Thursday, September 4, 2008

Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors

The actual translation of 帝 ''dì''/''dei5'' is a problematic one in that it is most often translated using its modern sense, which did not arise until after the advent of an imperial state under Qin Shi Huang . Its original meaning, and the most likely translation thereof, is that of ''supreme being'', a kind of ''?bermensch'', rather than 'emperor'. The character 帝 originally represented a shaman wearing a liturgical mantle.

The Three Sovereigns

The Three Sovereigns, sometimes known as the ''Three August Ones'', were said to be god-kings or demigods who used their magical powers to improve the lives of their people. Because of their lofty virtue, they lived to a great age and ruled over a period of great peace.

The Three Sovereigns are ascribed various identities in different texts. The ''Records of the Grand Historian'' by Sima Qian, in a chapter added by Sima Zhen, states that they were:

* ;

* ;

* ,

The ''Chunqiu yundou shu'' and ''Chunqiu yuanming bao'' identify them as:




Fuxi and Nüwa are respectively the god and goddess, husband and wife credited with being the ancestors of humankind after a devastating flood. The invention of the Primal Arrangement of the Eight Trigrams is attributed to Fuxi. Shennong invented farming and was the first to use herbs for medical purposes.

The I Ching starts like this: “In the old times of King Fuxi’s regime, he observed sky and the stars when he looked upwards, and researched the earth when he looked downwards, and watched the birds and beasts to see how they lived in their environment. He took examples from nearby and far away, and then made 8 Yin Yang signs to simulate the rules of universe...After Fuxi died, Shennong rose. He made Plow and taught people how to grow crops and fish. He invented money and market for the exchange of goods."

The ''Shangshu dazhuan'' and ''Baihu tongyi'' replace Nüwa with Suiren , the inventor of fire. The ''Diwang shiji'' replaces Nüwa with the Yellow Emperor , the supposed ancestor of all Han Chinese people.

The Five Emperors

The Five Emperors were legendary, morally perfect sage-kings. According to the ''Records of the Grand Historian'' they were:

*The Yellow Emperor

* Zhuanxu

* Emperor Ku



Yao and Shun are also known as the ''Two Emperors'', and, along with Yu the Great , founder of the Xia dynasty, were considered to be model rulers and moral exemplars by Confucians in later Chinese history. The ''Shangshu Xu'' and ''Diwang shiji'' include Shaohao instead of the Yellow Emperor.

The ''Song of Chu'' identifies the Five Emperors as directional gods:



*Yellow Emperor



The ''Book of Rites'' equates the Five Emperors with the Five Lineages , which comprise:






All these "emperors" were only people with great contributions or famous rulers of tribal unions. From the Bamboo Annals and Classic of History, their positions are known to have been attained by election by other chiefs in the tribal unions. When they die, their children may succeed the positions of the ruler of their own tribe, but not the position of the ruler of the tribal union. Their power is much less than the historical Chinese emperors, generally commencing with the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang , who coined a new term for "Emperor" by combining the titles of "sovereign" and "god-king" who had over the people.

Xia Dynasty

The Xia were agrarian people, with bronze weapons and pottery. The ruling families used elaborate and dramatic rituals to confirm their power to govern. The rulers often acted as shamans, communicating with spirits for help and guidance.

The Xia Dynasty ca. 2100 BC–1600 BC, of China is the first dynasty to be described in ancient historical records such as ''Records of the Grand Historian'' and ''Bamboo Annals''. Though there is disagreement pertaining to the actual existence of the dynasty, there is archaeological evidence which points to its possible existence. According to historical records, it was preceded by the period of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors and followed by the Shang Dynasty.


According to the official history, the Xia Dynasty was founded when abdicated the throne in favor of his minister , whom Shun viewed as the perfect civil servant. Yu was greatly praised by his people for eliminating flooding by organizing the building of canals in all the major rivers. Soon before his death, instead of passing power to the person deemed most capable of rulership, Yu passed power to his son, , setting the precedence for dynastic rule or the Hereditary System. The Xia Dynasty thus began a period of family or clan control.

The of early Chinese history, started by Gu Jiegang in the 1920s, was the first group of scholars within China to seriously question the traditional story of its early history: “the later the time, the longer the legendary period of earlier history... early Chinese history is a tale told and retold for generations, during which new elements were added to the front end” Yun Kuen Lee's criticism of nationalist sentiment in developing an explanation of Three Dynasties chronology focuses on the dichotomy of evidence provided by archaeological versus historical research, in particular the claim that the archaeological is also the historical Xia Dynasty. “How to fuse the archaeological dates with historical dates is a challenge to all chronological studies of early civilization.”

, the last ruler, was said to be a corrupt king. He was overthrown by , the leader of the people from the east.

Archaeological records

Archaeologists have uncovered urban sites, bronze implements, and tombs that point to the possible existence of the Xia dynasty at locations cited in ancient Chinese historical texts. There exists a debate as to whether or not Erlitou culture was the site of the Xia dynasty. Radiocarbon dating places the site at ca. 2100 to 1800 BC, providing physical evidence of the existence of a state contemporaneous with and possibly equivalent to the Xia Dynasty as described in Chinese historical works. In 1959, a site located in the city of Yanshi was excavated containing large palaces that some archaeologists have attributed as capital of the Xia Dynasty. Though later historical works mention the Xia dynasty, no written records dated to the Xia period have been found to confirm the name of the dynasty and its sovereigns. At a minimum, the archaeological discoveries marked an evolutionary stage between the late neolithic cultures and the typical Chinese urban civilization of the Shang Dynasty.

Qi as the heirs of Xia

After the defeat of Xia by , the remnants of Xia survived as Qi state until 445 BCE. The Qi state was well recorded in the Oracle script as the one major supporter of the Xia Dynasty.

Mythical opposite of Shang

In her work, ''The Shape of the Turtle: Myth, Art and Cosmos in Early China'', Sarah Allan noted that many aspects of the Xia are simply the opposite of traits held to be emblematic of the Shang. Classical Chinese historians such as Sima Qian had access to records going only as far back as the Western Zhou Dynasty. The implied dualism between the Shang and Xia, Allan argues, is that while the Shang represent fire or the sun, birds and the east, the Xia represent the west and water. The development of this mythical Xia, Allan argues, is a necessary act on the part of the Zhou Dynasty, who justify their conquest of the Shang by noting that the Shang had supplanted the Xia.

Sovereigns of the Xia Dynasty

Zhou Dynasty

The Zhou Dynasty was preceded by the Shang Dynasty and followed by the Qin Dynasty in China. The Zhou dynasty lasted longer than any other dynasty in history—though the actual political and military control of China by the dynasty only lasted during the Western Zhou. During the Zhou, the was introduced to China, while this period of Chinese history produced what many consider the zenith of Chinese bronze-ware making. The dynasty also spans the period in which the written script evolved from the ancient stage as seen in early Western Zhou bronze inscriptions, to the beginnings of the modern stage, in the form of the archaic clerical script of the late Warring States period.

During the Zhou Dynasty, the origins of native Chinese philosophy developed, its initial stages beginning in the 6th century BC. The greatest Chinese philosophers, those who made the greatest impact on later generations of Chinese, were Kong Fuzi , founder of Confucianism, and Laozi, founder of Daoism. Other philosophers, theorists, and schools of thought in this era were Mozi , founder of Mohism, Mengzi , a famous Confucian who expanded upon Kong Fuzi's legacy, Shang Yang and Han Feizi, responsible for the development of ancient Chinese , and Xunzi, who was arguably the center of ancient Chinese intellectual life during his time, even more so than iconic intellectual figures such as Mencius.

Mandate of Heaven

In the Chinese historical tradition, the Zhou defeated the Shang and oriented the Shang system of ancestor worship toward a universalized worship away from the worship of and to that of Tian or "heaven". They legitimized their rule by invoking the Mandate of Heaven, the notion that the ruler governed by divine right but that his dethronement would prove that he had lost the mandate. Such things that proved the ruling family had lost the Mandate were natural disasters and rebellions. The doctrine explained and justified the demise of the and Shang Dynasties and at the same time supported the legitimacy of present and future rulers. The Zhou dynasty was founded by the family and had its capital at Hào . Sharing the language and culture of the Shang, the early Zhou rulers, through conquest and colonization, established a large imperial territory where in states as far as Shandong acknowledged Zhou rulership and took part in elite culture. The spread of Zhou bronzes, though, was concurrent with the continued use of Shang style pottery in the distant regions and these states were the last to recede during the late Western Zhou.

