An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Political System of the Five Dynasties

Mar 19, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

The foundation of the Five Dynasties 五代 (907-960) and the Ten States 十國 (902-979) was due to the factual political independency of the local military commissioners (jiedushi 節度使) that challenged the power of the central government of the late Tang empire 唐 (618-907). Although the general structure of government and administration was inherited from the Tang empire, an important task of the rulers of the Five Dynasties and the Ten States was to reduce the power of the military commissioners and the military in general - although virtually every the imperial founders had been a military commissioner themselves. The imperial armies protecting the capital (jinjun 禁軍) were not only garrisoned around the capital but had representative units in each of the local seats of the military commissionaries. The commissionaries were further not allowed to govern from one seat and to control one unit for more that a certain time but were rotated to another defense command (fanzhen 藩鎮). The districts were divided in order to reduce the military power base. Another measurer to reduce the power of the military commissioners was that their office was joined with some civil tasks. Their concentration on military tasks was therefore reduced, and these were taken over by officials in the central government.
Zhu Wen 朱溫, first emperor of Later Liang 後梁 (907-923), destroyed the power of the eunuch palace secretaries (shumishi 樞密使) and made this office the new central observance of military affairs, the shumishi became the military affairs commissioner. Furthermore, the position of the grand counsellors (zaixiang 宰相) was strengthened - the effect was a trend to more civilian influence in the government, or rather the fact that military officials took over civil tasks within the government. These measures created the base for the civilian character of the Song empire 宋 (960-1279).
The fiscal offices, during Tang occupied by four persons, were now unified in the hands of a state fiscal commissioner (sansishi 三司使). The tax burden the population had to bear was quite heavy, especially in the north were sources were short and the external military pressure high. Except the two taxes in summer and autumn, the "double tax" (liangshui 兩稅), many miscellaneous taxes were drawn from peasants and merchants. During the Later Zhou period 後周 (951-960) taxes were reduced and more inheritable land was distributed to the peasants.
The law codex of the Five Dynasties followed the Tang codex (see Tanglü shuyi 唐律疏義). During Later Zhou some changes were made in the law code Da-Zhou xingtong 大周刑統. It was the fundament for the Song codices of the next historical period.