Sun Jian

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Sun Jian
Sun Jian Qing dynasty illustration.jpg
A Qing dynasty illustration of Sun Jian
General Who Destroys Barbarians
(under Yuan Shu)
In office
190 (190)–191 (191)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Inspector of Yu Province (豫州刺史)
(under Yuan Shu)
In office
190 (190)–191 (191)
MonarchEmperor Xian of Han
Preceded byKong Zhou
Administrator of Changsha (長沙太守)
In office
187 (187)–190 (190)
MonarchsEmperor Ling of Han
Emperor Xian of Han
Personal details
Fuchun County, Wu Commandery (around modern day Fuyang District, Hangzhou, Zhejiang)
Died191 (aged 36)[a]
  • Sun Zhong (father)
RelativesSee Eastern Wu family trees
OccupationMilitary general, politician, warlord
Military service
AllegianceHan Empire
Guandong Coalition
Yuan Shu's forces
UnitSun Jian's forces
Battles/warsXu Chang's rebellion
Yellow Turban Rebellion
Liang Province Rebellion
Campaign against Dong Zhuo
Battle of Xiangyang
Family name: Sun (孫)
Given name: Jian (堅)
Courtesy name: Wentai (文臺)
Posthumous name
Emperor Wulie (武烈皇帝)

Sun Jian (Chinese: 孫堅; pinyin: Sūn Jiān) (pronunciation ) (155–191?[2]), courtesy name Wentai, was a Chinese military general, politician, and warlord who lived during the late Eastern Han dynasty of China.[3] He allied himself with Yuan Shu in 190 when warlords from eastern China formed a coalition to oust Dong Zhuo, a tyrannical warlord who held the puppet Emperor Xian in his power. Although he controlled neither many troops nor much land, Sun Jian's personal bravery and resourcefulness were feared by Dong Zhuo, who placed him among Yuan Shao, Yuan Shu and Liu Biao as the most influential men at that time. After the coalition disbanded in the next year, China fell into massive civil war. In 191, Sun Jian was killed in battle during an offensive campaign against Liu Biao.

Sun Jian was also the father of Sun Quan, one of the central figures of the Three Kingdoms era who eventually established the Eastern Wu state and declared himself its first emperor in 229, whereupon Sun Jian was given the posthumous title Emperor Wulie (武烈皇帝).

Early life and career[edit]

Sun Jian was born in Fuchun County (富春縣), Wu Commandery, around present day Fuyang, Zhejiang. He was allegedly a descendant of Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War. No more immediate records survive, indicating his family probably played a very small part during the Han dynasty.[4] Even his father's name is unrecorded, although a folk tradition gives it as Sun Zhong (孫鍾).[5]

Sun Jian was a civil official in his home county during his youth. When he was 16, Sun Jian travelled with his father to Qiantang, where they encountered a band of pirates dividing up their spoils on land. Sun Jian jumped on shore with a sabre in hand and pointed in different directions as if commanding a detachment of soldiers to surround the pirates. Seeing this, the pirates were deceived and fled. Sun Jian pursued, and only after taking the head of every pirate did he return (or just the leaders according to some accounts). His name henceforth spread.

In 172, he became acting major for the pro-government militias which fought against Xu Chang's rebellion in Kuaiji Commandery. He raised a militia of about 1,000 men and served with distinction, whereupon he was recommended to the court by Yang Province Inspector Zhang Min. Sun Jian was consequently rewarded with a post as assistant magistrate in Guangling Commandery, and later in two counties in Xiapi. This allowed him to gather many followers.[6]

In 184, the Yellow Turban Rebellion led by Zhang Jiao broke out across the country. Sun Jian joined the general Zhu Jun to quell the rebellion in Yu Province (covering roughly present-day southern Henan and northern Anhui). The soldiers fought hard, forcing the rebels to retreat to Wan (宛; present-day Wancheng District, Nanyang, Henan). Sun Jian placed himself in the forefront and climbed onto the city walls alone. The rest then swarmed in and defeated the rebels.

