Emperor Wu of Jin

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Sima Yan
Jin Wu Di.jpg
Emperor of the Jin Dynasty
Reign 8 February 266 – 16 May 290
Successor Emperor Hui of Jin
Born 236
Died 16 May 290 (aged 54[1])
Full name
Family name: Sima (Chinese: 司馬; pinyin: sī mǎ)
Given name: Yan (Chinese: ; pinyin: yán)
Posthumous name
Wu (Chinese: ; pinyin: ),
literary meaning: "martial"
Temple name
Shizu (Chinese: 世祖; pinyin: shì zǔ)
Father Sima Zhao
Mother Wang Yuanji

Emperor Wu of Jin, (simplified Chinese: 晋武帝; traditional Chinese: 晉武帝; pinyin: Jìn Wǔ Dì; Wade–Giles: Chin Wu-ti; 236 – 16 May 290), personal name Sima Yan (Chinese: 司馬炎; pinyin: Sīmǎ Yán), courtesy name Anshi (安世), was the grandson of Sima Yi and son of Sima Zhao. He became the first emperor of the Jin dynasty (265–420) after forcing Cao Huan, last ruler of the state of Cao Wei, to abdicate to him. He reigned from 266 to 290, and after conquering the state of Eastern Wu in 280, was the emperor of a unified China. Emperor Wu was known for his extravagance and sensuality, especially after the unification of China; legends boasted of his incredible potency among ten thousand concubines.

Emperor Wu was commonly viewed as a generous and kind, but also wasteful, ruler. His generosity and kindness undermined his rule, as he became overly tolerant of the noble families' corruption and wastefulness, which drained the people's resources. Further, when Emperor Wu established the Jin Dynasty, he was concerned about his regime's stability, and, believing that the predecessor state, Cao Wei, had been doomed by its failures to empower the princes of the imperial clan, he greatly empowered his uncles, his cousins, and his sons with authority including high military ranking. This ironically led to the destabilization of the Jin Dynasty, as the princes engaged in an internecine struggle known as the War of the Eight Princes soon after his death, and then the Wu Hu uprisings that nearly destroyed the Jin Dynasty and forced its relocation to the region south of the Huai River.

Life before establishment of the Jin Dynasty

Sima Yan was born to Sima Zhao and his wife Wang Yuanji, daughter of the Confucian scholar Wang Su, in 236, as their oldest son. At that time, Sima Zhao was a mid-level official in the government of Cao Wei and a member of a privileged clan, as the son of the general Sima Yi. After Sima Yi seized power from the regent Cao Shuang in 249 in the Incident at Gaoping Tombs, Sima Zhao became more influential in the state. After his father's death in 251, Sima Zhao became the assistant to his brother, the new regent Sima Shi. After Sima Shi died in 255, Sima Zhao became regent and the paramount authority in the Wei government.

Sima Yan's first important appearance in history was in 260, when forces loyal to his father, led by Jia Chong, defeated an attempt by the Wei emperor Cao Mao to take back power and killed Cao Mao. At that time, as a mid-level army general, he was commissioned by his father to escort the new emperor Cao Huan from his dukedom to the capital Luoyang. After his father was created the Duke of Jin in 263 in light of the army's conquest of Shu Han, he was named heir. However, at times Sima Zhao hesitated as to whether Sima Yan or his brother Sima You would be the more appropriate heir — as Sima You was considered talented and had also been adopted by Sima Shi, who had no biological sons of his own, and Sima Zhao, remembering his brother's role in the Simas' takeover of power, thought it might be appropriate to return power to his branch of the clan. However, a number of high level officials favored Sima Yan, and Sima Zhao agreed. After he was created the Prince of Jin in 264 (thus reaching the ultimate step before usurpation), Sima Yan was created the crown prince of Jin.

In September 265, Sima Zhao died without having formally taken imperial authority. Sima Yan became the Prince of Jin. On 4 February 266, he forced Cao Huan to abdicate, ending the state of Cao Wei. Four days later on 8 February 266, he declared himself emperor of the Jin dynasty.

