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Far East Kingdoms



Northern Wei (Wèi) Kingdom / Tuoba Wei (Northern & Southern Dynasties China)
AD 386 - 534

The 'Northern & Southern Dynasties' period of Chinese history saw the continuance of a chaotic period of internecine warfare. Restored to unity following the bitter, highly destructive wars of the 'Three Kingdoms' period, China almost immediately fractured again at the start of the 'Sixteen Kingdoms' period. Much of the conflict took place in the north, above the line of the Yangtze River, and between various Chinese states and barbarian states. Towards the end of this period it became harder to tell the difference between Chinese and barbarian as the Northern Wei managed to secure control of the entire north. This triggered the start of the 'Northern & Southern Dynasties' period, which saw further warfare and fracturing.

Several regional kingdoms rose and fell, and each fought the other for power and territory. This process continued to permit various barbarian empires also to rise and fall along China's western borders. To the north-west this included the Rouran khaganate, which governed much of Mongolia until the middle of the sixth century AD.

The Northern Wei were also known as the Tuoba Wei, 'tuoba' due to their being drawn from the Tuoba (Tabgach) clan of the Xianbei, whose state of Dai had been conquered by (Former) Qin in 376 when a massacre had been inflicted on a population of Turkified Xianbei, who may have re-emerged soon afterwards as the Göktürks of the Eastern Steppe. The Xianbei had proved to be one of early imperial China's most implacable and unruly problems. Another, much mangled variation of the dynasty name is Juan Vej, 'juan' from Yuan, the Sinicised surname later adopted by the Wei, and 'vej' pronounced 'wey' to stand for 'wei'.

It had been the Wei who had claimed the destruction of the Jie people in the Wei-Jie War of AD 350. The Jie are stated by Chinese sources to have originated amongst the Lesser Yuezhi.

The Northern Wei are not to be confused with many other usages of the same name in Chinese history, including the Wei who were conquered by the Xia of Bronze Age China around 1766 BC, the Wei state of the 'Warring Sates' era, the Cao Wei dynasty of the 'Three Kingdoms' period, the Eastern Wei and Western Wei which were later divisions of the Northern Wei kingdom, or even the brief eighth century AD Wei dynasty.

Northern Wei itself eventually fractured into several states, these being Eastern Wei, Western Wei, Northern Qi, and Northern Zhou.

Northern & Southern Dynasties / Six Dynasties

(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 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 Türkiye halkının kültür kökenleri: Giriş, beslenme teknikleri, Burhan Oğuz (1976), and from External Links: China between empires: the northern and southern dynasties (Internet Archive), and Kidarites (Encyclopaedia Iranica), and Zizhi Tongjian: Comprehensive mirror to aid in government (ChinaKnowledge.de).)


Roman sources mention a specific group of Xionites known as Kidarites. Chinese sources (of the Northern Dynasties (the Beishi) and of the Western Wei (the Weishu)) mention a specific name that is assigned to the ruler of this group, one Jiduoluo, interpreted as the Chinese transcription of Ki-da-ra. This particular Hunnic grouping is reported to be located in Gandhara, with its capital at Fu-lou-sha (Old Persian Paraupārisainā (commonly shown as Purushapura), Greek Paropamisus, modern Peshawar).

423 - 452

Tuoba Tao / Taiwu

Grandson of Tuoba Shiyijian of Dai.


On hearing of the death of Emperor Wu of (Liu) Song, 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.


The Book of Sui reports that on 18 October the Tuoba ruler, Emperor Taiwu of the Northern Wei, overthrows Juqu Mujian of the Northern Liang in eastern Gansu. The attack results in five hundred Ashina families fleeing to the north-west, into the Rouran khaganate in the vicinity of Gaochang. These Ashina families soon emerge as the Göktürks.

This is also the end of the 'Sixteen Kingdoms of the Five Barbarians' period and the start of the 'Northern & Southern Dynasties' period. The Northern Wei is considered to be the first of the northern dynasties while its ongoing opponent is the (Liu) Song of the south.

441 - 457

A Kidarite conquest of at least part of Sogdiana seems to be safely attested by coins from Samarkand. Hypothetically this conquest can be connected with the interruption of Sogdian embassies to China between 441 and 457, and with a piece of information in the Weishu (formerly dated to 437, but actually referring to 457) mentioning an earlier capture of Samarkand by the Xiongnu.

? - 471

Tuoba Hung


471 - ?




General Xiao Daocheng of the (Liu) Song imperial dynasty in the south has already murdered the arrogant and harsh Emperor Houfei and replaced him with his more malleable brother. Now, suitably promoted by himself, he seizes the throne and forms his own Southern Qi dynasty to control all of southern China.

Northern Wei tomb figurines
The Xianbei proved to be one of early imperial China's most implacable and unruly problems, with the Tuoba Xianbei even able to forge its own Chinese dynasty in the form of the Northern Wei (tomb figurines from a Northern Wei entombment of the fourth century AD shown here)





?- 515



515 - 529

Empress Dowager Ling


515 - 528





528 - 529



529 - 534




Northern Wei splits into Eastern Wei and Western Wei.

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