Around this time, Bian Zhang and Han Sui colluded with the Qiang tribes and rebelled in Liang Province (涼州; present-day western Gansu). After Dong Zhuo failed to put down the rebellion, the central government sent in his place the Minister of Works Zhang Wen, who invited Sun Jian along as an adviser. When Zhang Wen summoned Dong Zhuo to the encampment at Chang'an, Dong Zhuo procrastinated and took a long time to arrive. When he did, he showed little respect for Zhang Wen. Sun Jian then advised Zhang Wen to execute Dong Zhuo, but Zhang Wen declined as Dong Zhuo held high reputation in the west.

Despite scoring a major victory against the rebels at Meiyang, Zhang Wen could not press their advantage and the rebellion was still not quelled. Zhang Wen and the rest returned to the capital Luoyang in disgrace and thus no honor was accorded. Meanwhile, another local-scale rebellion broke out near Changsha Commandery and the rebels besieged the city. Sun Jian was then appointed as the Administrator of Changsha Commandery. Within a month upon taking up office, Sun Jian had quelled the rebellion. Meanwhile, rebellions also broke out in the neighbouring commanderies of Lingling (零陵; around present-day Yongzhou, Hunan) and Guiyang (桂陽; around present-day Guiyang County, Hunan). Sun Jian defeated the rebel leaders Ou Xing (區星), Zhou Chao (周朝) and Guo Shi (郭石), and suppressed both rebellions. The Han imperial court enfeoffed him as the Marquis of Wucheng (烏程侯) in recognition of his contributions.

Coalition against Dong Zhuo[edit]

In 189, Emperor Ling died, leaving his young son in the care of Empress Dowager He and General-in-Chief He Jin. He Jin then summoned Dong Zhuo to lead troops into the capital to assist in a plot to eliminate the powerful eunuch faction. Before Dong Zhuo arrived, however, He Jin was assassinated by the eunuchs and Luoyang fell into chaos following a clash between supporters of both sides. Dong Zhuo then seized military control of the capital and deposed the young emperor for the puppet Emperor Xian. However, his tyrannical ways incurred the wrath of many and in the following year, warlords from eastern China formed a coalition against him.

Sun Jian also raised an army and joined Yuan Shu,[7] one of the leaders of the coalition at Luyang (魯陽; present-day Lushan County, Henan). On his way, he killed Inspector of Jing Province Wang Rui and Administrator of Nanyang Zhang Zi.[7] Yuan Shu appointed Sun Jian as General Who Destroys Barbarians (破虜將軍, also translated as "General Who Smashes the Caitiffs") and Inspector of Yu Province (豫州刺史).[7] Sun Jian then began training and preparing his troops at Luyang. A force sent by Dong Zhuo was so impressed with the strict discipline of Sun Jian's troops that they gave up the plan to attack Luyang. When Sun Jian moved out to Liangdong (梁東; east of present-day Linru County, Henan), he was outnumbered by Dong Zhuo's forces. With several dozen horsemen, Sun Jian broke out of the encirclement. He took off the red felt scarf he had always been wearing and handed it to his trusted aide Zu Mao (祖茂), whom Dong Zhuo's soldiers then chased after while Sun Jian escaped. Unable to shake off his pursuers, Zu Mao then dismounted, hung the scarf onto a half-burnt pillar, and hid himself in the tall grass nearby. The enemies surrounded the pillar and approached cautiously till they realised they had been fooled, whereupon they retreated.

After regrouping his troops, Sun Jian pressed his troops towards Luoyang and engaged in battle against Dong Zhuo's forces at Yangren (陽人; believed to be near present-day Wenquan, Ruzhou, Henan). He scored a brilliant victory and killed the enemy commander Hua Xiong in battle (191).[8] At this time, someone told Yuan Shu that if Sun Jian defeated Dong Zhuo and took over Luoyang, he would no longer submit to anyone. Feeling doubtful, Yuan Shu stopped providing food supplies to Sun Jian's army. Sun Jian rode the hundred odd li from Yangren to Luyang overnight to see Yuan Shu, whereupon he told the latter, "I put myself in danger during battle, firstly to eliminate the villain (Dong Zhuo) for the Han Empire, and secondly to avenge the deaths of your family members. I have no personal grudge against Dong Zhuo. Yet you believe slanderous talks and suspect me!" The words put Yuan Shu to shame and he immediately ordered his men to continue delivering food supplies to Sun Jian's army.

