Three Kingdoms
Overview
 
The Three Kingdoms period was a period in Chinese history
History of China
Chinese civilization originated in various regional centers along both the Yellow River and the Yangtze River valleys in the Neolithic era, but the Yellow River is said to be the Cradle of Chinese Civilization. With thousands of years of continuous history, China is one of the world's oldest...

, part of an era of disunity called the "Six Dynasties
Six Dynasties
Six Dynasties is a collective noun for six Chinese dynasties during the periods of the Three Kingdoms , Jin Dynasty , and Southern and Northern Dynasties ....

" following immediately the loss of de facto
De facto
De facto is a Latin expression that means "concerning fact." In law, it often means "in practice but not necessarily ordained by law" or "in practice or actuality, but not officially established." It is commonly used in contrast to de jure when referring to matters of law, governance, or...

 power of the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 rulers. In a strict academic sense it refers to the period between the foundation of the state of Wei
Cao Wei
Cao Wei was one of the states that competed for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period. With the capital at Luoyang, the state was established by Cao Pi in 220, based upon the foundations that his father Cao Cao laid...

 in 220 and the conquest
Conquest of Wu by Jin
The conquest of Wu by Jin was a military campaign launched by the Jin Dynasty against the state of Eastern Wu in 280 towards the end of the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history...

 of the state Wu
Eastern Wu
Eastern Wu, also known as Sun Wu, was one the three states competing for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period after the fall of the Han Dynasty. It was based in the Jiangnan region of China...

 by the Jin Dynasty in 280.  However, many Chinese historians and laymen extend the starting point of this period back to the Yellow Turban Rebellion
Yellow Turban Rebellion
The Yellow Turban Rebellion, also translated as Yellow Scarves Rebellion, was a peasant revolt that broke out in 184 AD in China during the reign of Emperor Ling of the Han Dynasty...

 in 184.

The three kingdoms were Wei
Cao Wei
Cao Wei was one of the states that competed for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period. With the capital at Luoyang, the state was established by Cao Pi in 220, based upon the foundations that his father Cao Cao laid...

 (魏), Shu
Shu Han
Shu Han was one of the three states competing for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period, after the fall of the Han Dynasty. The state was based on areas around Sichuan, which was then known as Shu...

 (蜀), and Wu
Eastern Wu
Eastern Wu, also known as Sun Wu, was one the three states competing for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period after the fall of the Han Dynasty. It was based in the Jiangnan region of China...

 (吳).
Encyclopedia
The Three Kingdoms period was a period in Chinese history
History of China
Chinese civilization originated in various regional centers along both the Yellow River and the Yangtze River valleys in the Neolithic era, but the Yellow River is said to be the Cradle of Chinese Civilization. With thousands of years of continuous history, China is one of the world's oldest...

, part of an era of disunity called the "Six Dynasties
Six Dynasties
Six Dynasties is a collective noun for six Chinese dynasties during the periods of the Three Kingdoms , Jin Dynasty , and Southern and Northern Dynasties ....

" following immediately the loss of de facto
De facto
De facto is a Latin expression that means "concerning fact." In law, it often means "in practice but not necessarily ordained by law" or "in practice or actuality, but not officially established." It is commonly used in contrast to de jure when referring to matters of law, governance, or...

 power of the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 rulers. In a strict academic sense it refers to the period between the foundation of the state of Wei
Cao Wei
Cao Wei was one of the states that competed for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period. With the capital at Luoyang, the state was established by Cao Pi in 220, based upon the foundations that his father Cao Cao laid...

 in 220 and the conquest
Conquest of Wu by Jin
The conquest of Wu by Jin was a military campaign launched by the Jin Dynasty against the state of Eastern Wu in 280 towards the end of the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history...

 of the state Wu
Eastern Wu
Eastern Wu, also known as Sun Wu, was one the three states competing for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period after the fall of the Han Dynasty. It was based in the Jiangnan region of China...

 by the Jin Dynasty in 280.  However, many Chinese historians and laymen extend the starting point of this period back to the Yellow Turban Rebellion
Yellow Turban Rebellion
The Yellow Turban Rebellion, also translated as Yellow Scarves Rebellion, was a peasant revolt that broke out in 184 AD in China during the reign of Emperor Ling of the Han Dynasty...

 in 184.

The three kingdoms were Wei
Cao Wei
Cao Wei was one of the states that competed for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period. With the capital at Luoyang, the state was established by Cao Pi in 220, based upon the foundations that his father Cao Cao laid...

 (魏), Shu
Shu Han
Shu Han was one of the three states competing for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period, after the fall of the Han Dynasty. The state was based on areas around Sichuan, which was then known as Shu...

 (蜀), and Wu
Eastern Wu
Eastern Wu, also known as Sun Wu, was one the three states competing for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period after the fall of the Han Dynasty. It was based in the Jiangnan region of China...

 (吳). To further distinguish these states from other historical Chinese states of the same name, historians add a relevant character: Wei is also known as Cao Wei (曹魏), Shu is also known as Shu Han (蜀漢), and Wu is also known as Dong Wu or Eastern Wu (東吳). The term "Three Kingdoms" itself is something of a mistranslation, since each state was eventually headed not by kings, but by an emperor who claimed legitimate succession from the Han Dynasty. Although the translation "Three Empires" is more contextually accurate, the term "Three Kingdoms" has become standard among sinologist
Sinology
Sinology in general use is the study of China and things related to China, but, especially in the American academic context, refers more strictly to the study of classical language and literature, and the philological approach...

s.

The earlier, "unofficial" part of the period, from 184 to 220, was marked by chaotic infighting between warlords in various parts of China. The middle part of the period, from 220 and 263, was marked by a more militarily stable arrangement between three rival states, Wei, Shu, and Wu.  The later part of this period was marked by the collapse of the tripartite situation: first the conquest of Shu by Wei
Conquest of Shu by Wei
The conquest of Shu by Wei was a military campaign launched by the state of Cao Wei against its rival Shu Han in 263 during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. The campaign culminated in the fall of Shu and the tripartite equilibrium maintained in China for over 40 years since the end of...

 (263), then the overthrow of Wei by the Jin Dynasty (265), and the destruction of Wu by Jin (280).

Although relatively short, this historical period has been greatly romanticised in the cultures of China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam. It has been celebrated and popularised in operas, folk stories, novels and in more recent times, films, television, and video games.  The best known of these is Luo Guanzhong
Luo Guanzhong
Luo Ben , better known by his style name Luo Guanzhong , was a Chinese writer of the early Ming Dynasty period of Chinese history. He was also known as Huhai Sanren...

's Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century, is a Chinese historical novel based on the events in the turbulent years near the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, starting in 169 and ending with the reunification of the land in...

, a Ming Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

 historical novel based on events in the Three Kingdoms period. The authoritative historical record of the era is Chen Shou
Chen Shou
Chen Shou was a historian during the Jin Dynasty period of Chinese history. He is best known as the author of Records of Three Kingdoms, a historical account of the late Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms period.-Biography:...

's Records of Three Kingdoms
Records of Three Kingdoms
Records of Three Kingdoms , is regarded as the official and authoritative historical text on the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history covering the years 184-280 CE. Written by Chen Shou in the 3rd century, the work combines the smaller histories of the rival states of Cao Wei , Shu Han and...

, along with Pei Songzhi
Pei Songzhi
Pei Songzhi was commissioned by Emperor Wen of Liu Song to write a commentary on Chen Shou's Records of Three Kingdoms, providing additional detail omitted from the original work. His commentary, completed in 429, became integral to later editions of the Records, making the joint work three times...

's later annotations of the text.

The Three Kingdoms period was one of the bloodiest in Chinese history.  A population census during the late Eastern Han Dynasty reported a population of approximately 50 million, while a population census during the early Western Jin Dynasty reported a population of approximately 16 million. However, the Jin Dynasty's census was far less complete than the Han census, so these figures are in question.

Technology advanced significantly during this period. Shu chancellor Zhuge Liang
Zhuge Liang
Zhuge Liang was a chancellor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He is often recognised as the greatest and most accomplished strategist of his era....

 invented the wooden ox
Wooden ox
The wooden ox was created by Zhuge Liang while he served Shu-Han. It was a thought to be either* a mechanical, walking replica of an ox whose main purpose was to carry supplies such as grain to an army that was running low on suppliesor* a sort of wheelbarrow that had 2 booms on which it was...

, suggested to be an early form of the wheelbarrow, and improved on the repeating crossbow
Repeating crossbow
A repeating crossbow is a crossbow where the separate actions of stringing the bow, placing the bolt and shooting it can be accomplished with a simple one-handed movement while keeping the crossbow stationary. This allows a higher rate of fire than a normal crossbow...

. Wei mechanical engineer Ma Jun
Ma Jun
Ma Jun , style name Deheng , was a Chinese mechanical engineer and government official during the Three Kingdoms era of China...

 is considered by many to be the equal of his predecessor Zhang Heng
Zhang Heng
Zhang Heng was a Chinese astronomer, mathematician, inventor, geographer, cartographer, artist, poet, statesman, and literary scholar from Nanyang, Henan. He lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty of China. He was educated in the capital cities of Luoyang and Chang'an, and began his career as a...

. He invented a hydraulic-powered, mechanical puppet theatre designed for Emperor Ming of Wei
Cao Rui
Cao Rui , formally known as Emperor Ming of Wei, was the second emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He was a son of Cao Wei's first emperor Cao Pi according to Liu Song dynasty historian, Pei Songzhi, but was a son of Yuan Xi according to modern...

, square-pallet chain pumps for irrigation of gardens in Luoyang
Luoyang
Luoyang is a prefecture-level city in western Henan province of Central China. It borders the provincial capital of Zhengzhou to the east, Pingdingshan to the southeast, Nanyang to the south, Sanmenxia to the west, Jiyuan to the north, and Jiaozuo to the northeast.Situated on the central plain of...

, and the ingenious design of the South Pointing Chariot
South Pointing Chariot
The south-pointing chariot was an ancient Chinese two-wheeled vehicle that carried a movable pointer to indicate the south, no matter how the chariot turned. Usually, the pointer took the form of a doll or figure with an outstretched arm...

