(DYNASTIC RULE and the CHINESE – continued)

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DYNASTIC RULE and the CHINESE (11 of 13)

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Romance and Wars of the Three Kingdoms

A famous fourteenth century novel, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, described the Three Kingdoms period as one of romance, heroism and chivalry. But it was not romantic for those who lived it.

Of the three kingdoms, Wei had the strongest military, a strength bolstered by its economy and water transport. The Kingdom of Shu was more sparsely populated, an area of mostly forest, and with many people who were not Chinese.

In 263, Wei overwhelmed and absorbed Shu, leaving Wei and Wu as rivals. In 265, Wei's ruler was overthrown from within. Wei's leading general, Sima Yan, of a powerful clan, took power. In 280 he overpowered and annexed the kingdom of Wu. China was now nominally united. Sima Yan became the first emperor of what was to be the Jin dynasty. He extended his power northward into central Korea and southward into Annam. The cycle between unity and disintegration had swung back to unity.

Forays against China by the Xiongnu and other tribal people ended for a while. And the policy of settling tribal people within China was resumed. There was hope for peace, unity and prosperity, and, as early as 280, Sima Yan began a program of disarmament. Troops were discharged and metal weapons of value were melted down for coin. Sima Yan, to be known as Emperor Wu of Jin (or Jin Wudi), wanted to be instrumental in a return to the great Han dynasties. He gave titles to his uncles, cousins, brothers and sons in hope of increasing the influence of the Sima family, and he gave them full authority and their own armies in their territories. He was distributing his power while enjoying the company of his 6,000 or so concubines. Court officials were members of privileged families. Officials and landlords were free to look out for their interests and intensify and misuse their power over peasants.

With the death of Emperor Wu of Jin came the old problem of the dynasty system: succession. The first emperor's son and successor, Emperor Hui, was mentally deficient. His wife, Queen Jia, ruled in his place. She was fearful and began arresting and executing anyone she saw as a threat to her position. This included a rival faction within the royal family. Warfare erupted. Several dukes and thousands of others were murdered. Queen Jia failed to kill all her opponents, and, in the year 300, a prince named Sima Lun led a coup that killed Queen Jia and many others. Lun made himself emperor, and he in turn was killed by Prince Lui. In 302 he was killed by Prince Changsha, who in 303 was killed by a prince called Donghai. In 306, two more princes fell. The feeble-minded Emperor Hui was murdered by poison in the year 307.

Drought and famine arrived. The cycle of unity and disintegration had swung back to disintegration.


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