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Southern Dynasties

In the south there were four consecutive dynasties over 160 years: the Song, Qi, Liang and Chen, all of whose capital cities were based in the current Nanjing City. During this time, hereditary, big families underwent a downfall after long-time social prominence since the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316). Although such families still held a noble status, they could no longer meddle in state affairs. Meanwhile, the scholars enjoyed the most favorable opportunities and were entrusted important assignments by the ruling class. The emperors retrieved complete power over the nation.

This was a period of both disturbances and developments in Chinese history, especially during the Three Kingdoms and the two Jin dynasties when political struggles were acute and civil wars frequent. Ethnic minorities in the north entered the Central Plains and set up governments there. The result was a long period of confrontations between the minority regimes and regimes established by the Han Chinese in the south. The economy in the south made some progress during this time and the northern regimes accepted the Han political system and culture to varying degrees. This marked the beginning of a merger between the Han and minority cultures. China's contact with foreign countries also became more pronounced. Buddhist culture of the Western Regions, in particular, was introduced to China on a large scale, exerting a far-reaching influence on Chinese culture. Great progress was made in science and technology, and literature and art reached an important stage linking the past to the future.