Period of Disunion

When the Han Dynasty fell in 220 AD, there was a “vacuum of power” left in Ancient China – meaning, that there was a gap left in the social hierarchy (system) where nobody came to lead the people.

After having been a unified country for such a long time, the fall of the Han Dynasty marked the beginning of a Period of Disunion in Chinese History.

This Period of Disunion lasted for 350 years and is broken up into three different time periods.

The first period was called the Three Kingdoms period. When the Han Dynasty fell, three different warlords came to power and took control of three different parts of China.

Sun Quan

The warlords were called Cao Cao, Liu Bei, and Sun Quan. Their “kingdoms” were called Wei, Shu, and Wu, and were located in the north, west, and south respectively.

These warlords often fought, and this period was marked by the amount of violence which rocked the country. Millions died in this struggle to unify China under one kingdom.

Though the three warlords did not work together, in general, one very famous battle – the Battle of Red Cliffs – saw Liu Bei and Sun Quan teaming up to fight against Cao Cao.

Cao Cao

This time period is popular in modern media, and many movies and books have been made about it. Because of this, the names of the three founders are household names in China!

The Three Kingdoms period came to an end in 265 AD, as the Jin Dynasty began; the second historical period of the Period of Disunion.

The Jin Dynasty is not considered to be one of Ancient China’s major dynasties by some historians. because it failed to bring unity to China under one emperor.

The Jin general, Sima Yan, took control of the kingdom of Wu in 265 AD and took control of most of southern China.

Though Jin did manage to unify the country briefly in 280 AD, Northern China soon rebelled and broke up into multiple provinces ruled once again by warlords.

The third period began in 420 AD and was called the Southern and Northern Dynasties period.

During this time, China still remained divided between north and south, but this time under two separate dynasties instead of a dozen warlords – the dynasties were the Wei, Qi, and Zhou dynasties.

Some of those names might seem familiar to you from your study of Ancient China, but don’t get confused! The Qi and Zhou dynasties mentioned here are different from the Qin and Zhou dynasties which came before the Period of Disunion.

The Southern and Northern Dynasties period came to an end in 589 AD, when the Sui Dynasty came to power as the sixth major dynasty of Ancient China.

Though China wasn’t united during the Period of Disunion, the country still made many advancements in technology and art.

New inventions included the stirrup for horses (used to help a person climb onto the horse’s back) an old-fashioned version of a wheelbarrow and the first paper kites!

The period contained many imaginative artists and poets, and even with all the political instability, the arts flourished in this period.

The art of sculpture progressed a lot, for example, and poetry became much more popular among the common people. Landscape painting became the most popular form of painting in this period, as the popularity of portrait art declined.

Chinese culture was also impacted a lot by external forces during this time – because the country was not unified, it was much more affected by the development of its neighbors than it had been in the past.


Buddhism became a major religion in China during this period, a shift that would have a lasting impact on Asia as a whole in the years to come.

Map of provinces during Three Kingdoms Period

Facts about the Period of Disunion:

  • This period is sometimes called the Period of Six Dynasties.
  • This Period of Disunion lasted for 350 years and is broken up into three different segments of time.
  • The first was called the Three Kingdoms period.
  • The second was called the Jin Dynasty.
  • The third was called the Northern and Southern Dynasties period.
  • China did not unite during this time, and always stayed divided between multiple “kingdoms” or regions under several different rulers.
  • This period of history is very popular in movies, books, and plays; because of this, many warlords from this time are household names in China.
  • The country still made some technological advancements in the Period of Disunion; for example, the invention of the stirrup, an old version of a wheelbarrow, and the first paper kite. Art also flourished, and landscape painting overtook portraits as the most popular form of art in the country.


  • What is another name for the Period of Disunion?
    – The Period of Six Dynasties.
  • What were the three periods of time that the Period of Disunion was split into?
    – The Three Kingdoms Period, the Jin Dynasty, and the Northern and Southern Dynasties period.
  • Why is the Jin Dynasty not considered a major dynasty of China?
    – The Jin Dynasty failed to unite China under one emperor.
  • Why are the names of the three kingdoms’ founder’s household names in China?
    – This period of history is very popular in books, plays, and television in China.
  • What was the most popular style of painting in China at the time?
    – Landscape painting.