Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Preserved words

Sun Jian 孫堅 was born the son of a merchant, however, after some early military success he was promoted to a post of some importance. He played an active role in the Yellow Turban Campaign where he once again excelled and was promoted to the rank of Marquis. When a campaign was called against the warlord Dong Zhuo, Sun Jian joined the powerful Yuan Shu and was one of the few military officers to score a success against Dong’s forces. After the coalition went their separate ways, Sun Jian stayed as a subordinate of Yuan Shu’s and died in a campaign against the governor Liu Biao. He left behind a wife (Lady Wu), four sons (Sun Ce, Sun Quan, Sun Yi, and Sun Kuang) a legitimate daughter (Lady Sun) and one illegitimate daughter (Lady Sun-better known as Sun Shang Xiang). According to legend he is a descendant of the legendary Sun Tzu, author of ‘The Art of War’.


The Sun family had long lived in Fuchun 富春 county in Wu commandery and had burial grounds east of the city for their family. Repeatedly strange lights and auroras were seen other the graves rising up into the heavens and stretching for several li[n 1]. The people all went to examine the strange signs, the elders thought it to be an extraordinary omen and that it meant the Sun clan would prosper.

When Sun Jian's mother was pregnant with him, she dreamt that her intestines burst forth from her body and encircled the Chang 昌 Gate of Wu.[n 2] She awoke and was fearful, she rushed to her neighbours mother and asked her thoughts on the dream. She said:

"Be calm, is it not a lucky sign."

After Sun Jian was born, he was noted as not being of ordinary appearance; and he was generous and distinguished by nature, and liked proper conduct.[1]

Early Career[]

While it is yet to be proven that his father was a merchant there is folklore to support the theory. Such as the saying ‘Sun Zhong offers melons’ (Sun Zhong being his father). Whether it is true or not is unimportant as he still secured a job as a county official ‘li’ at the age of 15 or 16.[2]

At age 16[n 3], Sun Jian was travelling with his father to Qiantang 錢唐[n 4] by boat. It happened that at that time the pirate Hu Yu 胡玉 and his associates were plundering merchants of their property, and at that time they were on the river bank distributing their spoils. All of the travellers had stopped, and none dared to risk the journey. Sun Jian said to his father:

"We can strike these pirates, let us please punish them."

But his father said:

"This is not your business."

But Sun Jian ignored him and went anyway, he clutched his sword and climbed the river bank, he gestured east and west as though he were giving orders to divisions of soldiers behind him so as to establish a dragnet around the pirates. The pirates saw Sun Jian's behaviour and thought there must be government soldiers coming to arrest them, they immediately cast aside their stolen loot and scattered. Despite being alone, Sun Jian went in pursuit and only returned after having beheaded one of them. Sun Jian's father was incredibly surprised. Due to his actions here, Sun Jian's illustrious reputation began to spread and the county offices summoned him and installed him as a county commandant.

Lady Wu[]

The future wife of Sun Jian, Lady Wu 吳夫人, was orphaned young, and so she left Wu and, with her younger brother Wu Jing 吳景, went to live with relatives in Qiantang. Sun Jian heard of her talent and beauty and desired to take her as his wife. However, her relatives of the Wu clan, presumedly of higher status than the Sun clan, objected to the marriage on the grounds that Sun Jian was not accomplished and crafty.

Sun Jian was humiliated and resentful, but Lady Wu said to her relatives:

"Why would you seek disaster just for the love of a single daughter? Whatever happens will be my fate."

And she managed to convince her family to take the chance on marrying Sun Jian. With whom she would bear four sons and one daughter.[3]

Xu Chang 許昌 of Kuaiji 會稽 was a heretical rebel who rose up in Juzhang 句章, he proclaimed himself Emperor of the Brightness of Yang and his father King of Yue.[4] With his son, Xu Shao 許韶, he incited several commanderies to action and soon had several tens of thousands of people up in arms. At this time, Sun Jian was serving the commandery as a Major. He recruited over 1,000 elite and valiant men and together they joined the provincial forces and put down the rebellion.

Sun Jian's exploits garnered the attention of Inspector of Yang Province Zang Min 臧旻, who passed them on and soon and official decree appointed Sun Jian as an Assistant in Yandu 鹽瀆 county. After a few years he moved to Xuyi 盱眙 county to serve as an Assistant there, and then later he moved to Xiapi 下邳 county to serve there in the same capacity.

Wherever Sun Jian was stationed, Sun Jian garnered the praise of the officials and populace, and they were all close to him. And at each place he was stationed, old friends from his hometown and youths looking for opportunities would flock to Sun Jian, always several hundred in number. Sun Jian would receive and entertain and support them as if they were his sons or younger brothers.[5]

Yellow Turban Campaign[]

Main article: The Yellow Turban Rebellion

In 184 A.D., Zhang Jue 張角, the self-proclaimed Lord of Heaven General and commander of the Yellow Turban rebels rose up in Wei commandery. He dispatched eight envoys across the kingdom in order to spread his teachings to the masses, while secretly they planned anarchist events. On a single day they all sprung into action, burning down commandery and county offices and murdering senior government officials.

