Northern and Southern Dynasties (420 - 589)

Started from 420AD and ended in 589AD, the Northern and Southern Dynasties were a period when the whole nation was divided into the Northern Dynasties (386 - 581) and the Southern Dynasties (420 - 589). After the decline of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 - 420), the regime and territory of China could not avoid a fate of being split. There were four successive Southern Dynasties, and five Northern Dynasties.

Northern & Southern Dynasties
Northern Dynasties Southern Dynasties
Northern Wei (386 - 534) Song (420 - 479): Liu Song or Former Song
Qi (479 - 502): Southern Qi
Liang (502 - 557): Southern Liang
Eastern Wei (534 - 550) Western Wei (535 - 556)
Northern Qi (550 - 577) Northern Zhou (557 - 581) Chen (557 - 589): Southern Chen

Northern Dynasties

Gilded Buddha Statue of  Northern & Southern Dynasties
Gilded Buddha Statue of 
 Northern & Southern Dynasties

It started from Northern Wei, which was founded by a group of ethnic minority called Tuoba Xianbei. In the late period of the Sixteen States, the Tuoba Xianbei tribes defeated Hou Yan, conquered the central plains and unified the northern area of China.

As a comparatively influential dynasty, Northern Wei lasted for over a hundred years and had 12 emperors. Among them, Emperor Xiaowen was the most brilliant. In his reign, the capital city was moved from  Pingcheng (currently Taiyuan) to Luoyang. He also discarded the conventional systems and brought forth a series of new policies, which greatly improved the economy.

At the end of Northern Wei, the country was plunged into civil war. Until the reign of Emperor Xiaowu, Northern Wei was divided into Eastern Wei and Western Wei. The Eastern Wei had only one emperor, with its capital Yecheng; the Western Wei had three emperors, with Chang'an (currently Xi'an) as the capital. Later, the Northern Qi replaced the Eastern Wei and the Northern Zhou took over the Western Wei.

In 577, the Northern Qi was ruined by the Northern Zhou and the northern area was reunified. In 581, one of the royal relatives of Northern Zhou, Yang Jian, usurped the throne and changed the state title into Sui.

Southern Dynasties

Lasting from 420 to 589, Southern Dynasties were made up of four consecutive dynasties - Song, Qi, Liang and Chen. Because of the severe internal power struggle and the incompetent ruling class, all four dynasties existed only a short period of time.

Among the four, the Song Dynasty had the largest territory and endured the longest. It had four generations and eight emperors. Having three generations and seven emperors, Qi Dynasty was also a short dynasty with rapid replacement of monarchs. When it came to Chen Dynasty, the territory became narrow, the national strength was weak and the ruling class was more corrupt. Therefore, Chen was soon destroyed by the powerful rival in the northern area.

Pottery Figures of  Northern & Southern Dynasties
Pottery Figures of 
 Northern & Southern Dynasties
Yungang Grottoes in Datong, originally carved in Northern Wei
Yungang Grottoes in Datong, 
originally carved in Northern Wei
- Last updated on Aug. 09, 2022 -
Questions & Answers on Northern and Southern Dynasties
Asked by calilove from USA | Feb. 03, 2015 11:11Reply
how would you sum up western Wei?
Answers (1)
Answered by Anita from NETHERLANDS | Feb. 04, 2015 02:23

Western Wet was separated from the Northern Wei. The dynasty totally had three emperors.
As far as I know, the biggest contrubition of this dynasty is to build some parts of Mo Kao Grotto at Dunhuang. :-)
Asked by Desi from USA | Dec. 11, 2012 15:22Reply
What arts were there during the norther and southern dynasties?
Answers (1)
Answered by Edward | Dec. 11, 2012 20:12

Paintings were very famous in the south areas and carvings came first in the north areas at that time. Many good painting works were created and some present parts of Yungang Caves and Mogao Caves are covered with a large excellent carvings made during that period.
Asked by Mr.bill from USA | Dec. 07, 2008 09:59Reply
who was ruler of south dynasty
Answers (1)
Answered by Mr.Yang from CHINA | Jan. 07, 2009 00:20

Southern and Northern Dynasties consists many dynasties. However, each dynasty is too short. The politics of China was not so stable. So, not one ruler but a lot of rulers for this period.
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