Sun Jian was honored as an emperor of Wu, though he technically died before the birth of the nation. However, his actions laid the framework for the future leaders of his family and later on, the country. He is father to several prominent figures, including Sun Ce, Sun Quan, and Sun Ren Xian.
He was born in 155 and his own accomplishments as well as his propensity for leadership earned him the honor of leading troops against rebels in his home area of Wu and Kuaiji. This humble beginning is common for many of the commanders who would go on to rise to high ranks and accomplish great things, but Sun Jian was unique. When he was still rather young, just fifteen or sixteen, he became a junior civil officer in the county administration. He could have entered at a much higher rank; however, his family was only prestigious enough for him to get a basic appointment in the local county office. Though he did not have opportunities unfold for him as easily as some do, he still managed to make the most of the position. When he was seventeen, he showed his heroic nature when he was traveling with his father and got wind of a bandit by the name of Hu Yu who was robbing travelers of their supplies. He asked his father for permission to attack, but his father was not in favor of the idea, unenthused by his son’s ambition. Undeterred, Sun Jian attacked and defeated Hu Yu and his associated bandits singlehandedly. The event was only of local significance, but he did make a name for himself and was soon appointed as a temporary Commandant.
Sun Jian continued to accumulate successes when a rebel faction grew and he was appointed Major. He turned to the men of Wu commandary and collected over a thousand men to follow under his lead to fight against the rebellion. Sun Jian broke many of the normal conventions of how someone was recruited and promoted as he continued to do well, and was recommended to the capital before long.
While he rose through the ranks quickly, his previous titles were all local; with the recommendation of a man from the imperial government, he was granted a post at Yandu and married Lady Wu, a woman from the capital. Sun Jian’s children Sun Ce, Sun Quan, Sun Yi, Sun Kuang, Sun Lang, and Sun Ren Xian are the most well known of his direct progeny. However, Sun Lang was born through Sun Jian’s union with another woman, not his wife. He is often described as having only one daughter, Sun Ren Xian, but it is likely that she was specifically the only daughter of Sun Jian and Lady Wu. There are some historic records that indicate he had two other daughters, but records suggest that they were not the children of Lady Wu.
Sun Jian’s good reputation continued to spread, earning him great trust and respect from his officers. In 184, he participated in the Yellow Turban Rebellion, an uprising that swept China. This revolt was led primarily by peasants and was in protest of the crumbling Han dynasty. Sun Jian fought valiantly on the front lines for Han, leading attacks on the enemy cities. With those accomplishments under his belt, Sun Jian became the new administrator of Changsha when a smaller rebellion broke out in the area. It only took him a month to put an end to the violence after taking office, then tackle several other rebellions, which led to his promotion to Marquis of Wucheng.
His family was not then well known and in order to draw more attention to himself, he claimed that he was the descendent of Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War. It is possible that the Sun family descended from Sun Tzu, but the validity of the claim is not certain. It certainly helped Sun Jian seem more reputable to think that his ancestor was such a prestigious person, but as there are several hundred years of unaccounted for bloodlines, the claim is unsubstantiated.
While Sun Jian continued to become more prolific, the Han empire was falling to pieces. When Emperor Ling, third to last Emperor of the Han, died in 189, chaos broke out. A tyrant named Dong Zhuo moved to seize the throne and Sun Jian joined Yuan Shu and brought an army with ten thousand troops to put him down. Sun Jian’s successes against the enemy forces were so effective that Yuan Shu started to fear that the warlord would have no further need for their alliance. Subsequently, Yuan Shu suddenly cut off the food supply going to Sun Jian’s forces, which prompted him to go forth and confront Yuan Shu himself. Faced with Sun Jian taking the honorable road by reasoning with him, Yuan Shu allowed the food supply chain to be reestablished rather than lose face.
Sun Jian triumphed over Dong Zhuo, even when the rebel attempted to dissuade Sun Jian by suggested a marriage to forge an alliance between them. Sun Jian rejected the idea without so much as considering it.
Respected and followed by many, Sun Jian accumulated successes in the future campaigns he carried out for Yuan Shu. However, his luck ran out when Yuan Shu sent Sun Jian to a battle that was not in his favor. Initially, it went well, for Sun Jian was able to defeat one of the enemy’s defense units. However, when taking part in a solo ride, Sun Jian was ambushed suddenly by enemy forces and killed when he was only in his mid thirties.