The Han government dispatched General of Chariots and Cavalry Huangfu Song 皇甫嵩 and General of the Gentlemen of the Household Zhu Jun 朱儁[n 5] to take control of the army and put down their rebellion. Sun Jian's past exploits must have resulted in some renown because Zhu Jun requested that Sun Jian be appointed as his Associate Major in the Army.

Sun Jian left his family at Shouchun 壽春 and responded to the summons.[6] The old friends and youths whom flocked to Sun Jian all willingly followed him to join the government forces. Sun Jian also managed to enlist various merchants and troops from along the Huai and Si rivers, adding a further 1,000 men.

Sun Jian joined up with Zhu Jun and fought the Yellow Turbans to the full extent of his power, wherever he went, none could withstand him. Sun Jian took advantage of the allied forces' momentum to push deeply into Xihua[n 6]. However, he was wounded in battle and fell from his horse into some long grass. His forces scattered and fled back to their camp, none knew where Sun Jian was. The piebald horse Sun Jian had been riding galloped back to the camp, it pawed at the ground and cried out. The officers and soldiers followed the horse back to where Sun Jian had fallen and brought him back to camp. About a month later, Sun Jian's wounds had sufficiently recovered and he returned to the battlefield.[7]

Huangfu Song was sent against the Yellow Turbans in Dong commandery while Zhu Jun was sent against those in Nanyang 南陽.[8] The Yellow Turban forces, numbering over 10,000, under the command of Han Zhong 韓忠 were occupying Wan 宛 city. Zhu Jun had 18,000 men under his command, but he didn't really have enough soldiers to successfully assault the city and they had already been there for over two months. Zhu Jun had the majority of his forces at the southwestern side of the city and had them vigourously beat drums in order to feign an attack, meanwhile, with the enemy forces all focused on the southwest, Zhu Jun took command of 5,000 elite troops at the northeastern flank ready to climb the city walls.[9]

Sun Jian led the charge on the city walls and was the first over, his forces following him like ants. Having breached the city, Han Zhong's forces were easily beaten and he was forced to surrender. Zhu Jun reported Sun Jian's conduct and he was promoted to Major with a Separate Command.

Rebellion to the North[]

The peace did not last long and soon Bian Zhang 邊章 and Han Sui 韓遂 were making disorder in Liang Province. Towards the end of 185 A.D., Zhang Wen 張溫 was appointed General of Chariots and Cavalry and dispatched westward to deal with them. Zhang Wen also requested that Sun Jian be his Advisor to the Army and they garrisoned at Chang'an 長安. General Who Smashes the Caitiffs Dong Zhuo 董卓 and General Who Terrifies Criminals Zhou Shen 周慎, also under the command of Zhang Wen, along with a further 10,000 soldiers, all garrisoned at Meiyang 美陽. Bian Zhang and Han Sui advanced on their position but no ground was gained either way.[10]

At some point, Zhang Wen summoned Dong Zhuo, but Dong Zhuo took a long time to respond to the summons, and when Zhang Wen chastised him over this, Dong Zhuo was not contrite in his response. Sun Jian was in attendance with Zhang Wen at this time. With both the recent failure to defeat the enemy and Dong Zhuo's attitude on his mind, Sun Jian wanted Dong Zhuo executed as an example to the men, he came forward and whispered to Zhang Wen:

"Dong Zhuo does not fear his crime and behaves and acts arrogantly, because he was summoned and did not promptly arrive, you should exhibit military law and behead him."

But Zhang Wen replied to him:

"Dong Zhuo has a well-known and majestic reputation between Long 隴 and Shu 蜀, we need to rely on him if we are to go west."

To which Sun Jian replied:

"Perspicacious Lord, you intimately command imperial soldiers and our majesty shakes all under Heaven, why shirk duty with regard to Dong Zhuo? Observe Dong Zhuo's words, he does not respect you, perspicacious Lord, he makes light of rank and is discourteous, that was his first crime. Bian Zhang and Han Sui have been rampaging throughout the year, when it was time to advance and punish them, Dong Zhuo said he could not, he stopped the army and left the forces uncertain, that was his second crime. Dong Zhuo has received appointment but had no meritorious service, he responds your official edict and kowtows, yet considers himself imposing and above you, that was his third crime.
"Famous generals of ancient times would hold the Ceremonial Axe[n 7] and overlook the forces, and not yet has has someone not judged and beheaded those neglegent in duty in order to show their majesty. Therefore Sima Rangju 司馬穰苴 beheaded Zhuang Jia 莊賈[n 8], and Wei Jiang 魏絳 slew Yang Gan's 楊干 servant[n 9]. At present, perspicacious Lord, you have extended your feelings to Dong Zhuo, and have not immediately had him executed. At present, if you release him, it will only seek to debase your majesty and importance, afterwards if you regret what then!"[11]

