Liu Shan

Liu Shan, (commonly mispronounced as Liu Chan ), (207–271) was the second and last emperor of the state of Shu Han during the three kingdoms era of Chinese history. As he ascended the throne at the young age of 16, Liu Shan was entrusted to the care of the Chancellor Zhuge Liang and Imperial Secretariat Li Yan. During Liu Shan's reign, many campaigns were led against the rival state of cao wei, primarily by Zhuge Liang and his successor Jiang Wei, but to little avail. Liu Shan eventually surrendered to Wei in 263 after Deng Ai led a surprise attack on the Shu capital . He was quickly relocated to Luoyang, capital of Wei, and enfeoffed as Duke Anle. There he enjoyed his last years peacefully before dying, most probably of natural causes, in 271.

Widely known by his infant name "A'dou" or "E'dou" (阿斗), Liu Shan was commonly perceived as an incapable, even mentally handicapped ruler. He was also accused of indulging in pleasures while neglecting state affairs. Some critics, however, believe that Liu Shan, like his father Liu Bei, had excellent people management skills, being able to balance the interests of the two major factions in his court, headed respectively by Zhuge Liang and Li Yan. These critics also praise Liu Shan for feigning incompetence in the most ingenious and natural way after the fall of Shu so as to avoid personal harm. Nevertheless, the name "A'dou" is today still commonly used to describe incapable people who would not achieve anything even with significant assistance.

The given name of Liu Shan, when combined with that of Liu Feng, whom Liu Bei adopted before the birth of Liu Shan, would become "fengshan" (封禪), meaning "to ascend the throne in a ceremony". Scholars like Yi Zhongtian believe that this is an implication of Liu Bei's ambition to become the emperor, even long before the abdication of Emperor Xian. This undermines Liu Bei's claim that he was forced to declare himself emperor so as to carry on the lineage of the Eastern han dynasty.

As Chen Shou, the author of Records of three kingdoms, noted, contrary to tradition, Zhuge Liang banned official historians at Liu Shan's court, and after Zhuge's death, it appeared Liu did not revive that post. Therefore many of the events during his reign were unrecorded, causing limited details about Liu Shan's reign in historic records.

Early life

Born in 207, Liu Shan was the oldest son of the wandering warlord Liu Bei, by his concubine Lady Gan. In the next year, the warlord Cao Cao, who had by then occupied the entire northern China, launched a campaign against Jing Province (荆州; covering present-day Hubei and Hunan ). During his retreat south, Liu Bei was caught up by an elite cavalry force led by Cao Cao at the Battle of Changban, and forced to leave behind Lady Gan and Liu Shan to resume his escape. Liu Bei's general Zhao Yun stayed behind to protect the family members of Liu Bei. Holding the infant Liu Shan in his arms, Zhao Yun led the mother and child to safety. (It appears likely that Lady Gan had died sometime before 209, because when Liu Bei's wife Lady Sun effectively divorced Liu Bei in 211, he was in her custody.)

An alternative story of Liu Shan's early life was given in A Brief History of Wei by Yu Huan. It was said that Liu Shan, then already several years old, was separated from Liu Bei when the latter was attacked by Cao Cao in Xiaopei (小沛; present-day Pei County, Jiangsu ) in 200. He somehow landed in Hanzhong and was sold by human traffickers. Only when Liu Bei declared himself emperor in 221 was Liu Shan reunited with his father. However, this story was rejected by Pei Songzhi, annotator of the Records of three kingdoms, taking into account of various sources.

After Liu Bei declared himself the first emperor of Shu in 221, Liu Shan was formally made the crown prince. In the next year, Liu Bei left the capital Chengdu on a campaign against Sun Quan (then a nominal vassal of Wei who would soon declare his independence as the first emperor of Eastern Wu). Liu Bei was defeated at the Battle of Xiaoting and, having retreated to the city of Baidicheng, eventually died in 223. With his last breaths, Liu Bei entrusted the young Liu Shan to the care of his chancellor, Zhuge Liang. Liu Bei even told Zhuge Liang to take the throne if Liu Shan proved to be incapable.


