Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2020

6 - Early Medieval China’s Rulers, Retainers and Harem

from Part II - The Violence of Governments and Rulers


State violence in early medieval China was characterized by bloody patrimonial politics that contributed to the high degree of political volatility of the period. Like other times in Chinese history, individual monarchs and dynasties came to power through force of arms and kept order by implementing Chinese legal-bureaucratic systems that legitimized violent punishments. The political instability of the early medieval period often can be traced to the informal, patrimonial political ties that intertwined the court, harem, bureaucracy and military. Males and females of the imperial family, eunuchs and generals became involved in the struggle to rule directly or place a puppet on the throne. Winners frequently killed rivals and their adherents. State violence appears to have been most intense during the periods of political division from 220 to 589 and 907 to 960 when “China” was separated into two or more states with relatively frequent internecine conflicts at courts, interstate wars and dynastic transitions via warfare or usurpation. The geographically unified Sui and Tang empires, lasting from 589 to 907, also were disrupted episodically by bloody conflicts at court and rebellions in the provinces.