Zhou military

The early Western Zhou supported a strong military split into two major units: “The Six Armies of the West” and “The Eight Armies of Chengzhou”. The armies campaigned in the northern Loess Plateau, modern Ningxia and the Huanghe floodplain. The military prowess of Zhou peaked during the 19th year of 's reign, when the Six Armies were wiped out along with King Zhao on a campaign around the Han River. Early Zhou kings were true commanders-in-chief. They were in constant wars with barbarians on behalf of the fiefs called 'guo', namely, statelet or principality. Charles Hucker noted that Zhou had 14 standing royal armies, with 6 stationed in Haojing, near today's Xian, and 8 armies stationed in the east. Zhou Zhaowang was famous for repeated campaigns in the Yangtze areas and died in his last action. Zhou Muwang was a legendary figure famous for fighting in the west and maybe today's Central Asia where he met and rendezvoused on Kunlun Mountain with so-called Xi Wang Mu, namely, Queen Mother of the West, rumored by some western historians, including Charles Hucker, to be Queen of Sheba. Later kings' campaigns were less effective. King Liwang led 14 armies against barbarians in the south but failed to achieve any victory. King Xuanwang fought the Jiangrong nomads in vain. King Youwang was killed by Quanrong, and capital Haojing was sacked. Although chariots had been introduced to China since the Shang Dynasty, the Zhou period saw the use of massed chariots in battle, a technology imported from Central Asia.


In the West, the Zhou period is often described as feudal because the Zhou's early rule invites comparison with . However, historians debate whether or not this description is valid; the more appropriate term for the Zhou Dynasty's political arrangement would be from the Chinese language itself: the ''Fēngjiàn'' system. The Zhou amalgam of city-states became progressively centralized and established increasingly impersonal political and economic institutions. These developments, which probably occurred in the later Zhou period, were manifested in greater central control over local governments and a more routinized agrarian taxation. Zhou officials were not paid a salary but instead were given semi-regular gifts by the King, which often included land in the Wei River valley. Imperial stability was ensured through marriages between the Zhou court and local lords as well as the installment of Zhou lords into command over distant regions.

Western and Eastern Zhou

Initially the Ji family was able to control the country firmly. In 771 BC, after had replaced his queen with a concubine Baosi, the capital was sacked by the joint force of the queen's father, who was the powerful Marquess of Shen, and a nomadic tribe, the Quanrong. The queen's son was proclaimed the new king by the nobles from the states of , , and the Marquess of Shen. The capital was moved eastward in 722 BC to Luoyang in present-day Henan Province.

Because of this shift, historians divide the Zhou era into the Western Zhou , lasting up until 771 BC, and the Eastern Zhou from up to 256 BC. The beginning year of the Western Zhou has been disputed — 1122 BC, 1027 BC and other years within the hundred years from late 12th century BC to late 11th century BC have been proposed. Chinese historians take 841 BC as the first year of consecutive annual dating of the history of China, based on the ''Records of the Grand Historian'' by Sima Qian. The Eastern Zhou corresponds roughly to two subperiods. The first, from to 481 BC, is called the Spring and Autumn Period, after a famous historical chronicle of the time; the second is known as the Warring States Period , after another famous chronicle and initiated by the partitioning of . The Warring States Period extends slightly past the 256 BC end date of the Eastern Zhou; this discrepancy is due to the fact that the last Zhou king's reign ended in 256, 35 years before the beginning of the Qin dynasty which ended the Warring States period. The Eastern Zhou period is also designated as a period of a . This is a reference to the different schools of historical Chinese intellectual thought. There were four main distinct schools which were the Ru, Mohist, Daoist, and Legalists. These schools of thought contributed to social, philosophical and political change which played a large part in the decline of the Zhou dynasty.


With the royal line broken, the power of the Zhou court gradually diminished, and the fragmentation of the kingdom accelerated. From Ping Wang onwards, the Zhou kings ruled in name only, with true power lying in the hands of powerful nobles. Towards the end of the Zhou Dynasty, the nobles did not even bother to acknowledge the Ji family symbolically, rebelled and declared themselves to be kings. The dynasty was ended in 256 BC, before Qin Shi Huang's unification of China in 221 BC, when the last king of Zhou died and his sons did not proclaim the nominal titles of King of China.


Agriculture in the Zhou Dynasty was very intensive and in many cases directed by the government. All farming lands were owned by nobles, who then gave their land to their serfs, a situation similar to European feudalism. For example, a piece of land was divided into nine squares in the shape of the character for "water well," jing , with the grain from the middle square taken by the government and that of surrounding squares kept by individual farmers. This way, the government was able to store surplus food and distribute it in times of famine or bad harvest. Some important manufacturing sectors during this period included bronze smelting, which was integral to making weapons and farming tools. Again, these industries were dominated by the nobility who directed the production of such materials.

China's first projects of hydraulic engineering were founded during the Zhou Dynasty, ultimately for means to aid agricultural irrigation. The Prime Minister of , Sunshu Ao, who served King Zhuang of Chu dammed a river to create an enormous irrigation reservoir in modern-day northern Anhui province. For this Sunshu is credited as China's first hydraulic engineer. The later Wei statesman Ximen Bao, who served Marquis Wen of Wei , is the first hydraulic engineer of China to have created a large irrigation canal system. As the main focus of his grandiose project, his canal work eventually diverted the waters of the entire Zhang River to a spot further up the Huang He River.

Gallery of artwork

Zhou dynasty kings

Spring and Autumn Period

During the Spring and Autumn period, China was ruled by a feudal system. The Zhou dynasty kings held nominal power, but only directly ruled over a small Royal Domain, centered around their capital . They granted fiefdoms over the rest of China to several hundreds of hereditary nobles . These were descendants of members of the Zhou clan, close associates of the founders of the dynasty, or local potentates. The most important feudal princes met during regular conferences, where important matters, such as military expeditions against foreign groups or offending nobles were decided. During these conferences, one prince was sometimes declared hegemon , and given leadership over the armies of all the feudal states.

As the era unfolded, larger more powerful states annexed or claimed suzerainty over smaller ones. By the 6th century BC, most small states had disappeared, and a few large and powerful principalities dominated China. Some southern states, such as Chu and Wu, claimed independence from the Zhou. Wars were undertaken to oppose some of these states . In the state of Jin, six powerful families fought for supremacy, and a series of civil wars resulted in the splitting of Jin into three smaller states by the beginning of the fifth century.

At the same time, the control Zhou kings exerted over feudal princes slowly but inexorably faded. Eventually the nominal Zhou kings lost all real influence, the feudal system crumbled, and the Warring States Period began.

Beginning of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty

After the Zhou capital was sacked by western barbarian tribes, crown prince fled to the east. During the flight from the western capital to the east, the king relied on the nearby lords of , and for protection from barbarians and rebellious lords. He moved the Zhou capital from Zongzhou to Chengzhou in the Yellow River valley.

The fleeing Zhou elite did not have strong footholds in the eastern territories; even the crown prince's coronation had to be supported by those states to be successful. With the Zhou domain greatly reduced, i.e. to Luoyang and nearby areas, the court could no longer support six groups of standing troops . Subsequent Zhou kings had to request help from neighbouring powerful states for protection from raids and for resolution of internal power struggles. The Zhou court would never regain its original authority; instead, it was relegated to being merely a figurehead of the feudal states. Though the king ''de jure'' retained the Mandate of Heaven, ''de facto'' the title held no real power.

Rise of the hegemonies

The first nobility to help the Zhou kings was the Duke Zhuang of Zheng . He was the first to establish the hegemonical system , which was intended to retain the old proto-feudal system. Traditional historians justified the new system as a means of protecting weaker civilized states and the Zhou royalty from the intruding "barbarian" tribes. Located in the south, north, east and west, the barbarian tribes were, respectively, the , Yi, Rong and Di.

The newly powerful states were more eager to maintain aristocratic privileges over the traditional ideology of supporting the weak ruling entity during times of unrest , which was to be widely propagated during imperial China to consolidate power into the ruling family.

Dukes and made further steps in installing the overlordship system, which brought relative stability, but in shorter time periods than before. Annexations increased, favoring the several most powerful states, including , , and . The overlord role gradually drifted from its stated intention of protecting weaker states; the overlordship eventually became a system of hegemony of major states over weaker satellites of Chinese and "barbarian" origin.

The great states used the pretext of aid and protection to intervene and gain advantages over the smaller states during their internal quarrels. Later overlords were mostly derived from these great states. They proclaimed themselves master of their territories, without even recognizing the petty figurehead of Zhou. Establishment of the local administration system , with its officials appointed by the government, gave states better control over the dominion. Taxation facilitated commerce and agriculture more than proto-feudalism.

The three states of , and not only optimized their own strength, but also repelled the southern state of , whose rulers had proclaimed themselves kings. The Chu armies gradually intruded into the Yellow River Basin. Framing Chu as the "southern barbarian", ''Chu Man'', was merely a pretext to warn Chu not to intervene into their respective spheres of influence. Chu intrusion was checked several times in three major battles with increasing violence - the Battle of Chengpu, the Battle of Bi and the Battle of Yanling; this resulted in the restorations of the states of and .

Interstate relations

''See main article: Interstate relations during the Spring and Autumn period.''

During the period a complex system of interstate relations developed. It was partially structured upon the Western Zhou system of feudalism, but elements of realpolitik were emerging. A collection of interstate customary norms and values, which can perhaps be loosely termed international law, was also evident. As the operational and cultural areas of states expanded and intersected, diplomatic encounters increased.

Changing tempo of war

After a period of increasingly exhaustive warfare, Qi, Qin, Jin and Chu finally met for a disarmament conference in 579 BC, where the other states essentially became satellites. In 546 BC, Jin and Chu agreed to yet another truce.

