History of China/The Three Kingdoms

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Sacrificing to heaven and earth, the oath at the peach garden. From Romance of the Three Kingdoms

The Three Kingdoms period (traditional Chinese: 三國; simplified Chinese: 三国; pinyin: Sānguó) is a period in the history of China, part of an era of disunity called the Six Dynasties following immediately the loss of de facto power of the Han Dynasty emperors. In a strict academic sense it refers to the period between the foundation of the Wei in 220 and the conquest of the Wu by the Jin Dynasty in 280. However, many Chinese historians and laymen extend the starting point of this period back to the uprising of the Yellow Turbans in 184.

The three kingdoms were Wei (魏), Shu (蜀), and Wu (吳). To distinguish these states from other historical Chinese states of the same name, historians prepended a character: Wei is also known as Cao Wei (曹魏), Shu is also known as Shu Han (蜀漢), and Wu is also known as Dong Wu or Eastern Wu (東吳). The term Three Kingdoms itself is somewhat of 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 (263), then the overthrow of Wei by the Jin Dynasty (265), and the destruction of Wu by Jin (280).

Although relatively short, this historical period has been greatly romanticised in the cultures 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,[1] while a population census in early Western Jin Dynasty (after Jin re‐unified China) reported a population of approximately 16 million.[1] It is clear[citation needed], even taking into account the inaccuracies of these census reports, that 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 (Cao Rui), 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 differential gears.

See also[edit | edit source]

Romance of the Three Kingdoms