Sun Hao

Sun Hao (242–284), style name Yuanzong (元宗), originally named Sun Pengzu (孫彭祖) with the style name Yuanzong (元宗), was the fourth and last emperor 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 came to the throne in 264 after the death of his uncle Sun Xiu (Emperor Jing) in light of the desire of the people to have an older emperor considering the recent destruction of Eastern Wu's ally Shu Han. However, he turned out to be a most unfortunate choice, as his cruelty, extravagance, and inability to handle domestic matters doomed Eastern Wu, which was conquered by Jin in 280, ending the three kingdoms period.

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

Early life

Sun Hao was born in 242, as Sun He's oldest 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 oldest son and first crown prince, Sun Deng, in 241. His mother was a concubine of Sun He's, Consort 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) the Prince of Lu, he ordered Prince Ba to commit suicide and deposed Crown Prince He, who was exiled to Guzhang (故鄣, in modern 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, Crown Prince He's status was elevated from commoner status, as Sun Quan, just before his death that year, created him the Prince of Nanyang, with his fief at Changsha. Indeed, there were rumors, 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 Prince He and making him emperor instead. After Zhuge's assassination and replacement by Sun Jun in 253, however, Prince 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 rumors as excuse to have Sun He demoted back to commoner status and exiled to Xindu (新都, in modern 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, note different character than the regent). Sun Hao was just 11 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 marquesses. Sun Hao's title was the Marquess of Wucheng, and he was sent to his march (in modern Huzhou, Zhejiang ). At some point, he befriended a magistrate of Wucheng County, Wan Yu (萬彧), who believed him to be 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 prime minister Puyang Xing (濮陽興) to the palace, where he pointed and entrusted his son, Sun Wan the Crown Prince, to him. Sun Xiu died soon thereafter. However, Puyang did not follow his wishes. Rather, after consulting with the powerful general Zhang Bu, they believed that the people were, in light of key ally Shu Han's recent fall in 263, yearning for an older emperor. (It is not known how old Crown Prince Wan was at this point, but Sun Xiu himself died at age 29, so it was unlikely that Crown Prince Wan was even a teenager.) At the recommendation of Wan Yu, who was by this point a general, Puyang and Zhang declared Sun Hao emperor instead.

Early reign

At first, the people of Eastern 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 honored his mother Consort He as the empress dowager instead, while posthumously honoring his father Sun He with the title Emperor Wen.) Puyang and Zhang 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 created his wife Marchioness Teng empress.

In 265, Sun Hao forced the former Empress Dowager Zhu to commit suicide and exiled Sun Xiu's four sons—and soon executed the two oldest, Prince Wan of Yuzhang (the former crown prince) and Prince Gong of Ru'nan. He then also, believing in a prophecy that the imperial aura had moved from Yang Province (揚州, modern Zhejiang , Jiangxi , and southern Jiangsu and Anhui ) to the Jing Province (荊州, modern Hubei and Hunan ) and that Jing forces would defeat Yang forces, undertook a costly move of the capital from Jianye to Wuchang (武昌, modern 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, the nephew of Lu Xun and one of the prime ministers serving in tandem with Wan Yu, because of the great respect the people had for Lu.

In 266, Jin, which newly established itself as the successor to Eastern Wu's archenemy cao wei after its first emperor, Emperor Wu (Sima Yan) usurped the cao wei throne, sought to establish peace with Eastern Wu. Sun Hao instead considered attacking Jin, but while he did not do so at this point, he did not establish peace with Jin.

Also in 266, commoners in modern 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 defense. 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 thought this to be the 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 started a policy of periodically attacking Jin border regions; he had his general Zhu Ji (朱繼) attack Jiangxia (江夏, in modern Xiaogan, Hubei ) and Wan Yu attack Xiangyang, while he himself postured to attack Hefei . This attack was repelled by Jin forces, as would be several later attacks.

In 269, Lu Kai died, and soon there was no one left in the administration who dared to speak anymore, as after Lu Kai's death Sun Hao exiled his clan to Jian'an (建安, in modern Nanping, Fujian ). Lu Xun's son Lu Kang, a general who was in charge of defending the western empire, 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 Jin, and he brought his mother Empress Dowager He, his wife Empress Teng, and thousands of women in his harem along, which necessitated heavy labor from soldiers to drag their wagons, causing the soldiers to murmur about possibly defecting. Only after Sun Hao heard this possibility did he withdraw and return to Jianye. (Wan Yu and the senior generals Ding Feng and Liu Ping (留平) considered returning to Jianye themselves before Sun Hao chose to withdraw, and Sun Hao heard about this and bore grudges against them.)

Later that year, Eastern Wu forces finally recovered Jiao Province (交州, modern 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, modern Sichuan and Chongqing ), with Emperor Wu's support, began building a massive fleet, with the plan to eventually use the fleet in conquering Eastern Wu. As the wood shavings from the building projected floated down the Yangtze River, Sun Hao's general Wu Yan (吾彥) realized 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 modern Yichang, Hubei ), back to the capital back to Jianye. Fearful that he was about to be punished somehow, Bu rebelled and defected to Jin. While Lu Kang was eventually able to defeat Bu and recover Xiling for Eastern Wu, the distrust the Eastern Wu generals had for their emperor has 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 and Liu for their plan 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 western defenses, but Sun Hao did not do so. Further, he divided Lu's forces into six different commands, although each was led by a son of Lu.

In 275, the key official He Shao (賀邵) suffered a stroke and was paralyzed. 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.

The fall of Eastern Wu

In 279, after Emperor Wu of Jin accepted the advice of Wang Jun and Du Yu did Jin finally launched a major attack aiming to conquer Eastern Wu. The attack was in six prongs, with the forces led by Emperor Wu'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 Eastern Wu fleets. The Eastern Wu prime minister 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 spring 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. Jin's Emperor Wu 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 key 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's response was, "If a subordinate planned to murder his emperor or was treacherous, I would use those punishments on him." Jia, who was instrumental in cao wei's emperor Cao Mao's death, was humiliated and could not further respond.

Emperor Wu pardoned Sun Hao and further created him a marquess—the Marquess of Guiming. His sons were made junior officials in the Jin administration. In 284, Sun Hao died—without ever having been punished for his atrocities.

Personal information


Sun He, third son of Sun Quan, forced to commit suicide in 253


Consort He


Empress Teng, daughter of Teng Mu (滕牧), instated in 264

Lady Zhang (張美人), daughter of Zhang Bu

Lady Zhang (張夫人), older sister of the above-mentioned Lady Zhang, Left Lady

Lady Wang (王夫人), Right Lady


Sun Jin (孫瑾), instated as crown prince in 269

Prince of Huaiyang, personal name unknown, instated in 272

Prince of Dongping, personal name unknown, instated in 272

Prince of Chenliu, personal name unknown, instated in 272

Prince of Zhangling, personal name unknown, instated in 272

Prince of Chenguang, personal name unknown, instated in 272

Prince of Chengji, personal name unknown, instated in 278

Prince of Xuanwei, personal name unknown, instated in 278

15 other princes, personal names unknown, six instated in 272, nine instated in 278

Last update 02-06-2012

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