Gongjin's Campaign Memorials
Gongjin's Campaign Memorials

Wu 吳 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 Shu-Han. Following the foundation of Wei in 220 and Shu-Han in 221, Wu was founded by Sun Quan 孫權 in 222, however, it wasn't until 229 that Sun Quan declared himself Emperor of Wu. Wu covered the eastern and southeastern part of China and was for most of the time the second strongest empire after Wei. It lasted the longest of the three, 58 years, from 222 until 280 when it was destroyed by Jin.

Historians often refer to Wu as 'Eastern Wu' (Dōng Wú 東吳), this is done to distinguish the state from other historical Chinese states of the same name.

Brief history[]

The beginnings of the Wu Empire stretch back to the general Sun Jian 孫堅. After making a name for himself during the reign of Emperor Ling, fighting against the Yellow Turbans and the Liang rebels and putting down a rebellion in Jing Province, Sun Jian became a respected figure. When the Campaign against Dong Zhuo came around, Sun Jian participated as an officer under the noble warlord Yuan Shu 袁術. Sun Jian proved himself further during the campaign by scoring impressive victories over Hu Zhen 胡軫, Lü Bu 呂布 (twice) and Dong Zhuo 董卓. He also took back a burned down Luoyang where he stumbled upon the Imperial Seal in a well.

As the coalition against Dong Zhuo disbanded its members started warring against each other. Yuan Shu sent Sun Jian against Liu Biao and scored a victory against his commander Huang Zu 黃祖, who fled. Sun Jian gave chase, but was ambushed and killed in 191.

Sun Jian was succeeded by his oldest son, Sun Ce 孫策, who inherited his officers such as Huang Gai 黃蓋 and Han Dang 韓當. Sun Ce allied himself with Yuan Shu, but left his service when he named himself Emperor of Zhong. Sun Ce turned his attention to the region of Jiangdong which had been taken over by local warlords such as Liu Yao, Yan Baihu and Wang Lang. Sun Ce recruited many talented officers such as Taishi Ci 太史慈 during his conquest and managed to defeat the warlords of the south and claimed the title of "Little Conqueror", effectively establishing the lands that would become the empire of Wu.

Unfortunately Sun Ce was assassinated soon after and died in 200 A.D., at the young age of 25. He was succeeded by his younger brother Sun Quan 孫權 who would then continue to lead the army and become the new leader of Wu. One of the first major acts as Wu's leader, Sun Quan crushed one of his father's enemies, Huang Zu, who was an officer of Liu Biao, and succeeded in routing his forces. At the same time, Liu Bei 劉備 was in flight from Cao Cao 曹操, who at the time held the most power in the land, and under recommendation from Zhou Yu 周瑜, Sun Quan would ally with Liu Bei and they would work together to stop Cao Cao's momentum. Soon after, in 208 the Battle of Chibi took place and Cao Cao's fleet was burned and decimated, putting an end to his campaign towards the south and eliminating the threat of the north temporarily. The Kingdom of Wu was officially established in 222 and Sun Quan later declared himself emperor in 229.[1]

Why the name Wu?[]

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

During the Zhou dynasty 周朝, at the time of the Spring and Autumn Period, there was a state 國 called Wu 吳 located at the mouth of the Yangtze River. In 473 BC the Wu State was conquered by the state Yue 越, but the name Wu continued to be used as a name for the region and that of a commandery of Han.

During Later Han a Sun 孫 family from that commandery rose to prominence and at the time of the Three Kingdoms Sun Quan 孫權 was enfeoffed as King of Wu by Cao Pi, the Emperor of Wei. Above 'King' there is only 'Emperor'. In 222 Sun Quan founded the Wu dynasty. In 229 he named himself Emperor of Wu.

There was not much thought behind the name Wu. After Cao Pi enfeoffed Sun Quan as King of Wu, 'Wu' was automatically going to be the name for Sun Quan's dynasty.

On the character wu[]

Definitions and other usages:

  1. A name for one of the Warring States during the Zhou dynasty.
  2. A territory around the delta of the Yangtze river.
  3. Dialects of that territory, including Suzhounese and Shanghainese.
  4. A name for a commandery.
  5. The name of Sun Quan's state.
  6. A Chinese surname (such as Lady Wu 吳妃).
  7. A harbor in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan.
  • Traditional Chinese: 吳
  • Simplified Chinese: 吴
  • Pinyin with tonemarks:
  • Wade-Giles: Wu

The reign colour of Wu[]

Main article: Five Powers

Since the final years of the Former Han dynasty the reign colours of Chinese dynasties were usually in accordance with the theories and cycles of the Five Powers (Wǔxíng 五行). The Five Powers could succeed each other through conquest or natural succession. At the time of the Three Kingdoms the latter was the accepted way of succession. So when a dynasty reigned Black and ruled through the Power of Water, its successor would reign Green and rule through Wood, because according to the Five Powers Wood succeeds Water (and is succeeded by Fire).

The Later Han dynasty reigned Red through the Power of Fire. When Cao Pi forced the abdication of Emperor Xian and subsequently founded Wei, he picked the power Earth and its corresponding colour Yellow, as evidence that Wei was the natural successor of Han. When Sun Quan founded Wu in 222 it seems that he too claimed his dynasty to be the natural successor of the Han dynasty. When Sun Quan proclaimed himself Emperor of Wu in 229 he held ceremony at the Altar of Heaven in Wuchang during which he unfurled a great banner with the insignia of a yellow dragon. Furthermore he picked the title Huanglong 黃龍, which means "Yellow Dragon", as his then current reign title and chose Huangwu 黃武 which means "Martial Yellow" as the reign title for the years 222-228.

List of sovereigns of Wu[]

Posthumous name Temple name Name Reign Reign title(s) Notes
Emperor Wulie of Wu
Wú Wǔliè huángdì 吳武烈皇帝
Shizu 始祖
"First Ancestor"
Sun Jian 孫堅 n/a n/a [note 1]
Emperor Da of Wu
Wú Dà huángdì 吳大皇帝
Taizu 太祖
"Great Ancestor"
Sun Quan 孫權 222-252 [note 2]
n/a n/a Sun Liang 孫亮 252-258
  • Jianxing 建興
  • Wufeng 五鳳
  • Taiping 太平[Eng 7]
Emperor Jing of Wu
Wú Jǐng huángdì 吳景皇帝
n/a Sun Xiu 孫休 258-264
  • Yong'an 永安
Emperor Wen of Wu
Wú Wén huángdì 吳文皇帝
n/a Sun He 孫和 n/a n/a [note 3]
n/a n/a Sun Hao 孫皓 264-280
  • Yuanxing 元興
  • Ganlu 甘露
  • Baoding 寶鼎
  • Jianheng 建衡
  • Fenghuang 鳳凰
  • Tiance 天冊
  • Tianxi 天璽
  • Tianji 天紀
[note 4]

See also[]


  1. Sun Jian was posthumously honoured with a temple name and as Emperor Wulie by Sun Quan.
  2. The temple name Taizu was also given to Cao Cao and Sima Zhao.
  3. Sun He never ruled Wu, but was posthumously honoured as Emperor Wen by Sun Hao.
  4. Sometimes referred to as "Emperor Mo of Wu" 吳末帝, which literally means "last emperor of Wu".
  1. "Martial Yellow"
  2. "Yellow Dragon"
  3. "Golden Harvest"
  4. "Red Crow"
  5. "Grand Origin"
  6. "Holy Phoenix"
  7. "Great Peace"

Fact vs. Fiction[]