- An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art
About [Location: HOME > History > Sixteen Barbarian States > Former Qin]

Chinese History - Former Qin Dynasty 前秦 (351-394)

Periods of Chinese History
The Former Qin dynasty Qianqin 前秦 (351-394) ruled over one of the so-called Sixteen Barbarian States 五胡十六國 (300~430) that dominated northern China during the early Southern and Northern Dynasties period 南北朝 (300~600). It was founded by Fu Jian 苻健 who belonged to the people of the Di 氐 who belonged to the Tangut branch of the Tibetans. The empire covered almost the whole of northern China during its heyday. The capital was Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi).
In 333 the ruler of the Later Zhao empire 後趙 (319-350), Shi Hu 石虎, transferred the local gentry of the metropolitan area around Chang'an towards the east, along with a lot of Di and Qiang 羌 tribes who were to be supervised by the chieftain Fu Hong 苻洪. They were settled down in Fangtou 枋頭 (modern Jixian 汲縣, Henan). When Shi Hu died, Fu Hong sent an envoy to the court of the Eastern Jin 東晉 (317-420) to declare his submission and was awarded the title of an official of the Jin dynasty. In 350, when Ran Min 冉閔 massacred the Non-Chinese tribes in his territory, Fu Hong declared himself area commander-in-chief (da dudu 大都督), General-in-chief (da jiangjun 大將軍), Great Khan (da chanyu 大單于) and King of the Three Qin 三秦王 (Sanqin is another name for the region around Chang'an) and promised to guide back all natives towards the metropolitan area. Yet Fu Hong was killed shortly before the march to the west had begun. His son Fu Jian took over the lead, declared himself General-in-chief of the Jin dynasty's conquest of the West (Jin zheng xi da jiangjun 晉征西大將軍) and secured for his people the region around Chang'an. Fu Jian 苻健 adopted the titles of Heavenly King of the Great Qin (Da-Qin tianwang 大秦天王) and Great Khan. A year later he proclaimed himself emperor of the Qin dynasty (Emperor Jingming 前秦景明帝, r. 351-354).
The Eastern Jin court reacted in 354 and sent ouf general Huan Wen 桓溫 to punish Fu Jian 苻健. The latter withstood the Jin army at Qingye 清野, but Huan Wen was able to advance to Chang'an and only withdrew when he ran out of supplies. A year later Fu Jian 苻健 died, succeeded by his son Fu Sheng 苻生. He was killed by his cousin Fu Jian 苻堅 (Emperor Xuanzhao 前秦宣昭帝, r. 357-384). The first half of his reign was a very peaceful period, in which his empire was able to recover economically and collect the strength for the military campaigns that took place from 370 on. In 370 the armies of Former Qin crushed the state of Former Yan 前燕 (337-370), in 371 the small kingdom of Qiuchi 仇池 (296-371) was conquered, in 373 Fu Jian 苻堅 was able to conquer the provinces of Liangzhou 梁州 and Yizhou 益州 (modern Sichuan) of the Eastern Jin empire. In 376 he destroyed the Former Liang dynasty 前涼 (314-376) and the kingdom of Dai 代, the precursor of the Northern Wei dynasty 北魏 (386-534). In 382 general Lü Guang 呂光 conquered the western territories. The Former Qin empire now controlled the whole of northern China, while the south was reigned by the Eastern Jin. Fu Jian 苻堅 permanently attacked the border territories to the Jin empire. The crown of his campaigns was the occupation of the city of Xiangyang 襄陽. Yet the campaigns in the Huainan area 淮南 proved less successful, so that he decided to launch a great campaign in 383, against the advices of his ministers. Fu Jian 苻堅 himself and his relative Fu Rong 苻融 commanded a vast army advancing on all points of the border line. The defense armies of the Eastern Jin were commanded by Xie An 謝安, Xie Shi 謝石 and Xie Xuan 謝玄. In the famous battle of Feishui 肥水 (also written 淝水) Fu Jian 苻堅 was heavily defeated, and the "grande armée" of Qin dissolved. Fu Jian himself 苻堅 was securely brought back to Chang'an, but the various native tribes of his empire rose in rebellion. Zhai Bin 翟斌, chieftain of the Dingling 丁零, rose in Henan, Murong Chui 慕容垂, chieftain of the Xianbei 鮮卑, rose in Hebei, Murong Hong 慕容泓 in Shaanxi, and Yao Chang 姚萇 in Shanxi. Murong Hong was killed soon, and his brother Murong Chong 慕容沖 continued the uprising of his tribe. He besieged the capital Chang'an. Fu Jian 苻堅 ordered his son Fu Hong 苻宏 to defend the capital and commanded an attack on the enemy at Mt. Wujiang 五將山. He was captured by Yao Chang and killed. Fu Hong thereupon left Chang'an, fled and submitted to the Eastern Jin empire. Murong Chong occupied the capital. The fate of the dynasty was laid into the hands of Fu Jian's son Fu Pi 苻丕 (Emperor Aiping 前秦哀平帝, r. 385) who withdrew to Jinyang 晉陽 (modern Taiyuan 太原, Shanxi). His army was defeated in 386 by Murong Yong, a general of the newly founded empire of the Western Yan 西燕 (384-394), and Fu Pi could not but flee to the south were he was killed in battle with a contingent of the Eastern Jin empire. His son Fu Deng 苻登 was made emperor (Emperor Gao 前秦高帝, r. 386-393) in Baohan 枹罕 (modern Linxia 臨夏, Gansu) and succumbed to the troops of Yao Xing 姚興, son of Yao Chang and emperor of the Later Qin dynasty 後秦 (384-417).
Fu Jian 苻堅 had strongly approved a centralisation of his government and a suppression of the tribal leaders of the various ethnics. His advisor, the Chinese Wang Meng 王孟, advocated the use of household registers with an extraordinary treatment of the wealthy Chinese gentry whose members were to be incorporated into the administrative apparatus. For the education of state officials, schools were opened in several places. Agriculture was supported, hyraulic works were undertaken to built up dykes and dams along the Yellow River, postal stations were established, and trade and industries were promoted. After the conquest of the Former Yan empire, a lot of persons were removed from the northeast and settled down in the metropolitan area, among them a lot of natives from the Xianbei, Wuhuan 烏桓 and Dingling. Foreign tribes were easier to control by this method. Members of the Di, on the other side, were removed from the capital region and settled down in newly conquered regions and in strategically important posts. These large removals of population contributed to the quick disintegration of the Qin empire after the defeat at Feishui.

