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Persons in Chinese History - Sima Yi 司馬懿

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Sima Yi 司馬懿 (179-251), courtesy name Sima Zhongda 司馬仲達, was a powerful general and regent under the Wei dynasty 曹魏 (220-265) during the Three Kingdoms period 三國 (220-280). He came from Wenxian 溫縣 (modern Wenxian, Henan) from and educated family and became a famous strategist already in his youth. In 201 he was appointed clerk-instructor (wenxueyuan 文學掾) and accounts assistant (shangjiyuan 上計掾) under the Couselor-in-chief (chengxiang 丞相), then gentleman attendant at the palace gate (huangmen shilang 黃門侍郎). Later on he became a follower of the warlord Cao Cao 曹操 and took part in his campains against the sectarian Daoist leader Zhang Lu 張魯 and the warlord in the southeast, Sun Quan 孫權. When Cao Cao was made King of Wei 魏, Sima Yi was appointed palace cadet in the household of the Heir Apparent (taizi zhongshuzi 太子中庶子) Cao Pi 曹丕. Cao Pi (known as Emperor Wen 魏文帝, r. 220-226) proclaimed himself emperor of Wei in 220 and made Sima Yi 軍司馬 Director of the Imperial Secretariat (shangshu 尚書) and granted him the title of Township Marquis of Anguo 安國鄉侯 and then of Hejin 河津亭侯. A year later he was promoted to palace attendant (shizhong 侍中) and late to Right Vice Director of the Imperial Secretariat (shangshu you puye 尚書右僕射). In 225, during the large campaign against Sun Quan's empire of Wu 吳 (222-280) that was conducted by Emperor Wen himself, Sima Yi acted as Defender of the Capital (zhenshou Jingshi 鎮守京師) in the secondary capital Xuchang 許昌 and during that occasion had the most powerful position in the empire. He was given the title of palace steward (jishizhong 給事中) and Overseer of the Imperial Secretariat (lu shangshu shi 錄尚書事). On the untimely death of Emperor Wen it was ordered that the young Emperor Ming 魏明帝 (r. 226-239 CE) was assisted by three regents, Sima Yi, Prince Cao Zhen 曹真 and Chen Qun 陳群. Sima Yi, with the title of Marquis of Wuyang 舞陽侯, took over military duties in this regime as General of Cavalry (piaoji jiangjun 驃騎將軍), then General-in-chief (da jiangjun 大將軍), and in 231 routed the invading army of the empire of Shu 蜀漢 (221-263) that was commanded by counsellor and regent Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮. Two years later Sima Yi again successfully blocked Zhuge Liang's troops at Jishi 積石 (near modern Linxia 臨夏, Gansu). Zhuge Liang withdrew to Wuzhangyuan 五丈原 but again quickly attacked Sima Yi, but the latter entrenched himself and refused to engage in the open field. Fortunately enough Zhuge Liang died, and the campaign was called off. In 235 Sima Yi was made Defender-in-chief (taiwei 太尉). On Emperor Ming's death Cao Zhi was entrusted with the regency for Emperor Cao Fang 曹芳 (r. 239-254). Sima Yi was appointed (in fact degraded to) to the post of palace attendant and soon transferred to the prestigious but powerless post of Grand Mentor (taifu 太傅). Yet he made his comeback by feigning sickness, while preparing an attack on the regent Cao Zhi and his son and successor Cao Shuang 曹爽. Sima Yi's usurpation in 249 took place when Emperor Cao Fang toured to visit the tombs of his fathers. Sima Yi invaded the capital, arrested Cao Shuang and his supporters and executed them. He so paved the way for the downfall of the Wei dynasty. Historians call this episode "the coup d'état of Gaoping Mausoleum" (Gaoping Ling zhi bian 高平陵之變).

In 251 Defender-in-chief Wang Ling 王淩 rose in rebellion in the region of Huainan 淮南, but Sima Yi personally commanded the army putting down this rebellion. Back in the capital Luoyang, he fell ill and died soon. After his death Sima Yi was succeeded as regent by his sons Sima Shi and Sima Zhao. His grandson Sima Yan founded the Jin dynasty 晉 (265-420). The posthumous title of Sima Yi was first King Xuan of Jin 晉宣王, and from 265 Emperor Xuan 晉宣帝, his temple name was Gaozu 晉高祖.

Sources: Huang Banghe 黃邦和, Pi Mingxiu 皮明庥 (ed. 1987), Zhong-wai lishi renwu cidian 中外歷史人物詞典 (Changsha: Hunan renmin chubanshe), p. 94. ● Zhang Shunhui 張舜徽 (ed. 1992). Sanguozhi cidian 三國志辭典 (Jinan: Shandong jiaoyu chubanshe), p. 118. ● Xiong Tieji 熊鐵基, Yang Youli 楊有禮 (ed. 1994). Zhongguo diwang zaixiang cidian 中國帝王宰相辭典 (Wuhan: Hubei jiaoyu chubanshe), p. 536.

July 20, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
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