Sun Ce

Sun Ce

Three Kingdoms infobox
Name=Sun Ce

Predecessor=Sun Jian
Successor=Sun Quan
Pinyin=Sūn Cè
WG=Sun Tse
Zi=Bofu (伯符)
Post=Prince Huan of Changsha
Other=Little Conqueror

Sun Ce (175 – 200) was a military general and warlord during the late Eastern Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms era in ancient China. He was the eldest of five sons and one daughter of Sun Jian, who was killed in battle when Sun Ce was only sixteen. Sun Ce then broke away from his father's former overlord Yuan Shu and headed into Southeastern China to establish his own power base there. With the help of several capable men, including Zhang Zhao and Zhou Yu, Sun Ce managed to lay down the foundation of the later Eastern Wu, of which his younger brother Sun Quan eventually became the first emperor. After Sun Quan declared himself emperor, he posthumously honored Sun Ce with the title Prince Huan of Changsha (長沙桓王, literally "the diligent prince").

In 200, when the rising warlord Cao Cao was away battling Yuan Shao in the decisive Battle of Guandu, Sun Ce was rumored to be plotting an attack against Cao Cao's capital of Xuchang. However, he was assassinated before he could carry out the plan.

The "Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms" describes Sun Ce as handsome and full of laughter. He was also a generous and receptive man who could employ people according to their abilities. Thus his subjects were willing to risk their lives for him. One detractor named Xu Gong, in a letter to Emperor Xian, likened Sun Ce to Xiang Yu, the general renowned for overthrowing Qin Dynasty . As Xiang Yu was often referred to as the Conqueror of Chu, Sun Ce henceforth became known as the Little Conqueror in popular culture.


Early life and career

Born in 175, Sun Ce was the eldest among five sons and one daughter of Sun Jian, a military general loyal to the emperor of the Han Dynasty. In 190, a year after Emperor Ling died, the warlord Dong Zhuo usurped power, placing in the throne the puppet Emperor Xian. Regional warlords in eastern China then formed a coalition against Dong Zhuo. Sun Jian rendered his service to Yuan Shu, one of the leaders of the coalition. The attempt to oust Dong Zhuo soon failed and China slid into a series of massive civil wars. In the next year, Sun Jian was sent by Yuan Shu to attack Liu Biao, governor of Jingzhou (荆州, present day Hubei and Hunan), but he was killed in an ambush.

Sun Ce brought his father's body to Qu'e (曲阿, present day Situ Town, Jiangsu) for burial and settled his mother down before heading for Danyang (丹楊, present day Xuancheng, Anhui), where his uncle Wu Jing was the governor. There he raised a small militia a few hundred in strength. This small force was far from sufficient for him to establish his own power so in 194 Sun Ce went to Yuan Shu. Yuan Shu was very impressed with Sun Ce and often lamented that he had no son like him. He also returned Sun Jian's former division of troops to Sun Ce.

Initially, Yuan Shu promised to appoint Sun Ce the governor of Jiujiang but eventually gave the governorship to Chen Ji. Later, when Yuan Shu was denied a large loan of grains from the governor of Lujiang, he sent Sun Ce to attack the latter, promising to make Sun Ce the governor of Lujiang should he succeed. When Sun Ce did, however, Yuan Shu again went back on his words and appointed someone else instead. The disappointed Sun Ce then began to contemplate leaving.

Meanwhile, Liu Yao, who was by imperial decree the governor of Yangzhou (揚州, present day southern Jiangsu, southern Anhui, Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Fujian), occupied Qu'e as the regional seat Shouchun (壽春, present day Shou County, Anhui) was already occupied by Yuan Shu. He then forced Wu Jing back west across the Yangtze River to Liyang (歷陽, present day He County, Anhui) However, Yuan Shu claimed to be the rightful governor and sent Wu Jing and Sun Ce's elder cousin Sun Ben to attack Liu Yao. After they were unable to break down the defense for more than a year, Sun Ce requested to lead a force to assist the effort.