But Zhang Wen did not have the heart to carry out this sentence so he said:

"Sir, go back or Dong Zhuo shall become suspicious."[n 10]

Sun Jian then rose and went out. Despite Sun Jian's reservations about Dong Zhuo, he soon scored an impressive victory against Bian Zhang and Han Sui and beheaded several 1,000 men.[12][n 11]

Defeated, Bian Zhang and Han Sui fled to Yuzhong 榆中 city[n 12]. Dong Zhuo wanted to take a contingent and sever the enemy's supply lines, but Zhang Wen instead sent him to attack the Qiang of Xianling 先零. Zhang Wen assigned Zhou Shen 30,000 soldiers and sent him in pursuit of the enemy. Zhou Shen wanted to assault the city, but Sun Jian said to him:

"The traitors within the city have no grain, they convey provisions from outside; if I obtain 10,000 men I will sever their supply lines. General, you use your great soldiers to protect my rear, the traitors will certainly be fatigued and not dare battle. If they flee and seek refuge with the Qiang, we can unite forces and punish them, then Liang Province can be settled."

However, Zhou Shen did not listen to Sun Jian's advice and assailed the city himself. Zhou Shen hurriedly sent an envoy to Zhang Wen requesting he come too, while Zhou Shen's forces fought from dawn till dusk. Zhou Shen managed to destroy part of the city's outer walls, but Han Sui and Bian Zhang managed to flee. However, they doubled back and struck at Zhou Shen's supply lines. Panicked, Zhou Shen abandoned his baggage train and fled the field.[13][14][n 13]

Duties in Changsha[]

Sun Jian was later conferred the rank of Gentleman-Consultant. At that time, Ou Xing 區星 of Changsha 長沙 titled himself a General. He had managed to rally over 10,000 men to him and they had begun attacking and besieging cities. Thereupon, Sun Jian was appointed Grand Administrator of Changsha and sent to deal with him.

Sun Jian arrived at Changsha and personally saw to commanding the soldiers and establishing battle plans; and within 10 days to a month, he had managed to overcome and defeat Ou Xing and his followers.

Those within the commandery quickly submitted to Sun Jian, and he in turn employed competent and good officials. He wrote an official order saying:

"Be good and kindly to those you meet; with government offices and documents, be sure to adhere to regulations. As for the bandits and traitors, leave them to me."[15]

Mountain bandits Zhou Chao 周朝 and Guo Shi 郭石 rose up in Lingling 零陵 and Guiyang 桂陽, and they both joined Ou Xing. Despite not having authority to cross commandery borders, Sun Jian sought out the bandits anyway and finished them off.

Some time around November[n 14] Guan Hu 觀鵠 from Lingling proclaimed himself 'General Who Pacifies Heaven' and invaded Guiyang, and Sun Jian attacked and killed him too.[16]

At that time, Grand Administrator of Lujiang Lu Kang's 陸康 nephew, the Chief of Yichun 宜春, was being attacked by bandits and he sent an envoy to Sun Jian to request aid. Sun Jian assembled his forces to assist him, but Sun Jian's Reigstrar admonished him for overstepping his authority. But Sun Jian said to him:

"I have no civil virtues, through campaigns I earned my achievements. I'll cross borders to attack and punish traitors so as to make whole this fractured state. If capturing them is a crime, why should I feel ashamed?"

Thereupon he advanced his forces. Hearing Sun Jian was coming the bandits fled.[17] Through Sun Jian's actions, Changsha and its two neighbouring commanderies were settled. The Han court recorded Sun Jian's achievements from start to finish and enfeoffed him as Marquis of Wucheng 烏程.

The War Against Dong Zhuo[]

Main article: Campaign against Dong Zhuo

On the 13th of May 189 A.D., Emperor Ling 靈帝 died. Dong Zhuo had all but assumed control in the capital and the young Emperor Xian had been reduced to a figurehead; Dong Zhuo's oppressive and barbaric actions had resulted in numerous warlords raising soldiers in order to oust him. When Sun Jian heard, he sighed and said:

"Had Lord Zhang heeded my words in former times, the imperial court would not now be experiencing this difficulty."[18]

In 191 A.D.[n 15], Sun Jian also raised loyal soldiers and headed north. On his way he encountered Inspector of Jing Province Wang Rui 王叡. Wang Rui had first encountered Sun Jian several years previous during the business with the bandits of Lingling and Guiyang, Wang Rui considered Sun Jian to be no more than a military man and not suitable for civil administration.

At this time, Wang Rui also raised soldiers to attack Dong Zhuo, but in the past had issue with Grand Administrator of Wuling 武陵 Cao Yin 曹寅 and planned to kill him. Cao Yin was dreading this so he forged a dispatch and had a man pretend to be an emissary for the Imperial Household Grandee in order to sway Sun Jian. It admonished Wang Wui's faults and ordered that he be arrested and face punishment. Sun Jian immediately assumed the dispatch was genuine and forced his soldiers to raid Wang Rui's position.[n 16]

Wang Rui heard the approach of soldiers and climbed a tower to see them, he dispatched someone to ask what they wanted and why they were there. Sun Jian's advance division said:

"For a long time, we soldiers have been battled and toiling through hardships and are here to get compensation. It is not enough that we only get clothes, so we have come to directly to you, Commissoner, to beg further support."

