Northern Wei

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Wei, known in historiography as the Northern Wei (Chinese: 北魏; pinyin: Běi Wèi), Tuoba Wei (Chinese: 拓跋魏; pinyin: Tuòbá Wèi), Yuan Wei (Chinese: 元魏; pinyin: Yuán Wèi) and Later Wei (Chinese: 後魏; pinyin: Hòu Wèi), was the first of the Northern dynasties; it ruled northern China from 386 to 535[1] during the period of the Northern and Southern dynasties.

Described as "part of an era of political turbulence and intense social and cultural change",[2] the Northern Wei dynasty is particularly noted for unifying northern China in 439, bringing an end the chaotic Sixteen Kingdoms period, and strengthening imperial control over the rural landscape via reforms in 485. This was also a period of introduced foreign ideas, such as Buddhism, which became firmly established. The Northern Wei were referred to as "Plaited Barbarians" (索虜 suolu) by writers of the Southern dynasties, who considered themselves the true upholders of Chinese culture.[3][4]

During the Taihe period (477–499), Empress Dowager Feng and Emperor Xiaowen instituted sweeping reforms that deepened the dynasty's control over the local population in the Han hinterland. Emperor Xiaowen also introduced changes that eventually led to the dynasty moving its capital from Datong to Luoyang, in 494.

Towards the end of the dynasty there was significant internal dissension resulting in a split into the Eastern Wei and the Western Wei dynasties. While the rule of Tuoba ended in the mid-6th century CE, its important policies, in particular the political recentralization reforms under Empress Dowager Feng and ethnic integration under Emperor Xiaowen, had a long-lasting impact on later periods of Chinese history.

Many antiques and art works, both Taoist art and Buddhist art, from this period have survived. It was the time of the construction of the Yungang Grottoes near Datong during the mid-to-late fifth century, and towards the latter part of the dynasty, the Longmen Caves outside the later capital city of Luoyang, in which more than 30,000 Buddhist images from the time of this dynasty have been found.

Further reading


  1. Fairbank, John; Goldman, Merle (2006). China: A New History. p. 73. ISBN 9780674018280. 
  2. Katherine R. Tsiang, p. 222
  3. Liu, Puning (21 December 2020). China's Northern Wei Dynasty, 386-535: The Struggle for Legitimacy. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-000-28314-3. 
  4. Liu, Puning (2018). "Song scholars' views on the Northern Wei legitimacy dispute". Archiv Orientální. 86: 112. 
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