A kingdom's beginning

Though Yuan Shu knew Sun Ce intended to leave, he believed the latter would not be able to defeat Liu Yao. Thus he deployed the young general off with merely a thousand odd troops and a tiny cavalry force. Along with a few hundred more willing followers, Sun Ce proceeded to Liyang, where he boosted his strength to more than 5,000. He then launched an offensive across the Yangtze River and successfully occupied the strategic position of Niuzhu (牛渚, present day Caishiji, southwest of Ma'anshan, Anhui) in 195.

Two of Liu Yao's allies then came south from Pengcheng and Xiapi respectively to aid him. Sun Ce chose to first attack one of them, Ze Rong, who made camp south of Moling. After suffering initial defeat in the hands of the aggressor, Ze Rong fell back in defense and refused to engage in battle. Sun Ce then marched further north and attacked Xue Li (薛禮) in Moling. Although Xue Li soon gave up the city and escaped, Liu Yao's subject Fan Neng and others had regrouped their forces and launched a renewed attack on Niuzhu. Turning back, Sun Ce defeated Fan Neng and secured Niuzhu. He then began a second offensive against Ze Rong. However, he was struck by a stray arrow in the thigh. Returning to Niuzhu, he sent out false words that he was killed in battle. The exalted Ze Rong then sent a force to attack. Sun Ce led the enemies into an ambush and annihilated them. When Ze Rong heard that Sun Ce was still alive, he further reinforced his defense works.

Sun Ce then temporarily gave up attacking Ze Rong and focused his forces on Qu'e. After all the surrounding areas were taken over by Sun Ce, Liu Yao gave up the city and escaped south to Yuzhang (豫章, present day Nanchang, Jiangxi), where he would later die. As Sun Ce implemented strict discipline among his troops, he won the instant support of the local people and gathered many talented men, such as Chen Wu, Zhou Tai, Jiang Qin, Zhang Zhao, Zhang Hong, Qin Song, and Lü Fan. He then pushed his force deeper into Yangzhou and conquered Kuaiji (會稽, present day Shaoxing, Zhejiang), whose governor Wang Lang surrendered. Sun Ce made Kuaiji his base city and struck out at the wandering bandit army led by Yan Baihu. Yan Baihu sent his younger brother Yan Yu to offer Sun Ce a position alongside Yan Baihu, but Sun Ce showed no mercy and personally slew the emissary. As Yan Yu was known among Yan Baihu's men as a fierce warrior, his death struck fear into their hearts and they were soon defeated. Sun Ce then appointed his relatives and a trusted subject to govern Danyang and Yuzhang, from which he divided a new commandery named Luling (廬陵). His campaign, from the occupation of Niuzhu to the conquest of the entire region southeast of the Long River, took less than a year. He then defeated and received the services of Zu Lang (祖朗), the Chief of Danyang, and Taishi Ci, the leader of the remnants of Liu Yao's forces; he then urged the surrender of Hua Xin, another one of the remnants of Liu Yao's forces. Thus, with the exception of the scattered but still numerous army of Yan Baihu, the lands south of the Yangtze were mostly pacified.

The barbarians of Shanyue tribe, however, were not easily dealt with. To counter the frequent rebellions of the Shanyue (who would continue to rebel for many years), Sun Ce appointed a certain He Qi to a military rank with orders to subdue the Shanyue. He Qi would go on to become a highly successful general; truly, his appointment by Sun Ce was the first important step to Wu's eventual subjugation of the Shanyue.

