Emperor Wu of Jin

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Sima Yan
Jin Wu Di.jpg
Emperor of the Jin Dynasty
Reign8 February 266 – 16 May 290
Successor Emperor Hui
King of Jin (晉王)
Tenure7 September [1] 265 - 8 February 266
Predecessor Sima Zhao
Regent of Cao Wei
Tenure7 September 265 - 8 February 266
Predecessor Sima Zhao
DiedMay 16, 290(290-05-16) (aged 53–54) [2]
Consorts Empress Wuyuan
Empress Wudao
Empress Dowager Wuhuai
Issue Emperor Hui
Sima Jian
Sima Wei
Sima Yun
Sima Yan
Sima Xia
Sima Yi
Sima Ying
Sima Yan
Emperor Huai
Princess Changshan
Princess Pingyang
Princess Xinfeng
Princess Yangping
Princess Wu'an
Princess Fanchang
Princess Xiangcheng
Princess Xingyang
Princess Xingyang
Princess Yingchuan
Princess Guangping
Princess Lingshou
Full name
Family name: Sima (Chinese :司馬; pinyin :sī mǎ)
Given name: Yan (Chinese :; pinyin :yán)
Posthumous name
Wu (Chinese :; pinyin :),
literary meaning: "martial"
Temple name
Shizu (Chinese :世祖; pinyin :shì zǔ)
Father Sima Zhao
Mother Empress Wenming

Emperor Wu of Jin (simplified Chinese :晋武帝; traditional Chinese :晉武帝; pinyin :Jìn Wǔ Dì; Wade–Giles :Chin Wu-ti; 236 – 16 May 290), personal name Sima Yan (Chinese :司馬炎; pinyin :Sīmǎ Yán), courtesy name Anshi (安世), was the grandson of Sima Yi and son of Sima Zhao. He became the first emperor of the Jin dynasty after forcing Cao Huan, last ruler of the state of Cao Wei, to abdicate to him. He reigned from 266 to 290, and after conquering the state of Eastern Wu in 280, was the emperor of a unified China. Emperor Wu was known for his extravagance and sensuality, especially after the unification of China; legends boasted of his incredible potency among ten thousand concubines.

Simplified Chinese characters standardized Chinese characters developed in mainland China

Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters prescribed in the Table of General Standard Chinese Characters for use in mainland China. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one of the two standard character sets of the contemporary Chinese written language. The government of the People's Republic of China in mainland China has promoted them for use in printing since the 1950s and 1960s to encourage literacy. They are officially used in the People's Republic of China and Singapore.

Traditional Chinese characters Traditional Chinese characters

Traditional Chinese characters are Chinese characters in any character set that does not contain newly created characters or character substitutions performed after 1946. They are most commonly the characters in the standardized character sets of Taiwan, of Hong Kong and Macau, and in the Kangxi Dictionary. The modern shapes of traditional Chinese characters first appeared with the emergence of the clerical script during the Han Dynasty, and have been more or less stable since the 5th century.

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.


Emperor Wu was commonly viewed as a generous and kind, but also wasteful, ruler. His generosity and kindness undermined his rule, as he became overly tolerant of the noble families' corruption and wastefulness, which drained the people's resources. Further, when Emperor Wu established the Jin Dynasty, he was concerned about his regime's stability, and, believing that the predecessor state, Cao Wei, had been doomed by its failures to empower the princes of the imperial clan, he greatly empowered his uncles, his cousins, and his sons with authority, including independent military authority. This ironically led to the destabilization of the Jin Dynasty, as the princes engaged in an internecine struggle known as the War of the Eight Princes soon after his death, and then the Wu Hu uprisings that nearly destroyed the Jin Dynasty and forced its relocation to the region south of the Huai River.

The War of the Eight Princes, Rebellion of the Eight Kings, or Rebellion of the Eight Princes was a series of civil wars among kings/princes of the Chinese Jin dynasty from AD 291 to 306. The key point of contention in these conflicts was the regency over the developmentally disabled Emperor Hui of Jin. The term stems from the biographies of the eight princes collected in Chapter 59 of the Book of Jin (Jinshu).

