Sima Shi
Sima Shi Qing dynasty portrait.jpg
A Qing dynasty illustration of Sima Shi
Regent of Cao Wei
In office
7 September 251 – 23 March 255
MonarchCao Fang
Cao Mao
Preceded bySima Yi
Succeeded bySima Zhao
Personal details
Died23 March 255 (aged 47)[2]
Xuchang, Henan
five daughters
Family name: Sima (司馬)
Given name: Shi (師)
Courtesy name: Ziyuan (子元)
Posthumous name
Emperor Jing (景帝)
Temple name
Shizong (世宗)
HouseHouse of Sima
FatherSima Yi
MotherEmpress Xuanmu

Sima Shi (pronunciation ) (208 – 23 March 255),[1][2][3] courtesy name Ziyuan, was a military general and regent of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of China. In 249, he assisted his father Sima Yi in overthrowing the emperor Cao Fang's regent Cao Shuang, allowing the Sima family to become paramount authority in the state, and he inherited his father's authority after his father's death in 251. He maintained a tight grip on the political scene and, when the emperor, Cao Fang, considered action against him in 254, had him deposed and replaced with his cousin, Cao Mao. This tight grip eventually allowed him to, at the time of his death in 255 after just having quelled a rebellion, transition his power to his younger brother, Sima Zhao, whose son Sima Yan eventually usurped the throne and established the Jin dynasty.

After Sima Yan became emperor, he, recognising Sima Shi's role in his own imperial status, posthumously honoured his uncle as Emperor Jing of Jin (景帝), with the temple name Shizong (世宗).

Early life

Sima Shi was born in 208.[1] He was Sima Yi's oldest son, born of Sima Yi's wife, Zhang Chunhua (張春華). When he was young, he was known for the elegance in his conduct and his intelligence, earning him a reputation equal to that of Xiahou Xuan and He Yan, with He Yan having gone as far as to once state: "The only person who could have the great achievements under the heaven is probably Sima Ziyuan." As his father was an important Wei official, Sima Shi himself climbed up the ranks of officials fairly rapidly. Between the years of 237 and 239, Sima Shi was appointed as Cavalier Attendant-in-Ordinary (散騎常侍), and received some promotions to the post of Military Protector of the Palace (中護軍).

Career up to 251

Incident at the Gaoping Tombs

Main article: Incident at the Gaoping Tombs

When Sima Yi started planning a coup d'état against Cao Shuang; according to the Jin Shu, Sima Yi confided only in Sima Shi, excluding even Shi's younger brother Sima Zhao from the discussion (although Sima Guang found this unlikely and, in his Zizhi Tongjian, opined that Sima Yi planned the coup with both Sima Shi and Sima Zhao). Sima Shi put together a group of 3,000 loyal men without knowledge by Cao Shuang or his associates, and when Sima Yi set to carry out his plans in 249, Sima Shi was able to quickly summon the men to carry out the coup.

Once Sima Yi overthrew Cao Shuang and became the sole regent for the emperor, Cao Fang, he rewarded his son with the title Marquess of Changpingxiang, a large fief of 1,000 households, and shortly thereafter, the rank of General of the Guards (衛將軍). Sima Shi became his father's assistant, although there was no particular record of his accomplishments during these years. After Sima Yi died in 251, he took over his father's positions without significant opposition—after his father had, earlier that year, suppressed a failed rebellion by Wang Ling (王淩) and massacred the clans of Wang and his associates.

As paramount authority

During Cao Fang's reign

Early regency

Sima Shi would go on to rule the government effectively and impartially, ordering that all officials recommend talents to him, that they define the hierarchical ranks, take care of the impoverished and the orphaned, and deal with the delayed personnel affairs.

Shortly after his father's death, the emperor appointed him to the position of General-in-Chief Who Pacifies the Army (撫軍大將軍).[4] In late 251, Deng Ai, the Grand Administrator of Chengyang, submitted a memorial to the court in which he stated that the Xiongnu under Liu Bao were growing too powerful, and therefore proposed a method of giving the Xiongnu under Liu Bao titles and awards, so as to divide and weaken them, and to further settle them somewhere further away from the Chinese citizens and to reeducate them on Chinese cultural traditions, a proposal to which Sima Shi agreed to.[5]

At around the start of 252, Sima Shi was further promoted to the position of General-in-Chief (大將軍),[6] while also being bestowed upon a post as Palace Attendant (侍中), effectively giving him all control of the armies stationed both in and outside the palace. He was also given authority over the Imperial Secretariat (錄尚書事).

