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Far East Kingdoms



Dynastic China

Modern China has not always existed in its present form since its first appearance as a state. In fact it has rarely been as large in terms of territory as it is today. At several times in its long history the country has fragmented into two or more warring kingdoms. In its early days there were many smaller independent states that were often at war with one another for domination, sometimes for several centuries. This was often followed by relatively short spells of unification under a single strong conqueror, followed again by a return to fragmentation. It was a long, slow climb towards the relatively unified state of the two millennia AD.

China's origins were long seen as being focussed along the Yellow River. Several of the early mythical or semi-historical dynasties of Ancient China were based in territory in this region, with these early confederate kingdoms having being regarded as having laid down the basis of later Chinese unity. That unity only really came with the Qin dynasty, once the old order had been swept away by the Warring States period.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Cambridge History of Ancient China - From the Origins of Civilization to 221 BC, Michael Loewe & Edward L Shaughnessy (1999).)

A Qin iron age sword

Ch'in / Qin Dynasty (End of the Iron Age / Early Imperial Period China)
221 - 207/6 BC

The kingdom of Qin (pronounced 'chin') was the westernmost of the seven kingdoms of the 'Warring States' period, forming a wide north-south barrier to the barbarian lands beyond. The kingdom had initially been created by the Zhou to serve as a shield against the wild nomad tribes of the west. Emperor P'ing of the Eastern Zhou raised the Qin to the position of feudal lords in thanks for their unwavering support during the sacking of the empire's previous capital, giving birth to the duchy of Qin. During the break-up of the Zhou empire, Qin proclaimed itself a kingdom along with many of its peers and opponents.

In his time as the sixth independent king of Qin, Wang Chêng was its most feared leader. He was regarded as a common threat by all of the other kingdoms. His ruthless drive to unite China saw him conquer the others one by one (there are numerous tales of assassins sent to kill him, one of which is depicted in the Chinese feature film, Hero / Ying Xiong.). He produced a contemporary super-army, a strongly regimented force with mass-produced bronze weapons that was expertly led. China had seen nothing like it. Following his conquest of the last of his enemies in 221 BC he forged a single, reunified Chinese kingdom and adopted the throne name of Qin Shihuang ('first emperor').

The newly reunified Chinese kingdom was a different beast to its ancient counterpart. Before this period, Chinese unity seemed largely to be in the form of a confederacy. One dynasty may have dominated, but it clearly didn't rule unanimously or without opposition. The various regions still formed what almost amounted to semi-independent kingdoms, and they still fought one another. Qin Shihuang set up a new, integrated imperial system of administration and controls which did much more to create a single state than could ever be matched before the Warring States period. Unfortunately the drive towards a strong centralist government also resulted in a degree of repression. Free thought tended to be discouraged, especially where it provided a voice of opposition to the Qin. The dynasty proved to be the shortest-lasting in Chinese history, but it laid the foundations of a system which would remain in place until the twentieth century.

Feature'Qin' was the name that was adopted by outsiders to describe this new state, as contacts towards the west became more prevalent. It was documented in Sanskrit as 'Čina' (pronounced cheena), which was adopted by Portuguese explorers as 'China'. When medieval Italians borrowed the written form from Portuguese, they pronounced it as keena, with a hard 'k' because that's how the Italian language at the time saw a 'ch'. This was why, in some Central European languages such as Hungarian - which borrowed it from Italian - China is known as Kina with a 'k'. However, modern Italian then corrected it and now also uses 'Cina' (cheena). (See feature link for more detail.)

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Zoltan Szilard, from the BBC series, The Story of China, by Michael Wood, first broadcast between 21 January and 25 February 2016, from Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies: The Role of Cross-Border Trade and Travel, Michael C Howard (McFarland Publishing, 2012), and from A Short History of China and Southeast Asia: Tribute, Trade and Influence, Martin Stuart-Fox (Allen & Unwin, 2003).)

221 - 210 BC

Shi Huangdi / Shih-huang-ti / Qin Shihuang

Formerly Wang Chêng of Qin. Reunified China.

221 BC

FeatureThe 'Warring States' period comes to an end as the Qin conquer the last remaining rival kingdoms and unify the Yellow Plain, and therefore ancient China. Having created the first empire of all China, King Wang Chêng of Qin adopts the throne name of Emperor Qin Shihuang. He dispossesses many of the old aristocracies and creates a huge captive labour force so that he can begin construction of the Great Wall to keep out the barbarians and ensure peace for his unitary state. He also creates a standardised coinage system and bureaucracy, a simplified Chinese script, and a terracotta army to safeguard him in the afterlife. Even the name of his kingdom is used forevermore by outsiders - Ch'in (in its older form - Qin in modern Chinese translations) becoming China to the outside world - although the Chinese themselves use a different name for their state.

Around 220 BC, Greco-Bactrians may be responsible for expeditions that reach as far as Kashgar and Urumqi in Chinese Turkestan, establishing the first known contacts between China and the West. The name Daxia appears in Chinese records from around this time to designate a mythical kingdom in the west, possibly referring to Bactria itself.

