Spotlight on Games > War Games > Backgrounds
China: The Middle Kingdom
Background for the 2008 game by Decision

Factions: Blue · Red · Green · Purple

Usually spelled Wei, in the game this state has this spelling to help avoid confusion with two other, unrelated later Wei states, one of which is also in the game. Established c. 445 BC, it was one of the six Warring States (with Qin the seventh) and included areas in Henan, Hebei, Shanxi and Shandong. The Wei concentrated on irrigation projects on the Yellow River and, ignoring the threat from the Qin to its west, focused on conquest to the east, but was defeated several times. Meanwhile Qin reformations boosted their economy and the were able to conquer Wei's western regions to the extent that the capital was had to be moved further east. Wei allied itself with the Han, but the Qin defeated their army at the Battle of Yique in 293 BC. In 225 BC the Wei surrendered to the Qin completely after they flooded new capital by diverting the Yellow River.

The Yan was another of the Warring States. Originally it had its capital at the present day Beijing, though it was also moved from time to time (to Xiadu). This state actually existed prior to this period, being located beside the Yellow River (Hwang He), but after a failed revolt was moved north to what is now Hebei as a barrier against invasion from the north. Its main enemies however were Zhao and Qi, though their wars generally ended in stalemate. In 227 BC, after the Qin had defeated the Zhao, the Yan prince attempted to assassinate the Qin ruler, but barely failed. In a subsequent battle on a frozen river, the Qin won a cushing victory and the Yan ruler fled to remoter territory on the Liaodong peninsula. When this fell as well five years later, Yan succumbed to the Qin. A later revival of the Yan occurred when the Zhao king sent a general to conquer the Yan territory, but the general set himself up as king instead. This kingdom submitted to the Han for a time, but eventually came under direct Han control.


original Hun extent in green
This confederation of nomadic tribes is more usually called the Xiongnu. They were active in southern Siberia, western Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Xinjiang. This dangerous confederation was the impetus for the creation of the original network of walls that eventually became the Great Wall. The confederation was formed three years before the Han Dynasty was founded, perhaps as a reaction to the ejection of tribes from pastures on the Yellow River. Possibly a Mongolian group, in the second century BC they defeated and displaced the Yuezhi (in the game predecessors of the Kushans) from Gansu and Xinjiang. Relations between the Xiongnu and Han Dynasty alternated between war and diplomacy. Periodic gifts to the tribes kept the peace for six decades, though treaties were not always taken seriously by them. After several exploratory raids, true war returned in 129 BC with a surprise attack by the Chinese. The Xiongnu suffered defeat after defeat, but the Han were stymied because the nomads retreated into the steppe, across which it was very difficult to supply food. The Han managed to take back the Gansu corridor, separating the Xiongnu from the Qiang in Tibet and gained control of areas in Xinjiang. Over time, however, the Xiongnu regained power, helped by a new succession law. Instead of passing power to the eldest son, it was now given to a younger brother. The border stabilized at the Great Wall. Very dependent on the Han economically, they eventually began large scale rebellions against a state which had anyway re-centered itself to the east. The Han were themselves often in disorder at the court and Xiongnu settled as far east as Shanxi. These Huns were eventually sinicized; some of the aristocrats even changed their barbarian name Luanti to Liu, claiming they were related to the imperial family. This did not stop them from further rebellion and after the power of the Han was broken, Huns ruled all of north China and later a great deal of the west. At this point the Huns broke into several different branches. Eventually some groups were defeated by new states such as the northern Wei. Some believe others migrated west and their descendants came to afflict the Roman empire under a leader by the name of Attila.


Nan Yue in 200 BC
Another transliteration of this kingdom's name is Nam Viet. This kingdom was born of the revolt by imperial Qin officers after the death of the first Qin emperor. In 203 BC it conquered the Guilin/Guangxi area as well as north and central Yunnan and its ruler declared himself a king. It relied on a mountainous border with the empire for its defense. When the Han empire was founded, Nanyue was technically a subject state, but continued with a large degree of autonomy. In 195 BC, a change in Han rulers led to Nanyue fears that the Han would attempt to absorb the kingdom and Nanyue went on the attack. These were successful and two additional states were added in the east and the west. Upon the later arrival of another new Han ruler, the previous situation was restored. In 137, upon death of the Nanyue ruler they were attecked by the kingdom of Minyue, which was centered in the area of present day Fujian. With help arriving from the Han, the Minyue surrendered. Relations with the Han empire grew ever closer. In 112 BC the Han emperor sent a navy carrying 100,000 because the prime minister had killed the king and taken power for himself. The capital fell to them the next year and Nanyue was officially incorporated into the Han empire.