The Five Barbarians, or Wu Hu, is a Chinese historical exonym for ancient non-Chinese peoples who immigrated to northern China in the Eastern Han dynasty, and then overthrew the Western Jin dynasty and established their own kingdoms in the 4th–5th centuries. The peoples categorized as the Five Barbarians were the Xiongnu, Jie, Xianbei, Di, and Qiang. Of these five tribal ethnic groups, the Xiongnu and Xianbei were nomadic peoples from the northern steppes. The ethnic identity of the Xiongnu is uncertain, but the Xianbei appear to have been Mongolic. The Jie, another pastoral people, may have been a branch of the Xiongnu, who may have been Yeniseian. The Di and Qiang were from the highlands of western China. The Qiang were predominantly herdsmen and spoke Sino-Tibetan (Tibeto-Burman) languages, while the Di were farmers who may have spoken a Sino-Tibetan or Turkic language.

Huai River major river in China

The Huai River, formerly romanized as the Hwai, is a major river in China. It is located about midway between the Yellow River and Yangtze, the two largest rivers in China, and like them runs from west to east. Historically draining directly into the Yellow Sea, floods have changed the course of the river such that it is now a major tributary of the Yangtze. The Huai is notoriously vulnerable to flooding.

Life before establishment of the Jin Dynasty

Sima Yan was born to Sima Zhao and his wife Wang Yuanji, daughter of the Confucian scholar Wang Su, in 236, as their oldest son. At that time, Sima Zhao was a mid-level official in the government of Cao Wei and a member of a privileged clan, as the son of the general Sima Yi. After Sima Yi seized power from the regent Cao Shuang in 249 in the Incident at Gaoping Tombs, Sima Zhao became more influential in the state. After his father's death in 251, Sima Zhao became the assistant to his brother, the new regent Sima Shi. After Sima Shi died in 255, Sima Zhao became regent and the paramount authority in the Wei government.

Sima Zhao Cao Wei regent

Sima Zhao, courtesy name Zishang, was a military general, politician, and regent of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of China.

Wang Yuanji (217–268) was the wife of Sima Zhao, a regent of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of China. She became the empress dowager during the reign of her son Sima Yan, who ended the Wei regime and founded the Jin dynasty. She was posthumously honoured as "Empress Wenming" after her death.

Wang Su (195–256), courtesy name Ziyong, was an official and Confucian scholar of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of China. He was a son of Wang Lang. When Guanqiu Jian started a rebellion in Shouchun, Wang Su advised Sima Shi to lower the rebels' morale by treating their families with respect. Following that, Wang Su entreated Cao Mao to allow Sima Zhao to succeed Sima Shi as regent of Wei.

Sima Yan's first important appearance in history was in 260, when forces loyal to his father, led by Jia Chong, defeated an attempt by the Wei emperor Cao Mao to take back power and killed Cao Mao. At that time, as a mid-level army general, he was commissioned by his father to escort the new emperor Cao Huan from his dukedom to the capital Luoyang. After his father was created the Duke of Jin on 9 December 263 in light of the army's conquest of Shu Han, he was named heir. However, at times Sima Zhao hesitated as to whether Sima Yan or his brother Sima You would be the more appropriate heir—as Sima You was considered talented and had also been adopted by Sima Shi, who had no biological sons of his own, and Sima Zhao, remembering his brother's role in the Simas' takeover of power, thought it might be appropriate to return power to his branch of the clan. However, a number of high level officials favored Sima Yan, and Sima Zhao agreed. After he was created the King of Jin on 2 May 264 (thus reaching the penultimate step towards usurpation), Sima Yan was created the Crown Prince of Jin. [3]

Jia Chong (217–282), courtesy name Gonglü, was an official who lived during the late Three Kingdoms period and early Jin dynasty of China. He started his career as an advisor to Sima Shi and Sima Zhao, the regents of the state of Cao Wei in the Three Kingdoms era, and subsequently served as an official in the court of Sima Zhao's son, Sima Yan, after the establishment of the Jin dynasty.