, a non-magnetic directional compass operated by differential gears.

Yellow Turban Rebellion

The power of the Eastern Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 went into depression and steadily declined after the reign of Emperor He
Emperor He of Han
Emperor He of Han, ch. 漢和帝, py. hàn hé dì, wg. Han Ho-ti, was an emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty who ruled from 88 to 105. He was the 4th emperor of the Eastern Han dynasty....

 from a variety of political and economic problems. A series of Han emperors ascended the throne while still youths, and de facto imperial power often rested with the emperors' older relatives. As these relatives occasionally were loath to give up their influence, emperors would, upon reaching maturity, be forced to rely on political alliances with senior officials and eunuch
Eunuch
A eunuch is a person born male most commonly castrated, typically early enough in his life for this change to have major hormonal consequences...

s to achieve control of the government. Political posturing and infighting between imperial relatives and eunuch officials was a constant problem in Chinese government at the time. During the reigns of Emperor Huan
Emperor Huan of Han
Emperor Huan of Han, ch. 漢桓帝, py. hàn húan dì, wg. Han Huan-ti, was an emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty. He was a great-grandson of Emperor Zhang....

 and Emperor Ling
Emperor Ling of Han
Emperor Ling of Han, trad. ch. 漢靈帝;, sim. ch. 汉灵帝, py. hàn líng dì, wg. Han Ling-ti, was an emperor of the Chinese Han Dynasty. He was a great-great-grandson of Emperor Zhang. The Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out during Emperor Ling's reign.Emperor Ling's reign saw yet another repetition of...

, leading officials' dissatisfaction with the eunuchs' usurpations of power reached a peak, and many began to openly protest against them. The first and second protests met with failure, and the court eunuchs persuaded the emperor to execute many of the protesting scholars. Some local rulers seized the opportunity to exert despotic control over their lands and citizens, since many feared to speak out in the oppressive political climate. Emperors Huan and Ling's reigns were recorded as particularly dark periods of Han Dynasty rule. In addition to political oppression and mismanagement, China experienced a number of natural disasters during this period, and local rebellions sprung up throughout the country.

In the second month of 184, Zhang Jiao, leader of the Way of Supreme Peace, a Taoist
Taoism
Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao , which is the mechanism of everything that exists...

 movement, along with his two brothers Zhang Liang
Zhang Liang (Yellow Turban)
Zhang Liang was a Yellow Turban rebel leader during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He was a younger brother of Zhang Jiao and Zhang Bao, the other two key leaders of the rebellion. He was said to be an able general. It is said that Zhang Liang is the grandson of Zhang Daoling...

 and Zhang Bao
Zhang Bao (Yellow Turban)
Zhang Bao was a Yellow Turban rebel leader during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He was a younger brother of Zhang Jiao and older brother of Zhang Liang, the other two key leaders of the rebellion...

, led the movement's followers in a rebellion against the government that was called the Yellow Turban Rebellion
Yellow Turban Rebellion
The Yellow Turban Rebellion, also translated as Yellow Scarves Rebellion, was a peasant revolt that broke out in 184 AD in China during the reign of Emperor Ling of the Han Dynasty...

. Their movement quickly attracted followers and soon numbered several hundred thousands and received support from many parts of China. They had 36 bases throughout China, with large bases having 10,000 or more followers and minor bases having 6,000 to 7,000, similar to Han armies. Their motto was:
"The firmament
Firmament
The firmament is the vault or expanse of the sky. According to Genesis, God created the firmament to separate the oceans from other waters above.-Etymology:...

 has perished, the Yellow Sky will soon rise; in this year of jiazi
Chinese calendar
The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, incorporating elements of a lunar calendar with those of a solar calendar. It is not exclusive to China, but followed by many other Asian cultures as well...

, let there be prosperity in the world!"
(蒼天已死,黃天當立。歲在甲子,天下大吉。)
Emperor Ling dispatched generals Huangfu Song
Huangfu Song
Huangfu Song , style name Yizhen , was a military general of the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He is best known for helping to suppress the Yellow Turban Rebellion and Liang Province Rebellion. He was one of three imperial commanders when the Yellow Turban Rebellion broke out, along...

, Lu Zhi, and Zhu Jun to lead the Han armies against the rebels, and decreed that local governments had to supply soldiers to assist in their efforts. It is at this point that the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century, is a Chinese historical novel based on the events in the turbulent years near the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, starting in 169 and ending with the reunification of the land in...

begins its narrative. The Yellow Turbans were ultimately defeated and its surviving followers dispersed throughout China, but due to the turbulent situation throughout the empire, many were able to survive as bandits in mountainous areas, thus continuing their ability to contribute to the turmoil of the era.

With the widespread increase in bandits across the Chinese nation, the Han army had no way to repel each and every raiding party. In 188, Emperor Ling accepted a memorial from Yi Province governor Liu Yan suggesting he grant direct administrative power over feudal provinces and direct command of regional military to local governors, as well promoting them in rank and filling such positions with members of the Liu family or court officials. This move made provinces (zhou) official administrative units, and although they had power to combat rebellions, the later intra-government chaos allowed these local governors to easily rule independently of the central government. Soon after this move, Liu Yan severed all of his region's ties to the Han imperial court, and several other areas followed suit.

Dong Zhuo in power

In the same year, Emperor Ling died, and another struggle began between the court eunuchs for control of the imperial family. Court eunuch Jian Shuo
Jian Shuo
Jian Shuo was the leader of the eunuch faction in the imperial court of the late Eastern Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. Along with Zhang Rang, Jian Shuo eventually became a leading member of the Ten Attendants, who became the most powerful eunuchs during the time...

 planned to kill General-in-Chief He Jin
He Jin
He Jin was the elder half-brother of Empress He, consort to Emperor Ling of the late Eastern Han Dynasty in China. He shared power with his sister as regents in 189, following the death of Emperor Ling. In the ensuing struggle with the influential eunuch faction for power, He Jin was assassinated...

, a relative of the imperial family, and to replace the crown prince
Crown Prince
A crown prince or crown princess is the heir or heiress apparent to the throne in a royal or imperial monarchy. The wife of a crown prince is also titled crown princess....

 Liu Bian
Prince of Hongnong
The Prince of Hongnong , was briefly an emperor of China during the Han dynasty. He is also known as "Emperor Han Shao" , a name which he shares with several other emperors with brief reigns...

 with his younger brother Liu Xie
Emperor Xian of Han
Emperor Xian of Han , personal name Liu Xie, style name Bohe, was the last emperor of the Han Dynasty period of Chinese history...

, the Prince of Chenliu (in present-day Kaifeng
Kaifeng
Kaifeng , known previously by several names , is a prefecture-level city in east-central Henan province, Central China. Nearly 5 million people live in the metropolitan area...

), though his plan was unsuccessful. Liu Bian took the Han throne as Emperor Shao, and He Jin plotted with warlord Yuan Shao
Yuan Shao
Yuan Shao was a warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He occupied the northern territories of China during the civil war that occurred towards the end of the Han Dynasty and the beginning of the Three Kingdoms era...

 to assassinate the Ten Attendants
Ten Attendants
The Ten Attendants were a group of eunuchs from the Eunuch Faction of the Han Imperial Court in China...

, a clique of ten eunuchs led by Zhang Rang
Zhang Rang
Zhang Rang was a eunuch of the late Han Dynasty, who served Emperor Ling of Han; he was also the leader of the Ten regular attendants , a group of court eunuchs who held great influence in the Han imperial court...

 who controlled much of the imperial court. He Jin also ordered Dong Zhuo
Dong Zhuo
Dong Zhuo was a politician and warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He seized control of the capital city Luoyang in 189 when it was in a state of turmoil following the death of Emperor Ling and a clash between the eunuch faction and some court officials led by...

, the frontier general in Liang Province, and Ding Yuan
Ding Yuan
Ding Yuan was a regional governor and minor warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. In 189, both he and Dong Zhuo were summoned into the capital Luoyang with their individual troops to assist in the struggle against the powerful eunuch faction...

, Inspector of Bing Province, to bring troops to the capital to reinforce his position of authority. The eunuchs learned of He Jin's plot, and had him assassinated before Dong Zhuo reached the capital Luoyang
Luoyang
Luoyang is a prefecture-level city in western Henan province of Central China. It borders the provincial capital of Zhengzhou to the east, Pingdingshan to the southeast, Nanyang to the south, Sanmenxia to the west, Jiyuan to the north, and Jiaozuo to the northeast.Situated on the central plain of...

. When Yuan Shao's troops reached Luoyang, they stormed the palace complex, killing the Ten Attendants and 2,000 of the eunuchs' supporters. Though this move effectively ended the century-long feud between the eunuchs and the imperial family, it ushered in the era of warlords and martial law that became the Three Kingdoms era.

This event prompted the invitation of Dong Zhuo to enter Luoyang from the northwest boundary of China. At the time China faced the Qiang tribes in the northwest, and thus Dong Zhuo controlled a large army with elite training. When he brought the army to Luoyang, he was able to easily overpower the existing armies of both sides and took control of the imperial court, ushering in a period of civil war across China.

Dong Zhuo then manipulated the succession so that Liu Xie could take the throne in lieu of Liu Bian. Dong Zhuo, while ambitious, genuinely wished for a more capable emperor. On his way to Luoyang, he encountered a small band of soldiers protecting Liu Bian and Liu Xie fleeing the war zone. In the encounter Dong Zhuo acted arrogantly and threateningly, causing Liu Bian to be paralyzed with fear; Liu Xie, the future Emperor Xian, responded calmly with authority and commanded Dong Zhuo to protect the royal family with his army to return to the imperial court.