It was once proposed to him to alter the existing constitutions, to which he responded: "A poet used to praise those who ‘abide by the principles of the Heavenly Lord and appear as if they know nothing themselves’. The institutions and rules devised by ancestors of the Three Dynasties should be complied with. If there is no war, there should be no reforms in haste."

Battle of Hefei

Main article: Battle of Hefei (253)

Sima Shi was a capable politician and administrator, but he also quickly wanted to prove his military reputation. Towards the end of 252, he launched a major attack against Eastern Wu, whose founding emperor, Sun Quan, had recently died and whose current emperor, Sun Liang, was under the regency of Zhuge Ke. Zhuge Ke was able to deal Sima Shi's forces, headed by Sima Zhao, a major blow at the Battle of Dongxing, but Sima Shi maintained himself well by making humble admissions of faults to the public and promoting the generals who tried to stop his campaign. In 253, after Sima Shi defeated Zhuge Ke[7] in a major battle, his reputation was established, while Zhuge Ke's own was undermined (due to Zhuge Ke's failure to admit fault), and Zhuge Ke soon fell[8] while Sima Shi's power was affirmed.

Deposing Cao Fang

In 254, Sima Shi made a violent move to consolidate his power, at Cao Fang's expense. Cao Fang had aligned himself with the minister Li Feng (李豐), and Sima Shi had growing suspicions that they were plotting against him. He summoned and interrogated Li Feng, and when Li refused to disclose his conversations with the emperor, Sima Shi beat him to death with a sword handle[9] and then accused Li Feng and his friends Xiahou Xuan (夏侯玄) and Zhang Ji (張緝) of treason,[10] and had them and their families summarily executed.[11] Cao Fang was further forced to depose his wife Empress Zhang,[12] who was Zhang Ji's daughter. These moves further terrorised the officials into submission. Cao Fang was very angry about the deaths of Li Feng and Zhang Ji, and later in 254, his associates submitted a plan to him—that when Sima Shi's brother Sima Zhao would arrive at the palace for an official visit before heading to his defense post at Chang'an, to kill Sima Zhao and seize his troops, and to then use those troops to attack Sima Shi.[13] Cao Fang was apprehensive and paralysed, and did not implement the plan,[14] but news was still leaked to Sima Shi. Sima Shi then forced Cao Fang to step down,[15] although Sima Shi spared his life and gave him his old title of Prince of Qi. When Sima Shi notified Cao Fang's stepmother, Empress Dowager Guo, that he intended to make Cao Pi's brother Cao Ju, the Prince of Pengcheng, emperor, she managed to persuade him that such a succession would be improper—that since Cao Ju was the uncle of her husband, Cao Rui, such a succession would leave Cao Rui effectively sonless with no heir.[16] Sima Shi was forced to agree with her, and he made, as she suggested, Cao Mao emperor instead.[17] Cao Mao, although 14 years old at the time, was known for his intelligence, and Empress Dowager Guo might have believed that he, alone of the princes and dukes, might have had a chance of counteracting the Simas.

During Cao Mao's reign

Second Rebellion at Shouchun and death

Main article: Three Rebellions in Shouchun

Despite Empress Dowager Guo's intentions and Cao Mao's own intelligence, they made very little impact in trying to stem the tide of the Simas' growing power. In reaction to the removal of Cao Fang, the general Guanqiu Jian, in 255, as the commander in the important eastern city of Shouchun (壽春; in present-day Lu'an, Anhui), along with another general Wen Qin (文欽), raised a rebellion against the Simas,[18] but were quickly crushed by Sima Shi's army. Guanqiu Jian was killed,[19] and his clan was slaughtered.[20] Wen Qin and his sons fled to Eastern Wu.[21]

