In the 54 years between 907 when Emperor Ai of the Tang lost his throne and 960 when the Northern Song was established, there were five successive dynasties in the Central Plains of northern of Yangzsi River in different period. They were the Later Liang, the Later Tang, the Later Jin, the Later Han, and the Later Zhou. Ten Kingdoms also appeared in the same period in southern part of China. They were the Former Shu, the Later Shu, the Wu, the Southern Tang, the Wuyue, the Min, the Chu, the Southern Han, the Nanping (i.e. Jingnan) and the Northern Han. This period became known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms.
The founders of these entities were all frontier commanders of their former states. Because they expanded their power through military separatism, frequent warfare and changes of administration marked this period. Of the five dynasties, the Later Liang, the longest, lasted only 17 years. Then, the Later Tang which lasted 14 years and the Later Jin which lasted 11 years; while the Later Han existed for only 4 years and the Later Zhou, 9 years. One dynasty followed another in quick succession and war raged on constantly, there were various disasters caused by the varied systems, numerous customs, uncountable injunctions and extortionate taxes, not to mention of the infertility of politics, economy and culture. There were struggles for power all throughout the period. These brought nothing but suffering and disaster to the people.
The founders of three dynasties (the Later Tang, the Later Jin and the Later Han) in this period came from the Shatuo. Meanwhile, the Khitan Tartars in the north became increasingly strong. The frontier commanders and the Khitan Tartars joined forces and formed a big military group, later, Liao was founded by Khitan in northeast part of China and became stronger and stronger slowly, laying the foundations for a later confrontation between the Song, the Liao and the Jin.
Same period of Five Dynasties in Southern part of China, things were better in the Ten Kingdoms. Of these Kingdoms, only the Northern Han, whose jurisdiction included now Shanxi, Shaanxi and part of Hebei province, was in the north. The other nine Kingdoms were relatively stable since they were located in the south and were not affected by the warfare in the Central Plains. For this reason, the ten Kingdoms were more long lasting than those five dynasties in northern part of China. Stability helped in the development of the south. For example, in Wuyue, seawalls were built as early as 910, which protected the land and made the state rich. The large numbers of people from the Central Plains who moved south to escape warfare brought with them advanced production techniques, which greatly aided in the development of agriculture and handicrafts.
This was also an important period in the history of Chinese culture. The Nine Classics produced between 932 and 953 in the Later Zhou was China's first Nine Classics published by the Imperial Academy. It became the prototype of all such editions published thereafter in China. It took 20 years to complete despite political changes, revealing the high respect for traditional culture that existed at this time. Noted scholars published many other classics with annotation and commentary. Liu Xun and others in the Later Jin completed the History of the Tang (200 volumes), which became the Old History of the Tang in the Twenty-Four Histories. Known poets of this period include Luo Yin of the Wuyue, Wei Zhuang and Ouyang Jiong of the Western Shu, and Feng Yanji, Emperors Li Jing and Li Yü of the Southern Tang. Their poetic works not only were themselves refined pieces of literature, but also started a lyrical tradition which anticipated the Song ci (lyrics). In the area of painting, the Evening Feasting held by Han Xizai, by Gu Hongzhong, created during the Southern Tang, is a much treasured piece of art from this period.
National unification was achieved again in 960 when Zhao Kuangyin, a general of the Later Zhou Dynasty, founded the Song Dynasty with the capital in Kaifeng, modern Henan Province. This dynasty is known in history as the Northern Song Dynasty.