Sun Hao

Sun Hao

A Qing dynasty portrait of Sun Hao
Emperor of Eastern Wu
Born 242
Died 284 (aged 42)
Reign 264–280
Predecessor Sun Xiu
Traditional Chinese 孫皓
Simplified Chinese 孙皓
Pinyin Sūn Hào
Wade–Giles Sun Hao
Courtesy name Yuanzong (Chinese: 元宗; pinyin: Yuánzōng; Wade–Giles: Yüan-tsung)
Era names
Other names
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Sun.

Sun Hao (242–284), courtesy name Yuanzong, originally named Sun Pengzu with the courtesy name Haozong, was the fourth and last emperor of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period. He was the son of Sun He, a one-time crown prince of the founding emperor Sun Quan. He ascended the throne in 264 after the death of his uncle Sun Xiu (Emperor Jing) in the light of the desire of the people to have an older emperor, considering the recent destruction of Wu's ally state Shu Han. However, he turned out to be a most unfortunate choice, as his cruelty, extravagance, and inability to handle domestic matters doomed Wu, which was eventually conquered by the Jin Dynasty in 280, ending the Three Kingdoms period.

Sun Hao is also known by his pre-ascension title of "Marquis of Wucheng" (烏程侯) and post-conquest Jin-bestowed title "Marquis of Guiming" (歸命侯).

Early life

Sun Hao was born in 242, as Sun He's eldest son, at a time either briefly before or briefly after Sun He was created crown prince following the death of his father Sun Quan's eldest son and first crown prince, Sun Deng, in 241. Sun Hao's mother, Consort He, was a concubine of Sun He.

In 250, when Sun Hao was just eight, after Sun Quan tired of constant disputes between Sun He and his brother Sun Ba (孫霸), he ordered Sun Ba to commit suicide and deposed Sun He, who was exiled to Guzhang (故鄣; in present-day Huzhou, Zhejiang), presumably with his family, and reduced to commoner status. Sun Hao went from the status of eventual presumed heir to being the son of a commoner, albeit the grandson of the emperor.

In 252, Sun He's status was elevated from commoner status, as Sun Quan, just before his death that year, instated him as the Prince of Nanyang, with his fief at Changsha. Indeed, there were rumours, even after Sun He's younger brother Sun Liang took the throne after Sun Quan's death, that the regent Zhuge Ke, an uncle of Sun He's wife Princess Zhang, was interested in restoring Sun He and making him emperor instead. After Zhuge Ke's assassination and replacement by Sun Jun in 253, however, Sun He fell into danger, as Sun Jun had been instrumental in having him deposed in the first place and wanted to eliminate any chance of a comeback. He used the rumours as excuse to have Sun He demoted back to commoner status and exiled to Xindu (新都; in present-day Hangzhou, Zhejiang), and then sent messengers to force Sun He to commit suicide. Princess Zhang also committed suicide, but when offered the chance to, Consort He refused, stating that if she died as well, no one would be left to care for Sun He's sons, so she raised Sun Hao and his three brothers by other consorts — Sun De (孫德), Sun Qian (孫謙), and Sun Jun (孫俊, not the same person as the regent). Sun Hao was 11 years old when his father died.

After Sun Liang was deposed by Sun Jun's cousin and successor Sun Chen in 258, another uncle of Sun Hao's, Sun Xiu, became emperor, and that year, Sun Xiu created Sun Hao and his brothers Sun De and Sun Qian marquises. Sun Hao's title was the Marquis of Wucheng, and he was sent to his fief in present-day Huzhou, Zhejiang. At some point, he befriended a magistrate of Wucheng County, Wan Yu, who appraised him as intelligent and studious.

In summer 264, Sun Xiu fell ill and was unable to speak but still could write, so he wrote an edict summoning the chancellor Puyang Xing (濮陽興) to the palace, where he pointed and entrusted his son, crown prince Sun Wan, to Puyang. Sun Xiu died soon thereafter. However, Puyang Xing did not follow his wishes. Rather, after consulting the general Zhang Bu, they believed that the people were, in the light of the recent fall of their ally state Shu Han in 263, yearning for a mature emperor. (It is not known how old Sun Wan was at this point, but Sun Xiu himself died at age 29, so it was unlikely that Sun Wan was even a teenager.) At the recommendation of Wan Yu, who was by this point a general, Puyang Xing and Zhang Bu enthroned Sun Hao instead.

