Encyclopedia: Sima Zhao

Sima Zhao (Zishang); Ssŭma Chao (Tzŭ-shang); 司馬昭 (子上)

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Sima Zhao (Zishang) 司馬昭 (子上)

Lived: AD 211–265

None Available

Served: Wei, Jin

Dominated the Wei government in its later stages as Chancellor.

Officer Details

Wade-Giles: Ssŭma Chao (Tzŭ-shang)
Simplified Chinese: 司马昭 (子上)
Pronunciation: Si1ma3 Zhao1 (Zi3shang4)

Name Notes: The Romance writes his style as Zishang (子尚).

Rank and Titles

Marquis of Xincheng, General of the Gentlemen of the Agricultural Colonies, Cavalier Attendant-in-Ordinary, Gentleman Consultant, General Who Tranquilizes the East, Marshal of Yangzhou, General of the Guards, (Acting) General of the Capital Forces, Grand General, Intendant of the Affairs of the Masters of Writing, Grand Marshal, Duke of Jin, Chancellor of the State, King of Jin

Family and Relationships

Sima Yi (Father); Zhang Chunhua (Mother); Sima Yan (Son); Wang Yuanji (Wife)

Literary Appearances

Romance of the Three Kingdoms: 94, 95, 102, 103, 106118, 119

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Sima Zhao, styled Zishang, was from Wen county, Henei commandery. He was the second son of Sima Yi and Zhang Chunhua, making him a younger full brother of Sima Shi. He was made Marquis of Xincheng (新城侯).

He participated in the failed invasion of Shu by Cao Shuang in 244.

When Zhuge Dan rebelled at Shouchun in 257, Sima Zhao responded quickly. He tasked the Wei armies in quelling it and he himself personally marched with a large army to besiege it. It is implied that he forced Cao Mao and Empress Dowager Guo to march against the rebellion to prevent any plots from forming with them in Luoyang, and to keep a close guard on the young emperor. Zhuge Dan, amidst the siege, killed his general, Wen Qin, prompting his sons, Wen Yang and Wen Hu, to surrender. Sima Zhao, apprehensive, nonetheless accepted them, giving an order to the troops which stated, “The sins of [Wen] Qin are not enough for just execution, and his sons have firmly responded with his fight. However, [Wen] Yang and [Wen] Hu, being desperate, surrendered. As the city has not been captured, to kill them is to strengthen their resolve.” Sima Zhao tasked them to lead a group of cavalry and gallop around Shouchun crying out, “The sons of Wen Qin still have not been killed! Why be afraid, the rest of you?” Sima Zhao also had his men shout and beat drums loudly, further demoralizing the rebels. When the Wei troops started scaling the walls, Zhuge Dan and his entourage attempted to flee, but were killed by Hu Fen. Thus, Sima Zhao and his followers triumphed over Zhuge Dan, killing the rebellious general. Sima Zhao, instead of treating everyone involved with the rebellion harshly, only killed the ringleaders and spared the rest, even treating them well. Wu seems to have appreciated this gesture as they did not punish any of the families of the Wu defectors.

Cao Mao, tired of the machinations of Sima Zhao, tried to surround his mansion with some imperial soldiers, but was killed by Cheng Ji under orders of Jia Chong. Sima Zhao pretended to be shocked but also blamed the Emperor for acting wicked, and only gave him a burial of a duke, and that was only at the behest of Sima Fu and some other high-ranking ministers. He executed Cheng Ji, who tried to resist but nonetheless was killed, but did not execute Jia Chong. When Chen Tai complained about Jia Chong being exempt, Sima Zhao ignored him, aggravating Chen Tai to the point of death. In essence, his regicide did little damage to his power.

After Cao Mao died, Sima Zhao and the court sent his oldest son, Sima Yan, to fetch the Township Duke of Changdao, Cao Huang, and made him Emperor of Wei. They changed his name to Cao Huan, as the Huang in Cao Huang could easily be violated by many in accordance with the naming taboo. On June 29, 260, Cao Huan offered Sima Zhao more impressive titles and to expand his duchy, but Sima Zhao “firmly refused and so it stopped”; he declined in the same way a year later on June 22, 261, and sometime within the 4th lunar month of 263. On December 9, 263, Sima Zhao finally accepted the awards Cao Huan offered. It was this year Sima Zhao sent Wei armies under Deng Ai, Zhong Hui, and some others to conquer Shu, which they did successfully. However, in early 264, Zhong Hui accused Deng Ai of treason, then he himself promptly revolted in Chengdu. Zhong Hui failed and died, while the imprisoned Deng Ai being transported to Luoyang was also killed. On May 2, 264, Sima Zhao was promoted from Duke to King of Jin, being granted 10 additional commanderies, making Sima Zhao rule 20 commanderies as King of Jin. The 漢晉春秋 records that when he became King, Excellencies Wang Xiang, He Zeng, and Xun Yi all visited him. Xun Yi and He Zeng paid their respects, bowing, while Wang Xiang merely saluted high, as he thought that paying respects to someone of a similar rank was inappropriate. Sima Zhao, impressed, told Wang Xiang, “From today and onwards, I know why you are regarded so importantly!” As Sima Zhao was granted more awards and honors befitting an emperor, he suddenly died on September 6, 265, and was given the posthumous title of 晉文王, or the Civil King of Jin. His son, Sima Yan, succeeded him as King of Jin and Chancellor of State. The next year, Sima Yan took the imperial throne for himself from Cao Huan, and then posthumously honored Sima Zhao as 晉太祖, or the Grand Progenitor of Jin.



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September 22, 2023