Prior to the Western Jin dynasty and the reunification of China by the Western Jin emperors, there was 25 years of fighting among the Chinese people. The population in China decreased from 50 million to 16 million. This time was known as the Three Kingdoms so named for the Wei, Shu and Wu dynasties.
The Western Jin dynasty (265 – 317 CE) began under the government of Emperor Wu (Wudi) (265 – 290 CE). Although Emperor Wu was successful in defeating the Wei and Shu dynasty armies to begin the Western Jin dynasty in 265, his armies were unable to win against the Wu dynasty until the year 280. At that time, the Western Jin claimed all the lands held previously by the Three Kingdoms.
The second emperor of the Western Jin dynasty, Emperor Hui (290 – 306 CE), was mentally disabled and was unable to act as emperor. His consort or wife, the Empress Jia ruled in his place.
During his rule, there were many civil wars among the palace officials and even the ruling family. The War of the Eight Princes was one of these civil wars and it lasted from 291 – 306 CE. There are reports of 30,000 palace officials and family members killed during the War of the Eight Princes and other civil wars.
As Emperor Hui’s armies were fighting the civil wars, nomadic tribes from the north and west began moving into northern China. These people, from areas such as Turkey and Tibet, did not want to live under Emperor Hui’s government of the Western Jin dynasty.
Famine and civil war had also taken a toll on the ethnic people living under the Western Jin dynasty government. Their leaders led their people to fight against Emperor Hui’s government. These nomads and ethnic people fought against the Emperor’s armies and began setting up their own states in areas where they defeated the Emperor’s armies. They eventually captured Emperor Hui and executed him.
The last two emperors of the Western Jin dynasty, Huai (307 – 312 CE) and Min (313 – 316 CE), were either captured or surrendered and subsequently, executed by the groups fighting against the Western Jin dynasty.
Daily Life in the Western Jin Dynasty
Despite all the fighting during the Western Jin dynasty, the people had certain advantages and there were several achievements.
Scholarship flourished during the Western Jin dynasty. Although many prominent writers and scholars were executed during the civil wars, they were able to write many volumes of literature and poetry, which still exist today. Writers began placing written works in genres or categories that led to our modern categories of fiction, non-fiction, classical, and so on.
Old trade routes were reopened between China and the west, which allowed trade goods and new ideas, such as Buddhism, to move into China. Buddhists, traveling from India, persuaded many Chinese to begin practicing Buddhism during this time.