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Ancient China

Period of Disunion

History >> Ancient China

The Period of Disunion began with the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 AD. It continued for over 350 years until China was once again united under the Sui Dynasty in 589 AD.

The history of the Period of Disunion is often divided up into three different time periods: the Three Kingdoms, the Jin Dynasty, and the Southern and Northern Kingdoms.

Three Kingdoms

Painting of Liu Bei
by Yan Liben [Public Domain]

After the Han Dynasty fell in 220 AD, three different warlords rose to power. Each of them claimed to be emperor and took control of a different region of China. These three kingdoms were called Wei (north), Shu (west), and Wu (south). This period was marked by wars between different warlords and millions of Chinese people died in battle.

The period of the Three Kingdoms has become a popular part of Chinese history in many stories, movies, and legends. Leaders such as Cao Cao (founder of the Kingdom of Wei), Liu Bei (founder of the Kingdom of Shu), and Sun Quan (founder of the Kingdom of Wu) are household names in China and popular characters in stories and plays.

Jin Dynasty

In 265 AD, a general named Sima Yan took control of the kingdom of Wu and established the Jin Dynasty. The Jin became the strongest dynasty in China ruling much of southern China from 265 AD to 420 AD. At one point they managed to unite all of China in 280, but this didn't last long. Northern China soon rebelled and broke up into a number of smaller states ruled by warlords.

Southern and Northern Dynasties

The final stage of the Period of Disunion is called the Southern and Northern Dynasties. This period lasted from 420 to 589 AD. During this time, China remained divided with different dynasties ruling in the north and in the south. It came to an end when the Sui Dynasty came into power and unified China in 589 AD.


Although China was not united during this time, the Period of Disunity saw many advancements and accomplishments. New inventions include the stirrup for horses, the wooden ox (like a wheelbarrow), and the kite. There were also advances in astronomy, mathematics, and medicine.


The Period of Disunion saw a rise in the power of warlords and leading families. The government was less organized than under the Han Dynasty. Local warlords were often the main source of power.


Despite the constantly changing kings and emperors, the arts continued to flourish during this time. The period produced brilliant and innovative artists in areas such as poetry, calligraphy, sculpture, and painting. Outside influences and the integration of nearby peoples also impacted the Chinese culture. Perhaps the most significant of these was the spread of Buddhism as a major religion.

Interesting Facts about the Period of Disunion Activities

For more information on the civilization of Ancient China:

Timeline of Ancient China
Geography of Ancient China
Silk Road
The Great Wall
Forbidden City
Terracotta Army
The Grand Canal
Battle of Red Cliffs
Opium Wars
Inventions of Ancient China
Glossary and Terms

Major Dynasties
Xia Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
Han Dynasty
Period of Disunion
Sui Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
Song Dyanasty
Yuan Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty

Daily Life in Ancient China
Numbers and Colors
Legend of Silk
Chinese Calendar
Civil Service
Chinese Art
Entertainment and Games

Kangxi Emperor
Genghis Khan
Kublai Khan
Marco Polo
Puyi (The Last Emperor)
Emperor Qin
Emperor Taizong
Sun Tzu
Empress Wu
Zheng He
Emperors of China

Works Cited

History >> Ancient China

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