Five Dynasties

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960) was an era of political upheaval in China, beginning in the Tang Dynasty and ending in the Song Dynasty. During this period, five dynasties quickly succeeded one another in the north, and more than 12 independent states were established, mainly in the south. However, only ten are traditionally listed, hence the era's name, "Ten Kingdoms." Some historians, such as Bo Yang, count 11, including Yan and Qi, but not Northern Han, viewing it as simply a continuation of Later Han.

The Five Dynasties:

The Ten Kingdoms: Wu, Wuyue, Min, Chu, Southern Han, Former Shu, Later Shu, Jingnan, Southern Tang, Northern Han.

Other regimes: Yan, Qi, Chengde Jiedushi (also known as Zhao), Yiwu Jiedushi, Dingnan Jiedushi, Wuping Jiedushi, Qingyuan Jiedushi, Yin, Ganzhou, Shazhou, Liangzhou.


Towards the end of the Tang Dynasty, the imperial government granted increased powers to the jiedushi, the regional military governors. The Huang Chao Rebellion weakened the imperial government's authority, and by the early 10th century the jiedushi, who commanded de facto independence, were not subject to the authority of the imperial government. Thus, the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms ensued.

The following were important jiedushi:

North China

South China

Northern China

Later Liang Dynasty

During the Liang Dynasty, the warlord Zhu Wen held the most power in northern China. Although he was originally a member of Huang Chao's rebel army, he took on a crucial role in suppressing the Huang Chao Rebellion. For this function, he was awarded the Xuanwu Jiedushi title. Within a few years, he had consolidated his power by destroying neighbours and forcing the move of the imperial capital to Luoyang (in modern Henan province), which was within his region of influence. In 904, he executed Emperor Zhaozong and made his 13-year-old son a subordinate ruler. Three years later, he induced the boy emperor to abdicate in his favour. He then proclaimed himself emperor, thus beginning the Later Liang Dynasty.

After his death, his son Zhu Zhen (朱瑱), a cowardly man who disdained responsibility, left the kingdom to avoid kingship.

Later Tang Dynasty

During the Tang Dynasty, rival warlords declared independence in their governing provinces — not all of whom recognized the emperor's authority. Li Cunxu and Liu Shouguang fiercely fought the regime forces to conquer northern China; Li Cunxu succeeded. He defeated Liu Shouguang (who had proclaimed a Yan Empire in 911) in 915, and declared himself emperor in 923; within a few months, he brought down the Later Liang regime. Thus began the Later Tang Dynasty—the first in a long line of conquest dynasties. After reuniting much of northern China, Cunxu conquered Former Shu in 925, a regime that had been set up in Sichuan.

Later Jin Dynasty

The Later Tang Dynasty had a few years of relative calm, followed by unrest. In 934, Sichuan again asserted independence. In 936, Shi Jingtang, a Shatuo Turk jiedushi from Taiyuan, was aided by the Manchurian Khitan Empire in a rebellion against the dynasty. In return for their aid, Shi Jingtang promised annual tribute and 16 prefectures in the Youyun area (modern northern Hebei province and Beijing) to the Khitans. The rebellion succeeded; Shi Jingtang became emperor in this same year.

Not long after the Jin Dynasty's founding, the Khitans regarded the emperor as a proxy ruler for China proper. In 943, they declared war on this kingdom, and within three years seized the capital, Kaifeng—thus marking the end of Later Jin Dynasty. But, although they had conquered vast regions of China, they were unable or unwilling to control those regions and retreated from them early in the next year.

Later Han Dynasty

To fill the power vacuum, the jiedushi Liu Zhiyuan entered the imperial capital in 947, and proclaimed the advent of the Later Han Dynasty, establishing a third successive Shatuo Turk dynasty. This was the shortest of the five dynasties; following a coup in 951, General Guo Wei, a Han Chinese, was enthroned, thus beginning the Later Zhou Dynasty. However, Liu Chong, a member of the Later Han imperial family, established a rival Northern Han regime in Taiyuan, and requested Khitan aid to defeat Later Han.

Later Zhou Dynasty

After the death of Guo Wei in 951, his adopted son Chai Rong succeeded the throne and began a policy of expansion and reunification. In 954, his army defeated combined Khitan and Northern Han forces, ending their ambition of toppling the Later Zhou dynasty. Between 956 and 958, forces of Later Zhou conquered much of Southern Tang, the most powerful regime in southern China, which ceded all the territory north of the Yangtze River in defeat. In 959, Chai Rong attacked the Khitan Empire in an attempt to recover territories ceded during the Later Jin Dynasty. After many victories, he succumbed to illness.