Fearing Sun Jian, Dong Zhuo then sent his general Li Jue as an emissary to seek peace and propose a marriage to cement the alliance. However, Sun Jian rejected the proposals with harsh words and continued to lead his troops towards Luoyang. In late 190, his army was merely 90 li away from the capital when Dong Zhuo retreated west to Chang'an after ordering the destruction of Luoyang by fire. Entering the ruins of Luoyang, Sun Jian ordered his men to reseal the tombs of Han emperors that were excavated by Dong Zhuo, after which he returned to Luyang. It was said in the Book of Wu (吳書) by Wei Zhao that Sun Jian found one of the emperor's jade seals in a well south of Luoyang and kept it. Later, when Yuan Shu declared himself emperor, he held Sun Jian's wife Lady Wu hostage in exchange for the seal.

Later life[edit]

In 191, Yuan Shu sent Sun Jian to attack Liu Biao, the Governor of Jing Province (荆州; covering present-day Hubei and Hunan). He defeated Liu Biao's forces led by Huang Zu and pursued the enemy across the Han River to Xiangyang. While he was travelling alone through Xianshan (峴山), Huang Zu's troops ambushed him and shot him to death with arrows. The Record of Heroes (英雄記) by Wang Can, however, claims that Sun Jian died in 193 and that he was crushed to death by boulders while pursuing the enemy commander Lü Gong (呂公). Sun Jian's nephew, Sun Ben, gathered his uncle's troops and returned to Yuan Shu, who then appointed him as the Inspector of Yu Province to replace his uncle.

Sun Jian was buried in the Gao Mausoleum in Qu'e (曲阿; in present-day Danyang, Jiangsu). He was survived by at least five sons and three daughters. His eldest son, Sun Ce, became a warlord and conquered several territories in the Jiangdong region. Like his father, Sun Ce died at a relatively young age and was succeeded by his younger brother, Sun Quan. Sun Quan built on his brother's legacy and eventually established the state of Eastern Wu in 229, with himself as its founding emperor, during the Three Kingdoms period. After ascending the throne, Sun Quan honoured his father with the posthumous title "Emperor Wulie" (武烈皇帝).

Historical discrepancies on death date[edit]

There are multiple differing accounts on Sun Jian's death date.

Death in 191[edit]

A Wu Lu annotation in Sun Ce's biography in Sanguozhi recorded that Sun Ce stated in a memorial to the imperial court[9] that he was 17 (by East Asian reckoning) when his father died.[10] In this account, since Sun Ce died in 200 at the age of 26 (by East Asian reckoning), Sun Jian should have died in 191.

Death in 192[edit]

Sun Jian's biography in Sanguozhi recorded that he was sent by Yuan Shu to attack Jing province in the 3rd year of the Chuping era of Liu Xie's reign.[11] This account was also found in Book of the Later Han (volume 09[12]) and Annals of the Later Han (compiled by Yuan Hong; volume 27[13]). Pei Songzhi in his commentary found in Sun Ce's biography of Sanguozhi noted that Sun Jian dying in 192 as recorded in his Sanguozhi biography should be an error, noting that Zhang Fan's Annals of Han and the Wu Li both recorded that Sun Jian died in 191.[14] Sima Guang, in his Zizhi Tongjian Kao Yi, agreed that Sun Jian died in 191.[15]

Death in 193[edit]

Wang Can's Records of Heroes recorded that Sun Jian died on the 7th day of the 1st month of the 4th year of the Chuping era.[16] This corresponds to 25 February 193 in the Julian calendar.


