Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Gongjin's Campaign Memorials

Chen Shou 陳壽 was an official and writer during the Three Kingdoms period and Jin dynasty. He started his career under Shu-Han, which occupied the territory where he was born. After the fall of Shu-Han, he served Jin. He wrote many works, with his most well-known work being Records of the Three Kingdoms, the official history work for the period of the Three Kingdoms. Some other of his works include Wei mingchen zou and Guguo zhi.

History of Jin official biography [translation][]

 Chen Shou, style name Chengzuo, was a native from Anhan county in Baxi commandery [in Yi province]. When he was young, he was very studious. His teacher was Qiao Zhou 譙周, who also lived in the commandery. Chen served as Foreman Clerk of Imperial Archives (guān’gé lìngshǐ 觀閣令史)[n 1] in Shu. Eunuch Huang Hao 黃皓 manipulated the imperial power. Most court officials flattered him. Only Chen Shou did not bend his will to fawn the eunuch, and thus Chen was marginalized and demoted a few times. His father died, and he himself was ill. He asked a maid to feed him pills in his sickbed, and the scene was seen by a visitor. His fellow villagers wagged their tongues. When Shu surrendered, Chen Shou did not receive an official post for years due to this scandal.[n 2]

 Zhang Hua 張華, then Excellency of Works, admired his talent. Zhang thought that Chen did not deserve to be demoted though he did not avoid arousing suspicion. And Zhang recommended Chen as Filial and Incorrupt (xiàolián 孝廉). Chen was appointed as Assistant Gentleman Editor (zuǒ zhùzuò láng 佐著作郎),[1] and later he assumed the vacancy as the County Magistrate of Yangping.

 Chen wrote Collected Works of the chancellor of Shu Zhuge Liang (Shǔ xiāng Zhūgé Liàng jí 蜀相諸葛亮集), and submitted it to the throne. He was then appointed as Gentleman Editor (zhùzuò láng 著作郎)[1] and Impartial and Just (zhōngzhèng 中正) of his commandery. He wrote Records of the Three Kingdoms, a book with sixty-five chapters for the history of Wei, Wu and Shu. The people of the time said that he was a good narrator, and that he had the talent of an excellent historian. Xiahou Zhan 夏侯湛[n 3] wrote a Book of Wei (Wei shu 魏書). When he saw the work written by Chen Shou, he destroyed his own book and gave up writing. Zhang Hua spoke highly of the book. Zhang told Chen, “We should let you take charge of the writing and editing of History of Jin (Jìn shū 晉書).” He was held in high esteem by the people of his time. There were rumors about the man, however. Ding Yi 丁儀 and Ding Hao 丁暠[n 4] were prominent celebrities in Wei. Someone said that Chen Shou told the two gentlemen’s sons, “If you give me a thousand hu 斛[n 5] of rice, I shall write a good biography for your father.” It was said that Dings did not give the rice to him, and Chen did not write biographies for the gentlemen. Chen’s father used to be Staff Officer for Ma Su 馬謖. Ma was executed by Zhuge Liang, and Chen’s father also received the penalty of hair shaving. Zhuge Zhan 諸葛瞻[n 6] also looked down upon Chen Shou. When Chen wrote the biography of Zhuge Liang, Chen said that Zhuge Liang did not excel in military operations and could not make a good general against enemies on the battlefields. Chen also said that Zhuge Zhan was just good at calligraphy and was overrated. Some people argued that Chen was not objective.[n 7]

 Zhang Hua was about to recommend Chen Shou as Gentleman of the Palace Writers (zhōngshū láng 中書郎).[1] Xun Xu 荀勖 feared Zhang Hua and hated Chen Shou. Xun told the Ministry of personnel to transfer Chen as the Grand Administrator of Changguang [commandery]. Chen refused to take office with an excuse of his mother’s old age. General Du Yu 杜預 was about to take charge of his military base. Before departure, the General recommended Chen Shou again to the Emperor, saying that Chen was a right candidate for Gentleman at the Yellow Gate (Huángmén shìláng 黄门侍郎) or Cavalier Gentleman-in-Attendance (sànjí shìláng 散骑侍郎). With the general’s recommendation, Chen was appointed as Imperial Clerk Preparer of Documents (zhìshū shìyùshǐ 治書侍禦史), and later he gave up the official post for his mother’s demise. His mother said that she would like to be buried in Luoyang, and Chen agreed. Later, he was demoted for not burying his mother in his hometown. Qiao Zhou used to tell Chen Shou, “You will earn a reputation for your studies, and you will have to bear some losses. And what you may suffer is not bad luck. You just need to be very careful.” Again, Chen was stripped of his official post, as predicted by his teacher. A few years later, he was appointed as Palace Cadet of the Heir Apparent (tàizǐ zhōng shùzǐ 太子中庶子), but he did not take the office.

