Scholars have not yet agreed upon what to call the past one hundred and twenty years, despite the newly formed dynasty marking a step into a new era. There has been some who call it the Time of Insurgency, but I believe that is more a title designed to cultivate favor from the new Imperial court than a proper designation. My personal inclination is to call it the Feudal States era, hearkening back to the Warring States of generations past. I have always found this past era to be fascinating, comparing it to the Warring States of the Zhou Dynasty. It is a shame that so much history from the Zhou has been lost, but I devote myself to collecting scraps of history from the current era which bears so much similarity to it, in hopes of gaining more insight into the days long ago gone.
Examine the following piece, penned by Sima Yi's Court Stenographer Chen Tai in the winter of 223:Citizens of the North! Fear not, for Lord Sima Yi has brought hope and order to you once again!
No longer shall the peoples of Hebei be troubled by the corrupt administration of Ma Su. Taking the wealth of the people, he squandered this precious treasure upon frivolous baubles, while neglecting the affairs of state. So direly did he weaken the north with his actions, that a coalition of governors rose up against him and swore fealty instead to Lord Sima Yi, knowing the strength and wisdom of the Sima clan could restore prestige to their land.
Those few who remained loyal to Ma Su, their loyalty bought with the treasure taken from the citizens of the land, have been vanquished. The banner of the Sima now hangs with glory upon the walls of He Nei, marking the end of Ma Su's misguided rule and the ascendance of Lord Sima Yi. In victory, Lord Sima Yi is gracious, and has allowed Ma Su to live out the remainder of his days in exile, his loyalists released with full pardon. The world resounds with the mercy of the Sima clan; from Lord Sima Yi to his battle-tested son Sima Shi, all bear no ill-will to even their enemies, merely the strength that comes with humanity in the heart.
With the reclaiming of Hebei, the north has a glorious future ahead! Already puissant and wise, Lord Sima Yi's might grows daily as others of power and wisdom flock to his majestic banner. Those with a reputation already join with talent of the future to bring about a better tomorrow, tomorrow. In addition to pillars of the state such as Xu Huang and Xiahou Yuan, statesmen such as the Han minister Chen Gong, peerless tactical minds such as the returned from retirement General of the Capitol Forces Zan Zhikun, and mighty warriors like the Devil Who Shoots Across the Sky He Man bring the might of Hebei to never-before seen levels. The greatly respected lieges Yu Houyi and Huangfu Chu stand in solidarity with Lord Sima Yi, who commands respect from even far lands, bringing officers such as Pan Shuhua and Xiahou Xi-Feng from the service of Lord Chen Wei. Lord Sima's youthful officers such Jiang Wei and Gongsun Yuan stand ready to carry this responsibility far into the future.
Let the people of Hebei rejoice!
Such works of propaganda were common in both the Feudal and Warring States eras, as new lands fell under the sway of a lord. Those who were wise would employ propagandists to disseminate such pieces, to alleviate fears and reduce popular dissent with the new rule. Holding loosely to the truth, this piece glosses over more embarassing things, such as how Sima Yi's firstborn Sima Shi was direly injured in battle and held captive for months until a deal was finally struck after the fall of Ye. The so-called 'mercy' of the Sima clan was clearly fueled largely by necessity, as the young Sima heir would undoubtedly have met his end at the hands of Ma Su if any Ma loyalists were harmed by them. There are also anecdotal accounts about the capture of He Nei- many say that there was no actual battle for the city as Ma Su simply vanished rather than continue to fight- yet it does not stop the Sima propaganda from claiming both an implied victory and the ability to set free someone who never had been touched by them.
But setting aside the relatively common glamorizing, this piece is particularly interesting to me, as it appears to have a secondary goal. Chen Tai goes out of his way to make mention of then-King Chen Wei, and how several officers of his had left and taken up service with Sima Yi instead. This displays to the populace that Sima Yi is a worthy lord, more worthy than Chen Wei, yet such needling could be dangerous politically if Chen Wei were to take offense at it. Yet, upon careful study of the political situation, I think that not only was this not just a risk felt to be worth taking, that it was intentional. The following pieces are from the following year, but these matters were already in the works, and I feel it is quite likely that word had leaked out to even those who were not involved such as Sima Yi and Chen Wei.When the Kingdom of Zhou established its authority over the Great Plains, it was said that it had virtue to stand before the Heavens and the Earth. Lands sent their tribute so the Kings of Zhou could maintain the rites. Yet once Zhou could not bear its duty and when Qin conqured kingdoms, Qin could not bear it for long. Han established itself after a great war, and the rites returned, yet when Han could not bear it, great turmoil returned to the land. During the long time of strife many people suffered, the rites were in neglect, the dikes were not cared about.
