what were the three kingdoms of china

Three Kingdoms, trio of warring Chinese states that followed the demise of the Han dynasty (206 BC–AD 220)In the Three Kingdoms Period (220–280), China was divided by three regimes: Wei (north of the Yangtze), Shu (in the southwest), and Wu (in the southeast).

what happened to the three kingdoms of china

The three kingdoms, Wei, Shu and Wu conquered and merged other kingdoms and eventually they became the three most powerful kingdoms in the Han Dynasty.

Cao wei three kingdoms

Cao wei three kingdoms

When Cao Cao died in 220, his son Cao Pi took his place and, in the very same year, forced the reigning Emperor Xian (r. 189–220) to abdicate. He swiftly declared himself Emperor and founded the Kingdom of Wei (220-265). Talk about burning ambition! However, Cao Cao’s failure to unite the kingdoms of the Chinese empire meant that large parts of China were left ungoverned. In 221, Liu Bei took control of a south-westerly region known as Shu, which covers much of modern-day Sichuan province, and established the Kingdom of Shu-Han (221–263). Similarly, Sun Quan conquered much of China’s south-eastern territory and founded the Kingdom of Wu (222–280). In this way, the Han Dynasty officially ended and the country was left fissured, in a state historians now refer to as the Three Kingdoms Period.

Although the Kingdomd of Wei was politically the strongest and controlled the most territory, it was constantly vying for dominance with the other two kingdoms. Military campaigns during this period were of such importance that, alongside the rulers of the three warring dynasties, great strategists such as Zhuge Liang and Lu Xun would emerge and achieve an almost mythical status in the Chinese canon. Whether it was Liu Bei trying to take back the province of Jingzhou from the Kingdom of Wu, Cao Pi attempting to extend his territory further south, or the shocking overthrow of the Wei Dynasty by the Sun Family, this period in history was marked by vicious and tactical warfare. In fact, the country was so marred by violence that its population dropped from a healthy 56 million during the Han Dynasty to a staggering 16 million by the time the Jin Dynasty (265-420) reunified the country in 280.

If the historical records are accurate, this would make the Three Kingdoms Period the second deadliest era of warfare in world history, rivalled only by the Second World War! That being said, these historical censuses only account for the living population at the time and don’t give specifics about the death toll. Though warfare was undoubtedly the predominant cause, the famine and disease that resulted from the destabilisation of the government were certainly contributing factors. Regardless of how it happened, it would take until the Sui Dynasty (581-618) for the population to finally recover from such hardship.

Eastern Wu three kingdoms

Eastern Wu three kingdoms

During Emperor Ling’s reign, a man called Sun Jian established himself as an accomplished warrior and strategist. After many successful campaigns against Han enemies, Sun Jian joined in the war against the Yellow Scarves.

Sun Jian easily vanquished the rebels and was memorialized by the Emperor as magistrate of Chang Sha. When Dong Zhuo took control of the Han court following Emperor Ling’s death, Sun Jian was called to action once again by Cao Cao and Yuan Shao from the north.

Sun Jian proved himself in the battles against Dong Zhuo and his officer Hua Xiong, but arrived at Luo Yang too late. The Imperial city had been burned and not much was left. In a well, Sun Jian found the Imperial Jade Seal that once belonged to the Emperor he served.

Knowing that the other lords might claim the Jade Seal, Sun Jian returns to the southlands with it. Liu Biao, Imperial Protector of Jingzhou opposed Sun Jian and called him to arms. Sun Jian fought against Liu Biao, but was killed in a boulder trap in AD 191. His army retreated with his oldest son, Sun Ce, now in command.

Sun Ce sought refuge with Yuan Shu, and allowed Yuan Shu to keep the Jade seal while he fought against his enemies. However, Sun Ce’s ambitions grew and before long the young warrior conquered the entire region of Jiang Dong.

In AD 200, while on a mission to attack Xu Chang, Sun Ce was ambushed and injured by Governor Xu Gong’s troops. He died a year later in AD 201 at the age of 26. His younger brother and Sun Jian’s second son, Sun Quan, assumed control of Jiangdong.

Sun Quan refused to ally himself with Yuan Shao and launched a campaign against his father’s enemy Huang Zu, officer of Liu Biao. Having prepared a large navy, Sun Quan waited to oppose the coming invasion of Prime Minister Cao Cao, the ambitious northern plains warlord who had chased Liu Bei into the important province of Jingzhou.

Acting in accord with Zhou Yu’s advice, Sun Quan decided to fight against Cao Cao with Liu Bei, a move which resulted in a fantastic victory over Cao Cao’s fleet at Chi Bi. The threat from the north was silenced for some time, and Sun Quan arranged a marriage between his sister and Liu Bei. He then helped Liu Bei take over the lands of Yizhou by allowing Liu Bei to borrow Jingzhou.

In the year AD 213, Cao Cao again invades Jiang Dong, but is unsuccessful. Liu Bei defeats Cao Cao at Han Zhong in AD 219, and Sun Quan demands the return of Jingzhou. Guan Yu, who guarded Jingzhou, refused to return the land given by Sun Quan, and in the year AD 220, Lü Meng and Lu Xun, on orders of Sun Quan, invade and retake Jingzhou.

Guan Yu is executed and an angry Liu Bei launches an attack against Sun Quan. In the year AD 222, Liu Bei meets Lu Xun in Yiling, but suffers a heavy defeat.

In the year AD 224 Cao Cao’s son, Cao Pi, now Emperor of Wei, invades Sun Quan’s territory through You Ting. However, thanks to Zhou Fang’s “bitter poison” plan, Sun Quan defeats Wei once again.

