Invasion and rebellion of the Five Barbarians

The Upheaval of the Five Barbarians also translated as the Rebellion,[9] the Revolt,[10] or the Invasion[11] of the Five Barbarians (Chinese: 五胡亂華; lit. 'Five foreign tribes disrupting China'[12]) is a Chinese expression referring to a series of rebellions and invasions between 304 and 316 by non-Han peoples, commonly called the Five Barbarians, living in North China against the Jin Empire, which had recently been weakened by a series of civil wars. The uprisings helped topple Emperor Huai of Jin in Luoyang and ended the Western Jin dynasty in northern China.

Upheaval of the Five Barbarians (五胡亂華)
Wu Hu Uprising.png
Result Rebel victory in northern China; Fall of the Western Jin dynasty in northern China; Formation of the Eastern Jin dynasty in southern China; Establishment of Cheng Han; Hubei southern Nanman uprising defeated
Han Zhao
Five Barbarians armies
Han Chinese rebels led by Ji Sang and Wang Mi

Jin dynasty

Xianbei allies
Tuoba in Dai (Sixteen Kingdoms)
Duan tribe in Liaoxi
Murong in Liaodong (later Former Yan)
Ba-Di Cheng Han in Sichuan Southern aboriginal Nanman rebels in Hubei claiming to restore the Han dynasty
Commanders and leaders
Liu Yuan
Liu Xuan
Liu Cong
Shi Le and other tribal chieftains
Ji Sang
and Wang Mi
Sima Yue
Wang Yan
Wang Dao
Wang Dun
Liu Kun
Duan Pidi[1][2][3][4]
Li Xiong
Fan Changsheng[5]
Zhang Chang (Li Chen)
Qiu Shen (Liu Ni)[6][7][8]
c. 100,000 Xiongnu, Jie, Di, Qiang and Han Chinese 100,000–200,000 Han Chinese and Xianbei Ba-Di rebels and Han Chinese allies Nanman aboriginal rebels
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown
Upheaval of the Five Barbarians
Traditional Chinese五胡亂華
Simplified Chinese五胡乱华
Literal meaningFive Barbarians disorderize China

Rulers from four ethnic groups, the Xiongnu, Jie, Qiang and Di, then established a series of independent dynastic realms in northern China. The fifth group, the Xianbei in the north, were allied to the Western Jin and later Eastern Jin against the other four barbarians until turning on the Jin much later. A series of revolts in southern China occurred at the same time by southern Ba-Di rebels aboriginal people in Sichuan and Nanman aboriginals in Hubei resulting in the establishment of the Cheng Han state in Sichuan. This chaotic period of Chinese history, known as the Sixteen Kingdoms (五胡十六國, "Sixteen States of the Five Barbarians"), lasted over 130 years until the Northern Wei dynasty united northern China in the 5th century. The Eastern Jin dynasty survived in southern China until its eventual replacement by the Liu Song dynasty in 420.


The southward migration of nomadic tribes into the lands around the Yellow River had been ongoing since the Eastern Han dynasty for several reasons. The Han dynasty's defeat of the Xiongnu confederation in the Han–Xiongnu War by Han General Dou Xian led to the Han dynasty deporting the Southern Xiongnu along with their Chanyu into northern China. In 167 AD, Duan Jiong conducted an anti-Qiang campaign and massacred Qiang populations as well as settled them outside the frontier in northern China.[13]

The wars of the later Three Kingdoms period also encouraged this immigration, which repopulated previously devastated areas and provided military power and labour.

By the end of the 4th century, the nomadic tribes had moved into the Guanzhong area, as well as the watersheds of the Wei and Xing rivers, practically surrounding the Jin capital in Luoyang. At the same time, the accession of Emperor Hui of Jin, who was possibly developmentally disabled, led to a struggle between the princes of the ruling Sima family to control him, sparking off the War of the Eight Princes.

Revolts by the five barbarians took place before such as in Shanxi and Shaanxi, He San's (郝散) Xiongnu revolt in 294 and Qi Wannian's Qiang and Di revolt in Yong and Qin provinces and the Beidi region (Shaanxi) He Duyuan's (郝度元) Qiang revolt in 296.[14]

Rise of Han ZhaoEdit

The War of the Eight Princes lasted for more than a decade, severely weakening the economy and military capacity of the Western Jin. At the same time, the nomads were also being enlisted by the princes as military forces; one such force of Xianbei, under the command of Sima Yue, captured Chang'an in 306.

