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Far East Kingdoms

China

 

Eastern Wu Dynasty (Three Kingdoms China)
AD 222 - 258

The 'Three Kingdoms' period of Chinese history was triggered by a mixture of factors. Not least of these was increasing levels of control by the imperial court's eunuchs, but Late Han China was in trouble for a long time. Powerful dowager empresses came and went, as did a succession of male emperors who were often only children, even when they were murdered on the throne. With grievances mounting against the state the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out in AD 184 and 'Yellow Turban' resentment informed the increasing tension of the next three decades and more. It was only a matter of time before central authority collapsed altogether.

The destruction to state offices and institutions that was wrought during the Yellow Turban Rebellion led to regional military leaders governing with increasing independence. Emerging warlords formed kingdoms of their own and the collapse of the Han was complete by AD 220. Three new kingdoms emerged from the wreckage, one of which was the Eastern Wu (otherwise referred to as Dōng W or Sun Wu). They were opposed in one of China's bloodiest civil wars in its entire history by Cao Wei and Shu Han. The Eastern Wu controlled much of China's southern and south-eastern territory, buffering Shu Han to the north-west. The bulk of this had been captured between AD 194-199 from various warlords by Sun Ce, eldest son of another warlord named Sun Jian. For pacifying these regions Sun Ce was granted the title marquis of Wu by the imperial court. When Sun Ce was assassinated in AD 200, Sun Quan, his brother, took over.

Known to history simply as 'Wu', a differentiation eventually had to be found between this state and others which bore the same name, such as the Wu of the 'Spring & Autumn' period, and the Wuyue of the 'Five Dynasties' period. 'Sun Wu' comes from the clan name of its kings, while 'Eastern Wu' describes its geographical position in China. Despite being termed a kingdom by the same western scholars, the Eastern Wu soon claimed the title of emperor (from 229) and their state with its capital usually at Jianye (now Nanjing) was seen by them as the rightful continuation of the preceding Late Han state. Fortunately the word for 'king' in ancient and early Iron Age China was the same as the word for 'emperor', with any real differentiation only emerging later.

Three Kingdoms

(Information by Peter Kessler, from Military Culture in Imperial China, Nicola Di Cosmo & Robin D S Yates (Harvard University Press, 2009), from Records of the Three Kingdoms, Chen Shou (third century text which covers the period AD 184-220 and which combines individual histories of the three kingdoms), from Zizhi Tongjian, Sima Guang (noted tenth century historical work), and from External Link: Three Kingdoms (Encyclopaedia Britannica).)

220 - 221

With Cao Pi having proclaimed the Wei kingdom in 220 and Liu Bei having responded in 221 by proclaiming the Shu Han kingdom, Sun Quan keeps his council, not proclaiming anything at all. When open warfare quickly erupts between the other two kingdoms, Sun Quan pays formal allegiance to Cao Pi if the Wei and is granted the title king of Wu. The mistake will doom the Wei to ruling only in the north. Sun Quan declares his independence in 222, formally creating the third of the 'Three Kingdoms'.

222 - 252

Sun Quan

First king. Brother of Sun Ce. Emperor from 229.

222 - 223

Liu Bei of Shu Han launches an ill-advised campaign against his former ally, Sun Quan, to recapture Jing Province in central southern China. It is this province that Sun Quan had seized from Liu Bei in 219, thereby breaking their alliance and setting up the core of his own Eastern Wu kingdom. The campaign culminates in the Battle of Xiaoting in which Liu Bei's forces are crushed. Much of the Shu Han army is lost and Liu Bei dies in the following year of illness.

Map of Three Kingdoms China AD 220-263
In AD 220 the Late Han Chinese empire was officially transferred to the Wei or Cao Wei dynasty, and their opponents simply had to respond (click or tap on map to view full sized)

234

One of the most dangerous moments for Cao Wei arrives in the form of a massive semi-coordinated attack by the Shu and Eastern Wu. Cao Rui personally leads an army of reinforcement to the southern border where the Eastern Wu are repulsed. Shu's attack from the south-west is the last of the five attempts by its imperial chancellor, Zhuge Liang, to lead hundreds of thousands of troops against the Wei, who respond each time with similar numbers. These campaigns are amongst the best known of this era, but they produce an unsteady stalemate in the north.

241

Sun Deng

Son. Heir apparent. Died.

242

Sun He

Brother. Heir apparent. Removed from this position.

242

The unexpected death of the heir apparent, Sun Deng, means that Sun He is now raised to this position. Another brother, Sun Ba, becomes involved in a dispute about the position and two rival factions marshal behind them. Sun Quan takes drastic steps to resolve the problem by ordering Sun Ba to commit suicide and by executing many senior ministers who had picked a side rather than remaining detached. Sun He is removed from his position and the youngest of the brothers, Sun Liang becomes crown prince instead.

252 - 258

Sun Liang

Brother. Deposed by Regent Sun Chen.

252 - 253

Zhuge Ke

Regent and general. Assassinated by Sun Jun.

252 - 256

Sun Jun

Cousin to Sun Liang. Regent and general.

253 - 256

Zhuge Ke's military campaigns against Cao Wei have been little short of disastrous while he has been regent. After refusing to accept the blame for a major defeat he is assassinated in a coup which is led by his fellow regent, Sun Jun. His family is also killed to avoid reprisals. When Sun Jun himself falls ill three years later, he hands power to his cousin, Sun Chen.

256 - 259

Sun Chen

Cousin of Sun Jun. Regent. Killed by Sun Xiu.

258 - 264

Sun Xiu

Brother of Sun Liang. Died of illness.

263 - 265

The Shu kingdom is perceived as being weak by Sima Zhao, regent of Cao Wei, so he launches an invasion of Shu territory in 263. Liu Shan of Shu is eventually persuaded to surrender, thereby removing one facet of the three-sided 'Three Kingdoms' conflict.

Eastern Wu Emperor Sun Quan
The Eastern Wu's first king, Sun Quan, took his time in declaring his kingdom inn AD 222, and took even longer to declare that the kingdom was the 'rightful' heart of the former Chinese empire in AD 229

Towards the end of the invasion, Sima Zhao has himself created the duke of Jin, effectively founding a dynasty which will succeed the Wei. In 264, he goes one step further by raising himself to the position of king of Jin, and his death in 265 delays the inevitable end of the Wei by just one more year. During this same period, Sun Xiu of Wu has died following an illness, and his ministers have selected Sun Hao to succeed him.

264 - 280

Sun Hao

Son of Sun He. Surrendered to the Jin.

266

The inevitable takes place when control of the kingdom of Cao Wei is usurped by Sima Yan of the newly-created Jin dynasty. The Jin are now the official rulers of the northern-based Wei territories and the conquered Shu territories. Only the Eastern Wu remain to oppose them.

280

Sun Hao has become a cruel, hated emperor but his ministers have largely kept the peace. With the combined military forces of the north and west, the Jin have been able to launch a massive attack on Wu's borders from six different directions. The Wu suffer defeat after defeat and one of their most important ministers - the chancellor - is killed during the fighting. With little choice and in order to prevent a bloodbath, Sun Hao formally surrenders on 31 May 280. The 'Three Kingdoms' period is over and China is reunited under a single ruler.