Zhuge Liang's regency

During the early years of his reign, Liu Shan was not an unwise ruler. While Zhuge Liang was alive, Liu Shan treated him as a father figure, allowing Zhuge to handle all state affairs. Zhuge Liang recommended many trusted officials, including Fei Yi, Dong Yun, Guo Youzhi and Xiang Chong (向寵) into key positions. Under Zhuge Liang's advice, Liu Shan entered into an alliance with the state of Wu, helping both states to survive against the much larger state of Wei. During Zhuge Liang's regency, the government was largely efficient and not corrupt, allowing the relatively small state of Shu to prepare itself for military campaigns.

In 223, Liu Shan married Zhang Fei's daughter, Empress Zhang.

In the aftermaths of Liu Bei's death, the southern Nanman tribes had peeled away from Shu dominion. In 225, Zhuge Liang headed south and was able to, by both military victories and persuasion, reintegrate the southern region into the empire. For the rest of Zhuge Liang's regency, the southern Nanman people would be key contributors to Shu's campaigns against Wei.

Starting in 227, Zhuge Liang launched his five Northern Expeditions against Wei, but all except one were military failures (albeit not military disasters) in that Zhuge Liang's forces ran out of food before they were able to inflict significant damage on Wei and therefore were forced to withdraw. It was during one of Zhuge Liang's campaigns that the only real political crisis during Zhuge's regency would occur. In 231, unable to supply the troops sufficiently, Li Yan forged an edict by Liu Shan, ordering Zhuge Liang to retreat. When Zhuge Liang discovered this, he recommended that Li Yan be removed from his office and put under house arrest, and Liu Shan accepted the recommendation.

In 234, while Zhuge Liang was on his final campaign against Wei, he grew seriously ill. Hearing about Zhuge's illness, Liu Shan sent his secretary Li Fu (李福) to the front line to visit Zhuge Liang and to request Zhuge to leave instructions on important state matters. Among other things, Zhuge recommended that Jiang Wan succeed him, and that Fei Yi succeed Jiang Wan. Zhuge Liang refused to answer Li Fu's next question—who should succeed Fei Yi. Zhuge Liang died soon thereafter. Liu Shan followed Zhuge's instructions and installed Jiang Wan as the new regent.

Jiang Wan's regency

Jiang Wan was a capable administrator, and he continued Zhuge Liang's domestic policies, leaving the government largely efficient. He was also known for his tolerance of dissension and his humility. Not having much military aptitude, however, he soon abandoned Zhuge Liang's policy of waging war against Wei, and indeed in 241 withdrew most of the troops from the important border city of Hanzhong to Fu County (涪縣; in present-day Mianyang, Sichuan ). From that point on, Shu was generally in a defensive posture and no longer posed a threat to Wei. (This was in fact misinterpreted by many Wu officials as a sign that Shu was abandoning the alliance and entering into a treaty with Wei, but was correctly read by Wu's emperor Sun Quan as merely a sign of weakness, not an abandonment of the alliance.)

In 237, Empress Zhang died. That year, Liu Shan took her younger sister as a consort, and in 238 created her empress. Her title remained the same as her sister, Empress Zhang

In 243, Jiang Wan grew ill and transferred most of his authority to Fei Yi and Fei's assistant Dong Yun. In 244, when Wei's regent Cao Shuang attacked Hanzhong, it was Fei Yi who led the troops against Cao Shuang and dealt Wei a major defeat in the Battle of Xingshi. Jiang Wan, however, remained influential until his death in 245. Soon after Jiang Wan's death, Dong Yun also died — allowing the eunuch Huang Hao, a favorite of Liu Shan's, whose power Dong Yun had curbed, to start aggrandizing his power. Huang Hao was viewed as corrupt and highly manipulative in domestic matters, and the governmental efficiency that was achieved during Zhuge Liang's and Jiang Wan's regencies began to deteriorate.