Taking advantage of this period of weakness, the different non-Han peoples began to openly revolt and proclaim new regimes. The Jie chief Shi Le was sold as a slave by Western Jin officials before his uprising and owned by a Han Chinese called Shi Huan (師懽), and began his rebellion as a slave revolt against his Han Chinese masters. The Di chief Li Xiong captured Chengdu in 304, proclaiming the kingdom of Cheng Han. The most serious initial revolt, however, was Xiongnu chieftain Liu Yuan, who proclaimed the kingdom of Han Zhao in 304 as well, in the northern heartland of the Jin dynasty.[15][full citation needed]

While the over-reliance of the Jin princes on Xiongnu, Xianbei, and Wuhuan mercenaries exposed the weakness of the Jin dynasty to the nomadic tribes, the nomads also combined forces with internal peasant revolts in north China. Liu Yuan's friend Wang Mi led such a peasant rebellion in Shandong, Hebei and Henan which joined forces with the nomadic revolt in 307. In the same year Ji Sang and Shi Le led a Han-nomad mixed revolt in Shandong and Henan, joining with the initial rebel forces.[16]

A Sogdian merchant in China wrote a letter to another Sogdian referring to the Huns (Xiongnu) who had revolted as people who had previously been "property" of the Chinese Western Jin Emperor until their uprising against him and destruction of the capital at Luoyang.[17][18][19][20] The Xiongnu rebel Liu Xuan (劉宣), a relative of Xiongnu rebel chief Liu Yuan said his own Xiongnu people were treated as slaves by their Han Chinese rulers and now was the time to revolt against their Han Chinese rulers after the Jin exhausted themselves in the War of the Eight Princes, saying "The Jin dynasty people use us like slaves. Now they are killing each other's flesh and blood. It is God's abandonment of them and let us recover the Han".[21][22][23][24] The Jie chief Shi Le led a revolt of slaves against the Western Jin and joined Liu Yuan and the Han Chinese rebel Wang Mi. The Chinese had humiliated Shi Le and the other barbarian slaves by forcing them to wear cangues while transporting them. Ji Sang gave Shi Le his Chinese name.[25][26] Shi Le originally joined a Han Chinese rebel, Ji Sang.[18][27][28]

Jin defeat and Disaster of YongjiaEdit

The Jin dynasty was ineffective in its attempts to halt the uprising. The Jin capital, Luoyang was open to Liu Yuan's son Liu Cong (who was now commander of the rebellious forces), and he attacked Luoyang twice in 309 and 310, without success. However, the Jin Chancellor Sima Yue fled Luoyang in 310CE with 40,000 troops to Xiangcheng in Henan in an attempt to flee this threat.[15][full citation needed]

After Sima Yue's death, the main Jin forces in Henan, led by Wang Yan, decided to proceed to Shantung to defeat Shi Le, a general of Jie ethnicity under Liu Cong, but was defeated by the rebel forces and more than 100,000 soldiers perished, including Wang Yan himself.[29][full citation needed]

The defeat of Wang Yan's forces finally exhausted the military capacity of the Jin, leaving the capital Luoyang open to capture. Upon entering the city in 311 A.D., the invaders engaged in a massacre, razing the city and causing more than 30,000 deaths. This event in Chinese history was known as the Disaster of Yongjia, after the era name of Emperor Huai of Jin; the emperor himself was captured, while his crown prince and clansmen were killed.[29][full citation needed]

Although the main Jin regime in the North was defeated, Jin forces continued to hold three provinces in the North, namely Youzhou, Liangzhou, and Bingzhou. These provinces, however, were cut off from the remnant Jin forces now in the South and eventually overrun, reducing Jin control to the area south of the Huai River.

Sixteen KingdomsEdit

The collapse of Jin authority in northern China led other leaders to declare independence and establish their own dynasty. Chinese history entered the period called the Sixteen Kingdoms. The remnants of the Jin court fled to the south-east, re-establishing their government at Jiankang (present-day Nanjing). Sima Rui, the prince of Langya, was enthroned in 318, posthumously known as Emperor Yuan.

Historical impactEdit

The collapse of the Western Jin had long-lasting effects. In the conquered areas, various non-Han leaders quickly established a large series of dynastic states, most of which were short lived; this era of fragmentation and state creation lasted for more than a century, until the Northern Wei regime finally conquered and "unified" the northern regions in 439 and became the first of the Northern Dynasties.

The chaos and devastation of the north also led to a mass migration of Han Chinese to the areas south of the Huai River, where conditions were relatively stable. The southward migration of the Jin nobility is referred to in Chinese as yī guān nán dù (, lit. "garments and headdresses moving south"). Many of those who fled south were of prominent families, who had the means to escape; among these prominent northern families were the Xie clan and the Wang clan, whose prominent members included Xie An and Wang Dao. Wang Dao, in particular, was instrumental in supporting Sima Rui to proclaim the Eastern Jin dynasty at Jiankang and serving as his chancellor. The Eastern Jin, dependent on established southern nobility as well as exiled northern nobility for its survival, became a relatively weak dynasty dominated by regional nobles who served as governors; nonetheless it would survive for another century as a southern regime.