The Qin Dynasty terracotta army
Emperor Qin Shihuang created the 'Terracotta Army' to accompany him on his trip onto the afterlife and, according to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, archaeologists suspect that an unexcavated tomb could contain a replica of the entire city of Xi'an, which the warriors also guard

Even more remarkably, recent examinations of the terracotta army have established a startling new concept - the terracotta army may be the product of western art forms and technology. An entire terracotta army plus imperial court are manufactured using five workshops and a form of human representation in sculpture that has never before been seen in China. Archaeologists today continue the process of discovering new pits and even a fan of roads leading out from the emperor's burial mound, one of which, heading west, may be a sort of proto-Silk Road along which Greek craftsmen may be travelling.

221 - 214 BC

Over the course of five military campaigns, Qin Shihuang largely manages to subdue the Yue tribes and kingdoms of the coastal south. During the chaos of the 'Warring States' period they have gained control of much of Sichuan, but the steamy jungles of the south and Yue skills at guerrilla warfare make their conquest a tough and brutal process.

Over 100,000 Qin men are lost in the first attempt, but the building of a supply canal for the second campaign ensures steady progress thereafter. The Qin army even reaches as far south as the capital of Annam during one expedition.

210s BC

Chinese records detail four waves of violence between the Greater Yuezhi and the Xiongnu around this period in time. Generally referred to as wars, they are typical struggles for dominance by competing tribal groups, many of whom are also often the target of Qin campaigns as attempts are made to civilise the west. Now in a position to right some of their perceived wrongs against the Greater Yuezhi, the Xiongnu launch an unexpected attack on them under the leadership of Touman. The outcome of the attack is not recorded but it seems to result in little more than some dented pride.

210 - 207 BC

The great Qin Shihuang dies. His weak second son is placed on the throne by two imperial advisers as they attempt to control the throne through him. Unfortunately they squabble between themselves, with one being executed by the other who goes on to convince the emperor to commit suicide due to his own failings. By now the empire is in a state of rebellion against the Qin just as it completes the conquest of Annam.

Map of Qin China 221-209 BC
In 221 BC the Qin controlled the entire former imperial territories of the north, plus the recently-incorporated Shu and Ba, but expansion beckoned to the north (a little, largely constrained by the construction of the Great Wall - shown here as a general border rather than specifying all of its different construction phases and locations) and to the south, where several campaigns between 221-209 BC greatly increased the empire (click or tap on map to view full sized)

210 - 207 BC

Erh-shih-huang-ti / Er Shi

Puppet ruler. Second son. Committed suicide.

207/6 BC


Nephew. Executed.

207 - 202 BC

The rebellion against Er Shi soon crystallises into the Qin/Han War. In the imperial palace, Er Shi is succeeded by his nephew, Ziying, who immediately executes the surviving imperial adviser. His rebellious subjects have already declared themselves independent of his control but he is so inept in handling the situation that he is defeated in battle. Surrendering, he is executed.

The state now survives under the joint leadership of generals Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, but in the far south General Zhao Tuo has already detached the territories he commands to form the kingdom of Nam Yue. In 202 BC Liu Bang defeats his former ally and creates the Han dynasty.

Early Han (Western) Dynasty (China)
(207) 202 BC - AD 9

The hated Qin did not long survive the death of their great leader, Qin Shihuang, in 210 BC. Subjugated states almost immediately rebelled - from 207 BC, which accounts for the Han dynasty's first start date shown above in parenthesis. Under the leadership of Xiang Yu and Liu Bang, they pursued a four year war to overthrow the Qin and reunite a China that had again been fractured by conflict. Shortly after the campaign began to remove the Qin from power, they also managed to capture the Korean kingdom of Chosen from the Qin (in 206 BC).

Having put paid to the Qin, Xiang Yu as the senior rebel leader parcelled out territory, assigning the remote and poor Bashu region to Liu Bang. Within a year he had broken out of his assigned borders and the civil war referred to as the Chu-Han Contention had begun. Liu Bang achieved final success in 202 BC by defeating Xiang Yu at the Battle of Gaixia. He became the first emperor of the Han dynasty under the throne name of Gaozu (shown as Kao Tsu in older translations). This Han is not to be confused with the Late Han of AD 23, the Shu Han of the 'Three Kingdoms' period, the Han (Posterior) dynasty of the 'Five Dynasties' period, or even modern Han (or 'China' to much of the rest of the world).

The claim of Liu Bang's magical birth to a dragon which mated with his mother created an enduring legacy for Chinese culture. It would be impossible to picture a Chinese new year celebration without a dragon dance, thought to bring good luck to people. He and his Han successors also provided a popular dynastic name that the Chinese have ever since continued to use to refer to their country as a whole - Han.

