Jin dynasty (265–420)

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4 February 266–10 July 420
The Jin Empire (yellow) at its greatest extent, c. 280 (Western Jin)
The Jin Empire (yellow) at its greatest extent, c. 280
(Western Jin)
CapitalLuoyang (266–311)
Chang'an (312–316)
Jiankang (317–420)
Common languagesMiddle Chinese
Buddhism, Daoism, Chinese folk religion
• 266–290 (first)
Emperor Wu of Jin
• 419–420 (last)
Emperor Gong of Jin
• Establishment
4 February 266
• Reunification of China under Jin rule
• Jin evacuates to region south of the Huai River, Eastern Jin begins
• Abdication to Liu Song
10 July 420
280 (Western Jin peak)[1]3,100,000 km2 (1,200,000 sq mi)
347 (Eastern Jin peak)[1]2,800,000 km2 (1,100,000 sq mi)
• 300
CurrencyChinese coin, Cash
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Wei (Three Kingdoms of China)
Wu (Three Kingdoms of China)
Sixteen Kingdoms
Liu Song
Jin dynasty
Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.jpg
Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, a tomb painting from Jiankang (Nanjing) now located in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum.
Traditional Chinese晉朝
Simplified Chinese晋朝
Sima Jin
Traditional Chinese司馬
Simplified Chinese司马
Liang Jin
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaningTwo Jins
Western Jin
Western Jeun Dynasty 280 CE.png
The Jin Empire (yellow), c. 280
(Western Jin)
Traditional Chinese西晉
Simplified Chinese西晋
Eastern Jin
The Jin Empire (yellow), c. 400
(Eastern Jin)
Traditional Chinese東晉
Simplified Chinese东晋
History of China
History of China
Neolithic c. 8500 – c. 2070 BC
Xia c. 2070 – c. 1600 BC
Shang c. 1600 – c. 1046 BC
Zhou c. 1046 – 256 BC
 Western Zhou
 Eastern Zhou
   Spring and Autumn
   Warring States
Qin 221–206 BC
Han 202 BC – 220 AD
  Western Han
  Eastern Han
Three Kingdoms 220–280
  Wei, Shu and Wu
Jin 265–420
  Western Jin
  Eastern Jin Sixteen Kingdoms
Northern and Southern dynasties
Sui 581–618
Tang 618–907
  (Second Zhou 690–705)
Five Dynasties and
Ten Kingdoms

Liao 907–1125
Song 960–1279
  Northern Song Western Xia
  Southern Song Jin
Yuan 1271–1368
Ming 1368–1644
Qing 1636–1912
Republic of China 1912–1949
People's Republic of China 1949–present

The Jin dynasty or the Jin Empire (/ɪn/;[2] Chinese: 晉朝; pinyin: Jìn Cháo, sometimes distinguished as the Sima Jin (司马晋) or Liang Jin) (两晋, "Two Jins") was a Chinese dynasty traditionally dated from 266 to 420. It was founded by Sima Yan, son of Sima Zhao, who was made Prince of Jin and posthumously declared the founder of the dynasty. It followed the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD), which ended with the conquest of Eastern Wu by the Jin.

There are two main divisions in the history of the dynasty. The Western Jin (266–316) was established as a successor state to Cao Wei after Sima Yan usurped the throne, and had its capital at Luoyang or Chang'an (modern Xi'an); Western Jin reunited China in 280, but fairly shortly thereafter fell into a succession crisis, civil war, and invasion by the "Five Barbarians (Wu Hu)." The rebels and invaders began to establish new self-proclaimed states in the Yellow River valley in 304, inaugurating the "Sixteen Kingdoms" era. These states immediately began fighting each other and the Jin Empire, leading to the second division of the dynasty, the Eastern Jin (317–420) when Sima Rui moved the capital to Jiankang (modern Nanjing). The Eastern Jin dynasty was eventually overthrown by the Liu Song.