Wang Rui was confused and said:

"How is it that the Inspector could be so stingy?"

So Wang Rui opened up his storehouses and inspected their contents himself to ascertain whether compensation had been given, however he realised that it had been. He went back to the tower and saw Sun Jian approaching, alarmed he said:

"If the soldiers are here to request compensation, why would Magistrate Sun be located among them?"

Sun Jian said:

"I come bearing an emissarial dispatch to execute you, sir."

Wang Rui said:

"What is my crime?"

Sun Jian said:

"You just don't understand things."

Wang Rui knew he had no more options so he scraped gold, drank it, and died.[19]

On reaching Nanyang 南陽, Sun Jian's forces had expanded to several tens of thousand thanks to annexing those belonging to Wang Rui. Sun Jian requested military provisions for his army from Grand Administrator of Nanyang Zhang Zi 張咨, but Zhang Zi was advised:

"Sun Jian's neighbouring commandery has 2,000 bushels of grain[n 17], you should not need to transfer him supplies."[20]

However, because Zhang Zi did not supply military provisions to Sun Jian, Sun Jian killed him.[21] As for the exact circumstances around Zhang Zi's death, there are two accounts, one recorded in Sun Jian's SGZ and another in the Progress of Wu which is cited in the SGZ.

According to Sun Jian's SGZ: Sun Jian presented alcohol and cattle to Zhang Zi as a sign of courtesy and the next day, Zhang Zi responded by visiting Sun Jian. They were drinking merrily when Sun Jian's Registrar entered and informed Sun Jian that nothing had been provided for the army and that the roads had not been maintained. Zhang Zi wanted to flee but he was surrounded and summarily executed by the camp's gate under military law. And from that point forward all Sun Jian's requests were met.

According to Wu li (Progress of Wu): Zhang Zi refused to meet Sun Jian. Sun Jian desired to advance his soldiers but was afraid Zhang Zi would become a threat to his rear so wanted to deal with him. Sun Jian feigned illness and his army was shaking with fear. To perpetuate his ruse and make him seem desperate, he invited a shaman to cure him and offered sacrifices to the hills and rivers. Sun Jian dispatched some relatives to convince Zhang Zi of his plight, they said his illness was distressing and he desired to hand over his soldiers to Zhang Zi. Zhang Zi couldn't resist the bait and immediately lead 500-600 footmen and cavalry to Sun Jian's camp in order to acquire them. Sun Jian continued feigning illness in order to meet with Zhang Zi, however as soon as Zhang Zi attended him, Sun Jian jumped up, grabbed his sword, condemned Zhang Zi, and finally, beheaded him.[22]

Sun Jian continued north to Luyang 魯陽 to serve under General of the Rear Yuan Shu 袁術. With the death of Zhang Zi, Yuan Shu assumed the position of Grand Administrator of Nanyang and began occupation of the land. Yuan Shu recommended Sun Jian as Acting General Who Smashes Caitiffs and Inspector of Yu Province, and had him command the soldiers of Jing and Yu province from Luyang.[23]

Responsibility of the province and supply chains was given to Gongchou Cheng 公仇稱 and he was set back to oversee them. Before he left, a tent was set up outside the eastern city gate and a banquet prepared for Gongchou Cheng, attended by many of the junior officers.

Dong Zhuo had begun dispatching his officers to plunder and take prisoners from the surrounding regions, several tens of thousand were heading Sun Jian's way. As the banquet was under way, several dozen scouts arrived. Sun Jian continued drinking, chatting and laughing, but sent an official order that his retainers should marshal the troops but have them remain in formation and not do anything reckless.

As more of Dong Zhuo's troops arrived, Sun Jian slowly got out of his seat and guided the soldiers back into the city; he then explained his actions to his attendants:

"When the enemy appeared I did not immediately get up because I was afraid the soldiers would be afraid and trample one another, and then we would not be able to enter."

Dong Zhuo's soldiers saw how disciplined Sun Jian's forces were and did not dare attack the city, thus they withdrew.

Sun Jian then advanced his camp east of Liang 梁 county. There, he encountered one of Dong Zhuo's officers, Xu Rong 徐榮, whom dealt a severe blow to Sun Jian's forces. Sun Jian's forces were routed and he only had a mere handful of cavaliers accompanying him.

Sun Jian was known to wear a red, woolen cap, thus he shed his cap and ordered one of his officers, Zu Mao 祖茂, to wear it and draw off the pursuers. Xu Rong's cavalry vied with one another in pursuit of Zu Mao whilst Sun Jian was able to quietly head down a sideroad and find freedom. Zu Mao was stranded and distressed, but he put the cap upon a grave stone and then set fire to a post before concealing himself within some long grass. Xu Rong's cavalry were drawn to the burning post and several layers of men encircled the area, slowly advancing on Zu Mao. However, as they got closer they realised what it was and called off the hunt.

