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Emperor Yuan of Wei
Emperor of Cao Wei
Reign27 June 260 – 4 February 266
PredecessorCao Mao
RegentSima Zhao
Sima Yan
Duke of Changdao District, Anci County
Tenure256 – 27 June 260
Prince of Chenliu (陳留王)
Tenure4 February 266 – 302
ConsortsEmpress Bian
Family name: Cao (曹)
Given name: Huan (奐)
Courtesy name: Jingming (景明)
Era dates
  • Jingyuan (景元): 260–264
  • Xianxi (咸熙): 264–266
Posthumous name
Emperor Yuan (元帝)
HouseHouse of Cao
FatherCao Yu, Duke of Yan
MotherLady Zhang

Cao Huan (pronunciation ) (246–302), courtesy name Jingming, was the fifth and last emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. On 4 February 266, he abdicated the throne in favour of Sima Yan (later Emperor Wu of the Jin dynasty), and brought an end to the Wei regime. After his abdication, Cao Huan was granted the title "Prince of Chenliu" and held it until his death, after which he was posthumously honoured as "Emperor Yuan (of Cao Wei)".[1][2]

Family background and accession to the throne

Cao Huan's birth name was "Cao Huang" (曹璜). His father, Cao Yu, the Prince of Yan, was a son of Cao Cao, the father of Wei's first emperor, Cao Pi. In 258, at the age of 12, in accordance with Wei's regulations that the sons of princes (other than the first-born son of the prince's spouse, customarily designated the prince's heir) were to be instated as dukes, Cao Huan was instated as the "Duke of Changdao District" (常道鄉公).

In 260, after the ruling emperor Cao Mao was killed in an attempt to seize back state power from the regent Sima Zhao, Cao Huang was selected to succeed Cao Mao.[1]


See also: Jiang Wei's Northern Expeditions and Conquest of Shu by Wei

At the time Cao Huang became emperor, his name was changed to "Cao Huan" because it was difficult to observe naming taboo with the name "Huang" (which was a homonym to many common terms—including "yellow" and "emperor" ). During Cao Huan's reign, the Sima clan controlled state power and Cao was merely a figurehead and head of state in name. In 263, Cao Huan instated his wife Lady Bian as empress.

For the first few years of Cao Huan's reign, there were constant attacks by forces from the rival Shu Han state under the command of Jiang Wei. While Jiang Wei's attacks were largely easily repelled, Sima Zhao eventually ordered a counterattack on Shu with an invading force of 180,000 men commanded by Zhong Hui and Deng Ai. In late 263, Liu Shan, the Shu emperor, surrendered to Deng, bringing an end to the state of Shu. After the fall of Shu, Deng Ai was framed for treason by Zhong Hui and stripped of command. In early 264, Zhong Hui plotted with Jiang Wei to restore Shu and eliminate all the Wei generals who might oppose him. However, the generals started a counterinsurgency and killed Zhong Hui and Jiang Wei. Shu's former territories (in present-day Sichuan, Chongqing, Yunnan, southern Shaanxi, and southeastern Gansu) were completely annexed by Wei.[1]

Abdication and later life

Wei itself did not last much longer after Shu's collapse. In 263, Sima Zhao again forced Cao Huan to grant him the nine bestowments and this time he finally accepted signifying that a usurpation was near. In 264, Sima Zhao became a vassal king under the title "King of Jin" — the final step before usurpation. After Sima Zhao died in September 265, his son, Sima Yan, inherited his father's position and on 4 February 266 forced Cao Huan to abdicate, thereby establishing the Jin dynasty. He granted Cao Huan the title "Prince of Chenliu" which Cao Huan carried until his death.

Not much is known about Cao Huan's life as a prince under Jin rule. Sima Yan (later known as Emperor Wu of Jin) permitted him to retain imperial banners and wagons and to worship ancestors with imperial ceremonies. He also permitted Cao Huan not to refer to himself as a subject of his. He died in 302 during the reign of Emperor Wu's son, Emperor Hui. He was buried with honours due an emperor and given a posthumous name.

It is not known who immediately succeeded Cao Huan as Prince of Chenliu, but in late 326, the position of Prince of Chenliu was conferred upon Cao Mai, the great-great grandson of Cao Cao,[1] who held the title until his death in 358. He was succeeded by his son, Cao Hui, whose title was confirmed on 24 November 363.[3]

Era names

Titles held




Cao Song (d. 193)
Cao Cao (155–220)
Lady Ding
Cao Yu (d. 278)
Lady Huan
Cao Huan (246–302)
Zhang Daoling (34–156)
Zhang Heng (d. 177)
Lady Yong
Zhang Lu (d. 216)
Lady Lu
Lady Zhang

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "晋书 : 帝纪第七 显宗成帝 康帝 - Chinese Text Project". Retrieved 2022-05-29.
  2. ^ Book of Jin
  3. ^ "晋书 : 帝纪第八 孝宗穆帝 哀帝 废帝海西公 - Chinese Text Project". Retrieved 2022-05-29.
Emperor Yuan of Cao WeiHouse of CaoBorn: 246 Died: 302 Regnal titles Preceded byCao Mao Emperor of Cao Wei 260–266with Sima Zhao (260–265) Abolished Titles in pretence Preceded byCao FangLiu Shan — TITULAR — Emperor of China 260–266Reason for succession failure:Abdication Succeeded bySima Yan