While Dong Zhuo originally wanted to re-establish the authority of the Han Dynasty and manage all the political conflict properly, his political capability proved to be much worse than his military leadership. His behaviour grew more and more violent and authoritarian, executing or sending into exile all that opposed him, and showed less and less respect to the emperor. He ignored all royal etiquette and frequently carried open weapons into the imperial court. In 190 a coalition led by Yuan Shao
Campaign against Dong Zhuo
The Campaign against Dong Zhuo was a punitive expedition initiated by a coalition of regional officials and warlords against Dong Zhuo, Chancellor of State, in 190 during the late Han Dynasty of Chinese history...

 was formed between nearly all the provincial authorities in the eastern provinces of the empire against Dong Zhuo. The mounting pressure from repeated defeat on the southern frontline against Sun Jian
Sun Jian
Sun Jian was a military general and warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He allied himself with Yuan Shu in 190 when warlords from eastern China formed a coalition to oust Dong Zhuo, a tyrannical warlord who held the puppet Emperor Xian in his power...

's forces drove Emperor Xian and later Dong Zhuo himself west to Chang'an
Chang'an
Chang'an is an ancient capital of more than ten dynasties in Chinese history, today known as Xi'an. Chang'an literally means "Perpetual Peace" in Classical Chinese. During the short-lived Xin Dynasty, the city was renamed "Constant Peace" ; yet after its fall in AD 23, the old name was restored...

 in May 191.

Dong Zhuo once again demonstrated his political shortcomings by forcing millions of residents of Luoyang to migrate to Chang'an. He then set fire to Luoyang, preventing occupation by his enemies and destroying the biggest city in China at that time. In addition, he ordered his army to slaughter a whole village of civilians. The soldiers beheaded the civilians and carried their heads into Chang'an to show off as war trophies, pretending to have had a great victory against his enemies. A year later Dong Zhuo was killed in a coup d'etat
Coup d'état
A coup d'état state, literally: strike/blow of state)—also known as a coup, putsch, and overthrow—is the sudden, extrajudicial deposition of a government, usually by a small group of the existing state establishment—typically the military—to replace the deposed government with another body; either...

 by Wang Yun
Wang Yun
Wang Yun was a Minister over the Masses under Emperor Xian during the late Eastern Han Dynasty of China. During Wang Yun's time, the emperors were mere puppets under the power of eunuchs and warlords. In 192, Wang Yun plotted and successfully staged Lü Bu's assassination of Dong Zhuo, the...

 and Lü Bu
Lü Bu
Lü Bu was a military general and later a minor warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. According to the Records of Three Kingdoms, Lü Bu was highly-skilled in horse-riding and archery, and was thus nicknamed "Flying General"...

.

Rise of Cao Cao

In 191, there was some talk among the coalition of appointing Liu Yu, an imperial relative, as emperor, and gradually its members began to fall out. Most of the warlords in the coalition, with a few exceptions, sought the increase of personal military power in the time of instability instead of seriously wishing to restore the Han Dynasty's authority. The Han empire was divided between a number of regional warlords. Yuan Shao
Yuan Shao
Yuan Shao was a warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He occupied the northern territories of China during the civil war that occurred towards the end of the Han Dynasty and the beginning of the Three Kingdoms era...

 occupied the northern area of Ye
Ye, China
Ye or Yecheng was an ancient Chinese city located in what is now Linzhang County, Hebei and the neighbouring Anyang County, Henan....

 and extended his power, by taking over his superior Han Fu with trickery and intimidation, north of the Yellow River
Yellow River
The Yellow River or Huang He, formerly known as the Hwang Ho, is the second-longest river in China and the sixth-longest in the world at the estimated length of . Originating in the Bayan Har Mountains in Qinghai Province in western China, it flows through nine provinces of China and empties into...

 against Gongsun Zan
Gongsun Zan
Gongsun Zan , style name Bogui , a native of Liaoxi , was a warlord during the late Han Dynasty era of Chinese history.-Biography:...

, who held the northern frontier. Cao Cao
Cao Cao
Cao Cao was a warlord and the penultimate chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty who rose to great power during the dynasty's final years. As one of the central figures of the Three Kingdoms period, he laid the foundations for what was to become the state of Cao Wei and was posthumously titled...

, directly to Yuan Shao's south, was engaged in a struggle against Yuan Shu
Yuan Shu
Yuan Shu was a warlord during the late Han Dynasty era of Chinese history. He rose to prominence following the collapse of the imperial court in 189. He was said to be a younger cousin of the warlord Yuan Shao, but was actually Yuan Shao's younger half-brother...

 and Liu Biao
Liu Biao
Liu Biao , style name Jingsheng , was a warlord and the governor of Jing Province during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He was a member of the extended family of the Han Dynasty emperors...

, who occupied respectively the Huai River
Huai River
The Huai River is a major river in China. The Huai River is located about mid-way between the Yellow River and Yangtze River, the two largest rivers in China, and like them runs from west to east...

 basin and middle Yangtze
Yangtze River
The Yangtze, Yangzi or Cháng Jiāng is the longest river in Asia, and the third-longest in the world. It flows for from the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai eastward across southwest, central and eastern China before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai. It is also one of the...

 regions. Further south the young warlord Sun Ce
Sun Ce
Sun Ce was a military general and warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He was the oldest of the children of Sun Jian who was killed during the Battle of Xiangyang when Sun Ce was only 16. Sun Ce then broke away from his father's overlord, Yuan Shu, and headed to...

, taking over after the untimely death of Sun Jian
Sun Jian
Sun Jian was a military general and warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He allied himself with Yuan Shu in 190 when warlords from eastern China formed a coalition to oust Dong Zhuo, a tyrannical warlord who held the puppet Emperor Xian in his power...

, was establishing his rule in the lower Yangtze, albeit as a subordinate of Yuan Shu. In the west, Liu Zhang
Liu Zhang (warlord)
Liu Zhang was a warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He became governor of Yi Province , succeeding his father Liu Yan and ruled the region until 214, when he surrendered to Liu Bei...

 held Yi Province while Hanzhong
Hanzhong
Hanzhong is a municipality in southwest Shaanxi Province, China, occupying a historically significant valley in the mountains between the Xi'an area, home to many Chinese capitals, and the fertile but isolated Sichuan Basin...

 and the northwest were controlled by a motley collection of smaller warlords such as Ma Teng
Ma Teng
Ma Teng was a warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He controlled Liang Province together with his sworn brother Han Sui...

 of Liang Province, the original post of Dong Zhuo.

Dong Zhuo, confident in his success, was slain by his follower Lü Bu
Lü Bu
Lü Bu was a military general and later a minor warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. According to the Records of Three Kingdoms, Lü Bu was highly-skilled in horse-riding and archery, and was thus nicknamed "Flying General"...

 and minister Wang Yun
Wang Yun
Wang Yun was a Minister over the Masses under Emperor Xian during the late Eastern Han Dynasty of China. During Wang Yun's time, the emperors were mere puppets under the power of eunuchs and warlords. In 192, Wang Yun plotted and successfully staged Lü Bu's assassination of Dong Zhuo, the...

. Lü Bu, in turn, was attacked by Dong Zhuo's subordinates: Li Jue, Guo Si
Guo Si
Guo Si , also known as Guo Duo , was a general serving under the warlord Dong Zhuo during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He assisted Dong in his many campaigns, and was placed under Dong's son-in-law after Dong relocate the imperial capital to Chang'an...

, Zhang Ji and Fan Chou
Fan Chou
Fan Chou was a general serving under the warlord Dong Zhuo during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history.After Dong Zhuo died by his adoptive son Lü Bu by an assassination plot by Wang Yun. He along with Li Jue, Guo Si, and Zhang Ji defeated Lü Bu then defeated Wang Yun, which they taken...

. Wang Yun and his whole family were executed. Lü Bu fled to Zhang Yang, a northern warlord, and remained with him for a time before briefly joining Yuan Shao, but it was clear that Lü Bu was far too independent to serve another.

In August 195, Emperor Xian fled the tyranny of Li Jue at Chang'an and made a year long hazardous journey east in search of supporters. By 196, when he was received by Cao Cao, most of the smaller contenders for power had either been absorbed by larger ones or destroyed. This was an extremely important move for Cao Cao following the suggestion from his primary advisor, Xun Yu
Xun Yu
Xun Yu was a strategist and statesman who served as an advisor to the warlord Cao Cao during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history.-Early life:...

, commenting that by supporting the authentic emperor, Cao Cao would have the formal legal authority to control the other warlords and force them to comply in order to restore the Han Dynasty.

Cao Cao, whose zone of control was the precursor to the state of Cao Wei, had raised an army in the winter of 189. In several strategic movements and battles, he controlled Yan Province and defeated several factions of the Yellow Turban rebels. This earned him the aid of other local militaries controlled by Zhang Miao
Zhang Miao
Zhang Miao , style name Mengzhuo , was a minister of the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He served as prefect of Chenliu Commandery. Zhang Miao led an army during the coalition against Dong Zhuo. In the coalition Zhang expressed displeasure at their leader, Yuan Shao, and Yuan sent Cao...

 and Chen Gong
Chen Gong
Gong Chen was an advisor to the warlord Lü Bu during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. However, he started his career under Cao Cao before defecting to Lü Bu and was executed when the latter was defeated by Cao....

, who joined his cause to create his first sizable army. He continued the effort and absorbed approximately 300,000 Yellow Turban rebels into his army as well as a number of clan-based military groups from the eastern side of Qing Province. In 196 he established an imperial court at Xuchang
Xuchang
Xuchang is a prefecture-level city in central Henan province in Central China. It borders the provincial capital of Zhengzhou to the northwest, Kaifeng to the northeast, Zhoukou to the east, Luohe to the southeast, and Pingdingshan to the southwest....

 and developed military agricultural colonies (tuntian
Tuntian
The Tuntian or Duntian system was a system of government-encouraged agriculture originated in the Western Han Dynasty period of Chinese history...

) to support his army. Although the system imposed a heavy tax on hired civilian farmers (40% to 60% of agricultural production), the farmers were more than pleased to be able to work with relative stability and professional military protection in a time of chaos. This was later said to be his second important policy for success.

In 194, Cao Cao went to war with Tao Qian of Xu Province, because Tao's subordinate Zhang Kai had murdered Cao Cao's father Cao Song
Cao Song
Cao Song was the father of the late Han Dynasty warlord Cao Cao. He was originally surnamed "Xiahou", but changed his surname to "Cao" after becoming the foster son of the eunuch Cao Teng. Cao Song's descendants also adopted "Cao" as their family name.By the year 193, China had been divided into...

