History of Three Kingdoms Period 220–280; Jin Dynasty, 265–420; Northern and Southern Dynasties, 304–589; Sui Dynasty 581-617


At the end of Han Dynasty, it was divided into three kingdoms headed by leaders Cao Cao who controlled the north of the Yangtze River known as Cao Wei; Liu Bei who controlled southwestern region known as Shu Han and Sun Quan who controlled the southeastern region known as Dong Wu. The Three Kingdoms period is one of the bloodiest periods in history of China. A population census in late Eastern Han Dynasty reported a population of approximately 56 million, while a population census in early Western Jin Dynasty (after Jin reunified China) reported a population of approximately 16 million. Even taking into account the inaccuracies of these census reports, it's safe to assume that a large percentage of the population was wiped out during the constant wars waged during this period. (Map of Three Kingdoms Period)

Three Kingdoms Period

The history of the Three Kingdoms Period was written in a novel - The Romance of Three Kingdoms, written by the Ming author Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century, was based partly on the historical record. The novel is a very popular and exciting book for children and adults alike. It is a book of strategies, in war and in love affairs.

Recommended: Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel

Jin Dynasty

One of the kingdoms finally won, after many interesting turns of events. The Jin Dynasty was established, lasting from 265–420 AD. The first of the two periods, the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316), was founded by Emperor Wu. Although providing a brief period of unity after conquering the Kingdom of Wu in AD 280, the Jin could not contain the invasion and uprising of nomadic peoples after the devastating War of the Eight Princes. The capital was Luoyang until 311 when Emperor Huai was captured by the forces of Han Zhao. Successive reign of Emperor Min lasted four years in Changan until its conquest by Former Zhao in 316.

Meanwhile remnants of the Jin court fled from the north to the south and reestablished the Jin court at Jiankang, which was located south-eastward of Luoyang and Changan and near modern-day Nanjing, under Prince of Longya. Prominent local families of Zhu, Gan, Lu, Gu and Zhou supported the proclamation of Prince of Longya as Emperor Yuan of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420) when the news of the fall of Changan reached the south.

Southern and Northern Dynasties

The Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589) was the age of civil wars and disunity in history of China. Many northern Chinese also immigrated to the south. Because of the invasions of the nomadic people from the north, the country became fragmented. In spite of the political disunity, or perhaps because of the wars, there was progress in technology, including the invention of the gunpowder and the wheelbarrow and the improvement of Chinese medicine during the later of this period.

Sui Dynasty

The Sui Dynasty (581-617), was founded by Emperor Wen, or Yang Jian, held its capital at Changan. It was marked by the reunification of Southern and Northern China and the construction of the Grand Canal, though it was a relatively short Chinese dynasty. It saw various reforms by Emperors Wen and Yang: the land equalization system, initiated to reduce the rich-poor social gap, resulted in enhanced agricultural productivity; governmental power was centralized, and coinage was standardized and unified; defense was improved, and the Great Wall was expanded. Buddhism was also spread and encouraged throughout the empire, uniting the varied people and cultures of China.

List of Sui Dynasty Emperors

Yang Jian, the Wen Emperor (581-604)
Yang Guang, the Yang Emperor (604-617)
Yang You, the Gong Emperor (617-618)
Yang Tong, the Gong Emperor (618-619)

Learn more about Chinese history, please visit History of China

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Central Academy of Fine Arts
Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University