Cao Mao, courtesy name Yanshi, was the fourth emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of China. He was a grandson of Cao Pi, the first emperor of Wei. Described as intelligent and studious, Cao Mao made repeated attempts to seize back state power from the regent Sima Zhao but failed. He was killed in an abortive coup d'état against Sima Zhao.

Cao Huan (246–302), courtesy name Jingming, was the fifth and last emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. On 4 February 266, he abdicated the throne in favour of Sima Yan, and brought an end to the Wei regime. After his abdication, Cao Huan was granted the title "Prince of Chenliu" and held it until his death, after which he was posthumously honoured as "Emperor Yuan ".

On 6 September 265, Sima Zhao died without having formally taken imperial authority. Sima Yan became the King of Jin by the next day. On 4 February 266, he forced Cao Huan to abdicate, ending the state of Cao Wei. Four days later, on 8 February 266, he declared himself emperor of the Jin dynasty.

As Emperor of Jin

Early reign: establishment of the Jin political system

Emperor Wu immediately sought to avoid what he saw as Cao Wei's fatal weakness—lack of power among the imperial princes. In 265, immediately after taking the throne, he made princes of many of his uncles, cousins, brothers, and sons, each with independent military commands and full authority within their principalities. This system, while it would be scaled back after the War of the Eight Princes and the loss of northern China, would remain in place as a Jin institution for the duration of the dynasty's existence, and would be adopted by the succeeding Southern dynasties as well.

Another problem that Emperor Wu saw with Cao Wei's political system was its harshness in penal law, and he sought to reform the penal system to make it more merciful—but the key beneficiaries of his changes turned out to be the nobles, as it quickly became clear that the mercy was being dealt out in an unequal manner. Nobles who committed crimes often received simple rebukes, while there were no meaningful reductions in penalties for commoners. This led to massive corruption and extravagant living by the nobles, while the poor went without government assistance. For example, in 267, when several high level officials were found to have worked in conjunction with a county magistrate to seize public land for themselves, Emperor Wu refused to punish the high level officials while punishing the county magistrate harshly.

Emperor Wu faced two major military issues almost immediately—incessant harassment from the rival Eastern Wu's forces, under emperor Sun Hao, and Xianbei and Qiang rebellions in Qin (秦) and Liang (涼) provinces (modern Gansu). Most officials were more concerned about the Xianbei and Qiang rebellions and also with another non-Han people—the Xiongnu, who had settled down in modern Shanxi after the dissolution of their state by Cao Cao in 216 under the watchful eyes of Chinese officials, and were feared for their military abilities. These officials advised Emperor Wu to try to suppress the Xianbei and the Qiang before considering conquests of Eastern Wu. Under the encouragement of the generals Yang Hu and Wang Jun and the strategist Zhang Hua, however, Emperor Wu, while sending a number of generals to combat the Xianbei and the Qiang, prepared the southern and eastern border regions for war against Eastern Wu throughout this part of his reign. He was particularly encouraged by reports of Sun Hao's cruelty and ineptitude in governing Eastern Wu; indeed, the officials in favor of war against Eastern Wu often cited this as reason to act quickly, as they argued that Eastern Wu would be harder to conquer if and when Sun Hao was replaced. However, after a major revolt by the Xianbei chief Tufa Shujineng (禿髮樹機能) started in 270 in Qin Province, Emperor Wu's attention became concentrated on Tufa, as Tufa was able to win victory after victory over Jin generals. In 271, the Xiongnu noble Liu Meng (劉猛) rebelled as well, and while his rebellion did not last long, this took Emperor Wu's attention away from Eastern Wu. In 271, Jiao Province (交州, modern northern Vietnam), which had paid allegiance to Jin ever since the start of his reign, was recaptured by Eastern Wu. In 272, the Eastern Wu general Bu Chan, in fear that Sun Hao was going to punish him on the basis of false reports against him, tried to surrender the important city of Xiling (西陵, in modern Yichang, Hubei) to Jin, but Jin relief forces were stopped by the Eastern Wu general Lu Kang, who then recaptured Xiling and killed Bu. In light of these failures, Yang took another tack—he started a détente with Lu and treated the Eastern Wu border residents well, causing them to view Jin favorably.

