Let them eat meat

Photo by Frank Zhang on Unsplash

About Sima Zhong

Sima Zhong probably had an excuse to be oblivious to the sufferings of the common folk. The nobility had been flaunting wealth since the reign of his father, Emperor Wu, by engaging in childish show-off competitions like vying to line the roads with the best silk for kilometres. But this was not his only misstatement or gaffe, and the ministers, as well as Emperor Wu, were getting very concerned.

Fight between the in-laws

But things didn’t turn out the way Emperor Wu had hoped for. Immediately after his passing in May 290 AD, the Yangs faked an edict and made themselves the only regent. In retaliation, Jia Nanfeng — now Empress Jia — joined hands with a few Dukes from the Sima clan, and accused the Yangs of treason in early 291 AD. Several ministers from the Yang clan were executed along three degrees of their families, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people. In the spring of 292 AD, Empress Yang — by then Empress Dowager Yang — was demoted to a commoner and left alone in prison. She died of starvation within days.

Death of the heir

But this peace would not last and things quickly took a turn when Empress Jia attempted to replace Crown Prince Sima Yu (born of Concubine Xie) with her nephew (not from the Sima clan). At the end of 299 AD, Sima Yu was framed of treason and imprisoned along his sons, while his birth mother was executed.


Almost immediately after Sima Yu’s death, Sima Lun turned around and brought his army against Empress Jia, under the excuse of avenging the Crown Prince’s death. Empress Jia was executed only a few months after Sima Yu’s murder.

The whole nation in turmoil

This was the beginning of the War of the Eight Princes (291 to 306 AD) when the various Sima princes repeated the insane pattern of killing one another under the excuse of revenge or justice. This devastation would become the prelude to the Invasion of the Five Barbarians — the darkest period for the Chinese when the country was torn apart and almost annihilated. The country would remain divided until its reunification in 589 AD by the Sui Dynasty.

In closing

The same chapter in the Book of Jin ends with the phrase “Emperor Wu (Sima Yan) does not know his son”. But perhaps, more importantly, he did not know the people who surrounded his son. Why did he assume that everyone would loyally serve someone less capable than themselves?



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Lois T.

Lois T.


I make web-based systems and recently AI/ML. I write about the dev problems I meet in a simplified manner (explain-like-I’m-5) because that’s how I learn.