Northern Wei holdings - 500 AD
This edition of Wei are more usually termed the Northern Wei Dynasty or Later Wei. Significant from 386-535, they dominated the northeast during a turbulent period, unifying the north in 439. Buddhism became firmly established during this period. The rulers of this dynasty are thought to have originated from the Xianbei. They originally came to prominence because of an alliance with the Jin against the Xiongnu. In 391 they defeated the Rouran and forced them to flee west. They were themselves vassals of the Yan, but rebelled and conquered Yan territory north of the Yellow River. Early on, by order of the ruler, each man tied his hair into a single braid which was rolled to the top of the head and covered by a cap. This was just one of their several unusual customs, but as the state grew, these tended to be lost in favor of traditional Chinese practices. This process was accelerated as the capital moved south and led to splits between the rulers in the south and the less sinicized people guarding the borders against the Rouran in the north. Open rebellion lasting a decade broke out in 523 and eventually the state lost a great deal of power, being split into Eastern and Western Wei. In just a year or two the east succumbed to the Northern Qi while the west became part of the Northern Zhou.

6 Dynasties
The term "6 Dynasties" has refers to the period after the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220 AD and before the reunification of north and south by the Sui Dynasty. The term has two meanings. It can refer to the Three Kingdoms (220-80), the Jin Dynasty (265-420) and the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589) which is 3+1+2=6, but it can also refer to the six dynasties who all succeeded one another at the same capital in the south. In any case, the period was characterized by relatively short-lived and unstable regimes. For most of this period, Chinese rule was confined to the south as the north was dominated by steppe nomads. Of the Three Kingdoms, the Wei (different from the other two Wei mentioned above) were in the northeast, the Wu in the southeast and the Shu Han in the west. All claimed to be the most legitimate heirs of the Han. This was the age of chivalry and romance remembered in a famous novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Although all fought to do so, none of these kingdoms could achieve unification and ultimately it was done by a rebel general, Jin Wudi, who founded the Western Jin dynasty. He used his newly-gained power to build a pontoon bridge over the Yellow River, re-opened the western trade routes and created a library of over 30,000 volumes. But he failed to centralize economic power which was now held by independent major landowners. After his death the kingdom splintered and northerners brought in help from nomadic powers, Chinese rulers being forced south of the Yangzi. Thus started the period of Southern and Northern Dynasties. In the south, the dynasty was re-cast as the Eastern Jin where the rulers were weak and frequent, but life was relatively stable despite the decentralization of power. This was much less the case in the north which was undergoing what is termed the Sixteen Kingdoms period where power was fought over by Mongols, Turks, Tungu and Tibetans. Refugees streamed south, strengthening the Jin who eventually managed to take Sichuan. But they were powerless to do anything against the Northern Wei (see above) who eventually emerged to triumph in the northeast. In 420, a usurper took power, ending the Jin to create the Liu Song Dynasty, third of six to rule in the south during this period. It was to be followed in turn by the Qi Dynasty (479-502), the Liang Dynasty (502-557) and the Chen Dynasty (557-589). War with the north was continuous with only small gains being achieved by either side. The last Chen emperor was dissolute and conquest by the Sui from the north was as much due to enemy propaganda and his own negligence as it was to Sui power.


Tujue holdings in the early years
Tujue is a Chinese name. Others for this Turkish confederation are Göktürks, Celestial Turks or Blue Turks. Becoming established in 552 AD, they succeeded the Rouran in dominating a huge amount of territory in Central Asia and controlling the Silk Road trade until 747. Among the Turks, the color blue represents East and is associated with good omens and probably had the connotations of first, rising, auspicious, etc. as with the dawn. These Turks were originally part of the Xiongnu confederation. Four hundred years later they allied with the Wei and successfully rebelled against Rouran rule, defeating the last Rouran khan, as well as the Khitans and the Yenisei Kyrgyz. They then bound various Turkic tribes into an empire and worked with Sassanian Persia to destroy the Hephthalites (White Huns), which drove the Avars into Europe (where they were defeated by Charlemagne). Eventually they reached eastern Europe as far as the Crimea. In the south they came into conflict with Persia. In the east they allied with the Goguryeo empire of Korea and both were paid large tributes by the states of northern China. What made this Turkic empire different was that they were ruled not by a single emperor, but by a tribal council. Although Buddhist, Christian and Manichean missionaries approached them, they retained their shamanistic religion. They were also the first Turkic group to write their own language (in runes). Around 584 civil war