Molded-brick mural, identified as the "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove and Rong Qiqi", one of two walls apart of the coffin found in a tomb of the capital region of the Southern dynasties (5th-6th. c.), second half of the fifth century, at Xishanqiao, near Nanjing. 88 x 240 cm. Nanjing Museum. This part of the murals may reflect a composition of the famous Lu Tanwei, considered as the single greatest painter of all times by the Chinese critic Xi He (act. 500-536) : ref. from China : Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press 2004. We can recognize Ji Kang (223-262), on the left, under a gingko tree.
Hunping jar of the Western Jin, with Buddhist figures.

Under the Wei, who dominated China's Three Kingdoms period, the Sima clan rose to prominence, particularly after the 249 coup d'état at the Gaoping Tombs. Sima Zhao assisted the throne in suppressing other rebellions, recovering Shu and capturing Liu Shan in 263 and opposing Zhong Hui's rebellion the next year. His ambitions for the throne remain proverbial in Chinese but he died before he could rise higher than prince of Jin, a title named for the Zhou-era marchland and duchy around Shaanxi's Jin River. (He was granted the title as his ancestral home was located in Wen County within Jin's former lands.)


The Jin dynasty was founded in AD 266 by Sima Yan, posthumously known as Emperor Wu (the "Martial Emperor of Jin"). He forced Cao Huan's abdication but permitted him to live in honor as the Prince of Chenliu and buried him with imperial ceremony. The Jin dynasty conquered the Eastern Wu in 280, and united the country. The period of unity was short-lived as the state was soon weakened by corruption, political turmoil, and internal conflicts. Sima Yan's son Zhong, posthumously known as Emperor Hui (the "Benevolent Emperor of Jin"), was developmentally disabled.


Conflict over his succession in 290 expanded into the devastating War of the Eight Princes. The weakened dynasty was then engulfed by the Uprising of the Five Barbarians and lost control of northern China. Large numbers of Chinese fled south from the Central Plains; among other effects, these refugees and colonizers gave Quanzhou's Jin River its name as they settled its valley in Fujian. The Jin capital Luoyang was captured by Liu Cong in 311. Sima Chi, posthumously known as Emperor Huai (the "Missing Emperor of Jin"), was captured and later executed. His successor Sima Ye, posthumously known as Emperor Min (the "Suffering Emperor of Jin"), was captured at Chang'an (present-day Xi'an) in 316 and also later executed.[3]

Eastern Jin[edit]

The remnants of the Jin court fled to the east, reestablishing their government at Jiankang within present-day Nanjing, Jiangsu. Sima Rui, the prince of Langya (琅琊), was enthroned in 318, posthumously becoming known as Emperor Yuan (the "First Emperor of the Eastern Jin").[3] The rival northern states, who denied the legitimacy of his succession, sometimes referred to his state as "Langya".

At first, the southerners were resistant to the new ruler from the north. The circumstances obliged the Emperors of Eastern Jin to depend on both local and refugee gentry clans, the latter convinced the former of the emperor enjoying high prestige by showing superficial respect to Rui, which was also the pinnacle of menfa politics (門閥政治), Several immigrated gentry clans were very active and they grasped the national affairs: Wang () clans from Langya and Taiyuan, Xie () clan from Chenliu (陳留), Huan () clan from Qiao Commandery (譙郡) and Yu () clan from Yingchuan (潁川). The Emperors of Eastern Jin had limited power. There was a prevalent remark that "王與(司)馬,共天下 (Wang Dao and the emperor Sima Rui, they dominate the nation together)" among the people.[4] It is said that when Emperor Yuan was holding court, he even invited Dao to sit by himself accepting jointly the congratulations from ministers, but Dao declined it.[5]

The local gentry clans were at odds with the immigrated. As such tensions increased, they loomed larger in Jin's domestic politics. Two biggest ones of local clans: Zhou () clan from Yixing (義興) and Shen () clan from Wuxing (吳興)'s ruin was a bitter blow from which they never quite recovered. Moreover, there was a conflict among the immigrated clans' interests, it was a faction led to a virtual balance somewhat benefited the emperor's ruling.

Although there was a stated goal of recovering the "lost northern lands", paranoia within the royal family and a constant string of disruptions to the throne caused the loss of support among many officials. Military crises—including the rebellions of the generals Wang Dun and Su Jun but also lesser fangzhen (方鎮, "military county") revolts—plagued the Eastern Jin throughout its 104 years of existence.