As Emperor of Jin

Early reign: establishment of the Jin political system

Emperor Wu immediately sought to avoid what he saw as Cao Wei's fatal weakness—lack of power among the imperial princes. In 265, immediately after taking the throne, he made princes of many of his uncles, cousins, brothers, and sons, each with independent military commands and full authority within their principalities. This system, while it would be scaled back after the War of the Eight Princes and the loss of northern China, would remain in place as a Jin institution for the duration of the dynasty's existence, and would be adopted by the succeeding Southern dynasties as well.

Another problem that Emperor Wu saw with Cao Wei's political system was its harshness in penal law, and he sought to reform the penal system to make it more merciful — but the key beneficiaries of his changes turned out to be the nobles, as it quickly became clear that the mercy was being dealt out in an unequal manner. Nobles who committed crimes often received simple rebukes, while there were no meaningful reductions in penalties for commoners. This led to massive corruption and extravagant living by the nobles, while the poor went without government assistance. For example, in 267, when several high level officials were found to have worked in conjunction with a county magistrate to seize public land for themselves, Emperor Wu refused to punish the high level officials while punishing the county magistrate harshly.

Emperor Wu faced two major military issues almost immediately — incessant harassment from the rival Eastern Wu's forces, under emperor Sun Hao, and Xianbei and Qiang rebellions in Qin (秦) and Liang (涼) provinces (modern Gansu). Most officials were more concerned about the Xianbei and Qiang rebellions and also with another non-Han people — the Xiongnu, who had settled down in modern Shanxi after the dissolution of their state by Cao Cao in 216 under the watchful eyes of Chinese officials, and were feared for their military abilities. These officials advised Emperor Wu to try to suppress the Xianbei and the Qiang before considering conquests of Eastern Wu. Under the encouragement of the generals Yang Hu and Wang Jun and the strategist Zhang Hua, however, Emperor Wu, while sending a number of generals to combat the Xianbei and the Qiang, prepared the southern and eastern border regions for war against Eastern Wu throughout this part of his reign. He was particularly encouraged by reports of Sun Hao's cruelty and ineptitude in governing Eastern Wu; indeed, the officials in favor of war against Eastern Wu often cited this as reason to act quickly, as they argued that Eastern Wu would be harder to conquer if and when Sun Hao was replaced. However, after a major revolt by the Xianbei chief Tufa Shujineng (禿髮樹機能) started in 270 in Qin Province, Emperor Wu's attention became concentrated on Tufa, as Tufa was able to win victory after victory over Jin generals. In 271, the Xiongnu noble Liu Meng (劉猛) rebelled as well, and while his rebellion did not last long, this took Emperor Wu's attention away from Eastern Wu. In 271, Jiao Province (交州, modern northern Vietnam), which had paid allegiance to Jin ever since the start of his reign, was recaptured by Eastern Wu. In 272, the Eastern Wu general Bu Chan, in fear that Sun Hao was going to punish him on the basis of false reports against him, tried to surrender the important city of Xiling (西陵, in modern Yichang, Hubei) to Jin, but Jin relief forces were stopped by the Eastern Wu general Lu Kang, who then recaptured Xiling and killed Bu. In light of these failures, Yang took another tack — he started a détente with Lu and treated the Eastern Wu border residents well, causing them to view Jin favorably.

When Emperor Wu ascended the throne in 265, he honored his mother Wang Yuanji as empress dowager. In 266, he also honored his aunt Yang Huiyu (Sima Shi's wife) an empress dowager, in recognition of his uncle's contributions to the establishment of the Jìn Dynasty. He made his wife Yang Yan empress the same year. In 267, he made her oldest living son, Sima Zhong crown prince — based on the Confucian principle that the oldest son by an emperor's wife should inherit the throne — a selection that would, however, eventually contribute greatly to political instability and the Jin Dynasty's decline, as Crown Prince Zhong appeared to be developmentally disabled and unable to learn the important skills necessary to govern. Emperor Wu further made perhaps a particularly fateful choice on Crown Prince Zhong's behalf — in 272, he selected Jia Nanfeng, the strong-willed daughter of the noble Jia Chong, to be Crown Prince Zhong's princess. Crown Princess Jia would, from that point on, have the crown prince under her own tight control. Before Empress Yang died in 274, she was concerned that whoever the new empress would be, she would have ambitions to replace the crown prince, and therefore Empress Yang asked Emperor Wu to marry her cousin Yang Zhi. He agreed.

