An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Chen Dynasty 陳 (557-589)

Oct 30, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

The Chen dynasty 陳 (557-589) was the last of the Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420~589). It was founded by Chen Baxian 陳霸先 (r. 557-559).

Chen Baxian 陳霸先 (posthumous title Emperor Wu of the Chen 陳武帝, r. 557-559) inherited the imperial throne as King of Chen 陳 because he forced the last Liang emperor to hand over to him the "Heavenly Mandate". After the collapse of the Northern Wei empire, there was a new time of political unrest and military activity in the north and along the borders with southern China. During the disturbances of the last decade of the Liang period, the empire of the Northern Zhou 北周 (557-581) was able to conquer the whole western part of southern China, that is modern Sichuan and Yunnan. Chen Baxian's empire was therefore only half the size of the Liang dynasty's. Furthermore, Chen Baxian was never able to fully control all territories of his empire as well as the political and military activities of the local gentry. It took him a long time to subdue all claimants to the throne from the Xiao family that had survived the foundation of the Chen dynasty. Several Liang princes continued the rule of the Liang dynasty in the so-called Later Liang empire 後梁 (555-587) in the middle Yangtze valley.

The most powerful person in the Chen empire after Chen Baxian's death was Hou Andu 侯安都 who replaced the new emperor Chen Chang 陳昌 immediately with Chen Qian 陳蒨 (posthumous title Emperor Wen 陳文帝, r. 559-566). Chen Qian's son Chen Bozong 陳伯宗, called the Deposed Emperor 陳廢帝 (r. 566-568) was toppled by his own uncle Chen Xu 陳頊 (posthumous title Emperor Xuan 陳宣帝, r. 569-582). Chen Xu's reign was a relatively calm and peaceful period, except the few successless military campaigns of Wu Mingche 吳明徹 against the north.

Meanwhile, at the northern frontier a serious change had taken place. The Northern Zhou empire had conquered its neighbouring state, the Northern Qi 北齊 (550-577) and thus controlled the whole north and west of China. The Northern Zhou dynasty itself was destroyed by general Yang Jian 楊堅, who founded the Sui Dynasty 隋 (581-618). For Yang Jian, it was an easy game to conquer the small state of Chen in the south and to reunite China under his rule.

Table 1. Rulers of the Chen Dynasty 陳 (557-589)
Capital: Jiankang 建康 (today's Nanjing 南京, Jiangsu.
dynastic title {temple name} personal name reign-periods
Chen Wudi 陳武帝 {Gaozu 高祖} (r. 557-559) Chen Baxian 陳霸先 Yongding 永定 (557-559)
Chen Wendi 陳文帝 {Shizu 世祖} (r. 559-566) Chen Qian 陳蒨 Tianjia 天嘉 (560-565)
Tiankang 天康 (566)
The Deposed Emperor (Feidi) of Chen 陳廢帝, Prince of Linhai 臨海王 (r. 566-568) Chen Bozong 陳伯宗 Guangda 光大 (567-568)
Chen Xuandi 陳宣帝 {Gaozong 高宗} (r. 569-582) Chen Xu 陳頊 Taijian 太建 (569-582)
The Last Ruler (Houzhu) of Chen 陳後主, Duke of Changcheng 長城公 (r. 582-589) Chen Shubao 陳叔寶 Zhide 至德 (583-586)
Zhenming 禎明 (587-589)
589 Chen empire conquered by Sui 隋.
Yang Debing 楊德炳 (1992), "Chen 陳", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 2, pp. 574-576.
Zhonguo lishi da cidian bianzuan weiyuanhui 中國歷史大辭典編纂委員會 (ed. 2000), Zhongguo lishi da cidian 中國歷史大辭典 (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe), Vol.2, pp. 3322, 3324, 3326, 3328.