Eastern Wu former country

Wu (222–280), commonly known as Dong Wu or Sun Wu, was one of the three major states that competed for supremacy over China in the Three Kingdoms period (220–280). It previously existed from 220–222 as a vassal kingdom nominally under Cao Wei, its rival state, but declared independence from Wei and became a sovereign state in 222. It became an empire in 229 after its founding ruler, Sun Quan, declared himself emperor. Its name was derived from the place it was based in — the Jiangnan region, which was also historically known as "Wu". It was referred to as "Dong Wu" or "Sun Wu" by historians to distinguish it from other Chinese historical states with similar names which were also located in that region, such as the Wu state in the Spring and Autumn period and the Wuyue kingdom in the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. It was called "Eastern Wu" because it occupied most of eastern China in the Three Kingdoms period, and "Sun Wu" because the family name of its rulers was "Sun". During its existence, Wu's capital was at Jianye, but at times it was also at Wuchang.

Sun Hao Eastern Wu emperor

Sun Hao, courtesy name Yuanzong, originally named Sun Pengzu with the courtesy name Haozong, was the fourth and last emperor of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China. He was the son of Sun He, a one-time heir apparent of the founding emperor Sun Quan. He ascended the throne in 264 after the death of his uncle, Sun Xiu, in light of the desire of the people to have an older emperor, considering the recent destruction of Wu's ally state Shu Han. However, he turned out to be a most unfortunate choice, as his cruelty, extravagance and inability to handle domestic matters doomed Wu, which was eventually conquered by the Jin dynasty in 280, ending the Three Kingdoms period.

Xianbei ancient people in Manchuria and Mongolia

The Xianbei were an originally nomadic tribal confederation residing in what is today's eastern Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, and Northeast China. Along with the Xiongnu, they were one of the major nomadic groups in northern China from the Han Dynasty to the Northern and Southern dynasties. They eventually established their own northern dynasties such as the Northern Wei founded in the 4th century AD by the Tuoba clan. During the Uprising of the Five Barbarians they became categorized as one of the Five Barbarians by the Han Chinese.

When Emperor Wu ascended the throne in 265, he honored his mother Wang Yuanji as empress dowager. In 266, he also honored his aunt Yang Huiyu (Sima Shi's wife) an empress dowager, in recognition of his uncle's contributions to the establishment of the Jìn Dynasty. He made his wife Yang Yan empress the same year. In 267, he made her oldest living son, Sima Zhong crown prince—based on the Confucian principle that the oldest son by an emperor's wife should inherit the throne—a selection that would, however, eventually contribute greatly to political instability and the Jin Dynasty's decline, as Crown Prince Zhong appeared to be developmentally disabled and unable to learn the important skills necessary to govern. Emperor Wu further made perhaps a particularly fateful choice on Crown Prince Zhong's behalf—in 272, he selected Jia Nanfeng, the strong-willed daughter of the noble Jia Chong, to be Crown Prince Zhong's princess. Crown Princess Jia would, from that point on, have the crown prince under her own tight control. Before Empress Yang died in 274, she was concerned that whoever the new empress would be, she would have ambitions to replace the crown prince, and therefore Empress Yang asked Emperor Wu to marry her cousin Yang Zhi. He agreed.

In 273, Emperor Wu would undertake a selection of beautiful women from throughout the empire—a warning sign of what would eventually come. He looked most attentively at the daughters of high officials, but he also ordered that no marriages take place across the empire until the selection process was done.

Middle reign: unification of the Chinese empire

In 276, Emperor Wu suffered a major illness—which led to a succession crisis. Crown Prince Zhong would be the legitimate heir, but both the officials and the people hoped that Emperor Wu's capable brother, Sima You, the Prince of Qi, would inherit the throne instead. After Emperor Wu became well, he divested some military commands from officials that he thought favored Prince You, but otherwise took no other punitive actions against anyone.