In the year AD 229, Sun Quan declares himself the Emperor of Wu and a series of wars against the southern tribes and internal enemies begins for Wu. Internal discord and the death of Sun Quan in AD 252 weaken Wu significantly.

The next two Emperors, Sun Liang and Sun Xiu, were powerless against Wei’s army and were only able to regain small territories in northern Jingzhou. Sun Hao, the last Emperor of Wu, makes a last ditch effort to repel Wei, but is unsuccessful. In the year AD 280, Wu falls to Wei’s commander Sima Yan, who then establishes the Jin dynasty and unified China.

shu han three kingdoms

shu han three kingdoms

In the year AD 184, a rebellion lead by the Yellow Scarves throws the Han dynasty into chaos. Liu Bei, a descendant of the Han Prince of Zhongsheng, gathers a volunteer force to fight the rebels.

Together with his sworn brothers, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, Liu Bei continuously fights the enemies that threaten the legitimacy of the Han Emperor. In the year AD 190, a coalition of warlords is formed to rid the Capital Luo Yang of a new enemy; the former Han general Dong Zhuo.

Liu Bei, under the command of Gongsun Zan, fights against the new rebels with his brothers. When Cao Cao takes up the post as the new Han Prime Minister Liu Bei is recognized as the Imperial Uncle and given a post in Xuzhou. After serving Tao Qian and Lü Bu, Liu Bei angers Cao Cao and is forced to flee with his army to northern Jingzhou.

There, Liu Bei takes refuge with his relative, Liu Biao. Cao Cao, however, continues to pursue Liu Bei and in the process takes northern Jingzhou. Liu Bei quickly allies himself with Sun Quan, the ruler of the southlands, and aids Sun Quan in repelling Cao Cao’s fleet at the decisive battle of Chi Bi.

While Cao Cao retreats to the north, Liu Bei borrows southern Jingzhou from Sun Quan and prepares to move into Yizhou, which is better known as the lands of Shu. Liu Bei’s cousin, Liu Zhang ruled Yizhou, however a cunning plot by the strategist Pang Tong enables Liu Bei to take control. Now, with a land of his own, enjoying Sun Quan’s protection off to the east, Liu Bei forms Shu into his own Kingdom.

In the year AD 218, Liu Bei launches an offensive against the key city of Han Zhong where Cao Cao’s main force was stationed. With the help of Fa Zheng, Liu Bei sends Cao Cao running and proclaims himself King of Hanzhong that the same year.

However, relationships with Wu grow sour and in the year AD 220 Shu loses Jingzhou and Liu Bei’s brother, Guan Yu is executed by Sun Quan. In the year AD 221, after Cao Cao’s son Cao Pi formed the Wei Empire, Liu Bei proclaims himself Emperor of Han-Shu. In the year AD 222, eager to avenge Guan Yu’s death, Liu Bei marches against Wu.

Liu Bei, after being defeated by Lu Xun, retreats back to Yizhou with what remains of the Shu army. In the next year, AD 223, Liu Bei dies and his son Liu Shan takes the Shu throne. After Liu Bei’s death, Zhuge Liang helps to form an alliance between Wu and Shu.

Liu Shan was unable to gain ground against Wei, and Shu’s resources quickly diminished. Following the death of Prime Minister Zhuge Liang, the country is caught in a spiral of defeats.

In the year AD 257, Liu Shan abandons the war against Wei’s Sima Zhao, and in AD 264 surrenders at the capital Cheng Du to Wei, ending the Shu dynasty.

who won the three kingdoms

three kingdoms

The Wei Kingdom’s Demise and the Sima Family’s Rise

When the third emperor of Wei, Cao Fang (reign: 239-254), took the throne at 8 years old, he was assisted by Sima Yi and Cao Shuang. Cao Shuang was arrogant and even imprisoned Empress Dowager Guo.

In 249, while Cao Fang and Cao Shuang went to Gaoping tomb to worship the previous emperor of Wei, Sima Yi went to Empress Dowager Guo and requested removal of Cao Shuang’s family. He then led an army to defeat Cao Shuang.

Sima Yi gained much power and influence and his family grew stronger until it was strong enough to threaten the Wei regime. Cao Fang didn’t dare to suppress the Sima Family.

Cao Wei Kingdom was Succeeded by Jin Kingdom at 266
Eventually, Cao Fang was deposed, after Sima Yi forced Emperess Dowager Guo to ally with him.

In 266, Sima Yan (Sima Yi’s grandson) forced Cao Huan, the last King of Wei, to abdicate, and replaced Wei with the Jin Kingdom.

Shu’s Demise — Surrender to Cao Wei in 263

From 238 to 262, the Shu Han kingdom lunched 11 northern expeditions to attack the Wei kingdom. They won more than they lost, but the wars used up a lot of food, money, and human recourses, which weakened Shu.

In 263, Wei invaded Shu, and Liu Shan, last king of Shu, surrendered to Wei. He was allowed to live out his life peacefully in Luoyang, Wei’s capital.

Wu’s Decline and Demise — Surrender to the Jin Kingdom in 280

In 252, Sun Quan died and his son Sun Liang ascended the throne when he was only 10. From then on the kingdom of Wu headed towards decline.

In 279, the Jin Kingdom mounted a large-scale attack on Dong Wu and won. In 280, Sun Hao, last king of Wu kingdom surrendered.

Thus the Three Kingdoms Period gave way to the Jin Dynasty era


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