Whilst Zu Mao found freedom, others were less fortunate. The Grand Administrator of Yingchuan 潁川 Li Min 李旻 was captured and boiled alive and others were bound with cloth and thrown before Dong Zhuo and Dong Zhuo killed them by pouring boiling lard over them.[24]

And by the second month[25], despite the defeat, Sun Jian collected his scattered forces and managed to garrison Yangren 陽人[n 18]. There, he was attacked by two more of Dong Zhuo's officers, Grand Administrator of Chen 陳 commandery Hu Zhen 胡軫 and Commandant of Cavalry Lü Bu 呂布, along with the 5,000 footmen and cavalry under their command. Hu Zhen was to serve as the chief commander and protector of the army while Lü Bu oversaw the cavalry.[26]

However, Hu Zhen was disliked by his subordinates and they planned to sabotage him. Lü Bu first convinced Hu Zhen that enemy forces had left the city and that they should forced-march the troops so they could catch them. They advanced by night, but Sun Jian's forces had already prepared defences so they couldn't even raid the city. The soldiers were starving, thirsty and fatigued, so they took off their armour and took a rest. Lü Bu then panicked the troops by crying out that the enemy was coming. Dong Zhuo's forces had not even prepared fortifications or a moat so they were very panicked and rushing all about, abandoning their armour and leaving their horses. Seeing the disarray in the enemy ranks, Sun Jian struck and routed them, in the process killing Dong Zhuo's Chief Controller, Hua Xiong 華雄.[27][28][29][n 19]

At that time, someone tried to sow discord between Sun Jian and Yuan Shu by convincing Yuan Shu that Sun Jian could become a greater threat than Dong Zhuo ever was, saying:

"If Sun Jian obtains Luoyang, it would be repeating the cycle of oppression. This would be like using a tiger to eliminate a wolf."[30]

Yuan Shu seemed swayed by their words and suspicious of Sun Jian, hence he stopped sending military provisions. Yuan Shu was still in Luyang at this time, but Sun Jian rode the 50 km expanse throughout the night in order to visit Yuan Shu. Sun Jian drew his stratagem on the ground and said:

"I have performed great service and have nearly triumphed yet my military provisions have not continued. For this the men of Wu rose up; but they now sigh and weep west of the river, and the resolve of those who volunteered has also begun to waiver as victory slips out of reach."[31]
"In come here I am not thinking of myself; above, it is to punish traitors on behalf of the state; below, General, is to remedy your family's personal feud. I do not have any blood feud[n 20] with Dong Zhuo, yet, General, you accept slanderous words and dislike and suspect me!"

Yuan Shu was embarrassed by his actions and immediately re-established the supply lines.

Dong Zhuo dreaded how fierce and strong Sun Jian was so around this time he also dispatched General Li Jue 李傕 to try and establish an alliance with Sun Jian.[32] He promised to recommend Sun Jian's family members for positions as Inspectors and Grand Administrators. Sun Jian replied:

"Dong Zhuo has no principles, he goes against Heaven, and he has upended the royal house. At present I have not razed your family by three degrees as an example to the world, only then can I die and be at peace. How could I take my forces and make an alliance with you?"

Despite threatening his clan, Sun Jian allowed Li Jue to leave unscathed.[n 21]

With his supplies secured and his position firmly stated, Sun Jian continued to Dagu 大谷 Pass[n 22]. Dong Zhuo himself came out and did battle with Sun Jian amid the various mausoleums of the past Emperors, Dong Zhuo was defeated and he fled back to Mianchi 黽池. Sun Jian continued to push forward to the city and entered through the Xuanyang 宣陽 city gate; there, he met Lü Bu's forces and put him to flight as well.[33]

Despite having reached the capital, it was a hollow victory. Feeling the pressure from the east, Dong Zhuo had decided to resituate the capital to Chang'an 長安. He pillaged the people, plundered the graves of the Emperors and set fire to everything he couldn't bring with him; Luoyang was bare and devoid of life; for more than 100 km it was a wasteland, there were no signs of habitation. Sun Jian was forlorn and wept when he saw the desolation.[34] He then proceeded to sweep up the ruined ancestral temples and halls, closed up those that Dong Zhuo had disentombed, and offered a sacrifice.

