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From Three Kingdoms to Disunion

next   The collapse of the Han Dynasty signaled the beginning of what some historians refer to as China’s “Dark Ages.” This was a time of almost constant warfare and intrigue. But it also was a time when one dynasty, tucked away in the southern corner of China, gave rise to great artistic achievement.
Shang (1523-1027 BC)  
Chou (1027-221 BC)  
Ch'in (221-206 BC)   Initially the country divided into thirds. The kingdom of Wei occupied the north and northwest along the Yellow River basin. Wu was in the southeast along the Yangtze and Shu settled along the Szechwan basin in the southwest.
Han (206 BC-AD 220)  
Sui (581-618)  
T'ang (618-907)  
Yüan (1279-1368)   With its capital in Loyang, Wei had the benefits of holding the imperial seals, most of the country’s wealth, and thirty million of its people. Using these advantages, Wei conquered the kingdom of Shu and Wu.
Ming (1368-1644)  
Ch'ing (1644-1912)  
Opening the Door (1844-1911)  
The Period of Revolution (1912-1949)   In the midst of this conquest Wei itself had been toppled by forces within its own court and renamed itself Chin. Outwardly it appeared that by 280 Chin had reunited China, but its influence waned beyond its capital.
Mao's Dynasty (1949-1976)  
Raising the Bamboo Curtain (1972-1979)  
Into the Next Millennium (1979- )  

Chin suffered terrible raids by an amalgam of Huns, Mongols, Turks, and Tibetans in northern China. Under such pressure Chin collapsed, and China split north and south. By 383 the north had fragmented into a collection of small states called by historians the Sixteen Kingdoms. From these political shards emerged the Turkish-Mongol state of Toba. By 440 Toba ruled the whole of northern China. But over the next fifty years the Toba spent its foreign blood and collective wealth in constant warfare. The Chinese gentry under its rule, however, had retained its wealth and character and now gained such influence that by 490 non-Chinese tongues were forbidden in public, the court adopted Chinese dress to accompany their Chinese customs, and Confucianism became the court’s official ideology.

Farther south was the Eastern Chin Dynasty. Founded by a Chinese prince amid the ruin that became the Three Kingdoms, Eastern Chin was the guardian of Chinese civilization and attained “…the highest refinement of culture in the Far East…” according to historian Rayne Kruger. Nestled in the Yangtze Valley, the kingdom was rich in merchant trade, and it built magnificent water-cooled state buildings flanked by exquisite landscapes. Fields were covered with rice and fruit orchards. Culture too was cultivated as carefully, from calligraphy to landscape portraiture, to salon conversation.

Finally in 581 a native Chinese named Yang Chien assassinated the ruling family of the northern dynasty. Within eight years he conquered the south. He called his dynasty the Sui, and by 589 Yang had reunited China.

caparisoned horse  
Caparisoned Horse
386 - 535 AD
Northern Wei Period
10 13/16 in. x 7 9/16 in.
Courtesy The University of Michgan Art Museum