In 960, the general Zhao Kuangyin staged a coup and took the throne for himself, founding the Northern Song Dynasty. This is the official end of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. During the next two decades, Zhao Kuangyin and his successor Zhao Kuangyi defeated the other remaining regimes in China proper, conquering Northern Han in 979, and reunifying China completely in 982.

Northern Han

Though considered one of the ten kingdoms, the Northern Han was based in the traditional Shatuo Turk stronghold of Shanxi. It was created after the last of three dynasties created by Shatuo Turks fell to the Han-governed Later Zhou Dynasty in 951. With the protection of the powerful Khitan Liao empire, the Northern Han maintained nominal independence until the Song Dynasty wrested it from the Khitan in 979.

Southern China: The Ten Kingdoms

Unlike the dynasties of northern China, which succeeded one other in rapid succession, the regimes of southern China were generally concurrent, each controlling a specific geographical area. These were known as "The Ten Kingdoms".


The Kingdom of Wu (902-937) was established in modern-day Jiangsu, Anhui, and Jiangxi provinces. It was founded by Yang Xingmi, who became a Tang Dynasty military governor in 892. The capital was initially at Guangling (present-day Yangzhou) and later moved to Jinling (present-day Nanjing). The kingdom fell in 937 when it was taken from within by the founder of the Southern Tang.


The Kingdom of Wuyue was the longest-lived (907-978) and among the most powerful of the southern states. Wuyue was known for its learning and culture. It was founded by Qian Liu, who set up his capital at Xifu (modern-day Hangzhou). It was based mostly in modern Zhejiang province but also held parts of southern Jiangsu. Qian Liu was named the Prince of Yue by the Tang emperor in 902; the Prince of Wu was added in 904. After the fall of the Tang Dynasty in 907, he declared himself king of Wuyue. Wuyue survived until the eighteenth year of the Song Dynasty, when Qian Shu surrendered to the expanding dynasty.


The Kingdom of Min (909-945) was founded by Wang Shenzhi, who named himself the Prince of Min in 909 after the fall of the Tang Dynasty. It was not until his son formally declared himself the Emperor of Min in 933 that Shenzhi was posthumously named as the founding emperor. It was located in Fujian with its capital at Changle (present-day Fuzhou). One of Shenzhi’s sons proclaimed the independent state of Yin in the northeast of Min territory. The Southern Tang took that territory after the Min asked for help. Despite declaring loyalty to the neighboring Wuyue, the Southern Tang finished its conquest of Min in 945.

Southern Han

The Southern Han (917-971) was founded in Guangzhou (also known as Canton) by Liu Yan. His father, Liu Yin, was named regional governor by the Tang court. The kingdom included Guangdong and most of Guangxi.


The Chu (927-951) was founded by Ma Yin with the capital at Changsha. The kingdom held Hunan and northeastern Guangxi. Ma was named regional military governor by the Tang court in 896, and named himself the Prince of Chu with the fall of the Tang Dynasty in 907. This status as the Prince of Chu was confirmed by the Later Tang Dynasty in 927. The Southern Tang absorbed the state in 951 and moved the royal family to its capital in Nanjing, although Southern Tang rule of the region was temporary, as the next year former Chu military officers under the leadership of Liu Yan seized the territory. In the waning years of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, the region was ruled by Zhou Xingfeng.

Jingnan (also known as Nanping)

The smallest of the southern states, Jingnan (924-963), was founded by Gao Jichang. It was based in Jiangling and held two other districts southwest of present-day Wuhan in Hubei. Gao was in the service of the Later Liang Dynasty (the successor of the Tang Dynasty in northern China). Gao’s successors claimed the title of King of Nanping after the fall of the Later Liang in 924. It was a small and weak kingdom, and thus tried to maintain good relations with each of the Five Dynasties. The kingdom fell to advancing armies of the Song Dynasty in 963.

Former Shu

The Kingdom of Shu (907-925) was founded after the fall of the Tang Dynasty by Wang Jian, who held his court in Chengdu. The kingdom held most of present-day Sichuan, western Hubei, and parts of southern Gansu and Shaanxi. Wang was named military governor of western Sichuan by the Tang court in 891. The kingdom fell when his incompetent son surrendered in the face of an advance by the Later Tang Dynasty in 925.