During the relatively peaceful 6th century BC, the two coastal states in today's Zhejiang, and , gradually grew in power. After defeating and banishing King Fuchai of Wu, King Goujian of Yue became the last recognized overlord.

This era of peace was only a prelude to the maelstrom of the Warring States Period. The four powerful states were all in the midst of power struggles. Six elite landholding families waged war on each other in Jin. The Chen family was eliminating political enemies in Qi. Legitimacy of the rulers was often challenged in civil wars by various royal family members in Qin and Chu. Once all these power strugglers firmly established themselves in their dominions, the bloodshed among states would continue in the Warring State Period. The Warring States Period officially started in 403 BC when the three remaining elite families in Jin - Zhao, Wei and Han - partitioned the state; the impotent Zhou court was forced to recognize their authority.

List of overlords, or Ba

''See main article: Five Hegemons ''

Traditionally, the Five Overlords of Spring and Autumn Period include:


*Duke Wen of Jin

*King Zhuang of Chu

*Duke Mu of Qin

*Duke Xiang of Song

While some other historians suggest that the Five Overlords include:

*Duke Huan of Qi

*Duke Wen of Jin

*King Zhuang of Chu

*King Fuchai of Wu

*King Goujian of Yue

List of prominent states

The name following the name of the state is the capital .

:Cai 蔡 - Shangcai 上蔡 上蔡

:Cao 曹

:Chen ?; - Wanqiu 宛丘; 宛丘

:Chu 楚 - Ying 郢 郢

:Hua 滑

:Jin ?

:Lu 鲁 - Qufu 曲阜 曲阜

:Qi ? - Linzi ?淄 临淄

:Qin 秦 - Xianyang 咸? 咸阳

:Song 宋 - Shangqiu 商丘 商丘

:Wei ?

:Wu ? - 姑? 姑苏

:Yan 燕

:Yue 越 - Kuaiji ?稽 会稽

:Zheng ? - Xinzheng 新?

List of important figures

Bureaucrats or Officers

:Guan Zhong , statesman and advisor of Duke Huan of Qi and regarded by some modern scholars as the first .

:Baili Xi , famous prime minister of Qin.

:Bo Pi, (伯?)the corrupted bureaucrat under King Helü and played important diplomatic role of - relations.

:文? and Fan Li范蠡, the two advisors and partisans of of his rally against Wu.

:Zi Chan, (子?)leader of self-strengthening movements in

Influential scholars

:Confucius(孔子), leading figure in Confucianism

:Laozi (老子)or Lao tse, founder of Daoism

:Mozi, known as Motse or "Mocius" to Western scholars, founder of Mohism


:Confucius(孔子), the editor of ''Spring and Autumn Annals ''



:Lu Ban(鲁班)


:Ou Ye Zi, literally means Ou the wielder and mentor of the couple Gan Jiang and Mo Ye

Entrepreneurs and Commercial personnel

:Fan Li

Generals, military leaders and authors

:Rang Ju, elder contemporary and ''possibly'' mentor of

:Sun Tzu, (?子)the author of ''The Art of War''


:Yao Li, (要离)sent by King Helü to kill Qing Ji(庆忌).

:Zhuan Zhu,(专渚) sent by He Lu to kill his cousin King Liao

:Mo Xie

List of important events

770 B.C. - the nobility of the Zhou realm supported King Píng of Zhou as the new king of the Zhou Dynasty. King Píng moved the capital to Luòyì . The era of Eastern Zhou, or Spring Autumn, began. King Píng appointed the son of the nobility Yíng Qí to the northwestern part of the Zhou realm. He was named Duke Xiāng of Qin . The kingdom of Qin was born.

763 B.C. - Duke Zhuang of Zheng attacked and destroyed the barbarian kingdom of hú . Duke Zhuang relied on his famous officer Zhài Zhòng .

750 B.C. - Duke Wén of Jin , Jī Chóu , attacked and destroyed the kingdom of Yú Chén Zhou

704 B.C. - Duke of Chǔ , Mǐ Xióng Tōng , saw the weakened power of the King of Zhou as an opportunity to break free from being a tributary state of the Zhou Dynasty and claimed the title of king himself. He announced the kingdom of Chǔ and called himself King Wu of Chu .

701 B.C. - Duke Zhuang of Zheng died. His son Jī Hū succeeded the title of Duke and was known as Duke Zhāo of Zheng . Because Lady Yōng of Song was married to Duke Zhuang of Zheng and had a son named Ji Tū , the King of Song thought that he could extend influence in Zheng by helping to support a new ruler who had relations with Song. Zhài Zhòng , who had the respect and influence in the state of Zheng, was lured and captured by Song and was forced to support Jī Tū as the successor to the throne

Warring States Period

The Warring States Period, in contrast to the Spring and Autumn Period, was a period when regional warlords annexed smaller states around them and consolidated their rule. The process began in the Spring and Autumn Period, and by the 3rd century BC, seven major states had risen to prominence. These Seven Warring States , were the , the , the , the , the , the and the . Another sign of this shift in power was a change in title: warlords once considered themselves dukes of the Zhou dynasty king; but now the warlords began to call themselves kings , meaning they were equal to the Zhou king.

The Warring States Period saw the proliferation of in China, replacing bronze as the dominant metal used in warfare. Areas such as and were also brought into the Chinese cultural sphere during this time. Different philosophies developed into the Hundred Schools of Thought, including Confucianism , Taoism , and Mohism . Trade also became important, and some merchants had considerable power in politics. Military tactics also changed. Unlike the Spring and Autumn Period, most armies in the Warring States Period made combined use of infantry and cavalry, and the use of chariots gradually fell into disfavor. Thus from this period on, the nobles in China remained a literate rather than warrior class, as the kingdoms competed by throwing masses of soldiers against each other. Arms of soldiers gradually changed from bronze to unified iron arms. Dagger-axes were an extremely popular weapon in various kingdoms, especially for the Qin who produced eighteen-foot long pikes.

This was also around the time the legendary military strategist Sun Tzu wrote ''The Art of War'' which is recognized today as the most influential, and oldest known military strategy guide. Along with this are other military writings that make up the Seven Military Classics of ancient China: 's Six Secret Teachings, The Methods of the Sima, Sun Bin's Art of War, Wu Qi, Wei Liaozi, Three strategies of Huang Shigong, and The Questions and Replies of Tang Taizong and Li Weigong . Once China was unified, these seven military classics were locked away and access was restricted due to their tendency to promote revolution.

Partition of Jin

In the Spring and Autumn Period, the State of Jin was arguably the most powerful state in China. However, near the end of the Spring and Autumn Period, the power of the ruling family weakened, and gradually came under the control of six ministers belonging to six different families . By the beginning of the Warring States Period, after numerous power struggles, there were four families left: the Zhi family, the Wei family, the Zhao family, and the Han family, with the Zhi family being the dominant power in . Zhi Yao , the last head of the Zhi family, attempted a coalition with the Wei family and the Han family to destroy the Zhao family. However, because of Zhi Yao's arrogance and disrespect towards the other families, the Wei family and Han family secretly allied with the Zhao family, and the three families launched a surprise attack at Jinyang, which was besieged by Zhi Yao at the time, and annihilated the Zhi.

In 403 BC, the three major families of , with the approval of the Zhou king, partitioned Jin into three states, which was historically known as 'The Partition of Jin of the Three Families' . The new states were: the State of Han, the State of Zhao, and the State of Wei. The three family heads were given the title of Marquis , and because the three states were originally part of , they are also referred to as the Three Jins . The State of Jin continued to exist with a tiny piece of territory until 376 BC when the rest of the territory was partitioned by the Three Jins.

Change of government in Qi

In 389 BC, the Tian family seized control of the State of Qi, and were given the title of Duke. The old Jiang family's State of Qi continued to exist with a small piece of territory until 379 BC, when it was finally absorbed into Tian family's State of Qi.

Early strife in the Three Jins, Qi, and Qin

In 371 BC, Marquess Wu of Wei died without specifying a successor, causing to fall into an internal war of succession. After three years of civil war, and , sensing an opportunity, invaded . On the verge of conquering , the leaders of and fell into disagreement on what to do with and both armies mysteriously retreated. As a result, King Hui of Wei was able to jump onto the throne of .

In 354 BC, King Hui of Wei initiated a large scale attack at , which some historians believe was to avenge the earlier near destruction of . By 353 BC, was losing the war badly, and one of their major cities — Handan , a city that would eventually become 's capital — was being besieged. As a result, the neighbouring State of Qi decided to help . The strategy used, suggested by the famous tactician Sun Bin , a descendant of Sun Tzu, who at the time was the army advisor, was to attack 's territory while the main army is busy sieging , forcing to retreat. The strategy was a success; the army hastily retreated, and encountered the midway, culminating into the Battle of Guiling where was decisively defeated. The event spawned the idiom "?魏救?/围魏救赵", meaning ''"Surrounding to save "'', which is still used in modern Chinese to refer to attacking an enemy's vulnerable spots in order to relieve pressure being applied by that enemy upon an ally.

In 341 BC, attacked , and interfered again. The two generals from the previous Battle of Guiling met again, and due to the brilliant strategy of Sun Bin, was again decisively defeated at the Battle of Maling .

