Tao Yuanming lived during the Eastern Jin Dynasty. What kind of time was it? You all know that China has such a long history; we really don't know where to start. I can only talk about a little part of it with which all of you are familiar. Everyone has heard of the novel called Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Right here in Chinatown, there is a "Liu-Guan-Zhang" Society. Those were people in the Era of the Three Kingdoms, which preceded the Eastern Jin Dynasty. Now, I will talk from the Era of the Three Kingdoms.
The Three Kingdoms were the kingdoms of Wei, Shu, and Wu. Before the Three Kingdoms was the Han Dynasty. The last emperor of the Han Dynasty was Emperor Xiang, whose name was Liuxie. He was a very incompetent ruler. Cao Cao—whose character in Chinese opera is always shown with a white face—was Emperor Xiang's prime minister. The kingdom of Shu, as everyone knows, was represented by Liu Bei and Zhu Geliang.
The king of Wu was Sun Quan. Later on, Shu was the first to perish, and Wu the last. Wei was the title of the dynasty started by Cao Cao's son, Cao Pi, who usurped the throne of Han Emperor Xiang after Cao Cao's death. When Cao Cao's grandson was in power, there was a family with the surname Sima. You will know this name if you have watched the Chinese opera, "The Scheme of the Empty City." There was Sima Shi and Sima Zhao. Sima Zhao's son was Sima Yan, who usurped the throne from the emperor of the Wei dynasty. He changed the name of the dynasty to Jin, and that is how the Jin Dynasty began. Now everyone has a general idea: The Three Kingdoms of Cao Cao, Liu Bei, and Sun Quan were later unified under the dynasty of Cao-Wei, which was then overthrown by the Sima family who started the Jin dynasty. However, the government of the Jin dynasty was corrupt, and there were constant civil wars. Everyone in the imperial court, including the emperor, the officials, the ministers, the generals, and the aristocrats, was very corrupt and depraved. All they cared about was the pursuit of personal power and position. Not only did other families try to usurp political power and place their own members on the throne, even within the royal family brothers fought and killed each other.
That was when "The Revolt of the Eight Princes" occurred. It was a war brought on by feuding over power and rank among eight princes in the Sima family. Many foreign tribes took advantage of the corruption of the ruling court and invaded China, ushering in the period in Chinese history known as the "Five Barbarian Tribes and the Sixteen Kingdoms."
"Hu" was a general name given to foreign tribes in Chinese history. The foreigners were called "Hu people." The "Five Hu and Sixteen Kingdoms" refers to five foreign tribes that set up sixteen small kingdoms in China. Those small kingdoms gradually expanded their strength, until one of them, a kingdom established by the Xiongnu tribe, overthrew the Jin Dynasty. The last emperor of Jin Dynasty was Emperor Huai, whose capital was at Loyang. While the Xiongnu occupied Loyang and held Emperor Huai captive, a descendant of the emperor living in Chang'an proclaimed himself heir to the throne and became Emperor Ming. Later on, Chang'an was overtaken and Emperor Ming was also captured. Both emperors were tortured and killed.
At that time, all of north China was occupied by foreigners. In south China, there was a man named Sima Rui who lived in Jiankang (near present-day Nanjing). When Sima Rui saw that ihe whole territory of north China along the Yellow River basin had been overtaken by foreigners, he set up his own country in the south, with its capital at Jiankang and the dynasty still named Jin.
In order to distinguish this Jin Dynasty from the former Jin Dynasty, it is called the Eastern Jin Dynasty, for it was located in southeast China with its capital at Jiankang. The other one is known as the Western Jin Dynasty, being located in western China with its capital at Loyang. Now we are in the Eastern Jin Dynasty, and we are going to talk about a poet, Tao Yuanming, who lived in that period.
We have mentioned that the emperors and high officials had been fighting with each other since the Western Jin Dynasty. It was that way in the Western Jin Dynasty, and it was still the same in the Eastern Jin Dynasty. Due to limited time, I will only briefly talk about some of the more important events.
To be continued