holdings by 600
broke out and then developed into a four-sided conflict that first the Sui and then the Tang dynasty successfully played off against one another. Eventually the sides were reduced to an eastern and a western faction. In the east they repeatedly attacked China during the weakness of the transition from the Sui to the Tang, but the latter eventually allied with their Uyghur subject people and brought down the leaders and divided the empire into many small parts. The western half allied with the Byzantine empire against the Persians with considerable success, but reforms divided the large empire into five parts which led the Bulgarian tribes to secede. The central part emerged as a Khazar state. Then the eastern part was overrun by the Tang dynasty which led to Tang rule of the Silk Road all the way to the Persian border. In 681 they rebelled against the Tang and re-established control north of the Great Wall and eventually to the west as well, but running into the Arabs, which the latter were eventually to win. Eventually the Uyghurs spelled the end of this state, sending the head of the ruler to the Tang capital, only to be defeated themselves some five years later by the Tang general Li Wu.


Tang maximum extent
The Tang dynasty is one of the most renowned in Chinese history. The preceding Sui dynasty had a lot of good ideas, but failed to execute them properly and so fell apart after just a couple of rulers. The Tang however picked up on these ideas, conquered a great deal of territory and survived for the period 618-907. The Tang were known for their strong interest in foreign lands and unlike many later isolationist dynasties a large number of exotic ideas, religions, inventions and products arrived in China at this time. Early in its existence the dynasty spent a great deal of effort in Korea which was divided into three kingdoms at the time. Although it would ally with one of the kingdoms in an attempt to conquer the others, this met with great difficulty and ultimately no success. More was able to be done in the south in the area of Viet Nam where the coast was taken. The areas of Qinghai and Tibet were not held in this period with the Tibetans constituting a strong empire of their own. Turks were also troublesome in the north and east. The Tang were very interested in the Silk Road trade and held Gansu strongly and had at least nominal, sometimes actual control of the Tarim basin oases that littered the road. This was the only dynasty to really get involved in events in Western Central Asia and even the regions just north of India where some kingdoms claimed Chinese overlordship. Late in the life of the dynasty there were serious consequences, however, as the Chinese became overextended. They fought one five day battle with Arabs and lost. But more seriously, they devoted large resources to the west and when the emperor's concubine made a deal with the leading Turkish general Tibetans were able to overrun and sack the capital, forcing the emperor into a hasty retreat. Turkish and Tibetan forces dominated the west for the rest of the dynasty. Later the Turkish Uighur tribe invaded the Tarim and permanently took over the era


1142: Xixia in top left; Dali in purple
Also known as Western Xia (Xi is Chinese for west) or the Tangut empire (Mongolian name), the state existed in northwestern China from 1038 to 1227, including parts of Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Xinjiang and both Mongolias. The empire seems to have been founded by Xianbei people who rebelled against first the Liao and then the Northern Song, eventually succeeding in gaining autonomy. In 1115 the Jurchen Jin Dynasty made it its vassal. In 1207 they submitted to the Mongols and the ruler gave a daughter to Genghis Khan for marriage and weakened his empire with a series of attacks on the Jin. Eventually the Tanguts and Mongols fell out and Genghis led forces in six rounds of attack on the Xixia over two decades. Genghis was to die there during the last round, according to Mongol records due to an illness, but according to Tanguts, because of a battle-inflicted wound 1226. The truth may be judged from the event that in the next year the Xixia capital was overrun and tens of thousands of civilians were massacred. The Xixia were incorporated into the Mongol domain and armies.

This kingdom was centered in Yunnan, established in 937 and in existence until 1253 with its capital in the city of Dali. This state succeeded the Nanzhao who were overthrown in 902 and followed by three short-lived dynasties. The eleventh ruler designated Buddhism as the state religion. Eventually they come under attack by the Mongols, but held out in the Erhai Valley which was so well-protected that just a few defenders could hold out for years. Eventually the Mongols had to use a traitor who led them over the mountains along a secret path. The kingdom became the province of Yunnan which continues to this day.