The situation for took an even worse turn when , taking advantage of series of defeats by , attacked in 340 BC under the advice of famous Qin reformer Shang Yang . was devastatingly defeated and was forced to cede a large portion of its territory to achieve a truce. This left their capital Anyi vulnerable, so was also forced to move their capital to Daliang.

After these series of events, became severely weakened, and the and states became the two dominant states in China.

Shang Yang's reforms in Qin

Around 359 BC, Shang Yang , a minister of the State of Qin, initiated a series of reforms based on the political doctrine of Legalism that transformed from a backward state into one that surpasses the other six states. It is generally regarded that this is the point where started to become the most dominant state in China.

Ascension of the Kingdoms

In 334 BC, the rulers of and agreed to recognize each other as Kings , formalizing the independence of the states and the powerlessness of the Zhou throne since the beginning of the . The King of and the King of joined the ranks of the King of , whose predecessors had been Kings since the Spring and Autumn Period. From this point on, all the other states eventually declare their Kingship, signifying the beginning of the end of the Zhou Dynasty.

In 325 BC, the ruler of declared himself as King.

In 323 BC, the rulers of and declared themselves as King.

In 318 BC, the ruler of , a relatively minor state, declared himself as King.

The ruler of held out until around 299 BC, and was the last to declare himself as King.

Chu expansion and defeats

Early in the Warring States Period, was one of the strongest states in China. The state rose to a new level of power around 389 BC when the King of named the famous reformer Wu Qi to be his prime minister.

rose to its peak in 334 BC, when it gained vast amounts of territory. The series of events leading up to this began when prepared to attack . The King of sent an emissary who persuaded the King of to attack instead. initiated a large scale attack at , but was devastatingly defeated by 's counter-attack. Chu then proceeded to conquer the State of Yue. This campaign expanded the Chu's borders to the coasts of the Pacific Ocean.

The Domination of Qin and the resulting Grand Strategies

Towards the end of the Warring States Period, the State of Qin became disproportionately powerful compared to the other six states. As a result, the policies of the six states became overwhelmingly oriented towards dealing with the Qin threat, with two opposing schools of thought: Hezong , or alliance with each other to repel Qin expansionism; and Lianheng , or alliance with Qin to participate in its ascendancy. There were some initial successes in Hezong, though it eventually broke down. Qin repeatedly exploited the Lianheng strategy to defeat the states one by one. During this period, many philosophers and tacticians travelled around the states recommending the rulers to put their respective ideas into use. These "lobbyists" were famous for their tact and intellect, and were collectively known as Zonghengjia , taking its name from the two main schools of thought.

In 316 BC, conquered the Shu area.

Around 300 BC, Qi was almost totally annihilated by a coalition of five states led by Yue Yi of Yan . Although under General Tian Dan Qi managed to recover their lost territories, it would never be a great power again. Yan was also too exhausted afterwards to be of much importance in international affairs after this campaign.

In 293 BC the Battle of Yique against Wei and Han resulted in victory for Qin. This effectively removed Wei and Han threat to further Qin aspirations.

In 278 BC, Qin attacked Chu and managed to capture their capital city, Ying, forcing the Chu king to move eastwards to Shouchun. This campaign virtually destroyed Chu's military might, although they recovered sufficiently to mount serious resistance against Qin 50 years later.

In 260 BC, the Battle of Changping was fought between Qin and Zhao, resulting in a catastrophic defeat for the latter. Although both sides were utterly exhausted after the titanic clash, Zhao, unlike Qin, could not recover after the event.

In about 50 years Qin superiority was secure, thanks to its powerful military and, in part, constant feuding between the other states.

Military developments

The Warring States Period saw the introduction of many new innovations to the art of warfare in China, such as the use of iron and cavalry.

The various states fielded massive armies of infantry, cavalry and chariots. Complex logistical systems maintained by efficient government bureaucracy, was needed to supply, train, and control such large forces. The size of the armies ranged from tens of thousands to several hundred thousand men.

Iron became more widespread and began to replace bronze. Most armour and weapons of this period were made from iron.

The first official native Chinese cavalry unit was formed in 307 BC by King Wuling of Zhao.

But the war chariot still retained its prestige and importance, despite the tactical superiority of cavalry.

Crossbow was the preferred long range weapon of this period due to many reasons. The crossbow could be mass-produced easily, and mass training of crossbowmen was possible. These qualities made it a powerful weapon against the enemy.

Infantrymen deployed a varieties of weapons, but the most popular was the dagger-axe. The dagger-axe came in various length from 9?18 ft, the weapon comprising a thrusting spear with a slashing blade appended to it.

Zhao's military reforms

In 307 BC, King Wuling of Zhao adopted superior non-Chinese horse-riding clothing to better facilitate cavalry fighting tactics .

Qin's conquest of China

In 230 BC, the State of Qin conquers the State of Han when it, being the weakest state of the total seven Warring States and also being one of the neighbours to the much more stronger Qin and was being continuously assaulted by Qin in earlier years during Warring states period. This went on until Emperor Qin Shi Huang sent the famed general Wang Jian to attack the state of Zhao. King An of Han , frightened by the possibility that the State of Qin was going to target them right after Zhao, immediately sent diplomats to the state of Qin to surrender the entire kingdom without a fight. Although Qin had conquered Han without a fight, it also saved a lot of people from the potential devastation if the State of Han was to resist its massive invasions.

In 225 BC, conquers . The Qin army led a direct invasion into the state of Wei by besieging its capital Kaifeng but soon the Qin army realized that the city walls were too tough to break into and so they devised a new strategy in which they utilized the power of a local river which was linked to the Yellow River. The river was then used to flood the city's walls, causing massive devastation to the city. Upon realizing the situation, King Jia of Wei hurriedly came out of the city and surrendered its city to the Qin army in order to avoid further bloodshed of his people.

In 223 BC, invades . The King of Qin, Ying Zheng, decided to first defeat the strongest state, Chu. However, the first invasion was doomed to utter disaster when northern style Qin troops were defeated by 500,000 Chu troops in the unfamiliar territory of Huaiyang, modern-day northern Jiangsu and Anhui provinces. The Qin general was Li Xing, who was inexperienced.

In 224 BC., the famed conqueror of the state of Zhao, Wang Jian, was recalled to lead a second invasion with 600,000 men. Chu's morale was greatly increased after their success in defeating the seemingly invincible army of Qin the year before. The Chu forces were content to sit back and defend and believed it was Qin's intention to besiege Chu. However, Wang Jian tricked the Chu army by appearing to be idle in his fortifications whilst secretly training his troops to fight in Chu territory. After a year, Chu decided to disband due to inaction. Wang Jian invaded at the best moment with full force to overrun Huaiyang and the remaining Chu forces. Chu lost the initiative and could only sustain local guerrilla-style resistance until it too was fully conquered in 223 BCE. During their peak sizes, both armies of Chu and Qin combined numbered over 1,000,000 troops, more than the massive battle of Changping between Qin and Zhao 35 years before but which the Qin was able to conquer the state of Chu at last.

In 222 BC, conquers and . After the conquest of Zhao the Qin army then turned its attention towards the state of Yan. Realizing the danger & gravity of this situation, Yan Prince Dan had sent an assassin Jing Ke to kill the Qin emperor but this failure only helped to fuel the rage & determination of Qin Shi Huang and he increased the number of troops to conquer the state of Yan.

In 221 BC, conquers . Qi previously did not contribute or helped other states when Qin was conquering the other states and as soon as Qin was aiming for its final target the Qi quickly made the same decision as the Han did some nine years earlier and surrendered all its cites to Qin, completing the unification of China, and ushering in the Qin Dynasty.

Qin Dynasty

The Qin Dynasty was preceded by the feudal Zhou Dynasty and followed by the Han Dynasty in China. The unification of China in 221 BC under the marked the beginning of Imperial China, a period which lasted until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. The Qin Dynasty left a legacy of a centralized and bureaucratic state that would be carried onto successive dynasties. At the height of its power, the Qin Dynasty had a population of about 40 million people. Also, the massive Terracotta Army at Xi'an was built during the Qin as a royal retinue to guard the First Emperor in the afterlife.


Before it is referred to as the Qin Dynasty, the Ying were the rulers of the Qin .

According to Sima Qian, the house of Qin traced its origin to Emperor Zhuanxu . One of their ancestors, Dafei received from Emperor Shun the surname Ying. Another ancestor, Feizi served King Xiao of Zhou as the royal horse trainer, was rewarded with a fief in Quanqiu ; the Qin state grew out from this area, and the Qin name itself is believed to have originated, in part,there.

Qin Shi Huangdi

Qin Shi Huangdi imposed the Qin state's centralized, non-hereditary aristocratic system on his new empire in place of the Zhou's one. The Qin Empire relied on the philosophy of . Centralization, achieved by ruthless methods, was focused on standardizing legal codes and bureaucratic procedures, the forms of writing and coinage, and the pattern of thought and scholarship. The seal script s from the former state of Qin became the standard for the entire empire. The length of the wheel axle was also unified and expressways standardized to ease transportation throughout the country. To silence criticism of imperial rule, the emperor banished or put to death many dissenting Confucian scholars and confiscated and .