Late life

In 195, Yuan Shu declared himself the unrecognised "Zhongjia" Emperor. In a letter to Yuan Shu, Sun Ce denounced the move and broke ties with the former. In an effort to garner support from Sun Ce, the rising warlord Cao Cao then recommended him to be appointed the Rebellions-Suppressing General(討逆將軍) and enfeoffed as Marquis of Wu (吳侯). [Sun Ce was supposed to inherit his father's title of Marquis of Wucheng but he had given it up to his younger brother Sun Kuang.] In 199 Yuan Shu died of sickness along with his short-lived dynasty. His cousin Yuan Yin feared Cao Cao and gave up Shouchun. Bringing along Yuan Shu's coffin and his former troops, he headed to Huancheng (皖城, present day Qianshan County, Anhui) to seek refuge under Liu Xun (劉勳). As Liu Xun had insufficient food supplies in his realm to support the additional troops, he led a force south to pillage Haihun (海昏, east of present day Yongxiu County, Jiangxi).

Sun Ce was en route to attack Huang Zu, who was Sun Jian's killer, in Xiakou (夏口, present day Hankou, Wuhan, Hubei) when he received the news. He then turned back and captured the poorly defended Huancheng, taking over all of Yuan Shu's 30,000 former troops. Hearing that his base city had been taken, Liu Xun headed west and sought help from Huang Zu, who sent a 5,000-strong naval force to assist him. Sun Ce pressed forward and defeated Liu Xun, who escaped north to Cao Cao. Sun Ce annexed more than 2,000 former troops and 1,000 ships of his enemy and came upon Huang Zu. Despite reinforcements from Liu Biao, Huang Zu was utterly defeated. During the battle, Sun Ce slew Liu Biao's officer, Han Xi (韓希), and completely routed Huang Zu's son, Huang She (黃射).

The victorious Sun Ce in 199 looked poised to take over the entire southern China. As he was threatened by rival Yuan Shao in the north and could not divide his attention, Cao Cao attempted to further reinforce the alliance with Sun Ce by marrying the daughter of his relative Cao Ren to Sun Ce's youngest brother Sun Kuang. Sun Ce in turn agreed to marry Sun Ben's daughter to Cao Cao's son Cao Zhang.

The former governor of Wu Commandery (吳郡, south of present day Suzhou, Jiangsu) Xu Gong, had long opposed Sun Ce. Xu Gong wrote to Emperor Xian, recommending the emperor to summon Sun Ce to the capital as he deemed Sun Ce to be a hero comparable to Xiang Yu and too dangerous to be allowed to occupy a territory. However, the letter was intercepted by an official loyal to Sun Ce, who attacked and then had Xu Gong executed. Xu Gong's former servants then kept a low profile and waited for chance to revenge.

In the year 200, Cao Cao engaged in the decisive Battle of Guandu with Yuan Shao along the shores of the Yellow River, leaving the capital and his base city Xuchang poorly guarded. Sun Ce is said to have then plotted to attack Xuchang under the banner of rescuing Emperor Xian, who was a figurehead held under Cao Cao's control. Preparations were underway for the military excursion when Sun Ce ran into three former servants of Xu Gong during a solo hunting trip. One of them managed to plant an arrow into Sun Ce's cheek before Sun Ce's men arrived and slew the assassins. Many differing accounts of Sun Ce's death exist (see below). One generally accepted scenario is that he died that same night.

Another possible scenario has Sun Ce living for quite some time. The physician told Sun Ce to rest still for a hundred days to allow the wound to heal, but Sun Ce looked into the mirror one day and, seeing his scar, became so enraged that he slammed his table. The large movement caused the wound to break and he died in the same night. Although he was survived by one son, Sun Ce passed his legacy to his younger brother Sun Quan. When Sun Quan declared himself the first emperor of the Kingdom of Wu in 222, he bestowed upon Sun Ce the posthumous title of Prince Huan of Changsha (長沙桓王).

Sun Ce was succeeded by a posthumous son, Sun Shao, as well as at least two (possibly three) daughters, married to Gu Shao (顧卲) and later Zhu Ji (朱紀), and Lu Xun respectively. Sun Shao bore one son, Sun Feng (孫奉), who was executed by Sun Hao for alleged treason due to his popularity.