Now the lands as they established themselves are close to the kingdoms of the old times. Yet maintaining the proper rites is possible when not fighting for it, and when not dividing the land. The lands of Qi, Wu, Chu-Jiuli and Later Song decided to form Zhuhou, the gathering of lands and lieges, as in the times of Zhou, so the proper rites resume. Hereby we say that a year passed as Zhuhou stands, and wars, indeed, faded in the land. This establishes the era of Zhen – truth.
Every land has authority over its domain, over its army, over its decisions, over its relations with other lands. Still the land is united because the major rites are held for the whole land. Every land has the duty to hold the major rites for a year; then the duty passes to the next land. So every land holds the major rites, and every year the rites are held for the whole land. In times of Zhou, the Zhuhou stood before the House of Zhou. Now Zhuhou stands not before one House, but before the Heavens and the Earth. It must be said that helding the rites does not give the land that helds it authority over other lands, and in the end of the year the duty becomes the duty of the next land.
If a land can held the rites for the whole land, it declares its intent to be within Zhuhou, and the kingdoms already in Zhuhou all support it, its duty to held rites comes after the all lands already in Zhuhou have their years; and since that time the new land is in the repeating of years as all are. Honouring the tradition, the title within Zhuhou for every liege of a land that held the full rites is Gong.
Honouring the feats and achievements, in this time of the great celebration, the Kingdom of Qi bestows the titles of Dafu on Kong Pei, Li Peng, Ma Conda, Minzhe Li, Ru Chi, Huang Wei, Li Xiaolong, Ling Ariea, Zhou Luo, Li Peng, Cai Zheng, and Yiju Zongfen.
The Kingdom of Wu bestows the titles of Dafu on Xiahou Feng, Ma Zitong, Ling Fei, Huang Xiong, Sun Zhiyun, Liu Ming, Ju Fu, Yindun Zhe, Xu Ren, and Guo Jia.
The Kingdom of Chu-Jiuli bestows the titles of Dafu on Yen How, Qiu Wang, Miao Li Wen, Jiang Yan, Zhang Han Ming, Ju Si Gai, Guozhi Heng, Xu Tsu, Gan Zui Xiong, Hao Xian, Ling Hui, Wang Xianling, Bai Shufeng, Li Jia, Xiang Zing, Han Fei, Xu Fu, Zhang Heng, A Di La, A Chi Lang, Tiao Fu, Pan Shaozu, Che Boyuen, Sun Meng, Zhu Kang, Mao Wurong, Xue Huo Gang, Bo He, Jiang Lianghua, Zhang Tsung, Xianbe Ji, Mo Mo, Miao Tian You, Cai Ping, Kong Kang, Zhang Sun, Kong Mu, Lao Gui, Ai An Tai, Mal Tijie, Hu Wei, Miao Li Shang, Zhong Shao, Zhong Kai, Zhong De, Guo Jing, Xu Ke, Li Ru, Liu Fu, Miao Li Yao, Miao Renfeng, Miao Ruolan, Lang Ren, Yun Chen, Shi Nai Shu, Xiang Gongying, Liao Jin, Yao Xu, Wong Fei Jiang, Cheng Xi, Lu Jin Zhao, Zhou Pei, Xue Lang, Chen Jin, Mei Xiang, Zhu Wei, He Qi, Liu Ye, Liu Chen, Zhang Han, and Xin Bao.
The Kingdom of Later Song bestows the titles of Dafu on Qu Shiyin, Song Jian, Zhao Yan, Ding Feng, Ma Liangyu, Xu Sheng, Pan Zhang, Han Dang, Wang Jun, Jiang Qin, Jiang Xubei, and Shen Pei.
In honour of their deeds and the deeds of their forefathers, the Zhuhou bestows the titles of Hou on Xu Tsu.
In the Second Year of Zhen, by the Gongs of Qi, Wu, Chu-Jiuli and Later Song
This idea of zhuhou, brought from the Warring States era, was surely something to make a big deal out of. Particularly for Chen Wei and Sima Yi, who were not involved. The specter of the Miao clan allied with Minzhe Jian was a daunting one for Chen Wei, but if they received support from Yu Nanren and Kan Ze as well, it would be quite likely to end badly for Chen Wei. His ally Zhang Yi had by this time nearly conquered all of Jiaozhou after launching an attack upon the already-crumbling kingdom of Zu Wei, but even with the likes of Deng Ai and Cao Ren leading his armies, Zhang Yi could not hope to stand against the Miao army, and refrained from pressing too deeply lest they encounter the Miao warriors.
The political climate was uncertain at this time, and the savvy lords bided their time, waiting to see what the others would do. After the unprecedentedly massive armies mobilized in the battle of Wu Guan were decimated by illness and discontent at months of stalemate, both Chen Wei and Miao Li Houa's overall strength was diminished, with neither side able to claim true victory on the field. This, then, was the reason for Sima Yi to prod Chen Wei with needling words- it was a reminder of how much Chen Wei needed Sima Yi as an ally, a display of strength. With Sima Yi to the north and Zhang Yi to the south, Chen Wei's position was relatively secure, and they could even hope to advance forward into enemy territory in a sort of pincer attack. Chen Tai's words seemingly had their effect, for it was not much longer before Chen Wei had his own declaration to make:A time of importance has come.