Once his enemies had been defeated, Liu Bang set about ensuring that the Qin achievement of creating a unified China was not lost. He reunited the central states and also conquered outlying states that may only have been under nominal control beforehand. Relatives of his were handed posts as rulers of the remaining semi-autonomous states or kingdoms, but their tendency towards self-government would lead to open conflict in 154 BC. Han expansion eventually saw them reach what is now Manchuria and North Korea, and this is probably when they began seriously influencing the Tungusic-speakers of the River Amur with Chinese culture. However, they had already lost the far south to the Qin-derived kingdom of Nam Yue.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Indo-Scythian Studies being Khotanese Texts, Volume VII, H W Bailey (Cambridge University Press, 1985), from The Cambridge History of China: Volume I: the Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 BC-AD 220, Denis Twitchett & Michael Loewe (Cambridge University Press, 1986), and from External Links: Listverse, and Silk Road Seattle, Walter Chapin Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington, and Ancient Chinese farmers sowed literal seeds of change in south-east Asia (Science News).)

207 - 195 BC

Liu Bang / Kao Tsu / Gaozu

Han General Liu Bang. Co-ruler (207 BC). Emperor (202 BC).

207 - 202 BC

Xiang Yu

Rebel commander of China. Killed by Liu Bang.

203 BC

The Book of Han mentions the Yuezhi prior to their major migrations of the second century BC. Populations continue to occupy the Tarim Basin, commonly known as the Lesser Yuezhi. They have also spread into the sweeping grasslands closer to the border of the Chinese kingdom.

The book states: 'The Great Yuezhi were a nomadic horde. They moved about following their cattle, and had the same customs as those of the Xiongnu. As their soldiers numbered more than a hundred thousand, they were strong and despised the Xiongnu. In the past, they lived in the region between Dunhuang and Qilian'.

However, during this period the Xiongnu have gained the upper hand. In several large-scale encounters, especially in 203 BC, circa 176 BC, and circa 166 BC, the Greater Yuezhi are completely routed. They are forced to launch a long-distance migration which sees them evacuate the Gansu region in what is now western China and head towards the Kazakh Steppe where they encounter the Sakas.

Map of Early Han (Western) China c.200 BC
The Han conquest of Qin China had to wait until the great Qin emperor himself was dead and it still took a year of fighting to destroy the Qin armies. Then the victors spent four more years and a civil war deciding that the Han would command the succeeding dynasty and reunite the fractured state (click or tap on map to view full sized)

200 BC

Fresh from their victory over the hated Yuezhi, the powerful Xiongnu defeat the invading Han forces at the Battle of Baideng. Emperor Gaozu's attempt to subjugate these pastoral nomads has failed dramatically after the Xiongnu had rallied behind Modu Shanyu to surround and besiege the emperor's forces. The emperor is forced to negotiate for peace, agreeing equality between the respective parties and a joint border along the Great Wall.

196 BC

In June or July of this year the now-elderly Emperor Gaozu dispatches Lu Jia to recognise Zhao Tuo as king of Nan Yue, no doubt having recognised the current impossibility of reconquering it. Lu hands Zhao a seal which legitimises his kingship in the eyes of the emperor, in return for nominal submission to the Han.

195 BC

With the death of Emperor Gaozu, his powerful wife, known as Empress Lü, remains a very effective and controlling figure over the next three emperors, wielding even more power than she had while supporting her husband's reconquest and pacification of several unstable regions of the empire.

195 - 180 BC

Empress Lü Zhi

First official 'Empress of China' and empress dowager. Died.

195 - 188 BC

Liu Ying / Hui Ti

Son. Dominated by Empress Lü. Died of an illness.

194 BC

Korean Old Chosen selects this moment to rebel against Chinese rule. The weakness of Liu Ying (Emperor Hui) in the face of his mother's domination has quickly become apparent. The Koreans regain their independence in the form of a state which is known as Wiman Chosen.

188 - 184 BC

Liu Gong / Qianshao

Son. Dominated by Empress Lü. Imprisoned and murdered.

185 BC

Empress Lü has her officials outlaw the trade of iron and horses with Nan Yue. The kingdom's ruler, Zhao Tuo, retaliates by abandoning his submission to the Han when he proclaims himself Emperor Wu of Nan Yue. He attacks the neighbouring state of Changsha in southern China from which he captures a few border towns.

184 - 180 BC

Liu Yi / Liu Hou / Liu Hong / Houshao

Brother. Dominated by Empress Lü. Deposed and executed.

181 BC

General Zhou Zao is dispatched by Empress Lü to attack Nan Yue, but the heat and humidity of the south results in many of his officers and men falling ill. The general fails to make it across the mountains into enemy territory.

Now on a full war footing, Zhao Tuo of Nan Yue begins to menace other neighbouring states, this time Min Yue, Western Ou, and Luo. After securing their submission he begins passing out edicts in a manner which is similar to that used by the Han emperor.

180 - 179 BC

When Empress Lü Zhi falls ill and dies the imperial court suddenly realises that it is free of her iron control. The empress' Lü clan are surprised and slaughtered to remove them from the scene, and then the puppet Emperor Houshao is deposed. Liu Heng is invited from his principality of Dai to take the throne as Emperor Wên. Houshao is later executed.