Rulers of the Former Qin Dynasty 前秦 (351-394)
Capital: Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi)
Ethnicity: Di 氐
dynastic title {temple name}
-----reign periods
personal name
Qianqin Huiwudi 前秦惠武帝 {Taizu 太祖} r. 350 Fu Hong 苻洪
Qianqin Jingmingdi 前秦景明帝 {Gaozu 高祖, Shizong 世宗} r. 351-354
-----Huangshi 皇始 351-354
Fu Jian 苻健
The Prince of Zhao (Zhao Liwang 趙厲王) r. 354-356
-----Shouguang 壽光 355-356
Fu Sheng 苻生
Qianqin Xuanzhaodi 前秦宣昭帝, Zhuangliewang 莊烈王 {Shizu 世祖} r. 356-384
-----Yongxing 永興 357-358
-----Ganlu 甘露 359-364
-----Jianyuan 建元 365-384
Fu Jian 苻堅
Qianqin Aipingdi 前秦哀平帝 r. 384-385
-----Taian 太安 385
Fu Pi 苻丕
Qianqin Gaodi 前秦高帝 {Taizong 太宗} r. 385-393
-----Taichu 太初 386-393
Fu Deng 苻登
The Last Ruler (Mozhu) 前秦末主 r. 393-394
-----Yanchu 延初 394
Fu Chong 苻崇
394 Former Qin conquered by Later Qin 前秦.

Sources: Lu Caiquan 魯才全 (1992), "Qianqin 前秦", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, pp. 770-771. ● 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, pp. 3318, 3320.

October 30, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

Map and Geography

Event History

Emperors and Rulers

Government and Administration

Literature and Philosophy


Technology and Inventions