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Far East Kingdoms



Eastern Jin /Tsin Dynasty (Sixteen Kingdoms China)
AD 317 - 420

The 'Sixteen Kingdoms' period of Chinese history was the result of internecine feuding very shortly after China had only just been reunified following the bitter, highly destructive wars of the 'Three Kingdoms' period. The division was largely caused by the 'Succession Civil Wars' between 301-307 and the increasing belligerence of two rival kingdoms, both of which claimed the imperial title kingdom from the ruling Western Jin dynasty.

In the face of increasing military conflict the Jin imperial regent became the supreme power in all but name. In 310 that regent, Sima Yue, abandoned both the capital of Luoyang and the emperor, such was his increasingly desperate focus on defending the dynasty from its enemies. However, beset on all sides by stronger enemies he fell ill and died the following year. Luoyang and Emperor Sima Chi were captured by rival Han Zhao forces in the same year. The final Western Jin emperor, Sima Ye, was also captured, in 316, and then executed. Already military governor south of the Yangtze River, Prince Sima Rui inherited the Jin title and ensured the continuity of the dynasty by welcoming Jin exiles - including military leaders and troops to his district south of the River Huai to survive as the Eastern Jin while Han Zhao governed a large swathe of the north.

Sima Rui established the new Eastern Jin capital at Jiankang (modern Nanjing in eastern Jiangsun - eastern central China, on the River Yangtze which exits into the East China Sea at Shanghai). His position as head of the new, reduced dynasty was confirmed in 318. The northern kingdoms refused to recognise his position or dynasty, and certainly not his claim to be the rightful Jin successor. They often dismissed his state by referring to it as 'Langya', his princely title prior to his accession. Some resistance was also felt by the indigenous southerners, somewhat discomforted by this northern nobility and its court of exiles now taking direct control of their affairs. Unfortunately the dynasty was never stable enough to pursue its stated goal of recovering the north other than in fits and starts.

Sixteen Kingdoms

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Origin of the Turks and the Turkish Khanate, Gao Yang (Tenth Türk Tarih Kongresi, Ankara 1986), from Türkiye halkının kültür kökenleri: Giriş, beslenme teknikleri, Burhan Oğuz (1976), from The Turks in World History, Carter Vaughin Findley (Oxford University Press 2005), from The Origins of Northern China's Ethnicities, Zhu Xueyuan (Beijing 2004), from Ethnogenesis in the tribal zone: The Shaping of the Turks, Peter Benjamin Golden (2005), from Shiliuguo Chunqiu (Spring and Autumn Annals of the Sixteen Kingdoms), Cui Hong (Sixth Century Compiler, although not all of his work survives), and from External Links: Kidarites (Encyclopaedia Iranica), and The Indianized States of Southeast Asia, George Coedès (Walter F Vella (Ed), Susan Brown Cowing (Trans), University of Hawaii Press, 1968, and available online via the Internet Archive).)

317 - 323

Sima Rui / Jin Sima (Yuan Di)

Prince of Langya. Re-established the Jin dynasty.


Liu Can of Han Zhao is overthrown by his own official, Jin Zhun. The kingdom's new ruler initially indicates his acceptance of Sima Rui as Emperor Yuan, but before the emperor can send an army to support him he is swept away by the forces of Liu Yao. Han Zhao is secured against Jin interference.

Map of Sixten Kingdoms China AD 350
By the early fourth century AD China had fractured once again, with the north splintering into the 'Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarians' and the Jin imperial dynasty having retreated south of the River Huai to retain their claim of imperial superiority in the form of the Eastern Jin (click or tap on map to view full sized)


General Shi Le declares the formation of the (Later) Zhao kingdom. Having served the Han Zhao kingdom until now he has conquered much territory in the name of that kingdom but has retained it under his own personal control. Now he breaks away and turns his conquered territories into a kingdom in its own right.

322 - 323

Emperor Yuan's forces have already largely been defeated in the north, losing the Jin much territory that takes decades to recover. Now he is also attacked by his antagonistic general, Wang Dun, following some years of growing disagreement between them. Yuan's forces are defeated and he is forced to cede Wang Dun additional powers in the west of Jin territory. Within a year Yuan dies, defeated physically and his spirit broken.

323 - 326

Sima Shao / Ming Ti

Son. Stabilised the state but died young.

326 - 343

Sima Yan / Ch'êng Ti / Cheng

Son. Acceded aged 4. Died of an illness.

327 - 329

More internal rivalries spark a revolt by General Su Jun. As various factions attempt temporary alliances, Su Jun strikes quickly, capturing the capital and taken hostage the emperor and his mother and regent, the empress dowager. The capital is ransacked by the general's troops and the empress dowager soon dies, apparently of shock and fear. Various inconsequential battles take place across several months, but the situation only changes in autumn 328 when Su Jun falls from his horse during a battle and is wounded by spears. Enemy troops rush to decapitate him. The last vestiges of the revolt end early in 329 - the same year in which the state of (Former) Zhao falls to its immediate rival, (Later) Zhao.

340 - 347

Fan Wen of Lâm Ấp has already pacified the savage tribes on his northern border. He requests of the weakened Emperor Sima Jan the right to set his border at Hoành Sơn Mountain (today in Vietnam) to gain the fertile lands of Rinan (formerly Jih-nan, in Vietnam). While the emperor dithers, Fan Wen goes ahead in 347 and sets his border anyway.

343 - 345

Sima Yue / K'ang Ti / Kang

Brother. Died of an illness.

345 - 362

Sima Dan / Mu Ti

Son. Acceded aged 1. Died childless.