180 - 156 BC

Liu Heng / Wên Ti

Son of Liu Bang. Brought stability to the empire.

180 BC

Towards the end of the year Emperor Wên undertakes efforts to appease Zhao Tuo of Nan Yue. Learning that Zhao's parents had been buried in Zhending, he sets aside a town close by simply to tend to their graves. Zhao's cousins are appointed to high office in the Han court. The emperor also withdraws the army which has been stationed in Changsha, on the Han-Nan Yue border.

In response, Zhao rescinds his claim to be emperor while communicating with the Han. However, he continues to use the title of emperor within his own kingdom. Tribute-bearing envoys from Nan Yue are sent to the Han to help smooth relations further, with the result that the iron trade is resumed.

c.165 BC

The Greater Yuezhi evacuation of their lands on the borders of the Chinese kingdom continues, turning from a trickle into a flood. Their westwards migration triggers a slow domino effect of barbarian movement in Central Asia as they probably follow the route through the Dzungarian Basin and the Dzungarian Gate to penetrate the Kazakh Steppe beyond. This will see them enter the Saka-controlled plains to the north-east of Ferghana.

Map of the Yuezhi lands and exodus route
The Greater Yuezhi were defeated and forced out of the Gansu region by the Xiongnu, and their migratory route into Central Asia is pretty easy to deduct from the fact that they chose to try and settle in the Ili river valley below Lake Balkhash (click or tap on map to view full sized)

156 - 140 BC

Liu Qi / Ching Ti / Jing

Son. Followed a non-interventionalist policy.

c.155 BC

The Sakas (as the Amyrgians) are displaced from Ferghana by the Greater Yuezhi. This is an event that is connected with the migration of the Greater Yuezhi across Da Yuan (the Chinese term for Ferghana), following another defeat, this time by an alliance of the Wusun and the Xiongnu. The Greater Yuezhi are forced to move again, also forcing other barbarian tribes in front of their advance to move.

These mass migrations of the second century BC are confused and somewhat lacking in Greek and Chinese sources because the territory concerned is beyond any detailed understanding of theirs. Whatever the reason, the Saka king transfers his headquarters to the south, across the Hanging Passage that leads to Jibin. This is part of a southwards trend for the Sakas, and by approximately the mid-first century BC, Saka kings appear in India.

154 BC

The emperor has been attempting to increase the centralisation of government to the detriment of the remaining semi-autonomous kingdoms. The growing dispute now flares up into the Rebellion of the Seven States (or Revolt of the Seven Kingdoms). Of two other kingdoms, the ruler of one changes his mind and resists the rebels and the other is placed under house arrest by his own guards. Three others refuse to join the rebellion, which is defeated within about three months. The influence and power of these kingdoms is gradually reduced by successive emperors, increasing the reach and power of the single unified state.

140 - 87 BC

Liu Che / Wu Di / Wu Ti

Son. Aged about 15 at accession.

137 BC

Immediately upon his accession as king of Nan Yue, Zhao Mo is beset by the southern Chinese rival state of Min Yue and its king, Zou Ying. Zhao Mo sends to the Han for assistance as his nominal overlord. The Han respond by sending troops against Min Yue, but before they can get there Zou Ying is killed by his brother, Zou Yushan, who immediately surrenders to the Han.

126 BC

The Chinese envoy, Chang-kien or Zhang Qian, visits the newly-established Greater Yuezhi capital of Kian-she in Ta-Hsia (otherwise shown as Daxia to the Chinese, and better known as Bactria-Tokharistan to western writers) and the rich and fertile country of the Bukhara region of Sogdiana.

Sogdian banqueters in Penjikent
Sogdian banqueters are shown in Penjikent, recovered from Site XVI:10, and dated to the first half of the eighth century AD, now held by the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg

His mission is to obtain help for the Chinese emperor against the Xiongnu, but the Greater Yuezhi leader - the son of the dead leader of about 166 BC - refuses the request. Kian-she can reasonably be equated with Lan-shih or Lanshi, but the question of whether this is the Bactrian capital of Bactra (modern Balkh) seems to be much more controversial. It does seem to be likely though, despite scholarly objections.

c.115 - 113 BC

Around this time, an embassy from Emperor Wu Di reaches the court of the Parthian ruler, Mithradates II. The two rulers reach an agreement on the opening of the trade route which is later known as the 'Silk Road'. This route suffers somewhat from decay, especially in Sogdiana of the first to third centuries AD, but soon becomes a major trading route after that.

Around the same time, in 113 BC, Gaogouli County is recorded as part of the Xuantu Commandery that has been created to suppress the 'barbarians' on the north-eastern edge of Chinese territory. This region emerges at the end of the first century BC as the Korean kingdom of Koguryo.

111 BC

In response to the loss of an expeditionary force, Emperor Wu Di sends a much larger force, around 100,000 men, into the kingdom of Nam Yue which sweeps into the capital, Panyu. The ruler there, Zhao Jiande, is captured and executed and his kingdom is incorporated into the Chinese empire. Upon hearing the news, the states of Cangwu, Western Ou, and Luo surrender and are made marquisates of China.

