Asia in 565 AD, showing the Northern Qi Dynasty and its neighbors
Administrative divisions in 572 AD
• 550–559
Emperor Wenxuan of Northern Qi
• 559–560
Emperor Fei of Northern Qi
• 560–561
Emperor Xiaozhao of Northern Qi
• 561–565
Emperor Wucheng of Northern Qi
• 565–577
Gao Wei
• 577
Gao Heng
Historical eraNorthern Dynasties
• Established
9 June[2] 550
• Gao Wei and Gao Heng's capture by Northern Zhou, usually viewed as disestablishment
28 February[3] 577
• Gao Shaoyi's capture by Northern Zhou
27 July 580[4]
557[5]1,500,000 km2 (580,000 sq mi)
CurrencyChinese coin,
Chinese cash
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Eastern Wei
Northern Zhou
Today part ofChina

The Northern Qi (simplified Chinese: 北齐; traditional Chinese: 北齊; pinyin: Běi Qí; Wade–Giles: Pei3-Ch'i2), also called Later Qi and Gao Qi, was one of the Northern dynasties in imperial Chinese history and ruled northeastern China from 550 to 577. The dynasty was founded by Emperor Wenxuan, and it was ended following attacks from Northern Zhou.


Mural painting from the tomb of Gao Yang.
Mural painting from the tomb of Gao Yang.

Northern Qi was the successor state of the Chinese Xianbei state of Eastern Wei and was founded by Emperor Wenxuan. Emperor Wenxuan had an Han father Gao Huan (specially, he is a Xianbei in cultural conception), and a Xianbei mother, Lou Zhaojun.[6][7] As Eastern Wei's powerful minister Gao Huan was succeeded by his sons Gao Cheng and Gao Yang, who took the throne from Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei in 550 and established Northern Qi as Emperor Wenxuan.

Mural paintings of court life in Xu Xianxiu's Tomb, Northern Qi Dynasty, 571 AD, located in Taiyuan, Shanxi province

Northern Qi was the strongest state out of the three main states (the other two being Northern Zhou state and Chen Dynasty) in China when Chen was established. Northern Qi however was plagued by violence and/or incompetent emperors (in particular Houzhu),[8] corrupt officials, and deteriorating armies. In 571, an important official who guide the emperors Emperor Wucheng and Houzhu, He Shikai, was killed. Houzhu attempted to strengthen the power of throne, instead he triggered a series of purges that became violent in late 573.[8]

In 577, Northern Qi was assaulted by Northern Zhou, a northwestern kingdom with poorer resources.[9] The Northern Qi, with ineffective leadership, quickly disintegrated within a month, with large scale defections of court and military personnel.[10] Both Houzhu and the last emperor Youzhu were captured, and both died in late 577. Emperor Wenxuan's son Gao Shaoyi, the Prince of Fanyang, under protection by Tujue, later declared himself the emperor of Northern Qi in exile, but was turned over by Tujue to Northern Zhou in 580 and exiled to modern Sichuan. It is a matter of dispute whether Gao Shaoyi should properly be considered a Northern Qi emperor, but in any case the year 577 is generally considered by historians as the ending date for Northern Qi.[citation needed]


Posthumous Name Personal Name Period of Reign Era Names
Emperor Wenxuan Gao Yang 550-559 Tianbao (天保) 550-559
Gao Yin 559-560 Qianming (乾明) 560
Emperor Xiaozhao Gao Yan 560-561 Huangjian (皇建) 560-561
Emperor Wucheng Gao Zhan 561-565 Taining (太寧) 561-562
Heqing (河清) 562-565
Gao Wei 565-577[note 1] Tiantong (天統) 565-569
Wuping (武平) 570-576
Longhua (隆化) 576
Gao Heng 577[note 2][note 3] Chengguang (承光) 577

Emperors family tree

Emperors family tree
Gao Huan
高欢 (496-547)
Gao Cheng
高澄 (521-549)
Gao Yang 高洋 (526–559)
(r. 550-559)
Empress Gao
Gao Yan 高演 (535-561)
(r. 560-561)
Gao Zhan 高湛 (537–569)
(r. 561-565)
Gao Jie
Gao Changgong
高长恭 d.573
Prince of Lanling 蘭陵王
Gao Yanzong
高延宗 (?-578; r.576)
Gao Yin 高殷 (545-561)
(r. 559-560)
Gao Shaoyi
(b. 546; r.578-580)
Gao Bainian
高百年 556–564
Gao Wei 高緯 (557–577)
(r. 565-577)
Gao Yan

Gao Heng 高恆 (570–577)
(r. 577)

Northern Qi arts

Left image: Northern Qi jar with Central Asian dancer and musicians, 550-577.[11]
Middle image: Earthenware jar with Central Asian face, Northern Qi 550-577.
Right image: Northern Qi earthenware with multicultural (Egyptian, Greek, Eurasian) motifs, 550-577.[12]

Northern Qi ceramics mark a revival of Chinese ceramic art, following the disastrous invasions and the social chaos of the 4th century.[13] Northern Qi tombs have revealed some beautiful artifacts, such as porcelain with splashed green designs, previously thought to have been developed under the Tang dynasty.[11]

Markedly unique from earlier depictions of the Buddha, Northern Qi statues tend to be smaller, around three feet tall, and columnar in shape.[14]

Northern Qi Bodhisattva, Changzi-xian, Shanxi, dated 552.
Northern Qi Bodhisattva, Changzi-xian, Shanxi, dated 552.