After some years of diplomatically requesting that the kingdom of Cheng Han renounce its independence and return to Jin control, the increasing weakness of the junior kingdom now prompts the launch of a Jin expeditionary force. Cheng Han forces fail to repulse it and the king flees his capital before surrendering. He is created a marquess of the newly-reunified territory, while the Jin enjoy an increase in their territory.

Eastern Jin dynasty
Despite losing the north, the Eastern Jin still controlled a vast swathe of territory in the south in which they were generally safe and secure from the kingdoms of the north

350 - 352

Fu Jian is a general of the Di Chinese people who is serving the kingdom of (Later) Zhao. With that now collapsing, largely at the hands of the Ran Wei kingdom, in 350 he launches a two-pronged attack on the Qiang people of Xi'an (Chang'an) in Guanzhong, a western province of (Later) Zhao. The following year, rather than accept the possibility of the title 'Prince of Qin', he declares his own kingdom of (Former) Qin in the newly-captured territories and proceeds to plunder territory during the enforced collapse of (Later) Zhao in the same year. Ran Wei's own existence is brief - it falls in 352.

362 - 366

Sima Pi / Ai Ti

Cousin. Died from self-medication.

366 - 371

Sima Yi / Fei Ti

Brother. Deposed by Huan Wen.


The powerful Jin general, Huan Wen, launches a major campaign against the kingdom of (Former) Yan. His forces reach the capital city of Yecheng but the general hesitates to launch the final attack. (Former) Yan's Prince Murong Chi soon arrives with a relief force from (Former) Qin and defeats the general.


His authority undiminished by the defeat of 369, General Huan Wen deposes Emperor Fei Ti, murders his two consorts and children, places his grand-uncle, Sima Yu, on the throne, and for good measure massacres the powerful Yin and Yu clans to remove them as rivals. It is probably only Huan Wen's death in 373 that prevents the Jin from being usurped entirely by a Huan dynasty.

371 - 373

Sima Yu / Chien-wên Ti / Jianwen

Granduncle. Huan Wen's puppet. Died of illness.

373 - 397

Sima Yao / Hsiao-wu Ti / Xiaowu

Son. Killed by his concubine.


The kingdom is invaded by the (Former) Qin. Usually enemies, Huan Chong and the prime minister of Eastern Jin, Xie An, manage to cooperate for long enough to repel the invasion with a significant victory at the Battle of the River Fei, despite being heavily outnumbered by the more numerous Qin forces. With the Qin subsequently descending into brutal civil war and self-destruction, the Jin and other southern Chinese kingdoms manage to claim a fair degree of Qin territory and secure their respective survivals to the south of the Yangtze River.

Jiangkan (Nanjing), Eastern Jin capital
The Eastern Jin capital of Jiangkan (modern Nanjing) saw court intrigue follow court intrigue and military posturing for control of the beleaguered dynasty

384 - 385

Murong Chui of (Former) Yan's nobility rebels against his (Former) Qin master and goes on to establish the (Later) Yan state (in 385). Yao Chang of (Former) Qin takes fright at a display of anger by his master during the upheaval and flees the state with his loyal Qiang troops. He subsequently declares himself to be 'Prince of Qin of Ten Thousand Years' and founds the (Later) Qin state, while the (Former) Qin state crumbles within a year or so. The Jin take Luoyang as their part in the kingdom's downfall.

397 - 403

Sima Dezong / An Ti

Son. Disabled. Deposed by Huan Xuan.

399 - 413

Fan Hu Ta of Lâm Ấp invades Rinan in 'Chinese Vietnam' in 399 but is defeated. Encouraged by the anarchy which marks the gradual collapse of the Eastern Jin, he renews his incursions in 405 and 407. In 413 he embarks on a new expedition into the territories to the north of Rinan and does not return.

403 - 404

Recent years, since the accession of the developmentally disabled An Ti, have seen a spate of feuds and even battles between various members of the imperial court as they enrich themselves and vie for territory and power. Now the emperor is temporarily deposed by one of the participants in this increasing chaos, a warlord by the name of Huan Xuan. He declares the creation of his own state by the name of Chu and formally becomes its Emperor Wudao in 404.

403 - 404

Huan Xuan / Wudao

Deposed An Ti and declared the state of Chu. Defeated.


Emperor Wudao's accession merely triggers further court intrigue and factionalisation which leads to a full-blown insurrection. The emperor is forced to flee one unsafe location and is about to flee again when his fleet is scattered. His ship is boarded and he is beheaded. His five year-old son, captured and taken to the imperial court, is also beheaded. The rightful emperor is restored.

404 - 419

Sima Dezong / An Ti

Restored. Murdered by his regent.


Two Jin generals engage the forces of (Later) Qin in a major campaign. The Qin general, Yao Shao, is only defeated after several months of fighting. Other Qin generals are unable to put up the same level of resistance - the Qin defences crumble, allowing the Jin to enter their capital at Chang'an. Yao Hong surrenders and is taken to the Jin capital of Jiankang where he is executed. (Later) Qin has been destroyed, with the Jin gaining their territory before refocusing again on internal politics. Chang'an is straight away captured by the kingdom of Xia, although the Jin retain the Luoyang region.

Liu Song coin
This four Zhu coin was issued during the reign of Emperor Wu Ti, founder of the Liu Song dynasty which succeeded the Eastern Jin in 420

419 - 420

Sima Dewen / Kung Ti / Gong

A puppet. Abdicated. Murdered.


Liu Yu, the regent who had already ensured the assassination of Emperor An Ti, now forces his puppet successor to give way to him, Emperor Gong steps down, handing full power to Liu Yu. The former emperor is still murdered for his pains to ensure that the Jin can never pose a threat to the new emperor. With the Jin gone, Liu Yu's new (Liu) Song dynasty succeeds it.

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