Three Kingdoms History: Jin Dynasty

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Introduction to the Jin Dynasty

Authored by Sean Williams

Jin Dynasty Hanzi

Following the death of Emperor Cao Rui and the seizure of power by the tyrant Cao Shuang in the Wei kingdom, it was clear that the political stability of the nation had been compromised, and it was only a matter of time before someone took hold of the reigns of power. That man would be Sima Shi in the year 251 who, following the death of his father Sima Yi, seized the title of Imperial Guardian and began to manipulate the child emperor Cao Fang (reminiscent of Fang’s descendant Cao Cao’s treatment of the child emperor Liu Xie). In the year 255, Sima Shi died and since he had no children, was suceeded in his post by his younger brother, Zhao. Sima Zhao launched repeated attacks on the weakened kingdom of Shu and conquered that nation in 263. In 265, Sima Zhao died, and was suceeded by his son, Yan. Sima Yan formally ended the Wei Dynasty in the year and proclaimed his own, the Jin Dynasty.

Under Sima Yan’s leadership, Jin conquered the Wu kingdom in 280, and united the land. However, the peace was short-lived, as Sima Yan’s son, Zhong (who was mentally retarded), presided over a time of turmoil for the Chinese people. In the year 300, the War of the Eight Kings erupted, weakening Jin’s internal strength, and setting the stage for Chang'an to be sacked by Xiongnu invaders in 311. In 316, the Xiongnu sacked the Jin capital, Luoyang, and the Western Jin Dynasty was over.

In that same year, a relative of the imperial family in the Yang province, Sima Rui, declared himself emperor of the Chinese people, although he only controlled 3 provinces. This dynasty would be called the Eastern Jin Dynasty. During this time period, millions of people would come to south seeking refuge from the constant wars being waged in the north. Arts and culture would flourish, as well as the newly introduced religion of Buddhism.

Despite these advancements, the Eastern Jin Dynasty did not always yield peaceful times. Several attempts were made to reconquer the north, and one famous attempt was made by the north to conquer Eastern Jin in 383 led by the Qi emperor Fu Jian, which led to utter defeat for Fu and the conquest of all his territories by Eastern Jin. Unfortunately, Jin did not have the manpower to hold all these newly conquered lands and it led to several rebellions from its frontier generals. When the general Liu Yu stormed the imperal palace in Jianye and killed the traitor Huan Xuan in 404, it signalled the begining of the end for Eastern Jin, because for the next 16 years, Liu Yu would follow in the footsteps of Sima Shi and Cao Cao, manipulating a weak emperor and preparing the way for his own dynasty. In the year 420, the so-called “dynastic cycle” repeated itself and Liu Yu forced the final Jin emperor, Sima Dewen, to abdicate in his favor, forming the Liu-Song (sometimes also called the Southern Song) Dynasty.

Copyright © 2002 Sean Williams