Northern and Southern Dynasties

The Northern and Southern Dynasties (南北朝) period in Chinese history refers to a time of political division and competition between the north and south of China. It spanned from 420 AD to 589 AD, immediately following the collapse of the Eastern Jin Dynasty and the end of the Five Hu and Sixteen States period. Here are the key points about the Northern and Southern Dynasties:

Background and Overview:

  1. Eastern Jin Collapse: The Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420 AD) weakened due to internal conflicts, invasions by northern ethnic groups, and rebellions. In 420 AD, the last Jin emperor was overthrown by Liu Yu, who established the Liu Song Dynasty in Jiankang (modern-day Nanjing), marking the beginning of the Southern Dynasties.
  2. Political Division: After the fall of the Eastern Jin, China was divided into two major political entities:
    • Northern Dynasties: Successor states established in the north, including Northern Wei, Eastern Wei, Western Wei, Northern Qi, and Northern Zhou.
    • Southern Dynasties: Dynasties established in the south, namely Liu Song, Southern Qi, Liang, and Chen.
  3. Cultural and Religious Development: Buddhism flourished during this period, particularly in the south, where many rulers and elites patronized Buddhist monasteries and promoted Buddhist teachings. This led to the establishment of influential Buddhist centers and the spread of Buddhism throughout China.

Key Northern Dynasties:

  1. Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 AD): Initially founded by the Tuoba clan of the Xianbei ethnic group, it later split into Eastern Wei and Western Wei before reunifying briefly under the Northern Zhou.
  2. Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577 AD): Founded by Gao Yang (Emperor Wenxuan), it succeeded the Northern Wei after the division between Eastern and Western Wei.
  3. Northern Zhou Dynasty (557-581 AD): Established by Yuwen Tai after he overthrew the Northern Qi, marking the end of the Northern Dynasties period.

Key Southern Dynasties:

  1. Liu Song Dynasty (420-479 AD): Founded by Liu Yu, it was the first of the Southern Dynasties and established Jiankang (modern Nanjing) as its capital.
  2. Southern Qi Dynasty (479-502 AD): Founded by Xiao Daocheng (Emperor Gao), it succeeded the Liu Song after a period of instability.
  3. Liang Dynasty (502-557 AD): Founded by Xiao Yan (Emperor Wu), it succeeded the Southern Qi and was known for its economic prosperity and cultural development.
  4. Chen Dynasty (557-589 AD): Founded by Chen Baxian (Emperor Wu), it was the last of the Southern Dynasties and was eventually conquered by the Sui Dynasty in 589 AD, marking the reunification of China.


  1. Cultural Exchange: The Northern and Southern Dynasties period saw significant cultural and religious exchanges between the northern and southern regions of China, particularly in literature, art, and Buddhism.
  2. Political Division: The division between north and south during this period laid the foundation for later periods of division and reunification in Chinese history, influencing subsequent dynastic cycles.
  3. Buddhist Influence: The patronage of Buddhism by Southern Dynasties rulers led to the spread and integration of Buddhist beliefs and practices into Chinese society, which continued to influence Chinese culture for centuries.

The Northern and Southern Dynasties period was a pivotal time in Chinese history, characterized by political fragmentation, cultural exchange, and the emergence of new religious and philosophical ideas that shaped the development of China during the following centuries.