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Far East Kingdoms



(Former) Qin Kingdom (Sixteen Kingdoms China)
AD 351 - 394

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 (Former) Qin kingdom was created by Fu Jian, an officer who served the kingdom of (Later) Zhao. In 350 he conquered the Qiang people of Xi'an (Chang'an) in Guanzhong in the west of the (Later) Zhao kingdom during the latter's collapse, and quickly declared his own kingdom in the newly-captured territories. The use of 'former' in the name denotes the kingdom's seniority in terms of its founding date (by only three decades) over the (Later) Qin kingdom which began in 384. It also differentiates it from the rival Western Qin, although none of them should be confused with the earlier and much more powerful Qin imperial dynasty. The capital was initially at Xi'an, but this was changed in 385 following the start of the kingdom's collapse to Jinyang, Nan'an, and then Huangzhong as its fortunes increasingly waned and the situation grew more desperate.

Like the founder of the Cheng Han kingdom, the nobility of the (Former) Qin kingdom had a Di background, a Chinese people who were clearly distinct from the dominant Han people of the north. They are not to be confused with the earlier Di nomads of the previous Zhou period. Instead they may have been proto-Tibetans or proto-Turks, the latter exhibiting many differing forms in various groups and tribes during this period of time, notably in the form of the Wusun, Xionites, and proto-Bulgars.

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 Link: Kidarites (Encyclopaedia Iranica).)

351 - 355

Fu Jiàn

Former officer under Shi Le of (Later) Zhao.


Despite having conquered by force the Qiang people of Xi'an (Chang'an) in Guanzhong and now declaring his own kingdom based there, Fu Jian proves to be a fair and able ruler. The region had been under the command of (Later) Zhao but its collapse, largely at the hands of the Ran Wei kingdom, has meant that Fu Jian has been presented with an ideal opportunity. He removes many of the inequalities that had been inflicted on the region by the distant (Later) Zhao kings, and also employs (Former) Yan and Eastern Jin forces in his operations, as all three secure territory during the enforced collapse of (Later) Zhao in this year.

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)


The short-lived Ran Wei kingdom self-destructs under the weight of its own internal conflicts, gifting much of its territory to an opportunistic (Former) Yan. Its recent ally, (Former) Qin, also makes territorial gains as a result of the kingdom's collapse.


Fu Chang

Son. Crown prince. Killed defending capital.

355 - 357

Fu Sheng

Brother. Unstable. Overthrown by Fu Jiān. Executed.

356 - 357

Fu Sheng's brother, Fu Liu, prince of Jin, persuades the (Former) Liang regent, Zhang Guan, to ensure that his master, Zhang Xuanjing, accepts the status of vassal to the (Former) Qin kingdom. However, Fu Sheng's near-habitual practice of insulting his top officials (and often having them executed too), drives one to launch a coup against him.

Fu Huangmei, one of the heroic defenders of northern (Former) Qin territory earlier that very year when the warlord Yao Xiang had tried to invade with the intention of creating his own kingdom, is insulted by Fu Sheng and not rewarded for his efforts. His subsequent attempted coup fails and he is killed, so Fu Sheng's cousin, Fu Jiān takes on the role of completing the job. Fu Sheng is soon executed.

357 - 385

Fu Jiān

Cousin. An able ruler. Captured and imprisoned.


The death of the capable ruler of (Former) Yan and a succession which places the less impressive Murong Ping in charge encourages Fu Jiān to plan the conquest of that kingdom. However, before he can act no less than four of his relatives rebel, requesting aid from (Former) Yan and offering submission. Remarkably, Murong Ping refuses so that Fu Jiān is able to defeat each of the rebellious dukes in turn.


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.

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


The tactically skilful prime minister of (Former) Qin, Wang Meng, in spring 370 forces the surrender of Luoyang within the territory of (Former) Yan. His subsequent progress through the Hu Pass (in today's Shanxi Province) sees him defeating all (Former) Yan resistance so that he is able to capture Jinyang (in Taiyuan, Shanxi).

Murong Ping leads a numerically superior force of 300,000 men whose morale drops through the floor when he tries to charge them for chopping firewood. When battle is joined the defending force is destroyed, and Murong Ping flees to Yecheng alone. (Former) Yan officially surrenders itself to the conquering Wang Meng, and he is gifted control as viceroy of the captured territories until 372 by his master, Fu Jiān.


From a state that is being forced by the hard-working Fu Jiān to continue fighting campaign after campaign, more success is achieved in this year but the kingdom is starting to creak under the pressure. Fu Jian launches a major campaign against (Former) Liang when Zhang Tianxi refuses to visit the (Former) Qin capital as a submissive ruler. His kingdom is not in a healthy condition thanks to a major split in the royal court, so his generals are easily defeated by (Former) Qin. Zhang is forced to surrender his kingdom, which is annexed to (Former) Qin.

