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Chinese History - Former Yan Dynasty 前燕 (337-370)

Periods of Chinese History
The Former Yan dynasty Qianyan 前燕 (337-370) was one of the so-called Sixteen Barbarian Kingdoms 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 Murong Huang 慕容皝 who belonged to the people of the Xianbei 鮮卑. The empire covered territory of the modern provinces of Hebei and Shandong as well as parts of Shanxi, Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu (to the banks of River Huai 淮水) and Liaoning. The capital was Ye 鄴 (near modern Anyang 安陽, Hebei).
The Xianbei had migrated from the western part of modern Liaoning towards the east during the late 3rd century. In 294 the chieftain or khan Murong Hui 慕容廆 founded his residence in Dajicheng 大棘城 (modern Yixian 義縣, Liaoning). In 307 he adopted the title of Great Khan (da chanyu 大單于). When the court of the Jin dynasty 晉 (265-420) fled to the east, Murong Hui created an independant rule in the northeast and included Chinese experts in his government staff to create a bureaucratic system of administration. He offered his submission to the Eastern Jin 東晉 (317-420) court and was appointed an official of the Jin. He was succeeded by his son Murong Huang (Emperor Wenming 前燕文明帝, r. 334-348) who proclaimed himself king of Yan 燕 in 337 but nonetheless accepted the suzerainty of the Jin dynast. At the same time he started expanding the territory of his kingdom of Yan, especially to the east. He defeated the troops of the kingdom of Koguryŏ 高句麗 (located in modern North Korea), submitted the Xianbei tribe of the Yuwen 宇文 and that of the Puyŏ (Fuyu) 夫余 and so created a large independant realm in the northeast. Murong Huang transferred the capital to Longcheng 龍城 (modern Chaoyang 朝陽, Liaoning). In 348 he was succeeded by his son Murong Jun 慕容儁 (Emperor Jingzhao 前燕景昭帝, r. 348-359) who conquered the empire of the Former Zhao dynasty 前趙 (304-329) and the province of Youzhou (around modern Beijing). This gave him the opportunity to transfer the capital to Ji 薊 (modern Beijing). In 352 he destroyed the kingdom of Ran Wei 冉魏 (350-353) and was so able to control the whole region north of the Yellow River. Such a situation incited him to discard loyalty to the Jin dynasty, and he adopted the title of Emperor. In 357 the capital was again transferred to Ye. Murong Ju planned to extinguish the Former Qin dynasty 前秦 (351-395), to reunite northern China, and finally to destroy the Eastern Jin dynasty in the south. Yet he died before he could fulfill these plans and was succeeded by the 11 sui old crown prince Murong Wei 慕容暐 (Emperor You 前燕幽帝, r. 360-370). The young emperor was suppored by the regent Murong Ke 慕容恪, his uncle. The campaigns against the Eastern Jin empire continued, but in 369 the armies of the Former Yan suffered a heavy defeat against the Jin general Huan Wen 桓溫. A last victory was acheived by general Murong Chui 慕容垂 in the battle of Xiangyi 襄邑. and Huan Wen had to withdraw. In 370 Fu Jian 苻堅 (r. 357-384), Emperor of the Former Qin, sent out general Wang Meng 王猛 against the Former Yan. Wang besieged the capital Ye, was able to capture Emperor You and thus ended the first dynasty with the name of Yan.
The territory that Murong Hui had controlled enjoyed a relatively peaceful time in the early 4th century, so that a lot of landless persons, but also members of the local gentry of Shandong and Hebei migrated to the north. They were settled down in so-called "refugee commanderies" (qiaojun 僑郡, later downscaled to "refugee districts", qiaoxian 僑縣) Yet Murong Hui also actively moved people from the regions he had conquered into the core territory of his realm. The population was organised in normal civilian household, but there were also a lot of inheritable military households (yinghu 營戶) whose members for generations were to serve as soldiers for the Yan dynasty. In border regions the Yan rulers set up military agro-colonies (tuntian 屯田) in which the troops were self-supporting. The administrative apparatus soon imitated the system of the Jin dynasty and copied the nine ranks of officials (jiupin 九品). The ranks were staffed mainly with Chinese that were educated in state-run schools (xuexiao 學校). Murong Huang promoted agriculture and the cultivation of mulberry trees for the production of silk.

Rulers of the Former Yan Dynasty 前燕 (337-370)
Capitals: Ye 鄴 (near modern Anyang 安陽, Hebei), Longcheng 龍城 (modern Chaoyang 朝陽, Liaoning)
Ethnicity: Xianbi 鮮卑, clan or subtribe of Murong 慕容
dynastic title {temple name}
-----reign periods
personal name
Qianyan Wuxuandi 前燕武宣帝 {Gaozu 高祖} r. 307-334 Murong Hui 慕容廆
Qianyan Wenmingdi 前燕文明帝 {Taizu 太祖} r. 334-348 Murong Huang 慕容皝
Qianyan Jingzhaodi 前燕景昭帝 {Liezu 烈祖} r. 348-359
-----Yanyuan 燕元 349-351
-----Yuanxi 元璽 352-356
-----Guangshou 光壽 357-359
Murong Jun 慕容雋 (Jun 儁)
Qianyan Youdi 前燕幽帝 r. 359-370
-----Jianxi 建熙 360-370
Murong Wei 慕容暐
370 Former Yan conquered by Former Qin 前秦.

Sources: Lu Caiquan 魯才全 (1992), "Qianyan 前燕", 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, p. 772. ● 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. 3319, 3321.

October 30, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

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