To send content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about sending content to .
To send content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about sending to your Kindle.
Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
During the Eastern Han (25–220), Confucianism had become the guiding philosophy of both governance and social life. But as political infighting, peasant rebellions, and warlordism tore apart the Han Empire, many intellectuals lost confidence in Confucianism and looked to other systems of meaning for guidance and solace. To make sense of their chaotic, dangerous, and evanescent world, some turned to xuanxue (Dark Learning), or to Buddhism, or to organized Daoism. Based on these changes, Western scholars have concluded that, at the end of the Eastern Han, Confucianism was passé and its influence was in steep decline. If the fall of the Han state truly discredited Confucianism and educated men looked for meaning elsewhere, how, then, did Confucianism survive? Why did early medieval literati continue to view Confucianism as valuable? Admittedly, Confucianism was not important in the philosophical salons; it offered little in terms of the current understanding of ontology or metaphysics, nor did it help secure one’s postmortem welfare.
Periods of disunity in Chinese history do not usually receive the attention they deserve, yet it is just in those years of apparent disorder and even chaos that important developments, social, cultural, artistic, and even institutional, often find their earliest expression. The Six Dynasties period (220–589 ce) was just such a time of momentous changes in many aspects of the society. But it is precisely the confusing tumult and disorder of the political events of those four centuries that create the strongest impression. We find this perception mirrored in the reaction of the put-upon Gao Laoshi, the middle-school schoolmaster described by Lu Xun in one of his stories, who was so dejected when he had been assigned to teach a course on the Six Dynasties. All he remembered about the subject was how very confusing it was, a time of much warfare and turmoil; no doubt what would have come to his mind was the common saying wu Hu luan Hua 五胡亂華 “the Five Barbarians brought disorder to China.” He felt that he could do a creditable job with the great Han and Three Kingdoms that came before or the glorious Tang after it, but what could he say about those miserable years in between? The very nomenclature reflects its apparent disjointed nature.
The Six Dynasties Period (220–589 CE) is one of the most complex in Chinese history. Written by leading scholars from across the globe, the essays in this volume cover nearly every aspect of the period, including politics, foreign relations, warfare, agriculture, gender, art, philosophy, material culture, local society, and music. While acknowledging the era's political chaos, these essays indicate that this was a transformative period when Chinese culture was significantly changed and enriched by foreign peoples and ideas. It was also a time when history and literature became recognized as independent subjects and religion was transformed by the domestication of Buddhism and the formation of organized Daoism. Many of the trends that shaped the rest of imperial China's history have their origins in this era, such as the commercial vibrancy of southern China, the separation of history and literature from classical studies, and the growing importance of women in politics and religion.