An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Northern Qi Dynasty 北齊 (550-577)

Sep 7, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

The Northern Qi dynasty Beiqi 北齊 (550-577) ruled over one of the successor states of the Northern Wei empire 北魏 (386-534). It belongs to the so-called Northern Dynasties 北朝 (386~581) and was founded by Gao Yang 高洋, son of the powerful general Gao Huan 高歡, who dominated the court of the Eastern Wei dynasty 東魏 (534-550). The Northern Qi empire covered the lower region of the Yellow River, modern Shanxi, the Shandong Peninsula, and the northern parts of modern Jiangsu and Anhui. The continuing military campaigns of Gao Yang expanded the territory of the Northern Qi empire towards the north and the south. The capital was Ye 鄴 (near modern Anyang 安陽, Hebei). Compared with the Northern Zhou empire 北周 (557-581) in the west and the Chen empire 陳 (557-589) in the south, Gao Yang ruled over a relatively wealthy country, disposing of an impressive cultivated area, salt and iron industry and a ceramical industry.
During the political disturbances of the 530es, general Gao Huan (posthumous title Emperor Shenwu 北齊神武帝) controlled the political center of the Northern Wei dynasty. He installed Yuan Xiu 元修, and later Yuan Shanjian 元善見 as the puppet emperors of the Eastern Wei empire. After his death in 547 his son Gao Yang (posthumous title Emperor Wenxuan 北齊文宣帝, r. 550-559) took over the regency for the puppet emperors and proclaimed himself emperor of Qi in 550. His dynasty is by historians called the "Northern Qi", in order to avoid confusion with the Soutern Qi 南齊 (479-502) that had been founded by the house of Xiao 蕭.
Gao Yang continued the conquest politics of his father and was able to defeat northern nomad tribes of the Kumoxi 庫莫奚, Khitan 契丹, and Rouran 柔然, and also conquered parts of the Huai River 淮水 region.
Gao Yang perpetuated the equal-field system (juntianfa 均田法) invented by the Northern Wei administrators. All land within 30 li (ca. 15 kms) around the capital was state-owned common field (gongtian 公田) and was distributed among the state officials and officers of the palace guard (yulin huben 羽林虎賁, both from the various Taɣbač tribes) that had been resettled from around the old capital Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan). All land closer to the capital than 100 li was allotted to Chinese officials and officers. While these fields were distributed according to the official ranks, the fields in the rest of the country were distributed equally among the population. Yet there were some differences in the concretisation of field allotment, at least nominally, because the term beitian 倍田 "double field" was not any more used, as it had been under the Northern Wei. Slaves (nubi 奴婢) were also included in the calculation of the amount of field given to one household. The taxes, delivered in cloth and grain, were assessed according to "one bed" (i.e. one couple). Unmarried women only had to deliver half of the amount of cloth, so that a lot of persons declared themselves as not yet married.
After the death of Gao Yang, his son Gao Yin 高殷 (known as the Deposed Emperor 北齊廢帝, r. 559-560) and Yang's brothers Gao Yan 高演 (Emperor Xiaozhao 北齊孝昭帝, r. 560) and Gao Zhan 高湛 (Emperor Wucheng 北齊武成帝, r. 561-564), as well as the latter's son Gao Wei 高緯 (known as the Last Ruler 北齊後主, r. 564-576) neglected the business of active politics. Historiographers describe them as decadent and corrupt, as subject to pleasures that required a higher and higher tax income to be posed on the shoulders of the peasant population. High posts in the central government were only given to favourites, and local offices were only even sold to those offering sufficient money. The neighbouring state of the Northern Zhou grew stronger and was able to conquer the territory of the Northern Qi between 574 and 577. The Last Ruler abdicated after the capital had been conquered, and installed his son Gao Heng 高恆 as the new ruler (known as the Infant Ruler 北齊幼主, r. 576-577). Gao Wei himself tried to escape to the court of the Chen dynasty in the south, but he was taken prisoner before he could flee.
The official dynastic history of the Northern Qi is the Beiqishu 北齊書 compiled by Li Baiyao 李百藥. Its history is also included in the official dynastic history Beishi 北史 written by Li Yanshou 李延壽.

Table 1. Rulers of the Northern Qi Dynasty 北齊 (550-577)
Capital: Ye 鄴 (near modern Anyang 安陽, Henan)
dynastic title {temple name} personal name reign-periods
Beiqi Wenxuandi 北齊文宣帝 {Xianzu 顯祖} (r. 550-559) Gao Yang 高洋 Tianbao 天保 (550-559)
The Deposed Emperor (Feidi) 北齊廢帝 (r. 559-560) Gao Yin 高殷 Qianming 乾明 (560)
Beiqi Xiaozhaodi 北齊孝昭帝 (r. 560-561) Gao Yan 高演 Huangjian 皇建 (560-561)
Beiqi Wuchengdi 北齊武成帝 {Shizu 世祖} (r. 561-564) Gao Zhan 高湛 Taining 太寧 (Daning 大寧) (561)
Heqing 河清 (562-564)
The Last Ruler (Houzhu) 北齊後主 (r. 564-576) Gao Wei 高緯 Tiantong 天統 (565-569)
Wuping 武平 (570-575)
Longhua 隆化 (576)
The Prince of Ande 安德王 (r. 576) Gao Yanzong 高延宗
The Infant Ruler (Youzhu) 北齊幼主 r. (576-577) Gao Heng 高恆 Chengguang 承光 (577)
577 Northern Qi conquered by Northern Zhou 北周.
Lu Kaiwan 盧開萬 (1992). "Beiqi 北齊", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 32-33.
Zhongguo lishi da cidian bianzuan weiyuanhui 《中國歷史大辭典》編纂委員會, ed. (2000). Zhongguo lishi da cidian 中國歷史大辭典 (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe), Vol. 2, 3326, 3329.