. Tao Qian received the support of Liu Bei
Liu Bei
Liu Bei , also known as Liu Xuande, was a warlord, military general and later the founding emperor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history...

 and Gongsun Zan, but even then it seemed as if Cao Cao's superior forces would overrun Xu Province entirely. However, Cao Cao received word that Lü Bu had seized Yan Province in his absence, and accordingly he retreated, putting a halt to hostilities with Tao Qian for the time being. Tao Qian died in the same year, leaving his province to Liu Bei. A year later, in 195, Cao Cao managed to drive Lü Bu out of Yan Province. Lü Bu fled to Xu Province and was received by Liu Bei, and an uneasy alliance began between the two.

In the south, Sun Ce, then an independent general under the service of Yuan Shu, defeated the warlords of Yang Province, including Liu Yao
Liu Yao (warlord)
Liu Yao , style name Zhengli, was a warlord in the Jiangdong region during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He ruled for a brief period of time before Sun Ce invaded and conquered his territories.-Biography:...

, Wang Lang
Wang Lang
Wang Lang was a warlord during the late Han Dynasty and a politician of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. Through his granddaughter's marriage to Sima Zhao, he would become great-grandfather of Sima Yan, who later became the founding emperor of the Jin Dynasty.-Early life...

, and Yan Baihu
Yan Baihu
Yan Baihu was a bandit leader active in the Wu region during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history.-The White Tiger among bandits:Baihu was not Yan's real name, but a nickname given to him due to his physical prowess or skin color; thus his name should be translated to "White Tiger Yan"...

. In 197, Yuan Shu, who was at odds with Cao Cao, Yuan Shao, and Liu Bei, felt assured of victory with his subordinate's conquests, and thus declared himself emperor of the Cheng Dynasty. The move, however, was a strategic blunder, as it drew the ire of many warlords across the land, including Yuan Shu's own subordinate Sun Ce, who had advised Yuan Shu not to make such a move. Cao Cao issued orders to Sun Ce to attack Yuan Shu. Sun Ce complied, but first convinced Cao Cao to form a coalition against Yuan Shu, of which Liu Bei and Lü Bu were members. Attacked on all sides, Yuan Shu was defeated and fled into hiding.

Afterwards, Lü Bu betrayed Liu Bei and seized Xu Province, forming an alliance with Yuan Shu's remnant forces. Liu Bei, together with his followers Zhang Fei and Guan Yu
Guan Yu
Guan Yu was a general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han Dynasty of China. He played a significant role in the civil war that led to the collapse of the Han Dynasty and the establishment of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period, of which Liu Bei was the...

, fled to Cao Cao, who accepted him. Soon, preparations were made for an attack on Lü Bu, and the combined forces of Cao Cao and Liu Bei invaded Xu Province. Lü Bu's men deserted him, Yuan Shu's forces never arrived as reinforcements, and he was bound by his own subordinates Song Xian
Song Xian
Song Xian was a military general serving under the warlord Lü Bu during the late Han Dynasty era of Chinese history. In 198, when Cao Cao besieged Lü Bu at the Battle of Xiapi, Song Xian and his colleagues Hou Cheng and Wei Xu kidnapped Lü Bu's chief advisor Chen Gong and defected to Cao Cao's side...

 and Wei Xu
Wei Xu
Wei Xu was a military general serving under the warlord Lü Bu during the late Han Dynasty era of Chinese history.-Biography:When Lü Bu wandered the land, Wei closely followed him in the journey, together, they routed the Heishan Bandits, and fended off attacks from Yuan Shu...

 and executed on Cao Cao's order.

In 200, Dong Cheng
Dong Cheng
Dong Cheng was originally a subordinate general of Niu Fu during the late Han Dynasty, and later joined forces with the White Wave Bandits to protect the emperor from the hands of Li Jue and Guo Si. He was also Emperor Xian's father-in-law...

, an imperial relative, received a secret edict from Emperor Xian to assassinate Cao Cao. He collaborated with Liu Bei on this effort, but Cao Cao soon found out about the plot and had Dong Cheng and his conspirators executed, with only Liu Bei surviving and fleeing to join Yuan Shao in the north.

After settling the nearby provinces, including a rebellion led by former Yellow Turbans, and internal affairs with the court, Cao Cao turned his attention north to Yuan Shao, who himself had eliminated his northern rival Gongsun Zan that same year. Yuan Shao, himself of higher nobility than Cao Cao, amassed a large army and camped along the northern bank of the Yellow River.

In 200, after winning a decisive battle against Liu Biao at Sha County and putting down the rebellions of Xu Gong and others, Sun Ce was struck by an arrow and fatally wounded. On his deathbed, he named his younger brother, Sun Quan
Sun Quan
Sun Quan , son of Sun Jian, formally Emperor Da of Wu, was the founder of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He ruled from 222 to 229 as King of Wu and from 229 to 252 as Emperor of Wu....

, as his heir.

Following months of planning, Cao Cao and Yuan Shao clashed at the Battle of Guandu
Battle of Guandu
The Battle of Guandu was a military conflict between the warlords Cao Cao and Yuan Shao in 200 during the prelude to the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. The battle, which concluded with victory for Cao Cao, was a turning point in the war between the two warlords...

. Overcoming Yuan Shao's superior numbers, Cao Cao decisively defeated him by setting fire to his supplies, and in doing so crippled the northern army. Liu Bei fled to join Liu Biao in Jing Province, and many of Yuan Shao's forces were destroyed. In 202, Cao Cao took advantage of Yuan Shao's death and the resulting division among his sons to advance north of the Yellow River. He captured
Battle of Ye
The Battle of Ye of 204 took place during the prelude to the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. It was fought between the warlord Cao Cao and Yuan Shang, son and successor of Cao Cao's rival Yuan Shao, in the Yuan clan's headquarters Ye...

 Ye
Ye, China
Ye or Yecheng was an ancient Chinese city located in what is now Linzhang County, Hebei and the neighbouring Anyang County, Henan....

 in 204 and occupied the provinces of Ji, Bing, Qing and You. By the end of 207, after a lightning campaign
Battle of White Wolf Mountain
The Battle of White Wolf Mountain was a battle fought in 207 during the prelude to the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. The battle took place in northern China, beyond the frontiers of the ruling Later Han Dynasty. It was fought between the warlord Cao Cao and the nomadic Wuhuan tribes,...

 against the Wuhuan
Wuhuan
The Wuhuan were a proto-Mongolic nomadic people who inhabited northern China, in what is now the provinces of Hebei, Liaoning, Shanxi, the municipality of Beijing and the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia....

 barbarians, Cao Cao had achieved undisputed dominance of the North China Plain
North China Plain
The North China Plain is based on the deposits of the Yellow River and is the largest alluvial plain of eastern Asia. The plain is bordered on the north by the Yanshan Mountains and on the west by the Taihang Mountains edge of the Shanxi plateau. To the south, it merges into the Yangtze Plain...

.

Battle of Red Cliffs

In 208, Cao Cao
Cao Cao
Cao Cao was a warlord and the penultimate chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty who rose to great power during the dynasty's final years. As one of the central figures of the Three Kingdoms period, he laid the foundations for what was to become the state of Cao Wei and was posthumously titled...

 marched south with his army hoping to quickly unify the empire. Liu Biao
Liu Biao
Liu Biao , style name Jingsheng , was a warlord and the governor of Jing Province during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He was a member of the extended family of the Han Dynasty emperors...

's son Liu Cong surrendered Jing Province and Cao was able to capture a sizable fleet at Jiangling. Sun Quan
Sun Quan
Sun Quan , son of Sun Jian, formally Emperor Da of Wu, was the founder of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He ruled from 222 to 229 as King of Wu and from 229 to 252 as Emperor of Wu....

, the successor to Sun Ce
Sun Ce
Sun Ce was a military general and warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He was the oldest of the children of Sun Jian who was killed during the Battle of Xiangyang when Sun Ce was only 16. Sun Ce then broke away from his father's overlord, Yuan Shu, and headed to...

 in the lower Yangtze
Yangtze River Delta
The Yangtze River Delta, Yangtze Delta or YRD, also called Yangzi, or Chang Jiang Delta, Rive Chang Delta Tai Lake Region or the Golden Triangle of the Yangtze, generally comprises the triangular-shaped territory of Wu-speaking Shanghai, southern Jiangsu province and northern Zhejiang province of...

, continued to resist, however. His advisor Lu Su
Lu Su
Lu Su , style name Zijing , was a politician, militarist and diplomat serving under the warlord Sun Quan during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history...

 secured an alliance with Liu Bei
Liu Bei
Liu Bei , also known as Liu Xuande, was a warlord, military general and later the founding emperor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history...

, himself a recent refugee from the north, and Zhou Yu
Zhou Yu
Zhou Yu was a military general and strategist who served his close friend, the warlord Sun Ce, during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history...

 was placed in command of Sun Quan's navy, along with a veteran general who served the Sun family, Cheng Pu
Cheng Pu
Cheng Pu was a military general serving under the warlord Sun family of Eastern Wu for three generations during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history.-Early service under Sun Jian:...

. Their combined armies of 50,000 met Cao Cao's fleet and 200,000-strong force at Red Cliffs
Battle of Red Cliffs
The Battle of Red Cliffs, otherwise known as the Battle of Chibi, was a decisive battle at the end of the Han Dynasty, immediately prior to the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. It was fought in the winter of 208/9 AD between the allied forces of the southern warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan...

 that winter. After an initial skirmish, an attack beginning with a plan to set fire to Cao Cao's fleet was set in motion to lead to the decisive defeat of Cao Cao, forcing him to retreat in disarray back to the north. The allied victory at Red Cliffs ensured the survival of Liu Bei and Sun Quan, and provided the basis for the states of Shu and Wu.

