The Northern Wei Dynasty (北魏, pinyin: běi wèi, 386-534), also known as the Tuoba Wei (拓拔魏), Later Wei (後魏), or Yuan Wei (元魏), is most noted for the unification of northern China in 439, it was also heavily involved in funding the arts and many antiques and art works from this period have survived. In 494 AD the dynasty moved its capital from Datong to Luoyang and started the construction of the artificial Longmen Caves. More than 30,000 Buddhist images from the time of this dynasty have been found in the caves. It is thought the dynasty originated from the Tuoba clan of the non-Han Xianbei tribe. The Tuobas renamed themselves the Yuans as a part of systematic Sinicization. Towards the end of the dynasty there was significant internal dissidence resulting in a split into Eastern Wei Dynasty and Western Wei Dynasty.
The Jin Dynasty had developed an alliance with the Tuoba against the Xiongnu state Han Zhao. In 315 the Tuoba chief was granted the title of the Prince of Dai. After the death of its founding prince, Tuoba Yilu, however, the Dai state stagnated and largely remained a partial ally and a partial tributary state to Later Zhao and Former Yan, finally falling to Former Qin in 376.
After Former Qin's emperor Fu Jiān was defeated by Jin forces at the Battle of Fei River in his failed bid to unify China, the Former Qin state began to break apart. By 386, Tuoba Gui, the son (or grandson) of Tuoba Shiyijian (the last Prince of Dai), reasserted Touba independence initially as the Prince of Dai. Later he changed his title to the Prince of Wei, and his state was therefore known as Northern Wei. In 391, Touba Gui defeated the Rouran tribes and killed their chief, Heduohan, forcing the Rouran to flee west.
Initially Northern Wei was a vassal of Later Yan, but by 395 had rebelled and by 398 had conquered most of Later Yan territory north of the Yellow River. In 399 Touba Gui he declared himself Emperor Daowu, and that title was used by Northern Wei's rulers for the rest of the state's history. That same year he defeated the Gaoche tribes near the Gobi desert
As sinicization of the Northern Wei state progressed, these customs and traditions were gradually abandoned.
At each of these levels, leaders that were associated with the central government were appointed. In order for the state to reclaim dry, barren areas of land, the state further developed this system by dividing up the land according to the number of men of an age to cultivate it. The Sui and Tang Dynasties later resurrected this system in the 7th century.
During the reign of Emperor Daowu (386-409), the total number of deported people from the regions east of Taihangshan (the former Later Yan territory) to Datong was estimated to be around 460,000. Deportations typically took place once a new piece of territory had been conquered.
|Northern Wei Dynasty Deportations|
|398||Hsien-pei of Hopei and Northern Shantung||100,000||Datong|
|399||Great Chinese families||2,000 families||Datong|
|399||Chinese peasants from Honan||100,000||Shanxi|
|418||Hsien-pei of Hopei||?||Datong|
|427||Pop. of the Kingdom of Hsia||10,000||Shanxi|
|432||Pop. of Liaoning||30,000 families||Hopei|
|435||Pop. of Shensi and Kansu||?||Datong|
|445||Chinese peasants from Honan and Shantung||?||North of Yellow River|
|449||Craftsmen from Changan||2,000 families||Datong|
As the Northern Wei state grew, the emperors' desire for Han Chinese institutions and advisors grew. Cui Hao (381-450), an advisor at the courts in Datong played a great part in this process. He introduced Han Chinese administrative methods and penal codes in the Northern Wei state, as well as creating a Taoist theocracy that lasted until 450. The attraction of Han Chinese products, the royal courts taste for luxury, the prestige of Chinese culture at the time, and Taoism were all factors in the influence the Chinese in the Northern Wei state. Chinese influence accelerated during the capital's move to Luoyang in 494 and Emperor Xiaowen continued this by establishing a policy of systematic sinicization that was continued by his successors. Xianbei traditions were largely abandoned. The royal family took the sinicization a step further by changing their family name to Yuan. Marriages to Chinese families were encouraged. With this, Buddhist temples started appearing everywhere, displacing Taoism as the state religion. The temples were often created to appear extremely lavish and extravagant on the outside of the temples.