In 273, Emperor Wu would undertake a selection of beautiful women from throughout the empire — a warning sign of what would eventually come. He looked most attentively at the daughters of high officials, but he also ordered that no marriages take place across the empire until the selection process was done.

Middle reign: unification of the Chinese empire

In 276, Emperor Wu suffered a major illness — which led to a succession crisis. Crown Prince Zhong would be the legitimate heir, but both the officials and the people hoped that Emperor Wu's capable brother, Sima You, the Prince of Qi, would inherit the throne instead. After Emperor Wu became well, he divested some military commands from officials that he thought favored Prince You, but otherwise took no other punitive actions against anyone.

Later that year, Yang Hu reminded Emperor Wu of his plan to conquer Eastern Wu. Most of the officials, still concerned with Tufa's rebellion, were opposed, but Yang was supported by Du Yu and Zhang. Emperor Wu considered their counsel seriously but did not implement it at this time.

Also in 276, pursuant to his promise to the deceased Empress Yang, Emperor Wu married her cousin Yang Zhi and made her empress. The new Empress Yang's father, Yang Jun, became a key official in the administration and became exceedingly arrogant.

In 279, with the general Ma Long (馬隆) having finally put down Tufa's rebellion, Emperor Wu concentrated his efforts on Eastern Wu, and commissioned a six-pronged attack led by his uncle Sima Zhou, Wang Hun (王渾), Wang Rong, Hu Fen (胡奮), Du Yu, and Wang Jun, with the largest forces under Wang Hun and Wang Jun. Each of the Jin forces advanced quickly and captured the border cities that they were targeting, with Wang Jun's fleet heading east down the Yangtze and clearing the river of Eastern Wu fleets. The Eastern Wu chancellor Zhang Ti (張悌) made a last-ditch attempt to defeat Wang Hun's force, but was defeated and killed. Wang Hun, Wang Jun, and Sima Zhou each headed for Jianye, and Sun Hao was forced to surrender in spring 280. Emperor Wǔ made Sun Hao the Marquess of Guiming. The integration of former Eastern Wu territory into Jin appeared to have been a relatively smooth process.

After the fall of Eastern Wu, Emperor Wu ordered that provincial governors no longer be in charge of military matters and become purely civilian governors, and that regional militias be disbanded, despite opposition by the general Tao Huang (陶璜) and the key official Shan Tao. This would also eventually prove to create problems later on during the Wu Hu rebellions, as the regional governors were not able to raise troops to resist quickly enough. He also rejected advice to have the non-Han gradually moved outside of the empire proper.

Late reign: setting the stage for disasters

In 281, Emperor Wu took 5,000 women from Sun Hao's palace into his own, and thereafter became even more concentrated on feasting and enjoying the women, rather than on important matters of state. It was said that there were so many beautiful women in the palace that he did not know whom he should have sexual relations with; he therefore rode on a small cart drawn by goats, and wherever the goats would stop, he would stop there, as well. Because of this, many of the women planted bamboo leaves and salt outside their bedrooms — both items said to be favored by goats. Empress Yang's father Yang Jun and uncles Yang Yao (楊珧) and Yang Ji (楊濟) became effectively in power.

Emperor Wu also became more concerned about whether his brother Prince You would seize the throne if he died. In 282, he sent Prince You to his principality, even though there was no evidence that Prince You had such ambitions. Princess Jingzhao and Princess Changshan kow-towed and begged Emperor Wu to rescind his order, but he merely grew angry and demoted Princess Changshan's husband in retaliation.[2] Prince You, in anger, grew ill and died in 283.