After his return to the north, Cao Cao contented himself with absorbing the northwestern regions in 211 and consolidating his power. He progressively increased his titles and power, eventually becoming the King
Chinese nobility
Chinese sovereignty and peerage, the nobility of China, were an important feature of traditional social and political organization of Imperial China. While the concepts of hereditary sovereign and peerage titles and noble families were featured as early as the semi-mythical, early historical...

 of Wei in 217, a title bestowed upon him by the puppet Emperor Xian that he controlled. Liu Bei, having defeated the weak Jing Province warlords Han Xuan
Han Xuan
Han Xuan was a minor warlord and the Administrator of Changsha commandery during the late Han Dynasty era of Chinese history. He served under Liu Biao, governor of Jing Province, for three years. After Liu Biao's death, the northern part of Jing Province was divided between two of Liu Biao's...

, Jin Xuan
Jin Xuan
Jin Xuan , style name Yuanji , was a minor warlord and Administrator of Wuling Commandery during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history.-Biography:...

, Zhao Fan
Zhao Fan
Zhao Fan was a minor warlord and prefect of Guiyang Commandery during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. Zhao Fan surrendered to Zhao Yun after being attacked by his army at Guiyang following the Battle of Red Cliffs. Zhao Fan then unintentionally sparked the rage of Zhao Yun by...

, and Liu Du
Liu Du
Liu Du was a minor warlord and Administrator of Lingling Commandery during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. Liu Du at one time sent his son Liu Xian and Xing Daorong against Liu Bei. However, Liu Du surrendered when hearing of the defeat of Liu Xian. Liu Du was then appointed as...

, entered Yi Province and later in 214 displaced Liu Zhang
Liu Zhang (warlord)
Liu Zhang was a warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He became governor of Yi Province , succeeding his father Liu Yan and ruled the region until 214, when he surrendered to Liu Bei...

 as ruler, leaving Guan Yu
Guan Yu
Guan Yu was a general serving under the warlord Liu Bei during the late Eastern Han Dynasty of China. He played a significant role in the civil war that led to the collapse of the Han Dynasty and the establishment of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period, of which Liu Bei was the...

 in charge of Jing Province. Sun Quan, who had in the intervening years being engaged with defenses against Cao Cao in the southeast at Hefei
Hefei
Hefei is the capital and largest city of Anhui Province in Eastern China. A prefecture-level city, it is the political, economic, and cultural centre of Anhui...

, now turned his attention to Jing Province and the middle Yangtze. Tensions between the allies were increasingly visible. In 219, after Liu Bei successfully seized Hanzhong
Hanzhong
Hanzhong is a municipality in southwest Shaanxi Province, China, occupying a historically significant valley in the mountains between the Xi'an area, home to many Chinese capitals, and the fertile but isolated Sichuan Basin...

 from Cao Cao and as Guan Yu was engaged in the siege of Fancheng
Battle of Fancheng
The Battle of Fancheng was fought between the forces of warlords Liu Bei and Cao Cao in 219 during the prelude to the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history...

, Sun Quan's general Lü Meng
Lü Meng
Lü Meng was a military general serving under the warlord Sun Quan during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He served as the commanding general in the invasion of Jing Province that led to the death of Guan Yu.-Early life:Lü Meng was born in Fupo, Runan Commandery in 178...

 seized Jing Province in a surprise invasion
Lü Meng's invasion of Jing Province
Lü Meng's invasion of Jing Province was a battle fought between the warlords Sun Quan and Liu Bei in 219 during the prelude to the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. Sun Quan's forces, led by Lü Meng, invaded Liu Bei's territory of Jing Province , which was defended by Guan Yu, and succeeded...

. Guan Yu was captured and executed on Sun Quan's order.

Emergence of the Three Kingdoms

In the first month of 220, Cao Cao
Cao Cao
Cao Cao was a warlord and the penultimate chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty who rose to great power during the dynasty's final years. As one of the central figures of the Three Kingdoms period, he laid the foundations for what was to become the state of Cao Wei and was posthumously titled...

 died and in the tenth month his son Cao Pi
Cao Pi
Cao Pi , formally known as Emperor Wen of Wei, was the first emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. Born in Qiao County, Pei Commandery , he was the second son of the late Han Dynasty warlord Cao Cao.Cao Pi, like his father, was a poet...

 forced Emperor Xian
Emperor Xian of Han
Emperor Xian of Han , personal name Liu Xie, style name Bohe, was the last emperor of the Han Dynasty period of Chinese history...

 to abdicate, thus ending the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

. He named his state Wei
Cao Wei
Cao Wei was one of the states that competed for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period. With the capital at Luoyang, the state was established by Cao Pi in 220, based upon the foundations that his father Cao Cao laid...

 and proclaimed himself emperor in Luoyang
Luoyang
Luoyang is a prefecture-level city in western Henan province of Central China. It borders the provincial capital of Zhengzhou to the east, Pingdingshan to the southeast, Nanyang to the south, Sanmenxia to the west, Jiyuan to the north, and Jiaozuo to the northeast.Situated on the central plain of...

. In 221, Liu Bei
Liu Bei
Liu Bei , also known as Liu Xuande, was a warlord, military general and later the founding emperor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history...

 declared himself emperor, in a bid to restore the fallen Han Dynasty. (His state is known in history as "Shu" or "Shu Han
Shu Han
Shu Han was one of the three states competing for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period, after the fall of the Han Dynasty. The state was based on areas around Sichuan, which was then known as Shu...

") In the same year, Wei bestowed on Sun Quan
Sun Quan
Sun Quan , son of Sun Jian, formally Emperor Da of Wu, was the founder of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He ruled from 222 to 229 as King of Wu and from 229 to 252 as Emperor of Wu....

 the title of King of Wu. A year later, Shu declared war on Wu and met the Wu armies at the Battle of Xiaoting
Battle of Xiaoting
The Battle of Xiaoting, also known as the Battle of Yiling and the Battle of Yiling and Xiaoting, was fought between the states of Eastern Wu and Shu Han in 222 during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history...

 (also known as Battle of Yiling). At Xiaoting, Liu Bei was disastrously defeated by Sun Quan's commander Lu Xun
Lu Xun (Three Kingdoms)
Lu Xun was a military general and politician of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. He is best known for defeating Liu Bei's forces at the Battle of Xiaoting in 222.-Early life:...

 and forced to retreat back to Shu, where he died soon afterward. After the death of Liu Bei, Shu and Wu resumed friendly relations at the expense of Wei, thus stabilizing the tripartite configuration. In 222, Sun Quan renounced his recognition of Cao Pi's regime and, in 229, he declared himself emperor of Eastern Wu
Eastern Wu
Eastern Wu, also known as Sun Wu, was one the three states competing for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period after the fall of the Han Dynasty. It was based in the Jiangnan region of China...

 in Wuchang.

Dominion of the north completely belonged to Wei, whilst Shu occupied the southwest and Wu the central south and east. The external borders of the states were generally limited to the extent of Chinese civilization. For example, the political control of Shu on its southern frontier was limited by the Tai
Tai peoples
The Tai ethnicity refers collectively to the ethnic groups of southern China and Southeast Asia, stretching from Hainan to eastern India and from southern Sichuan to Laos, Thailand, and parts of Vietnam, which speak languages in the Tai family and share similar traditions and festivals, including...

 tribes of present-day Yunnan
Yunnan
Yunnan is a province of the People's Republic of China, located in the far southwest of the country spanning approximately and with a population of 45.7 million . The capital of the province is Kunming. The province borders Burma, Laos, and Vietnam.Yunnan is situated in a mountainous area, with...

 and Burma
Myanmar
Burma , officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar , is a country in Southeast Asia. Burma is bordered by China on the northeast, Laos on the east, Thailand on the southeast, Bangladesh on the west, India on the northwest, the Bay of Bengal to the southwest, and the Andaman Sea on the south....

, known collectively as the "Nanman
Nanman
Nanman were aboriginal tribes who lived in southwestern China. They may have been related to the Sanmiao, dated to around the 3rd century BC. The Nanman were multiple ethnic groups including the Miao, the Kinh, the Thai, and some Tibeto-Burman groups such as the Bai. There was never a single...

" (southern barbarians).

Consolidation

In 223 Liu Shan
Liu Shan
Liu Shan, , was the second and last emperor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. As he ascended the throne at the young age of 16, Liu Shan was entrusted to the care of the Chancellor Zhuge Liang and Imperial Secretariat Li Yan...

 rose to the throne of Shu
Shu Han
Shu Han was one of the three states competing for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period, after the fall of the Han Dynasty. The state was based on areas around Sichuan, which was then known as Shu...

 following his father's defeat and death. The defeat of Liu Bei
Liu Bei
Liu Bei , also known as Liu Xuande, was a warlord, military general and later the founding emperor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history...

 at Xiaoting
Battle of Xiaoting
The Battle of Xiaoting, also known as the Battle of Yiling and the Battle of Yiling and Xiaoting, was fought between the states of Eastern Wu and Shu Han in 222 during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history...

 ended the period of hostility between Wu and Shu and both used the opportunity to concentrate on internal problems and the external enemy of Wei
Cao Wei
Cao Wei was one of the states that competed for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period. With the capital at Luoyang, the state was established by Cao Pi in 220, based upon the foundations that his father Cao Cao laid...

. For Sun Quan
Sun Quan
Sun Quan , son of Sun Jian, formally Emperor Da of Wu, was the founder of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He ruled from 222 to 229 as King of Wu and from 229 to 252 as Emperor of Wu....

, the victory terminated his fears of Shu expansion into Jing Province and he turned to the aborigines of the southeast, whom the Chinese collectively called the "Shanyue". A collection of successes against the rebellious tribesmen culminated in the victory of 224. In that year Zhuge Ke
Zhuge Ke
Zhuge Ke , style name Yuanxun , was a military general and regent of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. He was the son of Zhuge Jin and nephew of Zhuge Liang. He succeeded Lu Xun after the latter's death...

 ended a three year siege of Danyang with the surrender of 100,000 Shanyue. Of these, 40,000 were drafted as auxiliaries into the Wu
Eastern Wu
Eastern Wu, also known as Sun Wu, was one the three states competing for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period after the fall of the Han Dynasty. It was based in the Jiangnan region of China...

 army. Meanwhile Shu was also experiencing troubles with the indigenous tribes of their south. The southwestern Nanman
Nanman
Nanman were aboriginal tribes who lived in southwestern China. They may have been related to the Sanmiao, dated to around the 3rd century BC. The Nanman were multiple ethnic groups including the Miao, the Kinh, the Thai, and some Tibeto-Burman groups such as the Bai. There was never a single...

 peoples rose in revolt against Shu authority, captured and looted cities in Yi Province. Zhuge Liang, recognising the importance of stability in the south, ordered the advance of the Shu armies in three columns against the Nanman. He fought a number of engagements against the chieftain Meng Huo
Meng Huo
Meng Huo was popularly regarded as a local leader representing the gentries of the Nanzhong region during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history...