Later Shu

The Later Shu (935-965) is essentially a resurrection of the previous Shu state that had fallen a decade earlier to the Later Tang Dynasty. Because the Later Tang was in decline, Meng Zhixiang found the opportunity to reassert Shu’s independence. Like the Former Shu, the capital was at Chengdu and it basically controlled the same territory as its predecessor. The kingdom was ruled well until forced to succumb to Northern Song armies in 965.

Southern Tang

The Southern Tang (937-975) was the successor state of Wu as Li Bian (Emperor Liezu) took the state over from within in 937. Expanding from the original domains of Wu, it eventually took over Yin, Min, and Chu, holding present-day southern Anhui, southern Jiangsu, much of Jiangxi, Hunan, and eastern Hubei at its height. The kingdom became nominally subordinate to the expanding Song Dynasty in 961 and was invaded outright in 975, when it was formally absorbed into the Song Dynasty.

Transitions between kingdoms

Although more stable than northern China as a whole, southern China was also torn apart by warfare. Wu quarrelled with its neighbours, a trend that continued as Wu was replaced with Southern Tang. In the 940s Min and Chu underwent internal crises which Southern Tang handily took advantage of, destroying Min in 945 and Chu in 951. Remnants of Min and Chu, however, survived in the form of Qingyuan Jiedushi and Wuping Jiedushi for many years after. With this, Southern Tang became the undisputedly most powerful regime in southern China. However, it was unable to defeat incursions by the Later Zhou Dynasty between 956 and 958, and ceded all of its land north of the Yangtze River.

The Northern Song Dynasty, established in 960, was determined to reunify China. Jingnan and Wuping were swept away in 963, Later Shu in 965, Southern Han in 971, and Southern Tang in 975. Finally, Wuyue and Qingyuan gave up their land to Northern Song in 978, bringing all of southern China under the control of the central government.