Following previous Roman embassies in 166 and 226, the Book of Jin and Wenxian Tongkao record another embassy from "Da Qin" appearing in China during the reign of Emperor Wu. These histories assert that it arrived in 284 and presented tributary gifts to the emperor.[3][4]

As Emperor Wu grew ill in 289, he considered whom to make regent. He considered both Yang Jun and his uncle Sima Liang the Prince of Ru'nan, the most respected of the imperial princes. As a result, Yang Jun became fearful of Sima Liang and had him posted to the key city of Xuchang. Several other imperial princes were also posted to other key cities in the empire. By 290, Emperor Wu resolved to let Yang and Sima Liang both be regents, but after he wrote his will, the will was seized by Yang Jun, who instead had another will promulgated in which Yang alone was named regent. Emperor Wu died soon thereafter, leaving the empire in the hands of a developmentally disabled son and nobles intent on shedding each other's blood for power, and while he would not see the disastrous consequences himself, the consequences would soon come.

Era names



Consorts and their Respective Issue:

  1. Yan, Empress Wuyuan of the Yang clan (武元皇后 杨艳; 238 – 25 August 274)[5][6]
    1. 1st son (died young): Sima Gui, Prince Dao of Piling (毗陵悼王 轨)[7]
    2. 2nd son: Sima Zhong, Emperor Hui (惠帝 衷; 13 February 259 – 8 January 307)[8]
    3. 3rd son: Sima Jian, Prince Xian of Qin (秦献王 柬; 262 – 23 October 291)[9]
      1. adopted: Emperor Min
    4. 2nd daughter: Princess of Pingyang (平阳公主)
    5. 3rd daughter: Princess of Xinfeng (新丰公主)
    6. 4th daughter: Princess of Yangping (阳平公主)
  2. Zhi, Empress Wudao of the Yang clan (武悼皇后 杨芷; 259 – 292)[10][11][12]
    1. 18th son (died in infancy): Sima Hui, Prince Shang of Bohai (勃海殇王 恢; 283 – 284)[13]
  3. Yuanji, Empress Dowager Huai of the Wang clan (怀皇太后 王媛姬)[14]
    1. 25th son: Sima Chi, Emperor Huai (怀帝 炽; 284 – 313)[15][16]
  4. Fen, Honoured Imperial Concubine of the Zuo clan (贵嫔 左棻; 253 – 23 April 300)[17][18]
  5. Fang, Honoured Imperial Concubine of the Hu clan (贵嫔 胡芳)[19][20]
    1. 5th daughter: Princess of Wu'an (武安公主)[21]
  6. Wan, Madame of the Zhuge clan (夫人 诸葛婉)[22]
  7. Madame of the Li clan (夫人 李氏)
    1. 10th son: Sima Yun, Prince Zhongzhuang of Huainan (淮南忠壮王 允; 272 – 300)[23][24]
    2. 17th son: Sima Yan, Prince Jing of Wu (吴敬王 晏; 281 – 311)[25][26]
      1. son: Emperor Min
  8. Honoured Lady of the Gongsun clan (贵人 公孙氏)[27]
  9. Yuan, Decent Consort of the Liu clan (淑妃 刘媛)[28]
  10. Yao, Decent Concubine of the Zang clan (淑媛 臧曜)[29]