A jar has been found in a Northern Qi tomb, which was closed in 576, and is considered as a precursor of the Tang Sancai style of ceramics.[15]

Also, brown glazed wares designed with Sasanian-style figures have been found in these tombs.[11] These works suggest a strong cosmopolitanism and intense exchanges with Western Asia, which are also visible in metalworks and relief sculptures across China during this period.[11] Cosmopolitanism was therefore already current during the Northern Qi period in the 6th century, even before the advent of the notoriously cosmopolitan Tang dynasty, and was often associated with Buddhism.[11][16]


Murals from a tomb of the Northern Qi dynasty (550-577 AD) in Jiuyuangang, Xinzhou, showing a rural hunting scene on horseback

The Northern Qi, although founded by a ruler of mixed Han/Xianbei origin, strongly asserted their Xianbei ethnic cultural identity. They regarded surviving ethnic Tuoba (themselves also Xianbei) and non-Han of the Northern Wei court and as well as literati of all ethnicities as near Han, referring to them as Han'er or Han kids (漢兒).[10] However they employed Han and sometimes Central Asian courtiers.[17] While some Qi elite families had expressed strongly anti-Han sentiments due to unclear reasons, they may also lay claim to Han elite origin.[8] Emperor Wenxuan's father Gao Huan himself, who was reported as having said to his soldiers in the Xianbei language: "You guys are our proud military men and the lowly Han are just your working slaves",[18][19] was descended from the Chinese Gao family of Bohai (渤海高氏) in what is now modern Hebei.[20] He had become Xianbeified as his family had lived for some time in Inner Mongolia after his grandfather was relocated from Bohai.[21][22]


A Chinese scholar translated the Buddhist text Nirvana Sutra text into a Turkic language during this era. Some Zoroastrianism influences that went into previous states continued onto the state of Northern Qi court, such as the love for Persian dogs (sacred in Zoroastrianism) as they were taken as pets by nobles and eunuchs. The Chinese utilized a number of Persian artifacts and products.[23]

Northern Qi Great Wall

Faced with the threat of the Göktürks from the north, from 552 to 556 the Qi built up to 3,000 li (about 1,600 kilometres (990 mi)) of wall from Shanxi to the sea at Shanhai Pass.[24] In 552, the Great Wall was built, starting at the northwest frontier, starting from Lishi (离石) and expanding towards west Shuoxian (朔县), with total length of over 400 kilometers.[25] In 555, Emperor Wenxuan commanded to repair and rebuild the existing Great Wall of Northern Wei. Over the course of the year 555 alone, 1.8 million men were mobilized to build the Juyong Pass and extend its wall by 450 kilometres (280 mi) through Datong to the eastern banks of the Yellow River. In 557 a secondary wall was built inside the main one, starting from east of Pianguan (偏关), passing Yanmen Pass, Pingxing (平型) Pass, and continuing to Xiaguan (下关) in Shanxi Province. In 563, Emperor Wucheng built a section of frontier wall along the Taihang Mountains on the border of Shanxi and Hebei provinces. These walls were built quickly from local earth and stones or formed by natural barriers. Two stretches of the stone-and-earth Qi wall still stand in Shanxi today, measuring 3.3 metres (11 ft) wide at their bases and 3.5 metres (11 ft) high on average. In 577 the Northern Zhou conquered the Northern Qi and in 580 made repairs to the existing Qi walls. The route of the Qi and Zhou walls would be mostly followed by the later Ming wall west of Gubeikou.

See also

Temple guardian, Northern Qi
Temple guardian, Northern Qi


  1. ^ Gao Wei's cousin Gao Yanzong, the Prince of Ande (Gao Cheng's son), briefly declared himself emperor around the new year 577 after the soldiers guarding the city of Jinyang (晉陽, in modern Taiyuan, Shanxi) demanded that he claim the title when Gao Wei abandoned Jinyang. Gao Yanzong, however, was almost immediately defeated and captured by Northern Zhou troops, and therefore is generally not considered a true Northern Qi emperor.
  2. ^ In 577, Gao Wei, then with the title Taishang Huang (retired emperor), tried to issue an edict on his son's behalf yielding the throne to his uncle (Gao Huan's son) Gao Jie (高湝) the Prince of Rencheng, but the officials he sent to deliver the edict to Gao Jie surrendered to Northern Zhou rather than delivering the edict to Gao Jie, who was subsequently also captured by Northern Zhou troops. It is questionable whether Gao Jie was even aware of the edict, and in any case, Gao Jie never used imperial title.
  3. ^ As noted above, Emperor Wenxuan's son Gao Shaoyi tried to establish a Northern Qi court in exile on Tujue's territory, but was not successful in his efforts in recapturing formerly Northern Qi territory, and was eventually turned over by Tujue to Northern Zhou. Most historians do not consider him a true Northern Qi emperor, although the matter remains in controversy.



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