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China History Five Dynasties and Ten States
Five Dynasties
---- Later Liang (907 - 923)
---- Later Tang (923 - 936)
---- Later Jin (936 - 946)
---- Later Han (947 - 951)
---- Later Zhou (951 - 960)
Ten States (902 - 979)
The magnificent empire that had existed from 618AD under the rule of the Tang Emperors finally collapsed in 907 AD. With the inevitable decline brought about through misrule, court intrigues and economic exploitation the scene was set for the overthrow of Ai, the last of the Tang Emperors. Zhu Wen seized power and established a new dynasty that has come to be known as the Later Liang.

For the next fifty years, the empire was to become fragmented. Northern China was ruled during this period by five short-lived military regimes, while the South became split into ten independent states. Hence the name given to this era of history. During this half century, which was to prove one of China's bleakest, warfare and official corruption were endemic.

The North was particularly affected as its canal and dam system fell into disrepair. This led to widespread flooding and consequent famine. However, there was one outstanding accomplishment and this was the widespread development of printing.

It was fortunate that there was no real threat from foreign invasion except from the Khitan Mongols of the Liao Dynasty (AD916-1125). Based in Manchuria and Mongolia, the Khitan extended their influence into parts of northern Hebei and Shanxi Provinces.

Reunification of the empire was to commence under the Song Dynasty from 960 AD onwards.


The Five Dynasties

There were five successive dynasties that dominated the Yellow River Valley in this period. They were the Later Liang (907 - 923), Later Tang (923 - 936), Later Jin (936 - 946), Later Han (947 - 950), and Later Zhou (951 - 960). The prefix 'Later' was added to distinguish these dynasties from the earlier ruling houses of the same name.

The actual territorial limits varied from one dynasty to another with the Later Liang ruling the smallest while the Later Tang controlled the largest of them. Each dynasty was founded by the frontier commanders of their former states. Military expansion, frequent warfare and administrative change became the hall mark of the period.

The Ten States

These states, which were predominantly in the South were Wu, Southern Tang, Wuyue, Chu, Min, Southern Han, Jinnan, Former Shu, Later Shu and Northern Han.

Compared with the Five Dynasties, these states fared far better. With the exception of the Northern Han, where the jurisdiction included Shanxi, Shaanxi and part of Hebei Provinces, they were all in the south of China, a location that kept them apart from the conflicts which dominated the Central Plains.

Although the Former Shu had the shortest existence of these independent states, it survived for thirty-four years, twice as long as the Later Liang Dynasty, which in turn had been the longest survivor among the Five Dynasties. Of the Ten States, the Wuyue was the longest survivor and existed for a total of eighty-five years. This stability encouraged development in the southern part of the former empire. Large numbers of people moved down from the Central Plains to participate in the better fortunes of the States. Many of those who were part of this migration brought with them a variety of skills together with scientific knowledge. It was this that helped to bring about the considerable advances in agricultural activity, production techniques and trade in general.

Despite the political division and constant warfare there was some degree of progress in the social economy. The era represented a continuance and expansion of what had been the Separatist Reigns of Fanzhen under the Tang Dynasty. During the Later Zhou Dynasty, the ruler or "Shizong" was Chairong, a man with great foresight. He set about improving conditions for exiled peasants, he curtailed the activities of corrupt officials, reformed the tax system and put in place a reconstruction of the irrigation systems. His activities did much to reduce the tensions between the various ruling parties within the former empire. However, the drift of skilled people to the south meant that the economic centre moved from the region around the Yellow River to the Yangtze River Valley.
There were two predominant economic factors during this period.


In the south, the tea trade became increasingly important. There were attempts to introduce state monopolization of the trade in order to control the revenue it produced. The production and trading in salt was monopolized and a salt tax became the prime source of government revenue.


A great innovation was the introduction of paper money in the northern area. Due in part to the scarcity of metal in China and the fact that the existing copper coinage was heavy to transport alternatives were sought. Certain provinces also placed an embargo on the transfer of copper coins beyond their territory. Merchants began to use a system of deposit certificates. Copper coins would be deposited with the government which then issued the certificates. This developed into a banking system that benefited the expansion of trade.

Regardless of the chaos which prevailed during this period, it was important in terms of Chinese culture.


Facilitated by the advancements made in printing and despite the political changes of the period, there remained a high regard for cultural tradition. During the period 932 to 953 the first of the Nine Confucian Classics was published by the Imperial Academy. This became the prototype for all subsequent editions.


The noteworthy developments in the field of art during this time were twofold. The first was the continued refinement of the techniques used in the production of porcelain. The translucent porcelain was used throughout China and was widely sought abroad, thus becoming a valuable export.

The second development was in painting. A distinctive style known as Wu-tai painting 'monumental ink landscapes' dominated. This was inspired by the Taoist notion that mountains were essentially sacred pillars linking heaven and earth. Artists, using black ink on silk, depicted the natural world as the source of harmony and enlightenment.

Gu Hongzhong's painting the 'Evening Feasting held by Han Xi' is a highly revered work of this period.

Buddhism was adversely affected in the north of the country from 955 AD. This was due to the fact that men were discouraged from entering the monasteries as a means to avoid military service. Some 30,336 temples and monasteries were secularized and monks were forced to leave. The construction of new temples and monasteries was limited as were the number that were allowed in each district. Every monk was required to carry six identification cards.


This form of worship, popular during the Tang Dynasty, survived and was used by the rulers of The Five Dynasties and The Ten States as a means to consolidate their influence over the people. Its teaching of immortality had its appeal but the ceremonies and alchemy required of its practitioners meant that in the main it was a religion of the ruling classes and wealthy aristocrats.
End of the Division

Throughout this period there was no central government despite a struggle for power between the various ruling factions. The conditions for reunification were set in place by Chairong, the 'Shizong' of the Later Zhou Dynasty. A general in the army, Zhao Kuangyin, led a mutiny at Chenquiaoyi in 960 AD and founded the Song Dynasty. For the next twenty years every effort was made to reunify the entire country. One by one the Ten States came under the rule of the Song and with the fall of the Northern Han, China was reunited and the empire that was to last for a thousand years re-established.
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