Across the land, the people called out for order, for leadership, for vision. In Tian Shui, their calls were answered. Yet still more called out. Throughout Liangzhou and Yongzhou, Yizhou and Si Li, one by one, their calls were answered.
Yet more still are in need of their answer, and for that purpose, to bring order to the far reaches of the land where their leaders have abandoned the needs of the people, the Mandate of Heaven has come to King Chen Wei. As Emperor, he shall unite this fractured land.
His armies are filled with the talented generals needed to bring order to the realm. Kong Bo-Hai, Zhao Wei, Kong Sai, Zhang Kong, Yu Xun, Wu Fu, Shang Shao, Chen Bian, Ma Fei, Yan Jiao, and Zhang He are but the first of dozens of lines of officers whose names cause the enemy to blench at news of their presence. And no barbarian administration could hope to bring order to the people like true statesmen such as Lu Hong Yi, Sun Quan, Xun De, Sima Xin, Fang Zhen, Sun Liren, and of course the Empress Pei Chanti herself.
The new era has begun, with the forging of the Empire of Qin. Its wisdom and might shall bring order to every corner of the land.
The first Duke named by the new Emperor of the Second Qin Dynasty was none other than Sima Yi, the necessity of retaining the growing power of the Sima clan as an ally not lost upon the new emperor. The political situation seemed to be forming into a solid array of alliances pitted against each other. Those who stated the desire to revive a Zhou model of government were set against those seeking a unified government under one Emperor. Indeed, for several years, those alliances remained intact, the battle-lines drawn but rarely actually fought upon. Many tell tales of the fierce border wars fought along the Yellow River region between Sima Yi and Minzhe Jian's forces, but to my mind those battles were largely irrelevant, even the much sung-of battle of Mount Mang Tang wherein Ma Conda supposedly fought Lu Bu for over one thousand bouts. Even the great invasion of 229 when Emperor Chen Wei's forces were finally able to clear a path to Shang Yong was of only marginal significance, although had Hao Xian and Zhong De not bravely fought to the death to delay the unexpected incursion, history might have gone rather differently. But as it was, Chen Wei's armies were weakened too much right from the start and were unable to make more than minimal progress at that time.
It was of course, not until the auspicious year of 234 when anything of real import to the flow of events occured. History records much about the events of this year so I scarcely need describe them, but I have uncovered an original copy of the first official proclamation made by our Imperial forefather, which I transcribe here:Citizens of Huainan, Yangzhou and Xuzhou,
Great sorrow and triumph have passed through this land over recent seasons. Words cannot convey my deep respect for the sacrifices of those who have fallen. The sadness in our hearts was great when word spread of the treacherous attack upon the city of Jian Ye by the rebellious Huang Xiong of Wu, his bloody ambition finally driving him to seize military control from his liege Yu Nanren and re-ignite a dead conflict. Yet it was no match for the anguish when we heard the full tale of his madness, sending his accomplice Yindun Zhe to seize the envoy of the great federated alliance as he entered their lands and attempting to use him as a hostage to force the surrender of Jian Ye. Let us not second-guess Governor Zhao Yan's decision to hold firm in the face of treachery, for the agony in leaving his former liege Kan Ze to his grim fate at the hands of the enemy must have been great; and General Xu Sheng and Governor Zhao's last stand at the heart of the city will be forever remembered both as heroic and wise, collapsing the bridge underneath both their own and the enemy armies and so ensuring that the insurgency would be short-lived.
And now, despite so much tragedy, with aid from those loyal to their allies this unseemly war has been quelled, and I look to those who would call themselves heroes of the people to aid me in maintaining order in a new era. Sadly bereft of so many fine leaders due to this turmoil, I must take it upon myself to lead the people of the eastern provinces. With the support of so many talented men and women of the area such as Governors Qu Shiyin of Lu Jiang and Xu Ren of Bei Hai, Generals Mai Danglao and Ding Feng, and Directing Instructor Guo Jia, I have confidence that our new state of Wu, built on the desire to build a better future rather than fight old conflicts, will be a success.
Grand Commander Lu Xun
The first civil war of the so-called Zhen era lasted a mere five months, yet its repercussions were deep. The states of Qi and Chu, sending significant military forces in hopes of quickly settling the conflict, were vulnerable to the Emperor Chen Wei of Qin and his Duke Sima Yi for the first time in over a decade. Yet this risky strategy worked well for them, as the empire found itself unable to press its advantage in time, partly due to the recent loss of several key generals in Sima Yi's army, forcing it to settle into a defensive posture.