5 Dynasties

divisions of the period
As the Tang Dynasty began to disintegrate, a number of much smaller and more ephemeral states under the leadership of various military governors rose up, five in the north and ten (or twelve depending on whether some are counted as the same or different) in the south, making the full name for this period the 5 Dynasties and 10 Kingdoms. During this period many other groups took advantage of the weakness of Chinese rulers. In the northeast there were the Khitans who conquered vast regions, but were unable to consolidate them, while in the southwest Sichuan asserted its independence. But internal coups ended most of these dynasties in the north. In the south, the situation was different. In the absence of a true external threat, instead of succeeding one after another, the division was by territory, ten states co-existing at once, and fighting one another. This chaotic situation prevailed until the Northern Song Dynasty, established 960, was successful by 978 in reunifying the south.

Ming maximum extent in yellow

Ruling from the end of the Mongols in China, 1368, all the way to 1644 when they were dethroned by the Manchu Qing, this is one of the most renowned dynasties in Chinese history. The Ming created a vast navy and its admiral Zheng He sailed as far as Africa. They restored the Grand Canal, the Great Wall and created the Forbidden City. Population was around 180 million with a million men under arms. In the northwest there were multiple conflicts with the Uyghur kingdom and with Mongols. Control swung back and forth and results were ultimately inconclusive. In the southwest the Ming annexed the former kingdom of Dali and millions of settlers were brought into the area and Yunnan. This resulted in revolts which were successfully put down. In Tibet they maintained a facade of overlordship which may not have been all that real most of the time. There were occasional conflicts, especially when Tibetans made alliance with the Mongols. As the Ming were falling apart in 1642 a Mongol conquered Tibet. In the 15th century the Mongols in the north were the greatest threat and their invasions reached as far as Beijing. In 1592 there was an attempted invasion by Japan which initially achieved success, but with the help of Korea the Japanese were ultimately driven off, though at very high financial cost (26 million ounces of silver). From this period the dynasty began to decline. Trade with the West led to a scarcity of silver which led to a sharp increase in its value and the impossibility paying taxes for most provinces. The Little Ice Age also had deleterious effects. Ultimately they were done in by internal rebellion and the brilliance of Manchu conquerors from the northeast.

After the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815 world trade increased rapidly and the great powers looked at China as a huge market for their goods. However, the Qing dynasty forced all payments for Chinese products to be in silver. France and Britain needed Chinese silk, tea and ceramics, but didn't have enough silver to pay. As a consequence, they got China addicted to opium. The emperor attempted to ban trading in opium in 1838 and Britain declared war. During the First Opium War the Qing were completely outclassed and forced to surrender. The resulting treaty gave European powers unrestrained access to Chinese ports (and for Britain created Hong Kong). Two Chinese rebellions, the Taiping and the Nien, followed. The powers helped only grudgingly and Britain pressed for more concessions. When the Qing refused, they were defeated by a combination of the French and British in the Second Opium War. As a consequence the European powers were granted permanent diplomatic presence in Beijing, large bullion payments and for the British, the Kowloon mainland area adjacent to Hong Kong. Opium trade was legalized and outher Manchuria granted to the Russians. Following the Boxer rebellion the Qing were forced to make another large payment of silver, but the British did not colonize China directly, finding it easier to rule through the Qing dynasty. They also entered Tibet via the India side and made a treaty with the Qing limiting Chinese power there. From 1941 the British assisted the Qing to fight the Japanese. In 1997 Britain returned control of Hong Kong and Kowloon to the People's Republic of China.


Japanese holdings in China
The first Sino-Japanese War was fought over control of the Korean peninsula 1894-5. The trigger was a request from the Korean government to the Qing dynasty for help in putting down a revolt. When Japan also responded and set up a puppet government in Seoul a war ensued which permitted Japan to gain the Liaodong Peninsula and Taiwan, but Russia, Germany and France forced Japan to give up the former to Russia. Ostensibly to protect its citizens, Japan was permitted to station troops in China following the Boxer rebellion. After a war with Russia Japan annexed the Korean peninsula in 1910 and would hold onto it for 35 years. In 1931 Manchuria was invaded and taken with Japanese-controlled puppet states set up on its borders, e.g. in Inner Mongolia. The Second Sino-Chinese war in 1937 saw Japan fighting both nationalists and communists. They took the nationalist capital at Nanking in that year and the war continued into World War II. As the map shows Japanese holdings in China tended to extend from the coast.

June 22, 2011. Created October 1, 2009