Sun Jian then sent a detachment out the Hangu Pass 函谷關 to the area between Xin'an 新安 and Mianchi in order to threaten Dong Zhuo's rear. Dong Zhuo then stationed his various generals at various locations west of Luoyang to continue resisting the forces from the east.[35] Dong Zhuo spoke to Chief Clerk Liu Ai 劉艾 regarding Sun Jian:

"The army from east of the passes has been repeatedly defeated, all are in awe of me, and none have any ability. Except for Sun Jian, the little fool, he is a considerably capable and useful man. Tell the various generals to avoid him.
"In former times, I went westward with Zhou Shen and we surrounded Bian Zhang and Han Sui at Jincheng. I spoke to Zhang Wen and requested I take command of the soldiers and have Zhou Shen act as my rearguard. Zhang Wen would not listen. At that time I made note of his situation and informed Zhou Shen that he would certainly not be able to overcome them. Instead, Zhang Wen sent me to punish the rebellious Qiang of Xianling, believing he could clear them away and settle the west for a time. I knew he was wrong yet could not change his mind, so I travelled. We left Major with a Separate Command Liu Jing 劉靖 to command the 4,000 footmen and cavalry garrisoned at Anding 安定 in order to act as a show of strength. The rebellious Qiang then returned to Anding wanting to sever our lines of communication. But the enemy was afraid of the soldiers of Anding and talked about it housing tens of thousands of men, not realising it was only Liu Jing.
"At that time, Sun Jian also complied with Zhou Shen, he requested a command of 10,000 soldiers to isolate Jincheng while Zhou Shen use 20,000 men and act as his rearguard. Bian Zhang and Han Sui were within the city and did not have provisions for a long-term occupation they only relied on transports from outside. And with the enemy in awe of Zhou Shen's great soldiers they would not dare make light of a battle with Sun Jian, yet Sun Jian would have sufficient soldiers to sever their supply lines. Had his commander used this plan they would certainly have withdrawn to the valley and perhaps Liang Province could also have been settled.
"As Zhang Wen was unable to use me, Zhou Shen was also unable to use Sun Jian, he attacked Jincheng himself and ruined their outer wall. He hurried sent an envoy to tell Zhang Wen, while he remained from dawn till dusk to overcome the city, and Zhang Wen himself also came to punish those within the city. Yet they escaped and actually severed Zhou Shen's lines of communication, Zhou Shen abandoned his baggage train and fled, this was just as what I had proposed. After those events I was enfeoffed as a Marquis of a Chief District and Sun Jian was made an Associate Major in the Army. He and I see things the same, he will certainly be a problem."

But Liu Ai said:

"Although at that time Sun Jian saw a good strategy, he is certainly inferior to Li Jue and Guo Si. I heard, when he was north of Meiyang village, he had 1,000 cavaliers and footmen and fought with the traitors and almost died, and he forfeited his seal and tassel. That does not sound like one of ability."

Dong Zhuo then said:

"Right. If I merely kill the two Yuan, Liu Biao and Sun Jian, the whole empire will certainly submit and obey me."[36]

Sun Jian had camped his forces by some offices south of the city where there was a well from which to draw water. At dawn, a rainbow burst forth from the well; the army was alarmed and bewildered by the event and no one dared water from the well. Sun Jian ordered a man descend into the well and he uncovered the Han Great Seal of State.[n 23][37]

However, with all the chaos in the imperial court, Sun Jian's commander, Yuan Shu, desired to supplant the Emperor. Having heard that Sun Jian had recovered the Great Seal of State, Yuan Shu thought it would lend some credibility to his ambition, so he held Sun Jian's wife hostage as a way to coerce him into handing over the seal.[38]

Feud of the Yuans[]

With the capital desolate, Sun Jian withdrew back to Luyang. Unfortunately, the campaign against Dong Zhuo wouldn't go any further. The noble intentions behind the allied forces had begun to dissipate as Dong Zhuo seemed farther out of reach in Chang'an and many of the other warlords seemed uninterested in putting the effort into pursuing him. Instead, the warlords begun focusing on gathering allies and seizing territory in an effort to improve their own power bases; and as Yuan Shu planned to usurp the imperial title, Yuan Shao tried to convince Liu Yu 劉虞 to become Emperor.

The complete breakdown in the alliance occurred when Yuan Shao thought to take advantage of the turmoil by dispatching his officer Zhou Xin 周昕 to take Yu Province, which had been promised to Sun Jian by Yuan Shu. Yuan Shu was furious, he struck Zhou Xin and put him to flight. Relations began to worsen between the two Yuans as, in a letter establishing a alliance with Gongsun Zan 公孫瓚, Yuan Shu called Yuan Shao not a true Yuan and merely a family slave.[39]

Yuan Shu's disparaging remarks found their way to Yuan Shao who was understandably furious. Sun Jian was at that time garrisoned at Yangcheng 陽城 so as to resist Dong Zhuo, so in retaliation to Yuan Shu's comments, Yuan Shao dispatched his officer Zhou Ang 周昂 and his brother Zhou Xin 周昕 to steal Sun Jian's territory. Sun Jian sighed and said to his men:

"Together we raised righteous soldiers, and would have saved the nation. We went against traitors and almost broke them yet now they each act like this, whom can I join forces with now?!"[40]

Gongsun Zan also sent his cousin Gongsun Yue 公孫越 with a small contingent of cavalry to assist Sun Jian, but during the fight Gongsun Yue was shot and killed. This effectively ended the alliance against Dong Zhuo. With the two Yuans at one another's throats, battle lines started being drawn up; Gongsun Zan blamed Yuan Shao for the death of his cousin and allied with Yuan Shu. With Gongsun Zan to his north and Yuan Shu to his south, Yuan Shao was forced to ally with Inspector of Jing Province Liu Biao 劉表 who was south of Yuan Shu.