Yet the strangest thing to me is the irony in Chen Wei's own delayed mobilization. Court records show that in the early months of Huang Xiong's coup, influenza been had rampant in northen Yizhou, the illness afflicting the troops too much for them to set forth over the mountains to the Miao lands. Or so some people feel. My personal theory is that the death of Empress Pei Chanti to this malady also had a significant effect upon the Emperor's decision not to march immediately, for who could overlook the gross impropriety of neglecting the funeral proceedings of the Empress in favor of invading foreign lands during the time of mourning? Thus the sad irony of the situation: by all accounts, Pei Chanti was an incredibly talented and charming woman, yet every lord who associated with her met with great misfortune. First Zhang Gao of Beihai, who was likely quietly killed at some point after illness caused him to leave the city in Lady Pei's hands; then Lord Kan Ze of Later Song- who had allied with her and harbored her after the fall of Beihai- was brutally cut down before the eyes of his own former retainers in front of the gates of Jianye when they refused to surrender to the invaders who harbored a grudge from the days when he had aided Pei Chanti; and now Emperor Chen Wei was also subject to what some call Pei Chanti's Curse, for in delaying his invasion he lost his last, best opportunity to conquer the entire land. And that is not even getting in to the eventual doings of their son...
After the rise of our Imperial forefather Lu Xun, the political situation began to change. Lord Kan Ze and his successor Lady Qu Shiyin, as well as King Yu Nanren of Wu had been entirely content to tend to their own realms, rendering only some token military assistance at times to Qi and Chu in times of need. After consolidating the short-lived Later Song into the realm of Wu, King Lu Xun could have maintained such a dynamic, but his ambitions were stronger than that, though that would not be entirely clear for decades to come. The annexation of Jian'an and Nanhai, which by then were virtually lawless and none can even remember the name of the petty chieftains claiming them, was explained away easily enough as bringing order to an unstable area. But in 241, Chen Wei was killed in battle, setting off the succession crisis between his eldest son Chen Zhan and his son by Empress Pei, who was favored by her loyalists and a few others. By the official end of the war in 246, the Empire of Qin had shrunk by nearly half, Pei Chanti's Curse at work again from beyond the grave.
The most obvious consequence of this war was Wu's southern campaign, seizing the entire realm formerly held by Duke Zhang of Nanzhong. Wu was now an empire in its own right, its borders reaching from the coastline to the far west. Yet it would be an empire with many rivals, and King Lu Xun's political instincts told him not to seek out further conflict with them yet. The Empire of Qin was weakened but still a force to be reckoned with; the newly-formed Empire of Jin, founded when Sima Yi seized control of the strife-wracked Luoyang, had consolidated all of Hebei and held a strong defensive position; and the state of Chu could not be forgotten either, the unity of Zhen seeming more strained with two formidable lands wondering what the other truly intended. Indeed, the exalted Lu Xun would not live another year after conquering Jiangzhou, leaving his son Lu Kang to carry on with what he had started.
Some scholars may question whether Emperor Wen, upon taking up his father's role as King of Wu, had his clear purpose to unite the land. I feel I must remind them that the state of Qi still existed at this point, albeit ever weakening, and outright conquering it would surely have invoked the wrath of Chu for violating the agreement of Zhen. His passive nature for the next two decades was actually a brilliant strategy, which I believe was passed along by his father before he died. Though only scraps of it remain, as it seems to have been ripped (possibly out of anger?), I have procured a missive sent to the Gong Miao of Chu during the height of Emperor Sima Zhao's war against Qi, sometime in the spring of 262, and I reproduce the remnants here:...regret that none can be sent. The seers of the land have flocked to my court with prophecies foretelling ill omen should I go to war, and I believe them. It troubles me as much as it does you to see the Empire of Jin apparently about to seize control of the Central Plains, but unless strength is within your land to save Qi, I can do nothing about it. Some feel that my father invoked the wrath of heaven when he decided to march forth to war, and I have spent many years reassuring them that there will be no more needless warfare and easing their minds by reducing our military presence. I am hopeful that Sima Zhao will be reasonable; I have heard rumors that his assault upon Qi was due to his discovery of an underhanded...
Thus, it seems clear enough to me that this was all a calculated effort to appear placid and absorb the rest of the Middle Kingdom only when the time was ripe, as it was merely two years later when the state of Qi fell to Jin, only to be set upon by the massive armies of Wu, in what was clearly a turning point in the era. Much like the Zhou moved from the Spring and Autumn period to the Warring States era, this age too moved from a time where there was at least some unity to a time of several large states all competing with one another. For after the conquest of the Central Plains, the unity of Zhen was now only a name, and even that would last scant few years as the anger over Emperor Wen's decep-
The writing abruptly ends here, a few dark blotches splattered on the parchment.