By the end of the Western Jin dynasty, many people had fled northern China and were living in southern China near the lower Yangzi River. The nomads who invaded northern China and fought the Western Jin armies were excellent horsemen but could not fight as easily on the wetter lands in southern China. They were unable to win that land from the Western Jin.
Shortly after the fall of the Western Jin dynasty, a member of that imperial family, Yuan, became the first emperor of the Eastern Jin dynasty in 317 CE. He began his rule in what is modern day Nanjing (Jiankang, Nanking).
It was difficult for the Emperor Yuan and his court officials to create the new dynasty because the people in the south spoke a different language, and looked and acted differently.
The geography and environment of the south was also different from that of the north. Where cooler plains and mountains gave haven to the northern villages and cities, the south was wet and humid.
Wealthy families who had fled northern China during the fighting of the Western Jin dynasty settled in the south. Interestingly, they held more power in the Eastern Jin dynasty government then the emperors and the court officials.
Scholar-officials held many government positions, which worked in establishing the government of the Eastern Jin dynasty, but as the dynasty progressed, inner fighting and corruption took hold.
During the 102 years the Eastern Jin dynasty existed, eleven emperors ruled from Nanjing. It was a period of stability for the people that they had not seen in quite some time. Even when in 383 CE, ethnic tribes from the north attempted to take control of southern China by invading into the territory of the Eastern Jin, they were stopped before they could take over the territory and the dynasty.
How the Eastern Jin Dynasty Ended
Although the might of the nomads could not topple the Eastern Jin dynasty, it was Liu Yu, a minor Eastern Jin dynasty government official and scholar with a military background, who took over the throne for the Song dynasty in 420.
Daily Life During the Eastern Jin Dynasty
Scholarship continued to flourish during the Eastern Jin dynasty just as it had during the Western Jin dynasty. Papermaking replaced items used previously such as wood and silk, which made it much easier to create and publish written works. During this time, scholars wrote historical accounts of the Western and Jin dynasties, families, daily life, and supernatural phenomena.
Additionally painting, especially landscape painting became more important.
The religions of Buddhism and Daoism grew in popularity while many Chinese of the Eastern Jin dynasty continued to worship nature and the gods, goddesses, and spirits they found there.
Calligraphy, as an art form, rose to its greatest heights with the work of Wang Xizhi.
Trade with other countries continued and sea routes became as important as overland routes.