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Far East Kingdoms



(Later) Zhao Kingdom (Sixteen Kingdoms China)
AD xxx - xxx

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 (Later) Zhao kingdom was formed by a general who had served the Han Zhao kingdom in the early fourth century AD. Having conquered much territory in the name of that kingdom he still ruled it himself. Then he broke away and turned his conquered territories into a kingdom in its own right. Its appellation of 'later' was coined by the sixth century chronicler of these events to distinguish it from Han Zhao which later dropped the use of 'Han' following the overthrow of its ruler in AD 318. This became (to the chronicler) the state of (Later) Zhao.

Shi Le came from the Jié people, nomadic barbarians who had invaded areas of northern China during the fourth century AD. Their origins are somewhat obscure, and some modern opinion likes to class them as proto-Turks, an ethnic type that was still in the process of forming and which, in this period, exhibited many differing forms in various groups and tribes, notably in the form of the Wusun, Xionites, and proto-Bulgars. Perhaps the more dominant opinion is that the Jié spoke a Yeniseian language of the River Yenisei region of Siberia, based on written language analysis. The Xiongnu have also been connected to a Yeniseian origin but such an origin does not preclude a later proto-Turkic admixture during their migration towards China's borders.

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).)

319 - 333

Shi Le

Raised the Zhao kingdom to imperial status.


Liu Yao, ruler of the (Former) Zhao kingdom is captured by Shi Le.

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)


Shi Hu


350 - 351

Fu Jian is a general of the Di Chinese people who is serving the kingdom, despite the late Emperor Shi Hu having killed his two brothers because he had feared Di loyalty towards him. The continual changes of ruler in (Later) Zhao have largely alienated Fu Jian and, with the kingdom collapsing, he launches a two-pronged attack in 350 on the Qiang people of Xi'an (Chang'an) in Guanzhong, located to the west of the kingdom but still one of its provinces.

The following year, rather than accept the possibility of the title 'Prince of Qin', Fu Jian declares his own kingdom of (Former) Qin in the newly-captured territories. 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, largely at the hands of the Ran Wei kingdom.

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