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  FIVE DYNASTIES (907-960AD)
 

The magnificent empire that had existed from 618AD under the rule of the Tang Emperors finally collapsed in 907 AD. With the inevitable decline brought about through misrule, court intrigues and economic exploitation the scene was set for the overthrow of Ai, the last of the Tang Emperors. Zhu Wen seized power and established a new dynasty that has come to be known as the Later Liang.

For the next fifty years, the empire was to become fragmented. Northern China was ruled during this period by five short-lived military regimes, while the South became split into ten independent states. Hence the name given to this era of history. During this half century, which was to prove one of China's bleakest, warfare and official corruption were endemic.

The North was particularly affected as its canal and dam system fell into disrepair. This led to widespread flooding and consequent famine. However, there was one outstanding accomplishment and this was the widespread development of printing.

It was fortunate that there was no real threat from foreign invasion except from the Khitan Mongols of the Liao Dynasty (AD916-1125). Based in Manchuria and Mongolia, the Khitan extended their influence into parts of northern Hebei and Shanxi Provinces.
Reunification of the empire was to commence under the Song Dynasty from 960 AD onwards.

The noteworthy developments in the field of art during this time were twofold. The first was the continued refinement of the techniques used in the production of porcelain. The translucent porcelain was used throughout China and was widely sought abroad, thus becoming a valuable export.

The second development was in painting. A distinctive style known as Wu-tai painting 'monumental ink landscapes' dominated. This was inspired by the Taoist notion that mountains were essentially sacred pillars linking heaven and earth. Artists, using black ink on silk, depicted the natural world as the source of harmony and enlightenment.

Gu Hongzhong's painting the 'Evening Feasting held by Han Xi' is a highly revered work of this period.

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