Two months after this major success, Fu Jiān launches another major campaign, this time against the Xianbei state of Dai after its ruler is assassinated by his own son, Tuoba Shijun. It too is conquered, although it is not directly absorbed into the (Former) Qin state, as the murdered Tuoba Shiyijian's grandson, Tuoba Gui, remains as the eventual heir presumptive to the Dai throne and soon founds the Northern Wei dynasty.


The Eastern Jin territory is invaded by Fu Jiān, but its warring imperial court manages to unite for long enough to successfully oppose the invasion. It takes one major battle and a significant victory at the River Fei to end the invasion despite the Jin forces being heavily outnumbered by the more numerous (Former) Qin forces. Fu Jiān loses around eighty per cent of his massive army of about 870,000 - a disastrous casualty rate. With the (Former) Qin subsequently descending into brutal civil war and self-destruction, the Jin and other southern Chinese kingdoms manage to claim a fair degree of (Former) Qin territory and secure their respective survivals to the south of the Yangtze River.

Battle of the River Fei
The Battle of the River Fei in 383 followed a surprise Eastern Jin victory at the Battle of Shouyang, and an even worse defeat was to result for Fu Jiān of the (Former) Qin kingdom, which would effectively cripple the state and lead to its eventual downfall


After many years of Fu Jiān successfully holding the kingdom together despite competing pressures from its Han Chinese, Xianbei, Dai, and (Former) Yan population, the dam finally breaks. Murong Chui of (Former) Yan's nobility refuses to agree to murder Fu Jiān but does instead rebel, quelling a separate rebellion as he does so. Another rebellion involving the Dingling and another (Former) Yan noble immediately materialises. Murong Chui soon claims the title 'Prince of Yan' and goes on to establish the (Later) Yan state.

When his brother is killed attempting to defeat the second, Murong Hong, rebellion, Fu Jiān takes out his anger on the messengers of his loyal aide, Yao Chang, brother of a former Qiang chief. Yao Chang takes fright and flees the state with his loyal Qiang troops, subsequently declaring himself to be 'Prince of Qin of Ten Thousand Years' and founding the (Later) Qin state. The Eastern Jin launch their own opportunistic attacks, capturing areas of the state by 385.


The death of Fu Jiān at the hands of Yao Chang of (Later) Qin fully exposes the weakened kingdom to its internal fractures. It immediately divides in two with no shared border between them. The eastern territory is at Taiyuan (capital of today's Shanxi Province), but within a year (in 386) that fails to survive against attacks by the Xianbei under the (Later) Yan and Dingling. The remainder, the western section, is focussed around Gansu and Shaanxi, but the division leaves it greatly weakened and vulnerable.

385 - 386

Fu Pi

Son. Tried to hold together the kingdom. Killed in battle.


The able Fu Pi has inherited the fractured remains of his father's kingdom, centred primarily on Shanxi (which is quickly lost) and with pockets remaining in Shaanxi and Gansu, which become the new focus for saving whatever can be saved. In 386 Fu Pi suffers a highly damaging defeat at the hands of Murong Yong of Western Yan whose people are abandoning the Guanzhong region to return to their native land in the east. He heads to Luoyang (taken by (Former) Qin in 370) to attack the Eastern Jin forces in the area. He is killed in battle before he even reaches it.

Continual warfare in the 'Sixteen Kingdoms' period
As with many of the relatively short-lived states during the 'Sixteen Kingdoms' period, (Former) Qin endured decades of near-continual warfare followed by a dramatic defeat and collapse

386 - 394

Fu Deng

Distant relative. Prince of Nan'an. Captured & executed.

386 - 394

Although only a distant relative of Fu Pi, Fu Deng, prince of Nan'an, holds one of the few remaining secure territories within the kingdom. He continually engages Yao Chang of (Later) Qin in battle and no notable success is won by either side. With Yao Chang dead by 394, Fu Deng launches a major attack against his successor, Yao Xing. He has badly underestimated the new king though, with the result that he is captured and executed.


Fu Chong

Son. Ruled only for a few months.


Fu Chong's succession to the throne sees him ruling a greatly diminished kingdom. Years of invasions by the (Later) Qin and Western Qin kingdoms since the division of 385 have taken their toll. Having launched an attack against the latter, Fu Chong is killed in battle when they retaliate. His son, Crown Prince Fu Xuan, flees to Yang Sheng, prince of Longxi, son of one of Fu Chong's last generals who had been killed alongside him in battle. The (Former) Qin kingdom is no more, although it is survived by its rebellious (Later) Qin offshoot.

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