The heavy Chinese influence that had came into the Northern Wei state which went on throughout the 5th century had mainly affected the courts and the upper ranks of the Tuoba aristocracy. Armies that guarded the Northern frontiers of the empire and the Xianbei people who were less sinicized began showing feelings of hostility towards the aristocratic court and the upper ranks of civil society. Early in Northern Wei history, defense on the northern border against Rouran was heavily emphasized, and military duty on the northern border was considered honored service that was given high recognition. After all, throughout the founding and the early stages of the Northern Wei, it was the strength of the sword and bow that carved out the empire and kept it. But once Emperor Xiaowen's sinicization campaign began in earnest, military service, particularly on the northern border, was no longer considered an honorable status, and traditional Xianbei warrior families on the northern border were disrespected and disallowed many of their previous privileges, these warrior families who had originally being held as the upper-class now find themselves considered a lower-class on the social hierarchy.
In 523, rebellions broke out on six major garrison-towns on the northern border and spread like wildfire throughout the north. These rebellions lasted for a decade. Exacerbating the situation, Empress Dowager Hu poisoned her own son Emperor Xiaoming in 528 after Emperor Xiaoming showed disapproval of her handling of the affairs as he started coming of age and got ready to reclaim the power that had been held by the empress in his name - due to the emperor being an infant at the time he ascended to the throne, so the Empress Dowager had the actual rule of the country for more than a decade. Soon after, the general Erzhu Rong moved south and sacked Luoyang, who originally had already mobilised on secret orders of the emperor to support him in the struggle in retaking the ruleship from the Empress Dowager Hu, but he was stopped by the emperor's orders again before he could move towards the capital, and as he waited for the emperor's call, the Empress got to the emperor first and poisoned him dead. On Erzhu Rong's orders, the Empress Hu and the new child emperor Yuan Zhao(another puppet child selected by the empress only shortly before) was thrown into the Yellow River and drowned and 2,000 courtiers were gathered on the banks and killed, as it was an effective cry that it was the many embellishments of the Empress Dowager and her crime of poisoning the rightful emperor, her own flesh and blood, that must be punished.
Erzhu dominated the imperial court thereafter, the emperor was virtually in power in name only and most decisions actually went through the Erzhu, although he did put out most of the rebellions, largely reunifying the Northern Wei state. However, Emperor Xiaozhuang, not wishing to remain a puppet emperor and highly wary of the Erzhu clan's widespread power and questionable loyalty and intentions towards the throne (after all, this man had ordered a massacre of the court and put to death a previous emperor and empress before), killed Erzhu in 530 in an ambush at the palace, which lead to a resumption of civil war, initially between Erzhu's clan and Emperor Xiaozhuang, and then, after their victory over Emperor Xiaozhuang in 531, between the Erzhu clan and those who resisted their rule. In the aftermaths of these wars, the generals Gao Huan(originally a member of the rebel soldiers from the northern frontier who surrendered to Erzhu, then became one of Erzhu clan's top lieutenants; after the Erzhu clan's open war with the emperor, he immediately gathered his own men and turned against his former leader) and Yuwen Tai established themselves in the eastern and western parts of the state, respectively, and they declared for rival claimants on the Northern Wei throne, leading to the state's division in 534-535 into Eastern Wei and Western Wei.