 In the 7th year of Yuankang, Chen died at the age of 65.[n 8] Fan Jun 范頵, Impartial and Just and Gentleman of the Masters of Writing (shàngshūláng 尚書郎) in Liang province, submitted a memorial to the throne, saying,

Emperor Wu of Han used to say in an imperial edict, ‘Sima Xiangru was gravely ill, and I shall send people to bring all his books to the palace.’ An imperial envoy fetched his posthumous papers, in which Chen discussed about the ritual of offering sacrifices to Heaven (Fengshan). The Emperor marveled at the man’s writing. We have a suggestion for Your Majesty: The late Imperial Clerk Preparer of Documents Chen Shou has written a book named Records of the Three Kingdoms. The book includes beneficial advice and caveats. It offers a clear picture of the gains and losses in history. And it also can cultivate morals and manners of the public. Though his articles were less flowery than those of Sima Xiangru, the essential substance of his writings was better. We hope that we could transcribe his books.

 The Emperor issued an edict, ordering the Governors of Henan and Luoyang to transcribe his books at his home. Chen Shou also wrote fifty chapters of Records of Ancient States (Gǔguó zhì 古國志), and ten chapters of Accounts of Venerable Men and Ancient Affairs of Yi Division (Yìbù qíjiù zhuán 益部耆舊傳). Some other articles written by him were also in circulation at the time.

Comments [to JS 82][]

 Comment: Chen Shou was a historian of literary genius and granite-like integrity. He not only was a man of great moral courage, but also a historian with excellent writing. With his genius for history writing, he was able to provide wonderful historical accounts that no other historians could rival. Thanks to his efforts, the deeds of the ancient historical figures could be recorded. Thanks to the writings of historians, such as Deng and Xie, there have been myriad historical accounts. Historian Xi also provided his mature historical accounts, which did not boast flowery language. All such accounts were written in books, which could be circulated among the people for study and rituals.

See also[]


  1. GJCM notes: Miao Yue, a last century writer who has written about Chen Shou’s life, thinks guān’gé 觀閣 refers to Dōngguān 東觀, or Eastern Pavilion. The Eastern Pavilion was the main library of Later Han and the location of the archivists’ offices. This would make Chen Shou a Foreman Clerk of the Eastern Pavilion. Later we read that Chen was a Gentleman (láng 郎), so perhaps Chen was first a Clerk before becoming a Gentleman.
  2. GJCM notes: this was a ‘scandal’, because since Chen’s father had died, Chen needed to observe mourning for his father. There was a custom which said that before mourning had ended, he shouldn’t get in touch with females.
  3. GJCM notes: Xiahou Zhan was a great-grandson of Xiahou Yuan.
  4. GJCM notes: for some reason the younger Ding Yi’s name is recorded as Ding Hao in History of Jin. Historically he was actually known as Ding Yi 丁廙.
  5. GJCM notes: hu 斛 is an ancient Chinese unit of measuring weight. Possibly equivalent to either 5 or 10 dou 斗. 1 dou was equivalent to 120 jin 斤, which is about 500~605 grams nowadays.
  6. GJCM notes: Zhuge Zhan is Zhuge Liang’s eldest son.
  7. GJCM notes: it is thus said that Chen Shou belittled the Zhuge’s achievements in revenge when writing their biographies. Tang dynasty historian Liu Zhiji 劉知幾 (661–721) says Chen’s entries on them are false and that he is lying. But if Zhuge Liang was truly a mastermind, would these belittlings not be way too obvious and easily discredit Chen? A Qing dynasty scholar named Wang Mingsheng (1722-1797) said in support of Chen, “the History of Jin is fond of quoting diverse accounts and thus is rather rank”. Robert Cutter and William Crowell, in Empresses and Consorts say that Lu Bi 盧弼, Miao Yue, He Zhao 何焯, Carl Leban and others demonstrate that Chen Shou was simply stating facts. Also, aside from being critical about Zhuge Liang’s military arts, Chen Shou acknowledged Zhuge Liang’s skills in politics.
  8. GJCM notes: the Yuankang reign years were from 291 to 297. The 7th year was thus 297.
  • Chen Shou's Records of the Three Kingdoms was later annotated by Pei Songzhi 裴松之, who used over 250 texts for his annotations.
  • The Huayang guo zhi, chapter 11, also has a biography of Chen Shou and mentions several titles Chen held, which are not mentioned in the History of Jin. These titles are: Registrar/Master of Records (zhǔbù 主簿) for the General of the Guards, Gentleman Librarian of the Eastern Pavilion (Dōngguān mìshūláng 東觀秘書郎) and Cavalier Gentleman-in-Attendance at the Yellow Gates (sànjí huángmén shìláng 散騎黃門侍郎).
  • During Zhuge Liang's first Northern Campaigns there was a Chen Shi 陳式, who was placed under Ma Su to guard Jieting. Ma Su's force was completely annihilated by the enemy and Ma Su was executed for it. His men were punished as well, and Chen Shi's head was shaven. He redeemed himself by later helping Zhuge Liang force Wei commander Guo Huai to evacuate and win the two commanderies Wudu and Yinping.
    It is sometimes speculated that Chen Shi is the father of Chen Shou, but there is no evidence in support of this. Despite gaining success against Wei, Chen Shi does not have a biography in Records of the Three Kingdoms.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 title translation from Cutter and Crowell’s, Empresses and Consorts, pages 62-81


  • Cutter, Robert Joe and William Gordon Crowell. Empresses and Consorts - Selections from Chen Shou's Records of the Three States with Pei Songzhi's Commentary. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999.
  • Fang Xuanling 房玄齡 (578-648). Jin shu 晉書 “History of Jin”. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1974.