  11. Decent Beauty of the Fang clan (淑仪 芳氏)[30]
  12. Can, "Xiuhua" of the Kui clan (修华 逵粲)[31]
  13. Lady of Cultivated Countenance of the Chen clan (修容 陈氏)[32]
  14. Pin, Lady of Cultivated Deportment of the Zuo clan (修仪 左嫔)[33]
  15. Lan, Lady of Handsome Fairness of the Xing clan (婕妤 邢兰)[34]
  16. Hua, Lady of Lovely Countenance of the Zhu clan (容华 朱华)[35]
  17. Can, "Chonghua" of the Zhao clan (充华 赵粲; d. 300)[36][37]
  18. Beautiful Lady of the Shen clan (美人 审氏)
    1. 4th son (died young): Sima Jingdu, Prince Huai of Chengyang (城阳怀王 景度; d. 25 August 270) – adopted by Sima Zhao (third son of Emperor Wen)[38]
    2. 8th son: Sima Wei, Prince Yin of Chu (楚隐王 玮; 271 – 13 June 291) – second of the Eight Princes[39][40]
    3. 15th son: Sima Yi, Prince Li of Changsha (长沙厉王 乂; 277 – 19 March 304) – sixth of the Eight Princes[41][42]
  19. Beautiful Lady of the Zhao clan (美人 赵氏)
    1. 11th son: Sima Yan, Prince Ai of Dai (代哀王 演; b. 272)[43]
  20. Beautiful Lady of the Chen clan (美人 陈氏)
    1. 13th son: Sima Xia, Prince Kang of Qinghe (清河康王 遐; 273 – 300)[44]
  21. Talented Lady of the Xu clan (才人 徐氏)
    1. 5th son (died in infancy): Sima Xian, Prince Shang of Chengyang (城阳殇王 宪; 270 – 271) – adopted by Sima Zhao (third son of Emperor Wen)[45]
  22. Talented Lady of the Kui clan (才人 匮氏)
    1. 6th son (died young): Sima Zhi, Prince Chong of Donghai (东海冲王 祗; 271 – 273) – adopted by Sima Zhao (third son of Emperor Wen)[46]
  23. Talented Lady of the Zhao clan (才人 赵氏)
    1. 7th son (died young): Sima Yu, Prince Ai of Shiping (始平哀王 裕; 271 – 277)[47]
  24. Talented Lady of the Cheng clan (才人 程氏)
    1. 16th son: Sima Ying, Prince of Chengdu (成都王 颖; 279 – 306) – fifth of the Eight Princes[48][49]
  25. "Baolin" of the Zhuang clan (保林 庄氏)
    1. 12th son (died young): Sima Gai, Prince Huai of Xindu (新都怀王 该; 272 – 283)[50]
  26. Zhu Ji (诸姬)
    1. 14th son (died young): Sima Mo, Prince Ai of Ruyin (汝阴哀王 谟; 276 – 286)[51]
  27. (unknown consorts)
    1. 9th son
    2. 19th son
    3. 20th son
    4. 21st son
    5. 22nd son
    6. 23rd son
    7. 24th son
    8. 1st daughter: Princess of Changshan (常山公主)[52]
    9. 6th daughter: Princess of Fanchang (繁昌公主)[53]
    10. 7th daughter: Princess of Xiangcheng (襄城公主)[54]
    11. 8th daughter (died young): Princess of Wannian (万年公主)
    12. 9th daughter: Princess of Xingyang (荥阳公主)
    13. 10th daughter: Princess of Xingyang (荥阳公主)[55]
    14. 11th daughter: Princess of Yingchuan (颍川公主)[56]
    15. 12th daughter: Princess of Guangping (广平公主)
    16. 13th daughter: Princess of Lingshou (灵寿公主)