Battle of Xiangyang[]

See article: Battle of Xiangyang

In 192 A.D., Yuan Shu dispatched Sun Jian south to attack Liu Biao. Liu Biao responded by dispatching his officer, Huang Zu 黃祖, north of the Han river between Fan 樊 and Deng 鄧. Sun Jian struck Huang Zu's forces and then pursued him south across the river to Xiangyang 襄陽 city.

While Xiangyang was still being besieged, Sun Jian hunted some of Liu Biao's forces who were in the Xian hills 峴山; unfortunately, caught in a night-time melee, Sun Jian was shot and killed by an arrow. He died aged 36.[41]

The exact reason as to why Sun Jian was in the Xian hills is not clear and each source seems to tell a different story.

According to Dianlüe: Liu Biao had sent Huang Zu out by night to try and catch Sun Jian unawares, but this failed and Sun Jian capitalised on his momentum by pursuing Huang Zu into the Xian hills. But Huang Zu's forces had secreted themselves inside a bamboo grove and ambushed Sun Jian.[42]

According to Records of Heroes and Champions: One of Liu Biao's officers was in the Xian hills outside the encirclement of Xiangyang. Sun Jian took a contingent of light cavalry to attack them and the soldiers threw down rocks upon Sun Jian's forces, killing Sun Jian.[43]

Legacy of Sun Jian[]

With Sun Jian's death, his forces withdrew from Jing province and Sun Jian's nephew, Sun Ben 孫賁, took command of his forces. Sun Jian's sons would go on to establish and strengthen the kingdom of Wu; and when Sun Quan took the imperial title for himself, Sun Jian was posthumously titled 'Ardent Martial Emperor'. Sun Jian was also considered the 'First Ancestor' of Wu.[44]



  • Sun Zi[n 24] - It was claimed that Sun Jian was a descendant of the famous strategist.


  • Lady Wu 吳夫人



  • Lady Sun 孫妃

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  1. 2 li are equivalent to 1 km.
  2. Sun Jian's wife also purportedly had these kinds of dreams during Sun Ce and Sun Quan's pregnancy. They're probably just apocryphal stories recorded after the fact to give the Sun family some sort of divine providence; nevertheless, I have included them.
  3. 17 by Chinese reckoning.
  4. Qiantang was located northeast of Fuchun at the mouth of the Fuchun river, by present-day Hangzhou.
  5. Sometimes written as Zhu Juan 朱雋.
  6. Xihua was in Runan commandery at that time, now in Henan.
  7. The Ceremonial Axe is a symbol of authority that allows the bestowee the right to execute anyone without consulting the imperial throne.
  8. Sima Rangju was a general for the state of Qi (770-5th cent. B.C.) who was in charge of defending Qi from the encroaching forces of Yan and Jin. Zhuang Jia was one of the Duke Jing of Qi's (547-490 B.C.) favourites, but when Zhuang Jia showed up late, Sima Rangju exhibited his authority and executed Zhuang Jia, along with his entourage, in order to keep discipline within the army.
  9. Wei Jiang was Counsellor to Duke Dao of Jin (573-558 B.C.), at that time Yang Gan, who was the younger brother of the Duke, was causing disorder in Quliang. Wei Jiang was unable to punish Yang Gan because of his proximity to the Duke so he slew one of his servants instead.
  10. This seemingly doesn't go unnoticed because Dong Zhuo is recorded as relaying the gist of Sun Jian's speech to Liu Ai in his HHS biography. And Sun Jian's SGZ also states that some advisors had heard of Sun Jian tallying Dong Zhuo's crime and sighed in admiration.
  11. There is a discrepancy in Sun Jian's SGZ here. It says the enemy begged to surrender when they saw the allied forces and no actual battle was fought. But this conflicts with the other accounts of the situation. In Generals of the South, de Crespigny suggests this falsely included to explain why Sun Jian did not receive any immediate rewards during the campaign.
  12. Yuzhong county is part of Jincheng commandery in Liang province.
  13. This unsuccessful attack on Yuzhong is also omitted from Sun Jian's main SGZ. In the recorded conversation between Dong Zhuo and the historian Liu Ai, Liu Ai says Sun Jian had 1,000 men under his command and he was nearly killed north of Meiyang village and left his insignia of office and fled. It's not clear whether this was before Dong Zhuo's victor at Meiyang or in reference to the rout of Zhou Shen's forces.
  14. Text says winter of the 10th month of 187 A.D.
  15. Emperor Xian's HHS has this occurring some time after the 11th month in the Chinese calendar, so approximately January.
  16. It must have seemed like an odd request from the government, which was being controlled by Dong Zhuo, but Sun Jian must have ignored the dubious nature of the order so he could settle a grudge and at the same time annex his troops.
  17. 1 bushel = 10 dou = 20 litres.
  18. Yangren city was in the west of Liang county, so Sun Jian had managed to continue his advance even after his defeat.
  19. Hu Zhen's cited biography differs greatly here with the other accounts of this battle. It doesn't mention them being attacked and says they returned to Yangren to retrieve their equipment before then withdrawing. Aside from the fact it conflicts with the other accounts, it also doesn't make sense that they could just come, casually pick up their equipment and collect their horses, and then leave without Sun Jian taking advantage of the opportunity to destroy what would be a very easy target. Additionally, this citation is incorrectly placed in Sun Jian's SGZ it puts it before the attack by Xu Rong instead of after it, as is recorded Sun Jian's SGZ and Dong Zhuo's HHS.
  20. When a formal declaration of war was made by the leader of the allied forces, Yuan Shao (Yuan Shu's cousin), Dong Zhuo responded by killing Grand Tutor Yuan Wei 袁隗, Grand Coachman Yuan Ji 袁基, and their families.
  21. This is recorded after Yuan Shu cutting Sun Jian's supplies, but it might make more sense if it occurred beforehand. If Yuan Shu heard Sun Jian had a meeting with one of Dong Zhuo's generals, and let him go, it may well have raised suspicion resulting in the discontinuation of supplies.
  22. The north side of Dagu opens up near the capital, Luoyang. He was now 45 km from Luoyang.
  23. According to the account, it was taken out of the city during the chaos a few years earlier when the eunuchs rebelled and Dong Zhuo entered the city and hurled into the well. The miraculous event leading to the discovery is not particularly credible, it is more plausible that it was found while Sun Jian was clear out the ancestral halls and temples.
  24. A.k.a. Sun Wu or Sun Tzu.