, at the end of which Meng Huo submitted. A tribesman was allowed to reside at the Shu capital Chengdu
Chengdu
Chengdu , formerly transliterated Chengtu, is the capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China. It holds sub-provincial administrative status...

 as an official and the Nanman formed their own battalions within the Shu army.

Zhuge Liang's Northern Expeditions

At the end of Zhuge Liang
Zhuge Liang
Zhuge Liang was a chancellor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He is often recognised as the greatest and most accomplished strategist of his era....

's Southern Campaign, the Wu-Shu alliance came to fruition and Shu was free to move against the north. In 227 Zhuge Liang transferred his main Shu armies to Hanzhong
Hanzhong
Hanzhong is a municipality in southwest Shaanxi Province, China, occupying a historically significant valley in the mountains between the Xi'an area, home to many Chinese capitals, and the fertile but isolated Sichuan Basin...

, and opened up the battle for the northwest with Wei. The next year, he ordered Zhao Yun
Zhao Yun
Zhao Yun was a military general who lived during the late Han Dynasty and early Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. For most of his career, Zhao served the warlord Liu Bei, playing a part in the establishment of state of Shu Han...

 to attack from Ji Gorge as a diversion while Zhuge himself led the main force to Mount Qi. The vanguard Ma Su
Ma Su
Ma Su was a military general and strategist of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. He was the younger brother of Ma Liang. Ma Su had conspicuous talent in military theories and was admired by the Shu chancellor Zhuge Liang...

, however, suffered a tactical defeat at Jieting
Battle of Jieting
The Battle of Jieting was fought between the states of Cao Wei and Shu Han in 228 during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. The battle was part of the first Northern Expedition led by Shu's chancellor Zhuge Liang to attack Wei...

 and the Shu army was forced to withdraw. In the next six years Zhuge Liang attempted several more offensives, but supply problems limited the capacity for success. In 234 he led his last great northern offensive, reaching the Battle of Wuzhang Plains
Battle of Wuzhang Plains
The Battle of Wuzhang Plains was a standoff between the contending states of Cao Wei and Shu Han in 234 during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history...

 south of the Wei River
Wei River
The Wei River is a major river in west-central China's Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. It is the largest tributary of the Yellow River and very important in the early development of Chinese civilization....

. Due to the death of Zhuge Liang (234), however, the Shu army was forced once again to withdraw, but were pursued by Wei. The Shu forces began to withdraw; Sima Yi
Sima Yi
Sima Yi was a general and politician of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. He is perhaps best known for defending Wei from Zhuge Liang's Northern Expeditions...

 deduced Zhuge Liang's demise and ordered an attack. Shu struck back almost immediately, causing Sima Yi to second guess and allow Shu to withdraw successfully.

Wu and the South

In the times of Zhuge Liang
Zhuge Liang
Zhuge Liang was a chancellor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He is often recognised as the greatest and most accomplished strategist of his era....

's northern offensives, the state of Wu had always been on the defensive against invasions from the north. The area around Hefei
Hefei
Hefei is the capital and largest city of Anhui Province in Eastern China. A prefecture-level city, it is the political, economic, and cultural centre of Anhui...

 was the scene of many bitter battles and under constant pressure from Wei after the Battle of Red Cliffs. Warfare had grown so intense that many of the residents chose to migrate and resettle south of the Yangtze River
Yangtze River
The Yangtze, Yangzi or Cháng Jiāng is the longest river in Asia, and the third-longest in the world. It flows for from the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai eastward across southwest, central and eastern China before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai. It is also one of the...

. After Zhuge Liang's death, attacks on the southern Huai River
Huai River
The Huai River is a major river in China. The Huai River is located about mid-way between the Yellow River and Yangtze River, the two largest rivers in China, and like them runs from west to east...

 region intensified but nonetheless, Wei could not break through the line of the river defenses erected by Wu, which included the Ruxu fortress.

Sun Quan
Sun Quan
Sun Quan , son of Sun Jian, formally Emperor Da of Wu, was the founder of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He ruled from 222 to 229 as King of Wu and from 229 to 252 as Emperor of Wu....

's long reign is regarded as a time of plenty for his southern state. Migrations from the north and the settlement of the Shanyue increased manpower for agriculture, especially along the lower reaches of the Yangtze and in Kuaiji commandery (present-day Shaoxing
Shaoxing
Shaoxing is a prefecture-level city in northeastern Zhejiang province, People's Republic of China. Located on the south bank of the Qiantang River estuary, it borders Ningbo to the east, Taizhou to the southeast, Jinhua to the southwest, and Hangzhou to the west. It was once known as "越"...

). River transport blossomed, with the construction of the Zhedong and Jiangnan canals. Trade with Shu flourished, with a huge influx of Shu cotton and the development of celadon
Celadon
Celadon is a term for ceramics denoting both a type of glaze and a ware of a specific color, also called celadon. This type of ware was invented in ancient China, such as in the Zhejiang province...

 and metal industries. Ocean transport was improved to such an extent that sea journeys were made to Manchuria
Manchuria
Manchuria is a historical name given to a large geographic region in northeast Asia. Depending on the definition of its extent, Manchuria usually falls entirely within the People's Republic of China, or is sometimes divided between China and Russia. The region is commonly referred to as Northeast...

 and the island of Taiwan
Taiwan
Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

. In the south, Wu merchants reached Linyi (northern Vietnam
Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

) and Fu'nan (Cambodia
Cambodia
Cambodia , officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a country located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia...

). As the economy prospered, so too did the arts and culture. In the Yangtze delta, the first Buddhist
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 influences reached the south from Luoyang
Luoyang
Luoyang is a prefecture-level city in western Henan province of Central China. It borders the provincial capital of Zhengzhou to the east, Pingdingshan to the southeast, Nanyang to the south, Sanmenxia to the west, Jiyuan to the north, and Jiaozuo to the northeast.Situated on the central plain of...

.

Decline and end of the Three Kingdoms

From the late 230s tensions began to become visible between the imperial Cao clan and the Sima clan. Following the death of Cao Zhen
Cao Zhen
Cao Zhen was a military general serving under the warlord Cao Cao during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He served the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. He was also a distant nephew of Cao Cao, though the latter treated him like a son. Cao Zhen participated in many...

, factionalism was evident between Cao Shuang
Cao Shuang
Cao Shuang , style name Zhaobo , was a military general, politician and regent of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He was the son of Cao Zhen...

 and the Grand Tutor Sima Yi
Sima Yi
Sima Yi was a general and politician of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. He is perhaps best known for defending Wei from Zhuge Liang's Northern Expeditions...

. In deliberations, Cao Shuang placed his own supporters in important posts and excluded Sima Yi, whom he regarded as a dangerous threat. The power of the Sima clan, one of the great landowning families of the Han Dynasty, was bolstered by Sima Yi's military victories. Additionally, Sima Yi was an extremely capable strategist and politician. In 238 he crushed the rebellion
Sima Yi's Liaodong campaign
Sima Yi's Liaodong campaign occurred in 238 during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. Sima Yi, a general of the state of Cao Wei, led a force of 40,000 troops to attack the warlord Gongsun Yuan, whose clan had ruled independently from the central government for three generations in the...

 of Gongsun Yuan
Gongsun Yuan
Gongsun Yuan , style name Wenyi , was a warlord and vassal of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history.-Biography:...

 and brought the Liaodong region directly under central control. Ultimately, he outmaneuvered Cao Shuang in power play. Taking advantage of an excursion by the imperial clansmen to the Gaoping Tombs
Incident at Gaoping Tombs
The Incident at Gaoping Tombs in 249 was a coup d'etat that occurred in the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. The parties involved were Cao Shuang and Sima Yi. Sima Yi seized power during the coup and had Cao Shuang killed...

, Sima Yi undertook a putsch in Luoyang, forcing Cao Shuang's faction from authority. Many protested against the overwhelming power of the Sima family; notable among these were the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove
Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove
The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove were a group of Chinese Taoist Qingtan scholars, writers, and musicians who came together in the 3rd century CE. Although the individual members all existed, their interconnection is not entirely certain...

. One of the sages, Xi Kang
Xi Kang
Ji Kang was a Chinese author, poet, Taoist philosopher, musician and alchemist. He was one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.-Biography:As a thinker, Ji Kang Ji Kang(223–262) was a Chinese author, poet, Taoist philosopher, musician and alchemist. He was one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo...

, was executed as part of the purges after Cao Shuang's downfall.

Fall of Shu

The decreasing strength of the Cao clan was mirrored by the decline of Shu. After Zhuge Liang
Zhuge Liang
Zhuge Liang was a chancellor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He is often recognised as the greatest and most accomplished strategist of his era....

's death, his position as chancellor fell to Jiang Wan
Jiang Wan
Jiang Wan , style name Gongyan , was an official of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. After Zhuge Liang's death, he succeeded Zhuge as the regent for the Shu emperor, Liu Shan.-Early career:...

, Fei Yi
Fei Yi
Fei Yi, style name Wenwei , was an official of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. He succeeded Jiang Wan as regent of Shu Han, and avoided major expedition against rival state, Cao Wei...

 and Dong Yun
Dong Yun
Dong Yun , style name Xiuzhao , was a minister of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history.-Biography:...