To prevent future uprisings, Qin Shi Huangdi ordered the confiscation of weapons and stored them in the capital. In order to prevent the resurgence of feudal lords, he also destroyed the walls and fortifications that had separated the previous six states. A national conscription was devised: every male between the ages of seventeen and sixty years was obliged to serve one year in the army. Qin aggrandizement was aided by frequent military expeditions pushing forward the frontiers in the north and south. To fend off a barbarian intrusion , the fortification walls built by the various warring states were connected to make a wall; this is usually recognized as the first Great Wall of China, although the present, 4,856- kilometer-long Great Wall of China was largely built or re-built during the Ming Dynasty. A number of public works projects, including canals and bridges, were also undertaken to consolidate and strengthen imperial rule. A lavish tomb for the emperor, complete with a Terracotta Army, was built near the capital Xianyang, a city half an hour from modern Xi'an. These activities required enormous levies of manpower and resources, not to mention repressive measures.

Qin Shi Huangdi's behavior reportedly became increasingly erratic in the later years of his rule. This may have been the result of drinking solutions containing mercury as well as other deadly compounds. Ironically, Shi Huangdi ingested the mixtures in an increasingly desperate search for an elixir that would prolong his life. It has often been speculated that this was at least partially responsible for many of his later acts such as building the .

Campaigns against Xiongnu

When Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi had succeeded in his conquest of all the six warring states in China he began to concentrate its aggression against the nomadic ethnic Xiongnu which had grown into a powerful invading force in the north and started expanding both east and west. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, sent a 300,000-strong army headed by General Meng Tian to drive the Xiongnu northward for 350 km and built the Great Wall to guard against its invasion.

Burning of intellectual books and Confucian burying

Qin Shi Huangdi had allowed the burning of intellectual books and burying Confucians alive when Li Si , his prime minister, had won favor over Chunyu Yue on the matter of commandary-county system, proposed book burning. In 213 BC, on Li Si's urging, Qin Shi Huangdi outlawed all other schools of thought except for Legalism, and he ordered book burning. 346 to 460 Confucians local to Qin capital were buried alive at one time. When Qin Shi Huangdi's elder son, Prince Fusu, encountered the rows of Confucians who were on the way to the burial ground, he went straight to Qin Shi Huangdi pleading for amnesty on behalf of the Confucians. Qin Shi Huangdi rebutted Fusu and further sent his elder son to Shangjun Commandary on the northern border to be with General Meng Tian. Qin Shi Huangdi then played a trick to have various prefectures send over about 700 more Confucians and scholars. All 700 Confucians were stoned to death in a valley, a place later named "valley of Confucian killing".

Second Emperor

During the last trip with his youngest son in 210 BC, Qin Shi Huang died suddenly at Shaqiu prefecture. Huhai, under the advice of two high officials, the Imperial Secretariat Li Si and the chief eunuch Zhao Gao, forged and altered Emperor's will. The faked decree ordered Qin Shi Huang's first son, the heir Fusu to commit suicide, instead naming Huhai as the next emperor. The decree also stripped the command of troops from Marshal Meng Tian — a faithful supporter of Fusu — and sentenced Meng's family to death. ''Zhao Gao'' step by step seized the power of Huhai, effectively making Huhai a puppet emperor. Thus beginning the Qin dynasty decline.

Out of concern for the security of his throne, Huhai killed all his brothers and sisters. At the end, he was killed by Zhao Gao. Thus Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor, has no known descendants. The Second Emperor, Huhai, also has no known descendants.

Within three years of Qin Shi Huangdi's death, widespread revolts by peasants, prisoners, soldiers, and descendants of the nobles of the Six Warring States sprang up all over China. Chen Sheng and Wu Guang, two in a group of about 900 soldiers assigned to defend against the Xiongnu , became the leaders of the first revolution by commoners.

Huhai lived to see the Battle of Julu, the major defeat of the Qin army in the hands of the rebels, which marked the end of the Qin Dynasty.

Third Emperor

In the beginning of October 207 BC, Zhao Gao forced Huhai to commit suicide and replaced him with Fusu's son, Ziying . Note that the title of Ziying was "king of Qin" to reflect the fact that Qin no longer controlled the whole of China. The Chu-Han contention ensued. Ziying soon killed Zhao Gao and surrendered to Liu Bang in the beginning of December 207 BC. But Liu Bang was forced to hand over Xianyang and Ziying to Xiang Yu. Xiang Yu then killed Ziying and burned down the palace in the end of January 206 BC. It is said the fire lasted two months before the inferno died down. A recent archeology survey of the palace ruin determined it to be roughly the size of Manhattan island of New York City. The palace is supported with thousands of pillars made from prehistoric lumbers growing to up to 115 meters high. One single pillar requires a team of a thousand workers a life time to harvest. Due to the weight and scale of each lumber, cutting the lumber can take weeks if not months, transporting from the prehistoric forest to the lumber mill requires certain weather so the river can be flooded to even move the massive lumber down river. The captain of each team is rewarded with imperial rank, their goal in life is to acquire one of these prehistoric lumber for the construction of the palace. It is said each pillar sacrificed the lives of a hundred men. Xiang Yu's controversial action sets the stage for the legendary battles between Xiang Yu, the warrior king and Liu Bang, the people's king. The Qin dynasty came to an end, three years after the death of Qin Shi Huang, and less than twenty years after it was founded.

Although the Qin Dynasty was short-lived, its legalist rule had a deep impact on later dynasties in China. The imperial system initiated during the Qin dynasty set a pattern that was developed over the next two millennia.

Sovereigns of Qin Dynasty

Note: King Zhaoxiang of Qin had already been ruling Qin for 51 years when Qin annihilated the Zhou Dynasty; however the other six warring states were still independent regimes. Historiographers thus used the next year as the official continuation from Zhou Dynasty.

Qin Shi Huang was the first Chinese sovereign to proclaim himself "Emperor", after reunifying China in 221 BC. That year is therefore usually taken as the start of the "Qin Dynasty".

Han Dynasty

The Han Dynasty followed the Qin Dynasty and preceded the Three Kingdoms in China. The Han Dynasty was ruled by the prominent family known as the Liu clan. The reign of the Han Dynasty, lasting over 400 years, is commonly considered within China to be one of the greatest periods in the history of China. To this day, the ethnic majority of China still refer to themselves as the "".

During the Han Dynasty, China officially became a state and prospered domestically: agriculture, handicrafts and commerce flourished, and the population reached over 55 million people. Meanwhile, the empire extended its political,, and territory over Korea, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Central Asia before it finally collapsed under a combination of domestic and external pressures. It also had a series of military outposts in some of these regions, including Central Asia, Mongolia, and Persia.

The first of the two periods of the dynasty was the Former Han Dynasty or Western Han Dynasty 206 BCE?, seated at Chang'an. The Later Han Dynasty or Eastern Han Dynasty 25?220 CE was seated at Luoyang. The western-eastern Han convention is currently used to avoid confusion with the Later Han Dynasty of the Period of the Five Dynasties and the Ten Kingdoms although the former-later nomenclature was used in history texts including Sima Guang's ''Zizhi Tongjian''.

The Han Dynasty was notable also for its military prowess. The empire expanded westward to the Tarim Basin , with military expeditions as far west as beyond the Caspian Sea, making possible a relatively safe and secure caravan and mercantile traffic across Central Asia. The paths of caravan traffic came to be known as the "Silk Road" because the route was used to export Chinese silk. Chinese armies also invaded and annexed parts of northern Korea and northern Vietnam toward the end of the 2nd century BC. The borders near the peripheral territories were often tense with possible conflict with other states. To ensure peace with non-Chinese powers, the Han court developed a mutually beneficial "tributary system". Non-Chinese states were allowed to remain autonomous in exchange for symbolic acceptance of Han overlordship. Tributary ties were confirmed and strengthened through intermarriages at the ruling level and periodic exchanges of gifts and goods.


Within the first three months after Qin Dynasty Qin Shi Huang's death at Shaqiu, widespread revolts by peasants, prisoners, soldiers and descendants of the nobles of the sprang up all over China. Chen Sheng and Wu Guang, two in a group of about 900 soldiers assigned to defend against the Xiongnu, were the leaders of the first rebellion. Continuous finally toppled the Qin dynasty in 206 BC. The leader of the insurgents was Xiang Yu, an outstanding military commander without political expertise, who divided the country into 19 feudal states to his own satisfaction.

The ensuing war among those states signified the five years of Chu Han Contention with Liu Bang, the first emperor of the Han Dynasty, as the eventual winner with the help of and Han Xin. Initially, "Han" consisted merely of modern Sichuan, Chongqing, and southern Shaanxi and was a minor humble principality, but eventually grew into an empire; the Han Dynasty was named after the principality, which was itself named after Hanzhong —modern southern Shaanxi, the region centering the modern city of Hanzhong. The beginning of the Han Dynasty can be dated either from 206 BC when the Qin dynasty crumbled and the Principality of Han was established or 202 BC when Xiang Yu committed suicide.

Taoism and feudal system

The new empire retained much of the Qin administrative structure, but retreated somewhat from centralized rule by establishing vassal principalities in some areas for the sake of political convenience. After the establishment of the Han Dynasty, Emperor Gao divided the country into several "feudal states" to satisfy some of his wartime allies, though he planned to get rid of them once he had consolidated his power.