List of Sovereigns

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms

Sovereigns in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (907-960)
Temple Names
(廟號 miào hào)
Posthumous Names
(諡號 shì hào)
Personal Names Period of Reign Era Names (年號 nián hào) and their according range of years
Five Dynasties
* note the naming convention: name of dynasty (e.g. 後漢) + temple name or posthumous name (e.g. 高祖), which makes 後漢高祖
Later Liang Dynasty 後梁 Hòu Liáng 907-923
Tài Zǔ 太祖 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Zhū Wēn 朱溫 907-912 Kāipíng 開平 (907-911)
Qiánhuà 乾化 (911-912)
Did not exist Mò Dì 末帝 Zhū Zhèn 朱瑱 913-923 Qiánhuà 乾化 (913-915)
Zhēnmíng 貞明 (915-921)
Lóngdé 龍德 (921-923)
Later Tang Dynasty 後唐 Hòu Táng 923-936
Zhuāng Zōng 莊宗 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Lǐ Cúnxù 李存勗 923-926 Tóngguāng 同光 (923-926)
Míng Zōng 明宗 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Lǐ Sìyuán 李嗣源
Lǐ Dǎn 李亶
926-933 Tiānchéng 天成 (926-930)
Chángxīng 長興 (930-933)
Did not exist Mǐn Dì 節閔帝 Lǐ Cónghòu 李從厚 933-934 Yìngshùn 應順 (913-915)
Did not exist Mò Dì 末帝 Lǐ Cóngkē 李從珂 934-936 Qīngtài 清泰 (934-936)
Later Jin Dynasty 後晉 Hòu Jìn 936-947
Gāo Zǔ 高祖 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Shí Jìngtáng 石敬瑭 936-942 Tiānfú 天福 (936-942)
Did not exist Chū Dì 出帝 Shí Chóngguì 石重貴 942-947 Tiānfú 天福 (942-944)
Kāiyùn 開運 (944-947)
Later Han Dynasty 後漢 Hòu Hàn 936-947
Gāo Zǔ 高祖 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Liú Zhīyuǎn 劉知遠 947-948 Tiānfú 天福 (947)
Qiányòu 乾祐 (948)
Did not exist Yǐn Dì 隱帝 Liú Chéngyòu 劉承祐 948-950 Qiányòu 乾祐 (948-950)
Later Zhou Dynasty 後周 Hòu Zhōu 951-960
Tài Zǔ 太祖 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Guō Wēi 郭威 951-954 Guǎngshùn 廣順 (951-954)
Xiǎndé 顯德 (954)
Shì Zōng 世宗 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Chái Róng 柴榮 954-959 Xiǎndé 顯德 (954-959)
Did not exist Gōng Dì 恭帝 Chái Zōngxùn 柴宗訓 959-960 Xiǎndé 顯德 (959-960)
Ten Kingdoms
note the naming convention: use the personal names unless otherwise stated
Wuyue Kingdom 吳越 904-978
Tài Zǔ 太祖 Wǔsù Wáng 武肅王 Qián Liú 錢鏐 904-932 Tiānbǎo (天寶) 908-923
Bǎodà (寶大) 923-925
Bǎozhèng (寶正) 925-932
Shìzōng (世宗) Wénmù Wáng 文穆王 Qián Yuánquàn 錢元瓘 932-941 Did not exist
Chéngzōng 成宗 Zhōngxiàn Wáng 忠獻王 Qián Zuǒ 錢佐 941-947 Did not exist
Did not exist Zhōngxùn Wáng 忠遜王 Qián Zōng 錢倧 947 Did not exist
Did not exist Zhōngyì Wáng 忠懿王 Qián Chù 錢俶 947-978 Did not exist
Min Kingdom 閩 909-945 including Yin Kingdom 殷 943-945
Tàizǔ 太祖 Zhōngyì Wáng 忠懿王 Wáng Shěnzhī 王審知 909-925 Did not exist
Did not exist Did not exist Wáng Yánhàn 王延翰 925-926 Did not exist
Tàizōng 太宗 Huìdì 惠帝 Wáng Yánjūn 王延鈞 926-935 Lóngqǐ (龍啟) 933-935
Yǒnghé (永和) 935
Kāngzōng (康宗) Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Wáng Jìpéng 王繼鵬 935-939 Tōngwén (通文) 936-939
Jǐngzōng (景宗) Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Wáng Yánxī 王延羲 939-944 Yǒnglóng (永隆) 939-944
Did not exist Tiāndé Dì (天德帝) (as Emperor of Yin) Wáng Yánzhèng 王延政 943-945 Tiāndé (天德) 943-945
Jingnan 荊南 or Nanping 南平 Kingdom 906-963
Did not exist Wǔxìn Wáng 武信王 Gāo Jìxīng 高季興 909-928 Did not exist
Did not exist Wénxiàn Wáng 文獻王 Gāo Cónghuì 高從誨 928-948 Did not exist
Did not exist Zhēnyì Wáng 貞懿王 Gāo Bǎoróng 高寶融 948-960 Did not exist
Did not exist Shìzhōng 侍中 Gāo Bǎoxù 高寶勗 960-962 Did not exist
Did not exist Did not exist Gāo Jìchōng 高繼沖 962-963 Did not exist
Chu Kingdom 楚 897-951
Did not exist Wǔmù Wáng 武穆王 Mǎ Yīn 馬殷 897-930 Did not exist
Did not exist Héngyáng Wáng 衡陽王 Mǎ Xīshēng 馬希聲 930-932 Did not exist
Did not exist Wénzhāo Wáng 文昭王 Mǎ Xīfàn 馬希範 932-947 Did not exist
Did not exist Fèi Wáng 廢王 Mǎ Xīguǎng 馬希廣 947-950 Did not exist
Did not exist Gōngxiào Wáng 恭孝王 Mǎ Xī'è 馬希萼 950 Did not exist
Did not exist Did not exist Mǎ Xīchong 馬希崇 950-951 Did not exist
Wu Kingdom 吳 904-937
Tài Zǔ 太祖 Xiàowǔ Dì 孝武帝 Yáng Xíngmì 楊行密 904-905 Tiānyòu (天祐) 904-905
Liè Zōng 烈宗 Jǐng Dì 景帝 Yáng Wò 楊渥 905-908 Tiānyòu (天祐) 905-908
Gāo Zǔ 高祖 Xuān Dì 宣帝 Yáng Lóngyǎn 楊隆演 908-921 Tiānyòu (天祐) 908-919
Wǔyì (武義) 919-921
Did not exist Ruì Dì 睿帝 Yáng Pǔ 楊溥 921-937 Shùnyì (順義) 921-927
Qiánzhēn (乾貞) 927-929
Dàhé (大和) 929-935
Tiānzuò (天祚) 935-937
Southern Tang Kingdom 南唐 937-975
Convention for this kingdom only : Nan (Southern) Tang + posthumous names. Hòu Zhǔ was referred to as Lǐ Hòuzhǔ 李後主.
Xiān Zhǔ 先主
Liè Zǔ 烈祖
Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Lǐ Biàn 李昪 937-943 Shēngyuán (昇元) 937-943
Zhōng Zhǔ 中主
Yuán Zōng 元宗
Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Lǐ Jǐng 李璟 943-961 Bǎodà (保大) 943-958
Jiāotài (交泰) 958
Zhōngxīng (中興) 958
Hòu Zhǔ 後主 Wǔ Wáng 武王 Lǐ Yù 李煜 961-975 Did not exist
Southern Han Kingdom 南漢 917-971
Gāo Zǔ 高祖 Tiān Huáng Dà Dì 天皇大帝 Liú Yán 劉龑 917-925 Qiánhēng (乾亨) 917-925
Báilóng (白龍) 925-928
Dàyǒu (大有) 928-941
Did not exist Shāng Dì 殤帝 Liú Fēn 劉玢 941-943 Guāngtiān (光天) 941-943
Zhōng Zōng 中宗 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Liú Chéng 劉晟 943-958 Yìngqián (應乾) 943
Qiánhé (乾和) 943-958
Hòu Zhǔ 後主 Did not exist Liú Cháng 劉鋹 958-971 Dàbǎo (大寶) 958-971
Bei (Northern) Han Kingdom 951-979
Shi Zu|世祖 shi4 zu3 Shen Wu Di|神武帝 shen2 wu3 di4 Liu Min|劉旻 liu3 min2 951-954 Qianyou (乾祐 qian2 you4) 951-954
Rui Zong|睿宗 rui4 zong1 Xiao He Di|孝和帝 xiao4 he2 di4 Liu Cheng Jun|劉承鈞 liu3 cheng2 jun1 954-970 Qianyou (乾祐 qian2 you4) 954-957
Tianhui (天會 tian1 hui4) 957-970
Shao Zhu|少主 shao4 zhu3 Did not exist Liu Ji En|劉繼恩 liu3 ji4 en1 970 Did not exist
Did not exist
Ying Wu Di|英武帝 ying1 wu3 di4 Liu Ji Yuan|劉繼元 liu3 ji4 yuan2 970-982 Guangyun (廣運 guang3 yun4) 970-982
Qian (Former) Shu Kingdom 907 - 925
Gao Zu|高祖 gao1 zu3 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Wang Jian|王建 wang2 jian4 907-918 Tianfu (天復 tian1 fu4) 907
Wucheng (武成 wu3 cheng22) 908-910
Yongping (永平 yong3 ping2) 911-915
Tongzheng (通正 tong1 zheng4) 916
Tianhan (天漢 tian1 han4) 917
Guangtian (光天 guang1 tian1) 918
Hou Zhu|後主 hou4 zhu3 Did not exist Wang Yan|王衍 wang2 yan3 918-925 Qiande (乾德 qian2 de2) 918-925
Xiankang (咸康 xian2 kang1) 925
Hou (Later) Shu Kingdom 934 - 965
Gao Zu|高祖 gao1 zu3 Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign Meng Zhi Xiang|孟知祥 meng4 zhi1 xiang2 934 Mingde (明德 ming2 de2) 934
Hou Zhu|後主 hou4 zhu3 Did not exist Meng Chang|孟昶 meng4 chang3 938-965 Mingde (明德 ming2 de2) 934-938
Guangzheng (廣政 guang3 zheng4) 938-965

