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Chinese History - Three Kingdoms 三國 (220-280)

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Three Kingdoms
event history of Cao-Wei 曹魏

period before (Han)
next period (Jin)
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Although Cao Cao was not a real member of the north Chinese aristocracy, he was accepted as a leader due to his military and political success. Nonetheless, he tried to oust his political opponents among the aristocracy with brutal force and thereby provoked the hostility of the mighty clans (shizu 士族). Cao Cao looked not only for supporters among the already existing families of a higher education and a higher social background (mingshi 名士), but also among the lower social strata and tried to promote people of ability rather than simply because of social background.Cao Cao’s (now called with his posthumous title Wei Wudi 魏武帝 - see titles of emperors) son Cao Pi 曹丕 made himself Emperor of Wei 魏 in 220 (name of an old state of the Warring States period), intendingly braking with the old Han empire that had lasted for about four hundred years. At the northern frontier, nomadic Non-Chinese people submitted to the new emperor of China, like the Xiongnu 匈奴, Shanshan 鄯善, Guici 龜慈, and Yutian 于闐, and there was installed a commandant protecting the Xianbei people (hu Xianbei xiaowei [also read jiaoyu] 護鮮卑校尉). The western region was governed as administrative prefecture (Xiyu zhangshi fu 西域長史府). Following the tradition of territorial expansion of the Han empire to the Central Asian oasises, military agrarian colonies (tuntian 屯田) were arranged especially in the area of Gaochang 高昌 (modern Turfan 吐魯番/Xinjiang Prov.). The southern frontier as war front against the empires of Wu and Shu should be relatively stable and quiet for the next few decades, although there occurred several military campaigns against the two southern empires.To consolidate his rule, Cao Pi tried to abolish the institutional problems by which the Later Han Dynasty had suffered and finally had perished. It was forbidden to present submissions or petitions to empresses bypassing the authority of the emperor like it had often been practice during Later Han. Furthermore, the relatives of empresses were excluded official charges and feudal titles. Relatives and princes of the imperial house were enfeoffed with a feudal territory far away the capital (in modern Shandong, Henan and Hebei Prov.), but they had to reside within these estates and were not allowed to dwell in the capital Luoyang. Their personal troops could not exceed a certain number of soldiers. Like his father too, Cao Pi relied on a very austere and economical household policy and interdicted the organising of extravagant burials and tombs like it had been popular among the Han Dynasty aristocracy and officialdom – whose funeral customs left us many precious archeological items.After Cao Pi’s death (he was now called Wei Wend i魏文帝 - see titles of emperors) in 225, his son Cao Rui曹叡 became emperor, aided by the inofficial governors Cao Zhen 曹真, Chen Qun 陳群, Cao Xiu 曹休, and Sima Yi 司馬懿. Under his rule, several military campaigns against the kingdoms of Wu and Shu took place, and the rebellion of Gongsun Yuan公孫淵 in Liaodong 遼東 (modern Liaoning Prov.) was suppressed. Cao Rui was the initiator of a new criminal and administrative codex called Weilü 魏律 or Xinlü 新律. To assume an official career, it was necessary to take part in a kind of examination system that was based on the Confucian Classics. These procedures were partially a response to the philosophical movement of the doctrine of the mysterium (Xuanxue 玄學) that rather dealt with metaphysical questions than with social and state-political matters like Confucianism, and that was very widespread among scholars of the third and fourth centuries. In this time, we therewith find the real origin of the official state examination system of China that should last until the end of 19th century. The nine rank system (jiupin 九品) with upper, mean and lower subranks (counting 27 ranks in total) of state officials had already been introduced by Cao Pi. The policy of austerity that had been pursued under the rule of Cao Cao and Cao Pi was gradually given up, and we find again material and personal unthriftiness at the central court and the residences of the aristocracy. When Cao Rui (now called Wei Mingdi 魏明帝- see titles of emperors) died childless in 239, the ageing Sima Yi (later called Jin Xuandi 晉宣帝, temple name Jin Gaozu 晉高祖 - see titles of emperors) took over the government for the minor emperor Cao Fang 曹芳, but Sima Yi was manoeuvered out by the court clique around Cao Shuang 曹爽, a party to which also belonged the philosopher He Yan 何晏. Only when Sima Yi was able to establish a coalition with the empress dowager, Cao Shuang was eliminated. In 251, the defender-in-chief Wang Ling 王淩 overthrew the minor emperor and installed Cao Biao 曹彪 as new ruler. In turn, Sima Yi’s son Sima Shi 司馬師 (later called Jin Jingdi 晉景帝, temple name Jin Shizu 晉世祖 - see titles of emperors) could disempower the clique of Wang Ling, Wuqiu Jian 毋丘儉, and Zhuge Dan 諸葛誕, and installed another puppet ruler named Cao Mao曹髦. Sima Shi’s brother Sima Zhao 司馬昭 (posthumous title Jin Wendi 晉文帝, temple name Jin Taizu 晉太祖- see titles of emperors) finally was enfeoffed as Duke of Jin 晉公. His puppet emperor was Cao Huan 曹奐, Emperor Wei Yuandi 魏元帝.

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