Adopted Issue:

  1. Sima Rui, Emperor Yuan (元帝 睿; 276 – 3 January 323)[57][58]

See also


  1. ^ Fang Xuanling et al. Book of Jin, Volume 3, Biography of Emperor Wu
  2. ^ Fang Xuanling, ed. (648). "列传第十二" [Biography 12]. 晉書 [Book of Jin] (in Chinese). Retrieved 13 March 2017. 
  3. ^ Warwick Ball (2016), Rome in the East: Transformation of an Empire, 2nd edition, London & New York: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-72078-6, p. 152.
  4. ^ Friedrich Hirth (2000) [1885]. Jerome S. Arkenberg, ed. "East Asian History Sourcebook: Chinese Accounts of Rome, Byzantium and the Middle East, c. 91 B.C.E. - 1643 C.E." Fordham.edu. Fordham University. Retrieved 2016-09-20. 
  5. ^ daughter of Yang Wenzong (文宗), Marquis of Mao (蓩) and Lady Zhao (赵)
  6. ^ Empress (266)
  7. ^ Prince Dao of Piling (289)
  8. ^ Crown Prince (267), Emperor (290), Emperor Hui (307)
  9. ^ Prince of Runan (汝南; 270), Prince of Nanyang (南阳; 277), Prince of Qin (289), Prince Xian of Qin (291)
  10. ^ daughter of Yang Jun and Lady Pang (庞)
  11. ^ Empress (276), Empress Dowager (290)
  12. ^ starved by Jia Nanfeng
  13. ^ Prince Shang of Bohai (284)
  14. ^ Average Talented Lady, Empress Dowager Huai (307)
  15. ^ Prince of Yuzhang (豫章; 290), Crown Prince (304), Emperor (307–311)
  16. ^ executed by Liu Cong
  17. ^ daughter of Zuo Yong (雍)
  18. ^ Lady of Cultivated Deportment (272)
  19. ^ daughter of Hu Fen (奋)
  20. ^ Lady of Elegance (273), Honoured Imperial Concubine (274)
  21. ^ m. Wen Yu (温裕)
  22. ^ daughter of Zhuge Chong (冲)
  23. ^ Prince of Puyang (濮阳; 277), Prince of Huainan (289), Prince Zhongzhuang of Huainan (300)
  24. ^ killed by Sima Lun
  25. ^ Prince of Wu (289), Prince of Bintu (宾徒; 300), Prince of Dai (代), Prince of Wu (301), Prince Jing of Wu (311)
  26. ^ killed by Han Zhao forces
  27. ^ Decent Consort, Honoured Lady (290)
  28. ^ Lady of Elegance, Decent Consort (274)
  29. ^ Decent Concubine (274)
  30. ^ Decent Beauty (274)
  31. ^ "Xiuhua" (274)
  32. ^ Lady of Cultivated Countenance (274)
  33. ^ Beautiful Lady, Lady of Cultivated Deportment (277)
  34. ^ Lady of Handsome Fairness (277)
  35. ^ Lady of Lovely Countenance (277)
  36. ^ daughter of Zhao Yu (虞)
  37. ^ executed
  38. ^ Prince of Chengyang (269), Prince Huai of Chengyang (270)
  39. ^ Prince of Shiping (始平; 277), Prince of Chu (289), Prince Yin of Chu (291)
  40. ^ executed by Jia Nanfeng
  41. ^ Prince of Changsha (289), Prince of Changshan (常山; 291), Prince of Changsha (301), Prince Li of Changsha (304)
  42. ^ killed by Sima Yong
  43. ^ Prince of Dai (289)
  44. ^ Prince of Qinghe (289), Prince Kang of Qinghe (300)
  45. ^ Prince of Chengyang (270), Prince Shang of Chengyang (271)
  46. ^ Prince of Donghai (273), Prince Chong of Donghai (273)
  47. ^ Prince of Shiping (277), Prince Ai of Shiping (277)
  48. ^ Prince of Chengdu (289), Crown Prince (304), Prince of Chengdu (304)
  49. ^ forced to commit suicide
  50. ^ Prince of Xindu (277), Prince Huai of Xindu (283)
  51. ^ Prince of Ruyin (277), Prince Ai of Ruyin (286)
  52. ^ m. Wang Ji (王济)
  53. ^ m. Wei Xuan (卫宣)
  54. ^ m. Wang Dun (王敦)
  55. ^ m. Hua Heng (华恒)
  56. ^ m. Wang Cui (王粹)
  57. ^ son of Sima Jin (觐), Prince Gong of Langxie (琅邪恭) (first son of Prince Wu of Langxie) and Xiahou Guangji (夏侯光姬), Princess Consort of Langxie
  58. ^ Prince of Langxie (290), Emperor (318), Emperor Yuan (323)
Emperor Wu of Jin
Born: 236 Died: 16 May 290
Regnal titles
Preceded by
as King of Jin
Emperor of China
Western Jin
265 (280)-290
Succeeded by
Emperor Hui of Jin
Preceded by
Sun Hao
Chinese royalty
Preceded by
Sima Zhao
King of Jin
Merged in the Crown
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Cao Huan
Emperor of China
Reason for succession failure:
Three Kingdoms
Succeeded by
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