|Posthumous Names (Shi Hao 諡號)||Born Names||Period of Reigns||Era Names (Nian Hao 年號) and their according range of years|
|Northern Wei Dynasty 386-535|
|Convention: Northern Wei + posthumous name|
|The imperial Tuoba family changed their family name to 元 (yuán) during the reign of Emperor Xiaowen in 496 so their names in this table will also thus be "Yuan" subsequently.|
|Dao Wu Di (道武帝 daò wǔ dì)||Tuoba Gui (拓拔珪 tuò bá guī)||386-409||Dengguo (登國 dēng guó) 386-396|
Huangshi (皇始 huáng shǐ) 396-398
Tianxing (天興 tiān xīng) 398-404
Tianci (天賜 tiān cì) 404-409
|Ming Yuan Di (明元帝 míng yuán dì)||Tuoba Si (拓拔嗣 tuò bá sì)||409-423||Yongxing (永興 yǒng xīng) 409-413|
Shenrui (神瑞 shén ruì) 414-416
Taichang (泰常 tài cháng) 416-423
|Tai Wu Di (太武帝 tài wǔ dì)||Tuoba Tao (拓拔燾 tuò bá táo)||424-452||Shiguang (始光 shǐ guāng) 424-428|
Shenjia (神䴥 shén jiā) 428-431
Yanhe (延和 yán hé) 432-434
Taiyan (太延 tài yán) 435-440
Taipingzhenjun (太平真君 tài píng zhēn jūn) 440-451
Zhengping (正平 zhèng píng) 451-452
|Nan An Wang (南安王 nán ān wáng)||Tuoba Yu (拓拔余 tuò bá yú)||452||Chengping (承平 chéng píng) 452|
|Wen Cheng Di (文成帝 wén chéng dì)||Tuoba Jun (拓拔濬 tuò bá jùn)||452-465||Xingan (興安 xīng ān) 452-454|
Xingguang (興光 xīng guāng) 454-455
Tai'an (太安 tài ān) 455-459
Heping (和平 hé píng) 460-465
|Xian Wen Di (獻文帝 xiàn wén dì)||Tuoba Hong (拓拔弘 tuò bá hóng)||466-471||Tian'an (天安 tiān ān) 466-467|
Huangxing (皇興 huáng xīng) 467-471
|Xiao Wen Di (孝文帝 xiào wén dì)||Yuan Hong (元宏 yuán hóng)||471-499||Yanxing (延興 yán xīng) 471-476|
Chengming (承明 chéng míng) 476
Taihe (太和 tìi hé) 477-499
|Xuan Wu Di (宣武帝 xuān wǔ dì)||Yuan Ke (元恪 yuán kè)||499-515||Jingming (景明 jǐng míng) 500-503|
Zhengshi (正始 zhèng shǐ) 504-508
Yongping (永平 yǒng píng) 508-512
Yanchang (延昌 yán chāng) 512-515
|Xiao Ming Di (孝明帝 xiào míng dì)||Yuan Xu (元詡 yuán xǔ)||516-528||Xiping (熙平 xī píng) 516-518|
Shengui (神龜 shén guī) 518-520
Zhengguang (正光 zhèng guāng) 520-525
Xiaochang (孝昌 xiào chāng) 525-527
Wutai (武泰 wǔ tài) 528
|Youzhu (幼主 yòu zhǔ)||Yuan Zhao (元釗 yuán xhāo)||528||None|
|Xiao Zhuang Di (孝莊帝 xiào zhuāng dì)||Yuan Ziyou (元子攸 yuán zǐ yōu)||528-530||Jianyi (建義 jiàn yì) 528|
Yongan (永安 yǒng ān) 528-530
|Chang Guang Wang (長廣王 cháng guǎng wáng)||Yuan Ye (元曄 yuán yè)||530-531||Jianming (建明 jiàn míng) 530-531|
|Jie Min Di (節閔帝 jié mǐn dì)||Yuan Gong (元恭 yuán gōng)||531-532||Putai (普泰 pǔ tài) 531-532|
|An Ding Wang (安定王 ān dìng wáng)||Yuan Lang (元朗 yuán lǎng)||531-532||Zhongxing (中興 zhōng xīng) 531-532|
|Xiao Wu Di (孝武帝 xiào wǔ dì) or|
Chu Di (出帝 chū dì)
|Yuan Xiu (元脩 yuán xiū)||532-535||Taichang (太昌 tài chāng) 532|
Yongxing (永興 yǒng xīng) 532
Yongxi (永熙 yǒng3 xī) 532-535