The conquest of the north - The sinification of the Tuoba rulers - Ruling empresses and chieftains: the end of Northern Wei
The conquest of the north
In China's north, after the dissolution of the Northern and Southern Xiongnu 匈奴 federations, the vacuum left over was filled by new steppe peoples that belong to language groups that can be defined as Proto-Turkic. Among these peoples we find the federation of the Gaoche or Gaoju 高車 "High Carts", the Rouran 柔然 and the Taghbač (Chinese: Tuoba 拓跋), a subtribe of a federation called Xianbei (old: Xianbi) 鮮卑. The Tuoba should step by step conquer all realms of northern China and should rule there successfully as a Chinese dynasty for one and half a century. Like the Khitans and Mongols should PERSONIFIZIEREN Chinese rulership and culture for middle-age Central Asians and Europeans, the Tuoba should be "the empire of China" for the Central Asian polities and people during the 5th and 6th centuries.
The kingdom of Dai 代 (315-376) , reigned by Shiyijian 什翼犍, a member of the Tuoba tribe of the Xianbei ethnicity, was extinguished by the Former Qin Dynasty 前秦 that was able to reunite the north of China. With the support of the Later Yan 後燕 ruler Murong Chui 慕容垂, the Tuoba chieftain Tuoba Gui 拓跋珪 was able to refound the Dai empire in 386. From his capital at Shengle 盛樂 (near modern Helingeer 和林格爾/Inner Mongolia) he could step by step conquer the north of China, divided Later Yan into two parts, subdued Xia 夏, Later Qin 後秦 and the many Liang 涼 and Yan 燕 empires. He made even territorial progress against the southern empire of Liu-Song 劉宋 that was severely shaked by succession struggles. In 398, Tuoba Gui (posthumous Beiwei Daowudi 北魏道武帝 - see titles of emperors) made himself emperor and renamed Dai in Wei 魏 (after an old state of the Shanxi area, as well as one of the Three Kingdoms). The capital was shifted to Pingcheng 平城 (modern Datong 大同/Shanxi), but in fact, Tuoba Gui made still use of the mobile imperial secretariate (xing shangshutai 行尚書臺, short xingtai 行臺). Following the robbery politics of his forerunners in the Sixteen States, he resettled peasants and artisans to the new capital as laborforce. For the next few decaded, the only real challenger of the Tuoba imperium in the reunified north were the nomad tribes of the Rouran 柔然 (by the Tuoba dispisedly called Ruanruan 蠕蠕 "worms") and of the city state of Shanshan 鄯善. In 429, their chieftains (kehan 可汗 "Khan" or "Qaγan"; Shelun 社崘 "Qiudoufa Khan" 丘豆伐可汗, "Heshenggai Khan" 紇升蓋可汗, Wuti 吳提 "Chilian Khan" 敕連可汗) could finally pacified.
Although the tuoba had now untied the north of China under their rule, and although Tuoba Gui already started to employ some Chinese officials at his court, the Tuoba regime and society still preserved many aspects of the old nomad tradition of the Xianbei people. The court often moved around instead of residing in the capital, and twice a year, the old pastures at Nanlu 南麓 near the Yinshan 陰山 mountains were visited to make offerings at the tombs of the ancestors. Agriculture was still seen as an economical field not worth enough for the Tuoba people. Another cruel tradition of the Tuoba rulers was to kill the mother of a new ruler to prevent her clan from achieving powerful positions.
Emperor Tuoba Gui and his successor Tuoba Si 拓跋嗣 (posthumous Beiwei Mingyuandi 北魏明元帝 or Mingdi 明帝) were still no autocratic rulers. Investing their strength and courage during the conquest wars, the Tuoba aristocracy and their clans (buluo 部落) had not only become rich and wealthy, but had also to be rewarded with political power. Powerful clans were installed in eight princedoms around the capital (baguo 八國) or in six military districs at the northern frontier (liuzhen), and they were given the title of "seniors of the four regions and the barbarians" (Sifang fanfu daren 四方蕃附大人) or "clan seniors hosts of the state" (Binguo zhubu daren 賓國諸部大人).
