Cao Huan (pronunciation ) (245/246–302/303[1]), courtesy name Jingming, was the fifth and last emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period. On 4 February 266, he abdicated the throne in favour of Sima Yan (later Emperor Wu of the Jin dynasty), and brought an end to the Wei regime. After his abdication, Cao Huan was granted the title "Prince of Chenliu" and held it until his death, after which he was posthumously honoured as "Emperor Yuan (of Cao Wei)".[2]

Emperor Yuan of Wei
Emperor of Cao Wei
Reign27 June 260 – 4 February 266
PredecessorCao Mao
RegentSima Zhao
Sima Yan
Duke of Changdao District, Anci County
Tenure256 – 27 June 260
Prince of Chenliu (陳留王)
Tenure4 February 266 – 302
ConsortsEmpress Bian
Family name: Cao (曹)
Given name: Huan (奐)
Courtesy name: Jingming (景明)
Era dates
  • Jingyuan (景元): 260–264
  • Xianxi (咸熙): 264–266
Posthumous name
Emperor Yuan (元帝)
HouseHouse of Cao
FatherCao Yu, Duke of Yan
MotherLady Zhang

Family background and accession to the throneEdit

Cao Huan's birth name was "Cao Huang" (曹璜). His father, Cao Yu, the Prince of Yan, was a son of Cao Cao, the father of Wei's first emperor, Cao Pi. In 258, at the age of 12, in accordance with Wei's regulations that the sons of princes (other than the first-born son of the prince's spouse, customarily designated the prince's heir) were to be instated as dukes, Cao Huan was instated as the "Duke of Changdao District" (常道鄉公).

In 260, after the ruling emperor Cao Mao was killed in an attempt to seize back state power from the regent Sima Zhao, Cao Huang was selected to succeed Cao Mao.[3]


At the time Cao Huang became emperor, his name was changed to "Cao Huan" because it was difficult to observe naming taboo with the name "Huang" (which was a homonym to many common terms—including "yellow" and "emperor" ). During Cao Huan's reign, the Sima clan controlled state power and Cao was merely a figurehead and head of state in name. On 28 Nov 263, Cao Huan instated his wife Lady Bian as empress.[4]

For the first few years of Cao Huan's reign, there were constant attacks by forces from the rival Shu Han state under the command of Jiang Wei. While Jiang Wei's attacks were largely easily repelled, Sima Zhao eventually ordered a counterattack on Shu with an invading force of 180,000 men commanded by Zhong Hui and Deng Ai. In late 263, Liu Shan, the Shu emperor, surrendered to Deng, bringing an end to the state of Shu. After the fall of Shu, Deng Ai was framed for treason by Zhong Hui and stripped of command. In early 264, Zhong Hui plotted with Jiang Wei to restore Shu and eliminate all the Wei generals who might oppose him. However, the generals started a counterinsurgency and killed Zhong Hui and Jiang Wei. Shu's former territories (in present-day Sichuan, Chongqing, Yunnan, southern Shaanxi, and southeastern Gansu) were completely annexed by Wei.

Abdication and later lifeEdit

Wei itself did not last much longer after Shu's collapse. In 263, Sima Zhao again forced Cao Huan to grant him the nine bestowments and this time he finally accepted signifying that a usurpation was near. In 264, Sima Zhao became a vassal king under the title "King of Jin" — the final step before usurpation. After Sima Zhao died in September 265, his son, Sima Yan, inherited his father's position and on 4 February 266 forced Cao Huan to abdicate, thereby establishing the Jin dynasty. He granted Cao Huan the title "Prince of Chenliu" which Cao Huan carried until his death.

Not much is known about Cao Huan's life as a prince under Jin rule. Sima Yan (later known as Emperor Wu of Jin) permitted him to retain imperial banners and wagons and to worship ancestors with imperial ceremonies. He also permitted Cao Huan not to refer to himself as a subject of his. He died in 302 during the reign of Emperor Wu's son, Emperor Hui. He was buried with honours due an emperor and given a posthumous name.

It is not known who immediately succeeded Cao Huan as Prince of Chenliu, but in late 326, the position of Prince of Chenliu was conferred upon Cao Mai, the great-great grandson of Cao Cao,[5] who held the title until his death in 358. He was succeeded by his son, Cao Hui, whose title was confirmed on 24 November 363.[6]

Era namesEdit

  • Jingyuan (景元) 260–264
  • Xianxi (咸熙) 264–266

Titles heldEdit

  • Prince of Chenliu (陳留王)
  • Emperor Yuan of Wei (魏元帝) (posthumous title)



  • Empress, of the Bian clan (卞皇后)


Cao Song (d. 193)
Cao Cao (155–220)
Lady Ding
Cao Yu (d. 278)
Lady Huan
Cao Huan (246–302)
Zhang Daoling (34–156)
Zhang Heng (d. 177)
Lady Yong
Zhang Lu (d. 216)
Lady Lu
Lady Zhang

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ According to the Wei Shi Pu, Cao Huan was 58 (by East Asian reckoning) when he died in the first year of the Taian era during the reign of Emperor Hui of Jin. However, since the Taian era was proclaimed during the 12th month of the 2nd year of the Yongning era (the previous era name), it is possible that Cao Huan died in (early) 303 instead. By calculation, his birth year should be either 245 or 246. (年五十八,太安元年崩) Wei Shi Pu annotation in Sanguozhi, vol. 04.
  2. ^ (太安元年崩,谥曰元皇帝。) Wei Shi Pu annotation in Sanguozhi, vol. 04.
  3. ^ (高贵乡公卒,公卿议迎立公), Sanguozhi vol. 04.
  4. ^ According to Cao Huan's biography in Sanguozhi, Lady Bian became empress on the guimao day of the 10th month of the 4th year of the Jingyuan era of Cao Huan's reign. This corresponds to 28 Nov 263 in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. ((景元四年十月)癸卯, 立皇后卞氏) Sanguozhi, vol. 04.
  5. ^ "晋书 : 帝纪第七 显宗成帝 康帝 - Chinese Text Project". Retrieved 2022-05-29.
  6. ^ "晋书 : 帝纪第八 孝宗穆帝 哀帝 废帝海西公 - Chinese Text Project". Retrieved 2022-05-29.
Emperor Yuan of Cao Wei
Born: 246 Died: 302
Regnal titles
Preceded by Emperor of Cao Wei
with Sima Zhao (260–265)
Titles in pretence
Preceded by — TITULAR —
Emperor of China
Reason for succession failure:
Succeeded by