An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

The Kingdom of Chu 楚 (926-951)

Mar 19, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

The kingdom of Chu was one of the Ten States 十國 (902-979) that controlled southern China during the first half of the ninth century, the so-called Five Dynasties period 五代 (907-960). It is also called Ma-Chu 馬楚, in order to discern it from other polities called Chu. This designation is derived from the family its founder, Ma Yin 馬殷 (852-930, posthumous title King Wumu 楚武穆王, r. 926-929). The territory of Chu covered more or less the area of what is today the province of Hunan. The seat of government was the prefecture of Changsha 長沙.

Ma Yin was an officer of the generals Sun Ru 孫儒 and Liu Jianfeng 劉建鋒. Both were entrusted with the suppression of the rebel Yang Xingmi 楊行密 (the eventual ruler of the empire of Wu 吳, 902-937). After Sun's death Liu made Ma Yin commander of the vanguard (xianfeng 先鋒), in which function he appeased the region of what is today the province of Jiangxi, and in 894 also Hunan, where he took the prefectures of Gongzhou 洪州 and Tanzhou 潭州. In 896 Liu Jianfeng was killed by an officer, and the troops urged Ma Yin to take over his post.

In 896 the Tang court appointed Ma Yin military commissioner (jiedushi 節度使) of Hunan 湖南. This gave him a free hand in seizing control over the surrounding prefectures. In in 907 the emperor of the Later Liang 後梁 (907-923) made him king of Chu 楚, a title that was reconfirmed in 927 by the Later Tang 後唐 (923-936). In order to have military support against the raids from the empire of Wu in the east, Gao Yu 高郁 suggested to accept the overlordship of the dynasties in the North. This support was paid for by economic products.

Ma's reign was a quite peaceful period with low taxation for the peasantry and no levies at all for merchandise. Chu exported tea and imported silk products and horses. Trade with other regions was only possible by bartering with commodities because the iron and lead coins of Chu were not valid abroad. Also inside Chu, people were prompted to pay with silk products, rather than with coins.

After Ma Yin's death the court was shaken by fierce succession struggles. His sons ended the policy of frugality and drastically increased taxes to finance their lavish court life. The internal disturbances were only ended when Bian Hao 邊鎬, a general of the Southern Tang 南唐 (937-975), conquered Chu.

A year later, in 952, the generals Zhou Xingfeng 周行逢 and Wang Jinkui 王進逵 (or Wang Kui 王逵) made Liu Yan 劉言 military commissioner of Langzhou 朗州 (modern Changde 常德, Hunan), from where they attacked Changsha and pushed back the troops of Southern Tang. The generals declared their subordination to the Later Zhou 後周 (951-960) empire in the north. In the next five years the two generals and Pan Shusi 潘叔嗣 remained more or less independent. In 962 Zhou Xingfeng died and was succeed by his son Zhou Baoquan 周保權, but in the same year Hunan was conquered by the Song 宋 (960-1279).

Chu Dynasty 楚 (926-951)
Capital: Tanzhou 潭州 (modern Changsha 長沙, Hunan)
temple name (miaohao 廟號) personal name
Chu Wumuwang 楚武穆王 (r. 926-929) Ma Yin 馬殷
The Prince of Hengyang 衡陽王 (r. 930-931) Ma Xisheng 馬希聲
Chu Wenzhaowang 楚文昭王 (r. 932-946) Ma Xifan 馬希範
The Deposed King (Feiwang) of Chu 楚廢王 (r. 947-949) Ma Xiguang 馬希廣
Chu Gongxiaowang 楚恭孝王 (r. 950-951) Ma Xi'e 馬希蕚
The Prince of Chu 楚王 (r. 951-962) Ma Xichong 馬希崇
962 Chu conquered by Song 宋.
Huang Weihu 黃偉虎 (1992). "Chu 楚", 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. 1, 110.
Zhonguo 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, 3337, 3339.