Early reign

At first, the people of Wu were impressed with the new emperor, as he reduced taxes, gave relief to the poor, and released a large number of ladies in waiting from the palace to let them marry. However, soon that hopefulness was shattered, as Sun Hao started to be cruel in his punishments, superstitious, and indulging himself in wine and women. He also demoted his aunt, Sun Xiu's wife Empress Dowager Zhu, to the title of "Empress Jing." (He honoured his mother Consort He as the empress dowager instead, while posthumously honouring his father Sun He with the title Emperor Wen.) Puyang Xing and Zhang Bu were shocked and disappointed, and their disappointment was reported to the emperor, who had them arrested and executed, along with their clans, late in 264. In 264, he also instated his wife Lady Teng as the empress.

In 265, Sun Hao forced the former Empress Dowager Zhu to commit suicide and exiled Sun Xiu's four sons. He soon executed the two eldest, Sun Wan (the former crown prince) and Sun Gong. He then also, believing in a prophecy that the imperial aura had moved from Yang Province (揚州; covering present-day Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and southern Jiangsu and Anhui) to Jing Province (荊州; covering present-day Hubei and Hunan) and that Jing forces would defeat Yang forces, undertook a costly move of the capital from Jianye to Wuchang (武昌; present-day Ezhou, Hubei). He also started executing officials who showed disapproval of his wasteful ways regularly. The only major official who was able to speak freely without consequences was Lu Kai, a nephew of Lu Xun and one of the chancellors serving in tandem with Wan Yu, because of the great respect the people had for Lu Kai.

In 266, Jin, which newly established itself as the successor to Wu's rival state Cao Wei after its first emperor, Sima Yan, usurped the Wei throne, sought to establish peace with Wu. Sun Hao instead considered attacking Jin, but while he did not do so at that moment, he also did not make peace with Jin.

In 266, commoners in present-day Zhejiang unable to withstand Sun Hao's heavy levies (to support his luxuries) rebelled and kidnapped Sun Hao's brother Sun Qian as figurehead. They reached Jianye but were eventually defeated by Ding Gu (丁固) and Zhuge Jing (諸葛靚), who were responsible for Jianye's defence. Although there was no evidence that Sun Qian was actually involved in the rebellion, Sun Hao had not only Sun Qian but also his mother and his younger brother Sun Jun, by the same mother, executed. Sun Hao believed this was a fulfillment of the prophecy that prompted his move of the capital to Wuchang, and later that year, he moved the capital back to Jianye.

In 268, Sun Hao began a policy of periodically attacking Jin border regions; he had his general Zhu Ji (朱繼) attack Jiangxia (江夏; in present-day Xiaogan, Hubei) and Wan Yu attack Xiangyang, while he himself postured to attack Hefei. This attack was repelled by Jin forces, as were several later attacks.

In 269, Lu Kai died, and soon there was no one left in the administration who dared to speak out anymore, as after Lu Kai's death Sun Hao exiled his clan to Jian'an (建安; in present-day Nanping, Fujian). Lu Xun's son Lu Kang, a general who was in charge of defending Wu's western borders, did periodically submit petitions requesting reforms, but Sun Hao generally ignored them, although he did not punish Lu Kang.

Late reign

In early 271, in the middle of winter, Sun Hao personally launched a major attack against the Jin Dynasty, and he brought his mother Empress Dowager He, his wife Empress Teng, and thousands of women in his harem along, which necessitated heavy labour - from soldiers to drag their wagons - causing the soldiers to murmur about possible defection. Only after Sun Hao heard this possibility did he make the decision to withdraw and return to Jianye. Wan Yu and the senior generals Ding Feng and Liu Ping (留平) had already considered returning to Jianye themselves before Sun Hao chose to withdraw, and when Sun Hao heard about this, he bore grudges against them as generals who might leave him.