Dispute over cause of death

Sun Sheng (孫盛) in his "Exposition on Disparities and Similarities" (異同評) discounted the theory that Sun Ce made plans to attack Xuchang. He believed that although Sun Ce was a rising power, he was threatened in the west by Huang Zu, who was defeated but not eliminated, in the north by Chen Deng, governor of Guangling (廣陵, present day Yangzhou, Jiangsu), and in the south by indigenous tribes yet to be assimilated. These prevented Sun Ce from striking far out at Xuchang and moving the emperor to southeastern China. He further argued that Sun Ce died in the fourth month of 200, before the Battle of Guandu even took place.

The annotator of the "Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms" Pei Songzhi (裴松之) rebutted Sun Sheng, arguing that Huang Zu was newly broken and had yet to recollect his forces while the indigenous tribes were scattered and not much of a threat. Pei Songzhi believed that the first objective of Sun Ce's planned northward excursion was to attack Chen Deng, which would provide a platform for capturing Xuchang. On the other hand, Cao Cao and Yuan Shao had been engaging in skirmishes and small-scale battles before Sun Ce's death. Thus there was in fact no discrepancy in timing.

A historically implausible legend regarding Sun Ce's death involves a popular Taoist priest of his time named Gan Ji (干吉), whom he regarded as a sorcerer. Despite petitions from his subjects and his own mother, Sun Ce ordered Gan Ji's execution. According to "In Search of the Supernatural" (搜神記) by Gan Bao (干竇), a compilation largely based on legends and hearsay, Sun Ce began to see apparitions of Gan Ji ever since the execution of the latter. After he was injured by assassins, Sun Ce was told by the physician to rest still to allow the wound to heal. However, he looked into the mirror one day and saw Gan Ji's face, whereupon he let out a cry and slammed the mirror. His wound broke and he died shortly. This version was adopted and further dramatized by Luo Guanzhong in his historical novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms", in which Gan Ji's name was taken to be "Yu Ji" (于吉). [The Chinese characters for "Gan" (干) and "Yu" (于) in this case look very similar. It is believed that Luo Guanzhong made an error when referring to historical texts.]

un Ce in art

Chinese opera

In Peking opera, Sun Ce's role is usually that of a hero or tragic hero, while his brother, Sun Quan is usually portrayed as a villain at worst or self-seeking at best. Several operas even toy with the idea that Quan had Cè assassinated so that he could take control of the warlord state, though there is no historical evidence to support this view. In the opera "Fenghuang Er Qiao", Sun Ce borrows 3,000 troops from Yuan Shu and allies with the Qiao army, which is led by the Two Qiaos. Sun Ce, the protagonist of the opera, eventually gains the Elder Qiao's hand in marriage through a martial arts contest with the help of Zhou Yu and the Younger Qiao.

Comics and anime

In the anime "Yokoyama Mitsuteru Sangokushi", Sun Ce fights alongside his father against Dong Zhuo and is befriended by Liu Bei, Guan Yu, and Zhang Fei, with whom he trains to become a hero. When Sun Jian finds the Imperial Seal and decides to keep it for himself, Sun Ce is troubled by his father's actions and leaves him, seeking advice from Liu Bei. Liu Bei convinces him that his father likely has a good reason for holding onto the Imperial Seal, and Sun Ce returns just in time to save his father from an attack made by Yuan Shao and help him escape. The rest of Sun Ce's actions, including his passing, are mentioned only in passing.

The character in "Ikki Tousen" is loosely based on the historical figure Sun Ce ("Sonsaku Hakufu" being the Japanese reading of Sun Ce's name and style name). Her guardian, , bears the same name and personality as Zhou Yu.

In the anime "Kōtetsu Sangokushi", Sun Ce is portrayed as a once kind-hearted and virtuous hero who was corrupted by the power of the Imperial Seal, causing him to kill its protector. It is later revealed that Zhuge Liang was the mastermind behind Sun Ce's assassination and later events in the series.

