Following the death of Jin Wudi in 289, a period of political insecurity and infighting commenced which culminated in an internecine war for the custody of the emperor and the throne itself between various branches of the Sima clan. The struggle was not restricted to the actual fighting on the battlefields, as the ideological war of legitimacy and denigration raged with the same intensity. The rising number of bestowed noble dignities awarded within the system of the recently established Five Ranks (wudengzhi 五等制) testifies to this intensity. The aim of these enfeoffments was not only to strengthen one’s position through raising one’s loyal supporters to a prominent social and political position, but also to gain moral credit and legitimacy so badly needed for the execution of supreme power. For a bestowal of a noble title on the right person at the right time provided an opportunity to act as the restorer of the right order and keeper of the proper traditions, a symbolical role which enabled various princely dictators to claim the obedience of all under heaven.
Dr. Jakub Hruby, is a visiting scholar from the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences and expert in the political, social and institutional history of Medieval China