When we last considered China, we viewed the establishment and growth of the Han Dynasty. In 184 it finally ran into trouble with the Yellow Turban Rebellion, and finally collapsed altogether in 220. It would be four hundred years before the Tangs would establish their own dynasty.
End of the Han DynastyEdit
While the collapse of the Han Dynasty certainly has its origins in the Yellow Turban Rebellion, the final beginning of decline can probably be traced to an event in 188 when the Emperor Ling was convinced into expanding the powers of the provincial governors. Among other things, the new powers included the levying of provincial taxes and the raising and maintenance of local armies.
His death in 189 touched a succession struggle that led to the death of his 13 yr old son, while elevating his 8yr old son to the position of Emperor of China, with the backing of Dong Zhuo. Lacking trust in Dong Zhuo, the provincial governors responded with an armed rebellion, claiming that Dong Zhou had kidnapped the new Emperor. By 192, Dong Zhuo was dead. But with Emperor Xian still being only eleven, and the provincial governors still maneuvering for superiority, disunity continued to expand as one warlord after another got into the struggle.
It was not until 196 that the increasing anarchy started undergoing a reversal. That was when Cao Cao got involved, using Emperor Xian's titular authority as a basis for his actions. Cao Cao's gradually succeeding efforts towards reunifying China continued until his death in 220. Later that same year, the Emperor Xian abdicated in favor of Cao Pi. Within two years of the abdication, China was divided into three separate kingdoms.
Whether the previously described events should be considered a part of the Three Kingdom Period seems to be a matter of scholarly opinion. Some include it, others do not. For those who don't, the period extends from 220 to 280, with military stability lasting until about 263. The three rival kingdoms were known as the Kingdoms of Wei, Han, and Wu. Notwithstanding the military stability of the borders of the three kingdoms, it was a period of military activity and warfare. In large part because each King had taken the title of Emperor with an eye towards gaining control of all China.
That stability came to an end in 263 with the conquest of the Kingdom of Han by the Kingdom of Wei. In 264 the royal Cao family was effectively deposed and the Kingdom of Wei fell under the control of the Sima family which started the Jin Dynasty. In 280, under attack by forces under the command of Sima Yan, the Kingdom of Wu collapsed leaving the Jin Dynasty in control of all China.
The success of the Jin Dynasty in re-unifying China proved short-lived, lasting all of 50+ years. From there is was all downhill as far as Chinese political unity was concerned. It was during this period that Buddhism rose to greater prominence. Originally introduced during the late Han Dynasty Period, it became one of the few unifying cultural institutions of the period, and eventually helped to bring about the beginnings of a new national culture during the Sui Dynasty.
The Sui DynastyEdit
By 580, the number of rival regimes in China had been reduced to two known as the Northern and Southern Dynasties. Emperor Wen put an end to that in 581, when having married the daughter of the Northern Emperor, took the Northern throne by force, and so began the Sui Dynasty.
It was, however, a fairly short-lived and abusive Dynasty lasting all of 37 years, even as it went through three emperors. It was a time of ongoing warfare. Particularly during the time of Emperor Yang as he continually failed at trying to conquer Korea.
The Tang DynastyEdit
In 618, popular unrest helped bring an end to the Sui Dynasty. Later that year the Tang Dynasty was started in Chang'an. Except for one very brief interruption, the Tang Dynasty would provide three centuries of relative stability.
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The Outline of History, H.G. Wells