Later that year, Wu forces finally recovered Jiao Province (交州; parts of present-day northern Vietnam) from rebels paying allegiance to Jin, who had held out ever since 264 (during Sun Xiu's reign). This gave Sun Hao encouragement, and he continued to plan military actions against Jin in earnest — although, to his credit, he put the capable general Tao Huang (陶璜) in charge of Jiao Province, and Tao managed the province effectively; the province would not rebel again for the duration of Sun Hao's reign.

In 272, Wang Jun, the Jin governor of Yi Province (益州; covering present-day Sichuan and Chongqing), with Sima Yan's support, began building a massive fleet, with the plan to eventually use the fleet in conquering Wu. As the wood shavings from the building projected floated down the Yangtze River, Sun Hao's general Wu Yan (吾彥) realised what was happening and requested that the northwestern border be fortified, but Sun Hao refused.

Later that year, Sun Hao would carry out an action that would lead to a major rebellion — summoning Bu Chan (步闡), the general in charge of Xiling (in present-day Yichang, Hubei), back to the capital back to Jianye. Fearful that he was about to be punished somehow, Bu Chan rebelled and defected to Jin. While Lu Kang was eventually able to defeat Bu Chan and recover Xiling for Wu, the distrust the Wu generals had for their emperor had been thoroughly exposed, and Jin generals became emboldened in proposing plans of conquest to their emperor.

Later that year, Sun Hao, still bearing grudges against Wan Yu and Liu Ping for their plan to abandon him to return to Jianye themselves, tried to poison them. Neither died, but after they found out that Sun Hao was behind the poisoning, they knew they could not do anything about it; Wan committed suicide, and Liu died in distress.

In 274, Lu Kang died. In his final petition, he requested Sun Hao to strengthen the defences on Wu's western border, but Sun Hao did not do so. Further, he divided Lu Kang's forces into six different commands, although each was led by one of Lu's sons.

In 275, the senior minister He Shao (賀邵) suffered a stroke and was paralysed. Sun Hao suspected that he was pretending, and had him arrested and tortured, by whipping and by subjecting him to saws and fires. He died under torture, and his clan was exiled.

For the next several years, people wishing to flatter Sun Hao often offered him miraculous items (real or manufactured) that purportedly suggest that he would eventually destroy Jin and unite China. Sun Hao's superstitious nature became even more aroused, and he spent all of his efforts on plans to conquer Jin.

Fall of Eastern Wu

In 279, after Sima Yan accepted the advice of Wang Jun and Du Yu Jin finally launched a major attack aiming to conquer Eastern Wu. The attack was in six prongs, with the forces led by Sima Yan's uncle Sima Zhou, Wang Hun (王渾), Wang Rong, Hu Fen (胡奮), Du, and Wang Jun, with the largest forces under Wang Hun and Wang Jun's commands. Each of the Jin forces advanced quickly and captured the border cities that they were targeting, with Wang Jun's fleet heading east down the Yangtze and clearing the river of Wu fleets. The Wu chancellor Zhang Ti made a last-ditch attempt to defeat Wang Hun's force, but was defeated and killed. Wang Hun, Wang Jun, and Sima Zhou each headed for Jianye, and Sun Hao was forced to surrender in the spring of 280.

Sun Hao and his clan were escorted to the Jin capital Luoyang. Sun Hao, now a captive, humiliated himself by covering himself with mud and having himself bound behind his back. Sima Yan had him unbound and seated next to himself at the next imperial gathering, commenting "I have set this seat for you for a long time." Sun Hao's response was, "I also had a seat for your imperial majesty in Jianye." When the Jin official Jia Chong, seeking to humiliate Sun, asked him, "I heard that you had such cruel punishments as poking out people's eyes and peeling the facial skin off people. What kind of punishment is this?" Sun Hao's response was, "If a subordinate planned to murder his emperor or was treacherous, I would use those punishments on him." Jia Chong, who was instrumental in Wei's emperor Cao Mao's death, was humiliated and could not further respond.

Sima Yan pardoned Sun Hao and further granted the latter the title of "Marquis of Guiming". Sun Hao's sons were made junior officials in the Jin government. Sun Hao died in 284.


See also


Emperor Yuanzong of Eastern Wu
Born: 242 Died: 284
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Sun Xiu
Emperor of Eastern Wu
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Sun Xiu
Emperor of China
Reason for succession failure:
Conquest of Wu by Jin
Succeeded by
Sima Yan
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