THE STORY OF THE THREE KINGDOMS
–by Madeleine Lynn
If one wishes to understand China, one must have some familiarity with the history of the Three Kingdom and with the lore that surrounds it. Above all this is true on the middle and upper Yangtze where it seems every bend in the river leads to another site associated with [his epoch and to the stoics that have grown around it like the layers of a pearl around its grain of historical fact. If the events seem complicated and the stage crowded with unfamil1ar actors that too is part of China’s reality. One might as well seek to know the Greeks without the Trojan War or the English without Shakespeare.
Lyman P Van Slyke, Yangtze Nature, History and the River, 1988.
By AD 150 the Han dynasty (206 BCMD 220) was already rotting from within,the result of a Yangtze Cruiseseries of weak emperors. The uprising of peasant rebels known as the Yellow Turbans (AD 184) gave three strong warlords (Cao Cao, Liu Bei and Sun Quan) the opportunity to amass their own independent armies. They gradually set up rival territories within the Empire and fought it out for the control of China. The history of their struggle formed the basis for the l4th-century popular novel The Romance 0j the Three Kingdoms, a compilation of fact and fiction taken from the repertoires of l2 centuries of storytellers. It is a rambling saga of heroism and treachery, of larger-than–life heroes and villains against the backdrop of the dying dynasty. Tales from this eat ate also the subject of many Chinese operas.
The three kingdoms were:
The Kingdom of Wei : North China, comprising the Yellow River basin; the base of the Qin and Han dynasties. lts ruler was Cao Cao, Duke of Wei, characterized in the novel as the archetypal Chinese villain, a bri1liant but ruthless general. ‘Speak of Cao Cao and he is there’ is the Chinese equivalent of Talk of the devil’.
The Kingdom of Shu: the area that is now called Sichuan. lt was established bYangtze Rivery Liu Bei, pretender to the throne by virtue of being a distant relation of the Han emperor. Although a rather weak and insignificant peTsona1ity himself, his royal blood attracted gifted followers, the most famous of whom are Zhuge Liang and Liu’s two sworn blood–brothers Zhang Fei and Guan Yu).
Zhuge Liang was Liu’s premier strategist and has been held up as an example of military genius ever since. There are numerous stories of how he defeated Cao Cao’s larger armies by guile and bravado rather than strength. For instance, there was the time he was staying in an unprotected city when Cao Cao’s army arrived unexpected1y. As the troops approached, they saw that the city gate was wide open and that Zhuge Liang, accompanied only by one young servant boy, was perched on top of the city wall calmly playing the harp. Convinced that they were about to walk into an ambush, the enemy withdrew.
Guan Yu was so revered for his loyalty that he was gradually turned into a god. Given the honorary title Guan Gong, and also known as Guan Di, God of War, Justice and Righteousness, until recently neatly every large town in China had a temple dedicated to him. His statue can be recognized by its distinctive red face, signifying bravery and goodness.
The Kingdom of Wu :The rich and fertile lower Yangtze region, as far as the sea. This was controlled by the treacherous Sun Quan, whose family was the most influential in the region.
Between Shu and Wu was the middle Yangtze basin, a no–man’s land of marshes and lakes. From here one could threaten either Shu or Wu and it was here that some of the most crucial battles took place. On the run from Cao Cao’s army, Liu Bei took refuge in this area and Zhuge Liang persuaded Sun Quan, the ruler of Wu, to ally with them against the powerful Cao Cao. Although their combiYangtze Riverned forces were still far less than Cao Cao’s, together they routed him in the critical battle of Red Cliff (see page 89), at a site upriver from modern Wuhan.
Now it was Cao Cao’s turn to flee for his life. Although Guan Yu actually cornered him and could have killed him he let him go, as Cao Cao had done the same for him in an earlier encounter.
But the alliance between Liu Bei and Sun Quan did not last long. Sun Quan tried to persuade Guan Yu to betray Liu Bei and join him. When Guan Yu refused, Sun had him beheaded and sent his head to Cao Cao, hoping for an alliance with him. The grief stricken Liu Bei ignored Zhuge Liang’s advice and launched a disastrous campaign against Sun. Before the fight even began, his other sworn brother Zhang Fei was murdered by two fellow officers who planned to surrender to Sun. Liu was ignominiously defeated and Retreated to Baidi Cheng, where he died a few years later.
Cao Cao also died without achieving his ambitions. Although his son succeeded in conquering the other two Kingdoms, it was a short-lived triumph, as he was toppled in a coup d’etat. So none of the three realized their dream of ruling over the whole of China.
