An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

The Empire of Northern Han 北漢 (948/51-979)

Mar 19, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

The empire of Northern Han was the only one of the Ten States 十國 (902-979) of the Five Dynasties period 五代 (907-960) that was located in northern China, north of modern Shanxi Province. It is also called Eastern Han 東漢 (don't confound this short-lived empire with the great Eastern Han 東漢, 25-220 CE).

The founder of the Northern Han was Liu Chong 劉崇 (895-954, posthumous title Emperor Shizu 北漢世祖, r. 951-954), a younger brother of Liu Zhiyuan 劉知遠, Emperor Gaozu 後漢高祖 (r. 947-949) of the Later Han 後漢 (947-950), one of the Five Dynasties that successively ruled over northern China. This family was of Shato 沙陀 descent, a branch of the ancient Türks. The seat of the empire was Taiyuan 太原 in what is today the province of Shanxi, and it controlled the northern part of this modern province.

Liu Chong was military commissioner (jiedushi 節度使) of Hedong 河東 and metropolitan magistrate (yin 尹) of Taiyuan 太原. Seeing that the dynasty was endangered by a weak ruler and powerful ministers and generals, Liu Chong prepared himself militarily and financially. In 951, Military Affairs Commissioner (shumishi 樞密使) Guo Wei 郭威 rebelled and defeated Emperor Yin of the Later Han 後漢隱帝 (r. 948-950) on the battleground. He suggested to enthrone Liu Chong's son, Liu Yun 劉贇, but then killed the latter and proclaimed himself emperor of the Zhou 周 dynasty (i.e. the Later Zhou 後周, 951-960). Liu Chong saw his chance, and adopted for his own part the title of emperor, calling his dynasty Han 漢, renaming himself Liu Min 劉旻.

Northern Han with its small territory and scarce human ressources had no chance but to forge an alliance with the powerful Liao empire 遼 (907-1125) in the northeast. Liu Min participated in a joint military campaign against the empire of Later Zhou, but was defeated in the battle of Jinzhou 晉州 (modern Linfen 臨汾, Shanxi), as well as in that of Gaoping 高平. Having lost the battle, Liu's troops were chased, and the army of Later Zhou besieged Taiyuan for more than one month. The second emperor Liu Chengjun 劉承鈞 (later called Liu Jun 劉鈞, posthumous title Emperor Ruizong 北漢睿宗, r. 954-967), continued to accept the suzerainty of the Liao empire, but lost more and more territory to the Later Zhou, and then their successors, the Song 宋 (960-1279).

Pressed to serve in the numerous militia units, many people left the territory of Northern Han to escape military service. The permanent military campaigns against Later Zhou and the newly founded Song empire had a deep impact on the economical conditions of Northern Han. Tax raises were necessary to finance the war against the south, and to finance the tributes delivered to the Liao. In 979 the Song armies conquered the territory of Northern Han.

Northern Han Dynasty 北漢 (948/51-979)
Capital: Jinyang 晉陽 (near modern Taiyuan 太原, Shanxi)
temple name (miaohao 廟號) personal name reign-periods (nianhao 年號)
Beihan Shizu 北漢世祖 (r. 951-954) Liu Min 劉旻 (or Chong 崇)
Beihan Ruizong 北漢睿宗 (r. 954-967) Liu Chengjun 劉承鈞 (or Jun 鈞) Tianhui 天會 (957-973)
The Minor Ruler (Shaozhu) 北漢少主 or Deposed Emperor (Feidi) of Northern Han 北漢廢帝 (r. 967) Liu Ji'en 劉繼恩
Beihan Yingwudi 北漢英武帝 (r. 968-979) Liu Jiyuan 劉繼元
Guangyun 廣運 (974-979)
979 Northern Han conquered by Song 宋.
Huang Weihu 黃偉虎 (1992). "Beihan 北漢", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 31.
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, 3338-3340.