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Cao Wei



The territories of Cao Wei (in yellow), 262 AD.
Capital Luoyang
Languages Old Chinese
Religion Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion
Government Monarchy
 •  220–226 Cao Pi
 •  226–239 Cao Rui
 •  239–254 Cao Fang
 •  254–260 Cao Mao
 •  260–265 Cao Huan
Historical era Three Kingdoms
 •  Abdication of Emperor Xian of Han 10 December 220
 •  Eastern Wu declaring independence from Wei 222
 •  Cao Wei conquers Shu Han 263
 •  Abdication of Cao Huan 4 February 265
 •  260 est. 4,432,881 (disputed)[1][1] 
Currency Chinese coin, Chinese cash
Today part of  China
 North Korea
 Vietnam (220-222; 263-265)
Cao Wei
Traditional Chinese 曹魏
Simplified Chinese 曹魏

Wei (220–265), or Cao Wei, was one of the three major states that competed for supremacy over China in the Three Kingdoms period (220–280). With its capital at Luoyang, the state was established by Cao Pi in 220, based upon the foundations laid by his father, Cao Cao, towards the end of the Eastern Han dynasty. Its name originated as such: In 213, Cao Cao's feudal holdings were given the name "Wei" by the Eastern Han government. Historians often add the prefix "Cao" to distinguish it from other Chinese states known as "Wei", such as Wei of the Warring States period and Northern Wei of the Southern and Northern Dynasties. The authority of the ruling Cao family gradually weakened after the death of the second Wei emperor, Cao Rui, and eventually fell into the hands of Sima Yi, a Wei regent, and his family, in 249. Cao Rui's successors remained as puppet rulers under the control of the Simas until Sima Yi's grandson, Sima Yan, forced the last Wei ruler, Cao Huan, to abdicate the throne and established the Jin dynasty.


  • History 1
    • Beginnings and founding 1.1
    • Reigns of Cao Pi and Cao Rui 1.2
    • Goguryeo–Wei Wars 1.3
    • Fall of Wei 1.4
  • Government 2
  • Culture 3
  • Ruling class 4
  • List of territories 5
  • List of sovereigns 6
  • Cao Wei family tree 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11


Beginnings and founding

Towards the end of the Eastern Han dynasty, northern China came under the control of Cao Cao, the chancellor to the last Han ruler, Emperor Xian. In 213, Emperor Xian granted Cao Cao the title of "Duke of Wei" (魏公) and gave him ten cities as his dukedom. The area was named "Wei". At that time, the southern part of China was divided into two areas controlled by two other warlords, Liu Bei and Sun Quan. In 216, Emperor Xian promoted Cao Cao to the status of a vassal king — "King of Wei (魏王)" — and granted him more territories.

Cao Cao died on 15 March 220 and his vassal king title was inherited by his son Cao Pi. Later that year, on 11 December, Cao Pi forced Emperor Xian to abdicate in his favour and took over the throne, establishing the state of Wei. However, Liu Bei immediately contested Cao Pi's claim to the Han throne and declared himself "Emperor of Shu Han" a year later. Sun Quan was nominally a vassal king under Wei, but he declared independence in 222 and eventually proclaimed himself "Emperor of Wu" in 229.

Reigns of Cao Pi and Cao Rui

Cao Pi ruled for six years until his death in 226 and was succeeded by his son, Cao Rui, who ruled until his death in 239. Throughout the reigns of Cao Pi and Cao Rui, Wei had been fighting numerous wars with its two rival states — Shu and Wu.

Between 228 and 234, Zhuge Liang, the Shu chancellor and regent, led a series of five military campaigns to attack Wei's western borders (within present-day Gansu and Shaanxi), with the aim of conquering Chang'an, a strategic city which lay on the road to the Wei capital, Luoyang. The Shu invasions were repelled by the Wei armies led by the generals Cao Zhen, Sima Yi, Zhang He and others; Shu did not make any significant gains in the expeditions.

On its southern and eastern borders, Wei engaged Wu in a series of armed conflicts throughout the 220s and 230s, including the battles of Dongkou (222-223), Jiangling (223) and Shiting (228). However, most of the battles resulted in stalemate and neither side managed to significantly expand its territory.

Goguryeo–Wei Wars

Around that time, as the Korean kingdom Goguryeo consolidated its power, it proceeded to act to conquer the territories on the Korean peninsula which were under Chinese rule.[4] Goguryeo initiated the Goguryeo–Wei Wars in 242, trying to cut off Chinese access to its territories in Korea by attempting to take a Chinese fort. However, Wei responded by invading and defeated Goguryeo. Hwando was destroyed in revenge by Wei forces in 244.[4]

Fall of Wei

In 249, during the reign of Cao Rui's successor, Cao Fang, the regent Sima Yi seized state power from his co-regent, Cao Shuang, in a coup. This event marked the collapse of imperial authority in Wei, as Cao Fang's role had been reduced to a puppet ruler while Sima Yi wielded state power firmly in his hands. Sima Yi died in 251 and passed on his authority to his eldest son, Sima Shi, who continued ruling as regent. Sima Shi deposed Cao Fang in 254 and replaced him with Cao Mao. After Sima Shi died in the following year, his younger brother, Sima Zhao, inherited his power and status as regent. In 260, Cao Mao attempted to seize back state power from Sima Zhao in a coup, but was killed by Sima's subordinate, Cheng Ji (成濟).

After Cao Mao's death, Cao Huan was enthroned as the fifth ruler of Wei. However, Cao Huan was also a figurehead under Sima Zhao's control much like his predecessor. In 263, Wei armies led by Zhong Hui and Deng Ai conquered Shu. Two years later, Sima Zhao's son, Sima Yan, forced Cao Huan to abdicate in his favour, replacing Wei with the Jin dynasty.