The campaign had its tolls on Sima Shi, however. He was ill with an eye disorder at the time that Guanqiu Jian and Wen Qin's rebellion started, and had just had an eye surgery. He was initially therefore reluctant to lead the forces himself and wanted his uncle, Sima Fu, to lead the forces against Guanqiu Jian and Wen Qin.[22] At the urging of Wang Su, Fu Gu (傅嘏), and Zhong Hui,[23] he led the troops himself,[24] which was important in the victory against Guanqiu Jian, but during one of the raids made by Wen Qin's son Wen Yang (文鴦), Sima Shi, in his anxiety, aggravated the eye that he had just had the operation in—causing his eye to pop out—and his conditions soon deteriorated greatly. Less than a month after he put down the rebellion, he died while at Xuchang (許昌; in present-day Xuchang, Henan), with his brother Sima Zhao in attendance to succeed him.


Main article: Family tree of Sima Yi § Sima Shi

Adopted son: Sima You, Sima Zhao second son

In popular culture

Sima Shi first appears as a playable character in the seventh instalment of Koei's Dynasty Warriors video games series.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Theobald, Ulrich (12 January 2012). "Chinese History - Sima Shi". Chinaknowledge - a universal guide for China studies. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b Declercq, Dominik (1998). "Chapter 5". Writing Against the State: Political Rhetorics in Third and Fourth Century China. BRILL. p. 176. ISBN 9004103767. Retrieved 2 January 2015. Hardly was this rebellion crushed than Sima Shi died (in March 255); and his brother Sima Zhao took command...
  3. ^

    On the day xinhai (March 23), Sima Shi died at Xuchang. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  4. ^

    The Emperor appointed his son, the wei jiangjun Sima Shi to be fujun da jiangjun and lu shang-shu shi. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  5. ^

    The taishou of Cheng-yang Dent Ai sent up his opinion: “The Rong and Di barbarians have the hearts of beasts. They have no conception of loyalty and friendship. When they are strong they invade, when they are weak they submit. Therefore, in the time of King Xuan of Zhou there was the incursion of the Xianyun; and the Han Emperor Gaozu suffered adversity under them at Pingcheng. Whenever the Xiongnu have become powerful, they have been a heavy worry to past dynasties. Since the shan-yu came to the interior of China, the barbarians have lost their leader, and lack a ruler to control their unity or disunity. At present the dignity of the shan-yu daily declines, while the power of the outer territory daily increases. We must take deep-seated precautions against the barbarians. I hear there are dissenters among Liu Bao’s horde. We may well utilize this dissension and divide his country in two, so that his power will be reduced. Chubei distinguished himself under the previous dynasty, but his son has not succeeded him in his work. We should distinguish this son by a prominent title and have him live in Yan-men. Cleave their territory and weaken their force, give them posthumous honors – this is the best plan for defense of the frontiers.” He further set forth how those of the barbarians who were living together with the Chinese people should be gradually segregated and made to live outside the Chinese people, so they would respect the teachings of modesty and shame, and to obstruct the way to wantonness and villainy. Sima Shi followed all these proposals. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  6. ^

    First month (Jan. 29 – Feb. 26). On the day guimao (Jan. 30) the fujun da jiangjun Sima Shi was appointed da jiangjun. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  7. ^

    Autumn, seventh month (August 12-September 9). Zhuge Ke retreated with his troops. The wounded and sick soldiers wandered on and dragged themselves along the roads, some stumbling to their deaths in ditches and holes, some being captured and made prisoners. Alive or dying, they all lamented grievously; high or low, they all wailed. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  8. ^

    Summons after summons came to him from the Emperor, and he then slowly returned with the troops. Thereafter the masses lost their hopes of him, and resentment and complaint arose. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  9. ^

    During the two years when he served as zhongshu ling, Li Feng was frequently given private audience by the Emperor, no one knowing what they said. Sima Shi knew they discussed him, asked Li Feng to an interview and questioned him. Li Feng would not tell him the truth. Sima Shi in anger struck him with the ring of his sword hilt, killing him. He then sent the corpse to the tingyu. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  10. ^

    In the end, Li Feng's son Li Tao, as well as Xiahou Xuan, Zhang Qi, etc. were arrested and all committed to the tingyu. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  11. ^

