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Far East Kingdoms



(Liu) Song / Sung (Anterior) Dynasty (Sixteen Kingdoms China)
AD 420 - 479

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. Prince Sima Rui inherited the Jin title and ensured the continuity of the dynasty by withdrawing south of the River Huai to survive as the Eastern Jin while Han Zhao governed a large swathe of the north.

The (Liu) Song dynasty or kingdom was the replacement for and successor of the Eastern Jin. Therefore, as the inheritor of the claim to the imperial title it was not counted as one of the sixteen kingdoms of this period. Liu Yu, the Jin regent who had already ensured the assassination of his emperor, An Ti, subsequently forced the emperor's puppet successor to give way to him and then murdered him to ensure the demise of the entire Jin dynasty. Liu Yu was left in command as the first emperor of the (Liu) Song dynasty.

Due to their position in relation to the other 'Sixteen Kingdoms' of this period, the dynasty has sometimes been referred to as the Southern Song, but this name more properly (and usually) refers to the later Song (Southern) dynasty. The addition of 'Liu' to this particular Song dynasty name is designed to remove any confusion. Like its predecessor, this dynasty largely concerned itself with internal squabbles rather than making any serious attempt to recapture the north.

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).)


Liu Yu, the Eastern Jin 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, with him as Emperor Wu until illness claims him two years later.

420 - 422

Liu Yu / Wu Ti

Replaced the Eastern Jin as the new imperial claimant.

423 - 424

Liu Yifu / Shao / Chebing

Son. Deposed and murdered.

423 - 424

On hearing of the death of Emperor Wu, the forces of Northern Wei cross the Yellow River to launch a major attack on the northern territories. They capture Huatai and then Luoyang. (Liu) Song forces manage to secure the Shangdong peninsula but, when they lose Hualo, all control of the Yellow River is gone. Northern Wei consolidates its gains rather than pressing further.

Map of Northern & Southern Dynasties China AD 460
The fracturing of the north into a mosaic of states and borders had gradually been reversed by the Northern Wei until they dominated at the time of this map, around AD 460 (click or tap on map to view full sized)

423 - 424

As Crown Prince Liu Yifu, Liu Yu's son had been suspected of being unfit for the office of emperor, but the old usurper had died of illness before he could reach a decision on replacing him. After less than two years on the throne as Emperor Shao, his advisors are now even more certain of his unsuitability. He is arrested from his bed and demoted in position as Prince of Yingyang. His younger brother replaces him as emperor while he is soon assassinated.

424 - 453

Liu Yilong / Wen Ti

Brother. Assassinated by the crown prince.


Shih-li-t'o-pa-mo of Funan presents a petition to Emperor Wen Ti of the Liu Song (424-453). The same records which note that event also note that Funan refuses to support a planned expedition by Lâm Ấp to capture Tonkin which is part of 'Chinese Vietnam'.


This is the end of the 'Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarians' period and the start of the 'Northern & Southern Dynasties' period in which south faces off against north (the latter in the form of the Northern Wei). Emperor Wen generally proves to be a stable and effective ruler when it comes to internal matters. Later in his reign, his ill-conceived methods for recapturing the lost northern territories weakens his position however. His son and crown prince launches a coup to usurp him.


Liu Shao 'Prime Murderer'

Son and usurper. Killed by his brother, Liu Jun.

453 - 464

Liu Jun / Hsiao-wu Ti / Xiaowu Ti


464 - 466

Liu Ziye / Qianfei Ti

Son. Violent and immoral. Assassinated.


The assassination in the imperial court of Emperor Qianfei by his brother, Liu Zixun results in a temporary division of the imperial lands. Despite Liu Zixun having the spoken support of much of the court, it is his uncle who proves to be militarily canny enough to secure sole rule. Despite being outnumbered and holding only the capital at Jiangkang, Liu Yu defeats the forces of Liu Zixan before Liu Zixan is executed.

Liu Song coin
This four Zhu coin was issued during the reign of Emperor Wu Ti, founder of the Liu Song dynasty following his murder of two of the preceding Eastern Jin emperors


Liu Zixun

Brother. Claimed the throne but quickly defeated & executed.

466 - 473

Liu Yu / Ming Ti

Uncle and rival. Quickly quelled Liu Zixun.

473 - 477

Liu Yu / Fei Ti / Houfei

Son. Murdered by his own general.

477 - 479

Liu Zhun / Shun Ti

Brother. Puppet. Deposed and replaced.


General Xiao Daocheng has already murdered the arrogant and harsh Emperor Houfei and replaced him with his more malleable brother. Then he ensures he is granted the title duke of Qi, which is quickly succeeded by that of prince of Qi. Now he decides to dispense entirely with the (Liu) Song emperors. He seizes the throne by forcing the twelve year-old emperor to hand the throne to him. Then Liu Zhun is murdered by his own guards (a short time later) and the Liu clan in general is slaughtered. Xiao Daocheng's new Southern Qi dynasty now controls all of southern China.

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