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HOME > Exhibition > Permanent Exhibition > Acient Liaoning > From the Warring States through the Sui and Tang periods
From the Warring States through the Sui and Tang periods

From the Warring States through the Sui and Tang periods

(Third Century BCE – 907 CE)



Opening the Frontier and Establishing Prefectures Qin-Han Unification


During the late Warring States period as the state of Yan gained influence in the east, the southern part of northeastern China came into Yan’s sphere of influence and the Liaoning region gradually became a part of the culture of the Chinese central plains. During the Qin and Han dynasties, and together with the nation’s rise to strength and prosperity, the central government accelerated its northeastern expansion. Relics and sites from that period discovered in Liaoning show that Liaoning had already become a cultural, political and economic center of northeast China. 

Frontier Prefectures of the Yan
At the start of the third century BCE, King Zhao of Yan sent his trusted general Qin Kai to repel the Donghu, and establish the five prefectures of Shanggu, Yuyang, Youbeiping, Liaoxi and Liaodong. Of these, parts of Liaodong, Liaoxi and Youbeiping fell within the borders of modern Liaoning. He also constructed the northern Yan Great Wall to guard against harassment by nomadic tribes such as the Eastern Hu. At this time, the Liaoning region was formally incorporated into the state of Yan.

An Imperial Villa during the Qin and Han dynasties
The Jiangnushi site, situated in Wanjia Town of Suizhong County on the Bohai coast of Huludao, was the villa where the emperor Qin Shi Huang stayed during his eastern tours, and was used for the same purpose during the Han dynasty. Making use of its favorable position on the ocean bay, it is centered upon the Shibei site, with two wings formed by Heishantou and Zhimaowan, perfectly forming ‘one palace with two gates,’ facing the jieshi (stone tablets) on the sea (the folk name for the Jiangnushi). Grand and dignified, it expressed both the majesty and prestige of the imperial family and the central government’s development and administration of Liaoning. It was also a symbol of the multi-ethnic unified empire of the Qin and Han. 

Developing the Liao Region
In keeping with the practice during the Warring States and Qin periods, the Han dynasty established prefectures and counties throughout the Liaoning region. In 108 BCE, four additional prefectures were established, including Xuantu. At the start of the Western Han, a policy of peaceful reconstruction was pursued across the country to develop the economy and restore the nation to power. As in other areas, the economy of the Liaoning region developed rapidly, with the prefectures of Liaodong performing especially well. By the Eastern Han period, it had already become the most densely-populated region of China’s northeast.



The Rise of the Fuyu
The Fuyu were a historically important ethnic group in China’s northeast. At the start of the Han period, they lived on the Songliao plains of the central northeast, and in the northern part of Liaoning. The Fuyu people lived on this fertile land for over 700 years. They continuously expanded outward, making exemplary contributions to the development of the economy and culture of the northeastern region. After the Fuyu established their nation, they maintained a close vassal relationship with the Han dynasty. A great number of precious artifacts from the early Western Han period were excavated at Xichagou cemetery in Xifeng when it was discovered in 1956. These contained cultural elements of the Fuyu, the Han and numerous other peoples, show casing the mingling of the various ethnicities living along the Great Wall in the northeast during that time and their farming and herding lifestyles.    

Ethnic Blending   Wei-Jin Instability

During the era of the Three Kingdoms, Eastern and Western Jin, and Northern and Southern dynasties, political regimes changed frequently for the whole country. During the Han and Wei periods, Liaoning was partitioned into western and eastern sections by both the ‘Wuhuan of the Three Commanderies’ and the Gongsun clan regimes. Both were later replaced by the state of Cao Wei. During the Eastern and Western Jin period, the Murong Xianbei arose in western Liaoning, establishing the Three Yan (Former, Later, and Northern Yan) regimes, while the Koguryo occupied the mountains of Liaodong. During the Northern and Southern dynasties, the eastern part of Liaoning was occupied by the Koguryo, while western Liaoning fell successively under the regimes of the Northern Wei, Eastern Wei, and Northern Qi dynasties. These clashes and annexations among the regimes and people accelerated economic and cultural exchange, energizing the culture of ancient China.  

Cao Cao’s Northern Expedition
During the twelfth year of Jian’an (207 CE), Cao Cao made an expedition to Wuhuan and undertook a long-range attack on Liucheng. Both armies met in decisive battle at White Wolf Mountain, and Cao’s forces won a total victory, while the Wuhuan suffered losses in excess of 200,000. During his return from Liucheng, following the Bohai coast, Cao Cao saw stone tablets in the distance, and thus wrote his immortal poem, the Stone Tablet Poem.

Gongsun’s Separatism
During the late Eastern Han, the royal in-laws struggled for power with officials, and the Yellow Turban Rebellion impacted the power base of the Eastern Han dynasty, splitting China apart. General Gongsun Du annexed the eastern part of Liaoning, proclaiming himself the Governor of Pingzhou. Against a background of constant fighting and chaos on the central plains, he maintained a relatively stable government regime, while loyal officials of the central plains fled to Liaodong. During the half century from 189 – 238 CE, three generations of the Gongsun lineage controlled Liaodong, before finally being replaced by the Cao-Wei state.