A Summery of The Three Kingdoms
The story begins in 169 and ends in 280,telling the battles and complicated connections among the Three Kingdoms–Wei,Shu and Wu.Ts’ao Ts’ao stands for the north power.He holds the Han’s emperor under duress and founds the Wei Kingdom.In the south,Liu Pei, who once seld fans and shoes,founds the Shu Kingdom because of his Imperial Uncle title and reputation;while Sun Ch’uan,head of Wu Kingdom seating in the southeast.There are also many politicians and knights helping the three persons.In order to consolidate China,Ts’ao Ts’ao makes several battles.On the other hand,the other two men want to enlarge their force and power to be king of the unified China.Through many battles,such as the Battle of Red Cliff,lastly the Xi Jin Kindom defeats the Three Kingdoms and completes this period.
Just as the name implies, the Three Kingdoms were made up of three kingdoms – the Kingdom of Wei, Kingdom of Shu and Kingdom of Wu. As a single dynasty, the Three Kingdoms Period originated in 220 AD when the Kingdom of Wei replaced the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 AD-220 AD) and ended in 280 AD when the Kingdom of Wu was defeated by the Court of Jin. It is considered to be a special historical period full of power struggles and sophisticated military strategies.
In 189 when Emperor Ling of the Eastern Han dynasty died, a young emperor – Emperor Shao was put on the throne. Resenting the manipulation of eunuchs, two generals Yuan Shao and He Jin plotted to murder them. During the chaos caused by the fighting between the eunuchs and generals, Dong Zhuo, a treacherous court official of the Eastern Han drove his army into Luoyang. With full political power in his hand, Dong Zhuo dethroned Emperor Shao and put Emperor Xian on the throne. All Dong’s deeds aroused strong protest from the courtiers and many local officials. As the political situation became acute, a large-scale civil war finally broke out.
Liu Bei, the first
emperor of Shu Kingdom
After Dong Zhuo invaded Luoyang, Cao Cao fled to Chenliu (currently southeast of Kaifeng in Henan Province) and began to assemble military forces to revolt. In 193, Dong was killed in a mutiny but the melee remained. This period of unrest continued until 196, Balkanized areas were formed among which the most two powerful ones were those of Yuan Shao and Cao Cao.
In 196, Cao Cao held Emperor Xian under duress and took this advantage to strengthen his military power. In 201, with comparatively weaker strength, Cao Cao defeated Yuan Shao in the Battle of Guandu after which he gradually unified the northern area of China. In 209, Cao Cao drove his troops to the southern area and captured Jingzhou. But when he wanted to expand his power further to the south, he was defeated by the allied forces of Liu Bei and Sun Quan in the Battle of Red Cliff and thus he withdrew his army back to the central plains of China.
In 220 when Cao Cao died, his eldest son Cao Pi proclaimed himself emperor, with Wei as his National Title and Luoyang as his capital city. In 221, Liu Bei proclaimed himself emperor, with Shu his national title and Chengdu the capital city. And in 229, Sun Quan proclaimed himself emperor in Wuchang (currently Wuhan), and later moved the capital to Jiankang (currently Nanjing), with the national title Wu. Since then, the so-called Three Kingdoms’ Tripartite Confrontation was formed. On the whole, Wei occupied the north, Shu occupied the southwest and Wu occupied the southeast.
Upon the founding of the three kingdoms, rulers of each kingdom all committed to improve the way of ruling and develop their national economy. In the Kingdom of Wei, Cao Cao made many reforms to discard old policies inform previous dynasties. The Tun Tian (farming done by soldiers) System was also carried out, which greatly promoted the national productivity. In the Kingdom of Shu, Zhuge Liang set up strict social order and tried to govern the kingdom by law. With his assistance, Shu’s agriculture and handicraft industry developed rapidly. Additionally, Shu formed a friendly relationship with ethnic minorities in southwestern areas. In the Kingdom of Wu, the shipbuilding industry was much more prosperous. As for the national strength, the Kingdom of Wei ranked first, Wu second and Shu third.
Throughout the Three Kingdoms Period, battles between the three countries were countless. Among those, battles between Shu and Wu fighting for Jingzhou, Shu and Wei fighting for Hanzhong as well as Wei defeating Shu were all illustrious ones in Chinese history.
Finally, the end of the Three Kingdoms Period started from the Sima Yan (son of Sima Yi and chancellor of Wei)’s usurpation of Wei and the establishment of the Jin Dynasty (265 – 420). In 282 when the Jin army conquered the last kingdom – Wu’s capital, the Three Kingdoms Period was ended.