Special "commanderies of immigrants" and "white registers" were created for the massive amount of northern origin Han Chinese who moved south during the Eastern Jin dynasty.[6] The southern Chinese aristocracy was formed from the offspring these migrants.[7] Celestial Masters and the nobility of northern China subdued the nobility of southern China during the Eastern Jin and Western Jin in Jiangnan in particular.[8] The most populous region of China was southern China after the depopulation of the north and the migration of northern Chinese to southern China.[9][10] Different waves of migration of aristocratic Chinese from northern China to the south at different times resulted in distinct groups of lineages, with some lineages arriving in the 300s-400s and others in the 800s-900s.[11]

The Eastern Jin recovered its unity in the face of the 383 invasion by the Former Qin. The short-lived coöperation among Huan Chong (brother of General Huan Wen) and Prime Minister Xie An helped provide a major victory at the Fei River. A large amount of Former Qin territory was then taken or retaken.


Later, Huan Xuan, Huan Wen's son, usurped the throne and changed the dynasty's name to Chu. He, in turn, was toppled by Liu Yu, who reinstated Sima Dezong, posthumously known as Emperor An (the "Peaceful Emperor of Jin"). Meanwhile, as civilian administration suffered, there were further revolts led by Sun En and Lu Xun; Western Shu became an independent kingdom under Qiao Zong. Liu Yu had Sima Dezong strangled and replaced by his brother Sima Dewen, posthumously known as Emperor Gong (the "Respectful Emperor of Jin"), in 419. Sima Dewen abdicated in 420 in favor of Liu Yu, who declared himself the ruler of the Song; he was asphyxiated with a blanket the following year. In the north, Northern Liang, the last of the Sixteen Kingdoms, was conquered by the Northern Wei in 439, ushering in the Northern dynasties period.

The Xianbei Northern Wei accepted the Jin refugees Sima Fei (司馬) and Sima Chuzhi (司馬楚之). They both married Xianbei princesses. Sima Fei's wife was named Huayang (公主), who was the daughter of Emperor Xiaowen; Sima Chuzhi's son was Sima Jinlong (司馬金龍), who married a Northern Liang princess who was a daughter of Xiongnu King Juqu Mujian.[12] Much later, Sima Guang (1019–1086), who served as prime minister to the Song, claimed descent from the Jin dynasty (specifically, Sima Fu, brother of Sima Yi).

Government and demography[edit]

Menfa politics[edit]

Administrative divisions of Eastern Jin dynasty, as of 382 AD

Qiaoren and baiji[edit]

The uprising of the five barbarians led to one northerner in eight immigrated to the south. These immigrants were called "qiaoren (僑人, literally the lodged people)" accounting for one sixth the then people lived in the south. Considering most property of these refugees had been lost or exhausted as they arrived, they were privileged to be free from diao (調), a special poll tax was paid via the silken or cotton cloth etc. in the ancient China, and service. Their registers which bound in white papers were called baiji (白籍) in Chinese. The ordinary ones which bound in yellow papers were called huangji (黃籍) in comparison.

Since situation settled down, the preferential treatment not only was the heavy burden for the nation, but also aroused dissatisfaction from the natives. Hence, tu duan was an increasingly important issue for the Eastern Jin.

Lodged administrative divisions in Jin dynasty[edit]

The Eastern Jin court established the lodged administrative divisions in where were strongholds of qiaoren. More effective in administration for them was a realistic starting point for that. Consisting of three levels: qiaozhou (僑州, the lodged province), qiaojun (僑郡, the lodged commandery) and qiaoxian (僑縣, the lodged county), these lodged administrative divisions were merely nominal without possessing actual domain, or rather, they were local government in exile, what could scarcely be denied was their significance of Jin's legitimacy for the north territory as somewhat an announcement. Furthermore, it was also an action to appease refugees' homesickness or home town complex, evoking their desire to resume the lost.