Family Tree[edit]

Eastern Wu family trees[edit]

Sun Jian[edit]

Lady Chen
Sun Jian
Lady Wu
Wu Jing
Pan Jun
Sun Lang
Sun Ce
Sun Quan
Sun Yi
Sun Kuang
Pan Mi
(name unknown)
(name unknown)
Hong Zi
Liu Bei
Lady Sun

Four of Sun Jian's sons – Sun Ce, Sun Quan, Sun Yi and Sun Kuang – and one of his daughters (Lady Sun) were born to his wife Lady Wu, who was Wu Jing's elder sister.[17][18] Lady Sun married Liu Bei.[19]


  • Sun Zhong is the father of Sun Jian, grandfather of Sun Quan. Living with his mother, he believes in filial piety and grows melons as a career.[20]




  • Sun Shao, posthumous son of Sun Ce.
  • Sun Deng, was an imperial prince of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China. He was the eldest son of Sun Quan.
  • Sun Lü, as a noble and military general of the state of Eastern Wu in the Three Kingdoms period of China. He was the second son of Sun Quan, the founding emperor of Eastern Wu.
  • Sun He, as an imperial prince of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China. He was the third son of Sun Quan, the founding emperor of Wu.
  • Sun Ba, was an imperial prince of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China. He was the fourth son of Sun Quan, the founding emperor of Eastern Wu.
  • Sun Fen, was an imperial prince of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China. He was the fifth son of Sun Quan, the founding emperor of Eastern Wu.
  • Sun Liang, was the second emperor of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China. He was the youngest son and heir of Sun Quan.
  • Sun Luban, was an imperial princess of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China. She was the elder daughter of Sun Quan,
  • Sun Luyu, was an imperial princess of the state of Eastern Wu during the Three Kingdoms period of China. She was the younger daughter of Sun Quan.

In Romance of the Three Kingdoms[edit]

In the 14th-century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, some events of Sun Jian were romanticised by Luo Guanzhong.

Sun Jian first appears the novel in Chapter 2 as a great warrior and descendant of Sun Tzu who takes part in suppressing the Yellow Turban Rebellion. Later, he joins the coalition against Dong Zhuo. In the battle against Hua Xiong, the commander of the enemy army, Sun Jian took off his own red scarf and handed it to Zu Mao (祖茂) when Sun Jian's army was raided. Having distracted Hua Xiong and let Sun Jian escape, Zu Mao was chased after by Hua Xiong, so he hid himself in woods after hanging the scarf on a half-burnt pillar. When Hua Xiong found himself to be fooled, he killed Zu Mao who dashed out of his hideout to challenge him. Hua Xiong then launched an attack on Sun's army, which lasted for a whole night. Sun Jian could not resist Hua Xiong, so he called for assistance from the coalition. Hua Xiong was unrivalled until he met the unfamed Guan Yu.

After Dong Zhuo retreated to Chang'an, Sun Jian was the first to enter Luoyang and ordered to put off the fires set by Dong Zhuo. Seeing the destruction of the imperial capital and Han dynasty, Sun Jian sighed and shed a tear. However, when his men found a jade seal, which was proven to be the imperial seal, Sun Jian grew ambitious and requested to retreat to his base. The news was leaked, to Sun Jian's miscalculation. When Yuan Shao, the leader of the coalition, interrogated Sun Jian, the latter swore by saying, "Should I have hid the treasure, I shall die miserably under arrows!" Under the protection by his guards, Sun Jian left Luoyang immediately.

On the way to his base, Sun Jian passed through Jing Province, where the governor, Liu Biao, was asked by Yuan Shao to attack Sun Jian. Sun Jian badly lost the battle and barely escaped. When he later launched a revenge attack upon Jing Provence, in accordance with the order of his senior, Yuan Shu, he was lured under a cliff where he was shot dead by arrows from the above. Sun's camp reclaimed Sun Jian's corpse using a captive, Huang Zu, who was Liu Biao's brother-in-law. When Dong Zhuo heard of Sun's death in Chang'an, he said, "One of my greatest enemies is removed!" and consequently usurped more power in the imperial court.