109 BC

The Han conquer the southern kingdom of Dian following a series of military campaigns and expeditions (in what is now the mountainous Yunnan region of China). On the southern borders of Ba and Shu, Dian is incorporated into the empire, greatly expanding it towards the south-west.

Figurine created by the Dian kingdom
The Dian kingdom was focussed around the Dian Lake plateau of northern-central Yunnan, first emerging during the Spring and Autumn period during which the Middle Zhou ruled the northern Chinese empire

103 BC

The city of Ahsikent in Ferghana is attacked by General Li Guanli on behalf of the Han emperor. The idea is to secure control of the famous Ferghana horses.

90s BC

The nomadic Yancai are recorded by Sima Qian, centred on the northern shore of the Aral Sea. Their territory lays to the north-west of the Kangju nomadic federation, to whom they hold some similarities in terms of customs.

87 BC

When Princess Liu Jiaomi of the Han dies, Princess Jieyou is sent to the Wusun ruler as her replacement. She proves to be a skilful manipulator of the Wusun royal court to ensure its superiority over the Xiongnu, the position of her own husbands and son as masters of the Wusun, and regional peace.

86 - 73 BC

Liu Fuling / Chao Ti / Zhao

Son. Died without a surviving heir.

77 BC

The recent death of the king of Loulan on the Silk Road has seen the accession of his anti-Han son, Angui. With Angui following a policy of befriending the Xiongnu, Emperor Zhao now orders an imperial messenger to use trickery and a private meeting to murder Angui. A more Han-friendly successor is chosen by the royal court, but the event still triggers a sense of outrage amongst some modern scholars.

73 BC

Liu He / Yuanping

Former prince of Changyi. Appointed by a minister. Deposed.

73 - 48 BC

Liu Bingyi / Hsüan Ti / Xuan

Great-grandson of Wu Di. A commoner by family punishment.

53 BC

Rome suffers one of the worst defeats in its history when Triumvir Crassus leads an army to annihilation against the Parthians at Carrhae ( Harran). Subsequent legend says that a small band of Roman prisoners wander through the desert and are eventually rounded up by the Han military seventeen years later (36 BC).

First century Chinese historian Ban Gu later writes an account of a confrontation with a strange army of about a hundred men fighting in a 'fish-scale formation' unique to Roman forces. A comparison of ancient records by Homer Dubs at Oxford results in the claim that the lost legion escapes the Parthians and serves as mercenaries for the Huns for the next two decades before falling into Chinese hands.

48 - 32 BC

Yuan Ti

Son. Oversaw the start of Han decline.

36 BC

The Huns are defeated at the Battle of Zhizhi (in modern Kazakhstan) by Chinese troops of the Western Han. According to Homer Dubs at Oxford, a total of a hundred and forty-five of the Romans who had escaped captivity after the battle of Carrhae now fall into Chinese hands and are recruited to guard the newly created town of Liqian (pronounced lee-chen, in modern Gansu Province). They settle there, with the result that later generations of the town's inhabitants have green eyes, blonde hair and, it seems, a fondness for bullfighting. In 2005, DNA tests show that the Liqian villagers are fifty-six percent Caucasian, although the much stronger likelihood is that this is due to a local Indo-Iranian heritage.

The town of Liqian may be the location in which Roman soldiers settled in the first century BC, but the claim seems unlikely despite the dominant Caucasian DNA of the town's modern inhabitants

32 - 6 BC

Ch'eng Ti / Cheng

Son. Died childless.

32 BC

Emperor Cheng's reign continues the disintegration of the Han empire. His maternal relatives, the Wang, slowly continue to increase their grip on power, something which had started under the preceding emperor. With corruption increasing, rebellions begin to break out across the empire. The Wang power-grab culminates in AD 1 with Wang Mang being appointed regent. Until then, the late Emperor Yuan's widow, the Grand Empress Dowager Wang plays an important and benevolent role in supporting her husband's young successors.

30 BC - AD 30

A second pulse of migration takes place between southern China and a swathe of territory which stretches between Burma and Vietnam. Farmers there inherit a genetic makeup which differs in some ways from that of the earlier Man Bac migrants of the Phung-nguyen culture who had left southern China around 2000 BC, but this still closely resembles the DNA of present-day inhabitants of southern China.

6 BC - AD 1

Xin / Ai Ti

Nephew. Died of illness?

6 - 3 BC

Consort Fu

Mother. Dominated Ai Ti. Died.

3 - 1 BC

Consort Fu, former favourite of Emperor Yuan, has been a domineering woman who had wanted nothing more than to ensure that her son occupied the throne. Her death now relieves China of her influence and ensures that the Wang clan members that she has mistreated will later desecrate her tomb because she has been buried alongside the emperor himself, taking the place meant for Grand Empress Dowager Wang. In 1 BC the dowager herself invites Wang Mang to become regent for Emperor Ping.