Later that year, Yang Hu reminded Emperor Wu of his plan to conquer Eastern Wu. Most of the officials, still concerned with Tufa's rebellion, were opposed, but Yang was supported by Du Yu and Zhang. Emperor Wu considered their counsel seriously but did not implement it at this time.

Also in 276, pursuant to his promise to the deceased Empress Yang, Emperor Wu married his cousin Yang Zhi and made her empress. The new Empress Yang's father, Yang Jun, became a key official in the administration and became exceedingly arrogant.

In 279, with the general Ma Long (馬隆) having finally put down Tufa's rebellion, Emperor Wu concentrated his efforts on Eastern Wu, and commissioned a six-pronged attack led by his uncle Sima Zhou, Wang Hun (王渾), Wang Rong, Hu Fen (胡奮), Du Yu, and Wang Jun, with the largest forces under Wang Hun and Wang Jun. Each of the Jin forces advanced quickly and captured the border cities that they were targeting, with Wang Jun's fleet heading east down the Yangtze and clearing the river of Eastern Wu fleets. The Eastern Wu chancellor Zhang Ti (張悌) made a last-ditch attempt to defeat Wang Hun's force, but was defeated and killed. Wang Hun, Wang Jun, and Sima Zhou each headed for Jianye, and Sun Hao was forced to surrender in spring 280. Emperor Wǔ made Sun Hao the Marquess of Guiming. The integration of former Eastern Wu territory into Jin appeared to have been a relatively smooth process.

After the fall of Eastern Wu, Emperor Wu ordered that provincial governors no longer be in charge of military matters and become purely civilian governors, and that regional militias be disbanded, despite opposition by the general Tao Huang (陶璜) and the key official Shan Tao. This would also eventually prove to create problems later on during the Wu Hu rebellions, as the regional governors were not able to raise troops to resist quickly enough. He also rejected advice to have the non-Han gradually moved outside of the empire proper.

Late reign: setting the stage for disasters

In 281, Emperor Wu took 5,000 women from Sun Hao's palace into his own, and thereafter became even more concentrated on feasting and enjoying the women, rather than on important matters of state. It was said that there were so many beautiful women in the palace that he did not know whom he should have sexual relations with; he therefore rode on a small cart drawn by goats, and wherever the goats would stop, he would stop there, as well. Because of this, many of the women planted bamboo leaves and salt outside their bedrooms—both items said to be favored by goats. Empress Yang's father Yang Jun and uncles Yang Yao (楊珧) and Yang Ji (楊濟) became effectively in power.

Emperor Wu also became more concerned about whether his brother Prince You would seize the throne if he died. In 282, he sent Prince You to his principality, even though there was no evidence that Prince You had such ambitions. Princess Jingzhao and Princess Changshan kow-towed and begged Emperor Wu to rescind his order, but he merely grew angry and demoted Princess Changshan's husband in retaliation. [4] Prince You, in anger, grew ill and died in 283.

Following previous Roman embassies in 166 and 226, the Book of Jin and Wenxian Tongkao record another embassy from "Da Qin" appearing in China during the reign of Emperor Wu. These histories assert that it arrived in 284 and presented tributary gifts to the emperor. [5] [6]

As Emperor Wu grew ill in 289, he considered whom to make regent. He considered both Yang Jun and his uncle Sima Liang the Prince of Ru'nan, the most respected of the imperial princes. As a result, Yang Jun became fearful of Sima Liang and had him posted to the key city of Xuchang. Several other imperial princes were also posted to other key cities in the empire. By 290, Emperor Wu resolved to let Yang and Sima Liang both be regents, but after he wrote his will, the will was seized by Yang Jun, who instead had another will promulgated in which Yang alone was named regent. Emperor Wu died soon thereafter, leaving the empire in the hands of a developmentally disabled son and nobles intent on shedding each other's blood for power, and while he would not see the disastrous consequences himself, the consequences would soon come.

