What Is The Six Dynasties Period?

The Six Dynasty Period refers to dynasties in the time periods of the eastern Wu dynasty (222-280), Jin dynasty (265-420), Liu dynasty (420-479), southern Qi dynasty (479-502), Liang dynasty (502-557), and the Chen dynasty (557-589). The Six Dynasties and Kingdoms in China includes the Three Kingdoms period (220-280), Jin Dynasty (265-420), the Southern Dynasty, and the Northern Dynasty (420-589), and the Northern Dynasty with its capital at Jiankang (modern-day Nanjing).

The Three Kingdoms of Wu, Wei, and Shu were ultimately combined as the Jin Dynasty, one of nearly thirty dynasties and smaller kingdoms comprising the so-called Six Dynasties (220-589 cal AD). After the late Han Period ended in 220 AD, three kingdoms (Wei, Shu, and Wu) competed for power as Mongol-like the Xiongnu, as well as other nomadic tribes, raided Northern China from the North and West. When the final Emperor of the late Han abdicated to the dynasty Wei, and China began, it was by no means a united kingdom.


It was a time of turmoil and major changes, and China would not reunify again until the Sui dynasty. These bloody internal wars continued until 589, when Sui seized southern China and ruled the unified country until he was replaced by the Tang Dynasty in 618, 29 years later. By 439 AD, the northern Wei dynasty had also united northern parts of China, much like their capable general, Liu Yu’s military feats in the south had unified southern parts of China. After Qin Shi Huangdi unified all the areas that were known then as Chinese, and then by the Han dynasty (206 BCE-AD 220), there was civil chaos after Han fell, and China fragmented into permanently warring states — the Six Dynasty Period.

The Six Dynasties period overlaps with the era of the Sixteen Kingdoms, a chaotic warring period in Northern China following the fall of the Western Jin Dynasty. By extension, the term six dynasties is frequently used to denote both the Southern Six Dynasties and the Northern Six Dynasties, and thus to refer to the whole period between Han and Tang. The terms Wei,Jin, Southern, andNorthern Dynasties(Wei Jin Nan Bei Zhao) are also used by Chinese historians to denote the historical periods of the Six Dynasties, though the term Wei does not refer to exactly the same dynasties. The Six Dynasties, also known as The Dark Era in Chinese history, was a time of political disunity and strife, but it was also one of significant developments in the arts, religion, and culture.

The most significant finding of all was the realization that the Six Dynasties was also the birthplace of artistic traditions which would go on to define Chinese art and culture. In terms of the religious developments during the Six Dynasties, there were clearly Chinese Buddhist schools, such as the Tiantai School and Chan School (known today in the West as the Chan School of Buddhism), which emerged in that time. Curiously, it was the cultural effects of this period which helped to lead to China’s ultimate unification under the Sui, for while Chinese conquistadors from overseas vied for securing their own grip on power, they began using Chinese cultural idioms and practices (including clothing) to popularize their own rule, and were in the process, being absorbed into China’s mainstream.


Ultimately, the series of kingdoms established in northern China during the disunity era were ruled by clan-based invaders, which exerted relatively firm control over their regions, whereas southern dynasties had Chinese rulers, whose authority was limited by the competition from great clans descended from the late Han. The Wei dynasty, though far smaller than the Han Empire, maintained an entirely manned court at considerable expense, as rulers who claimed to govern all of China felt obliged to show off greater splendor than those of southern dynasties.

The roots of this stylish Southern style, which later epitomized the highest Nanjing standard for a palace, Nanjing, date from late Zhou (1046-256 BCE)-early Han, and this sleek Southern style was subsequently adopted as the style for the palaces of northern Wei rulers when they moved southwards, for example, at Longmen, in 495. Map of Southern and Northern dynasties c. AD 440 This usurpation ended the Han Dynasty and inaugurated the Liu Song Dynasty (c. AD 420-479), the first of the four short-lived dynasties which controlled unified Southern parts of China. Liu Bei (162-223)–the self-proclaimed Emperor of the state of Shuhan (modern-day Sichuan Province) in southwest China–saw Shuhans state as an extension of The Han Dynasty, since it was descended from the same family of Liu who had previously ruled The Han dynasty.

Although all the temples from this time have been destroyed, there is some quantity of wall paintings that remain in Dunhuang, in northwest Gansu, in the Cave of Thousand Buddhas, at Qianfodong, which contains almost 500 shrines and cave niches dating to the fifth century. Although the first Buddhist caves in the now-world-famous Mogong Caves were already built in the northern Wei dynasty, the majority of caves and niches were built far later. Sometimes also called Yungang caves, this complex of Buddhist caves was carved out in the limestone cliffs during the Northern Wei period of the Six Dynasties during the fifth and sixth centuries AD.


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