, in that order. But after 258, Shu politics became increasingly controlled by the eunuch
Eunuch
A eunuch is a person born male most commonly castrated, typically early enough in his life for this change to have major hormonal consequences...

 faction and corruption rose. Despite the energetic efforts of Jiang Wei
Jiang Wei
Jiang Wei was a military general and regent of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. He originally served Shu's rival state, Cao Wei, as a middle-level military officer, but defected to the Shu strategist Zhuge Liang, leaving his mother in Wei. After that, Jiang...

, Zhuge Liang's protege, Shu was unable to secure any decisive achievement. In 263, Wei launched a three-pronged attack and the Shu army was forced into general retreat from Hanzhong. Jiang Wei hurriedly held a position at Jiange but he was outflanked by the Wei commander Deng Ai
Deng Ai
Deng Ai was a military general of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. It was said that whenever he saw a hill or wide valley, he would immediately size up the best places to store grain and position troops. His talent was recognized by Sima Yi, who recommended him to take up...

, who force-marched his army from Yinping through territory formerly considered impassable. By the winter of the year, the capital Chengdu
Chengdu
Chengdu , formerly transliterated Chengtu, is the capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China. It holds sub-provincial administrative status...

 fell due to the strategic invasion of Wei by Deng Ai who invaded Chengdu personally. The emperor Liu Shan
Liu Shan
Liu Shan, , was the second and last emperor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. As he ascended the throne at the young age of 16, Liu Shan was entrusted to the care of the Chancellor Zhuge Liang and Imperial Secretariat Li Yan...

 thus surrendered. The state of Shu had come to an end after 43 years.

Fall of Wei

Cao Huan
Cáo Huàn
Cao Huan , formally known as Emperor Yuan of Wei, was the fifth and last emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history....

 succeeded to the throne in 260 after Cao Mao
Cao Mao
Cao Mao , formally known as the Duke of Gaogui, was the fourth emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He was a grandson of Cao Wei's first emperor Cao Pi. Described as intelligent and studious, Cao Mao made repeated attempts to seize back state power...

 was killed in a failed coup against Sima Zhao
Sima Zhao
Sima Zhao was a military general, politician and regent of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history...

. Soon after, Sima Zhao died and his title as Duke of Jin was inherited by his son Sima Yan
Emperor Wu of Jìn
Emperor Wu of Jin, , personal name Sima Yan , style name Anshi , was the grandson of Sima Yi and son of Sima Zhao. He became the first emperor of the Jin Dynasty after forcing Cao Huan, last ruler of the state of Cao Wei, to abdicate to him. He reigned from 265 to 290, and after conquering the...

. Sima Yan immediately began plotting to become emperor but faced stiff opposition. However, due to advice from his advisors, Cao Huan decided the best course of action would be to abdicate, unlike his predecessor Cao Mao. Sima Yan seized the throne in 264 after forcing Cao Huan's abdication, effectively overthrowing the Wei Dynasty and establishing the successor Jin Dynasty
Jìn Dynasty (265-420)
The Jìn Dynasty , was a dynasty in Chinese history, lasting between the years 265 and 420 AD. There are two main divisions in the history of the Dynasty, the first being Western Jin and the second Eastern Jin...

. This situation was similar to the deposal of Emperor Xian of Han
Emperor Xian of Han
Emperor Xian of Han , personal name Liu Xie, style name Bohe, was the last emperor of the Han Dynasty period of Chinese history...

 by Cao Pi
Cao Pi
Cao Pi , formally known as Emperor Wen of Wei, was the first emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. Born in Qiao County, Pei Commandery , he was the second son of the late Han Dynasty warlord Cao Cao.Cao Pi, like his father, was a poet...

 40 years earlier.

Fall of Wu

Following Sun Quan
Sun Quan
Sun Quan , son of Sun Jian, formally Emperor Da of Wu, was the founder of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He ruled from 222 to 229 as King of Wu and from 229 to 252 as Emperor of Wu....

's death and the ascension of the young Sun Liang
Sun Liang
Sun Liang was the second emperor of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He was the founding emperor Sun Quan's youngest son and heir...

 to the throne in 252, the state of Wu went into a period of steady decline. Successful Wei suppression of rebellions in the southern Huai River
Huai River
The Huai River is a major river in China. The Huai River is located about mid-way between the Yellow River and Yangtze River, the two largest rivers in China, and like them runs from west to east...

 region by Sima Zhao
Sima Zhao
Sima Zhao was a military general, politician and regent of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history...

 and Sima Shi
Sima Shi
Sima Shi , style name Ziyuan , was a military general and regent of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. In 249, he assisted his father Sima Yi in overthrowing the emperor Cao Fang's regent Cao Shuang, allowing the Sima family to become paramount authority in the state, and he...

 reduced any opportunity of Wu influence. The fall of Shu signalled a change in Wei politics. After Liu Shan surrendered to Wei, Sima Yan
Emperor Wu of Jìn
Emperor Wu of Jin, , personal name Sima Yan , style name Anshi , was the grandson of Sima Yi and son of Sima Zhao. He became the first emperor of the Jin Dynasty after forcing Cao Huan, last ruler of the state of Cao Wei, to abdicate to him. He reigned from 265 to 290, and after conquering the...

 (grandson of Sima Yi), overthrew the Wei emperor and proclaimed his own dynasty of Jin in 264, ending 46 years of Cao dominion in the north. After Jin's rise, emperor Sun Xiu of Wu died, and his ministers gave the throne to Sun Hao
Sun Hao
Sun Hao , style name Yuanzong , originally named Sun Pengzu with the style name Yuanzong , was the fourth and last emperor of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period. He was the son of Sun He, a one-time crown prince of the founding emperor Sun Quan...

. Sun Hao was a promising young man, but upon ascension he became a tyrant, killing or exiling all who dared oppose him in the court. In 269 Yang Hu
Yang Hu
Not to be confused with Yang Hu :zh:阳虎/陽虎, the Spring and Autumn retainer-usurper in the state of Lu.Yang Hu , style name Shuzi , was a military general during the Jin Dynasty period of Chinese history...

, a Jin commander in the south, started preparing for the invasion of Wu by ordering the construction of a fleet and the training of marines in Sichuan
Sichuan
' , known formerly in the West by its postal map spellings of Szechwan or Szechuan is a province in Southwest China with its capital in Chengdu...

 under Wang Jun
Wang Jun (Three Kingdoms)
Wang Jun , style name Shizhi , was a military general during the late Three Kingdoms and Jin Dynasty period of Chinese history. He was appointed Imperial Protector of Yi Province and Prancing Dragon General...

. Four years later, Lu Kang
Lu Kang
Lu Kang , style name Youjie , was a military general of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. He was the son of Lu Xun and a maternal grandson of Sun Ce. He was praised for his talent and wisdom....

, the last great general of Wu, died leaving no competent successor. The planned Jin offensive finally came in the winter of 279. Sima Yan launched five simultaneous offensives along the Yangtze River
Yangtze River
The Yangtze, Yangzi or Cháng Jiāng is the longest river in Asia, and the third-longest in the world. It flows for from the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai eastward across southwest, central and eastern China before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai. It is also one of the...

 from Jianye (present-day Nanjing
Nanjing
' is the capital of Jiangsu province in China and has a prominent place in Chinese history and culture, having been the capital of China on several occasions...

) to Jiangling whilst the Sichuan fleet sailed downriver to Jing Province. Under the strain of such an enormous attack, the Wu forces collapsed and Jianye fell in the third month of 280. Sun Hao surrendered and was given a fiefdom on which to live out his days. This marked the end of the Three Kingdoms era, and the beginning of a break in the forthcoming 300 years of chaos.

Population

After the Yellow Turban Rebellion
Yellow Turban Rebellion
The Yellow Turban Rebellion, also translated as Yellow Scarves Rebellion, was a peasant revolt that broke out in 184 AD in China during the reign of Emperor Ling of the Han Dynasty...

, serious famine followed in the Central Plain
Central Plain (China)
Zhongyuan or the Central Plain of China refers to the area on the lower reaches of the Yellow River which formed the cradle of Chinese civilization. It forms part of the North China Plain....

s of China. Cannibalism
Cannibalism
Cannibalism is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh of other human beings. It is also called anthropophagy...

 was widespread in some parts of China, as it was recorded that "in the spring of 170, some wives ate their husbands in Henei (河内) and some husbands ate their wives in Henan". After his coming to power, Dong Zhuo
Dong Zhuo
Dong Zhuo was a politician and warlord during the late Han Dynasty period of Chinese history. He seized control of the capital city Luoyang in 189 when it was in a state of turmoil following the death of Emperor Ling and a clash between the eunuch faction and some court officials led by...

 gave full swing to his army to plunder and rape women. When the Guandong Coalition was starting the campaign against Dong Zhuo, unexpectedly absurd enough, he ordered that "all the population of Luoyang
Luoyang
Luoyang is a prefecture-level city in western Henan province of Central China. It borders the provincial capital of Zhengzhou to the east, Pingdingshan to the southeast, Nanyang to the south, Sanmenxia to the west, Jiyuan to the north, and Jiaozuo to the northeast.Situated on the central plain of...

 be forced to move to Chang'an
Chang'an
Chang'an is an ancient capital of more than ten dynasties in Chinese history, today known as Xi'an. Chang'an literally means "Perpetual Peace" in Classical Chinese. During the short-lived Xin Dynasty, the city was renamed "Constant Peace" ; yet after its fall in AD 23, the old name was restored...

, all the palaces, temples, official residences and homes be burnt, no one should stay within that area of 200 li
Li (unit)
The li is a traditional Chinese unit of distance, which has varied considerably over time but now has a standardized length of 500 meters or half a kilometer...

", (considering the miserable life at that time, it was almost impossible for most people to move to the final destination alive) thus making cries of discontent rise all round and the population there decreased sharply. When Cao Cao was attacking Xu Province, it was said that "hundreds of thousands of men and women were buried alive, even dogs and cocks did not survive. The Si River
Si River
The Si River is a watercourse located in Shandong Province, China. It rises in the southern foothills of the Mengshan Mountains then flows through Sishui County, and the cities of Qufu and Yanzhou before emptying into Lake Nanyang...

 was blocked. From then on, these five towns never recover." When Li Jue and his army were advancing towards the Guanzhong
Guanzhong
Guanzhong , or Guanzhong Plain, is a historical region of China corresponding to the lower valley of the Wei River. It is called Guanzhong or 'within the passes' to distinguish it from 'Guandong' or 'east of the pass', that is, the North China Plain. The North China Plain is bordered on the west by...

 area, "there remained hundreds of thousands of people, but Li Jue allowed his army to plunder the cities and the people, thus making the people have nothing but eat each other to death."