Era names


See also

Related Research Articles

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Emperor Xiaowu of Jin, personal name Sima Yao (司馬曜), courtesy name Changming (昌明), was an emperor of the Eastern Jin Dynasty (265–420) in China. During his reign, Jin saw his dynasty survive a major attempt by Former Qin to destroy it, but he would nevertheless be the last Jin emperor to actually exercise imperial power, as his sons Emperor An and Emperor Gong would be controlled by regents and warlords. Emperor Xiaowu died an unusual death—he was killed by his concubine Honoured Lady Zhang after he insulted her.

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Sima Zhou (227–283), courtesy name Zijiang, was an imperial prince and military general of the Jin dynasty of China. He previously served in the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period.

Emperor Xuan of Chen Chen Dynasty Emperor

Emperor Xuan of Chen (陳宣帝) (530–582), personal name Chen Xu (陳頊), courtesy name Shaoshi (紹世), nickname Shili (師利), was an emperor of the Chen dynasty of China. He seized the throne from his nephew Emperor Fei in 569 and subsequently ruled the state for 13 years. He was considered to be a capable and diligent ruler, who at one point militarily expanded at the expense of Northern Qi. After Northern Qi fell to Northern Zhou in 577, however, Chen was cornered, and soon lost the gains it had previously made against Northern Qi. Emperor Xuan died in 582, leaving the state in the hands of his incompetent son Chen Shubao, and by 589, Chen would be destroyed by Northern Zhou's successor state Sui dynasty.

Sima Yi (179–251) was a general, politician and regent of the state of Cao Wei (220–266) in the Three Kingdoms period (220–280) in China. Two of his sons, Sima Shi (208–255) and Sima Zhao (211–265), rose to power in the 250s and consecutively served as regents throughout the reigns of the last three Wei emperors. After Sima Zhao died in September 265, his son Sima Yan (236–290) forced the last Wei ruler, Cao Huan (246–303), to abdicate the throne in his favour in February 266, ending the Wei regime and establishing the Jin dynasty (265–420). This article contains the family trees of Sima Yi, his brothers, and their descendants up to Sima Yan's generation. For more details on the family trees of the Jin emperors, see Chinese emperors family tree (early)#Jin Dynasty and Chu.


  1. SGZ has: “On the day renchen (September 7), the Crown Prince of Jin, Sima Yan, succeeded to his enfeoffment and inherited his rank; he assumed the Presidency of the myriad officials and had gifts and documents of appointments conferred upon him, all in conformity with ancient institutions.” Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.
  2. Fang Xuanling et al. Book of Jin, Volume 3, Biography of Emperor Wu

  3. Jin shu, Chronicle of Wudi states: “In the second year of Xianxi, in the fifth month, Sima Yan was appointed Crown Prince of Jin. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.
  4. Fang Xuanling, ed. (648). "列传第十二" [Biography 12]. 晉書 [Book of Jin] (in Chinese). Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  5. Warwick Ball (2016), Rome in the East: Transformation of an Empire, 2nd edition, London & New York: Routledge, ISBN   978-0-415-72078-6, p. 152.
  6. Friedrich Hirth (2000) [1885]. Jerome S. Arkenberg (ed.). "East Asian History Sourcebook: Chinese Accounts of Rome, Byzantium and the Middle East, c. 91 B.C.E. - 1643 C.E." Fordham.edu. Fordham University . Retrieved 20 September 2016.
Emperor Wu of Jin
Born: 236 Died: 16 May 290
Regnal titles
Preceded by
as Titular Emperor of China
Emperor of China
Western Jin
1 May 280 - 16 May 290
Succeeded by
Emperor Hui of Jin
Preceded by
Sun Hao
Chinese royalty
Preceded by
Cao Huan
Emperor of China
8 February 266 - 1 May 280
Succeeded by
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Sima Zhao
King of Jin
7 September 265 - 8 February 266
Merged in the Crown