The Han Empire was succeeded by the Three Kingdoms of China from 220 to 280 CE. It was comprised of the Wei, Shu, and Wu states that simultaneously existed in different parts of China.
The Three States
The Wei state was ruled by Cao Pi, and was succeeded by his eldest son Cao Rui. Even though the 22-year old successor was able to manage the government, Minister Chen Qun, General Cao Xiu, and General Sima Yu were appointed as regents. The three eventually died, leaving Sima Yi as the senior minister and military commander. He successfully defended against an attack from Wu.
When Cao Rui perished at 35 years old, he was succeeded by his adopted son, Cao Fang, who was only 7 years old. Sima Yi was appointed as one of Cao Fang’s regents and received the honorific title of Grand Tutor, but had virtually no influence in the court.
Liu Shan rose to the throne following Shu Han’s defeat and death. Zhuge Liang conquered the southern territories. A battle for the northwest against the Wei ensued and was led by Zhuge Liang, a Chinese politician, military strategist, writer, engineer and inventor. Zhuge Liang, the most accomplished strategist of his era. He’s even been compared to Sun Tzu. Liang died in a great northern offensive south of the Wei River.
The Shu army was forced to withdraw as the Wei army was pursuing them. Sima Yi had deduced Zhuge Liang’s demise and ordered an attack, but Shu struck back immediately and caused Sima Yi to doubt himself, allowing Shu to withdraw successfully.
Sun Quan turned to the aborigines of the southeast, better known as the Shanyue. After some battling, the Shanyue surrendered to Zhuge Ke, one of Shu’s military generals. 40,000 defeated Shanyes were drafted into the Wu army. Sun Quan was dealing with the troubles with the southern tribes. Zhuge Liang recognized the importance of stability in the south and had three Shu armies go-ahead to Nanman where they fought a number of engagements against the chieftain, Meng Huo.
Meng Huo submitted, and a representative was allowed to reside at the Shu capital as an official and the Nanman formed their own battalions within the Shu army. A series of attacks by the Wei were attempted, but they could not break through the defenses reacted by the Wu.
Tensions became visible between the Cao clan and the Sima clan. Cao Shuang placed his own supporters in important posts and began to exclude Sima Yi, who was seen as a threat. The power of the Sima clan was notable because of their land ownership. That combined with Sima Yi’s military victories, his capabilities as a strategist and politician actually did make him a worthy opponent.
He eventually forced Cao Shuang’s faction from authority. Many protested against the power of the Sima family. Cao Huan succeeded the throne after the first Wei emperor, Cao Mao, died in a failed coup against Sima Zhao. he eventually decided that abdication was the best course of action and Sima Yan effectively overthrew the Wei dynasty and established the succeeding Jin dynasty.
After the ascension of the young Sun Liang to the throne in 2852, the state of Wu went into a steady decline. Successful Wei suppression of rebellion in the south by the Simas reduced any opportunity of Wu influence. The fall of Shu signaled a change in Wei politics. Liu Shan surrendered to Sima Yan (Sima Yi’s grandson). and overthrew the Wei emperor and proclaimed his own dynasty of Jin.
Shu politics eventually became controlled by the eunuch faction and corruption rose. The Wei led a three-pronged attack and the Shu army was forced to retreat, and after a while, Liu Shan was forced to surrender. The state of Shu ended after 43 years. Liu Shan was reinstated to the capital of Luoyang and was given a trivial position with no power.
Art was predominantly influenced by Buddhism and featured many elements of Central Asian art. Scientific learning was gained from contact with India, and knowledge of the outside world increased as well.
Technology advanced significantly during this period. The wooden ox was a single-wheeled cart with two handles and is suggested to be an early version of the wheelbarrow. The repeating crossbow was also improved.
One of the Wei mechanical engineers invented a hydraulic-powered, mechanical puppet theatre for one for the emperors of Wei. There was also the invention of the south-pointing chariot, which had a fixture that would always point south no matter where the chariot was facing.
The Three Kingdoms was one of the bloodiest periods in Chinese history, but it’s highly romanticized in history. The highest ideals of chivalry were demonstrated in this era. It was also the dynasty that came before 300 years of disunity in China.
For more on the previous Chinese dynasties, check out the articles here.