Fei Yi's regency

After Jiang Wan and Dong Yun's deaths, Liu Shan named Jiang Wei as Fei Yi's assistant, but both were largely involved only in military matters, as Liu Shan gradually became more self-assertive in non-military matters. It was also around this time that he became more interested in touring the countryside and increasing the use of luxury items, both of which added stress on the treasury, albeit not cripplingly so. Jiang Wei was interested in resuming Zhuge Liang's policies of attacking Wei aggressively, a strategy that Fei Yi partially agreed with — as he allowed Jiang Wei to make raids on Wei's borders, but never gave him a large amount of troops, reasoning that Shu was in no position for a major military confrontation with Wei.

In 253, Fei Yi was assassinated by the general Guo Xun (郭循) -- a former Wei general who had been forced to surrender but who secretly maintained his loyalty to Wei. Fei Yi's death left Jiang Wei as the leading official of the empire, but with a power vacuum in domestic matters, as Jiang Wei continued to be on the borders, conducting campaigns against Wei. Huang Hao's influence increased greatly as a result.

Jiang Wei's semi-regency

After Fei Yi's death, Jiang Wei assumed command of Shu's troops and began a number of campaigns against Wei -- but while they were troubling to Wei's de facto rulers Sima Shi and Sima Zhao (who had rendered Wei's emperors figureheads after succeeding their father Sima Yi), the attacks largely inflicted no real damage against Wei, as Jiang Wei's campaigns were plagued by one problem that had plagued Zhuge Liang's -- the lack of adequate food supply—and largely had to be terminated after a short duration. These campaigns instead had a detrimental effect on Shu, whose government no longer had the efficiency that it had during Zhuge Liang's and Jiang Wan's regencies, and therefore was unable to cope with the drain of resources that Jiang Wei's campaigns were having.

In 253, Jiang Wei made a coordinated attack on Wei, along with Wu's regent Zhuge Ke, but was eventually forced to withdraw after his troops ran out of food supplies — allowing Sima Shi to concentrate against Zhuge Ke, dealing Wu forces a devastating defeat that eventually caused so much resentment that Zhuge Ke was assassinated. This was the last of the coordinated attacks by Shu and Wu on Wei in the duration of the Shu-Wu alliance.

In 255, on one of Jiang Wei's campaigns, he dealt Wei forces a major defeat in the Battle of Didao, nearly capturing the important Wei border city Didao (狄道; in present-day Dingxi, Gansu ), but in 256, as he tried to again confront the Wei forces, he was instead dealt a defeat by Deng Ai, and this was a fairly devastating loss that left Jiang Wei with a weakened standing with the people. Many officials now openly questioned Jiang Wei's strategy, but Liu Shan took no actions to stop Jiang. Further, in 259, under Jiang Wei's suggestion, Liu Shan approved a plan where the main troops were withdrawn from major border cities to try to induce a Wei attack, with troops positioned in such a way as to intend a trapping of the Wei troops — a strategy that would be used several years later, in 263, when Wei did attack, but which would prove to be a failure.

By 261, Huang Hao's power appeared paramount. Among the key domestic officials, only Dong Jue and Zhuge Liang's son Zhuge Zhan were able to maintain their posts without flattering Huang Hao. In 262, Huang Hao would in fact try to remove Jiang Wei and replace him with his friend Yan Yu (閻宇). Upon hearing this, Jiang Wei advised Liu Shan to execute Huang Hao, but the emperor denied the request, saying that the eunuch was but a servant who ran errands. Fearing retaliation, Jiang Wei left Chengdu to garrison troops at Tazhong (沓中; northwest of present-day Zhouqu County, Gansu ).