After his death, his successors from to tried to rule China combining methods with the philosophic ideals. During this "pseudo-Taoism era", a stable centralized government over China was established through revival of the agriculture sectors and fragmentations of "feudal states" after the suppression of the Rebellion of the seven states.

Emperor Wu and Confucianism

During the "''Taoism era''", China was able to maintain peace with Xiongnu by paying tribute and marrying princesses to them. During this time, the dynasty's goal was to relieve the society of harsh laws, wars, and conditions from both the Qin Dynasty, external threats from nomads, and early internal conflicts within the Han court. The government reduced taxation and assumed a subservient status to neighboring nomadic tribes. During this era, the government reduced its role in civilian lives and initiating a period of stability known as the ''Rule of Wen and Jing'' , named after the two Emperors of this particular era. However, under , who reigned over one of the most prosperous periods of the Han Dynasty, the Empire was able to reassert its power. At its height, Han China incorporated present day Qinghai, Gansu, and northern Vietnam into its territories. The state mounted military expeditions into Siberian lands beyond Lake Baikal in the northern extremities and established military bases on the shores of the Caspian Sea at its western extremity.

Emperor Wu decided that Taoism was no longer suitable for China and officially declared it a Confucian state; however, like the Emperors of China before him, he combined methods with the ideal. This official adoption of Confucianism led not only to a civil service nomination system, but also compulsory knowledge of Confucian classics among candidates for the imperial bureaucracy, a requirement that lasted up to the establishment of the Republic of China in 1911. Confucian scholars gained prominent status as the core of the civil service.


The bureaucratic system of the Han Dynasty can be divided into two systems, the central and the local. As for the central bureaucrats in the capital, it was organized into a head cabinet of officials called the Three Lords and Nine Ministers . This cabinet was led by the , who was included as one of the . Officials were graded by rank and salary, were appointed to posts based on the merit of their skills rather than aristocratic clan affiliation, and were subject to dismissal, demotion, and transfer to different administrative regions. The local official during the former Han Dynasty was different from that of the later Han Dynasty. As for the former Han, there were two administered levels, the county and the ''xian'' . In the former Han Dynasty the ''xian'' was a subdivision or sub-prefecture of a county. During the Han period, there were about 1,180 of these xian, or sub-prefectures. The entire Han Empire was heavily dependent upon its county governors , as they could decide military policy, economic regulations, and legal matters in the county they presided over. According to historians Ebrey, Walthall, and Palais:

The main tax exacted on the population during Han times was a poll tax, fixed at a rate of 120 government-issued coins for adults.For adults there was also the addition of mandatory labor service for one month out of the year. Besides the poll tax, there was also the administered by county and commandery officials. This was set by the government at a relatively low rate of one-thirtieth of the collected harvest.

With a large amount of revenue in stable times, the Han government was able to fund various public works projects and state infrustructure. In the year 3 CE, a formalized nationwide government school system was established under Emperor Ping of Han, with a central school located in the capital Chang'an and local schools in the prefectures and counties.

As a result of the recorded debate ''The Discourses on Salt and Iron'' about state control over non-renewable resources in China, the state decided to impose government on salt and iron in the 1st century BC. The government monopoly on salt remained a distinctive feature of the Chinese bureaucracy in subsequent dynasties, although it fell out of use at certain times when merchants were allowed to mine it, refine it, and sell it in free trade.

Culture, society, and technology

The intellectual, literary, and artistic endeavors revived and flourished during the Han Dynasty. The Han period produced by birth China's most famous historian, Sima Qian , whose ''Records of the Grand Historian'' provides a detailed chronicle from the time of legendary emperor to that of the . Technological advances also marked this period. One of the great Chinese inventions, paper, dates from the Han Dynasty, largely attributed to the court eunuch Cai Lun . By the 1st century BC, the Chinese had discovered how to forge the highly durable metal of steel, by melting together wrought iron with cast iron. There were great mathematicians, astronomers, statesmen, and technological inventors such as Zhang Heng , who invented the world's first hydraulic-powered armillary sphere. He was also largely responsible for the early development of the style in China. Zhang Heng's work in mechanical gear systems influenced countless numbers of inventors and engineers to follow, such as Ma Jun, Yi Xing, Zhang Sixun, Su Song, etc. Zhang Heng's most famous invention was a seismometer with a swinging pendulum that signified the cardinal direction of earthquakes that struck locations hundreds of kilometres away from the positioned device. There was also continuing development in Chinese philosophy, with figures such as Wang Chong , whose written work represented in part the great intellectual atmosphere of the day. Among his various written achievements, Wang Chong accurately described the water cycle in meteorology. Zhang Heng argued that light emanating from the moon was merely the reflected light that came originally from the sun, and accurately described the reasons for solar eclipse and lunar eclipse as path obstructions of light by the celestial bodies of the earth, sun, and moon.

Military technology in the Han period was advanced by the use of cast iron and steel, which the 1st century engineer Du Shi had made easier by applying the hydraulic power of waterwheels in working the bellows of the blast furnace. The military of the Han Dynasty also engaged in chemical warfare, as written in the ''Hou Han Shu'' for the governor of Ling-ling, Yang Xuan, who fought against a peasant revolt near Guiyang in 178 AD:

There were other notable technological advancements during the Han period. This includes the hydraulic-powered trip hammer for agriculture and iron industry, the winnowing machine for agriculture, and the rotary and of Ding Huan .

Beginning of the Silk Road

From 138 BC, Emperor Wu also dispatched Zhang Qian twice as his envoy to the Western Regions, and in the process pioneered the route known as the Silk Road from Chang'an , through Xinjiang and Central Asia, and on to the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Following Zhang Qian's embassy and report, commercial relations between China and Central as well as Western Asia flourished, as many Chinese missions were sent throughout the 1st century BC, initiating the development of the Silk Road:

:"The largest of these embassies to foreign states numbered several hundred persons, while even the smaller parties included over 100 members... In the course of one year anywhere from five to six to over ten parties would be sent out." .

China also sent missions to Parthia, which were followed up by reciprocal missions from Parthian envoys around 100 BC:

:"When the Han envoy first visited the kingdom of , the king of Anxi dispatched a party of 20,000 horsemen to meet them on the eastern border of the kingdom... When the Han envoys set out again to return to China, the king of Anxi dispatched envoys of his own to accompany them... The emperor was delighted at this." .

By AD 97 the Chinese general Ban Chao had embarked on a military expedition as far west as the landmass encompassed by present-day Ukraine in pursuit of fleeing Xiongnu insurgents, and returned eastward to establish base on the shores of the Caspian Sea with 70,000 men and established direct military contacts with the Parthian Empire, also dispatching an envoy to Rome in the person of Gan Ying.

Several Roman embassies to China are recounted in Chinese history, starting with a ''Hou Hanshu'' account of a convoy set out by emperor Antoninus Pius that reached the Chinese capital Luoyang in 166 and was greeted by . Good exchanges such as Chinese silk, African ivory, and Roman incense increased the contacts between the East and West.

Contacts with the Kushan Empire led to the introduction of Buddhism to China from India in the first century.

Rise of landholding class

To secure funding for his triumphant campaigns against the Xiongnu, Emperor Wu relinquished land control to merchants and the rich, and in effect legalized the privatization of lands. Land taxes were based on the sizes of fields instead of on income. The harvest could not always pay the taxes completely as incomes from selling harvest were often market-driven and a stable amount could not be guaranteed, especially not after harvest-reducing natural disasters. Merchants and prominent families then lured peasants to sell their lands since land accumulation guaranteed living standards of theirs and their descendants' in the agricultural society of China. Lands were hence accumulating into a new class of landholding families. The Han government in turn imposed more taxes on the remaining independent servants in order to make up the tax losses, therefore encouraging more peasants to come under the landholding elite or the landlords. This could be seen through such examples as the written evidence in the ''Yan Tie Lun'' , written about 80 BC, where the Lord Grand Secretary is quoted in this passage in his support of nationalizing the salt and iron industries:

Ideally the peasants pay the landlords certain periodic amount of income, who in turn provide protection against crimes and other hazards. In fact an increasing number of peasant population in the prosperous Han society and limited amount of lands provided the elite to elevate their standards for any new subordinate peasants. The inadequate education and often complete illiteracy of peasants forced them into a living of providing physical services, which were mostly farming in an agricultural society. The peasants, without other professions for their better living, compromised to the lowered standard and sold their harvest to pay their landlords. In fact they often had to delay the payment or borrow money from their landlords in the aftermath of natural disasters that reduced harvests. To make the situation worse, some Han rulers double-taxed the peasants. Eventually the living conditions of the peasants worsened as they solely depended on the harvest of the land they once owned.

The landholding elite and landlords, for their part, provided inaccurate information of subordinate peasants and lands to avoid paying taxes; to this very end corruption and incompetence of the Confucian scholar gentry on economics would play a vital part. Han court officials who attempted to strip lands out of the landlords faced such enormous resistance that their policies would never be put in to place. In fact only a member of the landholding families, for instance Wang Mang, was able to put his reforming ideals into effect despite failures of his "turning the clock back" policies.

