China's Three Kingdoms period is described as beginning in the year 220. Simultaneously each was headed by an "emperor" who claimed to be the legitimate successor within the Han dynasty. The Three Kingdom Period were hard times. The kingdoms could not live side by side without making war. It's a period described as "one of the bloodiest in Chinese." And there was bloodletting not only from army meeting army. There was more of the monarchical succession killings that would not exist in well-established (mature) democracies.
By 263, war had reduced the three kindoms to two. By 280 there was only one. China was united again. But imperial successions put politics on another course of decline. The founder of the ruling Jin dynasty died in 290, and power went to his mentally impaired son (unable to make logical decisions), Emperor Hui, and nobles who fought each other for actual power.
The Jin dynasty would endure inner-family killing. Emperor Hui was poisoned in the year 307. In 308 leaders of Xiongnu tribes met, united and in 311 sent an army against China's capital, Luoyang – an army supported by rebellious Chinese. The city was sacked. Many died, and the reigning emperor was carried off and forced to become a cupbearer, until he was executed. In 316, the Xiongnu cavalry overran the great city of Chang'an. There, another Jin family member, recently proclaimed emperor, met the same fate as his predecessor.
Jin family sought refuge south of the Yangzi River. At Jiangking (today Nanjing) another of them was declared emperor – Emperor Yuan of what was to be known as the Eastern Jin. Millions of Chinese joined the Jin family in migrating south, including a lot of gentry. Most Confucian scholars joined them. Southerners refused to cooperate with Emperor Yuan's government, but Yuan was patient. His regime avoided interfering with the privileges of the south's elite families, and eventually he won their cooperation. Yuan's regime benefited from the wealth, experience and technical skills of the refugees. It set up administrative provinces, and south of the Yangzi it created a new era of art, literature, and philosophy.
South of the Yangzi, prosperity arose. For wealthy aristocrats an easy life emerged. Gentlemen remained elegantly inactive. They explored philosophy, with Confucianism discredited in the belief that civilization north of the Yangzi had collapsed.
By now Buddhism had arrived in China, carried by India merchants across the trade route through Central Asia. Both the Hinayana and Mahayana branches of Buddhism had arrived, but it was the Mahayana with its salvation and helpful gods that would dominate. Buddhism's moral teachings attracted some who had been Confucians, and the Xiongnu conquerors were attracted. North of the Yangzi, Buddhist monasteries became economically powerful, with hereditary serfs.
Buddhism in China had not religious council or papacy. Each Buddhist master could interpret writings as he wished, and this facilitated fragmentation. With this, the Pure Land movement emerged – a precursor to Zen Buddhism. The Pure Land was where the great spirit Amitabha and other immortals dwelled in eternal bliss, where rivers were pure and scented. Pure Land Buddhism claimed that no bookish intellectuality was needed, that one could escape the torments of life and prove one's devotion by chanting Amitabha's name sincerely.
North of the Yangzi, conquerors had been adopting Chinese ways, and a ruling Xiongnu dynasty (the Wei) had it became involved in the hostility between Buddhists and Taoists. The Wei dynasty turned its rule into a Taoist theocracy. The Taoist organized against Buddhism, accusing it of being an alien creed. The Xiongnu ruler, Daiwu, decreed that all Buddhist monks wee to be put to death and all Buddhist images and books destroyed, but the decree was ignored. Instead, a few monks were forced to return to family life and some monasteries destroyed.
In the South, politics by murder remained. A successful general, Liu Yu, won the title Prince of Song. He had the emperor, An, murdered and made himself regent to the new emperor, Gong (who was in his early thirties). In 421 he had Emperor Gong asphyxiated with a blanket. After 155 years of rule, the Jin dynasty had ended. Liu Yu made himself emperor: Emperor Wu. The dynasty he began was called the Liu-Song, and his successors would follow his example of politics by murder.
CONTINUE READING: Grandeur and Weakness to 1279 and the Mongols
Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.