AD 1 - 5

Jizi / P'ing Ti / Ping

Acceded aged 8. Poisoned?

AD 1 - 5

Wang Mang

Regent and the true power in the empire.

5 - 9

Liu Ying / Ju-tzu / Ruzi Ying

Cousin of Ping. An infant and figurehead.

5 - 9

Wang Mang

Still regent. Usurped throne to found the Xin dynasty.

AD 9

Having already controlled the throne for some years, Wang Mang has gradually murdered all opposition, even killing some of his own Wang relatives when they threaten his personal interests. Now he places the young Emperor Ruzi under house arrest and declares his own Xin dynasty. Ruzi is finally murdered during a rebellion at the end of Wang Mang's own reign.

Hsin / Xin (New) Dynasty (China)
AD 9 - 23

Having served the Early Han as a regent for the child emperor, Jizi (AD 1-5), Wang Mang managed to increase his own authority as the true figure of power in the state. He gradually murdered his way through the opposition, even killing some of his own Wang relatives when they threatened his personal interests. Later serving as regent for another infant puppet emperor, Liu Ying (5-9), when he was ready to assume open control of the state he placed the child emperor under house arrest and declared his own Xin dynasty. Ruzi was finally murdered during a rebellion at the end of Wang Mang's own reign.

The dynasty's name was initially translated into English as Hsin. Several redefinitions have taken place of translations of Chinese characters and names (most notably with Peking became Beijing - the same name but with an improved translation). Hsin became Xin, but its full name had been Hsin Ch'ao and was now Xīn Cháo - literally meaning the 'new dynasty' that Wang Mang had proclaimed.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the Chinese-English Dictionary, Herbert Allen Giles (based upon work initiated by Sir Thomas Wade to produce the Wade-Giles Romanisation system for translating Chinese characters, 1912), and from From the Eastern Han through the Western Jin (AD 25-317), David R Knechtges (part of The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Vol 1, Stephen Owen (Ed), Cambridge University Press, 2010).)

AD 9 - 23

Wang Mang

Han nephew of Grand Empress Wang. Usurped throne.

AD 12

The nascent state of Koguryo revolts against regional Chinese domination under the Xuantu Commandery during the early days of the Xin dynasty. These Koreans are not the only ones to spot the fact that a relatively weak emperor now rules the Chinese empire to the west. To his own west, Wang Mang renews hostilities against the previously submissive Xiongnu, alienating them from Chinese influence for a generation. The act effectively loses him control of the Tarim Basin and the Lesser Yeuhzi.

Map of Xin China c.AD 9-23
The map of China remained largely the same as it had been at the end of the Early Han period, with their conquests in northern Vietnam enduring and control of the north-western corridor towards Gaochang being expanded only a little (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Although her own role in supporting the latter day child emperors of the Early Han had exhibited the best of intentions, through her doting love of them the Grand Empress Dowager Wang had unwittingly allowed Wang Mang to seize power in various small steps. Her death now frees Wang Mang from repeated attempts to integrate her into his new dynasty. She is buried in a newly-built tomb alongside her late husband.


Wang Mang, although to an extent well-meaning in his imposition of changes in the country, has been a better scholar than a ruler. The state's wealth has suffered badly under him, especially in terms of living conditions for the peasants. Clan members of the Han now rebel, laying siege to Wang Mang's capital at Chang'an. Despite the emperor's superior number of troops, the rebels manage to breach the walls and the usurper emperor dies soon after. It takes another thirteen years before Han imperial descendant Liu Xiu can fully reunite the country as Emperor Guangwu of the Late Han dynasty.

Late Han (Eastern) Restoration (China)
AD 23 - 220

The Later (Eastern) Han are not to be confused with Shu Han of the 'Three Kingdoms' period, the Han (Posterior) dynasty of the 'Five Dynasties' period, or even modern Han (or 'China' to much of the rest of the world). Instead they were a continuation of the Western Han of the last two centuries BC. Their fall had been brought about by Wang Mang, creator of his own one-man Xin dynasty. He, though, governed the state poorly. Its wealth suffered badly, as did the living conditions for the peasants. Clan members of the sidelined Han soon rebelled so that they could lay siege to Wang Mang's capital at Chang'an. Although he had the might of the imperial army behind him, the rebels manage to breach the walls and the usurper emperor died soon afterwards.

Even so, the fighting was far from over for the Later Han - Wang Mang's misguided rule had done considerable damage to the state. It took a further thirteen years for restored imperial descendant Liu Xiu to fully reunite the country as Emperor Guangwu. He was a sixth generation descendant of Emperor Jing (156-140 BC). By AD 36 he had managed this feat, having already subdued the Koguryo state in Korea by AD 30. By AD 50 he had managed to regain some control over the Xiongnu whom Wang Mang had alienated, although control of the Tarim Basin and the Lesser Yeuhzi was not regained until later in the century. Some contact was made with various western sates, including the Kushans, Parthians, and even Rome of the early second century.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from From the Eastern Han through the Western Jin (AD 25-317), David R Knechtges (part of The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature, Vol 1, Stephen Owen (Ed), Cambridge University Press, 2010), from A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23-220 AD), Rafe de Crespigny (Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section 4 China, Vol 19, Brill, 2006), from The Cambridge History of China: Volume I: the Ch'in and Han Empires, 221 BC-AD 220, Denis Twitchett & Michael Loewe (Cambridge University Press, 1986), and from External Link: Macrohistory and World Timeline.)