It can be known from the following table that how serious the decrease of population was during that period. From the late Eastern Han to the Western Jin Dynasty, despite its length about 125 years, the peak number of population only equaled 35.3% of the peak number of the entire Eastern Han Dynasty. From then on to Sui Dynasty
Sui Dynasty
The Sui Dynasty was a powerful, but short-lived Imperial Chinese dynasty. Preceded by the Southern and Northern Dynasties, it ended nearly four centuries of division between rival regimes. It was followed by the Tang Dynasty....

, the population never recovered. It also should be noted that the high militarization of the population was common. For example, the population of Shu was 900,000, but the military were more than 100,000, occupying more than 10% of the population. The Records of Three Kingdoms
Records of Three Kingdoms
Records of Three Kingdoms , is regarded as the official and authoritative historical text on the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history covering the years 184-280 CE. Written by Chen Shou in the 3rd century, the work combines the smaller histories of the rival states of Cao Wei , Shu Han and...

contains population figures for the Three Kingdoms. As with many Chinese historical population figures, these numbers are likely to be less than the actual populations, since census and tax records went hand in hand, and tax evaders were often not on records.
Three Kingdoms Period Populations
Year Households Population Notes
Eastern Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

, 156
10,679,600 56,486,856
Shu Han
Shu Han
Shu Han was one of the three states competing for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period, after the fall of the Han Dynasty. The state was based on areas around Sichuan, which was then known as Shu...

, 221
200,000 900,000
Shu Han, 263 280,000 1,082,000 At Shu's demise, the population contained 102,000 armed soldiers and 40,000 various officials.
Eastern Wu
Eastern Wu
Eastern Wu, also known as Sun Wu, was one the three states competing for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period after the fall of the Han Dynasty. It was based in the Jiangnan region of China...

, 238
520,000 2,567,000
Eastern Wu, 280 530,000 2,535,000 At Wu's demise, the population had 32,000 officials, 230,000 soldiers, and 5,000 imperial concubines.
Cao Wei
Cao Wei
Cao Wei was one of the states that competed for control of China during the Three Kingdoms period. With the capital at Luoyang, the state was established by Cao Pi in 220, based upon the foundations that his father Cao Cao laid...

, 260
663,423 4,432,881
Western Jin Dynasty, 280 2,495,804 16,163,863 After reuniting China, the Jin Dynasty's population was greatest around this time.
From Zou Jiwan , Zhongguo Tongshi - Weijin Nanbeichao Shi 中國通史·魏晉南北朝史, (1992).


While it is clear that warfare undoubtedly took many lives during this period, the census figures do not support the idea that millions were wiped out solely from warfare. Other factors such as mass migration out of China must be taken into account.

Economy

In the late Eastern Han Dynasty, due to natural disasters and social unrest, the economy was badly depressed, leading to the massive waste of farmland. Some local landlords and aristocracy established their own strongholds to defend themselves and developed agriculture, which gradually evolved into a self-sufficient manorial system. The system of strongholds and manors also had effects on the economical mode of following dynasties. In addition, because of the collapse of the imperial court, those worn copper coins were not melted and reminted and many privately-minted coins appeared. In the Three Kingdoms period, newly-minted coins never made their way into currency. As a consequence, the main currencies at that time were cloth and grains.

In economic terms the division of the Three Kingdoms reflected a reality that long endured. Even during the Northern Song Dynasty
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

, 700 years after the Three Kingdoms period, it was possible to think of China as being composed of three great regional markets. (The status of the northwest was slightly ambivalent, as it had links with the northern region and Sichuan
Sichuan
' , known formerly in the West by its postal map spellings of Szechwan or Szechuan is a province in Southwest China with its capital in Chengdu...

). These geographical divisions are underscored by the fact that the main communication routes between the three main regions were all man-made: the Grand Canal linking north and south, the hauling-way through the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River
Yangtze River
The Yangtze, Yangzi or Cháng Jiāng is the longest river in Asia, and the third-longest in the world. It flows for from the glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau in Qinghai eastward across southwest, central and eastern China before emptying into the East China Sea at Shanghai. It is also one of the...

 linking southern China with Sichuan and the gallery road
Gallery road
The archaeological gallery roads were roads through remote mountain areas of China. They consisted of wooden planks erected on holes cut into the sides of cliffs. They were most notably used in the Qin Mountains linking the Wei River and the Han River valleys. The first gallery roads were built...

s joining Sichuan with the northwest. The break into three separate entities was quite natural and even anticipated by such political foresight as that of Zhuge Liang
Zhuge Liang
Zhuge Liang was a chancellor of the state of Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. He is often recognised as the greatest and most accomplished strategist of his era....

 (see Longzhong Plan
Longzhong Plan
The Longzhong Plan is the name given to a strategic plan given by the third century Chinese tactician and administrator Zhuge Liang. It formed the basis for the grand plan of the warlord Liu Bei and later the Three Kingdoms state of Shu. In essence it envisaged the securing of a viable regional...

).

In popular culture

Numerous people and affairs from the period later became Chinese legends. The most complete and influential example is the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century, is a Chinese historical novel based on the events in the turbulent years near the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, starting in 169 and ending with the reunification of the land in...

, written by Luo Guanzhong
Luo Guanzhong
Luo Ben , better known by his style name Luo Guanzhong , was a Chinese writer of the early Ming Dynasty period of Chinese history. He was also known as Huhai Sanren...

 during the Ming Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty, also Empire of the Great Ming, was the ruling dynasty of China from 1368 to 1644, following the collapse of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. The Ming, "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history", was the last dynasty in China ruled by ethnic...

. Possibly due to the popularity of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the Three Kingdoms era is one of the most well known non-modern Chinese eras in terms of iconic characters, deeds and exploits. This is reflected in the way how fictional accounts of the Three Kingdoms, mostly based on the novel, play a significant role in East Asian popular culture. Books, television dramas, films, cartoons, anime, games, and music on the topic are still regularly produced in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and Japan.

See also

  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms
    Romance of the Three Kingdoms
    Romance of the Three Kingdoms, written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century, is a Chinese historical novel based on the events in the turbulent years near the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, starting in 169 and ending with the reunification of the land in...

  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (TV series)
    Romance of the Three Kingdoms (TV series)
    Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a 1994 Chinese television series produced by CCTV. It is based on Luo Guanzhong's Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. It spanned a total of 84 episodes, with each episode being approximately 44 minutes long.A...

  • Three Kingdoms (TV series)
  • Records of Three Kingdoms
    Records of Three Kingdoms
    Records of Three Kingdoms , is regarded as the official and authoritative historical text on the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history covering the years 184-280 CE. Written by Chen Shou in the 3rd century, the work combines the smaller histories of the rival states of Cao Wei , Shu Han and...

  • Personages of the Three Kingdoms
    Personages of the Three Kingdoms
    The following is a list of people significant to the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. Fictional characters in Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms and those found in other cultural references to the Three Kingdoms are listed separately in List of fictional people...

  • Timeline of the Three Kingdoms period
    Timeline of the Three Kingdoms period
    This is a timeline of the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history....

  • Military history of the Three Kingdoms
    Military history of the Three Kingdoms
    The military history of the Three Kingdoms period, part of the greater military history of China incorporated almost a century of prolonged warfare and disorder...

  • Battle of Hulao Pass
    Battle of Hulao Pass
    The Battle of Hulao Pass is a fictional battle described in Luo Guanzhong's historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The battle was fought between Dong Zhuo and a coalition of regional warlords and officials as part of the Campaign against Dong Zhuo in 190 during the prelude to the Three...

  • Dynasty Warriors
    Dynasty Warriors
    is a series of tactical action video games created by Omega Force and Koei. The award-winning series is a spin-off of Koei's turn-based strategy Romance of the Three Kingdoms series, based loosely around the Chinese classical novel of the same name. The first game titled Dynasty Warriors,...

  • End of Han Dynasty
    End of Han Dynasty
    The End of the Han Dynasty refers to the period from 189 to 220, which roughly coincides with the reign of the Han Dynasty's last ruler, Emperor Xian. During this period, the Han empire's institutions were destroyed by the warlord Dong Zhuo, and fractured into regional regimes ruled by various...

  • List of tributaries of Imperial China
  • Rafe de Crespigny
    Rafe de Crespigny
    Dr Rafe de Crespigny is a retired Adjunct Professor with the China and Korea Centre, Australian National University in Canberra, Australia...

  • Period of Disunity
    Period of Disunity
    The Period of Disunity, also known as the Wei, Jin, and the Southern and Northern Dynasties , first disunion, was a long period of disunity and civil wars in China, lasting from 220 to 589...

  • Six Dynasties
    Six Dynasties
    Six Dynasties is a collective noun for six Chinese dynasties during the periods of the Three Kingdoms , Jin Dynasty , and Southern and Northern Dynasties ....

  • Six Dynasties poetry
    Six Dynasties poetry
    Six dynasties poetry refers to those types or styles of poetry particularly associated with the Six dynasties era of China . This poetry reflects one of the poetry world's more important flowerings, as well as being a unique period in Classical Chinese poetry' which, over this time period,...

  • Three Kingdoms Online
    Three Kingdoms Online
    Three Kingdoms Online, often referred to as TKO is a strategy browser game based on Three Kingdoms era of Chinese History when the famous The Art of War was widely employed. Three Kingdoms Online was firstly released as a Simplified Chinese version after the Closed Beta on March 5, 2008 by...

  • Chi Bi (video game)
    Chi Bi (video game)
    Red Cliff is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game set in ancient China during the fall of the Han Dynasty...

  • Destiny of an Emperor
    Destiny of an Emperor
    is a strategy role-playing game by Capcom for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was originally released in Japan in , with an English language localization released for the North American market in ....


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