The sinification of the Tuoba rulers
These members of the mighty Tuoba aristocracy had great influence on the political decisions of the emperor although they were no part of the Chinese model administration that had been imposed. In 405, emperor Tuoba Gui gave up the Chinese state sacrifices to Heaven and Earth and reintroduced the old Xianbi-style sacrifices, and he followed the old tradition of killing the emperor’s mother to impede the empress dowager’s clan to interfere into the court politics. His follower Tuoba Si 拓跋嗣 (posthumous Beiwei Mingyuandi 北魏明元帝) again followed the advise of his Chinese consultant Cui Hao 崔浩 to install his own son as supervising regent (jianguo 監國), and six advisoring ministers (fuzuo dachen 輔佐大臣) that should defend the imperial power against the mighty Tuoba clans. Tuoba Tao 拓跋燾 (posthumous Beiwei Taiwudi 北魏太武帝) finally gave up the system of the "six senior ministes" (liubu darenguan 六部大人官 and definitely arranged his administration in a bureaucratic and Confucian Chinese style with a territorial administration in regions, commanderies, and districts (zhou 州, jun 郡, xian 縣; along with special military administration units called garrison zhen 鎮), a state academy for the education of a scholarly and official elite, a state secretariate, and the regulation and standardization of rules, laws (falü 法律), measures and weights (lüling 律令). While the great part of the Tuoba aristocracy followed Buddhism as the “barbarian”, Non-Chinese religion, Tuoba Tao saw himself as an incarnation of a Daoist deity called Taiping Zhenjun 太平真君 “True Lord of the Great Peace”. Tuoba Tao’s follower Tuoba Jun 拓跋濬 (posthumuos Beiwei Wenchengdi 北魏文成帝) enforced this tendency to strengthen the central government. Tuoba Hong 拓跋弘 (posthumous Beiwei Xianwendi 北魏獻文帝) came under the influence of Empress Dowager Feng 馮 (posthumous Wenming Taihou 文明太后) who took over regency and killed him in 476. His young son Tuoba Hong 拓跋宏 (later Yuan Hong 元宏, posthumous Beiwei Xiaowendi 北魏孝文帝) was controlled by the Empress Dowager’s favourites and eunuchs like Zhang You 張祐, Wang Rui 王睿, and Zhao Mo 趙墨. But among the courtiers, we find also many Chinese Confucian officials like Gao Lü 高閭, Gao Yun 高允, and Li Chong 李沖 who supported the reform politics of Empress Dowager Feng and emperor Yuan Hong. Hong can be called the first Confucian-educated ruler of the Tuoba Dynasty. Many old customs of the Xianbei people like the annual pilgrimage to the tombs of the ancestors near Yunzhong 雲中 (modern Baotou 包頭/Inner Mongolia) or the assassination of an empress dowager were given up. But the most important reform of Yuan Hong was the census and the land reform by the equal-field system (juntianfa 均田法), measures that did not only contribute to better tax revenues, but also to the amelioration of living standard and the improvement of the economy in total. The state should become a Chinese state. The Tuoba aristocracy was forced to adopt new surnames (Tuoba Hong himself chose the name Yuan 元), Xianbi-Tuoba costumes and language were prohibited. The capital was shifted from Datong 大同/Shanxi to the old city of Luoyang 洛陽/Henan, in the middle of the old central plain of the Yellow River. While the imperial clan in fact had the control of the center of the empire, the Tuoba aristocracy had lost their main power bases.
Ruling empresses and chieftains - the end of Northern Wei
After the dead of Yuan Hong, the young emperor Yuan Ke 元恪 (posthumous Beiwei Xuanwudi 北魏宣武帝) was toppled by Gao Zhao 高肇 and Yuan Yu 元愉 in 515; his son Yuan Xu 元詡 (posthumous Beiwei Xiaomingdi 北魏孝明帝) stood under the influence of Yuan Yong 元雍, Yuan Cha 元叉, and Empress Dowager Hu 胡太后. In 525, Empress Dowager Hu took over the regency for her son, killed and replaced him by Yuan Zhao 元釗.
Already in 519, leading Tuoba aristocrats united their military forces and revolted from their garrisons (hence called the “rebellion of the six garrisons” liuzhen qiyi 六鎮起義; all in the north of modern Shaanxi) in 523. Several of the rebels and their followers, like Yu Lin 羽林, Hu Bi 虎賁, Moxi Dati 莫析大提 (Mozhe Taiti 莫折太提), Moxi Niansheng 莫析念生, and Moqi Chounu 萬俟醜奴 (a special pronunciation), proclaimed themselves kings and emperors. The southern dynasty of Liang 梁 saw her chance to reconquer some territories of the north. The chieftain Erzhu Rong 爾朱榮 finally was able to control the capital and the court, drowned the Empress Dowager, and installed Yuan Ziyou 元子攸 (posthumous Beiwei Xiaozhuangdi 北魏孝莊帝) as the new emperor - with Yuan Hao 元顥 as counter-emperor in Liang. Although Yuan Ziyou could kill Erzhu Rong, his son Erzhu Zhao 爾朱兆 took revenge and installed Yuan Gong 元恭 as emperor (posthumous Beiwei Jiemindi 北魏節閔帝). Erzhu Rong’s general Gao Huan 高歡 founded his own power base in the eastern part of the Yellow River plain and killed Yuan Gong, replacing him with Yuan Xiu 元修 (posthumous Beiwei Xiaowudi 北魏孝武帝). But Yuan Xiu was unwilling to be controlled by Gao Huan and took escape to the mighty Xiongnu 匈奴 general Yuwen Tai 宇文泰 who resided in Chang’an 長安 (modern Xi’an). Gao Huan installed another puppet emperor and shifted the capital to Yecheng 鄴城 (near modern Runan 汝南/Henan). Yuwen Tai thereupon founded the Western Wei empire whose rulers - descendants of the Tuoba house of the now finished Northern Wei - were controlled by himself. From 534 on, the empire of the Tuoba was divided into two parts, Eastern Wei 東魏 and Western Wei 西魏.
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