According to the Wu ambassador Xue Xu, who visited Shu in 261 at the order of Sun Xiu, the status that Shu was in at this point was:

The emperor is incompetent and does not know his errors; his subordinates just try to get by without causing trouble for themselves. When I was visiting them, I heard no honest words, and when I visited their countryside, the people looked hungry. I have heard of a story of swallows and sparrows making nests on top of mansions and being content, believing that it was the safest place, not realizing that the haystack and the support beams were on fire and that disaster was about to come. This might be what they are like.

Fall of Shu

In 262, aggravated by Jiang Wei's constant attacks, Wei's regent Sima Zhao planned to carry out a major campaign to terminate the Shu threat once and for all. Upon hearing rumors of this plan, Jiang Wei submitted a request to Liu Shan, warning him about the mustering of Wei troops under the generals Deng Ai, Zhuge Xu, and Zhong Hui near the border. However, Huang Hao persuaded Liu Shan with fortunetelling to take no action on Jiang Wei's requests for war preparations.

In 263, Sima Zhao launched his attacks, led by Deng Ai, Zhuge Xu, and Zhong Hui. Liu Shan followed Jiang's previous plans and ordered the border troops to withdraw and prepare to trap Wei forces, rather than to confront them directly. The plan, however, had a fatal flaw—it assumed that Wei forces would siege the border cities, which, instead, Deng Ai and Zhong Hui ignored, and they advanced instead on Yang'an Pass (陽安關; in present-day Hanzhong, Shaanxi ), capturing it. Jiang Wei was able to meet their troops and initially repel them, but Deng Ai led his army through a trecherous mountain pass and deep into Shu territory. There he launched a surprise attack on Jiangyou (江油; in present-day Mianyang, Sichuan ). After defeating Zhuge Zhan there, Deng Ai had virtually no Shu troops left between his army and the capital . Faced with the prospect of defending Chengdu against Deng Ai's troops with no defenses, Liu Shan took the advice of Secretary Qiao Zhou and promptly surrendered. While the surrender was criticized by many, Wang Yin (王隱) in his Records of Shu (蜀記) described the move as a policy that placed the welfare of the people on top.

In 264, the ambitious Zhong Hui would carry out an attempt to seize power — which Jiang Wei, who had surrendered to Zhong Hui, tried to take advantage of to revive Shu. He advised Zhong Hui to falsely accuse Deng Ai of treason and arrest him, and, with their combined troops, rebel against Sima Zhao. Zhong Hui did so, and Jiang Wei planned to next kill Zhong Hui and his followers, and then redeclare Shu's independence under emperor Liu Shan, and had in fact written Liu Shan to inform him of those plans. However, Zhong Hui's troops rebelled against him, and both Jiang Wei and Zhong Hui were killed in battle. Liu Shan himself was not harmed in the disturbance, although his crown prince Liu Xuan was killed in the confusion.

Life after the fall of Shu

In 264, Liu Shan and his entire family was relocated to the Wei capital Luoyang. He was created the Duke of Anle (安樂公; literally meaning "duke of peace and comfort"), and his sons and grandsons were created marquesses. According to the Spring and Autumn Annals of Han and Jin (漢晉春秋) by Xi Zuochi (习鑿齒), Sima Zhao, the Duke of Jin and de facto ruler of Wei, one day invited Liu Shan and his followers to a feast, during which Sima Zhao arranged to have entertainers perform traditional Shu music and dance. The former Shu officials present were all saddened, but Liu Shan was visibly unmoved. When asked by Sima Zhao if he missed his former state, Liu Shan replied:

I enjoy life here and do not think of Shu at all. (此間樂,不思蜀)

This phrase became a Chinese idiom le bu si shu (樂不思蜀; literally meaning "too joyful to think about home", but often with a negative implication). This was noted by Sima Zhao as a sign that Liu Shan was an incompetent fool; however, some later historians believed that it showed Liu Shan's wisdom in intentionally displaying a lack of ambition so that Sima Zhao would not view him as a threat.

