Sun Ren Xian

Sun Ren Xian was the only daughter of Lady Wu and Sun Jian. She was also the younger sister of Emperor Sun Ce and Emperor Sun Quan. She grew up in a military family and spent a notable amount of time with her brothers from a young age. Subsequently, she was one of the rare women who learned how to use weapons in a time period where women never participated in battles or received military training. She is also the only woman drawn holding a sword in the above historic illustration.

Sun Ren Xian is not given her own biography in Records of the Three Kingdoms, but it is speculated Chen Shou did this intentionally due to her actions against Shu Han. Additionally, since she was so skilled with weapons, her abilities were often frowned upon by the men of the era. She may have broken the societal norms, but such maverick behavior was not always smiled upon, certainly not in the case of noble women.

Her date of birth and date of death are unknown, but she had to have been conceived before 191, the year that Sun Jian died. It is not noted whether or not she was born posthumously.

There is some debate surrounding Lady Sun’s personal name; Sun Ren Xian is historically the most likely, as this was the name she was referred to in the oldest history book she is mentioned in. Her name was not officially recorded by history and she is often referred to simply as Lady Sun. However, in popular media and in Chinese opera, she is also known as Sun Ren and Sun Shang Xiang.

Sun Ren Xian played a vital part in the political development of Wu, for her marriage would go on to forge an important alliance for the country. Sun Ren Xian married Liu Bei, the Emperor of Shu, the kingdom to the west. Their marriage was a complicated one, though there are some facts about Sun Ren Xian that are impressive as well as entertaining. She had a group of trained, all female bodyguards who would dress in full armor. Liu Bei was described as “feeling faint of heart” in his biography when he would visit her chambers and was faced with this grim security force that was the only faction of female guards in China. Some sources state that she had as many as one hundred guards. They were trained in swordsmanship, archery, and much more. Women learning to fight was rare on its own, but Sun Ren Xian and her ladies in waiting were one-of-a-kind in all of China.

After marriage, Sun Ren Xian’s presence in Shu was one that caused Liu Bei a great deal of headaches. She stayed in Jing Province when Liu Bei moved to attack Yi Province, and the emperor placed one of his most trusted generals, Zhao Yun, in charge of “internal affairs” in Jing. Essentially, part of the internal affairs he mentioned was keeping an eye on Sun Ren Xian. Toward the end of the time that Sun Ren Xian spent living with Liu Bei, the relationship between the countries soured once again. Sun Ren Xian’s brother, Emperor Sun Quan, had lent Liu Bei a large area of land with the understanding that it would be returned to him. However, Liu Bei went back on the terms of the deal and did not plan to give the land back. Her presence in his territory may have been for the sake of an alliance, but the issue of the borrowed land strained relations between Shu and Wu. Liu Bei is historically hailed as a hero and while it is worth acknowledging that he was rising up from a time when he struggled to have land to call home, he still did not keep his word to Wu, even in light of the alliance by marriage that was meant to bond the two countries together.

When Sun Quan received word that Liu Bei left Jing Province to go to Yi, he sent a ship to bring Sun Ren Xian back to Wu.

When Lady Sun decided that it was time to return to Wu, she attempted to bring Liu Bei’s only son and heir with her. Though her plan was unsuccessful, it was an excellent show of bravery and her determination to play an active role in the politics of her time. There is not much recorded about her in history after this point; she returned to Wu safely, but the year of her death was not conclusively recorded.