The period of political disunity between the Tang and the Song, known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, lasted from 907 to 960. During this half-century, China was in all respects a multi-state system. Five regimes, namely, (Later) Liang, Tang, Jin, Han and Zhou, rapidly succeeded one another in control of the traditional Imperial heartland in northern China. Among the regimes, rulers of (Later) Tang, Jin and Han were sinicized Shatuo Turks, which ruled over the ethnic majority of Han Chinese. More stable and smaller regimes of mostly ethnic Han rulers coexisted in south and western China over the period, cumulatively constituted the “Ten Kingdoms”.

Amidst political chaos in the north, the strategic Sixteen Prefectures (region along today’s Great Wall) were ceded to the emerging Khitan Liao Dynasty, which drastically weakened the defense of the China proper against northern nomadic empires. To the south, Vietnam gained lasting independence after being a Chinese prefecture for many centuries. With wars dominated in Northern China, there were mass southward migrations of population, which further enhanced the southward shift of cultural and economic centers in China. The era ended with the coup of Later Zhou general Zhao Kuangyin, and the establishment the Song dynasty in 960, which would eventually annihilated the remains of the “Ten Kingdoms” and reunified China.

Towards the end of the Tang, the imperial government granted increased powers to the jiedushi, the regional military governors. The Huang Chao Rebellion weakened the imperial government, and by the early 10th century the jiedushi commanded de facto independence from its authority. Thus ensued the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.

The Five Dynasties were:

  • Later Liang (June 1, 907–23)
  • Later Tang (923–36)
  • Later Jin (936–47)
  • Later Han (947–51 or 979, depending on whether Northern Han is considered part of the dynasty)
  • Later Zhou (951–60).

The Ten Kingdoms were:

  • Wu (907–37)
  • Wuyue (907–78)
  • Min (909–45)
  • Chu (907–51)
  • Southern Han (917–71)
  • Former Shu (907–25)
  • Later Shu (934–65)
  • Jingnan (924–63)
  • Southern Tang (937–75)
  • Northern Han (951–79).

Only ten are traditionally listed, hence the era’s name, “Ten Kingdoms”; some historians, such as Bo Yang, count eleven, including Yan and Qi but not the Northern Han, viewing it as simply a continuation of Later Han. This era also led to the founding of the Liao dynasty in the north.

Other regimes during this period were Yan, Qi, Zhao, Yiwu Jiedushi, Dingnan Jiedushi, Wuping Jiedushi, Qingyuan Jiedushi, Yin, Ganzhou, Shazhou, and Liangzhou.

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