The Murong Xianbei
The Murong Xianbei, an Eastern Hu ethnicity, entered western Liaoning at the start of the Cao-Wei period. They established their capital at Jicheng in 294 CE, and then proceeded to defeat, in succession, the Yuwen and Duan Xianbei clans as well as the Fuyu and Koguryo. In the year 337, they established the Former Yan state, making its capital Longcheng (modern Chaoyang) in 342. In 350, they began to attack the central plains, fighting for hegemony against the Later Zhao, the Ran Wei, the Duanshi, the Huns and the Former Qin. In 370 they annihilated the Former Qin, re-establishing their nation as the Later Yan in 384 and retreating to the area west of the Liao River. In 409, the Later Yan was replaced by the Northern Yan, established by Feng Ba of the Han ethnicity. The Northern Yan fell in 436.

Yingzhou during the Northern Wei
The Northern Wei, established by the Tuoba Xianbei people in western Liaoning, began building Yingzhou in Longcheng of the ‘Three Yan’ (modern Chaoyang) in 436 CE. This place, bordered on the north by the Khitan and on the east by Koguryo, became a political, economic and cultural stronghold of northern China. The Xianbei and Han cultures blended with each other here. Buddhism also developed and evolved on the foundation of the ‘Three Yan’, and was transmitted eastward. The Wanfotang Grottoes, which have survived in modern Yixian, are the northernmost of the Northern Wei grottoes. It reflects the level achieved by Buddhist art at the time. 

The Koguryo
The Koguryo state was founded in 37 BCE, and Hesheng Gucheng (modern Wu Nu Shan in Huanrenren County, Benxi) was later made its capital. In the year 3 CE, the capital was moved to Gungnae City (modern Ji’an, Jilin). In the fifth century it occupied the two prefectures of Liaodong and Xuantu. In 427 the capital was moved to Pyongyang, until the Tang recovered Liaodong in 668. The Koguryo relics in the Liaodong region vividly display the unique culture created by this ancient people who “lived in the high mountains and deep valleys” and who absorbed influences from the Chinese central plains and neighboring peoples. 

Frontier Stronghold Yingzhou in the Sui and Tang Dynasties

The unification of the nation during the Sui and Tang eras ended the century-long separation of northern and southern China. Liaoning, already a gateway to the northeast by way of northern Hebei, became a vital frontier for the administration of this region. A variety of peoples lived here side-by-side, engaging in cultural exchange and making this a site for trade among different ethnic groups. It was a hub for reaching the northeast from the central plains of China, and connected the central government to the various peoples of northeastern China. It was also a governmental, economic, cultural and military center for the northeastern region, and a key stronghold and buffer zone. 

Military Stronghold
During the third year of the Kaihuang reign (583 CE), the emperor Sui Wendi exterminated Gao Baoning’s remaining Northern Qi troops and captured the city of Longcheng (modern Chaoyang) in western Liaoning, establishing Yingzhou. During the reign of Sui Yangdi, Yingzhou was dissolved and Liucheng Prefecture was established, and the food-producing garrisons outside of Liucheng flourished. Following the founding of the Tang dynasty, the Yingzhou government center was established on the site of the Sui-era Liucheng Prefecture. In the seventh year of the Wude reign (624 CE), it was made a dudufu (Governor’s Office). During the reign of Tang Xuanzong, the Pinglu army was stationed within the Yingzhou city walls, and it was later made a jiedushi, with control over with power over the Khitan, Xi, Shiwei, Mohe, and other peoples within the jimi system. Under this system, minority peoples maintained self-rule while pledging loyalty to the central government. Yingzhou thus became a political center for Tang governance in the northeast, as well as a military strongpoint.  

Foreigners and Han Living Side-by-Side
Tang-era Yingzhou was a place bordering the homelands of various ethnicities, where peoples such as the Han, Koguryo, Khitan, Xi, Mohe, Shiwei, Turks, Silla, and Su settled together. Yingzhou was also a site for inter-ethnic frontier commerce. An Lushan and Shi Siming served as frontier market agents here because they understood foreign languages. The Yingzhou described in the poem The Song of Yingzhou by Tang poet Gao Shi is a scene of foreigners and Han living side-by-side.

Daily Life
During the Sui and Tang periods, Yingzhou was a key northern military position and an economic center of the northeast. People from many different groups and social strata lived there. While the Yingzhou lifestyle lacked the splendour of the Chinese central plains, it clearly embodied a spirit of tolerance and honest hard work, which pervaded the unique local culture.  

Funerary Customs
To date, over 200 Tang dynasty tombs have been discovered in the Chaoyang region. Their composition is diverse and complex. Accompanying the burial are magical beasts including griffin-like birds with human heads, tomb dragons, and ritual fish, and there are both similarities and differences with the Tang tombs of Xi’an and Luoyang. Their unique burial structures and funerary objects demonstrate the unusual funerary customs and spiritual world of the people of Yingzhou during that time.  

The Eastern Extension of the Silk Road
During the Sui and Tang eras, Yingzhou was an important transfer point on the eastern Silk Road. It was a point of exchange for peoples including the Turks, Koguryo and Khitan. The flourishing business of the area attracted a large number of central Asian merchants. These dauntless diplomats, merchants, monks, and migrants imbued Yingzhou with fresh vitality, and made a substantial contribution to east-west economic and cultural exchange. 



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