Project (2021)

Dealing with Transience during the Sixteen States Period of Early Medieval China

The period of the Sixteen States (304–439) in northern China was characterized by rather short-lived regimes, mostly founded by “non-Han” rulers belonging to the Xiongnu, the Jie, the Qiang, the Xianbei and the Di, often in conflict with one another. Constant warfare and the ephemerality of these regimes in the north, which in fact numbered far more than sixteen, seemed to have made it nearly impossible to re-establish order. Violence, resettlement, famine, and disease shaped the lives of people across social strata. While we can glean very little about how ordinary people coped with the risks and uncertainty of the time, later historiography provides some clues about how the elite dealt with political instability and constant change. This project analyzes historiographical sources about the Sixteen States, asking about their significance in dealing with the transience and the disharmony of the time. A special focus of the project is a close examination of the last wills and testaments of the Sixteen States' rulers in these sources. We expect to gain insight into the political and personal concepts of the elite by examining how they dealt with the ephemerality of their time and their own death.