Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Gongjin's Campaign Memorials

Han 漢, or Shu-Han 蜀漢 was one of the three empires during the period of the Three Kingdoms (220-280). It fought for supremacy over the lands of China and contested against the states Wei and Wu. Founded by Liu Bei 劉備, who claimed descent of the royal Liu-family of Han. In 220 when the Later Han dynasty came to an end and Wei was founded in its stead, Liu Bei founded his own dynasty in 221 and called it Han. It was meant as a continuation of the Han dynasty. He crowned himself emperor of Han, despite the fact that the deposed emperor Xian of Han, was still alive. Because of this, some historians consider Liu Bei an usurper. After taking the crown he no longer pursued the release of former emperor Xian.

Liu Bei's Han is often referred to as "Shu-Han", or simply "Shu", to distinguish it from the previous Han dynasties. Among enemies Liu Bei's Han was also called "Shu", instead of "Han", because they did not acknowledge the state as a continuation of Han. In the Records of the Three Kingdoms, the official history for the period, each of the three empires has a "book", and Han's book is called the Book of Shu, instead of the Book of Shu-Han or Book of Han.

Brief history[]

Liu Bei was not a very famous figure throughout China during the Yellow Turban Rebellion being just a minor officer under the command of Zou Jing 鄒靖. Eventually Liu Bei was assigned a post in Xu Province and became an officer under Tao Qian 陶謙.

After Tao Qian's defeat at the hands of Cao Cao 曹操, Liu Bei fled and eventually joined up with Lü Bu 呂布 at Xiapi. Liu Bei left Lü Bu and joined up with Cao Cao at the Battle of Xiapi where Lü Bu was eventually defeated and when Lü Bu tried to persuade Cao Cao to keep him alive, Liu Bei made sure Cao Cao would execute him. Liu Bei then headed to Jing Province, which was at that time under the control of Liu Biao 劉表, also a kinsmen of the Han. However, Cao Cao marched south and took over Jing Province and much of the northern plains and became very powerful. Cao Cao feared Liu Bei might grow in power and decided he had to get rid of him. Liu Bei managed to escape Cao Cao at Changban and headed towards the lands of Wu, to seek help from their ruler, Sun Quan 孫權. The Wu forces, with troops from Liu Bei, managed to defeat Cao Cao at the decisive Battle of Chibi.

Following Chibi, it was Liu Bei who seized the most land in Jing Province. Wu thought this unfair because Liu Bei's role in the Battle of Chibi was much smaller than Wu's, yet Liu Bei reaped a much bigger reward in the form of almost an entire province, whereas Wu only obtained few commanderies. Liu Bei used Jing Province as a base until his strategist, Pang Tong 龐統, created a plan to defeat Liu Zhang 劉璋, a relative of Liu Bei, and take over Yi Province. Liu Bei succeeded in taking Yi Province, but at the cost of Pang Tong's life. Now holding Jing and Yi Province, Liu Bei was the second most powerful warlord, behind Cao Cao, but above Sun Quan. In 219 Guan Yu, one of Liu Bei's most talented generals, was stationed in Jing Province but was defeated by Wu's Lü Meng 呂蒙 and Jing subsequently fell in the hands of Wu, leaving only Yi Province under the rule of Liu Bei. Later in the year 221 Liu Bei declared himself Emperor of a new Han dynasty.[1]

In 222 Liu Bei wanted to attack Wu to avenge the death of Guan Yu. Before the attack, another of his generals, Zhang Fei, was killed by his subordinates who fled to Wu afterwards. Guan Yu and Zhang Fei had been with Liu Bei since the beginning of his career and their deaths made a big impact on Liu Bei. When Liu Bei met the forces of Wu, led by Lu Xun 陸遜, he was ultimately swiftly and heavily beaten. He fled back to Yi Province where he died in 223. He was succeeded by his, often considered incapable, son Liu Shan 劉禪 who was to administer state affairs with Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮.

