A Literary Garden
, by Zhou Wenju, Southern Tang era.
Li Bian was an orphan who was adopted by the Wu prince Yang Xingmi. He was then adopted by Xu Wen, the Prime Minister of Wu and was renamed Xu Zhigao. Upon Xu Wen's death, he took over power in Wu, and was made a prince of Qi. In 937 he proclaimed himself emperor. In 940, he changed his name to Li Bian and renamed the state Tang (history would refer to it as Southern Tang). Thus, the Southern Tang began as an empire, however under Li Jing, after 959 and the defeat of the Southern Tang by the Later Zhou, it was no longer diplomatically possible to claim the title of emperor in facing other states, thus he assumed the title of king.
The state was at first relatively large and prosperous compared to the other Ten States of that period. Li Bian's rule was comparatively stable and prosperous.
Li Jing took over when his father Li Bian died in 943.
Pottery Dancers. 943 CE. From tomb of Li Bian
, founder of Southern Tang dynasty
The Southern Tang was able to expand its holdings far beyond those of its Wu Kingdom predecessor. It took advantage of a rebellion in the Empire of Min when the northwest revolted and set up the Kingdom of Yin. Min appealed for help, but instead of helping, the Southern Tang absorbed parts of the rebellious territory into its own. Then, by 945, the Southern Tang completed its conquest of the Min Kingdom and absorbed it into its own boundaries.
As with the Min, the Southern Tang was able to take advantage of internal squabbles within Chu to expand its territory even further. The Southern Tang sent in an army in 951 and removed the ruling family to their own capital in Nanjing, and annexed the territory.
However, Li Jing suffered a setback from the Later Zhou between 956 and 958, and ceded all of its land north of the Yangtze River. Li Jing became a vassal of the Later Zhou.
The last ruler, Li Yu (Li Houzhu), took over the state upon the death of his father in 961. The Song dynasty had conquered the northern part of the state located in Huainan, and thus Li Yu reigned no longer as an emperor but as the Ruler of the State of Jiangnan (Jiangnan guozhu 江南國主). Li Yu managed to maintain a semi-independent status of vassal of the Song but had to finally surrender after fighting for almost a year in 975. He was taken to the Song capital in Kaifeng where he offered his formal surrender to the Song emperor in early 976.