A universal guide for China studies
Chinese History - Three Kingdoms 三國 (220-280)
Encoding: Unicode (UTF-8)[Location: HOME > History > Three Kingdoms > map][bottom]
|period before (Han)|
next period (Jin)
Among the many warlords that controlled China during the last decade of the Eastern Han Dynasty 東漢, Cao Cao 曹操, Liu Bei 劉備 and Sun Quan 孫權 were the mightiest that could found longer lasting states. Cao Cao's son Cao Pi 曹丕 reigned over the traditional China of the Yellow River plain, the Gansu corridor and the Administration Area of the Western Regions (Xiyu changshifu 西域長史府; in Haitou 海頭/Lop Nur and Wuji colonel 戊己校尉府, modern Turfan/Xinjiang) with city states of the silkroad like Yanqi 焉耆, Gaochang 高昌 and Shanshan 鄯善.
Liu Bei controlled the area of modern Sichuan province an empire called Shu-Han 蜀漢. The mountainous territory of modern Yunnan south of the Sichuan basin was conquered in 225 during a southern campaign by the famous statesman Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 and administered as Laixiang 庲降 area command (dudu 都督).
Sun Quan reigned the south and southeast of China a kingdom called Wu 吳 that stretched the Yangtse River southwards to the northern part of modern Vietnam. A special administration zone was Piling 毗陵 agriculture commandery (diannong xiaowei 典農校尉; modern Changzhou 常州/Jiangsu), a prototype of a state-managed agrarian military colony.
In the famous battle of the Red Cliff (Chibi 赤壁, near modern Puqi 蒲圻/Hubei) in 208 AD Liu Bei and Sun Quan could defend their territories against Cao Cao, and as a result China was divided among those three warlords that consequently founded their own empires. Attempts of Liu Bei to enlarge his territory to the west and to attack Sun Quan failed 221 AD in the battle of Yiling 夷陵 (modern Yichang 宜昌/Hubei).
The three kingdoms were administered like the Han empire before, with regional commands (zhou 州, underlined, courier style) and subordinated commanderies (jun 郡). Because each of these empires claimed to represent the legal government of China, some of the regions and commanderies were installed two times, on the territory of Wei and on the soil of Wu, like Yangzhou 揚州 (modern Shouxian 壽縣/Anhui and Nanjing 南京/Suzhou) and Jingzhou 荊州 (Xinye 新野/Henan and Shashi 沙市/Hubei) regions, or Lujiang 廬江 (Liuan 六安/Anhui and Qianshan 潛山/Anhui) and Jiangxia 江夏 (Yunmeng 雲夢/Hebei and Echeng 鄂城/Hubei) commanderies.
The Three Kingdoms inherited the system of the local administration with commanderies (jun 郡) and princedoms (wangguo 王國) the Han Dynasty. While the princedoms of Cao-Wei were real fiefs with own territory, the princedoms of Shu-Han and Sun-Wu were mostly virtual, say the owner of the title did not govern a corresponding fiefdom territory - because most princedoms were located in the northeast and east of China that was now occupied by the Cao-Wei empire.
During the 3rd century many Non-Chinese tribes occupied the northern steppe zone and advanced into the territory of China proper. Except the long-known Xiongnu 匈奴 there was the relatively new group of the Xianbei 鮮卑 federation. The states of Wei and Wu had also commercial and cultural contact with peoples and minor states of the east on the Korean Peninsula (Samhan/Sanhan 三韓 "Three Han": Mahan 馬韓, Chinhan/Chenhan 辰韓, Pyŏnhan/Bianhan 弁韓; Koguryŏ/Gaogouli 高句麗, Fuyu/Puyŏ 夫余, Okchŏ/Woju 沃沮 and Yemaek/Huimo 濊貊) and the Japanese archipelago (Wa/Wo 倭).
Go back to the Three Kingdoms introduction page and learn more about Three Kingdoms economy, arts, literature, government...