While the era was one of military catastrophe, it was also one of deep cultural interaction. The nomadic tribes introduced new methods of government, while also encouraging introduced faiths such as Buddhism. Meanwhile, the southward exodus of the cultured Jin elite, who then spread across the southern provinces including modern-day Fujian and Guangdong, further integrated the areas south of the Yangtze River into the Chinese cultural sphere.

Han Chinese migrationsEdit

The "Eight Great Surnames" were eight noble families who migrated from northern China to Fujian in southern China due to the uprising of the five barbarians when the Eastern Jin was founded, the Hu, He, Qiu, Dan, Zheng, Huang, Chen and Lin surnames.[30][31][32][33][34][35][36]

The different waves of migration such as the fourth century and Tang dynasty northern Han Chinese migrants to the south are claimed as the origin of various Chen families in Fuzhou, Fujian.[37] Mass migrations led to southern China's population growth, economic, agricultural and cultural development as it stayed peaceful unlike the north.[38][39][40][41][42][43][44] Yellow registers were used to record the original southern Han Chinese population before the migration and white registers were used to record the massive influx of commoner and aristocratic northern Han Chinese migrants by the Eastern Jin dynasty government.[45]

After the establishment of the Northern Wei in northern China and a return to stability, a small reverse migration of southern defectors to northern China took place. In Luoyang a Wu quarter was set up for southerners moving north.[46][47][48][49][50] Han Chinese male nobles and royals of the southern dynasties who fled north to defect married over half of Northern Wei Xianbei Tuoba princesses.[51] Southern Chinese from the southern capital of Jiankang (Nanjing) were deported to the northern capital of Chang'an by the Sui dynasty after reuniting China.[52]

Han Chinese refugees from the five barbarian uprising also migrated into the Korean peninsula[53] and into the Murong Former Yan state.[54][55][56][57] Eastern Jin maintained nominal suzerainty over the Murong state until 353 as the Murong accepted titles from them.[58] An official in the Murong state, Dong Shou defected to Goguryeo.[59][60][61][62][63][64] Han Chinese refugees migrated west into Han Chinese controlled Former Liang.[65][66][67]

The descendants of northern Han Chinese aristocrats who fled the five barbarians uprising to move south with the Eastern Jin and the local southern Han Chinese aristocrats already in southern China combined to form the Chinese Southern aristocracy in the Tang dynasty, in competition with the northeastern aristocracy and the mixed Han-Xianbei northwestern aristocracy of the former Northern Zhou who founded the Sui dynasty and Tang dynasty.[68][69] The southern aristocracy only intermarried with each other and viewed themselves as preserving Han culture.[70][71]

Southern Chinese Daoism developed as a result of a merger of the religious beliefs of the local southern Han Chinese aristocrats and northern Han Chinese emigres fleeing the five barbarians.[72] The Han aristocrats of both south and north were highly insular and closed against outsiders and descended from the same families who originally hailed from northern China.[73][74]

Ming dynasty writer and historian Zhu Guozhen (1558-1632) remarked on how the Ming dynasty managed to successfully control Mongols who surrendered to the Ming and were relocated and deported into China to serve in military matters unlike the Eastern Han dynasty and Western Jin dynasty whose unsuccessfully management of the surrendered and defeated barbarians they imported into northern China who learned to study history and this led to rebellion : Late during the Eastern Han (25-220 C.E.), surrendering barbarians were settled in the hinterlands [of China]. In time, they learned to study and grew conversant with [matters of the] past and present. As a result, during the Jin dynasty (265-419), there occurred the Revolt of the Five Barbarian [Tribes](late in the third and early in the fourth centuries C.E.).184 During our dynasty, surrendering barbarians were relocated to the hinterlands in great numbers. Because [the court] was generous in its stipends and awards, [the Mongols are content to] merely amuse themselves with archery and hunting. The brave185 among them gain recognition through [service in] the military. [They] serve as assistant regional commanders and regional vice commanders. Although they do not hold the seals of command, they may serve as senior officers. Some among those who receive investiture in the nobility of merit may occasionally hold the seals of command. However [because the court] places heavy emphasis on maintaining centralized control of the armies, [the Mongols] do not dare commit misdeeds. As a consequence, during the Tumu Incident, while there was unrest everywhere, it still did not amount to a major revolt. Additionally, [the Mongols] were relocated to Guangdong and Guangxi on military campaign. Thus, for more than 200 years, we have had peace throughout the realm. The dynastic forefathers' policies are the product of successive generations of guarding against the unexpected. [Our policies] are more thorough than those of the Han. The foundations of merit surpass the Sima family (founders of the Eastern Jin) ten thousand fold. In a word, one cannot generalize [about the policies towards surrendering barbarians].186[75]


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