During the Emperor Yuan, Emperor Ming and Emperor Cheng period, the lodged administrative divisions were concentrated in the area south of the Huai River and the Lower Yangtze Plain. At first there was the lodged Langya Commandery within lodged Fei County in Jiankang, but when it began was not exact. Then the lodged Huaide County was also established in Jiankang, around 320. According to the Book of Song:

晉永嘉大亂,幽、冀、青、並、兗州及徐州之淮北流民,相率過淮,亦有過江在晉陵郡界者……又徙流民之在淮南者于晉陵諸縣,其徙過江南及留在江北者,並立僑郡縣以司牧之。徐、兗二州或治江北,江北又僑立幽、冀、青、並四州……(After Disaster of Yongjia, the refugees from You, Ji, Qing, Bing, Yan and Xu provinces came across the Huai River, some even came across the Yangtze River and stayed in Jinling Commandery... The lodged administrative divisions were established to govern them. The seats of Xu and Yan provinces perhaps were moved to the area north of the Yangtze River, where the lodged You, Ji, Qing, Bing provinces were established.)[13]

The lodged Pei, Qinghe, Xiapi, Dongguang, Pingchang, Jiyin, Puyang, Guangping, Taishan, Jiyang, Lu commanderies were stablished when Emperor Ming ruled. The rebellions and invasions occurred in Jianghuai area led to more refugees switched to settle in the south of the Yangtze River, where the lodged Huainan Commandery was established afterwards.

However, carrying out was more complex than the policy was formulated. Several actual counties were under the jurisdiction of the lodged commanderies.

A few lodged administrative divisions are still retained in China nowadays. For instance, Dangtu County was originally located in the area of Bengbu, however the lodged Dangtu County was established in where it is now, and the latter replaced the former, inheriting its place name.

Tu duan policy in Jin dynasty[edit]

The tu duan (土斷) is the abbreviation for yi tu duan (以土斷, means classifying people according to their present habitation to register). It was a policy to ensure the ancient hukou system working since the Western Jin. These terms were firstly recorded in the biographies of Wei Guan and Li Chong included in the Book of Jin:



Hence, it perhaps proposed initially by these two persons, but was implemented seriously in the Eastern Jin and the Southern dynasties.

Society and culture[edit]

Material culture[edit]

Yue ware with motif, 3rd century CE, Western Jin, Zhejiang.

The Jin dynasty is well known for the quality of its greenish celadon porcelain wares, which immediately followed the development of proto-celadon. Jar designs often incorporated animal, as well as Buddhist, figures.[16]

Examples of Yue ware are also known from the Jin dynasty.[17]


Taoism was polarized in the Jin dynasty. The Jin emperors repressed Taoists harshly, but also tried to exploit it, given the way it had been used near the end of the Han era in the poor peasants' revolts. Amidst the political turmoil of the era, many successful merchants, small landowners, and other moderately comfortable persons found great solace in Taoist teachings and a number of major clans and military officers also took up the faith. Ge Hong emphasized loyalty to the emperor as a Taoist virtue; he even taught that rebels could never be Taoist immortals,[18] which made Taoism more palatable to the imperial hierarchy. As a result, popular Taoist religions were considered heterodoxy while the official schools of the court were supported, but the popular schools like Tianshi Taoism were still secretly held dear and promulgated amongst ordinary people.

Disunity, disintegration, and chaos also made Buddhism more popular, in part due to the focus on addressing suffering. The Jin dynasty marked a critical era for Mahayana in China. Dharmarakṣa’s translation of the Saddharmapundarika Sūtra was the most important sutra before Kumārajīva’s Lotus Sutra. It was said that there were 1,768 Buddhist temples in the Eastern Jin.[19]

Furthermore, Taoism advanced chemistry and medicine in China, whereas the contribution of Mahayana was concentrated in the philosophy and literature.

List of emperors[edit]