A Qing dynasty illustration of Sun Jian and Yuan Shao fighting over the seal.

In popular culture[edit]

Sun Jian is featured as a playable character in Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi video game series. He also appears in Koei's Romance of the Three Kingdoms series.

He is a playable warlord in the 2019 game Total War: Three Kingdoms by Creative Assembly.

In the SD Gundam series BB Senshi Sangokuden, which is based on Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Sun Jian is characterised as the Gundam Sonken Zephyranthes. His design invokes a white tiger motif.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Wu Lu recorded that Sun Jian was 37 years old (by East Asian age reckoning) when he died in 191.[1]


  1. ^ (吳錄曰:堅時年三十七。) Wu Lu annotation in Sanguozhi vol. 46.
  2. ^ There are discrepancies over Sun Jian's death date. See this section.
  3. ^ de Crespigny (2007), p. 769.
  4. ^ de Crespigny (2004), p. 72.
  5. ^ de Crespigny (2004), p. 73.
  6. ^ de Crespigny (2018), pp. 65–66.
  7. ^ a b c de Crespigny, Rafe (2006). A Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23–220 AD). Leiden: Brill. p. 769. ISBN 9789047411840. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  8. ^ de Crespigny (2006), 333.
  9. ^ This memorial was sent in reply to Cao Cao appointing him General Who Attacks Rebels (討逆將軍) and ennobling him as the Marquis of Wu (呉侯).
  10. ^ (呉录载策上表谢曰:....臣年十七,丧失所怙...) Wu Lu annotation in Sanguozhi vol.46. In the memorial, Sun Ce also compared himself to Huo Qubing, noting that he was unable to match Huo's achievements when the latter was 18 (by East Asian reckoning). (诚无去病十八建功...)
  11. ^ (初平三年,術使坚征荆州...) Sanguozhi vol.46
  12. ^ The Houhanshu recorded Sun Jian's death as occurring in the spring of 192
  13. ^ The Houhanji recorded Sun Jian's death as occurring in the 5th month of 192, corresponding to 29 May to 27 June 192 in the Julian calendar
  14. ^ (臣松之案:本传云孙坚以初平三年卒,策以建安五年卒,策死时年二十六,计坚之亡,策应十八,而此表云十七,则为不符。张璠汉纪及呉历並以坚初平二年死,此为是而本传误也。) Commentary in Sanguozhi zhu, vol.46
  15. ^ (【范書初平三年春堅死】吳志孫堅傳亦云初平三年,英雄記曰初平四年正月七日死,袁紀初平三年五月。山陽公載記載䇿表曰“臣年十七,喪失所怙。”裴松之按䇿以建安五年卒,時年二十六,計堅之亡,䇿應十八,而此表云十七,則為不符。張璠漢紀及胡沖吳歴並以堅初平二年死,此為是而本傳誤也,今從之.) Zizhi Tongjian Kao Yi, vol.03
  16. ^ (英雄记曰:“坚以初平四年正月七日死。”) Yingxiong Ji annotation in Sanguozhi vol.46
  17. ^ (孫破虜吳夫人,吳主權母也。 ... 與弟景居。 ... 生四男一女。) Sanguozhi vol. 50.
  18. ^ (堅四子:策、權、翊、匡。) Sanguozhi vol. 46.
  19. ^ (權稍畏之,進妹固好。) Sanguozhi vol. 32.
  20. ^ (《祥瑞志》:锺家于富春,早失父,幼与母居,性至孝。遭岁荒,俭以种瓜自业。) Xiang Rui Zhi annotation in Jiankang Shilu, vol.01
  21. ^ Sun Lang's birth order is unknown
  22. ^ Zhuge Jin's biography in Sanguozhi uses the term "Sun Quan's zixu" (孫權姊壻) to describe Hong Zi.