Five Dynasties

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The Five Dynasties was an era of political upheaval in 10th century China. In the northern capital of Kaifeng, five regime succeeded one after another. More than a dozen states, referred to collectively as the Ten Kingdoms, were established elsewhere, mainly in south China.

The Later Liang, the first of the five dynasties, was established upon the fall of the Tang dynasty in 907. The era ended with the founding of the Song dynasty in 960. Many provinces were ruled by independent-minded military governors long before the collapse of the Tang. One of the kingdoms, the Northern Han, survived until 979.

Five Dynasties
Traditional Chinese 五代
Simplified Chinese 五代

Poetry and wood-block printing flowered in this period. The Five Classics were published by Feng Dao, the Chinese Gutenberg. The canal and dam system of northern China fell into disrepair, leading to extensive flooding and famine. Commerce grew so quickly that there was a shortage of metallic currency. This was partly addressed by the creation of bank drafts, or "flying money" (feiqian), as well as by certificates of deposit.


History of China
Xia c. 2070–c. 1600 BC
Shang c. 1600 – 1046 BC
Zhou 1045–256 BC
Qin 221–206 BC
Han 206 BC – 220 AD
Three Kingdoms 220–280
Jin 265–420
Northern and Southern
Sui 581–618
Tang 618–907
Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms
Song 960–1279
Yuan 1271–1368
Ming 1368–1644
Qing 1644–1911
Republic 1912–1949
People's Republic 1949–present

Later Liang

The Liang Dynasty was founded by a Turkic tribe from modern day Kyrgyzstan. Despite resistance to outside rule, it was the longest of the major dynasties of this period. It collapsed due to unrest in the territory and pressure from Arabic tribes.

Later Tang

Li Cunxu, a relative of the old Tang royalty, founded the next dynasty. It was to be the restoration of the Tang Dynasty, however most of the royal family died from disease during an outbreak in the capital. With no successors, the dynasty ended with Li Cunxu's death.

Later Jin

In 935, refugees from the fallen Silla dynasty in Korea arrived in China. The next year, they took advantage of the chaos to start the Jin dynasty. Unlike the earlier Turkic dynasty, the Korean dynasty faced massive opposition. It was eventually overthrown by a rebel coalition.

Later Han

After the rebellion, there was major infighting with the rebel leaders over who would rule next. During the struggles, the minor warlord Liu Zhiyuan sneaked into the capital and seized the palace. The old coalition moved quickly to retake the capital. Liu Zhiyuan managed to hold onto his dynasty for just less than five years through military strength alone, as he had no real support.

Later Zhou

The final dynasty was an early attempt at representative government by Guo Wei. However, after his death his adopted son Chai Rong restructured the dynasty into a traditional imperial form. The dynasty encouraged education, setting the stage for the following Song dynasty.

Ten Kingdoms

For more detail, see Ten Kingdoms

Wuyue, Chu, Jingnan

Historical accounts suggest that these kingdoms were non-Chinese, possibly Turkic or even Arab. Islam likely entered China through these states, as indicated by the presence of Muslim religious items.

Northern and Southern Han

Relatives of Liu Zhiyuan founded these states. Despite the weakness of the Later Han, these two states lasted a long time, with the Northern Han still standing well into the Song Dynasty.

Former and Later Shu

The Shu state was founded by members of the Shu clan, a royal family dating back to the Han Dynasty. Initially one state, it split into two because of infighting within the family. The Former Shu was controlled by the family patriarchs, the Later Shu was controlled by Shu Xie and his family.

Southern Tang

The Southern Tang was composed mostly of Manchu and Tibetans, and is considered the forebear of the Qing Dynasty. It was one of the first dynasties to fall, after the other states withdrew support for what they saw as an inferior group.

Wu and Min

There is less historical information on these states than the others; only personal accounts exist. The Wu state is described as very militaristic, however they hewed to Mohist thought and used their might only for defense. The Min state is described as being wealthy through trade, but weak otherwise. They used trade connections to purchase protection from neighboring states.

Other States

Among the other kingdoms and states are Yan, Chengde Jiedushi, Yiwu Jiedushi, Ganzhou and Qi. For various reasons, they are not counted as proper kingdoms by most historians.