Posthumous names Family name and given names Durations of reigns Era names and their according range of years
Chinese convention: "Jin" + posthumous name + "di"
Western Jin dynasty 266–316
Wu Di Sima Yan 266–290
  • Taishi 266–274
  • Xianning 275–280
  • Taikang 280–289
  • Taixi January 28, 290 – May 17, 290
Hui Di Sima Zhong 290–307
  • Yongxi May 17, 290 – February 15, 291
  • Yongping February 16 – April 23, 291
  • Yuankang April 24, 291 – February 6, 300
  • Yongkang February 7, 300 – February 3, 301
  • Yongning June 1, 301 – January 4, 303
  • Taian January 5, 303 – February 21, 304
  • Yongan February 22 – August 15, 304; December 25, 304 – February 3, 305
  • Jianwu August 16 – December 24, 304
  • Yongxing February 4, 305 – July 12, 306
  • Guangxi July 13, 306 – February 19, 307
none Sima Lun 301
  • Jianshi February 3 – June 1, 301
Huai Di Sima Chi 307–311
  • Yongjia 307 – 313
Min Di Sima Ye 313–316
  • Jianxing 313–316
Eastern Jin dynasty 317–420
Yuan Di Sima Rui 317–323
  • Jianwu 317–318
  • Taixing 318–322
  • Yongchang 322–323
Ming Di Sima Shao 323–325
  • Taining 323–326
Cheng Di Sima Yan 325–342
  • Xianhe 326–335
  • Xiankang 335–342
Kang Di Sima Yue 342–344
  • Jianyuan 343–344
Mu Di Sima Dan 344–361
  • Yonghe 345–357
  • Shengping 357–361
Ai Di Sima Pi 361–365
  • Longhe 362–363
  • Xingning 363–365
Fei Di Sima Yi 365–372
  • Taihe 365–372
Jianwen Di Sima Yu 372
  • Xianan 372–373
Xiaowu Di Sima Yao 372–396
  • Ningkang 373–375
  • Taiyuan 376–396
An Di Sima Dezong 396–419
  • Longan 397–402
  • Yuanxing 402–405
  • Yixi 405–419
Gong Di Sima Dewen 419–420
  • Yuanxi 419–420

Major events[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Taagepera, Rein (1979). "Size and Duration of Empires: Growth-Decline Curves, 600 B.C. to 600 A.D." Social Science History. 3 (3/4): 128. doi:10.2307/1170959. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  2. ^ "Jin". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  3. ^ a b Grousset, Rene (1970). The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University Press. pp. 56–57. ISBN 0-8135-1304-9.
  4. ^ Book of Jin. 帝初鎮江東,威名未著,敦與從弟導等同心翼戴,以隆中興,時人為之語曰:「王與馬,共天下。」
  5. ^ "司马睿".
  6. ^ Gernet (1996), p. 182.
  7. ^ Nicolas Olivier Tackett, The Transformation Of Medieval Chinese Elites (850-1000 C.E.) p. 81.
  8. ^ John Lagerwey; Pengzhi Lü (30 October 2009). Early Chinese Religion: The Period of Division (220-589 Ad). BRILL. pp. 831–. ISBN 90-04-17585-7.
  9. ^ Historical Atlas of the Classical World, 500 BC--AD 600. Barnes & Noble Books. 2000. p. 2.25. ISBN 978-0-7607-1973-2.
  10. ^ Haywood, John; Jotischky, Andrew; McGlynn, Sean (1998). Historical Atlas of the Medieval World, AD 600-1492. Barnes & Noble. p. 3.21. ISBN 978-0-7607-1976-3.
  11. ^ Hugh R. Clark (2007). Portrait of a Community: Society, Culture, and the Structures of Kinship in the Mulan River Valley (Fujian) from the Late Tang Through the Song. Chinese University Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 978-962-996-227-2.
  12. ^ China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200-750 AD, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004, pp. 18 ff., ISBN 978-1-58839-126-1
  13. ^ Book of Song, Vol.35.
  14. ^ Book of Jin, Vol. 36.
  15. ^ Book of Jin, Vol. 46.
  16. ^ Shanghai Museum permanent exhibit
  17. ^ Guimet Museum permanent exhibit
  18. ^ Baopuzi, Vol. 3. 欲求仙者,要當以忠孝和順仁信為本。若德行不修,而但務方術,皆不得長生也。
  19. ^ 「東晉偏安一百四載,立寺乃一千七百六十有八,可謂侈盛……」Liu Shiheng (劉世珩,1874–1926) 南朝寺考 quoted from 釋迦氏譜


  • Gernet, Jacques (1996). A History of Chinese Civilization. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-49781-7.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Three Kingdoms
Dynasties in Chinese history
Succeeded by
Northern and Southern dynasties