarian yoke for another 150 years. Although Emperor Ming attempted to recover them, his attempts were defeated.

Emperor Ming's later reign was extremely brutal. Suspicious of his nephews, he had them all executed. Afraid of usurpation from rival members of the royal family, he executed thousands of members of the royal family, which was greatly weakened. Upon his death, his son had to be assisted by the general Xiao Daocheng, as nearly all of Emperor Ming's brothers and nephew

The civil war at first was a great success for Liu Zixun, who quickly overran nearly the entire empire. However, he moved too slowly. Emperor Ming quickly sent an army westward, captured Kuaiji, a vital food supply. Another of his generals captured Qianxi and cut off Liu Zixun's supplies. Starving, his troops collapsed and Liu Zixun was killed, aged just 10.

However, Emperor Ming grew arrogant and refused to grant a pardon to those who had supported Liu Ziye. This action was extremely detrimental to Liu Song and its successors, as the governors of the northern commandries, fearing their lives, surrendered to Wei rather than face execution at Jiankang. This resulted in the loss of the Chinese heartland and the most fertile and cultivated lands at that time. This loss would eventually lead to the destruction of the southern regime, and resulted in North China languishing under a barbarian yoke for another 150 years. Although Emperor Ming attempted to recover them, his attempts were defeated.

Emperor Ming's later reign was extremely brutal. Suspicious of his nephews, he had them all executed. Afraid of usurpation from rival members of the royal family, he executed thousands of members of the royal family, which was greatly weakened. Upon his death, his son had to be assisted by the general Xiao Daocheng, as nearly all of Emperor Ming's brothers and nephews had been killed.[7]

The successor to the emperor Ming, emperor Houfei, was resentful of the control Xiao Daocheng had over him and announced openly several times he would kill him. Fearful of his demise, Xiao had him assassinated and placed Emperor Shun on his throne. In 479, Xiao took the throne himself and declared himself Emperor of Qi, ending Liu Song. The ex-emperor Shun and his clan were soon put to the sword.[9]

Liu Hui (刘辉) was a descendant of Liu Song royalty who fled north to the Xianbei Northern Wei in exile and married the Xianbei Princess Lanling (蘭陵公主),Liu Hui (刘辉) was a descendant of Liu Song royalty who fled north to the Xianbei Northern Wei in exile and married the Xianbei Princess Lanling (蘭陵公主),[10][11][12][13][14][15] daughter of the Xianbei Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei. More than fifty percent of Tuoba Xianbei princesses of the Northern Wei were married to southern Han Chinese men from the imperial families and aristocrats from southern China of the Southern dynasties who defected and moved north to join the Northern Wei.[16]

Despite, and certainly to some extent because of, the chaotic warfare between the Northern and Southern dynasties, the Liu Song produced much poetry (shi 詩) notably the rhapsody, fu 賦. The imperial house sponsored many literary works, and many wrote themselves. The court of Emperor Wen was especially active in literary circles, with Liu supporting the compilation of a large collection of short prose anecdotes, A New Account of the Tales of the World (Shishuo Xinyu). The "Three Giants of Yuanjia," Bao Zhao (鮑照) (d.466), Xie Lingyun (謝霊運) (385–433 CE), and Yan Yanzhi (顏延之) (384–456 CE) are perhaps the best known poets of the Song, each of them being credited as the originators of the three major literary trends to follow.

Scientists and astronomers were also active during periods of relative peace. Buddhism also began to be better understood and more widely practised at this time, and some officials such as Xie Lingyun, were Buddhists.

Liu Song sculptors may have created a number of spirit way ensembles, generally characteristic of the Six Dynasties era, for the tombs of the dynasty's emperors and other dignitaries. However, according to a survey of the extant Six Dynasties' sculpture in the Nanjing and Danyang areas, only one of the extant Six Dynasties' tomb sculptural groups has been securely identified as belonging to the Liu Song: the Chuning Tomb of the first emperor of the dynasty. Two qilin statues of this tomb survive in the appropriately named Qilin Town in Nanjing's suburban Jiangning District.[17]

spirit way ensembles, generally characteristic of the Six Dynasties era, for the tombs of the dynasty's emperors and other dignitaries. However, according to a survey of the extant Six Dynasties' sculpture in the Nanjing and Danyang areas, only one of the extant Six Dynasties' tomb sculptural groups has been securely identified as belonging to the Liu Song: the Chuning Tomb of the first emperor of the dynasty. Two qilin statues of this tomb survive in the appropriately named Qilin Town in Nanjing's suburban Jiangning District.[17]

Zu Chongzhi, a noted astronomer, lived during the Liu Song period. He was noted for calculating pi to seven decimal places and as the author of a variety of other astronomical theories.

Table of successions