Liu Shan died in 271, in Luoyang, and was given the posthumous name Duke Si of Anle (安樂思公; literally "the deep-thinking duke of Anle"). His dukedom lasted several generations during Wei's successor state, the jin dynasty, before being extinguished in the turmoils caused by the Wu Hu. Liu Yuan, the founder of one of the Wu Hu sixteen kingdoms, Han Zhao, who claimed to be a legitimate successor of the han dynasty, gave Liu Shan the posthumous name Emperor Xiaohuai (孝懷皇帝; literally "the filial and kind emperor").

Battle of Changban

In 208, Liu Bei was routed by an elite cavalry force led by the powerful warlord Cao Cao at Changban (northeast of present-day Dangyang County, Hubei ) and was forced to leave behind Lady Gan and Liu Shan in his retreat. The general Zhao Yun stayed behind to protect the family members of Liu Bei. Although in history Zhao Yun led both mother and child to safety without incident, the novel in Chapter 41 fabricated the suicide of Lady Mi, another consort of Liu Bei and younger sister of Mi Zhu, so that Zhao Yun could concentrate on protecting the infant Liu Shan.

Refusing to take the only horse Zhao Yun had, which was sorely needed to break out of the enemy ranks, Lady Mi leapt into a dried well and killed herself. Zhao Yun then pushed the well over to cover up Lady Mi's corpse for fear of desecration by the enemy, before securing Liu Shan to his chest. He singlehandedly broke out of the enemy encirclement. Cao Cao was so impressed with the general's bravery that he ordered his troops not to fire arrows in the hope of capturing Zhao Yun alive. When Zhao Yun did catch up with Liu Bei and the rest, however, Liu Bei threw the child onto the ground to show that his officers were more important to him than his own son.

Zhao Yun rescues A'dou from Lady Sun

In Chapter 61, Sun Shangxiang, younger sister of Sun Quan, married Liu Bei to secure an alliance between the two warlords, returned to her homeland to visit her sick mother, Lady Wu. The sickness, however, was a lie to persuade Sun Shangxiang to bring along Liu Shan, who would then be used as a hostage to exchange for Jing Province with Liu Bei. When Zhao Yun learned of her departure, he rushed down to the quay, where Sun Shangxiang had already boarded the boat manned by Zhou Shan, whom Sun Quan sent to fetch his sister.

Grabbing hold of a small fishing boat, Zhao Yun caught up with the larger boat and leapt onto it. Zhou Shan's soldiers were not able to stop him. Although Zhao Yun was able to forcibly retrieve Liu Shan from his stepmother, he was not able to get off the boat, which was speeding down the river back to Jiangdong. Fortunately, the boat was intercepted by a fleet led by Zhang Fei. When Zhou Shan tried to resist, Zhang Fei slew him. The two generals then brought the only son of Liu Bei safely back while Sun Shangxiang returned to Jiangdong.

Personal information


Liu Bei, Emperor Zhaolie


Lady Gan, posthumously honoured as Empress Zhaolie


Empress Jing'ai, older daughter of Zhang Fei, instated in 223, died in 237

Empress Zhang, younger daughter of Zhang Fei, instated in 238, followed Liu Shan to Luoyang after the fall of Shu Han

Consort Wang (王貴人), bore Liu Xuan and Liu Yao

Consort Li (李昭儀), committed suicide in 264 after the fall of Shu Han


Liu Xuan, instated as crown prince at the age of 15, killed during Zhong Hui's rebellion in 264

Liu Yao (劉瑤), Prince of Anding, born in 238

Liu Cong (劉琮), the Prince of Xihe, born in 252, died in 262

Liu Zan (劉瓚), Prince of Xinping, born in 256

Liu Chen, Prince of Beidi, born in 242, committed suicide in 263

Liu Xun (劉恂), Prince of Xinxing, born in 259, inherited the title of Duke of Anle

Liu Qu (劉璩), Prince of Shangdang, born in 259

Last update 03-06-2012

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