Other regimes

Local independent regimes during Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period but traditionally not counted in the Ten Kingdoms
Name of Posts Personal Names Period on post
Wuping jiedu|節度 (similar to thema of the Byzantine Empire) 950-963
Wuping jiedushi|武平節度使 Wǔpíng jíedùshǐ Liú Yán|劉言 950-953
Wuping jiedushi|武平節度使 Wǔpíng jíedùshǐ Wáng Kuí|王逵 or Wáng Jìnkuí|王進逵 953-956
Wuping jiedushi|武平節度使 Wǔpíng jíedùshǐ Zhōu Xíngféng|周行逢 956-962
Wuping jiedushi|武平節度使 Wǔpíng jíedùshǐ Zhōu Bǎoquán|周保權 962-963
Qingyuan jiedu|節度 (similar to thema of the Byzantine Empire) 945-978
Qingyuan jiedushi|清源節度使 Qīngyuán jíedùshǐ Liú Cóngxiào|留從效 945-962
Qingyuan jiedushi|清源節度使 Qīngyuán jíedùshǐ Liú Shàozī|留紹鎡 962
Qingyuan jiedushi|清源節度使 Qīngyuán jíedùshǐ Zhāng Hànsī|張漢思 962-963
Qingyuan jiedushi|清源節度使 Qīngyuán jíedùshǐ Chén Hóngjìn|陳洪進 963-978

Popular culture

  • The 2006 Chinese film The Banquet by director Feng Xiaogang is set in this period. However, it has no historical accuracy, nor does it claim to have any.

See also

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