23 - 55

Guang wu di / Kuang-wu Ti

Descended from the Western Han. Restored the empire.


Daemusin of Koguryo is claimed as the conqueror of the Nakrang kingdom in this year. The kingdom's very existence is contentious, and at this point in time it may instead be a Chinese commandery. At some point around the middle of this century, the northern Korean state of Buyeo establishes formal diplomatic relations with the Han in order to protect itself against the Xianbei from the west and Koguryo to its south.

40 - 43

The Trưng sisters of northern Vietnam rebel against Chinese domination there. Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị set up a state of their own which they govern for three years. General Ma Yuan, a descendant of the Late Zhao dynasty of kings, is sent against them. He defeats them in battle in AD 43 and both sisters die, either during the battle or shortly afterwards. They are now regarded as Vietnamese national heroines.

The Trung Sisters of Vietnam
The Trưng sisters of Chinese-dominated northern Vietnam rose up and overthrew the regional Chinese commander to establish their own short-lived state


Having kept themselves remote from Chinese affairs since being attacked by Wang Mang early in his Xin dynasty rule, the rival Xiongnu leader Bi now submits to Han vassalage. This has the effect of creating a second, southern Xiongnu state, with Bi's cousin Punu ruling the main Xiongnu horde in the north. Punu remains hostile to the Han, and it is the northern Xiongnu who manage to conquer the Tarim Basin by AD 63 and hold onto it until AD 73.

55 - 76

Ming Ti

Son. Continued to restore the empire's outer territories.

61 - 67

According to tradition, it is now that the Indian Buddhist monk Kashyapa Matanga introduces Buddhism into China. This follows Emperor Ming sending a delegation to India after he has dreamt of a golden idol that is interpreted as being a depiction of the Buddha. The White Horse Temple is established in the imperial capital at Luoyang.

Quite possibly around the same time, as recorded by the Late Han in the third century AD, the first king of Funan is a certain Hun-t'ien, otherwise known as Kaupdinya or Kaundinya. This individual originates either in India, the Malay peninsula, or the southern islands, and is almost certainly a Brahmin.

76 - 89

Chang Ti / Zhang

Son. Last of the great Eastern Han emperors.

89 - 106

Ho Ti / He

Son. Acceded aged 9. Faced several rebellions.

c.90 - 112

The Kushan emperor, Kadphises II, expands the borders of his empire up to the limits of Chinese influence, and even sends ambassadors to the imperial court. The same period sees dramatic changes in the superiority of the northern barbarians on Chinese borders.

Having been chased out of the Tarim Basin in AD 73, the Xiongnu are forced to flee into the Ili river valley region in AD 91, close to the gateway into Central Asia. The nomadic Xianbei rapidly expand to fill the void between Buyeo in the northern reaches of Korea to the River Ili which is dominated by the Wusun. The allied Korean state of Buyeo raids Han territory in AD 111, but relations are patched up by AD 120.

106 - 107

Shang Ti

Son. Acceded at 100 days of age. Died a year later.

106 - 121

Dowager Empress Deng

Widow of He and dominant power at court.

107 - 126

An Ti

Cousin of Shang. Grandson of Zhang. Poor ruler.


The death of Dowager Empress Deng is a relief to the young Emperor An. He is now able to rule in his own right, and his first act is to remove many of Deng's relatives from positions of power. Several commit suicide, probably under duress.


By now in Chinese records the Yancai have become the Alanliao (or the 'old Yancai') and have expanded towards the Caspian Sea. They appear to remain dependent upon the Kangju. The Chinese themselves are witnessing the beginnings of Han decline as corruption becomes endemic, encouraged by the lazy Emperor An.

Alans fighting Romans
Originally steppe nomads of eastern Central Asia and the northern reaches of the Chinese state, the Yancai were forced progressively westwards until they entered Europe where they became known as the Alans


Liu Yi

Grandson of Zhang. Marquess of Beixiang. Died very young.

126 - 145

Shun Ti

Son of An. Acceded aged 10.


The successor to the Kushan throne, Kanishka, is apparently killed by his own soldiers during one of his military expeditions to China. The Chinese state itself is becoming increasingly weak, with eunuchs at the imperial court largely controlling policy and positions.

145 - 146

Ch'ung Ti / Chong

Son. Acceded aged 1. Died aged 2.

145 - 159

Dowager Empress Liang

Mother, and widow of Shun, influenced by her corrupt brother.


With the death of Emperor Shun, his wife commands as Dowager Empress Liang. While she is generally thought to be an honest regent for her husband's successors, Liang Ji, her brother, is entirely corrupt and simply wishes to dominate the imperial court. He even goes so far as to poison the young Emperor Zhi in AD 147.