The Han government kept records on people's property to assess taxes. Yet government officials and secretaries weren't the only ones documenting property. In the Han period the prototype of contractual language and privately signed contracts appear for those wishing to keep their own private documents on their property for later use in court if necessary. However, creating signed contracts with documented witnesses and scribes was not in common use until the , while contractual language did not "permeate Chinese life" until the Yuan Dynasty , according to historians Valerie Hansen and Timothy Brook.

Interruption of Han rule

After 200 years, Han rule was interrupted briefly during AD 9?24 by Wang Mang, a reformer and a member of the landholding families. The economic situation deteriorated at the end of Western Han Dynasty. Wang Mang, believing the Liu family had lost the Mandate of Heaven, took power and turned the clock back with vigorous monetary and land reforms, which damaged the economy even further.

Restoration and new golden age

A distant relative of Liu royalty, , prevailed after a number of agrarian rebellions had overthrown Wang Mang's Xin Dynasty, and he reestablished the Han Dynasty in AD 25. He and his son Emperor Ming of Han and grandson Emperor Zhang of Han were generally considered able emperors whose reigns were the prime of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Military speaking, a new golden age also reappeared. In 97, Ban Chao and his troops went as far to reach the Caspian Sea, while this familly also provide notorious generals and historians.

Decrease of administrative fairness and fall of Eastern Han Dynasty

After Emperor Zhang, however, the dynasty fell into states of corruption and political power struggles among three groups of powerful individuals --

eunuchs, empresses' clans, and Confucian scholar-officials. None of these three parties was able to improve the harsh livelihood of peasants under the landholding families. Land privatizations and accumulations on the hands of the elite affected the societies of the Three Kingdoms and the Southern and Northern Dynasties that the landholding elite held the actual driving and ruling power of the country. Successful ruling entities worked with these families, and consequently their policies favored the elite. Adverse effects of the Nine grade controller system or the Nine rank system were brilliant examples.

Taiping Taoist ideals of equal rights and equal land distribution quickly spread throughout the peasantry. As a result, the peasant insurgents of the Yellow Turban Rebellion swarmed the North China Plain, the main agricultural sector of the country. Power of the Liu royalty then fell into the hands of local governors and warlords, despite suppression of the main upraising of Zhang Jiao and his brothers. Three overlords eventually succeeded in control of the whole of China proper, ushering in the period of the Three Kingdoms. The figurehead reigned until 220 when Cao Pi forced his abdication.

Gallery of art

Emperors of Han Dynasty

Xin Dynasty

The sole emperor of the Xin Dynasty, Wang Mang , was the nephew of . After the death of her step-grandson in 1 BC, Wang Mang rose to power. After several years of cultivating a personality cult, he finally proclaimed himself emperor in . However, while a creative scholar and politician, he was an incompetent ruler, and his capital Chang'an was laid seige by peasant rebels in . He died in the siege, and the Han Dynasty was restored by descendents of the former imperial clan.

Three Kingdoms

The three kingdoms were , , and . To help further distinguish these states from other historical Chinese states of the same name, historians add a relevant character: Wei is also known as Cáo Wèi , Shu is also known as Shǔ Hàn , and Wu is also known as Dōng Wú or Eastern Wu . The term ''Three Kingdoms'' itself is somewhat a mistranslation, since each state was eventually headed by an emperor who claimed legitimate succession from the Han Dynasty, not by kings. Nevertheless the term has become standard among sinologists.

The earlier, "unofficial" part of the period, from 190 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, Cao Wei, Shu Han, and Eastern Wu. The later part of this period was marked by the collapse of the tripartite situation: first the destruction of Shu by Wei , then the overthrow of Wei by the , and the destruction of Wu by Jin .

Although relatively short, this historical period has been greatly romanticised in the of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. It has been celebrated and popularised in operas, folk stories, novels and in more recent times, films, television serials, and video games. The best known of these is undoubtedly the ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'', a fictional account of the period which draws heavily on history. The authoritative historical record of the era is Chen Shou's ''Sanguo Zhi'', along with Pei Songzhi's later annotations of the text.

The Three Kingdoms period is one of the bloodiest in Chinese history. A population census in late Eastern Han Dynasty reported a population of approximately 50 million, while a population census in early Western Jin Dynasty reported a population of approximately 16 million.Even after taking into account possible inaccuracies of these census reports, a large percentage of the population was wiped out during the constant wars waged during this period.

Technology advances significantly during this period.

Zhuge Liang invented the wooden ox, suggested to be an early form of the wheelbarrow.

A brilliant mechanical engineer known as Ma Jun, in the Kingdom of Wei, is considered by many to be as brilliant as his predecessor Zhang Heng. He invented a hydraulic-powered, mechanical puppet theatre designed for Emperor Ming of Wei , square-pallet chain pumps for irrigation of gardens in Luoyang, and the ingenious design of the South Pointing Chariot, a non-magnetic directional compass operated by gears.

Collapse of dynastic power

What is traditionally thought of as the beginning of the "unofficial" Three Kingdoms Period is the Yellow Turban Rebellion led by Zhang Jiao in 184. The year long revolt devastated northern China, as Zhang's religious sect, the Way of Peace, battled the weakened Han Empire, whose army was led by He Jin. The Way of Peace was primarily composed of farmers who had suffered greatly under the corrupt government system and thus easily converted by Zhang Jiao to create a "new and peaceful world." The rebellion ended when Zhang Jiao died of illness, but the chaos the rebellion wrought, when combined with the natural disasters that had overrun China in the same period, destabilized the Han Dynasty and doomed it to fall. The rebellion also caused the central government to increase the allowance of military power of the local governments, which is one of the causes of the warring period that followed.

The series of events leading to the collapse of dynastic power and the rise of are extremely complex. The death of in May 189 led to an unstable regency under General-in-chief He Jin and renewed rivalry between the factions of the eunuchs and regular civil bureaucracy. Following the assassination of He Jin, his chief ally the Colonel-Lieutenant of Retainers Yuan Shao led a massacre of the eunuchs in the imperial palaces in Luoyang. This event prompted the invitation of frontier general Dong Zhuo to enter Luoyang from the northwest boundary of China. At the time China faced the powerful barbarians of Qiang tribe to 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 the future could take the throne in lieu of his elder half-brother. Dong Zhuo, while ambitious, genuinely wished for a more capable emperor. On his way to Luoyang, he encountered a small team of soldiers protecting the two sons of Emperor Ling fleeing the war zone. In the encounter, Dong Zhuo acted arrogantly and threatening, causing the elder half-brother to be paralyzed with fear; the younger brother, 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 Han Empire 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 openly carried weapons into the imperial court frequently. In 190 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 the Sun Jian forces drove the Han Emperor and later Dong Zhuo himself west to Chang'an 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 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 by Wang Yun and Lü Bu.

Rise of Cao Cao

In 191, there was some talk among the coalition of appointing , 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 occupied the northern area of and extended his power, by taking over his superior Han Fu with trickery and intimidation, north of the Yellow River against Gongsun Zan, who held the northern frontier. Cáo Cāo, directly to Yuan's south, was engaged in a struggle against Yuan Shu and Liu Biao, who occupied respectively the Huai River basin and Middle Yangzi regions. Further south the young warlord Sun Ce, taking over after the untimely death of Sun Jian, was establishing his rule in the Lower Yangzi, albeit as a subordinate of Yuan Shu. In the west, held Yizhou province while Hanzhong and the northwest were controlled by a motley collection of smaller warlords such as Ma Teng of Xiliang, the original post of Dong Zhuo.

Dong Zhuo, confident in his success, was slain by his own adopted son, Lu Bu and his father-in-law Wang Yun. Lu Bu, in turn, was attacked by Dong Zhuo's supporters, Li Jue, Guo Si, Zhang Ji and Fan Chou. Wang Yun and his whole family were executed. Lu fled to , a northern warlord, and remained with him for a time before briefly joining Yuan Shao, but it was clear that Lu 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 is an extremely important move for Cao Cao with the suggestion from his primary advisor, Xun Yu, 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 Kingdom of Wei, had raised an army in the winter of 189. In several strategic movements and battles, he controlled the Dui province and defeated several factions of the Yellow Turban rebels. This earned him the aid of other local militaries controlled by Zhang Miao and Chen Gong, who joined his cause to create his first sizable army. He continued the effort and absorbed approximately 300,000 into his army as well as a number of clan-based military groups particular to the eastern side of Qing province. In 196 he established an imperial court at Xuchang and developed military agricultural colonies to support his army. Although the system imposed a heavy tax for hired civilian farmers , 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 to success.

In 194, Cao Cao went to war with of Xuzhou, whose officers had executed his whole family. Tao Qian received the support of Liu Bei and Gongsun Zan, but even then, it seemed as if Cao Cao's superior forces would overrun Xuzhou entirely. However, Cao Cao received word that Lu Bu had seized Yan province in Cao Cao's absence, and thus, he retreated, putting a halt to hostilities with Tao Qian for the time being. Tao Qian died that same year, leaving his province to Liu Bei. A year later, in 195, Cao Cao managed to drive Lu Bu out of Yan. Lu Bu fled to Xuzhou 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 Yangzhou, including Liu Yao, Wang Lang, and Yan Baihu. The speed with which Sun Ce accomplished his conquests led to his nickname, "Little Conqueror" , a reference to the late Xiang Yu. 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 tactical 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 Lu Bu were members. Attacked on all sides, Yuan Shu was defeated and fled into hiding.

