As the name suggests, the Three Kingdom Period (220-280) was composed of three kingdoms – the Kingdoms of Shu, Wei and Wu. As a single era in Chinese history, the Three Kingdoms Period started when the Kingdom of Wei took the power from the Han Dynasty and ended in 280 AD when the Kingdom of Wu was defeated by rulers of the Jin – a new dynasty. This period is regarded as a significant historical period filled with wars between the three Kingdoms, leading to the development of advanced military strategies; some are still used in modern warfare.
End of the Han and Tensions with the Eunuchs
In the year 189, after the death of Han Emperor Ling, a teenage emperor – Shao inherited the throne. Being offended with the control of eunuchs over the emperor, army generals Yuan and Jin planned to kill the castrated ones. During the tension caused by the struggles between the eunuchs and the army, Zhou, a court official of the Han dynasty, deceptively camped his forces in Luoyang. With this power, Zhuo eventually toppled Shao and installed Xian as the ruler of the whole empire. This treachery was disdained by both imperial officials and public. With the political tension becoming worse, a mass civil war finally emerged.
When Zhuo conquered Luoyang, future ruler Cao Cao, transferred to the Henan Province and started a revolution. In the year 193, Zhou was assassinated but the tension continued for a few years. This era of chaos continued for three years, resulting to the establishment of powerful divisions led by Cao Cao and Yuan.
Cao Cao and Yuan Liu Bei
Eventually, Cao Cao pressed Emperor Xian under compulsion and took the opportunity to reinforce his army. With this great army, Cao Cao defeated Yuan Liu Bei in battle. After this, he unified the northern region of China. Then he conquered the southern region and toppled the city of Jinzhou. However, when he tried to expand his kingdom to cover the whole south China, he was overpowered by the loyal allies of Yuan Liu Bei. So he pulled out his army back to his Kingdom.
The Emergence of the Three Kingdoms
Upon Cao Cao’s death, his heir to the throne, Cao Pi, became emperor of Wei and established Luoyang as the imperial capital city. Just a few months after, Yuan Liu Bei also established his own empire with Chengdu as the capital city. A few years after, Liu Bei’s former ally, Sun Quan, established his own empire in Wuhan but later named Nanking as the capital city. The emergence of these three kingdoms marks this distinct period. Generally, the Kingdom of Pei dominated the Northern region, the Shu Kingdom dominated the Southwest China and the Wu Kingdom dominated the Southeast region.
The Kingdom of Wei
Each emperor of the three kingdoms all worked hard to improve their realms to improve the economy and social life of their people. In Wei, Cao Cao implemented many changes to eliminate the old practices of the Qin and Han dynasties. The kingdom also adopted agricultural reforms such as improvement of farmlands and irrigation. These reforms enhanced the kingdom’s productivity.
The Kingdom of Shu
In the Shu Kingdom, the rulers had set-up authoritarian rule and controlled the kingdom by law. With the guide of the Shu Emperor, agriculture and industry also improved rapidly during this era. Also, the Kingdom of the southwest forged alliance with the ethnic groups scattered within and outside the empire’s realm. On the other hand, marine industry became prosperous. For imperial power, the Kingdom of Wei outranks Wu and Shu.
During the era of the Three Kingdoms, wars between the three rival nations were myriad. These battles shaped the history and development of the succeeding dynasties and viewed as significant to Chinese history.
Technological and Militaristic Advances
The chaos caused by these battles, damaged the economic development of the three kingdoms. Fortunately, there were some significant advances on technology and science such as high level of military strategies with the invention of gunpowder for fireworks and gun. With the demand for strengthening the army, smelting and metal works became popular and was immensely improved during this period. Improvements in other social factors were also significant such as the invention of the wind mill for irrigation, silk developments in Luoyang and Henan and Shu Kingdom’s irrigation and canal system.
The Southern Kingdom was powerful and adopted a transmissible aristocracy. This Kingdom established a civil service system based on social ranks to determine the value of a person to contribute to the prosperity of the Wei. However, this system failed since the social status of a person and family affiliations would influence eligibility for the posts. Aristocrats would marry only within their social rank or higher and accumulated large estates and financial wealth. The nobles were given high salaries, excluded from paying taxes and tributes and secured labor. However, because these rich families can afford education, literature, painting, poetry and culture flourished.
On the other hand, the northern Kingdom improved Chinese culture and implemented strict reforms to strengthen the empire. The emperor has many Chinese officials and advisors, embraced a unifying Chinese style for clothes and accessories, interior designs, landscaping and even cuisine. It is also the first Kingdom to adopted traditional Chinese as the official language.
Taoism During the Three Kingdoms Period
During the Three Kingdoms Period, Taoism also flourished. The Wisdom School of Xuanxe was established. Most members of this school, however, were not about religion but more focused on integration of Confucianism to the principles of Taoism. This revolution in Chinese ideology became very influential since they were passed on to succeeding dynasties. The compatibility of Confucianism and Taosim ensured religion and culture would remain in the years to come.
The Spread of Buddhism Through the Silk Road
Buddhism also took roots in China during this era. Buddhism was originally introduced in China with the development of the Silk Road when monks travelled with merchants. Buddhism was unique from other animistic religions of early China. As a universal thought, it covers all people rich or poor, Chinese or not. Buddhist temples were constructed within the three kingdoms and millions of Chinese converted into Buddhism.
The Rise of the Jin Dynasty
Eventually, the demise of the Three Kingdoms Period began, when Wei chancellor Sima Yan seized the kingdom and founded the Jin Dynasty. Sima Yan (236 – 290 AD) eventually conquered the three kingdoms, thus unifying the whole of China again.