Zhuge Liang made peace with Wu and re-newed their alliance. He then headed south where barbarian rebels were causing havoc. He pacified the barbarian regions and gained their loyalty. He then embarked on a large scale offensive on Wei; five campaigns in total, of which all except one failed. On the contrary, despite losing many battles, Zhuge Liang did manage to lose only few men and resources, in contrast to Wei, who lost many men, fine generals and resources.

When Zhuge Liang died in 234 he was succeeded by Jiang Wei 姜維, who also embarked on a campaign against Wei; six in total. He was defeated each time and unlike Zhuge Liang, did lose many men and resources and was slowly draining the state.

In 263 Liu Shan submitted Shu-Han to the invading forces of Wei led by Deng Ai 鄧艾 and Zhong Hui 鍾會.

Why the name Shu-Han?[]

How the character was drawn at the time of the Three Kingdoms.

When Liu Bei founded his own dynasty, he called it Han 漢. It was meant as a continuation of the fallen Han dynasty. His rivals did not acknowledge Liu Bei's Han and therefore referred to it as just Shu 蜀, or Shu-Han 蜀漢, because Liu Bei's capital city, Chengdu, was located in Shu commandery.

Shu was a commandery of Yi province, so Liu Bei's rivals could've called his state Yi, but did not, perhaps because the Lius did not always completely rule Yi. Some southern groups, like the Nanman, who occupied some commanderies south in Yi, did not always acknowledge the rule of the Lius.

On the characters shu 蜀 and han[]

Definitions and other usages of shu:

  1. The name of a commandery in Yi Province.
  2. Part of the name Shu-Han.

Definitions and other usages of han:

  1. A name for a river (the Han River)
  2. A name for a dynasty (Han dynasty)
  3. A Chinese surname
  4. definition: Chinese people
  5. definition: Chinese language
  6. definition: a man
  • Traditional Chinese: 蜀漢
  • Simplified Chinese: 蜀汉
  • Pinyin with tonemarks: Shǔ-Hàn (shu3 han4)
  • Pronunciation: to add link

The reign colour of Shu-Han[]

Main article: Five Powers

The reign colours of Chinese Dynasties were in accordance with the theories and phases of the Five Powers (Wǔxíng 五行). The Han dynasty ruled through the power of Fire and its colour Red. When Cao Pi forced the abdication of Han, Liu Bei said he was forced to re-found the Han dynasty and make himself its emperor. Thus Liu Bei's Han must've ruled through the same power as the Han dynasty, which was Fire and its associated reign colour was Red.

List of sovereigns of Shu-Han[]

Posthumous name Temple name Name Reign Reign title(s) Notes
Emperor Shaolie of Han
Hàn Zhāoliè huángdì 漢昭烈皇帝
n/a Liu Bei 劉備 221-223
  • Zhangwu 章武
Emperor Xiaohuai of Han
Hàn Xiàohuái huángdì 漢孝懷皇帝
n/a Liu Shan 劉禪 223-263
  • Jianxing 建興
  • Yanxi 延熙
  • Jingyao 景耀
  • Yanxing 炎興
[note 1]

See also[]


  1. Liu Shan was posthumously honoured with the title Duke Si of Anle 安樂思公 during the Jin dynasty. In the 4th century he was honoured as Emperor Xiaohuai of Han 漢孝懷皇帝 by Liu Yuan 劉淵 of the Han Zhao state 漢趙. A state of which the founders claimed descent of the Han Imperial familyline.

Fact vs. Fiction[]


  • …Shu-Han was probably Red. Not green like in Koei-Tecmo's Three Kingdoms themed videogames.



  • de Crespigny, Rafe. To Establish Peace. Canberra: Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University, 1996.
  • Sima Guang 司馬光 (1019–1086). Zizhi tongjian 資治通鑒 “Comprehensive Mirror for Aid in Government”.
  • Wu, Jonathan, "Introduction to the Kingdom of Shu". Retrieved from Kongming's Archives: kongming.net.