Afterwards, Lu Bu betrayed Liu Bei and seized Xuzhou, forming an alliance with Yuan Shu's remnant forces. Liu Bei fled to Cao Cao, who accepted him. Soon, preparations were made for an attack on Lu Bu, and the combined forces of Cao Cao and Liu Bei besieged Xia Pi. Lu Bu's officers deserted him, Yuan Shu's forces never arrived as reinforcements, and he was bound by his own officers Song Xian and Wei Xu and executed along with many of his officers. Thus, the man known as the mightiest warrior in the land was no more.

In 200, Dong Cheng, an officer of the Imperial Court, received a secret edict from the Emperor 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 co-conspirators executed, with only Liu Bei surviving and fleeing to the 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 Shaxian 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, as his heir.

Following months of planning, Cao Cao and Yuan Shao met in force at . Overcoming Yuan'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 Liu Biao of 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 in 204 and occupied the provinces of Ji, Bing, Qing and You. By the end of 207, after a lightning campaign against the Wuhuan barbarians, Cao Cao had achieved undisputed dominance of the North China Plain.

Red Cliffs and its aftermath

In 208, Cao Cao marched south with his army hoping to quickly unify the empire. Liu Biao's son Liu Cong surrendered the province of Jing and Cao was able to capture a sizeable fleet at Jiangling. Sun Quan, the successor to Sun Ce in the Lower Yangzi, continued to resist however. His advisor Lu Su secured an alliance with Liu Bei, himself a recent refugee from the north, and Sun Ce's sworn brother Zhou Yu was placed in command of Sun Quan's navy, along with a veteran officer of the Sun family, Cheng Pu. Their combined armies of 50,000 met Cao Cao's fleet and 200,000-strong force at 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 a decisive defeat on 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 Prince of Wei in 217, a title bestowed upon him by the puppet Han emperor that he controlled. Liu Bei, having defeated the weak Jing warlords Han Xuan, Jin Xuan, Zhao Fan, and Liu Du, entered Yi province and later in 214 displaced Liu Zhang as ruler, leaving his commander Guan Yu 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, now turned his attention to Jing province and the Middle Yangzi. Tensions between the allies were increasingly visible. In 219, after Liu Bei successfully seized Hanzhong from Cao Cao and as Guan Yu was engaged in the , Sun Quan's commander-in-chief Lu Meng secretly seized Jing province, and his forces captured and slew Guan Yu.

Three emperors

In the first month of 220, Cao Cao died and in the tenth month his son Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate, thus ending the Han Dynasty. He named his state and made himself emperor at Luoyang. In 221, Liu Bei named himself Emperor of Han, in a bid to restore the fallen Han dynasty. In the same year, Wei bestowed on Sun Quan the title of King of Wu. A year later, Shu Han troops declared war on Wu and met the Wu armies at the Battle of Yiling. At Yiling, Liu Bei was disastrously defeated by Sun Quan's commander 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 at 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 tribes of modern Yunnan and , known collectively as the .


The population could be derived from the official record of Chen Shou's ''Sanguo Zhi''. In terms of manpower, the Wei was by far the largest, retaining more than 660,000 households and 4,400,000 people within its borders. Shu had a population of 940,000, and Wu 2,300,000.The total population of Three Kingdoms is about one-tenth of late Eastern Han Dynasty.

Thus, Wei had more than 58% of the population and around 40% of territory. With these resources, it is estimated that it could raise an army of 440,000 whilst Shu and Wu could manage 100,000 and 230,000. The Wu-Shu alliance against the Wei proved itself to be a militarily stable configuration; the basic borders of the Three Kingdoms remained almost unchanged for more than forty years.

Trade and transport

In economic terms the division of the Three Kingdoms reflected a reality that long endured. Even in the Northern Song, seven hundred years after the Three Kingdoms, it was possible to think of China as being composed of three great regional markets. . These geographical divisions are underscored by the fact that the main communication routes between the three main regions were all man-made: the linking north and south, the hauling-way through the Three Gorges of the Yangzi linking southern China with Sichuan and the gallery roads 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 .


In 223 Liu Shan rose to the throne of Shu following his father's defeat and death. The defeat of Liu Bei at Yiling 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. For Sun Quan, 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" peoples . A collection of successes against the rebellious tribesmen culminated in the victory of 234. In that year Zhuge Ke 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 army. Meanwhile Shu was also experiencing troubles with the indigenous tribes of their south. The Southwestern Nanman peoples rose in revolt against Han authority, captured and looted the city of Yizhou. 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, at the end of which Meng submitted. A tribesman was allowed to reside at the Shu capital Chengdu 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'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, and opened up the battle for the northwest with Wei. The next year, he ordered the general Zhao Yun to attack from Ji Gorge as a diversion while Zhuge himself led the main force to Qishan. The vanguard Ma Su, however, suffered a tactical defeat at 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 south of the Wei River. Due to the death of Zhuge Liang , however, the Shu army was forced once again to withdraw, but were pursued by Wei. The Shu forces began to withdraw, though Sima Yi sensed Zhuge's passing and ordered an attack. Shu struck back almost immediately, causing Sima Yi to believe it was a trick, thus allowing Shu to withdraw successfully.

Wu and development of the south

In the times of Zhuge Liang's great northern offensives, the state of Wu had always been on the defensive against invasions from the north. The area around Hefei was under constant pressure from Wei after the Battle of Red Cliffs and the scene of many bitter battles. Warfare had grown so intense that many of the residents chose to migrate and resettle south of the Yangzi. After Zhuge Liang's death, attacks on the Huainan 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'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 Yangzi and in Kuaiji commandery. 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 and metal industries. Ocean transport was improved to such an extent that sea journeys were made to Manchuria and the island of Taiwan. In the south, Wu merchants reached Linyi and Fu'nan . As the economy prospered, so too did the arts and culture. In the Yangzi delta, the first Buddhist influences reached the south from Luoyang.

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, factionalism was evident between Cao Shuang and the Grand Commander Sima Yi. In deliberations, Cao Shuang placed his own supporters in important posts and excluded Sima, whom he regarded as a threat. The power of the Sima clan, one of the great landowning families of the Han, was bolstered by Sima Yi's military victories. Additionally, Sima Yi was an extremely capable strategist and politician. In 238 he crushed the rebellion of Gongsun Yuan 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, Sima undertook a putsch in Luoyang, forcing Cao Shuang's faction from authority. Many protested to the overwhelming power of the Sima family; notable of which were the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. One of the sages, Xi Kang, 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's death, his position as fell to Jiang Wan, Fei Yi and Dong Yun, in that order. But after 258, Shu politics became increasingly controlled by the eunuch faction and corruption rose. Despite the energetic efforts of Jiang Wei, Zhuge'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 Jian'ge but he was outflanked by the Wei commander Deng Ai, who force-marched his army from Yinping through territory formerly considered impassable. By the winter of the year, the capital Chengdu fell due to the strategic invasion of Wei by Deng Ai who invaded Chengdu personally. The emperor Liu Shan thus surrendered. The state of Shu had come to an end after forty-three years.

Fall of Wei

Cao Huan succeeded to the throne in 260 after Cao Mao was killed by Sima Zhao. Soon after, Sima Zhao died and his title as Lord of Jin was inherited by his son Sima Yan. 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 . This situation was similar to the deposal of of the Han Dynasty by Cao Pi, the founder of the Wei Dynasty.

Fall of Wu

Following Sun Quan's death and the ascension of the young Sun Liang as emperor in 252, the kingdom of Wu went into a period of steady decline. Successful Wei oppression of rebellions in the Huainan region by Sima Zhao and Sima Shi reduced any opportunity of Wu influence. The fall of Shu signaled a change in Wei politics. After Liu Shan surrendered to Wei, Sima Yan , overthrew the Wei emperor and proclaimed his own dynasty of Jin in 264, ending forty-six years of Cao dominion in the north. After Jin's rise, Emperor Sun Xiu of Wu died, and his ministers left the throne to Sun Hao. 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, Jin commander in the south, started preparing for the invasion of Wu by ordering the construction of a fleet and training of marines in Sichuan under Wang Jun. Four years later, Lu Kang, 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 Yangzi River from Jianye 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. Emperor Sun Hao surrendered and was given a fiefdom to live out his days on. This marked the end of the Three Kingdoms era, and the beginning of a break in the upcoming 300 years of chaos.

The Three Kingdoms in popular culture

Numerous people and affairs have become Chinese legends afterwards, and the most completed and influential version is the historical fiction ''Romance of the Three Kingdoms'', written by Luo Guanzhong in Ming dynasty. Today, the fictions about Three Kingdoms are still playing a significant part in Chinese popular culture, even in Japan. Books, TV serials, movies, cartoons, games and musics on this topic are being continuely produced. Only in 2008, two popular films depicting the tales are made: ''Red Cliff '' by John Woo, and Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon by .