146 - 147

Chih Ti / Zhi

Great-grandson of Zhang. Acceded aged 7. Poisoned.

147 - 168

Huan Ti

Great-grandson of Zhang. Acceded aged 14.


Determined to remove the influence of the corrupt Liang Ji, Emperor Huan finally does so with the help of court eunuchs. The death of Dowager Empress Liang contributes to his success, with Liang Ji desperately attempting and failing to assassinate the mother of the new imperial consort (who had been supplied by his own hand). Then he is trapped in his own house by imperial troops where he commits suicide. Unfortunately that simply allows the eunuchs to seize yet more power for themselves.

168 - 189

Lingdi / Ling Ti

Direct descendant of Emperor Zhang. Acceded aged 12.


Chinese armies have consistently been defeated by Tanshihuai, head of the vast Xianbei confederation to China's north and west (mostly in Mongolia). Now his death prompts the swift collapse of the confederation.

Tanshihuai of the Xianbei
Tanshihuai had ruled the great Xianbei confederation for forty years at the height of its power to the north of the Chinese state, but his death robbed it of able leaders who could continue to hold it together, much to the relief of the Later Han emperors

184 - 185

The never-ending increase in imperial corruption is largely led by the court eunuchs and is certainly not prevented by an emperor who prefers a life of luxury and excess. With grievances mounting against the state, the Yellow Turban Rebellion breaks out (otherwise known as the Yellow Scarves Turban), led by peasants who have suffered the most. Although it is put down fairly swiftly and violently, it resurfaces from time to time and paves the way for a complete collapse of Han authority.


Following the death of Emperor Ling a power struggle takes place in the imperial court. The eunuchs are able to murder their main opponent, General He Jin, but are murdered in turn by a warlord named Dong Zhuo who has made the most of the power vacuum to seize the throne. He quickly murders the young son of Emperor Ling and installs his own puppet emperor in the form of Xian.


Liu Ban / Shao

Son. Acceded aged 13. Poisoned by Dong Zhuo.

189 - 220

Xiandi / Hsien Ti / Xian

Puppet of Dong Zhuo. End of the Han. Period of anarchy.

189 - 220

The destruction to state offices and institutions wrought during the Yellow Turban Rebellion has led to regional military leaders governing with increasing independence. Emerging warlords have resisted Dong Zhuo by forming kingdoms of their own and the collapse of the Han is complete by AD 220 (a later Han dynasty claims an unlikely continuity). Emperor Xian is deposed and replaced by Cao Wei who founds the Wei dynasty. The Three Kingdoms period of all-encompassing civil war has begun.

Warlords of the Three Kingdoms (China)
AD 220 - 280

Struggling against increasing levels of control by the imperial court's eunuchs, Late Han China was in trouble for a long time. It was officially governed for long periods by a series of powerful dowager empresses (both from behind the throne and sometimes occupying it). They often dominated any male emperors alongside whom they may have ruled or for whom they supposedly provided the support of a regent. Many of those male emperors were children, and many were murdered or were otherwise removed from the throne before they could even reach adulthood.

The never-ending increase in imperial corruption which did so much to cripple the state was largely led by the court eunuchs and was certainly not prevented by weakened emperors who increasingly withdrew from the rigours of state administration. With grievances mounting against the state, the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out in AD 184 (otherwise known as the Yellow Scarves Turban). It was led by peasants who had suffered the most, although it was put down fairly swiftly and violently. Even so, the anti-state sentiment remained, and even resurfaced from time to time to pave the way for a complete collapse of Han authority.

Murders at court in AD 189 and the installation of a puppet emperor signalled the end of the Han. The destruction to state offices and institutions that was wrought during the Yellow Turban Rebellion led to regional military leaders governing with increasing independence. Emerging warlords formed kingdoms of their own and the collapse of the Han was complete by AD 220. Emperor Xian was deposed and replaced by Cao Wei who founded the Wei dynasty. Opposed by the Eastern Wu and Shu Han, the 'Three Kingdoms' period of all-encompassing civil war had begun, and it would be one of China's bloodiest civil wars in its entire history. The 'Three Kingdoms' period can also be placed within a longer 'Six Dynasties' period.

In the end, the Shu kingdom was conquered by the Wei under the command of their able-but-controlling regents of the Sima clan. Then the Sima regents usurped the Wei and created their own dynasty to control their conquered lands. Finally the Eastern Wu were conquered and the newly-formed Jin dynasty now governed a fully reunified China.

Three Kingdoms

(Information by Peter Kessler, from Military Culture in Imperial China, Nicola Di Cosmo & Robin D S Yates (Harvard University Press, 2009), from Records of the Three Kingdoms, Chen Shou (third century text which covers the period AD 184-220 and which combines individual histories of the three kingdoms), from Zizhi Tongjian, Sima Guang (noted tenth century historical work), and from External Link: Three Kingdoms (Encyclopaedia Britannica).)

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