'Political History'

Buddhist statues from the North Wei Dynasty in the Maiji Mountain Grottoes, GansuAfter the Eastern Jin Dynasty, there concurred many rivaling regimes over the country. China was torn apart into the confronting north and south. It was the time that saw the highest frequency of the ups and downs of the different dynasties.

In the south, there were four consecutive dynasties, the Song, the Qi, the Liang and the Chen, with 160 years. Since all the southern regimes established their capital in present Nanjing City, they got a general term the Southern Dynasties. During this time, hereditary big families underwent their downfall after long-time social prominence ever since the Western Jin Dynasty (265 - 316). Although they still held the noble status, they could no longer meddle in the state affairs. Meanwhile the normal scholars enjoyed the most favorable opportunity and were trusted important assignments by the ruling class. The emperors retrieved the real power over the country.

At the end of the chaotic period of the Sixteen States, a nomadic tribe, Xianbei, which was little civilized, gradually became powerful. In 386, the chief of the Xianbei set up their regime of the Beiwei (the Northern Wei). In 439, the Beiwei Empire unified the region north of the Yellow River and settled the capital in present Datong, Shanxi Province, marking the beginning of the Northern Dynasties.

In 471, the Emperor Xiaowen of the Wei relocated his capital in Luoyang and vigorously promoted the learning of the Han culture. He ordered his men to dress up like the Han people, speak their language and adopt the surname of Hans. He also encouraged the intermarriage between the Xianbei people and the Han and employed many Han officials in the court. Moreover, in economy, Emperor Xiaowen promulgated a decree to implement the land equalization system. All this contributed to the development of the society and the amalgamation of the Chinese nationalities.

However, the reform encountered strong objection from the conservative force among the Xianbei aristocrats. After the Emperor Xiaowen died, his reform was revoked, which intensified the conflicts inside the ruling class between the Xianbei and the Han aristocrats. Before long, the Wei Empire was broken up into the Dongwei (the Eastern Wei) and the Xiwei (the Western Wei), which later were supplanted respectively by the Beiqi (the Northern Qi) (550-557) and the Beizhou (the Northern Zhou) (557-581). Historically, the Northern Dynasties referred to the regimes of the Beiwei, the Dongwei, the Xiwei, the Beizhou and the Beiqi.

Although the confrontation during this time held back the development of the social productivity, the amalgamation of different ethnic groups reached its unprecedented stage. And thanks to the southern regimes, though short-lived, otherwise Chinese civilization would be vandalized if the whole country were under the control of the ethnic group.

In 577, Beizhou conquered Beiqi. In 581, a distant relative of the Beizhou royal family seized the state power and established the Sui Dynasty (581 - 618) after the unification of the country.

'Achievement on Science and Technology'

During this period of near-constant political and military strife, achievements on agriculture, chronometer and mechanical manufacture found a farther way. Jia Sixie who is a viceroy of Northern Wei compiled a book named Essential Skills in Improving Peoples Life in which he summed up laboring peoples experience and skills in farming and husbandry. The practice of some advanced skill of planting and drought control narrated in the book had been proved to be effective. Another important geographic work is Notes on Water Classic, written by Li Daoyuan. This comprehensive geographic work recorded the hydrology of the Yangtze River area including detailed records of the source, vegetation, relief and networks of 1252 rivers and watercourses with ample illustrations and maps. Ancient watermarks in the form of 14-scaled fish and inscriptions have been found in White Crane Ridge in todays Chongqing. Those records of the hydrology of the Yangtze River accord with the narration in this book.

Zu Chongzhi (429-500), an outstanding scientist invented a kind of millstone driven by water power. This mill effectively relieved people of the heavy and inefficient handiwork. What makes him known is that he had correctly placed the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter between 3.1415926 and 3.1415927 while the western mathematician didnt figure it out until several centuries later.

'Culture and Religion'

'Prevail of Taoism and Buddhism'

During the Northern and Southern Dynasties, since most emperors believed in it, Buddhism grew rapidly despite the demolition incidents. Buddhism found a receptive audience in China, while the influence of Confucianism waned. During Northern Wei period, the rulers were the most generous patrons in both the north and south. They took Buddhism as a nationwide religion in order to enforce his dominion.

In the north, large amounts of Buddhist caves and temples were built. Mogao Grottoes in todays Dunhuang, Yungang Grottoes in Datong and Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang were four flourishing centers of Buddhist culture in its glory.

Buddhist monastic establishment grew rapidly at that time. By 477 there were reportedly 6,478 Buddhist temples and 77,258 monks and nuns in the north. The south was said to have 2,846 temples and 82,700 clerics some decades later. Emperor Wudi of Liang had even contributed himself to experience as a Buddhist disciple in a temple for three times. In Jiankang (present Nanjing city in Jiangsu Province), Buddhist temples added up to 500 with 10000 monks. Women turned to Buddhism as readily as men.

Originally one philosophy school of dozens schools in the Spring and Autumn Period, Taoism grew up into a religion in the late Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD). At first, it only gain the popularity among civilians and during the Jin Dynasty (265 - 420) it became a prevalence in the upper society and in the succession of Northern Qi and Northern Liang, Taoism gained good graces of the ruler and once play a critical role in court. Taoist activities and ceremonies were held for worship purpose.

'Literature and Art'

Up to the Southern and Northern Dynasties, poets became increasingly interested in more lyric verses in which poetries sang their feeling and emotion by narrations of natural landscapes. Xie Lingyun is a typical one. Another form of poet is Yuefu Shi - a more populace one generated from the common people. It takes a more rustic way rather than stylish and the contents mainly concern labors and peoples daily life. With prevail of literature, some literature critiques appeared and among them Wen Xi Diao Long written by Liuxie of the Northern Qi is remarkable.

'Metaphysics and Its Social Influence'

Due to instability and turbulence in this period, people felt pessimistic about their life and fate, therefore escapism and pessimism became a prevailed ideology. Metaphysics - a branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, substance and attribute, fact and value further brought out a further deteriorated result. Literati rejected moral creeds and social rules, and practiced idle talk by immersion. It accelerated the decline of this era.