An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Shu-Han Dynasty 蜀漢 (221-263)

Oct 30, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

The Shu-Han dynasty 蜀漢 (221-263) ruled over one of the Three Kingdoms 三國 (220~280). It was founded by Liu Bei 劉備 (Emperor Zhaolie 漢昭烈帝, r. 221-222). While Shu 蜀 is the name of the region (modern Sichuan), derived from the ancient state of Shu, Liu Bei's empire is also called Shu-Han because Liu Bei claimed descendance from the ruling family of the Han dynasty 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) and saw himself as the legal successor to the Han. Historians rather gave preference to the Wei dynasty 曹魏 (220-265) that ruled over northern China, the homeland of Chinese culture. Only much later, the role of Liu Bei was reinterpreted as that of the rightful sovereign.

Liu Bei withdrew to the province of Yizhou 益州 (i.e. Sichuan) in 211 and, supported by Guan Yu 關羽 (d. 219) and Zhang Fei 張飛 (d. 221) after he had lost the province of Jingzhou 荊州 (middle Yangtze area) to the empire of Wu 吳 (222-280) that controlled the lower Yangtze region. In 221, Liu adopted the title of emperor of Shu.

Shortly after the defeat in the critical battle of Yiling 夷陵 (near modern Yichang 宜昌, Hubei) Liu Bei died, and the Shu empire was given into the hands of his young son Liu Shan 劉禪 (r. 223-263 CE). Liu Shan ruled his remote empire with the assistance of the wise counsellor Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181-234). As early as 207, Zhuge Liang had concluded a contract with Sun Quan 孫權 (182-252), the eventual founder of the Wu empire, to create a united front against the northern "usurper" Cao Cao 曹操 (155-220). During the next decades, it was possible to hold a relatively stable frontier against the Cao-Wei empire 曹操 (155-220) in the region of Hanzhong 漢中, the mountainous area of the Qinling Range 秦嶺 between the modern provinces of Sichuan and Shaanxi), and to turn the attention to domestic policies.

The dynasty of Liu Bei, residing in Chengdu 成都 (modern Chengdu, Sichuan), had to rely on local magnates from among the distinguished families (haozu 豪族) of the Sichuan Basin who was granted offices and territory. During a short peaceful period, the territory of Shu-Han was expanded to the south and reached into the region of the modern provinces of Guizhou and Yunnan where numerous native tribes were subjected to Chinese control. This colonization of southwest China was effected during the so-called southern campaign (zheng Nanzhong 征南中). To facilitate the expansion of agriculture and wealth, southern non-Chinese peoples of the mountainous area were forcibly resettled in the fertile Sichuan basin where they served as labour slaves to the local Chinese gentry.

From 227 on, Zhuge Liang undertook several military campaigns against the Cao-Wei empire, without obtaining any satisfactory results. After Zhuge Liang's death Jiang Wan 蔣琬 (d. 246) and Fan Yi 費禕 (d. 253) took over the role of political advisors for Liu Shan, while the late chancellor was more and more venerated as a demigod. The last attempts of Jiang Wei 姜維 (202-264) and Huang Hao 黃皓 to attack the Cao-Wei empire ended in their defeat and the conquest of Shu by the generals Deng Ai 鄧艾 (197-264) and Zhong Hui (225-264) 鍾會. Liu Shan capitulated in 263 and was brought to the Wei capital Luoyang, where he died. For his whole life, he had been regarded as a "little child" and was therefore dubbed with his child name Adou 阿斗.

Shu-Han Empire 蜀漢 (221-263)
Capital: Chengdu 成都 (modern Chengdu, Sichuan)
posthumous title {temple name} personal name reign periods (nianhao 年號)
Shu Zhaoliedi 蜀昭烈帝
The First Ruler (Shu Xianzhu) 蜀先主 (r. 221-222)
King of Han 漢 in 219, Emperor in 221.
Liu Bei 劉備 Zhangwu 章武 (221-222)
The Last Ruler (Shu Houzhu) 蜀後主 (r. 223-263)
Duke of Anle 安樂公
Liu Shan 劉禪 Jianxing 建興 (223-237)
Yanxi 延熙 (238-257)
Jingyao 景耀 (258-262)
Yanxing 炎興 (263)
280 empire of Shu-Han conquered by Wei 曹魏 (220-265)
Zhonguo lishi da cidian bianzuan weiyuanhui 《中國歷史大辭典》編纂委員會, ed. (2000). Zhongguo lishi da cidian 中國歷史大辭典 (Shanghai: Shanghai cishu chubanshe), Vol.2, 3315-3316.