    On the day gengxu (March 27), Li Tao, Xiahou Xuan, Zhang Qi, Su Shuo, Yue Dun and Liu Xian were put to death, and their relatives to the third degree were all annihilated. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  12. ^

    Third month (April 5-May 3), the Empress Zhang was degraded. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  13. ^

    Ninth month (September 29-October 28). Sima Zhao came to the capital with his troops to visit the Emperor. The Emperor went to the terrace Pingluo Guan to see the troops march past. His attendants advised the Emperor to kill Sima Zhao when the latter came to take his leave, and seizing his troops, use them to repulse the Generalissimo. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  14. ^

    The Imperial rescript was already placed before him. But the Emperor was afraid and dared not issue it. Sima Zhao led his troops into the city, whereupon the Generalissimo Sima Shi arranged to depose the Emperor. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  15. ^

    On the day jiaxu (October 17), Sima Shi convened an assembly of officials in the name of the Empress Dowager, which he informed that the Emperor was conducting himself with unbounded license and with indecent intimacy toward singing-girls, and was not worthy to carry on the celestial line. None of the crowd of officials dared disagree with him. Thereupon he memorialized the Empress Dowager to take the Imperial seal from the Emperor and send him to Qi as a vassal prince. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  16. ^

    Sima Shi again sent a messenger requesting the Imperial Seal from the Empress Dowager. The Empress Dowager said, “The Prince of Pengcheng is my junior uncle. Now he is coming to mount the throne. Where will I stand? Furthermore, must Ming Huangdi become forever hairless? I am considering that the Duke of Gaogui xiang is the eldest grandson of Wen Huangdi and a son of Ming Huangdi's younger brother. According to the Rites, a son of the collateral branch can become an heir to the main branch. Let this be discussed in detail.” Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  17. ^

    On the day dingchou (October 20), Sima Shi convened another assembly of officials and showed them the Empress Dowager's command. It was then decided to fetch the Duke of Gaogui Xiang, Cao Mao, from Yuancheng. Cao Mao was a son of the Prince Ding of Donghai, Cao Lin (曹霖); At this time, he was aged fourteen. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  18. ^

    Spring, first month (January 25-February 23). Guanqiu Jian and Wen Qin, counterfeiting the command of the Empress Dowager, rose up in arms at Shouchun and issued throughout the provinces and prefectures a call to arms for the purpose of punishing Sima Shi. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  19. ^

    Guanqiu Jian reached Shenxian. His attendants and troops gradually left Guanqiu Jian and went away. Guanqiu Jian, without any companion except his younger brother Guanqiu Xiu, and his grandson Guanqiu Zhong (毌丘重), went to hide in the grass along the bank of the water. On the day jiachen, Zhang Shu (張屬), a man of Anfengjin, killed Guanqiu Jian and sent his decapitated head to the capital. Zhang Shu was enfeoffed as a Lord. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  20. ^

    Members of Guanqiu Jian's family were exterminated to the third degree. Partisans of Guanqiu Jian, more than seven hundred persons, were sent to prison. The shiyushi Du You (杜友) sat in judgment of them. He sentenced only the ringleaders, ten in all, and set the remainder free by memorializing the throne. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  21. ^

    Wen Qin returned to Xiang, because his solitary army, lacking reinforcements, could not defend itself, he wanted to return to Shouchun. Shouchun had already fallen, and so he fled to Wu. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  22. ^

    At that time Sima Shi had recently had a tumor removed from his eye, and the wound was serious. Some thought the generalissimo should not go in person, and that it would be best to send the taiyu Sima Fu to make resistance. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  23. ^

    Only Wang Su, the shangshu Fu Ji, and the zhongshu Zhong Hui, advised Sima Shi to go in person. Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.

  24. ^

    Sima Shi hesitated and made no decision. Fu Jia said, “The troops of Huai and Chu are strong. Guanqiu Jian and the others, trusting to their strength, have come a long way to fight. Their keen edge cannot easily be encountered. Should the subordinate generals fight unsuccessfully and the tide be turned against you, then your cause will be ruined.” Sima Shi jumped up from his seat and said, “I shall go in spite of my ailment.” Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms, Achilles Fang.