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What is Jin Dynasty?

The Jin Dynasty, spanning from 265-420 AD, marked a period of profound cultural and political transformation in ancient China, bridging the Three Kingdoms era and the Southern and Northern Dynasties. Its legacy includes significant advancements in art, literature, and law. Curious about how the Jin Dynasty shaped modern China? Dive deeper to uncover the enduring impact of this pivotal epoch.
Licia Morrow
Licia Morrow

Two Jin Dynasties have existed during the expansive history of China. The first Jin Dynasty lasted from 265 AD to 420 CE and was considered part of the Six Dynasties. The second Jin Dynasty, which can also be referred to as the Jurchen Dynasty, was in place from 1115 AD to 1234 CE, and exerted power during a 119-year period of the Song Dynasty.

During the first Jin period, progress was made in astronomy, health care, and the inclusion of different ethnic groups. Religion also progressed, as Buddhism became a much more common practiced in the south and north. This Jin Dynasty was separated into the Western Jin from 265 to 316, and the Eastern Jin, which lasted from 317 to 420. Sima Yan, or Emperor Wu, began the Western Jin and established its capital in the city of Luoyang. Sima Rui founded the Eastern Jin and created its centralized power in the city of Jiankang, or present day Nanjing.

Present-day Nanjing near China's eastern coast.
Present-day Nanjing near China's eastern coast.

The Jin Dynasty was successful in unifying the nation of China; however, nomads began attacking and after the War of Eight Princes, the Western Jin Dynasty was weakened. Local aristocrats were instrumental in setting up the Eastern Jin and supporting its ruler, Emperor Yuan. Although the Eastern Jin succeeded in many military battles, it too succumbed to invading forces and relinquished power to rebels in 420.

The second Jin Dynasty in China lasted from 1115 to 1234, and is also referred to as the Jurchen Dynasty. This dynasty was established by relatives of the Manchus, the Wanyan Clan of the Jurchens, or Nuzhens. In 1125, the Jurchen military succeeded in defeating the Liao Dynasty and then turned their attention to the rulers of the Northern Song Dynasty and its capital of Kaifeng. Once the Northern Song was defeated, the new Southern Song Dynasty was lorded over by the Jurchen Clan and fighting continued throughout the early part of the Southern Song period.

The Jurchens had been farmers and hunters, but after adopting a feudal system in this period, their social economy blossomed. Improvements in farming, trade, literature, and craftsmanship were made during this period, with assistance from the Hans.

Having made serious enemies of the Mongolians and suffering from political corruption, the Jin period eventually came to an end. In 1234 the Jurchen Dynasty was destroyed by the collaboration of the Southern Song and Yuan Dynasty militaries. The Southern Song Dynasty went on to enjoy power until 1279 and the Yuan Dynasty was established in Mongolia.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the Jin Dynasty and when did it exist?

The Jin Dynasty was a significant period in Chinese history that existed in two distinct phases: the Western Jin (265–316 AD) and the Eastern Jin (317–420 AD). It followed the Three Kingdoms period and preceded the Southern and Northern Dynasties. The Western Jin was founded by Sima Yan, the grandson of Sima Yi, a prominent general of the Wei Kingdom. The dynasty is known for its initial unification of China after the tumultuous Three Kingdoms period, although it later succumbed to internal strife and invasions by nomadic tribes, leading to its division and the establishment of the Eastern Jin by Sima Rui.

What were the major achievements of the Jin Dynasty?

The Jin Dynasty, particularly during its Western phase, is credited with reunifying China after the Three Kingdoms period, which was a significant achievement. The dynasty also made advancements in the fields of literature, art, and religion. Buddhism flourished during this time, with state support for the translation of Buddhist texts and the construction of temples. Additionally, the Jin Dynasty saw the development of the "fu" style of poetry and advancements in calligraphy, with the emergence of the regular script.

How did the Jin Dynasty impact Chinese culture?

The Jin Dynasty had a lasting impact on Chinese culture, particularly through the promotion of Buddhism, which influenced philosophical thought, art, and literature. The dynasty also contributed to the evolution of Chinese poetry and calligraphy. The "fu" style of poetry became highly refined during this period, and the regular script became the standard form of Chinese characters, influencing writing for centuries to come. These cultural developments enriched Chinese heritage and set precedents for subsequent dynasties.

What led to the fall of the Jin Dynasty?

The fall of the Jin Dynasty was precipitated by a combination of internal and external factors. The Western Jin fell due to political corruption, power struggles among the ruling elite, and the uprising of the Five Barbarians, which led to the devastating War of the Eight Princes. The Eastern Jin, while managing to survive for over a century, eventually succumbed to continuous warfare, weakened central authority, and the rise of regional warlords, paving the way for the Southern and Northern Dynasties period.

Who were the most notable emperors of the Jin Dynasty?

Among the most notable emperors of the Jin Dynasty were its founder, Emperor Wu (Sima Yan), who successfully unified China after the Three Kingdoms period, and Emperor Yuan (Sima Rui), who established the Eastern Jin after the collapse of the Western Jin. Emperor Wu's reign was marked by initial prosperity and stability, while Emperor Yuan's reign was characterized by efforts to maintain the dynasty amidst challenging circumstances, including the loss of the northern territories to non-Han Chinese states.

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Discussion Comments


@Iluviaporos - I remember reading a book which covered some of the wars China had gone through in the past. One of the characters was philosophical about encroaching armies and said that whether they took the country or not, they too would be considered Chinese by the time another generation had passed.

I'm not sure which dynasty that timeline followed, but they were all torn by war, as far as I can see.

It's a wonder they managed to make so many beautiful works of art and invent so many engineering marvels when they were always at war with someone.

If you look up the artifacts of the second Jin Dynasty (sometimes called Jinn to differentiate it from the first) you will see some beautiful statues and jade work that's been found in temples and grave sites all over China.


The history of China is so fascinating. One of the things that surprised me when I was researching the Jin Dynasty was that during their original rule, China looked nothing like what it does now, on a map at least.

It was much smaller, although the lands had actually increased during the rule of the Jin Dynasty as they united what is now considered Southern China with the Sixteen Kingdoms, which was an area to the north.

If you look up a Jin Dynasty map you can see that the borders are quite different to modern China.

I guess it's quite common for countries to shift their borders around, but it's easy to take for granted that certain countries have been around forever.

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    • Present-day Nanjing near China's eastern coast.
      By: Ruslan Olinchuk
      Present-day Nanjing near China's eastern coast.