The system of government in Wei inherited many aspects from that of the Eastern Han dynasty. During his reign, Cao Pi established two separate government bodies - the Central Inspectorate (中書監) and the Mobile Imperial Secretariat (行尚書臺) — to reduce the authority of the Imperial Secretariat (尚書臺) and consolidate the power of the central government.

During this time, the minister Chen Qun developed the nine-rank system for civil service nomination, which was adopted by later dynasties until it was superseded by the imperial examination system in the Sui dynasty.

Cao Pi felt that the Han dynasty collapsed because the Governors (州牧) of the various provinces wielded too much power and fell out of the control of the central government. He reduced the role of a Governor to that of an Inspector (刺史), and permitted the Inspectors to administer only civil affairs in their respective provinces, while military affairs were handled by military personnel based in regional offices or in the capital.


Sometime between the late Eastern Han dynasty and the Cao Wei dynasty, kaishu, a style of Chinese calligraphy, appeared, with its first known master being Zhong Yao, who also served as a politician in Wei.[5]

Ruling class

According to the Book of Wei, the Cao family descended from the Yellow Emperor through his grandson Zhuanxu. They were of the same lineage as Emperor Shun. Another account says that the Cao family descended from Emperor Shun. This account was attacked by Chiang Chi, who claimed that those with the family name "Tian" descended from Shun, but not those surnamed "Cao". He also claimed that "Gui" (媯) was Emperor Shun's family name.[6]

List of territories

You Province
Right Beiping
Yan (state)
Ji Province
Zhao (state)
Leling (state)
Zhongshan (state)

List of sovereigns

Cao Wei rulers
Temple name Posthumous name Family name (in bold) and personal name Reign Era names and their year ranges Notes
(N/A) Emperor Gao
Cao Teng
(N/A) (N/A) Cao Teng's posthumous name was granted posthumously by Cao Rui.
(N/A) Emperor Tai
Cao Song
(N/A) (N/A) Cao Song's posthumous name was granted posthumously by Cao Pi.
Emperor Wu
Cao Cao
(N/A) (N/A) Cao Cao's temple and posthumous names were granted posthumously by Cao Pi.
Emperor Wen
Cao Pi
  • Huangchu
    黃初 (220-226)
Emperor Ming
Cao Rui
  • Taihe
    太和 (227-233)
  • Qinglong
    青龍 (233-237)
  • Jingchu
    景初 (237-239)
(N/A) (N/A) Cao Fang
  • Zhengshi
    正始 (240-249)
  • Jiaping
    嘉平 (249-254)
Cao Fang became "Prince of Qi" (齊王) after his dethronement. He was posthumously granted the title "Duke Li of Shaoling" (邵陵厲公) in the Western Jin dynasty.
(N/A) (N/A) Cao Mao
  • Zhengyuan
    正元 (254-256)
  • Ganlu
    甘露 (256-260)
Cao Mao was granted the posthumous name of "Duke of Gaogui" (高貴鄉公).
(N/A) Emperor Yuan
Cao Huan
  • Jingyuan
    景元 (260-264)
  • Xianxi
    咸熙 (264-265)

Cao Wei family tree

Cao Cao 曹操 155–220
Wudi 武帝
Cao Pi 曹丕 187–226
Wendi 文帝
Cao Zhang 曹彰 189–223
Prince Wei of
Rencheng 任城威王
Cao Yu 曹宇 d.278
Prince of Yan 燕王
Cao Rui 曹叡 205–239
Mingdi 明帝
Cao Lin 曹霖 d. 249
Prince Ding of
Donghai 東海定王
Cao Kai 曹楷
Prince of Jinan 济南王
Cao Huan 曹奐 246–303
Yuandi 元帝
last dotted line denotes adoption
Cao Mao 曹髦 242–260
Duke of Gaogui
District 高貴鄉公

Cao Fang 曹芳 231–274
Shaodi 少帝

See also


  1. ^ This figure, based on numbers given in the Sanguozhi, has been called into question since the census system is claimed to have been flawed. The actual population is likely to be far greater.[2] Tanner (2,009) estimates the population of Wei to be over ⅔ of the Han population.[3]


  1. ^ Zou Jiwan (Chinese: 鄒紀萬), Zhongguo Tongshi - Weijin Nanbeichao Shi 中國通史·魏晉南北朝史, (1,992).
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Tanner, Harold M. (13 March 2,009). "Chapter 5: The Age of Warriors and Buddhists". China: A History. Hackett Publishing. p. 142. When it was established, Wu had only one-sixth of the population of the Eastern Han Empire (Cao Wei held over two-thirds of the Han population). 
  4. ^ a b Charles Roger Tennant (1996). A history of Korea. Kegan Paul International. p. 22.  
  5. ^ Qiu Xigui (2000). Chinese Writing. Translated by Mattos and Jerry Norman. Early China Special Monograph Series No. 4. Berkeley: The Society for the Study of Early China and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. ISBN 1-55729-071-7; p.142-3
  6. ^ Howard L. Goodman (1998). Ts'ao P'i transcendent: the political culture of dynasty-founding in China at the end of the Han (illustrated ed.). Psychology Press. p. 70.  

Further reading

  • de Crespigny, Rafe. "To Establish Peace: being the Chronicle of the Later Han dynasty for the years 201 to 220 AD as recorded in Chapters 64 to 69 of the Zizhi tongjian of Sima Guang". Volume 2. Faculty of Asian Studies, The Australian National University, Canberra. 1996. ISBN 0-7315-2526-4.
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