Fact vs. Fiction[]


  • Was not killed by Huang Zu's men while sleeping.
  • Sun Jian gave the Great Seal of State to Yuan Shu after finding it, he did not keep it for himself.
  • It was Sun Jian's forces that killed Hua Xiong, not Guan Yu.
  • Sun Jian did not excuse himself from the campaign against Dong Zhuo, he was forced to abandon his many successful campaign because of discord between the two Yuans.


  1. SGZ: Book of Wu quoted in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian
  2. Rafe de Crespigny, Generals of the South, Chapters on Sun Jian.
  3. SGZ: Biography of Lady Wu
  4. HHS: Annals of Emperor Ling
  5. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Sun Jian
  6. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi quoted in the Biography of Sun Ce
  7. SGZ: Book of Wu quoted in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian
  8. HHS: Biography of Huangfu Song
  9. HHS: Biography of Zhu Jun
  10. HHS: Biography of Dong Zhuo
  11. HHS: Biography of Dong Zhuo
  12. HHS: Biography of Dong Zhuo
  13. HHS: Biography of Dong Zhuo
  14. SGZ: Parallel Records of Duke of Shanyang cited in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian
  15. SGZ: Book of Wei cited in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian
  16. HHS: Biography of Emperor Ling
  17. SGZ: Progress of Wu cited in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian
  18. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi cited in the Biography of Sun Jian
  19. SGZ: Records of Wu quoted in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian
  20. SGZ: Biography of Zhang Zi cited in the Chronicles of Emperor Xian cited in the Biography of Sun Jian
  21. SGZ: Lingdi xianxian zhuan cited in the Biography of Liu Ba
  22. SGZ: Progress of Wu cited in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian
  23. HHS: HHS Biography of Yuan Shu.
  24. HHS: Biography of Dong Zhuo
  25. HHS: Annals of Emperor Xian
  26. SGZ: Records of Heroes and Champions cited in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian
  27. SGZ: Biography of Hu Zhen cited in the Records of Heroes and Champions cited in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian
  28. HHS: Annals of Emperor Xian
  29. HHS: Biography of Dong Zhuo
  30. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi cited in the Biography of Sun Jian
  31. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi cited in the Biography of Sun Jian
  32. HHS: Biography of Dong Zhuo
  33. HHS: Biography of Dong Zhuo
  34. SGZ: Accounts from South of the Yangzi cited in the Biography of Sun Jian
  35. HHS: Biography of Dong Zhuo
  36. SGZ: Parallel Records of Duke Shanyang cited in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian
  37. SGZ: Book of Wu quoted in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian
  38. HHS: Biography of Yuan Shu.
  39. HHS: Progress of Wu quoted in the HHS Biography of Yuan Shu.
  40. SGZ: Records of Wu quoted in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian
  41. HHS: Biography of Liu Biao
  42. HHS: Dianlüe quoted in the Biography of Liu Biao
  43. HHS: Records of Heroes and Champions quoted in the Biography of Liu Biao
  44. SGZ: Records of Wu quoted in the SGZ Biography of Sun Jian

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