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

Chinese History - Sixteen Barbarian States Geography

Periods of Chinese History
Because of the confusing number of kingdoms, empires and rulerships, the era of the Sixteen Barbarian States 五胡十六國 (300~430) is here separated into several periods:

After the disintegration of the central government of the Jin Dynasty 晉 (265-420) in the capital Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan) and the court's flight to Jiankang 建康 (modern Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu), where the Eastern Jin empire 東晉 (317-420) was founded, several non-Chinese dynasties were founded in northern China: the two empires of Zhao (Former Zhao 前趙, Later Zhao 後趙) that occupied the core area of traditional China, and the Former Liang empire 前涼 and its successor states that occupied the Gansu corridor and loosely controlled the western regions. Sichuan was occupied by a kingdom called Cheng-Han 成漢 that was soon destroyed by the Eastern Jin. In the upper course of the River Han 漢水 was a small kingdom called Qiuchi 仇池, and in the north of modern Shanxi the kingdom of Dai 代, the precursor of the Northern Wei empire 北魏 (386-534).

The successor states of the Later Zhao empire was a group of empires called Yan (the first being Former Yan 前燕) that were almost entirely founded by members of the Murong family 慕容 of the proto-Mongolian people of the Xianbei 鮮卑. In the region of the ancient capital of the Han empire 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE), Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi), the empire of Former Qin 前秦 was established that was able to defeat all neigboring states and even to invade the area of Sichuan. The Former Qin empire for a short time even reunited northern China.

For a dozen of years the Former Qin empire under the rulership of Fu Jian 苻堅 controlled the whole of northern China. The map shows that the territorial administration of the inspection regions or provinces (zhou 州) was inherited from the Han, Cao-Wei 曹魏 (220-265) and Jin empires, likewise the commanderies (jun 郡, not shown in the map). The Administration Area of the Western Territories (Xiyu changshifu 西域長史府) was changed to a simple colonel (Xiyu xiaoweifu 西域校尉府). Some historians stress the importance of the battle of Feishui 淝水 that is said to have stopped the southern advance of the Former Qin empire. From the late 380es on the Eastern Jin empire was able to reconquer a significant amount of territories from the north.

The successor state of Former Qin, Later Qin 後秦, could defeat its neighbours, the Later Liang 後涼 in the Gansu corridor, and the weak Western Yan 西燕 that is usually not counted among the Sixteen States. The Eastern Jin general Liu Yu 劉裕 who eventually founded the Liu-Song dynasty 劉宋 (420-479) conquered Chang'an and ended the rule of Later Qin that was be replaced by Xia 夏. Meanwhile the east was controlled by Later Yan 後燕, and in the north the Xianbei 鮮卑 kingdom of Dai could be revived as the Northern Wei empire.

The last twenty years of the Sixteen States period were very turbulent. In the east the state of Later Yan fell apart into two small kingdoms (Northern Yan 北燕 and Southern Yan 南燕) under the attack of Northern Wei 北魏. Helian Bobo 赫連勃勃, ruler of the Xia empire, was able to conquer Chang'an and to end the Later Qin and the small state state of Western Qin 西秦 that had been founded at the upper course of the Yellow River. In the far west, the state of Later Liang 後涼 crumbled into three different states (Western Liang 西涼, Northern Liang 北涼 and Southern Liang 南涼), of which Northern Liang was the strongest. But the mightiest state was the Northern Wei empire that reunited northern China until the late 440es. While Later Liang had administered the western territories as so-called Great Protectorate of the Western Regions (Xiyu daduhu 西域大都護), the court of the Western Liang had installed a Colonel of the Western Barbarians (Xiyi xiaoweifu 西夷校尉府).
During these two centuries of division, each state tried to represent a whole administration area. Administrive units like provinces (zhou 州) and commanderies often bore the traditional names of such units that had originally been located hundreds of miles away, like the provinces of Xuzhou 徐州, Yanzhou 兖州, Yuzhou 豫州, Jingzhou 荊州, Bingzhou 幷州 and Jizhou 冀州, originally located in the regions of modern Hebei, Henan, Shandong and Jiangsu, that were now also to be found within the territory of Later Qin (modern Shaanxi, Henan).

Source: Tang Changru 唐長儒 (1992), "Shiliuguo 十六國", 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. 922-928.

October 30, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

Map and Geography

Event History

Emperors and Rulers

Government and Administration

Literature and Philosophy


Technology and Inventions