In the Chinese manhua "Ravages of Time", Sun Ce is a cunning, ruthless, and manipulative character. He hires Zhao Yun to assist him in retrieving the Imperial Seal from Yuan Shu, but a last minute ambush by Gan Ning supposedly kills Sun Ce right in front of Zhao Yun, who is surrounded and barely escapes. It is later revealed that Sun Ce is alive and well, having posed as a relative, and that the man slain was his double, Ling Cao. In addition, Sun Ce had foreseen the ambush and saw it as a way to be rid of any sort of commitment to pay Zhao Yun. He is also very talented in martial art as he easily kills two generals of Liu Yao and then fights to a tie with Taishi Ci, who makes a good impression to him. Later, he asks one of his loyal men to desecrate Ling Cao's grave and pretends as if it was a revenge of their enemy, therefore, the spirits of his troops greatly rises and they easily broke the enemy force although they were outnumbered. He frankly admits his ruthless action to Ling Cao's son and swears that if there is justice, he will be killed painfully as he deserves.

Video games

Sun Ce also appears as a playable character in the popular "Dynasty Warriors" video game series by Koei. In the third, fourth, and fifth installments of the game, he wields a pair of bamboo tonfa called the "Overlords," and is portrayed as energetic, outgoing, brash, and informal. Although charismatic and well-liked by his troops, he relies on the wisdom and responsibility of his friend, Zhou Yu, to keep him focused and on track. In "Dynasty Warriors 5", Sun Ce meets his death due to a curse placed on him by the sorcerer Yu Ji, after Sūn orders his execution. He is succeeded by his brother, Quan, who in stark contrast to Ce, is stolid and detached. Sūn Quan often calls on the strength of his late father and brother during combat, attributing his ability and skill to the spirits of his fallen family guiding his hand.

In "Dynasty Warriors 6", Sun Ce's weapon is a single-hooked spear and dons armor similar to that of the ancient Greek muscle cuirass. Although not having a Story Mode of his own, he is one of the key characters to almost all the Wu storylines, as well as appearing often in cutscenes.

Sun Ce also makes an appearance in the spin off game, "Warriors Orochi", a combination of the Dynasty and Samurai Warriors series. In the game, Orochi uses the captive Sun Jian to blackmail the Sun family into servitude. Sun Ce is the first to rebel against Orochi, under the guidance of Sakon Shima, and much to the disapproval of his siblings, Quan and Shang Xiang, but he would eventually get them back on his side and save their father. He also has an important role in the other storylines, thus making him one of the main protagonists in the game along with Zhao Yun, Cao Pi, and Oda Nobunaga.


* Father
** Sun Jian
* Mother
** Lady Wu (吳夫人) (d. 202)
* Brothers
** Sun Quan
** Sun Kuang
** Sun Yi
** Sun Lang
* Sister
** Sun Shangxiang
* Wife
** Elder Qiao
* Children
** Posthumous son Sun Shao
** Elder daughter wed to Zhu Ji
** Second daughter wed to Gu Shao and later Lu Xun
* Brother in Law and sworn brother
** Zhou Yu



*cite book|author=Chen Shou|title=San Guo Zhi|publisher=Yue Lu Shu She|year=2002|id=ISBN 7-80665-198-5
*cite book|author=Luo Guanzhong|title=San Guo Yan Yi|publisher=Yue Lu Shu She|year=1986|id=ISBN 7-80520-013-0
*cite book|author=Lo Kuan-chung; tr. C.H. Brewitt-Taylor|title=Romance of the Three Kingdoms|publisher=Tuttle Publishing|year=2002|id=ISBN 0-8048-3467-9

ee also

*Three Kingdoms
*Personages of the Three Kingdoms
*"Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms"
*"Romance of the Three Kingdoms"

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